December 2, 2020

Online Worship, Midweek Advent #1 — The Silence of Zacharias

Passage: Luke 1:18-20
Service Type:

Sermon for Midweek Advent Service #1 – Silence of Zacharias
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Luke 1:18–20 (NKJV)
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

In the Name of Jesus Christ,
Whose sacrifice atones for our doubts,
Whose resurrection is our receipt,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –

Who do you think you are talking to?

I don’t recall having to field this question very often in my childhood, but you could check with my parents. Even today the question is a frightening one, akin to hearing my middle name, as in, “Andrew Albert Schaller.” “Oh ohh. I’m in trouble.” The question, “Who do you think you are talking to?” implies an offense, that something was said not recognizing the authority or status of the person addressed.

When I read the account of the Angel Gabriel appearing to the elderly priest Zacharias at the altar of incense in the Temple of the Lord, I half expect the angel to ask, rightfully indignant:

Who do you think you are talking to?

Zacharias was within the Temple of the LORD, carrying out the ‘once in a lifetime’ task of offering up incense to the LORD and praying on behalf of the people of Israel. He was standing before the golden altar of incense, which sat before the veil, the curtain that hid the most holy place from sight of the priests, who were the only humans who ever saw the inside of the Temple. He was standing within feet of the place where the Ark of the Covenant had once stood, the place where the LORD promised to dwell among His People, between the cherubim.

Zacharias was also standing before a supernatural angelic messenger. He wasn’t there when Zacharias came in with the censor of coals with which he lit the incense on the small altar. When Zacharias bowed his head in prayer, he was alone, but when he picked up his head after prayer, he was no longer alone. There stood on the right side of the altar of incense an angel, and Zacharias shaken up and fear fell upon him (Luke 1:11-12).

The Angel comforted the frightened old man. He then proceeded to make know what is best described as fantastic news (Luke 1:13b-17):

“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is 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 in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also 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 He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zacharias prayer was heard. He and his wife would become parents of a boy named John. The boy would give him joy and gladness, and many others would join him to rejoice at his son’s birth. This was exciting news all by itself, but the Angel continued. He revealed what every Godly parent wants, that his son would be great in the sight of God, would accomplish something important. In fact, only John and Jesus are said to be ‘great in the sight of the LORD.’

There was more. Zacharias’ son would be like the Nazarites of old, even filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb of his mother. He would serve the LORD by preceding the Coming Savior and preparing the hearts of his people for His Coming.

What more could a godly parent ask? We might expect that Zacharias fall to his knees and begin weeping for joy. We might expect him to turn and walk hurriedly out of the Temple to the court of the women, to quickly tell his wife the good news! But it didn’t happen…that way.

his past Sunday we meditated upon the words or ‘song’ spoken by Elizabeth while filled with the Holy Spirit. This evening we consider the Silence of Zacharias, the reason for it, and its lesson for us. May God the Holy Spirit bless our meditation upon these words.

We therefore pray, “Sanctify us by your Truth, O Lord, Your Word is Truth.” Amen.

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

There are times when our day to day interactions with other people are routine and our words are thoughtless.

The Grocery Store – After picking up the items that you need from the grocery store and emptying your cart at the checkout, you watch the checker scan each item and total up the amount. You pay by card or cash, then the checker turns with your receipt and says, “Have a nice day!” Since you’ve already ‘checked out’ and moved on to the next thing and next task, you just mumble in response, “You too!”

Zacharias wasn’t at the grocery store. He was in the Temple of the LORD, in the presence of an Angel of the LORD, who had just announced to him the good news that he and his wife had been waiting for and likely given up on after years of marriage. Zacharias’ response was as shocking as if he had said:

“Excuse me, can I see your identification, Mr. Gabriel?”
“Before you go, could I just get all this in writing?”
“Is it asking too much for a ‘gift receipt’?”

It’s not so easy to see from our English translation, but Zacharias was asking for a sign, a proof to confirm that what the Angel had just told him was true! “How shall I know this…is true?” It wasn’t wrong in itself to ask a sign, in fact, others in the Old Testament did so without repercussion. They did so in faith, under different circumstances.

Zacharias expressed the reason for his doubts about the promise given by the Angel. The problem – in the mind of Zacharias – was his own age and that of his wife. In fact, Zacharias was emphatic about the problem, He said: “I myself am an elderly man and my wife has moved ahead in years.” If getting a son depends on us, it’s hopeless.

Zacharias responded as if God’s promise, in some way, depended upon him. Abraham and Sarah tried to fulfill God’s Promises themselves. We may, from time to time, think the same way. We may imagine that good things happen to us because we’ve been faithful in coming to worship. We may imagine that we have forgiveness because we were diligent to confess our sins; when the truth is that we are forgiven because God is gracious. There is an innate desire in each of our self-centered and proud hearts to make everything about us.

God’s promises are dependent upon Him and carried out often despite us.

It’s at this point that I can almost imagine the Angel Gabriel turning toward Zacharias and asking:

“Excuse me, but do you know who you are talking to?”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.

Zacharias had been emphatic, “I myself am an elderly man.” The Angel’s reply is also emphatic almost as if in answer to Zacharias: “I myself am Gabriel.’” This isn’t to point out his importance or status, but his relationship with God. He’s not being self-important, He’s a Holy Angel. While Zacharias is standing in the temple of the LORD, Gabriel is one who stands in the presence of God.

Why did Gabriel stand in God’s presence? He stood before the LORD as his messenger, his servant. He stood ready to carry out His Commands; it was his purpose. It’s what the Holy Angels do, for it is written (Psalm 103:20-21, NIV84):

“Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.”

What had Gabriel been dispatched by the LORD of Hosts to do? He was sent out to speak to Zacharias, to bring him these glad tidings. This promise wasn’t the presumptuous word of an AWOL angel, but the word for word promise of His Master, the one who dwelt between the cherubim; who also knew how Zacharias would respond to it.

20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

God sent His Messenger to speak directly with Zacharias and Zacharias thought it too good to be true. After all, in the skeptical and faithless hearts of human beings, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.’

Zacharias demanded a sign…and he got one…but it probably wasn’t the one he wanted. He would have proof that God’s Promise was true and trustworthy every day for more than 9 months. Every time that He opened his mouth and tried to speak with Elizabeth or proclaim the Word of God or comfort another human being…he would be silent, unable to speak.

It wasn’t a punishment for sin; it was a correction, a chastisement. If he had joyfully received God’s promise and humbly thanked Him and his messenger for it; he’d have had use of his voice. While people today see ‘healthy skepticism’ as a good thing, Zacharias learned that it’s never ‘healthy’ to doubt God’s Promises.

The Sign that he asked was given in His own forced silence; a lesson on doubting God’s promises.

It’s easy for us to look down upon Zacharias, to chide him for his doubts. It’s foolish though, because if God dealt with our personal weakness of faith in this way…this world would be a quiet place….and this building silent.

How could we doubt…or question the promises given us by God? This isn’t junk mail. God’s promises aren’t good only for a limited time. They have not expired. When has God been unfaithful? When has His Word changed? Still from time to time we are driven from our place of security – God’s Promises – by our emotions and fears about the future!

Chase your doubts and fears by returning to the facts: God is Gracious.

Baptism - He has promised us that when we apply water to our children in the manner prescribed by Christ, the Son of God, that their sins are forgiven and granted the gift of faith they become Children of God. Our reason tells us that water can’t change one’s status with God, but the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus that (Titus 3:5): “God saved us…not by works of righteousness which we have done…but through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”

Christ assures us that He has the Keys of Death and the Grave (Revelation 1:18). Still, when God calls one of His people home through death, after sustaining their faith through Word and Sacrament; we feel sorry for ourselves? Surely, the Scripture is true that they are with the LORD which is far better (Philippians 1:23). We are so often just as weak and foolish as aged Zacharias.

In these times of weakness, may the Spirit of God enable us to cry out:

“Lord Jesus! Strengthen my faith through your Word of Promise, that it knows no doubt or wavering!” Prepare our hearts by leading us daily to see and confess our sins. Renew in us the Spirit’s power so that we may daily lay our sins at the foot of the cross, believing them paid for in Jesus’ spilt blood.

For God’s promises will be fulfilled…whether we believe them or not. Whether we silently doubt them or with voice and heart praise and embrace them.

May God grant us all His grace that we soberly receive the words of God with a childlike faith, and thus (1 Peter 1:13):

“…prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

To Him be the glory, forever and ever.

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