Luke 1:13-17 #16, He Shall Be Great 12/7/2003









#1. Thy Prayer Is Heard (Luke 1:13)









#2. He Shall Be Great in the Sight of the Lord (Luke 1:15, Ps 58:3, Ro 3:10, Eph 2:3)









#3. To Make Ready a People (Luke 1:17)




Please open your Bibles to the Gospel according to Luke 1:5 (2X). Today's sermon is # 16 in the series that is titled, "The Wisdom of God" (2X). Since we are in a time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we want to take this opportunity to focus our eyes upon Jesus, "the Author and Finisher of our faith", and we want to express our thankfulness to Him for coming into this world to save us from our sins, and from the consequences of our sins. Last week, in sermon # 15, we focused on Christ as the "Sun of Righteousness", who would come with healing in His wings, especially on the Last Day when He comes the second time. Today we are going to focus on the first coming of Christ. That is why I had you turn to Luke chapter 1, because here is where we find the beginning of the incarnation of God in the flesh. Today's sermon, # 16, is titled, "He Shall Be Great" (2X). He shall be great in the sight of the Lord. God, in His wisdom decided that the story of the birth of John the Baptist must be interwoven with the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here in Luke 1:5 we read about:

Lu 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia (2X) and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

Lu 1:6-7 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

Lu 1:8-9 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

Lu 1:10-11 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

Lu 1:12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

Lu 1:13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Lu 1:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Lu 1:15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

Lu 1:16-17 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Lu 1:18-19 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

Lu 1:20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall

be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Lu 1:21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

Lu 1:22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

Lu 1:23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

Lu 1:24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

Lu 1:25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

This is a wonderful story about Zacharias and Elisabeth. But God did not put this story in the Bible for the glory of Zacharias and Elisabeth, or to amuse us with some history. God put this story in the Bible for the glory of Jesus Christ. One reason why God put this passage in the Bible is to indicate the month in which Jesus was born. Let us find out about this here. We read in Luke 1:5,

What does this mean? Why did God include this minor detail? God could easily have left these five words out. But you see, this is an excellent application of the principle God laid down in Prov 25:2, where God says, "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter". We should search this out now. Please turn in your Bibles to the prophecy of 1Chron 24:5 (2X). Here in 1 Chronicles 24 we find how king David divided for a whole year the service for the tabernacle to the priests and to the Levites. And here we read about the turns of service for the priests in the sequence it was ordained by David the king. We read in 1Chron 24:5,

1Ch 24:5 Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar.

1Ch 24:6 And Shemaiah the son of Nethaneel the scribe, one of the Levites, wrote them before the king, and the princes, and Zadok the priest, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and before the chief of the fathers of the priests and Levites: one principal household being taken for Eleazar, and one taken for Ithamar.

1Ch 24:7 Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah,

1Ch 24:8 The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim,

1Ch 24:9 The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin,

1Ch 24:10 The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, (Same word: the Greek spelling is "Abia".)

We read here: "the eight to Abia". And so on. I am skipping down to verse 18:

1Ch 24:18-19 The three and twentieth to Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah. These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.

Here we read that David assigned the service to the tabernacle by lot. In those days there was no temple yet. David appointed 24 priestly families to serve during an entire year of 12 months. Every half month another priestly family does the honor of service. And so, beginning with the first month of Nisan the first two priests Jehoiarib and Jedaiah would serve. In the second month the next two priests would serve. In the third month the next two priests would serve. In the first half of the fourth month, according to verse 10, the priest Hakkoz or any of his descendents would serve in the tabernacle. In the second half of the fourth month the priest Abijah or any of his descendents would serve in the tabernacle. And so on. This was a sequence that was rigorously kept for hundreds of years. For example, after Solomon finished building the temple, we read in 2Chron 8:14,

2Ch 8:14 And he appointed, according to the order of David his father, the courses of the priests to their service, and the Levites to their charges, to praise and minister before the priests, as the duty of every day required: the porters also by their courses at every gate: for so had David the man of God commanded.

Please turn again to Luke 1:5 (2X). Now we know that the course of Abia means that Zacharias served in the 2nd half of the 4th month. So, what do we do with this information? Does this point us to Jesus' birth? Yes it does. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the gestation period of a human being in the womb is 267 days, with a spread of + or 17 days. It so happens that 266 days are exactly 38 weeks, and 266 days are also exactly 9 Hebrew months of 29 days. So when we say that the gestation period is 9 months we mean months that consist of 29 days. If you think that I am now juggling the arithmetic, you should take notes of the next few minutes. We have read in verses 23 and 24 that as soon as Zacharias had fulfilled his ministry, in the 2nd half of the 4th month, he departed to his own house, which was in the hill country of Judea. When did Elisabeth conceive the baby John? According to verses 23 and 24 she conceived him in the beginning of the 5th month. When did the Virgin Mary conceive the baby Jesus? According to Luke 1:36 it was in the 10th month.

Lu 1:36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

Most likely Mary conceived the baby Jesus in the 2nd half of the 10th month, because that was when Elisabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy. When was Jesus born? It must have been in the second half of the 19th month, or by subtracting 12 we get the second half of the 7th month that Jesus was born. This 7th month is called "Tishri"; it falls on our Julian calendar in September and October. The month Tishri is a very special month. The 1st day of the 7th month is the "Feast of Trumpets". The 10th day of the 7th month is the "Day of Atonement", which the Jews consider the most holy day of the year. On the 15th day of the 7th month begins the "Feast of Tabernacles", which lasts for 7 days. Including the 3 Sabbaths that do not fall within the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews had 12 days in the 7th month that they were not working, but feasting and resting in the Lord. What a life!

But if Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem in the 2nd half of the 7th month, then we can understand why historically there was no room for them in the inn. It was not because Joseph did not carry any money. Joseph would not do such a thing while Mary was pregnant for 9 months. But the Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem for 7 days. It was one of the requirements of the Ceremonial Law that all the males should appear before the Lord 3 times each year, and one of those 3 times was the Feast of Tabernacles. Therefore, since Bethlehem was just a few miles from Jerusalem the inn was overflowing with travelers from all over the country. Let us return to Zacharias.

#1. Thy Prayer Is Heard (Luke 1:13)

Zacharias was a descendent of Abijah, which in the Greek is spelled Abia. Many times Zacharias has been to Jerusalem to minister to the Lord together with a multitude of priests, all descendents of Abijah. The part that was assigned to each priest during this week of service was assigned by lot. Three priests were serving at each offering of incense. One was to remove the ashes of the former service. One was to bring to the altar of incense coals from the altar of burnt offering where already an animal sacrifice was burning. And one was to sprinkle the incense on the burning coals and offer a prayer of intercession for the people. This was the most honorable part of the service, and this was the lot that fell to Zacharias at this time. This offering of incense was performed 2 times each day, one at the morning sacrifice, at about 9 O'clock in the morning, and one at the evening sacrifice, at about 3 O'clock in the afternoon. Now it was Zacharias' turn. He sprinkled the incense on the fiery coals and prayed intensely. Then he suddenly saw a shining figure between the altar and the candlesticks. It was the angel Gabriel. And then he spoke:

Lu 1:13 The angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

"Thy prayer is heard". What did Zacharias pray for? Did he pray for a child since his wife was childless? No! Not at all! He knew that his wife was beyond childbearing. When the angel told him that his wife was going to bear a child, he could hardly believe it, because he was not praying for a child. No! Zacharias prayed for the people, because it was spiritually very dark for the people of Israel. He did not pray for himself. He knew that he and his wife were saved people, and so, he and his wife had everything going for them. God says of them in verse 6 "they were both righteous before God", which means they were saved. And they had the evidence of salvation, because they were walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. God called them "blameless" in His sight. Zacharias knew that he was going to die soon, but what about all those people here outside the temple. They were waiting for an action of God that would be pointing to the Messiah. That is for whom they were all waiting for. And so, Zacharias prayed for these people of Israel.

What is God teaching us here? God is teaching us to pray for others as much as we can. If we have become saved, then we have become kings and priests, and we should lift up intercessory prayers for others. This is our job as priests, and our job as kings is to function as ambassadors of our King of kings, and to proclaim Him as the only sovereign King in this universe. That is what Zacharias and Elisabeth probably have been doing. The situation was getting very dark for the people of Israel. When the captives returned from Babylon they did not have free nation of Israel. They became a province of the Medo-Persian Empire. When Alexander the Great destroyed the Medo-Persian Empire they became a province of the Seleucid Empire, which was one part of the fractured empire Alexander left to his Greek followers. And when the hated Romans defeated the Greeks they became a Roman province under the leadership of a hated Idumean king Herod, who called himself Herod the Great. In their secular world a descendent of Esau was now their king. This was an insult to the descendents of Jacob. It seems as if "the sceptre had apparently departed from Judah". In their spiritual world the Pharisees and the Sadducees were now their spiritual leaders and their teachers. And what they were taught was nothing less than a works gospel. How could they still have hope in God when everything around them was falling apart? Now they have a temple, but the greater part of the temple was built by the hated Idumean king Herod. For more than 400 years there was no message from God. It seems as if "the glory had departed from Israel". Where could be their hope?

God heard their prayers, and God answered the prayers of Zacharias while he was offering the incense, and God sent a baby. Was this really God's answer? This was a totally unexpected answer from God. But God spoke through the angel Gabriel and God said in verses 13-14,

Lu 1:13 The angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Lu 1:14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Fear not Zacharias, God has heard your prayers for His people, and God will grant you your requests. God is making His people great again, but God is going to redefine who His people are. To begin with, God will give you a son through the wife of your youth, whom you thought was too old to bear children. And God hereby shows you that "nothing is impossible with God". God knows that you, Zacharias, are presently going through a dark period of the history of Israel. But remember what God said in Mal 4:2, "The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings". The darkness of the night shall give way to the light of the morning. For you, Zacharias, this will be the morning light of the first coming of Christ, who will atone for all your sins. Remember your name Zacharias, it means "Jehovah remembers". The morning comes. God remembers all His saints. He will not leave them in desperate conditions unless it is absolutely necessary. Remember also the name of your wife Elisabeth, which means "My God is My Oath". The promise is sure. God will remember the oath He swore to Abraham, and He will especially remember it in a period when the promises of the Almighty seem to fail. But God will give her a son and call his name John, which is an English contraction for "Ioannes", or "Johannes", which means "Jehovah is Gracious". You shall have joy and gladness because He will be the herald of the dawn, when the Sun of Righteousness is ready to shine His light into this dark world.

God knows that WE are presently going through a similar dark period of the history of the church. We recognize that it is a dark time in the church, because the Good News of the grace of God is no longer preached in most churches. They have changed the way of salvation that God laid down in the Bible, and they have changed the sovereignty of God in salvation. Today the path to heaven is that we have to accept the Lord Jesus. As if God has done all He could and now it is up to us to make a decision for Jesus, or reject Him. This is the gospel that is preached in most churches in this country. And not only in our country, but also throughout entire Europe, formerly a haven of orthodoxy, is this works gospel preached. Therefore we recognize that God is preparing the church for Judgment. We must remember that Mal 4:2 is stated in the context of Judgment on the Last Day. We must remember that God promises the Sun of Righteousness to appear on the Last Day, at Christ's 2nd coming, when He will transform our mortal bodies into glorious heavenly bodies. Like John was the herald of the dawn, so today the Bible is our herald of the dawn, because now we can apply the sharp edge of the Sword of the Word of God to judge who our friends and who our enemies are. The sharp edge of the Sword of God, as you know, is Rev 22:18-19 where God says:

Re 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

Re 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

God knows that the church is presently digging its own grave with gospels that feature signs and wonders and dreams and visions and angel visitations and tongues. These are all violations of Rev 22:18-19. You do not have to be a genius to understand these verses. This is very plain language. But the church has taken a stand against the plain teaching of the Word of God. That is why we see presently pedophiles and homosexuals and whoremongers sneaking into the church and occupying high places. Yes, God knows this is a dark period in church history. Then we read in Luke 1:15,

#2. He Shall Be Great in the Sight of the Lord (Luke 1:15, Ps 58:3, Ro 3:10, Eph 2:3)

Lu 1:15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

John shall be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall not be great in the sight of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, because John called them a "generation of vipers". Vipers are poisonous snakes, which kill with their poison. The Pharisees and Sadducees killed people with the words they spoke, for they lead men to Hell with the gospel they brought. But God praised John for his courage and for his preaching of the truth of the Word of God. While all the prophets that were before John promised that Messiah was coming, always was coming, this son of Zacharias shall be greater than all in that he might stretch out his hand and point to the Messiah: He is here! The night at last is passed. The morning has come. The Sun of Righteousness has risen. And great shall he be in the sight of the Lord. This child of grace shall be greater than all the Herods, even if they are called Herod the Great. And what is greatness unless it is greatness according to the standards of the Lord, and according to the Judgment of the Lord. What is all the greatness of the world compared with the greatness of the Kingdom of Christ and with the greatness of being in the Covenant of grace? He shall be great, yet he is not the Great One! He shall be a witness of the Light, but he is not the Light. He shall be a friend of the Bridegroom, yet He is not the Bridegroom. He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb, yet he will not be filled without measure. He shall not come eating or drinking, he shall not come feasting with publicans and harlots, like Jesus did, because he will eat honey and locusts. He does not come in his own strength, but God shall give him the strength and spirit of Elijah. In isolation shall be his strength, until Christ shall have come and John shall point Him out. He shall be the voice crying in the wilderness; a great voice, greater than all that cried before him, yet even so, still in the wilderness. John shall be great in the Kingdom of God. He shall be great because of his Divinely ordained position, not because he was great by his own qualities. Great, because of the glorious calling he shall have to fulfill. For his shall be the calling to link the new to the old, to prepare the old for the new, to prepare a people for the Lord.

"And he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink", which is a hint that John was a Nazarite all his life. What is a Nazarite? Under the Ceremonial Law of Israel a Nazarite is someone who has consecrated himself to God (= set himself apart for God), and therefore he will abstain himself from certain worldly pleasures, such as grapes and the products of grapes, he will use no razor or scissors, and he will avoid contact with a dead body. Under those conditions you can readily see that a Nazarite will have a ragged appearance. He will be the opposite of a handsome, attractive young man. But outward appearance does not matter to God. God looks inside. God looks on the heart. For a priest to have a son who is a Nazarite is a great delight.

"He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb". This indicated that John was saved from his mother's womb. He is the only child, other than Jesus, who has been described as someone who was saved from the womb. We realize, however that John was an exception to the rule. God's rule is that we all come into the world as wicked babies. God says in Psalm 58:3, "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies". And God says in Rom 3:10, "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one", and that includes babies and babies in the womb. None of them is righteous to begin with. And God says in Eph 2:3, "Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others", even as others who never become saved. For a priest to have a son who is already saved when he was a child is a great delight. And then God says:

Lu 1:16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

John did not have this kind of power. No human being has the power to turn someone to salvation We must harmonize the words of Scripture. Therefore, when we read this we understand that God will use John as an instrument for the salvation of many. But it will be God who does the saving. This was a great honor and great glory for John. And it is a great honor and great glory to us, because we too have been appointed as ambassadors for Christ. We read for example in Rom 8:30, "Whom He justified, them He also glorified", and that is glorified in the past tense. How have we been glorified? We have been glorified by having been assigned the task of proclaiming the Gospel to all those whom God intended to save. The King of kings has appointed us the task of being His ambassadors, and thereby He has glorified us. It is a great honor for anyone to be appointed ambassador of the president of the US of America. It is a far greater honor to be ambassador of the King of kings. And God says in 2Cor 5:20, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God". How is it possible that some people call it a drag that we must witness for what Christ has done for us? John did not consider it a drag. He was on fire for the Lord all his life. God ordained it so that John would make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Now, does that not point to the concept of election? This was a select group of people who were prepared for the Lord, because the Lord set His sight on them from eternity past.

#3. To Make Ready a People (Luke 1:17)

Lu 1:17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

And thus he shall turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. "The wisdom of the just" refers to those who have been saved. Indeed, so it must be, when the morning has come and the darkness has been driven away. Then shall be the time when the hearts of the fathers must be turned to the children, for old things shall pass away and all things shall become new. There shall be new wine that must be put in new bottles. For, surely, the angel Gabriel does not stand beside the altar to announce that the son of Zacharias shall settle family quarrels and reconcile fathers to children. But he announces that John shall serve to unite them in the same faith. Nor does the angel Gabriel indicate that the hearts of the children shall be returned to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for it is the heart of the fathers that is turned, not the hearts of the children. Nor must the children return to the fathers, but the fathers must turn to the faith of the children, the old must turn to the new, for the night will turn into day, the Law will make place for the liberty of the children of God in the Spirit. It means that the heart of true Israel, the Israel of God, must be turned into the heart of the church of the new dispensation. And thus the disobedient, those who would not recognize the light of day even at dawn, who would be inclined to prefer the law to freedom in Christ, and who would prefer the bondage of Jerusalem's children to the liberty of the Spirit, them he would turn to the wisdom, the prudence, the insight into the things of the Kingdom of God, and make them see that this is the gift of the righteous in the blood of Jesus Christ, their Lord! He shall be great. He shall point to the glimmering horizon and he shall lead the children of the promise to the light of day. He is the herald of daybreak.

Amen. Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.