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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Christ our Supreme Prophet

Last night I had the privilege of preaching on the role of Christ as our Prophet.  The next few weeks I’ll be preaching on his priesthood and kingship.  Here are the notes from that lesson.  Note: I’ve also included some Appendices which were more for my benefit, but also help provide context and more background on a few of the sections (should you make it that far!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

Christ the Supreme Prophet

He Preaches a Gospel of Liberation and then Fulfills the Office of Deliverer

December 1, 2013

It is the very beginning of advent season.  A time in which we excitedly anticipate Christmas – just as the Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

In His coming, Jesus would grow up to fulfill hundreds of prophecies and predictions and accomplish what no other man had ever accomplished.  In so doing He would fill three key offices: that of a prophet, a priest and a king.

Tonight we will examine the first of these, and see what Jesus’ role as prophet entailed, and what it is that He did to fulfill this role in His life and ministry. The text for this evening comes from Luke 4:16-21.

Luke makes two important points in this passage that we need to examine this evening.

  1. First, Jesus Christ is our Supreme Prophet, and His message is a gospel of liberation.
  1. Second, Jesus not only proclaims liberation, He also liberates. He is Daniel’s promised deliverer and covenant maker and ushers in a great antitypical jubilee.

What is a Prophet?

Now, before we go too much further, let me ask an obvious question: What is a prophet?  The answer is that, in short, a prophet is someone (in the Bible) who speaks on God’s behalf to God’s people.  Whereas a priest speaks to God on behalf of God’s people. 

Theologian Geerhardus Vos put it this way; “(a priest’s) function differs from that of a prophet in that the prophet moves from God toward man, whereas the priest moves from man toward God.”[i]

In the Old Testament, the office of a prophet was not a popular one.  God’s people had killed many of the prophets that He sent (Acts 7:51-52). And, I suppose in this way you could say Jesus was no different than the others!

However, what makes Jesus God’s supreme prophet is His proclamation of most important message God had ever sent His people: the Gospel of salvation.

It is this proclamation of Christ’s to which we now turn…

Exegesis of Luke 4:16-21

4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

Historical Foreground

Jesus has been preaching in the surrounding region, and his fame was beginning to build.  Now it was time to come home for His first appearance at the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up since the start of His ministry.  It was a homecoming for Him of sorts.

The people were no doubt anxious to hear Jesus speak. Here was one of their own who had been gathering popularity throughout the region, and they were no doubt poised to accept Him.  But were they ready to accept His message?

20th Century South African theologian and pastor Norval Geldenhuys says, “It was customary to give such an opportunity in the synagogue to visiting rabbis; and especially as all were curious to hear Jesus.”

As Jesus came into the synagogue, we are told that He “stood up to read.” The practice of the day was to stand up to read the word of God, this was done out of respect. Once the reading was done, the rabbi would sit down and give a sermon.  The sermons of that day were not like they are today, they focused almost exclusively on instruction, rather than a public oration or preaching style (see Geldenhuys).

NOTE: John MacArthur and Darrel Block both give some time to the order of ceremony in a Synagogue (see Appendix 3 for more info on Synagogues) and it was something like this:

  1. Thanksgiving or “blessings” spoken in connection with the Shema
  2. Prayer, with response of “amen” by the congregation
  3. Reading a passage from the Pentateuch (in Hebrew followed by a translation into Aramaic cf. MacArthur/Block)
  4. Reading of a passage from the Prophets (called the “Haftarah” cf. Block)
  5. Sermon or word of exhortation – by any qualified male (so long as 10 males were present per Block)
  6. Benediction by the priest (if there was one present) to which the congregation responded with “Amen” and then a closing prayer.

 

4:17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

Jesus Fulfills the Predicted Role

Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT longing for a new and greater prophet.  And therefore it would be appropriate for Him to show from the prophets of old who He was.

But this passage isn’t the only one which pointed to his arrival.  There are other foundational passages that speak of a prophet that would arise who was greater than Moses, two of which are really important and we’ll look at now:

First, in Deuteronomy 18 Moses wrote the key passage that most Jews thought of when they thought about “the prophet” that would arise in his stead:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—[16] just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ [17] And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [18] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

Second, we see in the New Testament that Peter confirms that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophetic role.  In his sermon in Acts 3 in the Portico of Solomon, Peter says this:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. [23] And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ [24] And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. [25] You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ [26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26)

This prophet was Jesus Christ, and He was raised up to proclaim the gospel of repentance and “turning every one from…wickedness” in order that they would be “blessed.”

And so we see that this long-anticipated prophet has come, and the Apostles clearly believed that this role was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

4:18a  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me

The Holy Spirit in Christ’s Ministry

Now, let’s look at verse 18.  As Jesus opens the scroll He begins reading from the book of Isaiah – in what we would know today as chapter 61 verses 1 and 2 (though demarcations of this kind didn’t come for many hundred years later).

First and foremost we see that the Christ is one who has been “anointed by the Holy Spirit.”  This, as you recall, happened at the baptism of Jesus where John had been baptizing people and calling them to repentance.  Jesus, who would fulfill all the law perfectly, also went to be baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. [16] And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

Everything that Jesus did was done being “filled with the Spirit.”  In fact, just prior to opening the scroll of Isaiah, in the passage before us today, it says, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country”  (Luke 4:14).

In fact Jesus Himself said that His work in the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) was evidence of the fact that the kingdom of God had been ushered in:

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:27-28)

I think we sometimes undervalue or misunderstand the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ. For instance, how could He be said to “grow in grace and knowledge” when He was already omniscient?  How could Jesus make it all the way to the cross in his humanity without sinning?  Well it wasn’t because the divine nature somehow reached over and controlled the human nature.  Rather, He fully submitted to the Spirit, and the Spirit imparted wisdom from the Father.  The Divine and the Human in Him did not “mix” or get lost somehow. Each was distinct, and we understand that union as communicating back and forth with each other.  And it is the Spirit who, somehow mysteriously, played a major part in this.

Geerhardus Vos explains: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

In His life and ministry Jesus submitted to the Spirit, but it is also important to recognize that the Spirit’s mission not to glorify Himself, but to shine the light of glory on Christ.  As Bruce Ware says, “All Scripture is given to us by the Spirit. And what the Spirit wants to talk about, most centrally, is Jesus!”

Therefore, Jesus is anointed with the Spirit, and in this way not only does He fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, but he also is empowered to proclaim the gospel. “The Spirit , then, does not work in an independent saving manner apart from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is only by the knowledge of this gospel that an can be saved” (Ware).

4:18b  to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

Messianic/Eschatological Overtones

Here we get to the heart of Isaiah’s message, and the mission of the one who was “anointed” by the Lord.

When the Jews heard Jesus quote this passage their minds would likely have been awash in ideas of a dawning age of God’s salvation. Isaiah 61 brought to the Jewish mind of the time the promise of prosperity and a golden age of peace and blessing from God.  For them it had heavy eschatological/messianic overtones (cf. Block). We have a similar excitement and anticipation as we wait for the return of Christ (cf. Rev. 21).

When Jesus read this and connected it with himself, the Jews would have understood that He was saying that He was ushering in a new age of salvation – no doubt leading them to wonder if He was the long awaited Messiah.

So picture yourself in the room at that moment as a first century Jew listening to this man Jesus – who you might have known growing up – read words from Isaiah 61 that bring to your mind thoughts and emotions connected with the coming of God’s Savior.  Jesus hasn’t said anything yet, but dreams of peace and prosperity immediately fill your mind as you look down at your callused hands, and feel the empty money bag on your hip.  You might cringe a bit as you remember recent killings or abuses by the Romans.  Your heart might doubt if there will ever be a savior for Israel; but this Jesus has spoken things with authority you’ve never heard before.  And now He’s reading Isaiah 61…

So What Does This Really Mean?

Let’s look closer at the text itself. First, the “good news” that is proclaimed is the gospel, which is continued on the next line.  The good news is that Jesus has come to free people from bondage, heal those who are sick, and give sight to the blind etc. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The second part of this message is that Jesus came to free captives.  Well, what kind of captives?  I believe that Jesus came to show that the prison He was freeing His people from was a prison of sin and death.  The Apostle Paul helps us understand example what was really meant by this when he says:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Listen to the words of our Lord when He would later explain this in more detail:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [33] They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [34] Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [37] I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. [38] I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31-38)

But how is He going to set the captives free?  Through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, and His triumph over the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins that had for so long held His people in bondage.

The second and fourth lines are similar because when spoken from the lips of Jesus they tell us that He came to proclaim His own death: I have come to do more than set you free from earthly bondage, I have come to set you free from the oppression of spiritual bondage.

Lastly, the third line says that He will give site to the blind. The sight that He gave was not only physical – for Jesus healed multitudes of people during his ministry – but most importantly spiritual.  In fact, the healing of blind men and women during his ministry actually pointed to a greater healing of their spiritual site. For the God of this world had blinded the minds of those who didn’t believe, and as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Geldenhuys says, “God had sent Him to heal those who were broken-hearted and found themselves in spiritual distress; to proclaim deliverance to those who were captives in the power of sin and in spiritual wretchedness; to give back to the spiritually blind the power of sight; to cause those who were downcast and inwardly bruised to go forward in triumph.”

The physical promises and physical work of Jesus in his healing ministry – like many of those in the Old Testament – pointed to something greater.  Just as the promise of land in the OT pointed to our becoming a new creation in Christ, and the eventuality of a renewed heavens and earth, so too the miracles of Christ pointed to His ultimate work of spiritual redemption which began during His ministry here on earth and will be consummated one day when He returns.

Therefore the “good news” is this: that Jesus will heal your brokenness, will breathe new life into your spiritually dead soul, and will raise you to walk in newness of life. He is the Messiah, He is the anointed One, and He has come to usher in the kingdom of God in power – a kingdom where the blind see, and the poor have been made rich in the riches that only God can give.

Praise God that He sent a Savior to set us free from our bondage to sin! Not by our own efforts or will, but by the powerful work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee

Finally, let us examine the last part of this passage.  There are a few key points to be made, and the last one we will examine in-depth.

First, it tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ mission during His first advent. Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner notes that when Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah, He notably skips past the whole part on judgment. The rest of 61:2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Perhaps what this tells us is that during Jesus’ first advent He has come to usher in his kingdom, to proclaim the gospel, and the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee.  But when He returns, He will judge both the quick and the dead.  Jesus is telling us something about his mission here on earth during the first advent – it is a mission of salvation – he came to seek and save the lost.

Secondly, this statement used in this context is Jesus’ way of ending the gospel message he’s just proclaimed with an exclamation point.  This gospel message he’s just proclaimed is so magnificent that marks the beginning of a new age of redemption.

And it is Jesus who is at the epicenter of this new redemptive age. He is the fulfillment of the (“typological”) past, and is the redeemer of all mankind. It is the announcement of the kingdom of God (His kingdom) and the Messianic age. Geldenhuys says, “It amounted to a declaration by Him that the words which He had read to them had finally come to fulfillment – in His own person…thus to ‘proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’, i.e. to announce the Messianic age – the period ushered in by His appearance, in which God will grant His salvation to His people.”

The phrase “year of favor” is Isaiah’s way of referencing the Jewish celebration of Jubilee. We find this celebration first described by Moses in Leviticus 25 (8-12):

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to all of the stipulations that Israel was to keep in this year. Here are the basics (summarized by Sam Storms):

  1. The return of all property, according to the original Mosaic distribution, to the original owner or to his family
  2. The release of all Jewish slaves
  3. The cancellation of debts
  4. The land is to lie fallow, i.e., it is neither to be sown, pruned reaped, nor gathered for an entire year.

The year of Jubilee ensured that the poor and needy were taken care of and the land was properly looked after and not overworked.  It also emphasized that it was God who owned the land (vs. 23), and that (like us today) they were sojourners in the land. Lastly, it laid down rules for redemption.  “If a person gets into difficulty or danger, then a relative (his “nearest redeemer,” v. 25) is to redeem him from his dire straits” (ESV Study notes) – A principle we find especially prominent in the book of Ruth, and in later on in our Lord and Savior’s redemption of us.

If the people of Israel kept these laws, then God promised that He would bless them greatly and they would “dwell in the land securely” (vs. 19)

So Isaiah is saying that when the prophet comes He will bring in a time of great jubilee. Sam Storms helps us understand the importance of how the Jewish people viewed the year of Jubilee:

The jubilee, therefore, was a year in which social justice, equity, freedom, pardon, release, and restoration were emphasized and experienced. The jubilee signaled a new beginning, the inauguration of moral, spiritual, and national renewal. Hence it is no surprise that the jubilee became a symbol and prefigurement of the ultimate redemption, release, and restoration that God would accomplish spiritually on behalf of his people.

Now, eventually, the anticipation of a coming deliverer (like Moses) and prince who would make a strong new covenant with His people, would soon be made known to a prophet living among the Babylonians.  That man was Daniel.

Let us turn to Daniel 9, and beginning in verse 24 we’ll read through the end of the chapter. This section of Scripture is important because it was Daniel who was told by the angel Gabriel to expect a coming Messiah who would fulfill these prophecies from Isaiah 61, and usher in a time of great deliverance and redemption:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.

Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:24-27, ESV)

You may know this already, but Daniel’s 70-week prophecy anticipates two things: deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and from the captivity of their sin. And that is the “good news” that Jesus has just declared. Daniel himself prays specifically for the former, but when God sends Gabriel to announce the vision we find that God has a bigger plan in mind. The deliverance from captivity in Bablyon would, like that of Egypt hundreds of years before, only symbolize the great deliverance of His people from sin and death.

That is why we have the 70 weeks.  Each week represents 7 years, and from the time of the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. to beginning of Christ’s ministry is 49 weeks.  The final week would land between 29-34 A.D. (per Gentry).

***Where the exact dates land isn’t as important as the theological idea that is being conveyed to Daniel here (cf. Storms), namely that Jesus is said to be “cut-off” for His people to die a vicarious substitutionary death for you and for me.[ii]

“This (the year of Jubilee mentioned in Lev. 25) all takes on special significance when we realize that there is decreed for Israel a total period of seventy sevens of years or 490 years, which is to say 10 JUBILEE ERAS, ‘an intensification of the jubilee concept point to the ultimate, antitypical jubilee.’ The jubilary year of God which the consummation of redemption and restoration is to occur is described in Isaiah 61:1-2” (Storms).

In Summary…

“When Jesus declares that in himself the jubilee of God has come he is saying, in effect, that the seventy weeks of Daniels have reached their climax. The new age of jubilee, of which all previous jubilees were prefigurements, has now dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus. The goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy is the consummate jubilary salvation of God!” (Storms)

Jesus was the man spoken of here. He is the “anointed one” and He is the one who makes a “Strong covenant” with the people and He is the one who puts “and end to sacrifice and offering” because He Himself was our sacrifice.

4:20-21 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Conclusion 

When Jesus rolls up that scroll, and hands it to the attendant, He then turns to the whole room declaring that they will witness the in-breaking of the kingdom of God!  It’s as if He just handed the scroll aside and declared, “That. Just. Happened.”  BOOM!

It rocks every listener to the core – and it ought to shake us up as well.

Jesus, sitting in the role of the prophet of God (the Supreme Prophet) is declaring that HE is the one whom the former prophets anxiously awaited.

He is God’s Supreme Prophet to the world and is declaring the end of captivity for those held in the bonds of sin, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. This is the Gospel of Christ. The captivity in Babylon, and in Egypt prior, were types and shadows of the captivity of sin and death that held us in bondage until He came.

Jesus is the one who has come to free the captives. He is the one who will be ushering in a kingdom and age of grace.  Furthermore, it is HE who is most worthy to be celebrated!  “I am here to fulfill the year of jubilee, and usher in the year of the Lord’s favor!”

He is the Message and the Messenger. He is the Word and the Prophet.  You see, a prophet of yesteryear could declare a message of liberty, but couldn’t bring it to pass. It took a deliverer to bring that message of liberty to the people. Jesus is both deliverer and message bearer. 

That is why He is the Supreme Prophet – He is an effectual Prophet who declares liberty (the gospel) and then proceeds to deliver (and usher in an age of liberty for millions of His chosen ones).

Christ has come to fulfill the entire law.  It is kept in His life of righteous obedience, and His sacrificial death on our behalf. His life and death mark the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. He has come to make a new covenant with us, to put an end to sacrifice and offering (for He is the fulfillment of the Temple), to release us from our captivity to sin, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – peace in our hearts and a new creation in our lives.

Christmas Conclusion: We are on the precipice of celebrating the greatest birth in world history – the advent of God’s last and greatest Prophet.  We do it knowing that Jesus Himself is our great celebration – not simply because He was born, but because He came to SET US FREE.

Rightly did the prophets say of Him:
 
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

 

Closing Prayer

 

Appendix 1 – Reading the OT through the Lens of Christ’s Words

I think it would be wise of us to recognize that there are often times in Scripture when we read of Jesus saying something that we don’t understand.  This was certainly the case with those who heard Him preach and claim to be fulfilling OT prophecies. In fact, many times we look at the passages He is quoting and even we, who have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, do not immediately grasp the connection.  For instance I was recently reading in John 13 and came to verse 18 where Jesus says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”  He’s quoting David here who said “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who late my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9).

If I were to read the Psalms without having read John 13, as many of the Jews had prior to Christ, I would simply assume that David was talking about Saul.  And that assumption would probably be correct with the limited knowledge I had. But this is my point: As we read the words of Jesus, and what He has to say about Himself, we need to trust those words explicitly.

In his commentary on Hebrews, Phillip Hughes says well that, “…over and over again in the New Testament shows that passages in the Old Testament have a significance and an application beyond and in addition to the original occasion of their composition, and this is especially so with reference to the redemptive work of Christ.”

Therefore, we need to understand that our sovereign God has placed words in the mouths of the prophets that even they might not have fully understood.  In other words, God knew all the words the prophets would write, for their words were inspired by the Spirit of God, and He had a plan for those words that may have been fulfilled both in their time, and in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.  

Appendix 2 – Daniel’s 70 Weeks

As I compiled this sermon, I found that there are many competing views of Daniel’s prophecy, even within the reformed tradition. I spent time dealing mostly with two prominent (and current) theologians, Baptist Theologian Peter Gentry and Baptist Theologian Sam Storms.

Peter Gentry has some helpful remarks on Daniel’s vision:

The vision of Daniel’s seventy weeks, then, can be explained simply. It refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and consecration of the Temple.  During the first seven sabbaticals the city of Jerusalem is restored. Then for sixty-two sabbaticals there is nothing to report. In the climatic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people.  Strangely, desecration of the temple similar to that by Antiochus Epiphanies in the Greek Empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. The events are fulfilled in the person of Jessus of Nazareth. He is the coming King. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the New Covenant with man. His death is not “for himself”, but rather vicarious. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah and the desecration of Him as the true Temple at his trial by the high priest result in judgment upon the Herodian temple, carried out eventually in 70A.D. The notion of a gap between the 69th and 70th week is contrary to a vision of chronological sequence. The prophecy is remarkable for its precision as it fits the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”

But Sam Storms, who has read Gentry, agrees that we have to read Daniel’s seventy weeks in terms of Sabbaticals (theologically instead of chronologically). Still, he has a different (and very helpful) take on this:

My point is that if Jeremiah’s “seventy years” turn out to be only “sixty-six” or even “fifty-eight” we should not be overly concerned that Daniel’s “seventy-sevens” end up being something other than precisely 490 years.”

This is different from Gentry who has done some gymnastics to show that the exact year of Christ’s dying on the cross is likely halfway through the final week of the 70 sabbaticals. But even Gentry seems to realize there is some ambiguity as to the exact year of Christ’s death.  Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure whether He died halfway through the week, or at the beginning of it, or near the end etc. from the historical record we have.

But Storms and Gentry both agree overall that this passage in Daniel is closely related to our passage in Luke.  As Storms says, “This is the passage that our Lord quotes in Luke 4:16-21 and applies to his own person and work. In other words, the fulfillment and anti-type of the prophetic and typical jubilary year has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Thus both Isaiah and Luke employ the Mosaic instruction (he had quoted from Leviticus 25 on the year of Jubilee before this) concerning the jubilee to describe the dawning of God’s kingdom in the person and work of Jesus.”

Bryan Chapell (of the Gospel Coalition) also summarizes the passage well, “Daniel’s vision I, unquestionably, ultimately about Christ’s gracious work in behalf of his people…Jerusalem and the temple will be restored, followed by a time of trouble, culminating in the appearance of the Messiah, who himself will be cut off before Jerusalem and its sanctuary are destroyed. These details align with Cyrus’ release of the captives, Jerusalem’s rebuilding, Christ’s coming, his crucifixion, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by the future Roman emperor Titus in 10 A.D.”

Gentry’s overview of Daniel’s prayer sounds like this: Daniels’s prayer is focused upon the physical return from Babylon – the first stage in redemption, but the angelic message and vision of the seventy weeks is focused upon the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of covenant and righteousness – the second stage in return from exile.

Appendix 3 – The Advent of Synagogues

John MacArthur has a fascinating short history of how synagogues came about in his commentary on the first five chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The rudimentary basics are that they could be established if there were at least 10 men in a village (this is something we saw during a study on the book of Acts – if there were not that many men in the town or village, as could be the case in the diaspora, then people would gather by the river if the town had one).

These meeting groups cropped up around the time of the Babylonian Captivity because the temple had been destroyed and there was no one central location of worship and sacrifice.  I’m not entirely sure where or if they even did sacrificing during that time.

The structures were made of stone, generally, and faced (or had windows that faced?) Jerusalem.

Appendix 4The Chiastic Structure of Luke 4:16b-4:20d (as outlined in Block)

the synagogue (4:16b)
  standing (4:16c)
     receiving the scripture (4:17a)
        opening the scripture (4:17b)
            preaching the good news (4:18c)
                  proclaiming release to the captive (4:18d)
                        giving sight to the blind (4:18e)
                  setting free the oppressed (4:18f)
            proclaiming acceptable year of the Lord (4:19a)
        closing the scripture (4:20a)
     returning the scripture (4:20b)
  sitting (4:20c)
the synagogue (4:20d) 
 

Appendix 5 – The Year of Jubilee

I liked and wanted to have in here the summary of the ESV Study notes on Leviticus 25 which state:

This provided a periodic restoration of the means to earn a living for each family in an agrarian society. (The jubilee did not equalize all possessions in Israel, however, since possessions such as cattle and money were not reallocated.) The prohibitions of the jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year. The land is to lie fallow for two years in a row: the forty-ninth year (sabbatical year) and the fiftieth year (jubilee). This law prohibits the amassing of large estates, which would reduce many Israelites to tenant status on their ancestral land (cf. Isa. 5:8).

Also, I noted from the text that if an Israelite is forced to sell his land temporarily, he and his family retain the right of redemption. The land may be redeemed in one of three ways:

(1) a kinsman-redeemer buys back the land;
(2) the seller himself is able to buy it back; or
(3) it is restored to the rightful owner at the jubilee.
 
It is interesting that I have heard in the past that the people of Israel never celebrated the year of Jubilee! In other words, they were disobedient to the command they’d been given.  However, despite their disobedience, and eventual exile into the land of Babylon, God still had a great plan for His chosen people.

Now, I didn’t want to mention this in the sermon itself, mainly because I didn’t find any scholarship to back this up. I had heard it from the pulpit before (not sure where), but without hard evidence to support it, I couldn’t make it a major theme of the sermon.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting thought to consider.

Appendix 6 – The Kingdom of God in Luke 4

I didn’t spend a ton of time talking about the in-breaking of the kingdom in this passage, but some of the work of Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner has been very helpful as I worked on the passage as a whole, and he has a little section on Luke 4 in his ‘New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ’ which is worth reading.  Here are some of the most interesting points he makes about the passage in relationship to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Christ:

Jesus began by citing the OT Scriptures and claiming that they reach fulfillment in his person and ministry. The claim is a stunning one, for the OT text refers to the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises. Jesus claimed that he is anointed with the eschatological Spirit (cf. Is. 44:3; Ez. 11:18-19; 36:26-27; Joel 2:28). The good news of the release from exile had now been realized through him. The year of the Lord’s favor and the liberty of God’s people had arrived. It does not appear here that Jesus merely states that these promises will be fulfilled at the consummation of all things. Even now, through his healing ministry, the blind were receiving sight. The gospel that he proclaimed means that the poor were hearing the glad tidings in the present. Indeed, Jesus skipped over the line in Is. 61 that speaks of the Lord’s vengeance and referred only to the time of his favor. This suggests that the present time is not a time of vengeance but the day of salvation. The day of vengeance was delayed and yet, surprisingly enough, the day of favor and salvation had dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus.

ENDNOTES

[i] Vos elsewhere says, “The Son’s unique greatness, his exaltation above man constitutes his chief qualification for the revealership. As a revealer he represents not man but God; therefore the nearer he stands to God the better he is qualified.” So the office of prophet was an office of revelation. And Jesus was the supreme agent of God’s revelation. The same was true of Jesus, who came with a supremely glorious message, yet it offended the people of Israel because it didn’t fit into their presuppositions.

[ii] As Isaiah says:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
(Isaiah 49:8-9, ESV)