The Hand Of The Lord
December 03, 2017 | Randy Smith
The Hand Of The LordLuke 1:57-66
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith<<br />
There are a lot of verses in the first two chapters in Luke. Yet they are rather easy to outline. They go from announcing the conception of John the Baptist to announcing the conception of Jesus Christ. Then focus is turned to the birth of John the Baptist (today's passage) to the birth of Jesus Christ. We see this seesaw teetering back and forth between the John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
The author is clearly setting the stage. Two key players are being introduced that will shape his entire narrative. He says one will be great. Yet he will only be a forerunner to prepare the way for the other who will be the greatest.
As we look forward to celebrating the Lord's Table this morning, I would like to use the time we have together to look at two key principles that I see in the passage I previously read for you. The text is rather straightforward and easy to interpret. But as Luke has gone back and forth introducing John and Jesus, I would like to go back and forth looking at God's actions and our response to His actions using the account we see in verses 57-66.
You see, I often view the Christian life as a cycle. For instance, in the Bible we see God promise and then God fulfill His promise. Often His fulfillment leads to greater promises and greater fulfillment. Our Christian life is based on knowing God's promises (as revealed in the Bible) and believing without a doubt that He will fulfill them both in redemptive history and in our own lives.
Or another cycle, God gives us a desire for Him. We are content in Christ, but we are also discontent because we want more of Him. We are commanded to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Mt. 5:6). David said, "My soul thirsts for You" (Ps. 63:1). When we do that God fills us with Himself which leads to satisfaction, but also to a greater hunger. The cycle never ends.
Or this morning, God takes action and we respond. It's not the other way around. God initiates and we are called to respond appropriately.
That is where we are going with the two points this morning. "God's Mercy and Our Joy" and "God's Truth and Our Praise." Let's begin.
God's Mercy And Our Joy
Verse 57, "Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her."
So back in verses 13-14 we read, "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth" (Lk. 1:13-14).
God's promise in verses 13-14. God's fulfillment in verse 57.
A big thing in our home is keeping your word. We have a little saying that all our kids constantly repeat: "Say what you mean and mean what you say." We've all been in those situations when someone breaks a promise.
I remember when I was on one of my trips with my daughter that I was passing through an old friend's area and offered to stop by. We were invited to spend the night at his home. Our travels plans were arranged around being with his family that evening. Then I received an email that his family chose to take a vacation the same time we made arrangements to come and he wouldn't be seeing us.
Now I'm the first one to admit that coordinating schedules for a whole family to travel together is nearly impossible. Often you might only have one week in an entire summer. I also admit that spending a week with your family is more important than an evening with my daughter and I. I also admit if he shared his dilemma that I would tell him to go on his vacation. But is it right to break your word without ever consulting me because something better came up?
We are all guilty of this. But why is it wrong? Is it because it is rude and hurtful to others? Of course. "That night of ours belongs to you, that is unless something better…" Is it because it inconveniences others to now restructure plans that were made? Of course. But the main reason is because we are to imitate God. We tell the truth because He always tells the truth. We are faithful because God is always faithful. We keep our word because He always keeps His word!
So you are invited to the Johnson home for dinner. You compare your busy calendars and agree upon and set a date eight weeks from now. Three weeks later you are offered an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii that will pull you away the night you are scheduled to be with the Johnsons. What do you do?
You call the Johnson's explain the exciting opportunity and see if they can reschedule. That's fine and if the Johnson's are reasonable and merciful they will. But the Johnson's say, "No that is the only day that works for us. We have made significant plans for the evening and we are greatly looking forward to our time together." Then what do you do? You forsake Hawaii to spend the evening in Howell! Psalm 15:4 say the godly man "swears to his own hurt and does not change."
This is integrity. This is walking in and modeling and honoring the likeness of God.
Clearly in this passage we see God make a promise and then God fulfill His promise.
And how do the people react? They attribute the fulfillment of God's promise to God's mercy. Or as verse 58 reads, "His great mercy." How fitting! What a perfect attribute to be focused upon! Mercy!
God owes us nothing. Because of our sin we deserve nothing but His judgment and wrath. But God chose to not give us what we deserve. That's mercy!
Think about it! If we were not under His condemnation, there would be no need for mercy. The very nature of mercy implies that we, because of our offenses, deserve judgment. But God has chosen not to execute His just punishment upon us.
You see, it is either mercy (not getting what we deserve) or wrath (getting what we do deserve). God cannot display both of them at the same time on an individual person. Yet since God is both mercy and wrath, it appears to me that He would rather delight in sharing His mercy. Yet without the backdrop of God's wrath upon us, the mercy of God would be diminished and rather unappreciated. It's only when we really understand what we deserve in wrath will we really be thankful for what we have been given in mercy.
But does that mean that sinner are just simply given a pass and let off the hook? We don't tolerate that from human judges. Consider the outrage from the verdict a few days ago regarding the Kate Steinle murder! God must demand justice. God's wrath must be satisfied. But how?
That's why the star of these passages is Jesus Christ. The name Jesus means, "Savior." Jesus came to bear our sins and take the wrath upon Himself that we deserved. God can now be merciful to us because justice was accomplished at Calvary 2,000 years ago. He was judged in our place. So when we come to Christ the verdict is in, "Not guilty!" As Spurgeon said, "There is mercy for a sinner, but there is no mercy for the man who will not own himself a sinner."
In this section proclaiming the birth of our Savior that word "mercy" used in relation to God is mentioned five times in Luke 1 (1:50, 54, 58, 72, 78). And obviously with good reason!
And how do the people respond to God's mercy? Remember, God promises, God fulfills and then the people respond. Verse 58 says "[The people] were rejoicing."
This is another very important point to consider. When the people recognized God's mercy it resulted in "rejoicing." This is one of the greatest ways to glorify God!
Here is how C.S. Lewis put it. "The Scotch catechism says that man's chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him" (Reflections on the Psalms, Brace and World, 1958, p. 90-98).
Let's remember this principle. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Our praise, our worship, our desire to glorify God falls short when it fails to come forth from a heart overflowing in joy. The way God glorifies Himself is by making sinners happy in Him. We all desire to be happy and when our deepest happiness is in God we show Him to meet the deepest desires of our soul. The emotion of joy proves that nothing in the world compares to Him. It proves that we have really grasped who God is and what He has done for sinners.
God-honoring praise is only genuine when its foundation is joy in God. This what God desires. And this is why He sent us a Savior. 2:10, "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.'"
God's Truth And Our Praise
Let's look at one more cycle taught in these verses.
Beginning in verse 59. "And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, 'No indeed; but he shall be called John.' And they said to her, 'There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.' And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished" (Lk. 1:59-63).
It's a rather straight-forward passage. Family and friends gather for the birth of the baby. They circumcise the child on the eighth day as it was commanded in the law (Lev. 12:1-3; Phil 3:5). The father Zacharias is still unable to speak because of his unbelief. Yet the entire assembly shows compassion for the man. They suggest a great way to honor him. They suggest that the baby should be named after the father. All like the idea except the mother (verse 60) and the father himself (verse 63). Why? Because God in 1:13 clearly commanded that the baby should be called "John." And the two parents who knew the command chose to obey God and not the people.
Here is the principle, compassion never trumps truth. Honoring people never trumps honoring God. Feelings don't trump Scripture. Doing the right thing will at times offend others and even ourselves.
You know this principle as a parent, don't you? When you make your children eat their vegetables or make them go to bed or refuse to allow playtime until they finish their homework. What is their immature response? "Why are you so mean to me?" I suppose we are all compassionless parents that care not for our children's feelings.
As a God-given authority over our children, our first obligation (in gentleness and love) is to do what is in their best interest regardless of how they feel about it. Furthermore as a Christian, our ultimate goal is to have a household that pleases the Lord based upon the principles He has given us in Scripture. When it's a conflict between giving into my child or giving into the Lord, the Lord always has to win. Remember Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Jos. 24:15).
I'm sure you all agree, but I'm not sure all of you really practice this. What I've experienced in over two decades of full-time ministry is that many professing Christians most likely have never learned this valuable lesson as a child. And therefore they have brought into the church an unbiblical approach in their understanding of church leadership.
For the good of the individual and for the good of all of you and for the glory of God's name, we at times need to humbly tell people things they do not like to hear as your spiritual parents. Rather than agreeing with Scripture and repenting, they attack the messenger and call the church unloving. Remember the five-year-old? "Mom, you are so mean." Listen, true love is not always giving people what they want. True love is caring enough to tell people what they need to hear.
Zacharias had a chance when the angel Gabriel first met him to honor the Lord. He received the divine announcement regarding Elizabeth's pregnancy - something he had been praying for for years. Yet he put himself first, was consumed with his personal feelings and chose to put God in trial. "How will I know this for certain?" (Lk. 1:18). And the angel responded, "Behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words" (Lk. 1:20).
Now nine months later at the birth of his son, God puts Zacharias back on trial. How is he going to respond this time? Tradition says name the child Zacharias. The people say name the child Zacharias. His ego says name the child Zacharias. Yet it's not about his feelings or the fear of hurting others feelings. He knew what God said and this time he obeyed. Verse 63, "His name is John." And what happened? God blessed obedience! Verse 64, "And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God."
A cork had been over his mouth for nine long months. Most of us can't make it through a conversation without having to say something. Just think of all that was bottled up in his heart. Miraculously the cork is removed and we have to wonder, What's the first thing that will come out of His mouth?
Verse 64 says, "He began to speak in praise of God." It's not anger toward God. It's not about how rough it's been on him. It's not even about the birth of his son. Without any prompting from others, the natural overflow and initial response is praise to God. Next week we'll examine his specific words of praise.
Verse 65-66, "Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, 'What then will this child turn out to be?' For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him."
I think that's the main point of this passage. The people did not say, "Who then will this child turn out to be?" but rather, "What then will this child turn out to be?" This wasn't about John. This was about a movement of God that has and never will be witnessed in the history of the world. This is a story about God and how He will reconcile a sinful world to Himself.
Even the names of the key characters themselves in Luke 1 reveal the message. Zacharias means "God remembers His promises." Prophesied throughout history, the Messiah that would crush Satan's head and redeem God's people. God did not forget that. Elizabeth means "God is faithful." Not only does God remember, but He also always fulfills His word. He is always faithful. John means "God is gracious." The fulfillment of God's word will be the most gracious gift mankind could ever experience. Jesus is the clearest proof God is gracious. And lastly Jesus means "God saves." The Promised Child is about to arrive to put away the penalty for our sin by becoming sin Himself and offering forgiveness for all those who will believe in Him.
What a message of mercy, joy, truth and praise!