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004b Angel Gabriel Appears to Zechariah          Luke 1:5-25

Last week, we discussed the fact that Luke changed from the pure literary Greek to a form that is very Hebraistic.  He talks about Herod the great, which gives us an approximate date as to when these events that he is writing of take place.  He introduced us to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and informed us that they were righteous or blameless before the Lord, and not just righteous before men.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t sin, it just means their hearts were after spiritual things; If you remember, Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God sees the heart and the intents of men.  They weren’t just conforming physically to the law!  Even Paul, in everything evil that he did, kept the law externally.  What’s important is what’s in the heart.  Zechariah and Elizabeth had a real and sincere love of God.

The name Zechariah, if you remember means, “Jehovah remembers” and Elizabeth means, “What God swears”.  Jehovah now is about to “remember” what He has sworn to do for His people.  The result of their union will be John, which means “Jehovah is gracious”.

Now, “it came to pass”, it wasn’t random chance, but “it came to pass”, on a Sabbath, that an angel, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Zechariah in the temple as he performed his duty.  The angel informed Zechariah that he and Elizabeth were going to have a son and they would name him John.  This angel knew him by name; angels know righteous men by name; the men to whom they are ministering spirits.  Now, I’m sure the angel could tell that Zechariah was somewhat surprised, and tried to calm him down, he said, “Fear not.”  I’m sure I would need a lot of calming, also.

The angel told him that his prayer had been heard and was being answered.  Our prayers are heard when we make them, but they’re not always answered immediately, and sometimes the answer is “no”.  Sometimes, Satan can delay an answer to prayer, just like he did with the angels that were trying to answer Daniel’s prayers.

The angel told Zechariah that he shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at John’s birth.  He would have joy and gladness; we looked at this word last week.  He shall have joy and exultant joy!  Joy on top of joy because of John.  And many will rejoice!  The coming of a prophet will cause many to rejoice.  There hadn’t been a true prophet in Israel for a long time.  So, it seems that everyone will have joy and exultant joy, because they will rejoice.

The angel told him that John would be great before the Lord; he didn’t tell him that John would be great before men.  We find out later that quite the opposite is true.  John will be a Nazarite. 

Look with me in verse 16:  “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.”  Literally, this word “epistrepho” means, “he shall be turning back”; “Many of the children of Israel shall he be turning back to the Lord their God”.  If only we could get people to turn back to the Lord today!  Many need to find the Lord, but many also need to return to the Lord!  Israel knew about God, but they had quit following Him; they had quit following His teachings; they were being disobedient, preferring to follow the corrupted and perverted teachings of man.

We’re told in this story that John shall be going before the Lord; he’ll be his forerunner.  He shall have the spirit of Elijah.  We saw that the last word of the OT is “curse.”  What a way to end.  The mass of Israel is dispersed throughout the Persian Empire, with a remnant, mostly of the tribe of Judah, led by Zerubbabel and survivors of the priests and Levites in Israel; they’re all over the place, and there’s threat of a curse.  It leaves you hanging, anticipating, and searching for resolution; it’s a cliffhanger.  The resolution of this curse would come in the Messiah.  Before the Messiah comes, Elijah would come as His forerunner, and Elijah would come in power and spirit in John.

Luke tells us that John came to restore or to turn back the hearts of the children of Israel.  John was not Elijah reincarnated; he came in the spirit and power of Elijah.  When the scribes objected that Elijah must come first, Jesus acknowledged that fact, but said in Matthew 17:12:  I am saying to you that Elijah came already, and they did not recognize him, but they do to him whatever they will. Thus the Son of *Mankind also is |about to be suffering by them."  (That’s a literal translation, so it sounds a little odd in English.)  Elijah came; just not in body as the scribes and Pharisees expected; he came in spirit and in power in John.  The Pharisees were often looking for the right thing, but looking in the wrong places.  John is to be a light, preparing the way for the light.

Verse 18:  “And Zechariah said unto the angel, whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.”  I’m not sure that I would have done any better; I would have probably doubted, how about you?  After praying for something for years, apparently without an answer, and suddenly being confronted with an angel telling me that my prayers were being answered with something that is highly improbable in human terms, I don’t think my wits would have been what they should be.  Zechariah says, “according to what” shall I know this, and then he gives the reason for wanting a sign, that he is old and so is Elizabeth.  “I’m old, my wife is old, I’ve been praying for this for years…  I need a sign.”  We need to be careful what we ask for, because God just might give it to us.

When God’s plan was for the children of Israel to eat manna, they said, “We loathe this light bread”.  They prayed for something else, something that was not part of God’s plan.  He gave it to them.  He gave them what they asked for; quail, until the quail was running out their noses.

The angel was a messenger from God.  In that culture, when you were talking to someone who was officially representing someone else, it was as if you were talking to that person.  This was as if Zechariah was talking directly to God.  And what did Zechariah do?  He doubted; he questioned; he wanted a sign.  You better watch out what you ask for, because you might not like the answer.

What does the Bible say about seeking a sign?  Matthew 16:4 says, “a wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.”  A sign has to do with our fleshly desires and weaknesses, our lack of faith.  We’re to walk by faith, not by sight.  The sign-gifts of tongues and healings, etc. were given for the unbelieving that they might believe.  They didn’t have faith.  Signs are for shortcomings of faith.

The angel said, “I am Gabriel”.  Gabriel means “man of God”.  Gabriel is the angel that gave Daniel the explanation of his two visions in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21.  The only other angel of God mentioned by name in Scripture is Michael, who is the destroyer, the champion of God against evil; he’s the minister of wrath.  Gabriel is the messenger of peace and restoration.  Michael is the forerunner of Jehovah the judge; Gabriel is the forerunner of Jehovah the savior.  If you think back to Daniel 12:13, which says, “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia”, you will see that sometimes it takes the two most powerful angels of God to withstand Satan.  If the two chief angels had trouble resisting Satan, what makes you think you can do it on your own without any help?

Verse 19, Gabriel is speaking and says, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God and was dispatched to give you these glad tidings, and you want a sign?”  When you ask for a sign, you better be careful or you might get one.  Zechariah was given a sign.  [Luke 1:20]  “And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.”  Don’t doubt God and don’t seek a sign.  The word translated as “dumb” comes from a word that has a double meaning:  It can either be “speechless” or “both deaf and dumb”.  If you look with me in Luke 1:62, we can derive that Zechariah was both deaf and dumb.  [Luke 1:62]  Because of his lack of faith – the fact that he needed a sign beyond the word of God (after all, Gabriel was the messenger of God, and as His messenger, Gabriel’s word was as good as God’s) – but because Zechariah doubted and wanted a sign, he would suffer this affliction until all the words of the promise would be fulfilled:  The promise would be completely fulfilled when John was named. 

Because of Zechariah’s unbelief (his lack of faith), he has no right to speak of the things of God to others.  Don’t be caught short; don’t let your unbelief or lack of faith ruin your testimony to others.  Don’t let your testimony to others be negative.  Don’t be stricken dumb.

Verse 21:  “And the people were waiting for Zechariah…” To make a long story short, this verb that is translated as waiting is a Greek word prosdokao and is a finite verb and a participle so it denotes protracted waiting; it dragged on.  You’ll have to take my word on it, as I’m not prepared to give a lecture on Greek sentence structure and parts of speech at this moment; catch me later.  “And they marveled that he tarried so long in the temple.”  They were waiting for him to come out that they might be blessed by him and dismissed.  They couldn’t go until they were released, and it was taking a long time.  The Talmud tells us that the priests, and especially the chief priests, were accustomed to spend only a short time in the sanctuary, otherwise it was feared they had been slain by God for some unworthiness or transgression. 

The Talmud is the body of the Jewish civil and canonical law that is not comprised in the Pentateuch.  The Talmud consists of two parts, the Mishna, or text, and the Gemara, or commentary.  Sometimes, however, the name Talmud is restricted, especially by Jewish writers, to the Gemara. There are two Talmuds, the Palestinian Talmud, which is commonly but mistakenly called the Talmud of Jerusalem, and the Babylonian Talmud. They contain the same Mishna, but different Gemaras. The Babylonian Talmud is about three times as large as the other, and is more highly esteemed by the Jews.  Neither should be used on the same level as Scripture, but they do give us a lot of insight into Jewish customs and society, as well as a better understanding of some passages of Scripture.

The priest going into the sanctuary had to be blameless, or he would die.  The priests wore bells on the hems of their robes so those outside could hear them moving, and they tied ropes around the priests so they could be pulled out if they died; you couldn’t go in after them.  We don’t know if Zechariah was delayed by a longer discourse with the angel than that which is shown here (he may have chatted for a while) or perhaps he continued musing on what had happened; thinking about the impact of what he had been told or how to explain his sudden deaf and mute condition, or he perhaps delayed in prayer; no matter what the reason, the people were anxious.  The priests, and especially the chief priests, usually did not spend long inside.  When the high priest went in to burn incense on the Day of Atonement, he would make a short prayer in the temple, and hurry out in order not to frighten the people.  This is just like many today.  They were serving and worshipping out of fear and not out of love.  Do you love God, or do you just fear Him?  How much better is it to serve out of love and not be afraid!

Verse 22:  And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.”  After delaying, possibly trying to get over being deaf and dumb, or maybe trying to figure out how to face everyone, it was time for him to come out.  (How embarrassing!  I doubted God!)  How would we face people today, if something such as this happened to us?  Would it be shame?  Perhaps wondering if people would believe us?  The people were waiting for a benediction or a prayer and dismissal, and one was not forthcoming; it was time to go.  Because of the apprehension due to the length of time he had been in there, and the fact that he did not deliver the benediction as he should, they perceived that he had seen a vision or something in the temple.  What, they did not know, but something.  He wasn’t dead, so it couldn’t be too bad.  Zechariah was beckoning to them, or making signs, to make them know what he had seen, and he remained dumb; not just speechless, as in a loss for words, he was incapable of speech or hearing, and this incapacity was given as a sign.  This word “perceived”, does not mean they guessed; it’s the same word used back in verse 4:  [Luke 1:4]  That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”  They knew.  By the time he had finished, they know he has seen a sign.  In ordinary Greek, this word “epiginOskO” denotes intelligent comprehension; they know.

Verse 23:  And it came to pass (there’s that phrase again), that as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.”  We can see that his condition of being deaf and dumb did not excuse him from finishing his service.  He did not get to pack up and go home immediately, he had to finish his service or his ministry.  Hardships don’t excuse us from living for the Lord.  Sometimes, living for the Lord will create hardships.  That doesn’t mean we can stop.  When difficulties or hardships occur, we are to continue on or to persevere; we have to endure.  Paul didn’t stop in the face of persecution, did he?

[Hold your finger and turn to John 15:2]  Those who are being productive, He prunes that they may be more fruitful.  Pruning hurts!  It’s cutting.  But, Romans 5:3 tells us that affliction produces endurance.  If we have endurance, we may continue through difficulties and persevere through hardships and be obedient or righteous.

Here in verse 23, this word translated as “ministration” is the Greek word “leitourgia”, from which we get our word liturgy.  Leitourgia is from λειτος (leitos), belonging to the people or public, and έργον (ergon), a work; hence it means service of the state in a public office. 

It has been observed that when the Christian Church was forming its terminology, it did so partly by shaping new words, and partly by elevating old ones to higher meanings than their previous uses; often, it did the latter, (elevating old words to new meanings) by more readily adopting those words that were employed in civil and political life, instead of words that had played their part in religious matters.  In other words, the Church took words that were already used in public office, and simply adopted their use in the Church.  Therefore it adopted this word “leitourgia”, already in use in the Septuagint, as the constant word for performing priestly and ministerial functions; and so the New Testament used this word of the ministry of the apostles, prophets, and teachers.  This word can be found in Hebrews 8:6 & 9:21; 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2:17 and Philippians 2:30, if you care to look them up.  I’ll be glad to tell you these passages again, if you want.

Let’s look at one of them.  [Philippians 2:17]  (Read 16-18)  Paul’s life is being offered up in service or leitourgia.  Either literally of figuratively, it doesn’t really matter.  He joys himself in the service, and he joys with them; the joy is mutual, and it should be.  Young missionaries challenge other Christians to match their money with their blood that is being offered up as leitourgia or service.  Look on down in verse 30:  This is talking about Epaphroditus, and it says [Philippians 2:30]; he exposed himself to danger for the service.  That danger could take many degrees and different forms, but it was simply ministerial service.

Verse 24:  After his days of ministration were completed, Zechariah returned home, and his wife Elizabeth conceived.  This is according to the angel’s message and despite her barrenness and Zechariah’s lack of belief.  This was a miracle from God, and was in contrast to the perceived reality of permanent barrenness, which made it stand out that much more; it wasn’t something private, it was a public miracle.  Everyone would see it! 

Luke, as a doctor, in his physician-like ways, uses almost as many words referring to pregnancy, barrenness, etc. as Hippocrates does.  Hippocrates lived from around 450-380 BC and is considered the father of medicine.  His writings were the most complete medical writings known at the time.  He was the expert and wrote extensively.  We get our Hippocratic oath from him that doctors take.  We’re not certain if all the writings attributed to Hippocrates are actually his or are written by his adherents, but that’s not really important right now.

All of the words Luke uses, except this one in verse 24, are peculiar to Luke (amongst the gospel writers), but were in common usage amongst physicians.  We get lots of new words here.  (Luke 1:31; Luke 1:24; Luke 2:5; Luke 1:7; Luke 20:28.)  [They’re different in Greek, but not necessarily in English.]  How many different ways can you say the same thing?  Why did Luke do this?  This seems to be a fairly complete list.

Verse 25:  “Elizabeth hid herself five months” or literally, she kept herself close.  Some have speculated that this may have been because of the excitement of the surrounding people to her pregnancy.  However, there’s a little word in there, “oti”, that neither the KJV nor the Revised render; they take it to be the equivalent to quotation marks.  “Oti” is a conjunction that can be used in a similar fashion to quotation marks in some cases but it literally means “because”.  She gives the reason for her seclusion here.  What was that reason?  Because the pregnancy was God’s work, she would leave it up to Him to announce it and take away her reproach.  She did not try to hide the fact that she was pregnant; she simply did not announce it to everyone.  Five months is specified, after which her condition would become apparent.  “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me…” How had He dealt with her?  He dealt with her in a very gracious and loving manner.  Her cousin Mary, who was to be the mother of Jesus, may have been one of the first people to know about Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  Turn with me to  [Luke 1:41; don’t read yet].  Mary came in and said to Elizabeth, “hi, how ya doin’”, and [Luke 1:41-44].  (v 42 she’s ecstatic; v 43, only with a holy spirit could she have known that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah.)

One last thing to look at in this passage:  Look at the last part of verse 25:  “to take away my reproach among men”.  This reproach would not have only been a longing for a child and not receiving one, but it would have been embarrassment for not providing an heir for her husband. 

Think about the story of Tamar.  Her first husband, Er, the hesitant one was killed by God for some sort of terrible evil.  We’re not told explicitly what that evil was, but he was smitten (he was smiked down).  Then, Judah, her father-in-law gave her Onan.  Onan was unrighteous in that he continuously spilled his seed on the ground so that she could not get pregnant and provide an heir to his brother.  He was covetous in wanting to keep the stuff for his family and brought reproach upon her, so he was killed by God.  The reproach was that she would have appeared to be barren.  So, Tamar resorted to trickery to get pregnant by Judah.

[Genesis 38:14-16]  Most of us would not think of Tamar as righteous; she pretended to be a harlot and she intentionally had sex with her father-in-law; this was forbidden and punishable by death.  She’s pretty wicked, right?  Look with me in verse 26 [Genesis 38:26].  Tamar’s intention was not to humiliate Judah.  Neither was it to live as a prostitute and accept whatever man came to her.  Neither was it that she wanted Judah as her husband and set about trying to entangle him.

She solely wanted to perpetuate the name of her husband on the earth and the only choice left to her was to either get Shelah to sleep with her or Judah.  Noting Judah’s weakness in that he hadn’t had a wife for some time (Gen 38:12), she found opportunity with him.

She was considered righteous because she was only trying to do what was right.  Judah brought reproach upon her name.  Judah was unrighteous because his actions (denying her Shelah) would make others think that Tamar was barren.

Barrenness was considered a terrible reproach or a disgrace or sometimes even a rebuke from God.  Although the Bible tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, we don’t know what other people thought.  But barrenness was considered a terrible reproach especially among the Jews; they were the seed of Abraham, to whom it was promised his descendents would number as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore.

[Genesis 30:23]  The Bible is talking about Rachel here, and she conceived and bore Joseph.  God took away her reproach!  She had been barren and God opened her womb and took away the reproach that she had in the eyes of men.  She was blessed and no longer ashamed.

Children were considered a particular blessing from God.  Luke does not say if Elizabeth knew the destiny of her child at the time.  However, because she knew his name was to be John, we can conclude that Zechariah conveyed information to her.  Even before her husband could speak, it’s entirely possible or even probable that he communicated his entire vision in writing or with signs before John was born.  It may not have been the best dinner conversation in the world, but what an exciting story!

John would be turning many back to God, and men would rejoice!  We should rejoice today!

The name John means Jehovah is graceful.  Elizabeth was overjoyed that she was finally going to have a child because of Jehovah’s grace.  If only all people looked upon children with such joy today, and realized that Jehovah truly is graceful!  Even though we don’t deserve it (we can’t deserve it), Jehovah is still graceful toward us.