Audio Sermon for Midweek Advent #1 — Wednesday November 30, 2022
SERMON FOR MIDWEEK ADVENT SERVICE #1
DON’T GO ON BEING AFRAID
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Luke 1:13–17 (ESV)
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who once came in humility to save,
Who will come again in majesty to judge,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Precious Blood –
It was a great honor to burn incense in the Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, especially for an elderly priest who served in the hill country of Judea. Jerusalem had its divisions of priests to carry out the daily sacrifices in the capital city. It’s estimated that 56 priests served in the temple each day and a total of 84 on the Sabbath Day. While that may seem to be a great many priests, there were about 20,000 priests and Levites in Israel in those days. So, when it fell to Zacharias and the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5) to burn incense (Luke 1:8-10) and pray for the people of God during morning worship in the temple, it was a truly rare opportunity.
When the time of morning sacrifice came, the massive temple gates were opened and a three-fold blast of the trumpet wakened the city of Jerusalem. It was likely dawn when in the hall of hewn stones, each priest was assigned his function by lot. The function of burning incense on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place fell (not by accident) to aged Zacharias.
Zacharias had to be anxious when he prepared by washing and putting on his priestly garments in preparation for the holy service. In point of fact, incense was offered twice daily, in the morning and the evening (Exodus 30:7-8). The smoke of the incense was symbolic of prayer, a sweet-smelling sacrifice curling upward toward the heavens.
First the altar of burnt offering was stirred into flame. This was done in the court of the priests, just outside of the temple building itself.
The people didn’t see the inside of the temple...only the priests saw it. The first two-thirds of the building was called the holy place, whose walls were inlaid with gold, and in which stood the tables of showbread, the golden lampstands and the altar of incense. The altar of incense stood in the back of the holy place before the great veil that separated the holy place from the back third of the building called - the most holy place.
In this early morning hour, the priests chosen by lot lit the golden lampstands and prepared a small fire upon the altar of incense which burned down to coals. This all took place as the people filed quietly into the temple. When their task was completed; the morning sacrifice began.
A lamb was brought forth and inspected to ensure that it was without blemish or spot. The animal was sacrificed, its blood caught in a golden bowl and sprinkled on the sides of the altar. The animal was divided up and the choice parts burned as an offering for sin.
It was then that aged Zacharias climbed the steps from the court of the priests to the holy place and disappeared into the temple building itself. It was lit only by the lampstands when he entered, carrying in his hand a golden censer. In the back of the Holy Place was the golden altar of incense upon which coals glowed. As he walked into the depths of the holy place, on his right were the tables of showbread, to his left the golden lampstands.
Zacharias drew near the altar of incense and completed the first portion of his duty by spreading incense on the coals. As the incense began to smolder, a cloud of smoke rose from the altar of incense and made its way out of the temple of Yahweh. It was silent outside as within, unseen, the aged priest kneeled in worship and prayed on behalf of the people of God; the second part of his duty.
When his prayer completed, Zacharias rose to his feet, his task completed. He was probably turning to leave the Holy Place when something stopped him, someone actually.
Zacharias should have been the only person in the holy place, but to his left on the right side of the altar of incense, between it and the golden lampstands stood what could only be an angel of Yahweh. It was awesome and fearful to stand so close to the Most Holy Place where God declared He would dwell between the cherubim. For the righteous priest aware of his sins, it was natural to feel uneasy so close to the dwelling place of God.
When Zacharias saw the angel, he was shaken. The word used to describe his feelings means ‘to be stirred up, unsettled, thrown into confusion, agitated, even terrified.’ He wasn’t just uneasy; fear fell upon him like a weight. He was like a man confronted by a wild animal, he couldn’t move.
Zacharias was a sinful man and he knew it. The water with which he had bathed was only a symbolic cleansing, it could not wash away sins. The clothing he wore was clean, but it could not shield the fact that He was descended of fallen Adam. Had God sent his messenger to mete out judgment to him?
The Angel said to him, “Don’t go on being afraid.”
We take these words of God related by the Angel Gabriel as our theme during our Midweek Advent Services this year. We will see that there is more than one reason to not go on being afraid. This evening we are comforted and our fear chased because God keeps His promises...both small and large.
Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord, Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Have you ever earnestly prayed for something...but it just seemed like God wasn’t answering? Did you keep praying about it or was it ‘one and done’? I can remember praying earnestly that God would give me a godly spouse...but the years seemed to pass by without an answer. I was in college and God seemed to be silent. Then suddenly, unexpectedly God granted my prayer.
It’s a good reminder to pray in faith and to be persistent in prayer. After all, God answers in his own time, not according to our time tables.
Zacharias and Elizabeth are a good example of persistence in prayer. They asked God for a child, but it wasn’t like some people today who see children as an assumed accessory to marriage. In their day, being childless was considered a punishment of God. An aged woman who had never had a child was looked down upon, and when her husband was a priest of God, some might even question his fitness to serve God. Were they doing something wrong for which God was punishing them?
So, people might think, looking from the outside in.
We don’t know that Zacharias asked for a son while at the altar of incense. What we do know is that their often-repeated prayer was answered and God promised to give them a son. God doesn’t grant verbal answers to our prayers, but He did to Zacharias.
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
No doubt Zacharias had offered up many prayers...but God related through Gabriel the answer of one in particular. God himself sent word through the Angel Gabriel, that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have a son. They would have a son – not by adoption – but through the pregnancy and delivery by Elizabeth. This was miraculous on two counts, for the two of them were well advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren.
God promised more than a child.
14 And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
Every child born into this world comes with both joy and sadness. What child is there that hasn’t at some point become a trial or disappointed his parents in one way or another? How can it be any other way in a fallen world?
Still, God promised Zacharias that as a result of John’s birth, He would have joy and extreme gladness. He would experience an excessive joy knowing what role his son would play in the Savior’s Coming.
Moreover, many other people would rejoice at his birth. “Well, sure...all his relatives, right?” It was more than that, for God had promised (as you heard in our scripture lesson) to send a prophet like Elijah the Prophet to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord....before the Promised Savior appeared.
This was amazing news, but the Angel still wasn’t done with God’s promise:
15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Every parent prays that their children will be a positive influence in this world. We all want our children to find their place in life. We pray and earnestly fulfill our duties as parents so that they come to know Jesus and believe in Him. We have the promise of God at Baptism that sins are washed away, but we aren’t promised that they will be great in the eyes of the LORD and accomplish great things for His Kingdom.
However, God promised even this to Zacharias. God promised that his son would be great – not in the eyes of men – but before the Lord God. He would be filled with an extra measure of the Holy Spirit even before He was born!
The Angel still wasn’t finished with God’s Promise:
16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
We would be happy if the Lord promised us in advance that our children would be successful. What if God promised that your son or daughter would be instrumental in turning thousands of people to Christ and that they would be saved from eternal death for eternal life.
God promised Zacharias that his son would serve as the ‘forerunner’ of the Lord. He would do the difficult work of bringing low the boastful with the Law of God. He would also comfort the downtrodden by revealing that the Savior would soon appear. By means of his work, the people would be prepared for the Savior.
God kept his promise to Zacharias...as unbelievable as it sounded. As you know, everything happened exactly as the Angel Gabriel foretold.
After all, God keeps his promises...He always does...He always will.
So, God’s Prophets spoke of His Promises as if they were complete...before they were even accomplished. Now this evening when you get home make a list of some of God’s Promises to you. If you draw a blank, here are a couple to start with (John 6:40, 11:25):
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son
and believes in him should have eternal life,
and I will raise him up on the last day.”
“I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
These promises of God are as certain as those made to Zacharias. How often do we doubt them? How often do we take up the attitude of Zacharias that God’s Promises are too good to be true? God forgive us if ever we doubt.
We can perhaps imagine the excitement of Zacharias and Elizabeth...but do we feel left out? Do we think, “Well that was great for them...but what good was God’s promise to us?”
Well, in answering the prayer of Zacharias and Elizabeth and keeping his promises...God was even then answering the prayer of every believer since Adam and Eve -- to send the Seed of the Woman, the Promised Savior. John the Baptist – the child of Zacharias and Elizabeth – prepared the way for the Savior Jesus who came to be God’s resounding “Yes!” to every one of His Promises...and the certificate that God always keeps His promises.
Let the earth now praise the Lord, Who has truly kept His word
And the sinners’ help and friend now at last to us does send.
(TLH 91:1) Amen!