Jesus Forerunner Announced
Description: It is fitting for such a noble entry as that of our Lord Jesus, to be introduced in regal display. Hence God prepares for Jesus to be born by preparing His forerunner, John. In this message, we will look at the circumstances surrounding the birth of John the baptizer.
Keywords: Gospel, Jesus, God, Luke, narrative, Son of God, Bible, Sermon, Bible Fellowship Church, BFC, Whitehall, Northern Lehigh
Date: November 22, 2015
Speaker: Pastor Tim
Scripture: Luke 1:5-25
Video: Watch this Sermon
Audio: Listen to this Sermon (time 34:59)
Notes: Read Sermon Notes
Transcript (new way)
1 “Jesus’ Forerunner is Announced” (Luke 1:5-25) CLARENCE REHRIG: “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. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. “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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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 2 Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.’ “And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ “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. 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.’ “And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 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. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. “After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 3 ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.'” May God bless the reading of his word. PASTOR SCHMOYER: All right. Jesus’ forerunner. So we’ve been hearing about Jesus’ ministry. We’ve seen his baptism, his temptation. We’ve seen him call his first disciples. Today we have what? Four, right? Peter, James, John, and Levi. So he’s assembling his crew, the 12. He’s going to begin teaching any day now in our sermon series. But now we’re coming back to the very beginning of it all as we prepare ourselves for Christmas. Christmas isn’t about the cookies and the eggnog; it isn’t about the presents; it’s not about Santa man or the reindeer. All of those things are fun; they help us to celebrate the season; but the season is really about Christ: Christ and his body, Christ coming down from heaven to earth. And certainly before the bridegroom enters the temple in order to be wed, certainly there’s a whole wedding party that comes on ahead of him. So Jesus, the last to enter the room. In Jewish days, in the Old Testament period during Jesus’ day, the last person to enter wasn’t the bride, it was the bridegroom. He was the last to enter the bridal 4 party. And so Jesus is about to enter the scene, but before he does the bridal party comes on ahead of him. And so the forerunner, the person that comes on beforehand, the little girl throwing the flowers, here’s this man clothed in camel skin, eating locusts and honey, calling out to everyone: Abandon life as usual, turn to the living God. We know him as John, John the Baptist, John the baptizer. It depends if you’re a Baptist or not whether you call him John the Baptist or John the baptizer. John, the forerunner. And certainly before Jesus’ ministry John begins; and before Jesus’ birth John is born; and before Jesus is conceived of John is conceived of; and before the angel tells Mary about Jesus about to be conceived, this same angel Gabriel comes to daddy, Zechariah. We see in verses 5 through 7 that Zechariah and his wife were blameless. They were godly, they were righteous, they feared the Lord. And in today’s passage we’re going to see that good news comes to these good people, these good lovers of God. Let’s talk about them because we want to talk about ourselves. We want to see how God shows up in our lives, how God intervenes in the circumstances of 5 our lives. And then we want to end with Zechariah’s response of doubt, and we want to think about ourselves. How often do we doubt? When God has said, and we think, did God really say that? That’s really not what he must have meant because that’s too hard. It’s only too hard because it inconveniences us. God wants us to put our full trust in him. So let’s walk through the passage, and we’ll see all of these things. Lord God, we open ourselves to hear from you. Let your word bear its fruit in our hearts. Let us know you better; let us know the way you tick, know the things you care about; let us pursue you during this time. And, Holy Spirit, we pray that you would get ahold of us and pursue us in that same way. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. So the first thing we see in verses 5 through 7, these are godly people, and they show themselves to be blameless by enduring their trials. When these two faithful people of God faced their trial, verse 7, they were childless, they were barren, they were of old age. They endured their trials without missing a beat. They remained blameless. I think too often, you know, we start following God, and then God doesn’t deliver from a circumstance, 6 God doesn’t act in quick order, and we throw in the towel and we say: I’m done in my spiritual growth; I’m done trusting this God because he didn’t show up on my timetable. Did God show up for Zechariah and for Elizabeth? With glitz, with shock, with surprise. Right? God showed up when he was least expected. And friends, we should never lose doubt; we should never give up hope that God is going to act, that God is going to be good, that God is going to hear from his people. And these people did not miss a beat. They were blameless. The scripture says in verse 6 they were both righteous before God. They did not throw in the towel when God did not deliver them from their trial. No. It says that they walked blamelessly in all of his commandments and statutes. Would that describe you? Are you hungry for God and his righteousness? Are you burdened to chase him and find him and obey him? See, too often we chase him for what we want, but then we don’t chase him for his guidance over our lives. We will come to him when we’re in a pinch, but we won’t come to him before we make our decision and before we get ourselves into hot water. 7 Friends, these people obeyed their God. How are you doing on your obedience? How are you doing measuring up to what God wants from you? God isn’t measuring you to see if you’re fit for heaven. He’s measuring you because he’s already called you his child. He has declared you to be fit for heaven, not through your efforts but through the efforts of Jesus, our perfect Savior. And now that you are called holy, he is doing his work to bring about the truth of that claim. He wants you to be holy, he wants you to follow him. These were blameless in all of God’s commands. And verse 7, notice that big word. “But they had no child.” They did everything God expected, but God wasn’t answering their cry for help. And you know what? They didn’t say to themselves: Well, then we’re done. We did all we needed to do, and then God didn’t do what he was supposed to do, so now we’re checking out. No. They stayed faithful, they showed themselves to be blameless. Because even through their adversity, even through their pain, their grief, they anticipated God to rescue them, and he didn’t. What does the Psalmist say? “Lord, even if you strike me, yet I shall follow you.” Would that be true of us; that God would bring about some pain in my 8 life and I would still stick with him. Friends, when God doesn’t deliver, when God doesn’t show up and rescue from the calamity, he hasn’t stopped being God. God is all-loving and God is all powerful, and just because he hasn’t answered right this second doesn’t mean he isn’t loving and good and powerful anymore. He is always that. And even in your difficult time he is still loving you, and he is still powerful in your life. And friends, God shows up to give them wonderful news. Not only does he give them a child for their own enjoyment, he gives them a child that’s going to be for the enjoyment of all the world, because John the Baptist becomes part of the story of our Savior, Jesus. Jesus needs someone to go on ahead of him; Jesus needs someone to be tooting the horn. Everyone pay attention! The bridegroom is about to come. And then Jesus enters because John prepared hearts. Zechariah and Elizabeth, these two barren parents, get to now enjoy being part of God’s story, not just God helping them in their story. I would invite you to consider that sometimes with God delaying in your life, with God not showing up on your timetable, he is writing out the script of a more glorious timetable, that you will get to be 9 part of his story rather than him just delivering you out of your story’s plotline. Do you understand the difference? That you get to join him rather than him joining you. If we just come to God in prayer and say, deliver me from this and rescue my storyline, right? Be the solver of this plot problem, be the resolver of this tension. Then we’re just asking God to enter our tiny little story. But if we say instead: God, I’m going through this problem, and I anticipate while you delay that you are going to be preparing me to be part of a far larger God story in the universe rather than you just delivering me out of my little plotline problem. That’s a glorious distinction, isn’t it? God wants us to remain blameless until he comes. While God is delaying in coming to Zechariah and Elizabeth, we’re part of a far bigger wait. They waited what? Forty, 50, 60 years for God to show up into their tiny little story. We’re part of a far bigger movement where every book of the New Testament says our Savior will return. And sure, there will be wars and rumors of wars; there will be famines; there will be earthquakes. There will be times of difficulty, but listen, our savior is coming back. 10 And while Zechariah and Elizabeth waited 40, 50 years, we’ve been waiting for deliverance as a people, as a group 2,000 years. And friends, right now the tension, and the world’s getting worse and worse. Everything seems to be spinning out of control, evil seems to be on the rise. And I’m here to tell you that while our God waits, he is calling us to be blameless while we wait for his return, so that when we see him face to face he will say: “well done. You are my good and faithful servant, well done. Enter into the joy of your master.” So these were blameless. I encourage you to be blameless. On your connection card you’ll see that perhaps God might be calling you to respond in this way, right, this first decision point. “I will trust in the returning Lord as my motivation to endure life’s heartaches.” So they in their heartache waiting for a child; you in your heartache waiting for whatever, deliverance from whatever. Wait on the Lord; expect his soon return; and when he comes back to gather us up, he will make all wrongs right. Keep waiting. He will be right on time. In verses 8 through 10 we see the second movement of the story where now just by happenstance Zechariah 11 gets picked to serve the Lord in the temple. Let me describe how this works. In verse 8 it says “he was serving as a priest before God when his division was on duty.” So the way this works is ever since Aaron, the first of the priests, all of the tribe of Levi were to be priests to God. So while the Judahites, the Benjamites, and the Zebulunites and all of the tribes of Israel were out doing their work, the Levites were called by God to serve in the temple. They were to be the caretakers of people’s spiritual walk; they were to intercede and to pray with people; and they were to give them guidance. Much like pastors today the priests were. But there were so many Levites that the duties were short, and there were so many of them that they would all serve on rotation. So his division, Zechariah’s division gets picked to be serving in the temple. So the chief priest would say: All right, Zechariah’s team; all right, Zechariah’s division. You, you go trim the candles. You, you go drain the blood from the altar. You, you go inspect all the sheep to make sure they’re all unspeckled. And so he would divvy out assignments. And one of the men got to enter the temple and to 12 burn off the incense. There were so many Levites in Israel at this time that you were drawn by lot to go into the temple once in your entire life. So here’s Zechariah. It says in verse 7 that he was advanced in years. He had been waiting a long, long time to fulfill this one duty, to enter into the Holy of Holies, to stand before the Lord and to burn off the incense. They would do this hour of incense once in the morning at 9 a.m. and once in the afternoon at 3 p.m., and so every day like two guys would get to go. Zechariah got to go, and he brings the prayers of the people before the Lord and burns the incense as he’s offering the prayers of the people. This is not unlike — I have these prayer needs; you write it on your connection card. Our pastors bring your prayers before the Lord in our Tuesday meeting. And so like he’s coming and bringing the prayers of the people. The text does not say that he brought his own prayer for a child. But think about this, right? It’s his one shot to stand before the Lord in the Holy of Holies, and perhaps he did bring his prayer request. And all I want to do is say God arranges circumstances. That in your life the difficulties you 13 face; the random coincidences, you happen to run into someone that you haven’t seen in a while, just all of these coincidences and happenstances. Alan, God providing for my needs, right, in some coincidental way. But God is the one that orchestrates those coincidences. Let us never see anything as random, let us never see anything as chance. Even when we play Yahtzee as a family or we play something with dice, and I’ll remind everyone: “the lot is cast into the lap, but every decision comes from the Lord.” And so if God is picking the winners and losers in Yahtzee, you can be sure that God is paying attention to those seemingly random circumstances of your life. God arranges this circumstance. In Galatians chapter 4 Paul writes that Jesus was brought into the world at the fullness of time, that the world was ripe for the Messiah to come. And if God knew that this was the moment that the Messiah should enter the world, and his wedding party needs to enter slightly before him. And Zechariah just happens to be entering the temple on this particular day. God was arranging all of these events to occur all in a row. And if God was watchful then, certainly I want to 14 encourage you God has not forgotten you. He is arranging your circumstances of life, the seemingly random events that occur, for his glory and your spiritual growth and for you to affect other people. So he was brought into the temple to burn incense. Verse 10. Everyone outside was praying for him outside during the hour of incense. Why do you think the whole multitude was outside praying for him? The last time in the Bible that there’s a story of incense being burned in the Holy of Holies was in Leviticus chapter 10 where Levi’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, burned incense before the Lord, but the scriptures say that they offered strange fire. That God was not pleased with their incense, and he struck them dead in the Holy of Holies. And so now Zechariah gets his one shot. I’m sure he’s reading all of the user manuals and the “How To Burn Incense For Dummies.” Right, he’s got all that material, because he doesn’t want to mess up like his ancestors Nadab and Abihu. Now it’s his turn to go in. Everyone is praying for him, and God shows up. Not only does God bring about and arrange circumstances; he also rearranges circumstances. For these people, verse 7, that were barren are now about to receive a very special blessing. 15 Let’s go to verse 11 and see what the scriptures say. “an angel appeared to him, an angel of the Lord, at the right side of the altar of incense.” So you know this grand story. You’re the priest, you’re going in. You know the story of Nadab and Abihu, and an angel shows up while you’re doing this, what is the first thing on your mind? He’s going to kill me the way he killed Nadab and Abihu. The angel of the Lord, right? The messenger, right? So Passover and they’re all in Egypt, and this messenger that comes and slays all of the first born of Egypt. And so he’s worried. Every time in the scripture an angel shows up, the recipient is afraid. Look in verse 11. “don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You’ll call his name John. You will have joy and gladness.” So right now Zechariah’s circumstance is sorrow, grief, fear, danger, and God rearranges all of that to, verse 14, joy and gladness. “God will turn your mourning into laughter and into dancing,” the prophets prophesy. Just like the paralytic that was laid out flat on his back, and Jesus took his hand and said, “Rise, walk.” Turning that circumstance around again, God is 16 the rearranger. And notice that this special gift is not just for the benefit of Zechariah, not just for the fulfillment of Elizabeth. Down in verse 25 Elizabeth now says, “Oh, Lord, you have taken my reproach among the people away. You have filled me up when I was sorrowful.” Yes, it benefits Zechariah and Elizabeth, but the passage says it’s going to benefit the whole country. Listen to it. Verse 15. “He will be great before the Lord.” Not only a kid but a great one in the Lord’s eyes. Verse 16. “He will turn many of the children of Israel back to the Lord, their God. He will go before the Lord in the spirit and in the power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” So he is certainly a forerunner; he is the one that prepares everyone. Clear the way; the Messiah is coming. Repent now; the kingdom of the Lord is at hand. He is about to come, the king is about to come. Prepare, make way, get your house in order. He’s coming. This is the ministry of John the Baptist. And when I want to encourage you with is when God rearranges things in your life, often we need to be 17 watching for “for his glory.” It is not just for your personal benefit that God answers prayers; it is for the benefit of everyone that watches that event. So be thinking: God, I’m in turmoil right now. How are you going to act so that other people can see you in my life? That’s a huge game-changer. Because often we just want to get bailed out of our circumstances, don’t we? How will you show up so that you can receive glory in my circumstance? That changes the way that we pray, that shapes the kinds of things that we ask for, and in my heart of hearts God is receiving more glory when I change my attitude. When you change your attitude, God is receiving more glory from your life. On your connection card you’ll see some responses to God’s busyness about your circumstances. The middle two, perhaps God is saying to you today: All right, I need to apply God’s word in these ways. The first of them: “I will be watchful for the opportunities God brings my way.” Was Zechariah watchful for this news? He was shocked, he was stunned, he did not know what to do. I will be watchful. The second one: “I will renew my awe of my God who brings about the impossible and includes me in 18 it.” Do I want God to act in my story, or do I want God to include me in his story? See, that’s a far bigger thing, that’s a far more effectual thing; that will cause more lives to be changed, more people to be benefited than if I just pray for my own circumstance. When Zechariah and Elizabeth have been blameless and righteous and waiting, now God says: Listen, you have waited and waited and you’ve been blameless, and now I’m going to answer your prayer, but I’m going to answer your prayer in a way you would have never imagined. Not only a kid, but a kid that’s going to turn the world on its head. A kid that’s going to be filled with the spirit from the womb, and he’s going to radically change our entire society. Jesus said this about John the Baptist. There is no human on earth greater than John the Baptist. Do you hear that? There is no one born among men greater than John the Baptist. You see, Zechariah, Elizabeth, they were just praying for their problem, and God rearranged that whole circumstance not for their benefit alone but for his glory. Let’s be praying not for our benefit; let’s be praying for his glory. Do the impossible and receive glory when you do that, Lord God. Maybe in your life you can think of an impossible 19 circumstance, an irreconcilable problem. And God will do the impossible when we trust him, when we act blamelessly, and when we wait for him to show up for his glory. Now, Zechariah did not anticipate this. He anticipated perhaps a spiritual event. He would have expected, you know, communing with God, but he did not expect this news on this day. We’ll end with our fourth idea. In verse 18 Zechariah said to the angel: How do I know that this is going to be? We old. And the angel is like, I know you are, but what am I? No, he didn’t say that. He says to Gabriel, How can this possibly be? He did not believe it would happen, for even Gabriel says, because you disbelieved the message. So Gabriel knows his heart. I’m sure God prepped Gabriel for what was about to transpire. God knew Zechariah would be so shocked he wouldn’t know what to think, right? So he doubted; he doubted. And I guess I just want to leave you with this last idea. This might be the most important fundamental thing for us. God takes our faith seriously, or lack thereof. He at all times knows the barometer of how serious our faith is. And while we’re wandering away he sees that, he knows that. He 20 knows our wayward eyes, he knows our tendencies to love this world rather than him. He knows when we’re growing. He’s boosting us up, he knows when we’re on a spiritual high. He knows the level of our faith at all moments, and he takes it into account. One of the crowns — we talk about receiving crowns when we get to heaven? One of the crowns is called the crown of life, which is given to those who eagerly wait for his return. This says to me God knows how eager you are; God senses in your heart how thirsty you are for him. Give me more of you in my life. He knows whether I want him; he knows whether I’m taking him for granted. He knows our faith, and he takes seriously how faithful or how faithless we are. Sometimes we don’t even know how faithless we are. We go to work, we do our job. We come home. We sit on the couch, we watch our television program, we slug down some supper and go right back to it, television. I’ve got nothing against television. We watch television programs. But I guess I’m encouraging you to think about, what am I intentionally doing to build up my faith? Because Zechariah here is punished for disbelieving, for not 21 having a faith-filled heart. I would encourage you to put more trust in him. I would challenge you to speak up on his behalf. Zechariah was stricken with the inability to speak because he disbelieved. And sometimes I wish when we are being faithless, when we are acting faithless, that he would shut us up, because so often we as Christians speak out in a bad way. Man, my church is so lousy. They got this crummy pastor. I go home to my wife and say how crummy the pastor was this morning. Or we complain about our Christian loved ones, right? We whine about it. At the restaurant this afternoon you’ll be whining about, Can you believe what she said in church this morning? Can you believe how horrible that guy was in church this morning? And everyone’s hearing how disbelieving we are. We complain about our spouses. We whine about our children, we have no control over them. It’s because we’re not doing anything to act, to control, to speak into their lives and shepherd them. And the whole world is watching, and the whole world is laughing at how faithless we are. I wish God would do to us what he did to Zechariah, that when we’re faithless he would shut us up so that we wouldn’t utter worthless words. 22 I pray that God would give us such a bold faith; that he wouldn’t have to shut us up, that he would help us to speak. Because when we’re healthy, we speak healthy things; and when our faith is not healthy, we speak unhealthy things. I would challenge you to take to heart our final decision point. Speaking about speaking, right, thinking about talking out loud, how Zechariah was silenced. “I will trust God” — see, Zechariah wasn’t — “I will trust God that he will use me as his witness both to unbelieving family and to others this holiday season.” You’re going to have a remarkable opportunity on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday, whenever you guys get together as family, to be a witness to God, not only in what you say but how you say it; with your attitudes, with your interests, with your care for other people, that you actually listen when someone talks to you around the supper table this holiday season. And use your God-given opportunity. The way that Zechariah in his state of disbelief was silenced, I pray that God would build up your faith so that you might speak. And you don’t have to be a Holy Roller. Perhaps you could just say, why don’t we pray before 23 we eat this holiday season? That would be a crazy thing, to actually pray for the Thanksgiving meal? Some of our families don’t. Some of our prayers are rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub. That does not bring honor to the Lord who died in your place. Think about being a witness and speaking up the way Zechariah was silenced. How can you in a healthy spiritual way speak in a way that’s not nagging or begrudging or negative but speaking positively to your neighbors, to your family, and certainly on the road this Wednesday. How many of you are driving out of town on Wednesday? God love you and God bless you. That’s a hardship, isn’t it, not a joy. Let’s wrap it up with this. Let’s just quiet our hearts, and let’s just talk to God about where we are. God, you’re looking across this room. You know every heart, you look inside every soul. You know the litmus test; you know where we stand in our faith. I pray, Holy Spirit, that you would diagnose us and that you would communicate to us where we are. Where do we stand? How faith-filled are we, how blameless are we in doing what you say? Measure us now and tell us how we measure up. God, when we are faithless, when we’re not 24 building the spiritual climate of desire and love for you, oh, God would you expose that to us so that we might prayerfully reengage with you and reconnect with you? God, when we’re on fire, when we’re burning brightly, God, would you just build us up and would you just use us powerfully, especially this holiday season around the kitchen table, giving you thanks, bringing honor to your name in what we say and how we say it. God, over this room there are various responses we need to make to your word this morning; responses like Zechariah and Elizabeth or unlike them. Lord, we want to respond to your truth this morning. Help each one of us to identify the way that we need to grow, and we’ll lift this up in Jesus’ name. Amen.