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Have you ever read the Bible and thought, “Man I wish God would do things like that today!” I believe that he still does. And I believe that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have been thinking the same thing. Last week we met them dwelling in faithfulness and obedience as a righteous couple, in the midst of a not very righteous world. For us they are just like any faithful Christian today, who is waiting for the day of the Lord. That morning when Zacharias went to work I don’t believe he had any clue what God was about to do in, through and with him. Open up your Bible once again as we look to see what happens when God breaks the silence. (Read Luke 1:5-25)
As John the baptizer’s task would be to prepare the way for the Messiah, the announcement of his birth and the subsequent way the miracle of John’s birth plays out already sets the stage for people to begin expecting God to do great things. But don’t miss that it all starts in the midst of regular life.
When God Breaks the Silence it will be while you’re being faithful to do your job
V8-10 give us every indication that while this was a sacred occasion for everyone, and a special occasion for Zacharias, it was also – in some sense a mundane occasion. Zacharias was simply serving before God but he wasn’t just going through the motions, there was sincerity in Zacharias’ service. Luke describes Zacharias as a faithful man, a righteous man – though clearly not a perfect man. He stands in stark contrast to the high-priesthood Jesus will be seen dealing with on frequent occasions. But that is because there are always some who serve for the wrong reasons as well as other serving for the right reasons, and some who are self-righteous. God knows the difference, and he knows who he wants to use.
With as many as twenty thousand priests1 the chances a priest would have to burn the incense which was offered once with the morning sacrifice and once with the evening sacrifice were far and few between – it was probably at best a once in a lifetime experience for a regular priest. We can well imagine that every faithful priest yearned for his name to come up in the lot. But today was Zacharias’ day and not because of mere chance.
The lot is described in many ways but it is essentially a roll of the dice, and if you’re number came up – you were selected. Proverbs 16:33 says that the lot is cast into the Lap but it’s every decision is from God. There was no accident that Zechariah was chosen by lot. God had a prayer to answer, and he wanted to do it in the chamber which symbolized prayer. A holy man was about to mean a holy messenger with a holy message.
When God breaks the silence he will orchestrate circumstances to align with his will. This is why I want to insist that despite the title of the message – which merely reflects what we sometimes think, God is never really silent. He is always working to bring about his will. But don’t miss the way in which God brings about the birth of John the baptist – his constant sovereignty is evident.
God picks the man, he picks the lot, he picks the place and he sends the angel. (Read Luke 1:8-10)
Exodus 30:1-9 describes the altar of incense both it’s construction as well as it’s use. Being about a foot and a half in width and length and about three foot tall the altar was constructed of wood and overlaid with pure gold. The incense was a sacred mixture defined in Exodus 30:34-38. The mixture is so sacred that if anyone should make it for themselves to enjoy they were to be cut off from their people.
Everything about this moment for Zacharias is sacred, holy and exciting. As the incense burns and the smoke begins to ascend with the silent prayers2 of the gathered worshipers outside, Zacharias suddenly sees an angel standing on the right hand side of the altar. A messenger sent by God to break the silence with earth shattering news.
When God breaks the silence it will be for Him to do something you can’t do.
Just imagine, coming into the church one evening, you’re the first one hear, it’s peaceful and you come into the sanctuary. Thinking that you might kneel by the altar to pray for a few moments, you begin praying and then open your eyes – there in front of you is a man who appears to be glowing, maybe he has wings and a long white robe. It won’t be a calm and serene experience. The fact that there’s someone there, when you were supposed to be alone would be disarming. The fact that this someone is obviously not human would be overwhelming.
You’re in a holy place in prayer and this being is now standing in front of you – is he there to harm you or to help you? All of these thoughts must have raced through Zecharias’ mind.
As a result two specific reactions are recorded. First this righteous man who lived in obedience to God is severely shaken up. And second he was gripped by fear. This is more than your momentary fright when someone jumps out unexpectedly at you, this is a consuming fear, a deep dread.
The angels first speaks a word of reassurance, “Do not be afraid”. That’s pretty standard for the normal reaction in scripture to the appearance of an angel is fear. That word of reassurance however, is immediately followed with good news. “Your prayer has been heard”!
There’s a vital lesson in the timing of the answer Zacharias receives: “A Long Delay does not mean your prayers are ignored.” Listen: When God breaks the silence, it is always to reveal that He has been with you all along. He has been listening all along. He has been storing up your tears and strengthening your character. Our father knows what you are enduring, and he knows what you ask even before you ask it. Don’t mistake the supposed silence of God for Him ignoring you.
The angel comes to Zacharias to tell him that his prayers have been answered. But which Prayer? We can assume that as the priest offering the incense that he is praying for the people of Israel. We can assume he is praying for their freedom, for them to know God, for God to deliver them from bondage. But we also know that Zacharias was praying for something else, that he had apparently been praying for something else for a long time.
Don’t be afraid – Certainly this is in response to Zacharias’ great fright in seeing this angel before him. And yet I wonder if God’s words to you today, who have been praying for so long is “don’t be afraid.” More specifically “don’t be afraid that I’m not hearing your prayers” – “don’t be afraid that you’re prayers seem to go unanswered. Humble yourself before me and wait for my deliverance!”
But what the angel says next is way beyond Zacharias’ ability to follow through.
“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. ” (Luke 1:13, NASB95)
It’s a wonderful bit of news, but it comes with a huge problem: Zacharias and Elizabeth were too old to have a child, and they were unable to have a child. From the comfort of our temperature controlled sanctuary it’s easy to look a them and say, “Hey but what is impossible with man is possible with God!’
When God breaks the silence He will demand faith.
When you consider all that is said of the child to be born, it seems pretty clear to me that God has a miracle in mind. This child is going to announce the Messiah, This child is going to be dedicated to the Lord. This child is going to live according to strict rules of asceticism. This child is going to be empowered by God even before he is born. This child is going to answer Zacharias’ prayers by calling Israel back to the Lord!
Can Zacharias bring forth the Messiah? No that’s not his job.
Can Zacharias turn the hearts of Israel back? No, that’s not his job.
Can Zacharias break through genetics and old age to bring for a child? No, that’s not his job.
Zacharias’ only job is to believe. And that is your job as well.
Everything about being a Christian ultimately comes down to Faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith it is impossible to be saved. Without faith it is impossible to be resurrected. Without faith it is impossible to live for Jesus.
Your redemption, your salvation, you’re divine empowerment to accomplish the impossible comes down to faith.
For the Christian, everything comes down to this: with man it is impossible with God all things are possible. Do you believe this?
This is the question Jesus asked Martha as she grieved over her departed brother Lazarus.
Listen to what Oswald Sanders wrote about faith…
To believe is to commit. In the [program] of mental belief I commit myself, and abandon all that is not related to that commitment. In personal belief I commit myself morally to this way of confidence and refuse to compromise with any other; and in particular belief I commit myself spiritually to Jesus Christ, and determine in that thing to be dominated by the Lord alone.
When I stand face to face with Jesus Christ and He says to me—“[do you believe this]” I find that faith is as natural as breathing, and I am staggered that I was so stupid as not to trust Him before.3
Are you committed to this journey of faith you are on? Are you willing to trust God to do whatever he says no matter how absurd it sounds to unbelief?
The central core of your faith – is not the words “yes” or “no” the central core of your faith is the character and nature of God Himself who has declared that in Jesus Christ every promise finds it’s “yes and amen!”
So Pray! Seek! Trust! Wait! Expect! Look deep into God’s word, what is the greatest thing you can accomplish on your own? Don’t stop there, Seek for the greater thing that only God can do. Take him at his word and believe!
When we seek after God diligently in prayer a time will come when God breaks the silence and sends an answer. Like God’s answer to Zacharias, God’s answer will be a fulfillment of His plan and it will be outside of your ability. When God breaks the silence it’s going to take faith.
1The 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), 10.
2Barton Warren Johnson, The People’s New Testament : With Explanatory Notes (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999), 223.
3 Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest : Selections for the Year, NIV edition. (Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Co., 1993).