Summary: Zachariah’s search for certainty.
A Study of the Book of Luke
Sermon # 1
“How Can I Be Sure?”
The very last words of the Old Testament found in Malachi 4:5-6 read, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. (6) And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
The gospel of Luke breaks a silence that has lasted for
over four hundred years. Luke begins precisely at the place where the prophet Malachi left off. Luke begins his story with the angelic announcement of Gabriel to Zacharias or Zechariah, an elderly priest, that he and his wife will have a son, a son who will come in the spirit of Elijah the prophet, and who will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and will prepare the way of the Lord.
We all long for certainty in life, we crave some assurance that the things we believe are real. The story of Zechariah is the story of just such a struggle. In spite of Zachariah’s godliness, his obedience to the law and a lifetime of service in the ministry, his faith was weak when it came to believing such a promise.
Zechariah says, “How can I be sure?” I think that is hilarious! Most of us figure, “God if you would just show me a sign, send an angel, something like that, I’ll never doubt again.” But here is Zachariah and he receives all of that and still it is not enough.
We are introduced to Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth in verse five, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (6) And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (7) But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.”
Zachariah and his wife were good people but certainly not important people. They lived in an obscure little village in the hill country of Judah. But more important than physical pedigree was their spiritual devotion. Luke describes them, as “righteous in the sight of God.” They were not perfect but they were set apart from their peers in the way in which they walked with God. Their only sorrow was that they had no family.
Zechariah was an ordinary country priest, one perhaps as many as 20,000 estimated to be living in Palestine at the time. Because there were so many of them they were divided into 24 groups. Each group would serve at the Temple for a week at a time, twice a year. When it was time for his division to serve he went to Jerusalem.
Verse eight, “So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, (9) according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense . . .” Every day, one of them would be chosen by lot to burn incense in the Holy place. Because there were so many priests, they were only allowed to burn the incense once in their lives, and still some never got the chance to do it. For a priest to receive the honor of burning the incense was the greatest day of his whole life. In this case the lot finally fell to Zechariah, and in an instant he was at the apex of his personal history. This was without a doubt the greatest day in all of his life.
There can be little doubt that his heart was filled with both awe and fear as he stepped into the Holy Place. Verse nine continues, “…. when he went into the temple of the Lord. (10) And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. (11) Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (12) And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.”
Gabriel spoke and prophecy, which had ceased at the close of the Old Testament times, occurred for the first time in 400 hundred years.
The text says that Zacharias was “troubled and fear fell upon him.” That is a tremendous understatement. He wasn’t just startled! He was terrified at the sight of the angel Gabriel. Zacharias was going about his “religious duties” but he never envisioned actually meeting God. I wonder what that says about our own attendance in “worship services,” we come to worship God but do we have any idea that we might actually meet up with Him. Like so many of us today, he seems to have believed in God, but never have expected God to work in his own life. He served God but he was not ready when God spoke to him personally. He did not live with the expecting God to act in his life.