Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Trusting God for Good Reasons (Luke 1.1-25: John the Baptist's Birth Foretold)

Scripture: Luke 1.1-25
Translation: 1.1Given that many people have tried to organize a narrative about the stuff that was truly totally fulfilled among us, 2in accordance with what those who from the beginning became eyewitnesses and assistants of the message passed on to us, 3it seemed good also to me, the one who is truly following closely to write to you from the beginning all things accurately [and] in an orderly manner, Most Noble Theophilos, 4so that you could know the certainty about the facts that you were taught.
5It happened in the days of Herod, king of Judea that there was a priest, by the name of Zachariah from the division of Abijah, and his wife was from the daughters of Aaron and her name was Elisabeth. 6And both of them were righteous before God, both of them living in line with all the commands and requirements of the Lord. 7And they didn’t have a child [there was not child for them], because of the fact that Elisabeth was barren, and both of them were pretty old [lit. advanced in their days]. 8And it happened while he was serving as a priest before God in the rotation of his division, 9according to the custom of the priesthood he was chosen to burn incense, after he entered the Sanctuary of the Lord. 10And the whole crowd of the people were praying outside at the time of the incense offering. 11And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right of incense altar of the incense sacrifice. 12And Zachariah was in shock when he saw and fear fell on him. 13And the angel said to him, “Don’t be scared, Zachariah, because your prayer has been heard and your wife Elisabeth will give birth to a son for you and you will call his name, ‘John.’ 14And joy will by yours along with celebration and many people will rejoice at his birth. 15For he will be great before the Lord and wine and beer he shouldn’t drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while he’s still in his mother’s womb. 16And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he go ahead of Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn hearts of fathers to [their] children and the disobedient people in the mindset of righteous people, to get ready a prepared people ready for the Lord.”
18And Zachariah said to the angel, “How [lit. according to what] will I know this? After all, I’m an elderly man and my wife is pretty old herself [lit. advanced in her days].” 19And answering the angel said to him, “I am Gabriel, the one who actually stands before God and who was sent to speak to you and to tell you the good news. 20And look, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things happen, because of the fact that you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time. 21And the people were waiting for Zachariah and were marveling at him staying in the Inner Sanctuary. 22And when he came out, he wasn’t able to speak to them, and they knew that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. And he was making hand gestures staying silent. 23And it happened as the days of his priestly ministry were fulfilled that he left towards his house. 24And after these days, Elisabeth, his wife, got pregnant and was hiding herself for five months saying, 25“In this way the Lord is acting on behalf of me in days, which He saw fit to get rid of my shame among men.

1.      Structure
a.       Opening Formalities of the Book (vv.1-4)
b.      Background: Zachariah and Elisabeth are righteous but childless (vv.5-7)
c.       An Angel of the Lord meets Zachariah in the Temple with a message prophesying a child who will prepare the way of the Lord (vv.8-23)
                                                              i.      Zachariah is providentially chosen to bring the incense offering
                                                            ii.      An angel of the Lord, Gabriel, meets Zachariah in the Temple and gives him a prophesy of a child
1.      The meeting
2.      The message
a.       God answered you prayers
b.      You will have son, who you will name John
c.       This will bring great joy
d.      He will be special, and set apart for a sacred mission
e.       He will be the Elijah that Malachi 4 talks about, who turns people to God to get them ready for His coming
                                                          iii.      Zachariah doesn’t believe the angel
                                                          iv.      The angel gives his credentials and punishes Zachariah with silence until the child is born because of Zachariah’s unbelief
                                                            v.      Zachariah exits the Temple mute, and people know something has happened, and later he returns home
d.      Elisabeth gets pregnant (vv.24-25)
2.      Themes
a.       Prayer
b.      Incense offering
c.       Temple
d.      Prophesy
e.       Faith required
f.       Angel
g.      Faithfulness, righteousness
h.      Turning to God in faith
i.        Miracle Birth
3.      Doctrines
a.       God is faithful to keep His promises
b.      God answers prayer
c.       Righteousness and faithfulness to God on the part of the asker seems to have some bearing on whether God answers the prayer
d.      John the Baptist is the Elijah promised
e.       Jesus is the Lord, and John the Baptist is preparing His way
f.       God is not bound by what is natural or conventional when it comes to answering prayers
4.      Notes
a.       In revelation, incense is a symbol of the prayers of the saints. While this is a different kind of book, by a different author, it should be noticed that perhaps if that symbol was more widespread in the church that there is a fittingness to where Zachariah’s prayers are answered

1.      Outline
a.       God always does keep His promises, so we can trust Him in everything
                                                              i.      John is the promised prophetic preparer of the people prophesied by Malachi
1.      Remember when we finished the book of Malachi, in the last chapter Malachi prophesied that God would send Elijah the prophet to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers
2.      Well, the angel Gabriel quotes that passage here in his message to Zachariah, although he changes it a bit
a.       He says in the spirit of Elijah, so obviously John is not Elijah reborn, but someone who will carry out a ministry similar to him
b.      And he interprets for us what it means for him to turn hearts, it is all about preparing people for the Lord’s coming, judgment day
                                                            ii.      God made that promise a good 400 yrs ahead of time, but He still kept it. This is really helpful for us, because there will be times that we will have to have faith and wait for God to keep His promises in faith. But while we are waiting we can’t let ourselves get discouraged from trusting and waiting in faith.
                                                          iii.      No matter what is happening to us or around us, we can trust Him to keep His promises. All our spiritual lives are based on faith in God to keep His promises. And He will keep them, so don’t give up hope. Keep trusting
                                                          iv.      There are consequences to faltering in faith. Zachariah, because he was so used to thinking what was normal, wanted a special sign—as if meeting an angel face to face wasn’t enough—to prove to him that God was really going to keep His promises. The angel was repulsed by his unbelief, and so he gave him what he asked for, but only as a punishment for his unbelief. He made him silent until the birth of the child. It was such a clear sign that even those around him realized something unique had happened in the Temple. So Zachariah got his sign, but a) he really didn’t need one, and b) it was a clear sign, but one that was somewhat of a punishment
                                                            v.      And look, God keeps His promises, because Zachariah goes home and has sex with Elisabeth and she gets pregnant!
                                                          vi.      The point is that we really can trust God to keep His promises to us—all of them, no matter what the circumstances are we can trust Yahweh to be faithful. He is infinitely trustworthy!
                                                        vii.      Maybe you’re sitting here and you’re thinking or you know someone who would be thinking, “This is not a really believable story. I mean really, angels, old people making babies. None of that stuff happens! How I believe this?” Well, that is exactly the point. This story is not a story about the normal happenings in the world. And hey, Zachariah didn’t believe it at first either. He wanted more proof, and he was seeing and talking to the angel! But first of all, we need to realize that we in western culture often have a false view of what is inherently believable, because of our cultural mindset that is shaped towards only seeing what is “normal” to what can be proven “scientifically” In other cultures, this story would actually seem more believable that the stuff of everyday life, because angels and visions and miracles are part of how they expect a deity to act in the world, or because they themselves live lives where the demonic has to be faced every day. But the truth is that this story is inherently believable and was even written by someone who was attempting an accurate and historical record of what happened. Luke doesn’t seem to be the guy who makes stuff up, but the guy who tells it like it is. This is the story that everyone knew in the early church. Luke got the story from the people who would know, the people who walked and talked with Jesus and many of those people had first been disciples of John.
b.      God answers the prayers of His people, so we can trust Him with everything
                                                              i.      God is in control of everything so it is incredibly easy for Him to answer prayers, but He answers them when He wants to and in His Own way. Look how wisely God arranged to answer Zachariah and Elisabeth’s prayer. He made Zachariah get selected for the incense offering. He also waited until it should have been impossible to have a baby. God could have answered their prayers when they were young and it would have been easy to understand how they got pregnant, but He didn’t. He had His Own timing, and that timing was perfect, but that timing also required them both to have great faith.
                                                            ii.      He graciously removes the shame from Elisabeth, the shame that would come in that culture from not being able to have a child
                                                          iii.      So we when we pray or when we have needs or desires, we should bring them all to God in faith, expecting that He will answer, but also understanding that God’s ways and timings of answering are not what we would always expect.
                                                          iv.      Maybe you’re struggling with trusting Him, or believing Him, or living for Him faithfully, you can go to Him with that. I’ve talked to God about my doubts, failures, and desires and needs. I still do. I remember this one time where I was having trouble trusting in God, questioning how much I really believed it all, and I told God, I loved Him and I wanted to be with Him, but that my faith was hanging by a thread, and that I didn’t have the power to make myself believe or live any better. I laid it in His hands, and He answered. He is the One Who gives faith and faithfulness in the first place, so if you’re having trouble in any of those areas, you should ask Him and He will answer you in His Own time and in His Own way. Or maybe you’re in desperate need of help understanding math or Spanish, God answers those prayers too!
                                                            v.      This all suggests that Yahweh is infinitely trustworthy and that we should trust Him with everything, everything that comes up in our lives all our needs, all our concerns, all our desires, all our lives—all of it should be entrusted to God
c.       God glorified Jesus as our Messiah, so we can trust Him above everything
                                                              i.      While this story on its face seems to be all about John. It’s not about John. This is the Gospel of Jesus. This whole story is part of the set up and background for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. While it is not immediately obvious that this story is all about Jesus the Messiah, since Jesus is never mentioned, it is about Him because He is the Lord. He is God. He came to the world. John is in this story because he is the one who gets everything ready for Jesus. He is sent to get the people ready to follow Christ. John is like the warm up band at a concert. John is just there to get the crowd ready for the main act, for Jesus! Let’s say I had some rapping skills, and let’s say they put me on stage right before Lecrae. Let’s face it, no one would be coming to see me, I’m really only up there to get the people ready for the main act. And that is what John is for Jesus.
                                                            ii.      John turns people to Jesus that is his mission, his purpose in this world. In a very real sense it might be added that that is the mission that we as Christians have in the world, we are just trying to get as many people as possible ready for when Jesus returns. That doesn’t require us to be perfect, just faithful to God and full of faith in Christ.
                                                          iii.      There are many things in this world that we could trust in and believe in, but the truth is that anything that should every be believed is still less important that believing in Jesus. How do we know Jesus really is the One we should believe? Part of it is that God the Father exalted Jesus. He sent John to exalt Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. And while we are at it, no one has been able to completely deexalted Jesus as someone worth trusting. Muslims, for example, tried to strip Jesus of His Deity, but they couldn’t completely. They still recognize the miracles and the teaching of Jesus. They still honor Him, even if they honor a false understanding of Him. Jews, while they did kill Jesus, could not remove the importance He had to the people of His day, and even today cannot reject all of His wisdom and example, although they still reject His Deity. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other heretic groups still have to acknowledge how awesome Jesus is. Even atheists will often recognize that Jesus was a great teacher or moral philosopher. Gandhi is famous for saying, “Jesus I like, it’s Christian I can’t stand.” Jesus is crazy exalted by God, and no amount of time will change the amazing and continuing impact Jesus has on His World.
                                                          iv.      Therefore, we should all trust Him above all else that we can trust. He is true and believable. There is more evidence that suggests He should be exalted and trusted than anything else.
d.      Above all, the importance of faith should be clear to us, it is the only proper response to God.
                                                              i.      God deserves to be trusted in everything because of His promises
                                                            ii.      God deserves to be trusted with everything because of His faithfulness
                                                          iii.      Jesus deserves to be trusted above everything, because of His Greatness
2.      Discussion Questions
a.       What are some promises that God has already kept? What are some we are still trusting and waiting for Him to fulfill?
b.      What are some prayers God has answered for you? what are some prayers you are still waiting for God to answer?
c.       How important is Jesus to you? Why? Should He be more important to you? If so, how can you make Him more important to you?

d.      Does trusting in God always come easy to you? how so? What could you do if you found yourself having doubts or difficulties in trusting Jesus above everything or with everything or in everything? 

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