Why did Luke write Luke’s gospel? “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
Things have been accomplished. These things have been delivered, handed over to be guarded as a treasure. And these things are talked about and taught. Luke writes Luke’s gospel about these things; that we may have certainty about these things. The word certainty means to not totter. It is like a tower of wood blocks or the game Jenga. Eighteen levels of three, side by side, one inch by three inch blocks. The aim is to carefully remove, stealthily even, one block at a time, from each level, to form new levels atop of the tower. And as the tower gets progressively taller, it becomes more and more unstable. It totters.
So, Luke writes Luke’s gospel so that we may not totter. But why? It is because things happen which may cause us to totter – things like the unexpected and the unknowns; things like cancer; things like the death of a child; a wayward spouse; things like persecution. And here is the big question: what is to help us not totter? These things.
And Luke, to begin, introduces us to a man who tottered. And it was these things – things accomplished, things guarded as a treasure, things talked about and taught – which helped him to not totter over.
Your Prayer Has Been Heard
Meet Zechariah. He was a priest. He was married. Her name was Elizabeth. She physically was not able to have children. And both Zechariah and Elizabeth were old. How old? Too old; that window of being able to bear children had been loudly shut and locked (Luke 1:5-7).
Then came the first, only, and last time in Zechariah’s priestly career that he would serve in the Temple. It was a big deal. All those who gathered to worship stood outside the Temple waiting, almost with bated breath as Zechariah entered the Temple on their behalf. He was there alone. Then came the unexpected. An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. The angel was just standing there! “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12). Now I want us, together, to pay close attention to Luke 1:13. “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.”
This verse is really important to our text for this morning, Luke 1:68-79, Zechariah’s song. But this is where it all starts for Zechariah. Although he tottered, his song starts here. And in the things accomplished which help us to not totter, listen to the first thing the angel says to Zechariah. “Your prayer has been heard.” This word prayer means a personal and specific, heart-felt request. And grammatically this word prayer is singular. So, this is really about a certain prayer, something particular Zechariah prayed. And what possibly could he have prayed? “And your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Like Isaac of the Old Testament, Zechariah had been praying that his wife, who had been physically unable to have children, would conceive. When and how long had he been praying this? For as long as that window, the possibility, was open. And it is very reasonable to assume that when that window had been shut and locked the praying stopped soon thereafter. The point is that it had been a long time since Zechariah had prayed this request. It makes sense, for it would have been laughable, like Sarah of the Old Testament, to think that a woman could conceive in her old age and her husband in his old age.
But this, too, is a treasure to be guarded: God remembers your prayer. He remembers your prayer from this morning. He remembers your prayer from last week. He remembers your prayer from last year. God remembers your prayer from ten years ago. God does not limit himself in hearing, answering and granting only the most recent prayers. God hears, God answers, God grants the old, personal and specific heart-felt requests.
And we want to mark down the last part of verse thirteen. “And you shall call his name John.” The angel has more to say (Luke 1:14-17). And what the angel has to say reflects Malachi 3:1 through 4:6. But in verse eighteen Zechariah tottered. “How shall I know this?” It is like he is saying, “I need proof, some visible proof that what you are saying is true.” Like verse thirteen, verses nineteen and twenty are really important to Zechariah’s song. This has been called a divine rebuke. “I am Gabriel.” Just notice that this is the first time that the angel reveals his name. Is that important? I think so and it is for one reason. Zechariah is a priest, meaning he knows his Bible. The last mention of the name Gabriel was in the book of Daniel and there too it was in response to someone’s prayer (Daniel 9:21). Zechariah knows this. And because of his unbelief Zechariah is silenced for nine months; perhaps also to the joy of his wife.
Seeking Some Silence
This is all really important to the song. This nine months of silence is a divine rebuke of Zechariah’s unbelief, but God always turns his rebukes into rewards for those who keep faith. What is to be done with nine months of silence? We are asking, what did Zechariah do with nine months of silence? The nine months ended with the birth of Zechariah’s son. But the silence for Zechariah was extended eight more days. On the eighth day the child was to be circumcised and apparently this was the day he would be named too (Luke 1:59). This was their firstborn son, their only son and apparently the custom was to name him after his father Zechariah. But Elizabeth said, no. “He shall be called John.” All were confused and notice Luke 1:62. “And they made signs to his father.” This has led some to wonder if Zechariah’s silence included not only the inability to speak, but the inability to hear. Could his silence have been total silence? But still, what did Zechariah do with nine month’s silence? Here he writes on a tablet agreeing with his wife. “His name is John.” The silence is then broken, and his mouth being loosed he spoke blessing God! But I think in those nine months of silence Zechariah thought about what the angel said. You shall call his name John. And I think Zechariah thought about what more the angel said. The angel was relying on and quoting Scripture, see Malachi 3 and Malachi 4. And I think Zechariah thought about the angel’s name. I think he then read the book of Daniel. And I think Zechariah pondered the unlimited ability of God as Gabriel would then direct Mary to do (Luke 1:37). And I think Zechariah prayed. It is all he could do. All Zechariah could do was read and do some deep thinking and pondering and pray. I think he confessed some things and repented and recounted the wonder of who God is.
We live in a time filled with noise. Some noise is obvious – the television; social media; the radio; politicians. And some noise are just our own minds and hearts and the things we think or worry about and desire. So it made me ask, how much of my day is filled with noise? And how much of my day is filled with silence? We are commanded to be silent. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). Therefore, to keep from tottering seek some silence.
And Now Zechariah’s Song
Zechariah’s song, Luke 1:68-79, is because of the silence. And his song is really focused upon two things: things accomplished and the things which will be accomplished.
The things accomplished are in Luke 1:68-70. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” I think Zechariah is for sure telling us what he did with those nine months of silence. He mentions the “holy prophets from of old.” He is talking about the Old Testament! And what does he say about the Old Testament? Every verb in these verses are in the past tense – visited, redeemed, raised, spoke. And each verb are things God has done. God has visited. God has redeemed. God has raised. And it is as God spoke. The last part, as he spoke, just reminded me of Luke 1:37. No word that God has spoken will be impossible. The help in not tottering is the unlimited ability of God. And if you want to know the unlimited ability of God get to know your Bible.
How has God visited? How has God redeemed? How has God raised up a horn of salvation? It was in the house of his servant David. Zechariah is not talking about his son John. John the Baptist is not from the house of David. He was from the house of Aaron, the line of priests (cf. Luke 1:5). Zechariah is talking about someone else’s son. Zechariah is talking about the Messiah, the Christ. Zechariah is talking about the son growing in Mary’s womb. He is talking about Jesus. And when he says it is all as God spoke in the Old Testament, it is like he is saying that all that God spoke and has promised are as good as done! Zechariah’s song is that Christmas has arrived!
There are only two verses in which he talks about his own son. Listen to verse seventy-six. “And you, child…” I just realized that this is a father’s song to his son. He is holding his son in his hands singing that Christmas has arrived. John will be the one that prepares the way for Jesus and his ministry. And how will John do it? John will “give the knowledge of salvation to his people.” Now just pause. Where can the knowledge, this intimate, experiential knowledge, where can this knowledge of salvation be found? “In the forgiveness of their sins,” the cosmic weight lifted from one’s shoulders (1:77). And where do I get the forgiveness of sins? Listen to Hebrews 9:26-28. “for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” And then listen to 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
He is the Horn of Salvation for Us
Christmas arriving means that God remembered his promise to Abraham. Christmas arriving means finally being able to serve God without fear and what does that mean? “In holiness and in righteousness before him all our days.” Christmas arriving means the sunrise has come, the light of the world is here! There is light for those who have been sitting in darkness, in depression, in despair. Christmas arriving means peace and not the peace that ends conflict, i.e. political peace, but peace that brings wholeness and completeness to the soul of a man and to the soul of a woman (Luke 1:73-78).
But my favorite part of this song is Luke 1:69. “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” This horn is the deadly weapon of a wild ox (Psalm 92:9-10). This horn is a sign of strength and a means of victory (Micah 4:13; Psalm 132:14-18). This horn is a defense, a shield. This horn has the power to secure and to protect. This horn is a very specific horn. It is the horn of salvation. This is the only time it is used in the New Testament and it is only used twice, the horn of salvation, in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:1-3). And both times the horn of salvation is God himself. The growing baby in the womb of Mary is the horn of salvation. Jesus is the horn of salvation. Jesus is my horn of salvation.
Can you picture it? It is that massive, muscle bulging ox with horns the width three times the size of its head. This is a Texas longhorn. Hear air forced from its lungs through its nostrils. Its head is lowered. Its right hoof digs and digs at the dirt. It’s about to charge in defense but also in offense. And the target is the cross. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
And when I begin to totter, I say, “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).
This is Zechariah’s song. This is Christmas.