He Came: The Christmas Story Begins

He Came: The Christmas Story Begins



Opening:
It seems that skepticism is on the rise. Did you know that there is an increasing rise in doubt over the virgin birth of Jesus.  There are those who claim to be Christ followers, believers in fact, that do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin? Isn’t that interesting. In fact, there is an ever rising movement in Christianity where believers believe that the Bible is not all true, all good, or even should be thought to guide our everyday lives. 

Friends, let me tell you that this is not unusual. This is not something new. When it comes to God, Jesus and the Gospels, there has always been an idea of skepticism.  

Certainly the world at large is skeptical of Jesus and the Christmas story. But there is also skepticism among religious people. We see it everyday and we even see it in the Bible. 

This morning we are looking at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  These are the famed parents of John the Baptist. John, as you know, was Jesus’ first cousin. God sent John as a forerunner to Christ’s ministry, preparing a way for Jesus’ ministry to grow and flourish. 

John was not born of a virgin, but his birth was still miraculous. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and Elizabeth was barren. They were both over the age of 60.  Not exactly child bearing years. 

On one occasion, while serving in the temple, Zechariah was greeted by the angel Gabriel and given the news that he was going to have a child. Zechariah was initially skeptical. A religious man greeted by an angel of light in holy place was a doubter.  

So, don’t fret that we living in a doubting age. People have been doubting God for years and years now.  Even religious people doing holy things in holy places doubted God’s Word.  Rest assured, Zechariah moved from skeptical to supporter rather quickly. 

That’s our first point this morning, God Moves people from Skeptical To Supporter.  If he can do it for Zechariah and Elizabeth, He can do it for us, our friends, co workers, and classmates. 

God Moves People From Skeptical To Supporter!

Background:
Let me tell you the context once more of the Gospel of Luke.  Luke was a Gentile. A follower of Paul. Luke wrote his book to Theophilus, which means “Lover of God”. Luke’s book focuses on the ministry of Christ to the down and out. He recalls all the times that Jesus ministered to those that the religious people often forgot about.  Specifically he recalls stories about Jesus ministering to immoral women, Samaritians, tax collectors, leper and criminals. Luke wrote his book to other fellow Gentiles like him who were looking for a Savior. 

For the record, this plays out in Luke 1. While Zechariah and Elizabeth were Jews, they were also outcasts. In those days to be barren meant that you were a social outcast. It meant that God’s judgement was upon you and people looked down on you. Being barren was grounds for divorce in ancient Jewish society. Zechariah could have divorced his wife, married a younger woman, had children and no one would have batted an eye. However, Zechariah did not put away his wife. The two of them lived under the stigma of shame and embarrassment. 

Not only that, but these were dark days in the history of Israel. Luke remembers the birth of Jesus as being one under tyranny. Jesus was born under Roman rule, governed by the bloodthirsty Herod, and living among frustrated people.  A people who had not heard from God in nearly 500 years.  That would all change with the story we are about to read this morning.  The story of John the Baptist. Open your Bibles to Luke 1, and let’s discover the skeptical nature of Zechariah, John’s Father. 

Scripture

Luke 1:1-25 ESV
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.

The Christmas Story Through Zechariah’s Eyes!

I. A Unique Time vs. 1-4
Luke 1:1-4 ESV
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Point:
As I stated early, these were dark days in the history of Israel.  They were a conquered people. They were living under the rule of the Caesar and governed by the evil Herod. The same Herod that when Jesus was born issued a decree that all males under the age of 2 were to be butchered in hopes that Christ would not rise and take power. There were threats of war. Incurable diseases were everywhere. Immorality and pagan idol worship were everywhere and in everything. We know from Jesus’ life and ministry that people were starving, sick, and suffering.  It was everywhere. 

Making matters worse is that the religious people who were called to help others sat in judgement over them. Religious leaders refused to meet needs, rather they condemned them as sinners. God seemed absent, unavailable, and cold to most Jews. They were a forgotten people. 

Times were indeed brutal. Jesus would have been witness to Roman abuse, mass Roman crucifixion, and Roman brutality and beatings. He would have witnessed wide spread mental illness, demonic possession, horrible physical deformities, and non existent health care.

Point:
I say all of this because Luke writes the opening of his book with a hopeful tone. Yes, things were dark but God is about to do something amazing.  God is about to interrupt human history in a profound way. He was about to send Jesus to live among mankind. Hope is about to enter the world for the first time. 

John’s Gospel records the entrance of Christ into the world in this manner. 

John 1:1-5 ESV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Point:
Indeed, the darkness, the spiritual and physical darkness would not overcome the ministry of Christ. 

The Christmas Story Through Zechariah’s Eyes!

I. A Unique Time vs. 1-4
II. An Unlikely Couple vs. 5-7
Luke 1:5-7 ESV
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Let’s just take a second and talk about Zechariah about Elizabeth. 

1. They were old. They were coming to the end of their line. I know that many of you over 60 may be offended by that comment because you still have many years left in the tank.  Remember, the life expectancy in the ancient world was not very old. Making it to your 60’s and beyond was a true gift. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were living on borrowed time and they new it.

2. They were frustrated. Because they had no children, the two of them lived under the stigma of their peers. Were they living with secret unconfessed sin? Was God angry with them? These were the questions that would have been rolling around in their heads. These would have been the subject of secret conversations of those they worshipped with. You can imagine how discouraged they must have been. 

3. Zechariah was human. So was Elizabeth. We see this propounding put on display in this story. They were just like you and me. No different. Flesh and blood. 

They were both unqualified for the roles that the were about to enter. Friend, we are all unqualified for the calling that God puts on us. Moses was unqualified. So was Peter.  So was Paul. What about David? Yep, unqualified. You would think that the important task of raising up “the greatest man ever” (Jesus’ words)  would fall to a King or Queen, not some worn out, discouraged priest. 

Remember the great quote, “God does not call the qualified, the qualified the called.”

Do you feel unqualified for what God is calling you to do? Join the club. Kingdom work is supernatural work, no matter what your calling is. If it doesn’t require real faith, a desperate dependence on God to be with you in order to succeed, then either it’s not God’s calling or you don’t get it yet.

Have you been arguing with God over your calling qualifications? If so, remember Moses. And remember that God’s call on you is not about you. It’s about him. And the question is, are you willing for God to use your weakness to show how impressive he is?
Don’t use your weaknesses as an excuse for unbelief. Move forward in faith. God will be with you, will guide you, and will give you the help you need. For God’s M. O. is to choose…

I Corinthians 1:26-27 ESV
 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…

The Christmas Story Through Zechariah’s Eyes!

I. A Unique Time vs. 1-4
II. An Unlikely Couple vs. 5-7
III. An Unusual Visitor With An Unbelievable Message vs. 11-14
Luke 1:11-14 ESV
11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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…

Point:
Do you have any favorite moments in the Bible? You know, those stories that you have read thousands of times and you just never get tired of them? I do.  I have so many. Yet, it seems that all my favorite moments involved ordinary people having life changing encounters with God. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? What about when Paul ran into Jesus on the road to Damascus? My favorites. 

Well this is one of my favorites as well.  Here you have a religious man, doing religious things and he is shocked with something supernatural happens. When is the last time you felt surprised by God’s movement here at church? Perhaps you came to church today thinking it would be like all the other days and like a tidal wave, God washes over you.  You felt His presence and His power. 

Gabriel was indeed an usual visitor. Gabriel is one of several different types of angels.  Yes, there are types of angels. Gabriel is not an archangel.  He is the chief messenger angel. He delivers God’s directives to humans. Namely, he shows up to Zechariah, then Mary and then Joseph.  He had a very busy Christmas season. 

Gabriel has been around a long time and is seen in the Old Testament as well. In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the prophet has a vision about a ram and a goat—and a lot of crazy stuff happening with their respective horns. I’ll let you check out the bizarre details yourself.

Suffice it to say Daniel has a hard time understanding this vision. So someone “who looked like a man” comes to explain it to him. This person’s name is Gabriel.

Gabriel stand-in the presence of God. We will discuss that in a minute. So, if you are wondering where Gabriel is today, at this moment, he is standing in the presence of God. Imagine that scene for a second. 

Another interesting fact about the angel is that whenever he speaks, he is talking about Jesus. Specifically, his job was to deliver news about the coming Savior to the world. If you ever wonder why we don’t hear from Gabriel today, its because he has fulfilled his purpose.  He was the heavenly birth announcement and now that Christ has been born, lived, died, and resurrected, he stands in the throne room of God.  Not a bad gig right?

We see that Gabriel delivers a pretty powerful message to Zechariah.  Zechariah responds with fear and doubt which we will cover in the next point.  However, we see that Zechariah responds with a great deal of fright.  So, does Mary and so does Joseph.  So, we can we learn from their responses?

1. We learn that Gabriel was a tremendously frightening figure. When you run into Gabriel, get ready because you knees are about to get weak. 

2. We learn that Gabriel shows up in prayerful moments. In each case, Daniel, Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, he shows up when they are praying. Friend, if you don’t think prayer is powerful, know that preyer moves angels.  That’s a fact. 

3. We learn that Gabriel doesn’t play. Zechariah doubt the message of the angel and the mutes him on the spot. Perhaps Zechariah was doing a bit to much talking and not enough listening. 

Point
I know that i have done a lot of talking about the messenger this morning and trust me, he was not as important as the message. God was entering the world, light had dawned and this was only the beginning. 

Friends, let me be your slightly less scary Gabriel this morning. Perhaps you are living in a dark discouraging place with Zechariah and Elizabeth this morning.  God’s light is going to dawn in your life this morning. I believe it. Do you? God moves angels when we pray. 

Psalm 91:11 ESV
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.

V. An Unenthusiastic Response vs. 18-20 
Luke 1:18 ESV
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 

Point:
Let’s be real, we would have all responded the way that Zechariah responded.  No matter how religious, or how close to God you are, this is an unbelievable message. You and your wife are going to give birth, not to just any kid, but to the forerunner of the Messiah.  There’s a lot there to unpack. 

Birth
Prophet
Savior of Mankind

That’s a lot to wrap your head around. Zechariah, while fearful musters the courage to question the mighty messenger. How can this be. 

Doubt is a funny thing isn’t it.  We are all gripped with doubt from time to time. Any time you read the Bible and you encounter someone  who doubts, bad things happen.  Disastrous things take place when people doubt. Yet, time and time again we meet characters who doubted God. 

If you’re struggling with doubt, then you’re in a place where your belief and unbelief are held in conflict with each other. It’s not a comfy place to be, but, as we’ve seen over and over again in scripture, Jesus can work with it. While we are warned against “doubting” Jesus, doubt does not disqualify us. 

In this moment, Zechariah provides an example for us doubters. He confesses it. He says it out loud. He does not hide it from God. Somewhere in his sub conscience mind, Zechariah understood that God could handle his doubt. 

So, what happens? Boom, Zechariah is muted. At first I thought this was a punishment.  Perhaps it was. However, I believe that Gabriel mutes Zechariah supernaturally to increase Zechariah’s faith and dependance on God. If Zechariah was muted before man, perhaps he had been given the megaphone to God. 

So, what’s the cure for doubt? Confess it and call out to the Lord. Trust me He can handle your doubt. Yes, He may put things in our lives that may feel uncomfortable but through that discomfort we will grow closer to him. 

Follow the example of the father who brought his demon possessed son to Jesus. 

In desperation the father appealed to Jesus, “If You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Jesus answered, “If You can! All things are possible to him who believes.” The father responded, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Mark 9:23-24 ESV
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

VI. An Unimaginable Promise Kept vs. 24-25
Luke 1:24-25 ESV
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Point:
Friend if you don’t hear anything I have said to you today, hear this, God keep his promises. He kept his promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They did conceive. They did give birth. They named him John and John turned the ancient world on its ear. It was hard to image, but God did just as he said he would. He always does. 

So don’t stop praying. 

Don’t stop giving.

Don’t quit. Believe the promises. You remember the promises of God. Never doubt in the dark what God shows you in the light.

When you go through difficult times, the natural response is to throw everything up in the air and let all your plans go down the toilet. But that’s the last thing you should do.

Right before his crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples an important promise to focus on during the difficult days to follow. He said, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22 NIV).

Jesus knew his disciples would face difficulty, but he reminded them they needed to hang on because they would rejoice later. When confusion sets in, you need to know that God has a plan — and you are still a part of it.
Become a promise person. Learn God’s promises, and claim them. There are more than 7,000 promises in the Bible. You’ll never be able to claim them when confusion strikes if you don’t know them.

God’s promises are like an insurance policy. When you have insurance, you don’t have to worry about how you’ll pay the bill when a medical issue arises. You’re covered.

When you go through confusing times but you know God’s promises, you don’t have to worry anymore.

You’re covered.

John 16:22 NIV
“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” 

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