Read the final words of Malachi and then pause for as long as you can before reading beginning with Luke 1:5-25. There is roughly a 400 year gap between the close of Malachi and the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. (I was going to be silent for 6 and ½ minutes, one second for every year but I didn’t think you could stand it. I know I couldn’t stand it any longer.)
For some 400 years since the last words of Malachi were penned – most Jews believed that since there had been no prophets, that God had been silent. History bears out that God had indeed been active – even as 2000 years of History since Christ have demonstrated God working, but there have been no writing prophets bringing us a new word from God. The canon of scripture is closed. But many people today still believe that God is silent. But something happens when we begin the actual story of Luke with verse 5. God breaks the silence.
This morning I want to begin talking about what happens when you feel like God isn’t speaking and more importantly what happens when God breaks the silence.
The theological truth is that God is not silent. He never is. But the experience of our lives is that often our prayers sometimes go on and on without obvious answer, and still we keep praying; hoping with faith that God will somehow break the silence and send down an angel to proclaim his favor to us. Sometimes as Christians we despise those stretches of time when God is not putting burning bushes in our paths, but the truth is that while he will never leave us or forsake us, still he grows us and matures us by causing our faith to be faith.
Sometimes that faith maturing process requires that we wait. But waiting is never easy. How many of you would say that patience is your most defining characteristic? Do you know that God wants to make you patient? Do you remember that part of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives is patience?
Our Father loves you enough to train you and I to be more like Jesus. So what shall we do while we wait for God to break the silence? The first thing is that we shall be faithful.
Because it was politically expedient for him to keep his subjects happy, he set about building a temple – a massive temple complex which included expanding the temple platform and coating the outside of the temple with gold so that it reflected in the sunlight. The downside of such a massive building project and all of it’s political affiliations is that Herod had the high priesthood in his pocket.
Into this storm tossed sea of politics and discontent comes a righteous and faithful couple. Zacharias was a priest who ministered in Herod’s temple. Now in order to be a priest you had to a direct blood descendant of Aaron, who himself was of the Family of Levi. Zacharias then was a Levitical priest and more specifically part of the Aaronic priesthood.
As you might imagine when there is a priesthood born out of blood lineage two things in particular could happen.
1) you would eventually end up with multiple thousands of priests.
2) just like royal lines are prone to developing some who are quality leaders and some who are much less so; a blood lineage priesthood can produce priests who only view their work as a job to be done or those who with Love for God serve Him willingly.
Luke’s point here is highlighted in verse 6
“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. ” (Luke 1:6, NASB95)
Of this I want you to take note of two issues that mark Zacharias and Elizabeth as a faithful couple: Faith and obedience.
In every way, Zacharias was a faithful and godly man, His wife was a godly woman. They were righteous in the sight of God. Now since the scriptures clearly teach that “no one is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) – what does this mean? It means that Zacharias and Elizabeth were believers. They had great faith.
Throughout all of history – from Eden until now, salvation has always been by faith. The prophet Habakkuk stated it: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4, NASB95)
Someone who will not humble themselves before God is someone who will not know God, or be known by Him. But those who come to God in faith are those who are humble – these are the ones who are saved. God saved Zacharias, Elizabeth, Moses, Joshua, the Apostle Peter and the chief of sinners Saul of Tarsus the same way he saved me, the same way he saves anyone: by faith.
By faith, God looks to the cross – whether present or future and he counts the sins of his servants as paid for. By faith, Zacharias and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God.
How’s your faith this morning? The only way to be righteous in the sight of God is by faith, and specifically faith in His son. But it is not mere head knowledge that counts as faith. Faith demands submission. Submission creates obedience. You cannot have saving faith that does not also result in obedience.
Look again at the sixth verse: they walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. This tells me two things about their obedience. That they walked in the commandments means that they kept them outwardly. But that they walked blamelessly in them means that they also kept them inwardly.
Today, if you’re waiting for God to break the silence be faithful. Be righteous. Have faith and live in obedience to God’s word. Till God breaks the silence, be faithful. But also endure.
One of the great themes of the books of 1 Peter and Hebrews is “faithful endurance”. As children of God we are called to endure all things with faith. Here in America we are not yet called to endure the intense persecutions our brothers and sisters in China, Eritrea, Iran and many other places must endure. But we are called to endure the smaller trials of life.
There at the end of the sixth verse, note the contrast of real life. They were both righteous in the sight of God, and yet they (Zechariah specifically) struggled with faith. He will question Gabriel’s word and yet in the midst of even that doubt will find grace – as will his wife Elizabeth as she becomes pregnant with John.
But…. What comes in this verse is on one hand entirely unexpected. The cultural attitude of the day was that children were a blessing from the Lord, the inability to have children was considered by some to be a curse. (Luke 1:24) With that understood, this verse is completely unexpected to anyone then reading it.
On the other hand, it calls to mind (or should) the Bible’s other famous couple who were past childbearing years. (1:18) Abraham and Sarah also were beyond childbearing years, and yet God gave them a miraculous baby in Isaac.
Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth had to endure one of the most difficult private struggles. I am certain that just like any woman today, that for all of the years Elizabeth battled the doubts and struggles, and just raw heartbreak that stems from being childless that she wondered why God would do this to her. But God had not abandoned her.
Whatever our situation we have all been in those times where we are just plain unable to accomplish or affect something close to us. We face straying children, distant spouses, broken hearts, financial struggles and just plain impossible situations all of these are spots where we are just plain unable.
This couple had two strikes, they were incapable both by birth and by age of bearing children. But when God decides to work in you, he does not check to see if you are capable, he makes you capable to fulfill his calling. Did you hear that? When God decides to work in you, he does not check to see if you are capable, he makes you capable to fulfill his calling.
These verses serve not only as an introduction to the people but also to the problem. They also pave the way for a display of God’s power and the unfolding of His plan. Due to the task that John the baptist is going to take on, it is important that it be evident from the beginning that God was beginning to move.
If you’re still waiting this morning for God to break the silence – I want to encourage you to remain faithful and to endure with faith. It’s when we are incapable, that God often breaks the silence in order to do the impossible.
1Hoehner, Herod Antipas p6
2The Gospel of Luke, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 9.
3Stelman Smith and Judson Cornwall, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos, 1998), 246.