Anticipating the Lord of History

It’s been several years since I posted anything in this space, and even longer since a regular posting has been in the offing. But today I was encouraged by the thought that, after receiving some feedback in the past few weeks, that these posts are occasionally helpful to folks interested in studying the scriptures and even other matters of a political or theological nature. So in light of that, I’m going to post below a sermon I preached this morning on Luke chapter 1. I hope its enjoyable and enlightening for anyone stumbling across it online.

PJ Wenzel

Welcome to the advent season!  Advent season – the celebration of the arrival of Jesus.

During this advent season, we’re going to be looking at several key figures in the birth narrative of our Lord, with the purpose of walking in their sandals a bit. To see that they were not only narrative furniture in the story of Jesus, but men and women whose lives furnish us with examples of how Jesus’ advent changed them, and how the Gospel transformed their lives and hearts.

Zechariah was one such man.  We’re going to walk through the first part of Luke 1 together, I’m going to read some of the story with you, and because it’s a longer passage, I’m going to make some contextual comments along the way, and then we’ll examine the story from a few different angles. 

So…Luke 1 beginning in verse 5, please follow along with me…

[5] 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. [6] And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. [7] But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Zechariah was a priest from the line of Aaron. Aaron was the brother of Moses, and in the Bible it is through Aaron’s line that the priesthood would be maintained. But not only is Zechariah from this tribe, so is his wife, Elizabeth. It was said in those days that a woman of excellent character was “fit to marry a priest.” But here we learn she is not only righteous in character but is also of the lineage of Aaron, and this would have been thought a double blessing for Zechariah.

Note also that these are older folks. Just like Abraham and Sarah, they are old and unable to have children. From Sarah to Hannah to Elizabeth, again and again in Scripture there is a theme that the Lord delights to show his power and grace in the barren womb. God being glorified in the midst of suffering is also a major Biblical theme, and in the stories of women like Elizabeth, the two themes are beautifully and powerfully woven together. Now, verse 8…

[8] Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, [9] according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

By this time there were so many priests that the line of Aaron was divided up into 24 different divisions, and even those divisions were so populated that if you were chosen for the honor of offering prayers in the temple like this, it’s the only time you’d be able to do it in your lifetime. One and done. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Zachariah – so he is thinking that this is the apex of his ministry on earth.

[10] And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. [11] And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. [12] And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. [13] 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. [14] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, [15] 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 Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. [16] And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [17] 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.”

[18] And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” [19] 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. [20] 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.”

[21] And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. [22] 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. [23] And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

Now it was expected that when Zachariah came out of the Temple, he was to stand in front of the people on the steps of the temple and offer to them a blessing. He was to bless them verbally before the Lord. So when he came out and couldn’t speak, he also couldn’t perform this blessing.  Finally we read…

[24] After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, [25] “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

This is the word of the lord. You may be seated. 

There are three different angles to this story we’ll examine:

  1. The first is the art of waiting on God’s timing
  2. The second is ultimate reality belongs to God
  3. The third is restoration for the glory of God

(waiting, reality, restoration)

The art of waiting on God’s timing

I’ve read in so many devotions and so many greeting cards now that the theme of “anticipation” has become a permanent part of my Christmas vocabulary. Growing up we even celebrated Christmas by doing an advent devotional as a family and putting ornaments on a “waiting tree.” 

To be perfectly candid, I didn’t really care for all the waiting and anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. As a kid it wasn’t the decorating and the devotional evenings that I anticipated, it was Christmas morning! Just in case my parents weren’t sure of my feelings, I’m sure I conveyed my righteous anticipation by asking a million questions about presents and refusing to sit still for any length of time.

Despite my mom’s noble efforts, it wasn’t until later that I began to appreciate the themes of “anticipation” and “waiting” and how they reflect the longing of Israel for their Messiah.

Here at the beginning of our advent season together is the perfect time to reflect on those themes, especially as we look at the lives of Zechariah and of Elizabeth. Focusing in a bit more on Zechariah this morning.  

Luke tells us a few important things about this couple: They were righteous, they were old, they were barren, and they were serving the Lord.

When you are young, there are certain dreams you have, which, being young, you assume will just fall into place as life goes on. There is a certain naiveté, ignorance, and maybe even a touch of arrogance about how we start out our lives as adults. But as time wears on, we begin to see that what we assumed about life, what we took for granted would just happen, doesn’t always fall into place the way we thought it might. Am I right?

Francis Schaeffer once said in the context of an essay on art, that for the Christian, our entire life is our greatest work of art, more than anything we ever do with our hands or produce with our minds.  I’m certain that many of you would agree with Samuel Rutherford that we owe a great deal to the file and the hammer of our Lord, but that process of refinement is painful. And perhaps no struggle is more personal and more painful for a married couple than the struggle of infertility.

Now it is not my purpose or intent to open fresh wounds this morning. But here at Veritas while we’ve praised God on many occasions for the great blessing of children in the church, we’ve also wanted to acknowledge and love on those in our church family here who haven’t yet been blessed with a child, or have walked a long and faith-testing road to parenthood. I can attest, with many others I’m certain, how encouraged and built up in the faith I have been by the godly example of the men and women of Veritas who have walked through the difficult seasons – not only of infertility, but of the loss of children. I praise God for your tenderhearted and steadfast example which brings glory to God.

So church we know a little about what these two people have gone through. But when we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth here they are older, and seemingly they have reached a point where giving birth to a child was a distant dream, one that has long since disappeared like a mirage in the desert of Judea.

Now Luke, our author, is a physician by trade, and a very meticulous author. And when he conveys a thing under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, I believe we should take careful note.  He says that this couple was righteous. That they were following all the laws of the Lord.

As they waited. As they anticipated. As they dreamed, as they lived day in and day out – what did they do?  They obeyed.

Friends, this is the first thing our souls need to take away from this account: waiting on the Lord is active. It is not stultifying, it is not siloed, it is not paralyzed.

The Bible is replete with story after story of Godly men and women who waited for the Lord. David practically made it the theme of his life. As in Psalm 27:

Wait for the LORD;

                        be strong, and let your heart take courage;

                        wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:14

or in Psalm 25:

                        May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

                        for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21

Waiting is abiding. Abiding is obeying. Obeying is glorifying the Lord in our lives through word, heart, and deed.

If we want to know what it means to wait I can think of no better passage than John 15 where our Lord told us… “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Notice that there is a “doing” here. Waiting on the Lord requires us to abide in His power while doing His work until He brings about His will for our lives in His own timing, by His own power for His own glory.

At this time in Israel’s history, there were thousands of people waiting for a savior. Para-military uprisings among the Jews were becoming more and more frequent, and the people longed for freedom as a nation once more.

This was a national anxiety felt in the hearts and realized in the daily lives of every Israelite.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were serving the Lord as they waited on Him, and as they prayed for a son and for freedom from Roman oppression.

Now…one of the tremendous marks of a life that waits upon the Lord is that of prayer. A life of waiting on Jesus is a life marked by prayer for the Father’s will to be done.

And in our passage today, we read that it was the angel Gabriel who visited Zechariah in the temple. Gabriel shows up at other points in redemptive history. In Daniel chapter 9 we read of how Daniel was praying to God on behalf of his people.  He was confessing the sins of Israel and appealing to God to rescue them from hands of their enemies and to restore them back to the land – because they were in exile in Babylon at this time. He ends his prayer like this:

Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. [18] O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. [19] O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.” Daniel 9:7–19

And after this Gabriel comes to him with a remarkable message. He says this:

“O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. [23] At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.” Daniel 9:22b–23

I love this passage! As Daniel waits in exile he is praying, he is obeying the Lord, and the Lord wants him to know that he is “greatly loved.”  As you wait upon the Lord, as you pray to heaven for help in your distress, in your anxiety, in your pain, you, too, are greatly loved.

Waiting involved faithful and active obedience and prayer.

One of the most significant things about our passage today is that it exemplifies how God’s timing often brings us blessings that we could never have imagined. We pray for something over and over for years, but only later realize that in God’s mercy and timing, he withheld that gift in order for something more amazing.

While we may not understand – even in this lifetime – the full extent of what his timing means, we can realize that this is how he works in our waiting.  

Daniel was praying for the restoration of Israel and asking forgiveness for the sins of the people.  Gabriel gave Daniel the vision of 70 weeks – a vision even more amazing and of a higher magnitude than his mind could have asked for. A vision which anticipates not only the restoration of God’s people to their homeland, but how events would culminate in the arrival of a Prince. A prince who would be “cut off” in a sacrificial death for the sins of his people.

God delayed the birth of a son for Zechariah and Elizabeth because he had something special planned.

Daniel asked for a lot but got much more than he bargained for, and timing that he probably wasn’t expecting. So it was with Zechariah. And that is what we’ll see next…

The next thing we’ll consider is the nature of ultimate reality. Ultimate reality belongs to God.

As the priest on duty that day, Zechariah was to be offering prayers on behalf of the nation. So he is in the temple, in the outer area of the holy of holies – only the high priest went in the holy of holies and he did that only once a year – so he’s in this outer area praying. 

Gabriel arrives and tells Zechariah that his prayers have been heard. 

What prayers?

Our minds immediately go to the prayers he and Elizabeth must have prayed a thousand times over the years: prayers for a child.

But his prayers in the temple were more likely prayers for the salvation and redemption of Israel. As I mentioned before this is likely the most important day of Zechariah’s life until now, and he has been training for this, and would want to fulfill his priestly responsibility to the letter, and that meant offering prayers on behalf of the nation.

But the beautiful thing about the answer from the Lord is that it fulfills both the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth for a son, and the prayers of the nation for deliverance. In sending this couple a baby, God is sending the forerunner of the great Savior of Israel, and of the world!

John is to be the herald of heaven’s great King who would visit this world on a mission of salvation.

Only God can weave such amazing answers together. We read this and marvel at all God is doing in this story.  But was that the reaction of Zechariah?  No…

How does he react?

In verse 18 he questions Gabriel saying “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

From his words alone you cannot detect all of what is in this man’s heart. But apparently Gabriel knew enough to know that Zechariah had an unbelieving heart because he says “because you did not believe my words” (vs 20).

What seems strange about this reaction is that here is a man who had been praying for years and years for a son. Here is a man whose wife had longed for a child. How many conversations, how many knowing glances shared over the breakfast table? How many shared moments of pain and frustration?  And here – here is the answer to all his prayers. Decades worth of desires!  And he doesn’t believe. He sees the glory and power of the angel – there can be no doubt about the authenticity of this messenger’s identity. We read earlier, in fact, that Zechariah practically wet himself when the angel appeared! He knows this is a messenger from God!

It can’t be a proximity problem. He is not isolated from the faith community or the outward reminders of his heritage. In fact, he is surrounded by the trappings of his faith. He has the priestly garments on. He’s inside the temple. He’s only steps away from the holy of holies! 

Why the unbelief?  How is it possible that he can doubt!?

(PAUSE)

Let me tell you what I think is going on here. 

Zechariah’s “worlds are colliding”, to quote George Costanza.

His perception of reality, his construction of what is possible, is bound up in the plans, desires, and perspectives of his heart.

What a message for us today. Awash in post-modernism, we hear and read again and again that truth is what you make it. Reality is defined by your own perspective.  So important is this worldview that technologists are in a rush to give us power to create our own AI worlds accessible by simply strapping on a headset.

But ultimate reality belongs to God. You cannot make your own truth. You cannot create your own reality.

Live in your fairy land all you want, eventually that bubble will burst on the rocks of God’s sovereign truth, either in this life or the next.

Zechariah wasn’t a post-modernist by any stretch of the imagination. Yet his reality, his expectations, and the norms which he has set as the lens through which he saw how life works, how God works, were being brought into contact with the plans of the Lord of life and history.

I’ve found that the nature of my own perspective, when not governed by faith based in the Word of God, reveals itself as extraordinarily brittle in times of testing. This is what Zechariah was learning. He had set limits on what God could do; laws by which he expected God to act. And the weight of God’s plans were snapping the feeble bridge of his expectations.

Look at Gabriel’s reaction, he says “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.”  He proclaims this gospel, this good news, and hears the words from Zechariah and he’s like “Wait. Wait…what!?” 

Gabriel is trying to reconcile what he lives day in and day out with this man’s reaction, and it just…doesn’t compute.  “Do you know who I am – I see your knees knocking, so you must have an idea.  I mean…I just came from the heavenly throne room…”

There is some discontinuity between what Gabriel knows as true and what Zechariah is willing to believe is true.

Of course, to us, in hindsight, Zechariah’s unbelief looks nonsensical against the backdrop of God’s revealed plans. But…

…we have to ask ourselves…What happens when our prayers aren’t answered in a way we expected? What happens when (in his mercy) God withholds the answer for years? How do we react when circumstances in our lives unfold in unexpected ways?

Do we look for the hand of Providence in the details of life?  Or do we recoil in bitterness and unbelief? 

We may be surrounded by the trappings of faith, and in this season that’s even more the case, and yet have such a contracted and minimized view of the power of God that we look at our lives and say “no…its hopeless. I’m a mess and there’s nothing that can fix this.”  Are we allowing our own narrow view of life’s road to hem in our perspective on God’s capabilities?

Friends, God does not simply stitch together the mess of our lives in order to salvage some kind of decent ending to the narrative.  He is busy in the details.  He is superintending all of reality. Upholding the world by the word of his power, he supervises and intercedes for those who he “greatly loves.”

It’s a wonderful blessing – a good thing – to be surrounded by the people of God and to regularly find ourselves here in this building. But let’s not let our surroundings, our culture, and our doubts construct an artificial view of God. A small view of God. A proud view of God that’s based on our own plans and objectives, rather than faith in his providence, timing, and power.

God’s word calls us to deeper waters: trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths. (Prov 3:5)

Now let’s look past the reaction and to the heart of the message from Gabriel, and how it is “good news” – not only Zechariah, but the whole world.

Restoration for the glory of God

Remember how I said that after the priest would finish their prayers in the temple it was their job to go out and bless the people? Well, the Lord’s messenger puts the kibosh on that. It is as if God is saying “I will not have an unbelieving man speak to my people this day. Not today. Today is the beginning of a special new work.”

For years the people of Israel had been led by shepherds who Jesus would later describe as serpents and sons of Satan. But light is breaking through the darkness, and in a sign of things to come, every tongue will be stopped, and every eye will behold the majesty of Jesus.

Zechariah was a righteous man who stumbled into unbelief.

But this wasn’t to be the end for Zechariah. 

The message that Gabriel brought was “good news” – good news that went beyond the hopes and dreams of this righteous couple. Their son was born for a very specific mission.  Listen to the hints dropped by Gabriel.  Look again at verse 16…

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [17] 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

That last line may be the most important. It echoes the words of the prophet Malachi, and indicates that their son John will prepare the people of Israel for someone – and that someone is their Messiah! 

Now as the story continues. Turn with me to verse 57 and we’ll read this together…

Luke 1:57–80

[57] Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. [58] And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. [59] And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, [60] but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” [61] And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” [62] And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. [63] And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. [64] And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. [65] And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, [66] and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah was restored to speaking once again.

The long months which held him in mute frustration had also humbled him, and increased his faith, so that when the time came to declare before his friends and nearest relations what the will of the Lord would be for his son, his lips found themselves equal to the restored tenderness of his heart.

And in such a small village, this would have been a major event – especially given the circumstances surrounding John’s birth. Before the New Covenant, before Pentecost, God’s people did not have the gift of the Spirit permanently indwelling them. But this child had been filled by the Holy Spirit from before birth! He even leapt in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came to visit.

Gabriel had said that all of this would happen according to God’s timing.

And I wonder how many moments in the intervening months Zechariah had pondered the timing of God in the events of his life and the life of his people.

His life has been blessed with a baby boy – one who Jesus would later call the greatest man ever born of a woman (Luke 7). Now able to speak, we read that, full of the Holy Spirit, the first thing that Zechariah did was sing out with the following words:

Look at verse 68…

[67] And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

            [68] “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

                        for he has visited and redeemed his people

            [69] and has raised up a horn of salvation for us

                        in the house of his servant David,

            [70] as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

            [71] that we should be saved from our enemies

                        and from the hand of all who hate us;

            [72] to show the mercy promised to our fathers

                        and to remember his holy covenant,

            [73] the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us

            [74]     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

            might serve him without fear,

            [75]     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

            [76] And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

                        for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

            [77] to give knowledge of salvation to his people

                        in the forgiveness of their sins,

            [78] because of the tender mercy of our God,

                        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

            [79] to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

                        to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke adds his own narrative note, so that we are prepared for what will come in the next part of this amazing story…

            [80] And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Now, throughout church history we’ve called Zechariah’s song of praise and prophesy the Benedictus, which is simply the Latin translation for the first word he speaks: “blessed.”

Zechariah has been restored and his faith strengthened and he wants to give God glory. But more than that, God has filled him to deliver a message.  The good news that Gabriel announced 9 months prior was not simply that he and Elizabeth would have a son, but that God was sending his own Son, and that John’s role is to proclaim the coming of Israel’s Messiah! 

The day is almost at hand.  The wait is almost over. The promises made to David, Abraham, and the prophets of old would be kept.

Zechariah declares that God will be faithful to the promises he made to Abraham. Nations will be blessed. The seed of Abraham will continue in the adoption of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into the family of God. And God will begin his work of re-creation and renewal by making men and women – his image bearers – into new creations in the model of his son Jesus Christ.

9 months prior in the temple Zechariah would have prayed for the salvation of Israel.

Here, inspired by the Spirit, he declares a salvation not linked to earthly political redemption or military conquest, but of spiritual redemption from sin. Verse 77 is key “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.” 

Zechariah says that without the light of life we are walking in the darkness and on the precipice of death’s door. He links light and life and peace directly with the forgiveness of sins and relational restoration with God.

For the people of Israel, certainly for Zechariah, the promises of God were coming into tighter focus, even as their own perspectives on God’s plans were widening.  

You might say that while the occupation of Rome was uppermost on the minds of Jews in his day, what Zechariah’s people really needed was a political solution of another magnitude. They had bigger problems. Diplomatic relations between themselves and the King of kings needed restoration. Zechariah says here that the solution was going to be provided in a “knowledge of salvation” by a “horn of salvation” – more specifically, in the strength of the unbreakable life of the embodied Word of knowledge: God’s own Son. (Acts 2:24 and John 1)

For those of us who have been in a season of waiting, a season where it seemed like our lives are in limbo, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth offers not only comfort, but also a reorientation of our expectations, a reminder of who holds history in His hands, and an opportunity to repent.   

Zechariah was told that everything he had desired for both himself and his people was about to be fulfilled, and though he was found in unbelief, though his entire world was turned upside-down, God in His mercy restored Zechariah for His own glory.

Praise God that His plans for our lives do not stop at the door of our heart’s natural capacity to believe. Praise God that His mercy and providence does not wax and wane on the ebb tide of our emotions, and the short-sidedness of even our best-intentioned plans.

The beautiful thing that we see in the life of Zechariah is that he didn’t get everything he wanted the way he wanted in the time he wanted it. Praise God for that! Praise God for his withholding of the blessings we think we want now – even good things which we know are good things, God sometimes withholds in order to bring us into an even greater plan for our good and his Glory.

Let me mention to you a final word friends.

If you are finding yourself without hope in a season which is supposed to be all about hope, you’re in the right place. This is a message for you.

Anticipation is a theme running throughout the Christmas season, and this seasonal slogan finds its origin in Zechariah’s day (and before) when the people of Israel were anticipating a Messiah, a leader, a savior.

But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us did not rescue us from political oppression or social unrest. He rescued us from ourselves. He rescued us from His wrath. He rescued us from our sins so that we may be brought into his kingdom, into his family.  He did this in his own time. And it looked nothing like what was expected.

Friends we no longer have to wait for salvation. The wait is over.  The great message of Christmas is that salvation has arrived! The Sunrise from on high came to live amongst us. He made himself the lowest of low in order to raise up those who were sitting in darkness. As Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is. 9:2).

That light, that sunrise from on high, is Jesus. Jesus Christ, the son of God, came to rescue a fallen race – you and I no longer wait for salvation – we can receive that now.

I love the gospel of John. He begins his gospel by declaring that the Word of God, the light of the world has come to save men. This is what he says:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:9–13

Christmas is the celebration that our waiting is over, we can have full forgiveness of sins, by believing that Jesus is who he says he is. That celebration, which begins with our reconciliation to God through faith in Jesus, will be consummated when the great King returns in his time with glory and splendor.

It’s my prayer that you are encouraged by the story of Zechariah, and how God overcame his unbelief, to use him as an instrument of praise and glory. He desires to do the same thing in your life and mine.

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Study Notes 5-20-12

4:40-42 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word. [42] They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

  • Their belief went from trust on testimony to first hand witness.  The shift is from testimony to witness.  I especially note the willingness of Christ to dine and live with sinners.  He truly came to seek and save the lost.
  • The second thing I note about this passage is how the Samaritans were reacting to His teaching. They were seemingly convinced that He was the Messiah – the Savior of the World.  What an amazing thing to know and realize, that the Savior of the World is walking among you and stayed with your people for two days.  The record of Jesus’ ministry here on earth shows me time and again how lavishly He poured out His love upon those who didn’t deserve it.  God is good and His goodness was made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.

4:43-44 After the two days he departed for Galilee. [44] (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)

  • There are so many explanations for this, but I like what Carson has to say.  He basically says that the contrast here is not between towns, but between gentiles and Israel.  So in the immediate context we think of Samaria and Israel.
  • The Samaritans were willing to believe in Christ because of His word (cf. 41) and didn’t need a sign like so many of the Jews.

4:45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.

  • This adds context and background and helps us further understand verse 44.  The Galileans had seen His miracles and knew that welcoming Him meant perhaps more miracles.  So they were okay with Him being there – though this certainly can’t be meant to speak of all Galileans as a whole.  It is a sort of neutral statement that they are okay with Him being there.

4:46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. [47] When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

  • Jesus’ reputation had preceded Him.  This was His home territory, and we see the elusion to the fact that this (Capernaum) is close to Cana where He had performed His first miracle.  No doubt the people of this area were well aware of His burgeoning ministry.  And this is why they welcomed him.  Carson notes that they were open to seeing Him because of the miracles, not because they believed in His Messianic role – as the Samaritans did.  And this is the contrast between being “honor” in one’s homeland and other places as Christ enumerates above.
  • Note here how this “official” was likely attached to Herod the Tetrarch.  Herod was a pseudo puppet king, and not a real king.  So though the word in Greek for “official” here has to do with being attached to a king, the people regarded Herod as a king despite his lower title.
  • Ryle wisely points out that we ought to learn form this passage that any man can be afflicted with sickness, disease, and death.  The rich are not immune from this!  Riches complicate life and widen the responsibility of those to whom they are entrusted.  We ought not to envy those with wealth.  They have responsibilities that we do not have and worries that we do not have to deal with.  Ryle points out that David was likely more at peace and happier as a shepherd than a king in the palace at Jerusalem.

4:48-49 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” [49] The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

  • I note here that Jesus is talking about spiritual matters, but the official in the story only cares about the life and death of his child.  But the official also signals his belief by declaring that he believes that his son will die unless Jesus does something to heal him.
  • Therefore, there might be a sense in which the official actually believed before he saw.  This might be also why Jesus didn’t come to the child and heal him in person.  This forced the father to place his faith in Christ’s words and abilities instead of seeing the miracle first hand and the then believing.  This is signaled in the next verse, which says “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him.”

4:50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.

  • Can you imagine the trip back home?  In the next few verses we see that the servants use the term “yesterday at the seventh hour” which tells me that it was several days journey from where Jesus was to where the man’s son was.  So this trip, which must have taken about a day if we deduct that the servants say “yesterday” as the time when the boy was healed, must have been a very trying time for this father.
  • But the main point I want to emphasize here is the power of the word of God.  Jesus is just as powerful and effective in person as He is several miles apart from the man’s son.  We know that He upholds the universe by the “word of His power” (Heb. 1:3) and that He sustains all things that way.  We also know that John referred to Him as “the Word” in the prologue.  It’s certainly a theme for John that we ought to notice.
  • From a practical standpoint, can you imagine how powerful this man is spiritually that He can do this?  How can you see this and think, as the Jews did, that He was going to usher in a political kingdom??? Surely this act shows His work here on earth was going to be spiritual in nature.  For only a man who dealt with the spiritual realm could heal people from afar merely by the words he spoke.
  • I think that many of us underestimate the amazing power of the words of Jesus.  We have them written for us, and it isn’t for nothing that Scripture is said to “renew” and transform the mind.  These aren’t just lifeless words on a page, they are the water that Christ offered the Samaritan woman.

4:51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.

  • This is the relief point here, he is finally home and he now knows that his boy is okay.
  • When it says “going down” it makes sense geographically due to the fact that Galilee is some 600 or 700 feet below sea level.

4:52-54 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” [53] The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. [54] This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

  • There are two things to note here.  First, the official wants to know right away when his boy began to be better.  He has placed his faith on Christ’s words.  He has been agonizing over whether or not his boy would live.  No doubt his faith was tried over and over again in those evening hours the night before.  And now he knows and his faith is confirmed.  It said before that he believed the words of Jesus, but here we see that his faith is confirmed.
  • The second thing we see is the fact that all of his household believed when he believed.  There is no doubt in my mind that when the father of a household believes, the chances that the children and everyone else will follow suit are very good.  In fact, I remember seeing that statistically it is overwhelmingly more powerful for the father to believe than for the mother to believe and try to convert her household.  This is because God naturally made the man as an authority figure over the house.  This sort of sets a president that we see in other areas of scripture (Acts 16:31-34, 18:8 and others).
  • The father didn’t previously care about Jesus being the Messiah, or about theology, or about anything having to do with ministry.  All he cared about was his son’s health.  Now his head is clear, his eyes are opened, and his heart has been made spiritually alive!  The arm and power of Jesus, God here on earth, is indeed long and powerful.  Christ didn’t have to be there in person.  His witness extended into the heart of this man from miles away.  Such is the power of God when He wants to reach someone.  Can anyone possibly doubt the effectiveness of His grace?

How do we teach this to our children?  EXAMPLE: Today we learned about how powerful Jesus was during His time on earth.  He was so powerful that He only had to speak and people were healed.  We learned also how important the role of the father is in the family.  When a father loves Jesus it is much easier for the rest of the family to love God as well because being a daddy who loves God sets a good example.  Also, we naturally have hard hearts about the things of God and what He wants for our lives.  When our daddies set an example, our hearts melt and we find it easier to follow and obey Jesus.  The last thing we learned was that people of all different backgrounds, races and status have problems that only Jesus can solve.  Rich people and poor people all get sick and everyone on earth eventually dies.  We all need a savior!

The Temple Complex

As we talked about in class today, the temple had many sections to it.  That’s why it was called a “complex.”  The outer court/court of the gentiles, was where the money changers and sacrificial vendors (so to speak) were selling their wares when Jesus cleansed the temple.

Below is a reproduction of the complex from the ESV Study Bible.  The descriptions here are sort of difficult to read without zooming up a bit, but hopefully this at least gives you a taste for what the building looked like.

3-11-12 Study Notes

2:13-14 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.

  • Money changing was a common practice in the temple area because a certain special coinage was accepted by the priests for offering, and because of this, people who were coming from all over the area exchanged their coinage for this pure silver (more highly refined) coinage.
  • By the word “temple” here we understand that this area to be the “outer court”, otherwise known as “the court of the Gentiles.”
  • Some say that the reason for the exchange of coinage was because the priests wouldn’t accept coinage with Cesar’s image on it (because it would have been a pagan or idol image), but this is refuted aptly by Morris who says that the coinage they did accept had pagan markings on it as well.  The money exchangers would sometimes charge up to 12% commission on the exchange.
  • It is perfectly fine to have this convenience of money exchange and the selling of animals for sacrifice.  After all, it would be most difficult for travelers coming from foreign lands to bring their spotless animal to the temple.  But this is not what Jesus is objecting to.  He is not focused on what they are doing as much as where they are doing it.

2:15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.

  • It says that He made a “whip of cords”, which would have taken some premeditation on His part.  It could have taken at least an hour to make something like this.
  • Also He didn’t actually whip anyone – at least it is not recorded in the text that He whipped anyone.  Sproul notes, quite astutely, that, “the purpose of the whip was to drive the animals out of the temple complex” not to actually whip the people who were in the temple.  MacArthur agrees and adds, “Jesus was neither cruel to the animals (those who object to His mild use of force on them have never herded animals), nor overly harsh with the men.”
  • There has been a significant scholarly debate about the timing of when Jesus did this temple cleansing.  All of the synoptic gospels tell the story of Jesus cleaning the temple around the Passover time just before He was crucified.  Here John seems to very clearly indicate (by use of chronological language) that this temple cleansing occurred shortly after His ministry began.  Because of this, Morris, MacArthur, Sproul and others lay out a solid argument for there having been two times where Jesus cleansed the temple.
  • The differences between the record of this second cleansing and the one mentioned here in John are significant.  Beyond the significant difference of when the incidents are mentioned time-wise (the synopitics place this during the passion week, John places it at the beginning of Christ’s ministry), there are other particulars that don’t fit together to form only one event.

2:16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

  • Here we see specifically the text that indicates that is the location or the selling that is the issue and not the selling itself.  Jesus is not declaring Himself to be against the sacrificial system here, nor is He railing against capitalism as some have supposed.  Jesus is bringing honor to God by reminding these men that God’s temple is a holy place.
  • I wonder if we treat our bodies, which are the temple of the living God, with as much zeal and respect…

2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

  • Sproul notes that, “Seeing Jesus cleanse the temple, His disciples connected His zeal to the zeal David had expressed.”  Jesus had this in common with His forefather, and David’s zeal and expression of love for God was a foreshadowing of Christ’s greater zeal.
  • David might not have had in mind the coming Messiah in Ps. 69, but the same Spirit who inspired David to write what he did also caused the disciples to see what they did in this Psalm, and that it was a foreshadowing of the greater zeal by a greater Son of David.
  • Not only was David’s zeal a pre-figuring of the zeal of Christ, but MacArthur notes that Christ’s zeal here was a pre-figuring of the zeal with which He will return at His second advent (Zech. 14:20-21).

2:18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”

  • They didn’t arrest Him, but simply demanded to see a miracle or sign of some kind to show that He was a legitimate prophet.  But, as MacArthur notes as well, the cleansing of the temple should have been sign enough!

2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

  • The response He gives is indeed a sign, though it is not the one they expected, nor did they understand what He meant.  For the sign He mentioned was the ultimate sign, the sign of the resurrection. The sign that would indicate that He was the Christ and had all authority in heaven and on earth to carry out His will and plan for mankind.

2:20-21 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

  • At this point in time the Temple building wasn’t even done.
  • The temple that stood in Jesus’ day was the one built after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity.
  • About 20 years before Jesus was born, Herod had begun a massive renovation project that was finally completed only a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 A.D.

2:21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

John doesn’t leave us hanging, but explains to us what Christ had meant.  Certainly at the time of these words John could not have known what Jesus was talking about.  But now having several years past since these events, John is able to shed greater perspective on what Jesus was meaning.

2:22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

  • Jesus says elsewhere that when He would leave, He would cause them to remember “all things” so that they would be able to tell others accurately about Him (John 16:13).

2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

  • He stayed in Jerusalem for the whole of the Feast and that He was also starting to manifest many signs among the people.

2:24-25 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people [25] and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

  • He knew the depravity of men and that no one needed to prove that to anyone – it seemed as though it was common knowledge that men were/are sinful creatures.  But there’s also a subtle contrast here with the nature of man and the nature of the Son of Man.  No one needed to bear witness about what mankind was like, but bearing witness about Jesus is a theme throughout the book of John.

How do we teach this to our children?  If you were to tell your children on the way home today that you learned about how Jesus was and is the Word of God, what would you say?

EXAMPLE:  Today we learned about how Jesus drove all of the animals and moneychangers out of the Temple in Jerusalem.  He did this because He loved the temple and He loved the worship of God.  When we come to church, we need to be mindful of the fact that we’re entering into a holy place; a place that is special and consecrated (set apart for a special task) for the worship of God.  When we don’t take that seriously, its like us saying that we don’t take God seriously, and don’t care to worship Him in a serious way.  Jesus wasn’t like that though, He loved and revered God and wanted to make sure that others did as well.