The Key to Luke's Gospel
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 1:5–1:38
The Key to Luke’s Gospel
August 2, 2015
We’re back into our study of Luke’s Gospel this morning, so let’s open our Bibles to the Gospel of Luke. We’ve had many months away from Luke, haven’t we? We’re going to have to knock the rust off a little bit. So, I thought I’d approach our study just a little bit differently this morning, just to get the gears turning again and give you a little review of where we’ve been. In one sense our study of Luke’s Gospel in the first few months of the year has only scratched the surface, right? We had just been getting into it. We started in verse 1 and made it to verse 38. That covered Luke’s prologue, kind of his purpose in writing. And then the two annunciations narratives, the angelic announcements to Zechariah and Mary about the birth of John the Baptist and then Jesus Christ. In another sense, though, we, though we’re not very far into Luke, we’ve already discovered a key that opens the door to a massive vault of treasure. And it’s the nature of that key—I’m going to identify the key, and I’m going to give you the nature of that key. That’s what I want to focus on for this morning. By observing how Luke has kind of brought us into this Gospel by seeing how the story begins, we’re going to learn some very important lessons about the key that gives us access to all the treasures contained in the Gospel of Luke. Without the key, or if you have that key and you don’t use it, well, the treasures of Luke’s Gospel remain locked to you, okay?
Luke begins, as you can see there in the beginning in the prologue, by promising Theophilus and by extension, promising all of his readers, including us, that this orderly account that he has written will provide, Luke 1:4, “Certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” "Certainty concerning the things you’ve been taught," namely abut Christianity. You want to know the truth about Christianity? You’ll find certainty right here. Don’t read articles online, don’t ask your buddy, your friend, your neighbor—look into the Gospel of Luke, and you will find certainty about what you’ve heard. As we said, we don’t know exactly who this "most excellent Theophilus" is, or who he was, but with such a title, he was clearly a wealthy man, an educated man, a man of distinction—but he was also a man with doubts. He was a man lacking full confidence. He was a man lacking certainty, and he didn’t want to continue in doubt about the most important truth in the entire universe, the good news about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, to silence his doubts, Theophilus was willing to invest. He contributed significant resources to bring an end to his uncertainty. In all likelihood, this man funded Luke, supporting him so he could pursue intensive and an extensive investigation. Luke was able to interview primary sources, travel to the lands where it all happened, talk with Jesus’ apostles, with his relatives. He was able to visit the plac-es, chase down leads, eliminate rumors. He gathered the evidence. Luke separated fact from fiction and wrote down this orderly, divinely inspired and extremely thorough account of Jesus’ life and min-istry. Luke didn’t write, though, as a journalist. He didn’t write as a mere historian; Luke wrote with an agenda. Luke wrote as an evangelist. That doesn’t mean his Gospel is any less truthful, but it does mean that he sifted through all the available facts, all the things we may even want to know, things about Jesus’ childhood. He bypassed a lot of that. Even though he gives us a really neat vignette in the second chapter, he bypassed a lot of that because he wanted to bring every single reader to one inescapable verdict. "This subject of my Gospel," Luke is telling us, "this subject of my Gospel is Jesus the Christ." He is the Son of God, who came to earth to die for guilty sinners. And everyone who be-lieves in him will be saved from God’s wrath. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
So listen, that’s why Luke wrote. He wanted to bring you to an inescapable verdict that you must find salvation here in Jesus Christ. So, we hold in our hands absolute truth, giving us access to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the only question is, "Now that you have the truth, dear reader, what will you do with it? Will you believe it? Will you embrace it? Submit to it? Will you follow it to the very end even if it costs you everything because that’s the key?" Faith is the key to Luke’s Gospel. With faith, you have the key to unlock all the treasures. All you need to do is use it, use it. As Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, he wants us to see the consequences of faith. Right out of the gate, Luke wants us to see the difference between believing and not believing. Between trusting and not trusting. The difference between faith and doubt.
And so, that’s what I want you to see this morning as well. We’re going to observe some of the con-trasts between Zechariah and Mary. Zechariah, in this sense, represents doubt. Mary represents faith. We need to focus on these contrasts because we need to consider the consequences of faith and doubt for ourselves, for our own lives. What will you do with the truths you hear? To doubt is to continue in darkness, cowardice, fruitlessness. It’s to have mediocre spiritual life. That’s not what you want. To believe, though, to believe, that is the key to salvation. It’s the key to eternal life. It’s the key to all the joys of believing. And that’s what Luke wants for us, and that’s what he wants us to face up to right here at the very beginning. Okay.
So now, as I said, basically two accounts that come right after Luke’s prologue. They’re called annunci-ations, they’re called announcements. Basically, you can think of these as elaborate birth announce-ments. Birth announcements that came not through a Hallmark card, but straight from heaven, deliv-ered by the angel Gabriel. Gabriel made the first announcement to Zechariah, a faithful priest, as he ministered in the sanctuary of the temple. And then he made the second announcement to Mary, a relatively unknown young girl, as she went about her domestic duties in the home. These announce-ments, they follow the same basic pattern as you walk through them. First, Luke gives us an introduc-tion to the subjects we’re looking at, Zechariah and Mary. He tells us who they are, something about them, provides a setting. And, secondly, there’s a salutation, a greeting. The angel appears, these two were understandably startled, so he attempts to calm their fears, to give them assurance of divine favor. Third, things comes the annunciation, the message that he wants to give to them. Gabriel an-nounces to each one of them, "You’re going to have a son." Then he tells them each something about the significance of the child. The fourth thing, both Zechariah and Mary respond with a question about something the angel announced. Then the last part, the fifth part of the narratives, the angel re-sponds to their questions with an appropriate reaction fitting their question. Okay. It’s a response. So, that’s the pattern: introduction, salutation, annunciation, question, reaction. Try to identify that pattern as we read the text together staring in verse 5, Luke 1:5. Follow along
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there as a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Now, while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the alter of in-cense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But he angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Eliza-beth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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 diso-bedient to the wisdom of the just to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of the God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not be-lieved my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zecha-riah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was un-able to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making sings to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept her-self hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Okay, so that’s the first account, the first announcement. You saw the pattern. Luke introduced us to Zechariah. We saw how Gabriel greeted Zechariah and then delivered the news, and we saw Zechari-ah’s question, followed by Gabriel’s answer. Now, this second account will follow the same pattern, but try to notice, as we read some of the contrasts that exist, the differences that exist between the two accounts. Okay, following along in verse 26:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the vir-gin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forev-er and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
We’ve covered these announcements in some detail. You can go back on the website and fill in the gaps of anything I leave a question hanging in your mind about. For this morning, we’re just doing a bit of review, but as you can see from these two birth announcements, they follow the same pattern, but they are filled with contrast. Luke is a brilliant writer. He’s highlighting the contrasts for us. He’s draw-ing our attention to them. He’s not constructing these contrasts, he’s not creating them out of thin air, whole cloth or whatever; he’s just helping us see the contrast that exists by the providence of God. Those contrasts are very instructive to us. It’s important to recognize both Zechariah and Mary; both of them are true believers, both of them trust God, they follow God, worship God. Luke 1:6 says Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the com-mandments and statutes of the Lord, and everything we read about Mary commends her as a humble believer.
So, we are not seeing a contrast between an unbeliever and a believer. What we need to notice here is a fundamental contrast not about who had faith, but who exercised faith. That’s the difference. Zechariah is portrayed—at least in this moment here, not his best moment—as an inconsistent, failing believer, one whom God reproves. Mary, by contrast, she’s is a consistent, humble believer whom God blesses. So, whereas Zechariah’s reproved and censured for failing to believe, Mary is com-mended and blessed for believing, and she is quietly, subtly commended to us just in the reading of the narratives; she’s commended as a model believer. We would all do well to say along with Mary, "Behold, we are the slaves of the Lord, let it be to us according to God’s word." That’s what we’re af-ter this morning, to understand this contrast in these two accounts and what they tell us about the nature of faith, and then to find encouragement to exercise faith for ourselves and to do so consist-ently. Everything here encourages us to embrace the truth by faith, to act upon it, to obey it. Like Mary, we want to believe what God has revealed, to trust Him, to submit to Him, to follow Him, and when we do, we will be satisfied and joyful in our God, okay?
We’re going to organize our thoughts by walking through the narratives following the pattern I kind of highlighted to you as we make our observations, so we’re going to make our way through the intro-ductions, salutations, annunciations, and so on. We’re going to learn some valuable lessons in all of this about faith. And it’s really learning lessons from what might seem at first glance to be a pretty un-likely source—a young girl, a young girl.
Let’s start with the introductions. In the introductions to the two accounts, here’s what we first learn about faith. Number one, faith transcends all circumstances, faith transcends all circumstances. I could probably add faith transcends all people, situations, types, social status, background. Faith is the great equalizer; it levels the ground. Faith shows how all of us are equal before God. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what our circumstances may be. When God grants faith, it overcomes all differences, it transcends all circumstances. The faith that God grants to his elect is limited by nothing because its object is a limitless God.
Let me show you that by drawing your attention to the first two sets of contrasts in the introduction. First, notice the two people who are contrasted in the narratives, Zechariah on the one hand and Mary on the other. Luke introduces us first to Zechariah, verse 5, like we read, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there as a priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daugh-ters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blame-lessly in all the commandments and statures of the Lord.” That tells us a number of things, but just briefly, Zechariah was from the priestly class, okay? He’s a descendant of Aaron and he is married—blessing upon blessing—he’s married to one of the daughters of Aaron. The daughter of a priest—that was a very high honor. Priests did not give their daughters in marriage to just anybody, not just any clown in the village. It had to be someone of high moral character. Marrying the daughter of a priest—that spoke of Zechariah’s reputation. It spoke of how people held him in high esteem in the community. As a couple, it says there, Zechariah and Elizabeth were known for their righteousness before God. They’d been walking faithfully before God for some time. Verse 7 tells us they were both advanced in years. So these are mature believers. As a priest ministering in the hill country of Judea, Zechariah was essentially a pastor. That’s what he did; he engaged in the regular duties of teaching and administering the law of Moses. He was basically one of the shepherds of Israel. He would be appreciated by his flock for his faithful exposition of the law, his objective interpretation and adjudication in matters of the law. He was likely also a very compassionate priest. Being denied a child for so long, seeing his wife suffer through that kind of pain would make his heart ache. And when a pastor goes through trials, it enables him to learn one of the most significant pastoral traits—it gives him empathy. It gives him empathy to empathize with the people to whom he minister. It makes him soft. Zechariah here, he’s the picture of respectability, isn’t he? He’s the picture of tested faithful-ness. He’s got a reputation of honor and dignity.
Look at the contrast. By contrast, Mary—she’s unknown, she’s untested. Her reputation had not yet been established. By being pregnant without a husband’s involvement—that’s going to sully her rep-utation a little bit, isn’t it? It wasn’t that she lacked godly character; we see her character, but she did lack experience. She’s a very young girl, a virgin betrothed to man whose name was Joseph, probably 14, 15—somewhere in there. She’s got no social standing; she got nothing to commend her, no rank, no privilege. Mary hasn’t been tested or proven through the trials of life. She’s not old enough to be known for wisdom or good works, yet she’s young, inexperienced, unknown. And compared with Zechariah, Mary is socially insignificant. He’s a man, she’s a woman. A vast gulf existed between the sexes in the first century. Zechariah is matured and experienced. Mary is immature and naïve. Zecha-riah is a priest; he’s a respected pillar in the community. Mary’s a relative nobody. There’s nothing to commend this girl to us in her background or status. Everything to commend Zechariah and yet in the end, she emerges as the stalwart believer. Zechariah falls into doubt. Interesting, isn’t it, how faith transcends rank and status, circumstances, background?
We also see a contrast in the settings—the circumstances they both came from, their location, their activities. Gabriel came to Zechariah right when he was ministering before the Lord in Jerusalem. He was in the city that’s at the epicenter of God’s program. Whether looking backward through history, or forward to the very end of time, whether considering the judgments that have fallen in that city or its final redemption and glory, Jerusalem is the most significant city on the face of the earth. That’s where Gabriel visited Zechariah. That city. Not only that, but Zechariah’s performing ritually significant duties as priest. Verse 8, “Now, while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of in-cense.” So Zechariah’s enjoying a special honor. He’s chosen by lot to enter the temple sanctuary, to burn incense on the altar. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is the time of the morning sac-rifice, a pious multitude surrounds him, praying in reverent worship, rejoicing in what he’s doing.
Mary, by contrast, she lives—verse 26—“In a town of Galilee named Nazareth.” In everyone’s estima-tion, Nazareth is an obscure, backwater town—a total Hicksville. Nobody has Nazareth on their bucket lists; there are no “Visit Nazareth!” travel brochures. What’s worse, Nazareth is tucked in between Gentile lands to the North and Samaria to the South, so not only is it infested, crawling with unclean Gentiles—that’s all of us folks, infested, right? It’s way too close, as well, to the despised Samaritans, these half-breeds. Nazareth of Galilee is not where you want to be from. But God doesn’t care about any of that, does He, when He’s distributing faith to His people? When He grants faith to His elect, He bypasses human circumstance and human expectation. He doesn’t care about what we think He ought to do— He does it. We react to it. We expect just by reading the narrative, we expect Zechari-ah to model faith in this narrative. He’s the pillar, he’s the guy of repute. By contrast, we expect very little from a young girl. Why should we? We’re not entirely wrong about that estimation either, are we? I mean, that’s normal. We learn a lot from faithful priests, faithful pastors. By contrast, usually we learn very little from young girls. The very little we don’t already know, right? But from time to time, God seems to delight in ignoring human expectation. He wants to make a point. It’s one of the characteristics you see in Luke’s Gospel over and over again.
And when Jesus pointed out that God bypasses our expectation, it infuriates the self-righteous. Just turn a couple pages over to Luke 4:24 and notice this account. Jesus has gone back to His own hometown of Nazareth, and He’s in the synagogue and He’s preaching, He’s teaching them about the fact that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. Opening Isaiah 61 and expounding it he says, "Hey, this is all about Me, guys, this is all about Me." They are saying, "Great, great—bring on the Messiah, let’s tri-umph over the Romans, let’s demolish them." Look at verse 24; He said, “Truly, truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. In truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years an six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zerephath in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman, the Syrian.” You know what He’s saying there? He’s saying, "God in his grace bypassed you and He went to Gentiles. He went to Naaman, the Syrian who’s essentially a border bandit, and He cleansed him of leprosy and he gave sustenance to a win-dow not in Israel during a time of famine and starvation, but to someone outside of Israel. God by-passed, you, self-righteous people and brought it to someone who didn’t deserve it." What is that?
“When they heard these things, all the synagogue was filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away,” (Luke 4:28-30). Wow! The very first time we see Jesus preaching in Luke, it didn’t go well. It didn’t go well. They wanted to kick him out. Those who are self-righteous react very negatively, sometimes hostilely, sometimes even in murderous anger to see God bypass those who seem to deserve his favor, bestowing faith and bless-ing on those who seem insignificant or undeserving. That’s what we find here in the introductions. The contrasts we see here between Zechariah and Mary—their backgrounds, who they are, their rela-tive importance, their situations in life, their circumstances. Faith transcends all of that. Faith is the great equalizer.
Here’s the second point: We’re going to find the salutation, the greeting. Faith seeks spiritual under-standing. Faith seeks spiritual understanding. Faith acts like a catalyst. It instigates, it agitates, pro-vokes. It stirs our hearts and our minds. And it’s subtle here, but notice the difference in how Zecha-riah reacted to the appearance of the angel and then how Mary reacted. Mary’s reaction here reveals a heart of faith. She’s ready to believe and understand literally at a moment’s notice. But just a quick point of contrast. Look at Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah in Luke 1:11. It says there, “There ap-peared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the alter of incense. Zechariah was troubled when he saw him and fear fell upon him.” Now, look at Mary’s reaction. Skip over to verse 29. Gabriel showed up in her living room; he came to her and said, “’Greetings O favored one, the Lord is with you.’ And she was greatly troubled at this saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Zechariah was terrified. He was paralyzed with fear, but it’s hard to blame him, right? I mean, poof—angel! Small space, God, Holy of holiness—boom! Angel right there. Terrifying. These are not fluffy Precious Moments angels. They are not soft and cuddly. Angels throughout Scripture are pictured as warrior men, terrifying and awesome to behold. There he is standing there. Zechariah probably thinks he’s a dead man.
So, it’s understandable. Mary was troubled, too, though. But her perplexity is different than Zechari-ah’s. She’s amazed at the manner of the angle’s greeting, not merely by the angel’s presence. Zecha-riah reacted to the visible presence of the angel. Mary reacted to his words, what he said. Mary here is thinking. She’s trying to figure this out, and she looks beyond what she can see with her eyes to seek understanding, to what she’s able to perceive with her mind. She is seeking spiritual understand-ing. Now, what makes this contrast even more remarkable is that Zechariah had even less reason than Mary to be surprised by the appearance of the angel. You say, "Why is that?" Well, Zechariah, after all, was in Jerusalem. He is was standing in the sanctuary of the temple. And directly in front of him as he ministered was a heavy curtain separating him from the symbolic presence of God and the Holy of Holies, separating him from the mercy seat above the ark of the covenant, and remember the mercy seat itself is overshadowed by two angels, right? Exodus 37:9, “The cherubim”—those are angels—“The cherubim spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings their faces to one another; toward the mercy seat were the faces of the cherubim.” Angels were always closely associated with the temple and the sanctuary.
Not only that, but according to verse 13, Zechariah had been praying. He’d been praying. Gabriel came in answer to his prayers. You might think the arrival of an angel would be met with a sense of spiritual awareness, eagerness—a desire for more spiritual insight and understanding. Not so. But Mary, on the other hand, we can see her and imagine her bustling around the house. She’s busy with routine domestic duties. She had no expectation of an angelic visit that day. No reason to anticipate anything spiritually significant happening in insignificant Nazareth, so far from Jerusalem. But what a contrast in her reaction to the angel’s greeting! Similar to Zechariah, she’s greatly troubled, yeah, but not by the angel’s presence. Not by his appearance. She’s perplexed by what she’s heard—the man-ner of the greeting. Her mind latched on to to those words, "favored one." "Who me? Why me? How am I favored?" She’s saying, "Okay, 'The Lord is with you.' Okay, whenever I read my Bible, whenever somebody says, 'The Lord is with you,' it’s said that somebody or something very significant is about to happen, and it’s usually life-threatening. Okay, so what’s God up to here with me? Why does the Lord have to be with me? What’s about to happen?" Her reaction reveals a young woman who’s looking beyond her physical sight. She’s captivated instead by what she sees through the eyes of faith. Her faith actively seeks spiritual understanding. She’s pondering what all this meant. Re-markable, isn’t it?
That’s the way with all whom God has granted faith to repent and believe. Hebrews 11:8 to 10 shows us the same pattern with Abraham. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place to receive his inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going and by faith he went to live in the land of promise as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.” Why? Why would he leave his homeland, his family, his gods? Why would he leave his livelihood? Why would he leave everything he built up to go wander around like a nomad living in tents? That’s not comfortable, folks—I’ve done it. It’s not comfortable. He was looking for-ward to a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. He looked not with physical sight; he looked with spiritual sight. That same kind of spiritual curiosity characterizes everyone to whom God has granted saving faith. We want to know. We want to understand. We want to grasp the significance. We long for permanence, lasting value, those things that are designed and built by God, with foundations. You’ve got to wonder, this Mary here, what makes people like her tick—I mean immediately latch onto that so quickly? Zechariah failed to see beyond the physical, and we un-derstand that, don’t we? We fail like that. Mary, she was able to understand. Probably impossible to answer all of those questions now, but clearly Mary’s faith, we can say without a doubt, she sought spiritual understanding. And that’s the way faith is. Faith transcends all circumstances, seeks spiritual understanding.
The third thing we learn about faith comes in the annunciation as Zechariah and Mary each received an announcement from Gabriel. And here we see the third point: faith embraces divine revelation. Faith embraces divine revelation. There is an exhilaration and an excitement among those who believe. Faith is excited by the things God reveals, faith arouses us spiritually. It ignites out spiritual energies, motivates us to move forward to fulfill God’s plan. And the object of faith is God—what God has re-vealed about Himself, what He’s revealed about His plan. We exercise faith when we’re attentive to what He said, to what He’s revealed in Scripture, and when we act accordingly.
Let me show you this. Again, this may seem like another subtle point, but notice the contrast be-tween the reaction of Zechariah and the reaction of Mary to what Gabriel’s revealed from God. Look at the text starting in verse 13. Verse 13 there, “The angel said to him [he said to Zechariah], '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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fa-ther to the children and he disobedient to the wisdom of the just to make ready the Lord a people prepared.’” Okay, stop there. That is an amazing announcement. That is an absolutely amazing and astounding revelation. Gabriel announced to Zechariah, "Hey, I’m here. Your prayers have been an-swered. You’ve been praying, I’m here. Boom! You’re going to have a son. Joy! Great before the Lord! Filled with the Holy Spirit! Your son is going to be historically significant, remembered through-out all ages. He’s going to be a preacher of repentance; he’s going to be a prophet of unprecedented significance like no other. He’s going to be the forerunner of the Messiah. He’s going to be the dawn of a new age.
Zechariah’s response—Zechariah said to the angel, "Eh? “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Really? Are you that spiritually dull, Zechariah? "I’m old, and my wife is old." Man, his focus is way off, isn’t it? Way off. Not even in the ball park. He’s not embracing divine revelation at all. This is really, really exciting news. But incredibly, Zechariah is fixated only on the temporal, on the deadness of his body, on the fruitlessness of his wife. He’s hung up on a little issue like barrenness. This has got to be mind-blowing for Gabriel. "Okay, so, I’ve come from heaven and I’m telling you what God told me and you respond with, 'I’m old, my wife is old'? really? Really? God can arrange an angelic visit, crossing the boundary of spirit and flesh, causing me to materialize here. You didn’t see me come in the back door, did you? I just appeared. Poof! But his redemptive plan is in jeopardy of being thwarted by your age?" Okay. Kind of silly, isn’t it? Do we think like that? Yeah. Are we still? Yes. That’s not Zechariah’s best moment.
What about Mary? A total contrast here, right? Take a look at verse 30: “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” As we learned when we studied this section, Gabriel had just identified Mary there, identified her with the prophesied virgin of Isaiah 7:14. That verse says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Immanuel.” Gabriel says to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call him"—not Immanuel, but “Jesus.” Yet this Jesus will be Immanuel. He’ll be great, Son of the Most High. He’ll be God in hu-man flesh. Immanuel, meaning "God with us." Your son is God with us. He’s the promised Messiah. He’s sitting on the eternal throne of David, perpetually ruling over the house of Jacob. Absolutely breathtaking, isn’t it?
What’s Mary’s response? “And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’” Now lis-ten, she is not doubting—she is trusting. Mary, to ask a question like that, had to assume the truthful-ness of what Gabriel said, which is why she wants to know how it’s going to happen. Her mind is total-ly engaged with what Gabriel has just told her. She is clicking, banging on all cylinders. She say, "I’m ready to go. How’s this thing going to happen? Let’s keep it moving. Prenatal vitamins? I don’t know what I need to do." She’s tracking, she’s on the ball, she’s very excited—and this is exiting, isn’t it? Mary’s faith has embraced divine revelation. She is ready to move. Why? Because her faith has ena-bled her to see and to grasp the significance of what Gabriel has said. Faith embraces divine revelation and that is proved in the readiness of her to move out, to act it out, to live it out.
We all want to be more like Mary, don’t we? Less like Zechariah. We’ve got to admit though, we tend to be more like Zechariah. We’re like those disciples on the Emmaus road whom Jesus chided as fool-ish ones and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken. You know, God silenced Zechariah for the nine months of his wife’s pregnancy, and that gave him time to think. Time to mediate, time to ponder a really, really long, quiet time. But then when Zechariah’s mouth was finally opened, he emerged fully believing for himself, right? And you can see, we going to go over his entire song of praise, Luke 1:68 to 79, but just quickly notice verse 76. He gets the revelation that Gabriel gave him, “Your child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the ten-der mercy of our God whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” He got it. It took him a while, but he got it. And notice what it says in verse 67, Zechariah said all of that because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied.”
I’m so grateful that the Lord doesn’t give up on those of us who are a little slower than Mary to em-brace God’s truth. Aren’t you? I mean we should all aspire to be more like Mary, believing immedi-ately. We should cultivate our faith so that we embrace the truth energetically, zealously and in the moment, but God is also gracious to work in genuine believers, some of us who are dull, some of us who drop the ball, who fail in believing, those of us who can sometimes be weak in faith. If you’re like that, let this account here encourage you to obedience, to reach out in faith.
Well, fourth point: Faith transcends circumstances—seeks spiritual understanding. When it finds the truth of divine revelation, it embraces it with zeal, it is ready to move forward. The fourth lesson here we learn about faith comes from the questions Zechariah and Mary ask. Faith sees through the obsta-cles. Faith sees through obstacles. We’ve already alluded to this in the previous point, but when we exercise faith, keeping our eyes on God’s word, we’re living by faith and not by sight. Faith looks at life from God’s perspective, and from that vantage point, everything by comparison that seems big and insurmountable to us is actually quite small, isn’t it? It’s actually quite little. Faith sees through the roadblocks, through the obstacles, all the blockades. It’s like x-ray vision looking through the opposi-tion to go where God is calling us on the other side. The obstacles that stand in front of us—those things that oppose us—none of that bears any significance on our ability to obey, to trust God, to do what God requires, striving for righteousness. We can overcome by faith if God commands it. We take him at His word, we believe Him, we pursue the obedience of faith because God, the One we trust, will bring us through.
Zechariah’s question in verse 18 is, “How shall I know this? For I’m an old man, my wife is advanced in years.” That questions betrays instance of lack of faith. That question reveals a mind that’s fixated on the obstacles. He unwittingly here denies the almighty power of God to do the miraculous—to do what seems to be impossible. Remember, Zechariah had Biblical precedent that should’ve informed and strengthened his faith. I mean as a lifelong teacher of the law, he have known this. This wasn’t the first time in history that a barren, mature woman had conceived and given birth to a baby. Ever heard of Abraham and Sarah, promised child of Isaac? Ring any bells? What about Manoah and his barren wife, the birth of Samson? By contrast, for Mary there was no Biblical precedent for a virgin birth, just this promise in Isaiah 7:14, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Mary heard that prophecy echoing in Gabriel’s words, and she grabbed it by faith. Her only question was, "Since I’m a virgin, how’s it going to happen?" Utterly remarkable.
Mary’s faith is exemplary, and this is how all of us ought to believe and behave as believers, right? That’s our name, "believers." Faith looks beyond all obstacles. To obey in spite of what we see in front of us, trusting God’s Word, looking to His promise to reward those who obey Him, right? Just one illustration of this, but it is a significant one. Just keep your finger in Luke 1. Turn over to Hebrews 11. I’ve already quoted from Hebrews 11, but I want to show you something here. I want you to read it for yourself in Hebrews 11 verse 17. Hebrews 11:17—it’s one of the most incredible tests of faith I can find in all the Bible. This is one that tripped up Soren Kierkegaard; he just latched onto this. God commanded Abraham, remember, to sacrifice his son Isaac. As a parent, it is almost beyond compre-hension how Abraham obeyed God, sympathizing with God more than his own flesh and blood. How’d he do that? Well, Hebrews 11:17 to 19 tells us. He reasoned by the reasoning of faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises”—that is, the promise of this very son—“he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’” There he is with the knife raised, ready to sacrifice his son. What was he thinking? It tells us right here. “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Is that incredible or what?
Abraham’s faith, like Mary’s faith, looked beyond the obstacles. It was not a blind leap; it was a rea-soned faith. He thought this through. Death is a significant obstacle to our obedience, is it not? He looked beyond death, beyond the obstacles to believe God has the power to raise the dead, and he did what He said. Wow. God stopped Abraham, thankfully. For most of us, God will never ask us to do something like that, but this lesson on the nature of faith—on Abraham’s reasoning informed by faith—this lesson is recorded as a memorial for us for all time. Like I said, most of us are not going to be tested in the same way God tested Abraham. God is not a god that delights in child sacrifice, but I am so grateful to read the record of those tests, aren’t you? We learn some of the most valuable les-sons from this pattern of Abraham’s faith from the pattern of Mary’s faith. Theirs is a faith that looks beyond all obstacles, like x-ray vision seeing through what’s in front of them to obey God on the other side, to pursue obedience to His Word.
Well, faith transcends all circumstances, seeks spiritual understanding, embraces God’s truth, looks beyond obstacles. The fifth and final lesson on faith, just from these texts here: Faith enjoys continu-ous blessing. Faith enjoys continuous blessing. This is going to be very brief, but Zechariah’s enjoy-ment of blessing was interrupted, wasn’t it? It was interrupted. He was at the height of his career. He’s chosen by lot to minister to the Lord in the sanctuary of the temple, a once-in-a-lifetime oppor-tunity. Hard to see how it could get any better for Zechariah at this moment, but then, while he’s en-joying that lesson, God sends another—an angel to materialize suddenly right there in the sanctuary—right next to Zechariah—and give him this announcement. Could it get any better? You hope to see Zechariah continue in the euphoria of this spiritually significant moment, moving from one sublime spiritual moment of joy to another. But he blows it. He fumbles the ball on the goal line. Everybody in the crowd, their shoulders just go, "Oh man." Zechariah asked a question; it came from a doubting heart and God censured him for it, didn’t He? Verse 20, “You’ll be silent, unable to speak until the day these things take place because you did not believe My words which will be fulfilled in their time.”
God was gracious to Zechariah even though he disobeyed. God didn’t retract His promise; He still gave him a son. God sent Zechariah home to his wife Elizabeth, allowed the two of them to conceive. Even in the punishment of silence, there was a word of hope. The silence would only last until these things took place, until they were fulfilled. There’s hope. Still, Zechariah suffered for his disobedience. He suffered the regret of unbelief. He suffered the whispers of an accusing conscience, the pain of bro-ken fellowship with God. He was unable to fully enjoy the truths God revealed; he was unable to talk about the wonderful things God had predicted. How frustrating. He had to go home in silence, couldn’t even tell his wife about it. What an utter disappointment.
By contrast, look what happens to Mary when she responds in faith, verse 35, “The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; there the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, you relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’” More revelation. She gets more truth from Gabriel. She gets affirma-tion of her faith, pointing her to go visit Elizabeth. She’s got more reason for exultation, praise, rejoic-ing. Mary’s joy here is unbroken as she enjoys the continuity of spiritual blessing and rapturous joy. Her first fellowship in joy is right there with the angel sent from heaven. And her joy continues unbro-ken as she visits her relative Elizabeth. Imagine that conversation, right?
Listen, that’s exactly what God wants for all of us—unbroken joy, delight in the truth. When we diso-bey, whether it’s through disbelieving God, whether it’s failing to embrace His Word, not obeying what He said, God’s plan is going to continue on without us. We watch while others enjoy the bless-ings of believing, while they enjoy the blessings of obedience. There’s a continuity of blessing that’s experienced in believing and obeying God, isn’t there? I don’t know about you, but I hate being left on the sidelines of what God is doing. I hate it. I want to be in the very center of His will. I want to be enjoying every blessing of faith and obedience. I want to relishing and practicing the truth that God has revealed to us through Scripture.
Listen, faith is the key to Luke’s Gospel. Faith gives you access to all its treasures. You have the key! Are you using it? You say, "How do I do that? How do I believe like Mary believed?" Well, a few things, just a quick list. Number one, continue in God’s word daily, continue in God’s word daily. Pray through it, ready it study it as you look and read for principles and truths you can obey, ways you can change. Develop a habit of reading and practicing, trusting and obeying. Number two, learn to hate what God hates and to love what God loves. Learn to develop godly affections, a heart that sympa-thizes with the heart of God. Mortify those things God hates. Put them to death because they wage war against God and against your own soul. Cultivate and practice those things God loves. Number three, how do you cultivate a heart of faith? Discover the joy of mining truths from His Word, the happiness of the freedom of putting God’s Word to practice in your life. That’s true freedom. It’s not freedom to do whatever sinful impulse you want. That’s not freedom—that’s bondage. That’s Amer-ican. How many Americans define freedom as unrestraint, lack of restraint. No, that’s bondage. Freedom is to obey God’s Word. The psalmist says in Psalm 119, “I run in the path of your commands because you have set my heart free.”
Fourth thing—cultivate a heart of faith by finding Christians who, like you, rejoice in believing and obeying the truth. That’s one of God’s most pleasant gifts, isn’t it? The gift of Christian fellowship, rejoicing in the truth, and that’s what Mary discovered when she went to visit Elizabeth. Both of them experienced the promise of God fulfilled in their wombs. Listen, if you’re not reading Luke’s gospel through the eyes of faith, its treasure remains hidden from you, locked away. You’re denying yourself full and free access. As we continue to study the Gospel of Luke, those of us who enter through faith, those who have the key and use it, will find joy and blessing in believing. When we exercise our faith, it’s going to take us from one glory and joy to another, and that’s the nature of saving faith. It starts from forgiven sin, rescue from divine wrath, and it opens the door to eternal life. That’s why Luke’s writing about Jesus’ life and ministry, right? So you also can find eternal life. More about that next time.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we’re so grateful to You for what You’ve revealed in just the first two ac-counts of Luke, how Luke skillfully and masterfully put these contrasts together for us to see. It en-courages us to embrace Your Word by faith. We ask, Father, that You would help us to possess faith and also to exercise faith, being obedient to everything that You have revealed because we love You. We’re so grateful to You for forgiving us, cleansing us, giving us a clear conscience and full and free ac-cess to You. We love You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.