Could you use some hope in 2020? This year has been challenging and divisive. We are living in a pandemic; there is social and political unrest, conflicts on the streets and economic uncertainty. I don’t think we can minimize the significance of these issues. They’re real and they’re affecting all of us.
When life is uncertain and difficult, what do we do? How do you respond? Maybe you have found yourself needing hope when you weren’t hearing the Lord speak to your heart and mind. Have you ever felt like your prayers were not getting through, or that God was not very close or has forgotten you?
God is working, be faithful.
Lots of people breeze past the first 8 words of verse 5, but Luke includes these words for an important reason that we should stop and understand why. Nearly 400 years have passed since Malachi wrote his final words and the Old Testament was shut.
Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-7)
The words of Malachi are both ominous and promising. It’s a reminder that God is preparing the way for our salvation and redemption. We will see next week how important John’s ministry really is as he prepares for the arrival of the Christ
And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.” (Luke 1:17)
But God was also at work in the world to make way. God does not waste any time. The 400 years and the Kingship of Herod the Great were critical to the Gospel.
I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but there were some critical events that needed to take place:
- After the closing of the Old Testament, an influential leader conquered the land in 323 BC. His name was Alexander the Great, his kingdom ushered in a common language – Koine Greek (in which the New Testament is written)
- When Alexander died in 323 BC his kingdom was divided into 4 parts. Israel will fall into the hands of Ptolemy’s and be ruled from Alexandria, Egypt
- Eventually, the Jews fight for deliverance. During the Maccabean revolt, temple worship is restored in what would come to be known as the Feast of Dedication – Hanukkah
- The instability of the area will eventually lead to further conquest as General Pompey enters Israel and establishes Roman Rule in 63 BC.
- In 44 BC Julius Caesar is assassinated
- In 40 BC Herod the Great is named King of Judea by the Roman Senate.
The history within all of these events is rich and active. God was moving the events of the world toward fulfilling His plan of Salvation for you. So when Luke writes, “In the days of Herod…” He is bringing his readers back to a difficult time. Can you imagine opening a book, “In the Days of Adolf Hitler”? That’s what Luke wants his audience to know.
There are a couple of things we need to know about Herod.
- He was a brilliant, shrewd, and gifted leader. He had an amazing ability to take risk and land on his feet. His brilliance was also in the building. You can go to Israel today and see much of his work still standing. Aqueducts over 2000 years old still present, Caesarea, Masada, The Herodian and the Temple in Jerusalem where we still see the Wailing Wall.
- The other side of Herod is a cruel and brutal man. Herod sought to immortalize himself as a s god. Caesar Augustus reportedly said that it is better to be a pig than to be one of Herod’s sons. The slaughtering of children after the birth of Christ in Matthew 2:16-17 underscores this sentiment.
Does the condition of the world concern you? If so, you’re in good company. These days seem to be reminiscent of “the days of Herod.”
With everything going on, it can be difficult to have a clear perspective. Add the tensions of this day and the strains of life. It was to Zachariah and Elizabeth. In the winter of their life, childless, and looking around to the situation of their world, thinking they had a part in God’s plan was probably the last thing on their mind.
Hope with Righteous Living. (Luke 1:5-8)
Luke introduces to us an older couple. A quiet, godly couple named Zachariah and Elizabeth. I can imagine that they were revered by their community. Zechariah was a priest and Luke describes them as righteous before God and blameless.
Names are in the Bible are important and this is certainly one of those times where the names of the people involved in the story foreshadow what God is about to do in their lives.
Zechariah means “God remembers.” We will see that God remembers Zechariah and He remembers His people.
Elizabeth means “God is my oath.” And God is indeed about to make an oath, a promise, that is going to bring great light that will dispel both the darkness that Zechariah and Elizabeth have lived under and the darkness that Israel has experienced as a people.
Zechariah and Elizabeth both come from priestly families. They were highly esteemed. They were righteous before God and kept His commands. Obviously that doesn’t mean they never sinned, But that description of their lives does indicate that they desired to live in a way that pleased God.
Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t merely go through the motions in following God’s laws; they backed up their outward compliance with inward obedience. Unlike the religious leaders whom Jesus called hypocrites, Zechariah and Elizabeth did not stop with the letter of the law. Their obedience was from the heart, and that is why God viewed them as righteous. Does your life reflect careful obedience and high regard for God’s will? As your life shows your love for God, others will be drawn to him.
And yet, in spite of their life of service to God, there was a deep sadness in their lives because they had not been able to have children. This is just one of many places in the Bible where we discover that devotion to God does not guarantee that we won’t experience heartache and difficulties in life.
But God is about to intervene in their lives in a miraculous way that would overcome the darkness and hopelessness they had lived under for so long.
Let me ask you a question: Are you carrying a burden? Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, has your burden eclipsed your blessings in your mind?
What is your burden today?
- Is it a physical infirmity?
- Do you have a broken heart?
- Is there a broken relationship?
- Are you experiencing loneliness?
- Are you defeated?
- Have you experienced a great financial setback or a disappointment?
- Have you lost a loved one, or perhaps a precious little one in your womb?
If you have a burden today, then take heart, for Zacharias and Elizabeth, and many other good people in the Bible, have walked in your shoes. In Elizabeth’s day, it would be a common belief that her barrenness was because of some kind of punishment for her sin. This was not only bad manners but also bad theology. Our sins are not always the source of our suffering. Sometimes they are but not always.
Sometimes Christians suffer for the exact opposite of sin – for the sake of righteousness. Sometimes we suffer because of the sins of others and sometimes God allows us to go through difficult times to bring us to a place of worship and glorifying him. We may not always know the why, but we do know God does hear our prayers. (Philip Graham Ryken)
Hope by Waiting and Praying (Luke 1:10-13)
Part of the Christian perspective on suffering is that even in suffering, there is a way for us to glorify God.
There are several wonderful examples of this among barren women in the Bible. I think about Sarah in Genesis 18 or Rebekah (Gen 25:21) or Hannah (1 Sam 1-2). All of these women suffered tremendously.
Suffering can heighten our spiritual sensitivity to draw us closer in our relationship with God. We have the choice and ability to become bitter or say, “How can I glorify God in this?” How can God use this situation to help others know him?
Dr. Karl Menninger, a world-famous psychiatrist, was answering questions after giving a lecture on mental health when one person asked, “What would you advice someone to do if he felt a nervous breakdown coming on?” Most people expected the doctor to say, “Consult a psychiatrist.” Instead, he said, “Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need, and do something to help that person.”
God has a plan. He answered their prayer at just the right time. They needed to keep serving others and keep praying. In the next post we will see how God answered their prayer and how he answers ours.
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Source: Bruce B. Barton, Dave Veerman, Linda K. Taylor, Life Application Bible Commentary – Luke, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 6.