Elizabeth and Zechariah
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Elizabeth and Zechariah

Luke 1:5–23  (ID: 3065)

Of the four Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus Christ, only Luke covers the birth of John the Baptist, describing amazing events set in the midst of everyday life. Alistair Begg encourages hearers to take delight in the divinity, history, and mystery of this narrative. After four hundred years of apparent silence, God worked in the darkness, in hidden ways, and amid people’s daily duties, sending John to point His people toward their Messiah.

Series Containing This Sermon

History, Mystery, Divinity

Luke 1:5–56 Series ID: 14213

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 1. And we’re going to read together the first twenty-five verses of Luke chapter 1. It begins with an introductory paragraph as Luke dedicates this to Theophilus and through him to all who would then read, and then he proceeds with the account as he has given it to us.

Verse 1:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

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

“Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.’

“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel [who stands] in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 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.’ And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he[’d] seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

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


Now, I don’t think that many of you will recall the fact that on this particular Sunday last year, as we began to get ready for Christmas, we turned in the Bible to the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. During the week, I was thinking to myself, “I wonder why we started at the second chapter? Why did I neglect chapter 1?” And so, feeling that way, I decided that I would have the opportunity to rectify that, and that is why we have begun this morning to read Luke chapter 1. The title of this morning’s study should be no surprise to you: it is called “Elizabeth and Zechariah,” or “Zechariah and Elizabeth.” It made me think of Nicholas and Alexandra. It maybe didn’t make you think of that, but that was what was in my mind, and so I said, “That will do fine.” It is all about God’s work in the lives of this very interesting couple.

Now, Luke—and we needn’t take a long time on this—along with all of the Gospel writers, begins with John the Baptist. In fact, Luke is the only one who begins with the birth of John the Baptist. And as we’ve seen in the past in our studies, his meticulous approach to things comes out so clearly in this regard as well. We’ve said again in the past that we like the way in which Luke approaches and introduces his Gospel. There’s no sense in which we have a notion that this Gospel, this material, has appeared in some dramatic or bizarre fashion, that he was told to go to a place in the wilderness and he found it under a tree, or it was found in a big golden box or the kind of thing that mythology is marked by. No, he says very clearly as he addresses this and dedicates it to Theophilus that his Gospel is the product of his own careful investigation. He has gone to the sources, he’s gone to the eyewitnesses, and he has done so, and his purpose has been to provide such a record of these things that Theophilus, and all like Theophilus who would read his Gospel, will find that they have grounds for certainty in relationship to these matters.

And we do well to remind ourselves of the fact that Luke and the Gospel writers along with him, the others with him, describe these things—out-of-the-ordinary things, dramatic things, interventions from the heavens—these things are described within the framework of everyday, ordinary life. So you have extraordinary occurrences set within ordinary life unfolding. In fact, it occurred to me this week that if Luke had been setting out, as some suggest, to deceive his readers, to create a kind of mythological account whereby people might be led astray, then frankly, he did a really poor job of it. Because he is very precise in his history, and he is equally clear in his geography. If you were setting out to hoodwink people, you ought not to tie yourself so clearly to these precise, historical figures or to a geography that anybody with an atlas can actually go and find.

In reading through the infancy narratives again in preparation for these studies, I have had three words in my mind that have just helped me navigate. They’re not an outline for a talk, but I want to mention them to you. These are the words I’ve had in mind: history, divinity, mystery. History and divinity and mystery—divinity being the study of the divine or the study of God. For divinity, we could have said “theology,” but I just like “divinity” better this week. All right? So every so often, you ought to be saying to yourself, “Ah, divinity. Ah, mystery. Ah, history.”

The Historical Setting

So it is with history that we begin, as you will see in verse 5: after his introduction, he immediately ties himself down with the phrase “In the days of Herod, king of Judea…” The historical element is straightforward, isn’t it? This is the Herod who is referred to in some places as Herod the Great. His greatness extended to the things that he managed to build and some other dimensions of his leadership, but greatness could never have been a designation of his character. Because in short order, Herod was a nasty piece of work. By any standards at all, he was not a nice person. He was tyrannical, he was cruel, he was suspicious, and he was vindictive. Edersheim, the commentator, says, that “[as] long as he lived, no woman’s honour was safe, [and] no man’s life [was] secure.”[1] The word on the street was it was “safer to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son.”

He was detested by his subjects. They abhorred his deeds of cruelty, deeds of cruelty which readers of the Bible identify and tie to one specific instance which is also recorded for us later in the Gospel—namely, of his act of malicious spite whereby, in being unable to get access to this child who had been “born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King,”[2] he determined that all of the boys under the age of two that were living in the area should all be put to death.[3] That’s what we know from reading our Bibles. But if you’ve read secular history, you will know this: that his vengeance and his cruelty and his bloodshed were of such proportions that, by and large, Jewish historians did not even mention in their writings the murder of the innocents. It was simply lost, if you like, in the vast scheme of the atrocities that marked Herod’s reign. There was no way that it was making it onto the front page. It was a small paragraph buried somewhere on page 3.

God is at work in the darkness and in ways that are not immediately apparent.

So when you read “In the days of Herod, king of Judea,” what you need to understand, what we need to understand, is this: that that might be equated to “In the darkest and most evil days that men can remember.” So if you read it and say, “Oh, well there’s a king called Herod,” without the understanding of what is conveyed by that, then we immediately go wrong. That’s why it’s important that when we read our Bibles, we actually think. “In the darkest and most evil days that men can remember…” In the darkness, in the evil, God was getting ready to turn on the lights. God was getting ready, we might say reverently, for Christmas Day. He was about to turn on the light. He is preparing the way for the arrival of one who is not himself the light but whose existence was to point people to the light. The true light of every man was coming into the world—namely, in the person of the Messiah.[4]

God Is at Work in the Darkness and in Unlikely Ways

And so, the first thing to notice this morning, simple and yet important, is this: that God is at work in the darkness. God is at work in the darkness. There’s four hundred years have elapsed since the last prophetic voice. Four hundred years! This is 2014. Therefore, you have to go back to 1614. That’s a long time ago. You’ve hardly even got a nation at that point. And for four hundred years, no voice has been heard from God. The prophets have apparently dried up. Silence and darkness—a deep, deep societal darkness. And in the middle of all of that, the temptation for the people of God to say, “Where is God now? What will God do? Has God forgotten? What about his promises? What about all the things the prophet said would happen?”

And “in the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” So the camera, if you like, sweeps from the palace of this despot to the home of a devout priest. Now, this priest did not come from the equivalent of Canterbury, in English terms. He really came from, like, the Yorkshire Dales. He came from the hill country, sort of an inauspicious background. That’s what makes it all the more wonderful: that God is at work in the darkness, and that God is at work in ways that are not immediately apparent. Both of those things are very important.

If I had a dollar for every time people come and tell me about how dreadful everything is, how dark the world is, how America is this and that and the next thing, I could take everybody out for a very good meal. I’m not unfamiliar with the context in which I’m living my life. But I am also aware of the fact that God is at work in the darkness, and that God is at work in ways that are not immediately apparent.

“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” Whoo! Well, there’s something, huh? What are you gonna do with this? Well, read on: “of the division of Abijah.” Oh, now it’s falling into place, isn’t it? Oh, we’re making sense of it now. How dramatic and amazing is this!

There’s nothing dramatic or amazing about it at this point. Nothing at all! In fact, I was delighted that when I read this phrase—and I hope you are too—now when I read “of the division of Abijah,” I decided I don’t feel so bad about all those jolly readings we’ve just gone through in 1 and 2 Chronicles. Because now I understand! For in 1 Chronicles 24, when we waded our way through 1 Chronicles 24 and we said, “What is all this, the divisions of this, and the divisions of that, and the divisions and the divisions?” and then I said, “Oh, wait a minute. That’s what it is!” God had decided that the priests under the order of Aaron should be formed out in this way. In postexilic Israel, there was only about four other groups left. But still the designation continued. And what Luke is telling us here matters: that Zechariah was part of the division—that was his core, if you like; that was his area of responsibility—and he came down into the framework of Abijah. Do the homework for yourself.

Not only was a priest, but he also had a wife who was the daughter of a priest. So that’s—I mean, that’s really nice. This is a nice family. He’s a nice boy, Zechariah, and he has a nice wife, and she is the daughter of a priest as well. And what would it be like if we went to their home? It would be wonderful! Why? Because of what we’re told: “And they were both righteous before God.” What does that mean? It means they served God. They loved God. They obeyed God. And when it came to abiding by the statutes of God—which is what it says here in verse 6b—when it came to abiding by the commandments of the Lord, they were as blameless as it’s possible for a couple to be. They weren’t perfect, but they were really, really good.

So far, so good. “But,” verse 7, “they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” In other words, they were at least sixty years old. Because at this point in time, sixty was regarded as the threshold for agedness. They didn’t know that sixty is the new forty. How could they? They didn’t know that. So if you imagine them as a couple: Here they are. He goes to his priestly duties. He comes home. They have a nice meal together. They talk about the fact that life has unfolded as it has. The twilight of life is now a shadow upon them. They huddle together, they pull the blanket over their knees, and they think about where they’ve been, and they ponder the prospect of the future, and they have no children to brighten up their day or to cause them concern. She is childless. She is barren. It stood as a symbol of the fact that somehow or another, it would appear that God had been displeased with her. That’s the way they thought of it.

So culturally, the context is deep darkness, and personally, there’s a shadow over their home. But their names would be a help to them. When they spoke to one another in the morning, they were actually not simply giving each other a designation that would be helpful by way of identification but also affirming certain things that were true of God. Because Zechariah actually means “The Lord remembers,” or “The Lord watches over you.” In Psalm 121: “He watches over your going and your coming from this time forth, and even forevermore.”[5] All of that is wrapped up in the name Zechariah. And Elizabeth means “My God is an oath,” or “My God is faithful,” or, if you like, “My God keeps his promises.” So in the morning when she woke up, and she reached over, and she reached out for Zechariah, and she said, “Good morning, Zechariah, how are you?” Zechariah was a reminder to us that the Lord is watchful. And he says, “I’m okay, Elizabeth. Did you sleep?” She said, “Yes, I did.” He says, “You know, Elizabeth, the Lord is faithful. I don’t know what the future holds for us. I don’t know if we’ll live a long time or a short time. But I do know this: that God is all that God has pledged himself to be.”

God Is at Work in the Line of Duty

And this God is at work in the darkness. And this God is at work in unlikely ways. And thirdly, this God is at work in the line of duty. In the line of duty. Because “he was serving as a priest,” verse 8 tells us. And “when his division was on duty”—a bit like, you know, the White House detail, only the temple detail. I’m reading a book about a Secret Service guy at the moment, so that’s why I’m thinking “White House detail.” But anyway, “When his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood,” he was there to do what he had to do.

Now, he would have been well known in the temple. After all, there was no retirement for priests; retirement for Levites, but not for priests. So he was going full steam ahead. They would have seen him day after day and week after week when it came his time and so on, and he would perform the functions that were assigned to him. But now something very significant has happened. This is verse 9: “He was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”

Now, again, you’re gonna look at that and say, “Well, that’s very interesting. I thought that’s what priests did in any case.” No, no, you need to understand something. This is highly significant. There was only one temple, but there were thousands of priests. Josephus, the Jewish historian, estimated conservatively that there were twenty thousand priests that served in the temple. And the assignment for the burning of incense, although it took place in the morning hour and in the evening, was an assignment that was made as a result of the drawing of lots. So what were the chances that your name was gonna get pulled? Well, you can do the mathematics. Don’t confuse me. It wasn’t strong. In other words, what is described here in verse 9 is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime event. All right?

So, in the course of his routine activities, he is now given an assignment which is a privilege and which is largely unique. “And the whole multitude,” verse 10 says that they “were praying outside at the hour of incense,” so that within the temple courts… There were various courts. He is now going into the—not the holiest of the holies. But he’s going in there to perform his function. And in the courts, the multitude has gathered, and they are praying at the time of the burning of the incense: “praying outside at the hour of incense.” So it was a very specific thing.

“And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord.” Just when he’s got his chance to do the one burning of incense routine, he gets interrupted. Before he can get the whole thing put in place, an angel of the Lord. Mystery! Angels. Mysterious. “An angel of the Lord.” Divinity! At the routine hour of the burning of the incense. History!

And his reaction is the normal reaction of people when they see angels. If you check with the rest of the Bible, you can concur with what I’m suggesting. “And Zechariah,” verse 12, “was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” He didn’t go, like, “Oh, hey! Thanks. Nice to see you. Glad you could come. Well! I guess I got my shot at it today.” No. No, no, no, no. He was troubled. Remember in “While shepherds watched their flocks by night…” I always have to work really hard on that one because of being a naughty schoolboy. But anyway,

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
An angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds.[6]

The invasion of eternity into time, of divinity into humanity; the engagement of that which is mysterious in the routine activities of priestly function.

God Is at Work in the Gift of a Son

And in this encounter, Zechariah is to discover that God is not only at work in the darkness, not only at work in these unusual ways, not only at work in the line of duty, but also at work in the gift of a son. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.” What prayer? You say, “Well, we’re looking at you. I mean, you’re the one who studied it, right?” No, but I want you to think about that for a moment. What prayer? The prayer that he’s been praying in the context of his duty here? The immediate, existential prayer that he’s been praying? Or praying for a son? Do you think he’s praying for a son?

I take it that he wasn’t praying for a son. I mean, when I just read this, and I read and it says, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” if it said, “Your prayer has been heard, for your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,” then I would think there’s much more of a direct correlation between the two. But I don’t think so. After all, he’s old. He’s aged. There’s no indication that they would have… Why would they be praying for a son? They already decided: “We don’t have a son. That part’s over.” This isn’t Sunday, right? And when he’s told about this, it’s not actually the reaction that you would expect from someone whose fervent prayer has been answered.

No, I think that his prayer is the prayer of others like him. Like Simeon in chapter 2—the Simeon whom we find in the temple. Remember, Simeon’s the one who is able to say, “Lord, let your servant now depart in peace, because my eyes have seen your glory.”[7] And what was Simeon doing? He was “waiting for,” praying for, “the consolation of Israel.”[8] And as a devout Jew, Zechariah would be doing the same thing: praying, “O God, come into our darkness and shine your light. Come into our silence and speak your word. Give to us your word. We need to hear your word. For hundreds of years we have heard nothing from you at all. And the place is so horribly dark.”

And the angel says, “Hey, your prayer has been answered, and has been answered in a way that will frankly exceed your expectations. Because your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son. And I have his name for you as well: you’re gonna call him John, which means ‘Yahweh shows grace.’” And verse 14: “The result of this will be for you joy and gladness, and not only for you, but many,” verse 14b, “will rejoice at his birth.” I don’t think that means we’ll rejoice on the day of his birth, but we’ll rejoice at all that his birth gives rise to. The occasion of the birth of this child will be the foundation of rejoicing for many, many people.

“And you need to know,” he says, “that he will be great.” “Great before the Lord.” That’s really great. See, true greatness is greatness before the Lord, who searches the hearts of everyone. If we determine greatness in terms of human approbation, we’ve gone wrong on greatness. The only great you want to be is great before the Lord, because it’s before the Lord you’re gonna stand one day, and he knows the up from the down and the in from the out, and he knows your motives, and he knows everything about you. So to be great before the Lord is to be really great. “He will be great before the Lord.” Remember Jesus says in Matthew 11 of him, says there was none born of woman who was greater than John the Baptist.[9]

He’ll be great. He will be godly—specific instructions here along the lines of a Nazirite vow. Whether he was really a Nazirite or not you can study for your homework. But we don’t want him filled up with “wine or strong drink.” “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit.” He will be godly, he will be great, and he will go. Where will he go? No, “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.”

True greatness is greatness before the Lord, who searches the hearts of everyone. If we determine greatness in terms of human approbation, we’ve gone wrong on greatness.

Now, turn back just for a moment to the last book of the Old Testament, and I’ll just show this to you here as I think about it. Malachi chapter 4, and at the very end of it. It’s only four chapters. And here’s the promise of God through his prophet Malachi. Malachi 4:5: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” So here we have the end, as it were—and Malachi is not chronologically the end of the story, but it is the final book that we have in the layout of the Old Testament in our Bibles. So it ends with the prospect of one who will come in the spirit of Elijah. Here we go back to Luke 1:17, and the angel says, “And he will go before him”—that is, before the Messiah—“in the spirit and power of Elijah” to do exactly what Malachi said was gonna happen: to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.”

Now, clearly, our initial notion on this is to think in nuclear terms. At least mine was: “Oh, so he turns the hearts of the fathers to the children.” But if you think about it, do you remember what Jesus said? He says, “I actually didn’t come to bring, you know, cohesion. I came to bring division.” You know, “And as a result of me,” you know, “fathers will be opposed to their children, and children will be opposed to their things,”[10] and so on. The dividing line will be in Jesus.

So, what does it really mean? I think it means simply this: that the prophets of old—and you can read this in Isaiah, again, do your own research—but Isaiah speaks, for example, of Jacob in Isaiah 29. He speaks about how Jacob is saddened by the fact… And Jacob was one of the fathers of the faith: “You’re the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They are, if you like, the fathers. And Jacob bemoans the fact that those who are “his children” have turned away from the living God.[11] And the promise here is that John the Baptist’s ministry will be such that those who along the lines of God’s unfolding drama have become simply those who are going through the motions, these people, under the ministry of John the Baptist, will actually now come to turn their hearts to the fathers and to the faith of their fathers, so that they will no longer draw near simply with their lips while their hearts are far from him,[12] but they will draw near, heart and soul.

I find this tremendously encouraging, that God is at work in all of this. He’ll “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, … the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,” and “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” “To make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” We say it all the time, don’t we, that it is God’s unmistakable purpose from all of eternity to put together a people that are his very own? And here, in an obscure environment, in the home of an aging couple—an aging childless couple—the drama of God’s redemptive purpose is unfolding before our eyes.

God Is at Work Even When We React Poorly

Maybe this should be the final point for this morning: that God is at work even when God’s servant reacts poorly. God’s at work even when God’s servant reacts poorly. The response of Zechariah is not exactly what you would call positive, is it? “And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’” In other words, “Any chance of a sign?” He’s not bowing down in worship, is he? He’s doubting. I find that kind of encouraging. His uncertainty cannot thwart the unfolding plan of God, as becomes apparent. “How shall I know this? Look at me. And if I show you my wife, she’s in the same position.”

“And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel [who stands] in the presence of God.’” “You’re not just talking to any old angel here,” he says. “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you. I mean, this isn’t my idea. I’m on a divine appointment. And I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” He’s a gospel messenger, if you like. There’s a whole sermon in that as well, which we’ll leave for another time. “I stand in the presence of God, … I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

“And by the way, yes, you’re getting a sign.” Verse 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.” Wow! Note well: if we do not believe God’s words, we shut ourselves up to judgment. If we do not believe God’s words, we shut ourselves up to judgment. He says, “You will be dumb because you did not believe.” Listen carefully, and read your Bible, and see if this is so. In order to spend eternity lost forever without Christ, what you have to do is step over the cross of Jesus Christ, navigate your way around it, disbelieve it, say, “I refuse it. I will not bow my knee.” And to disbelieve is to embrace the judgment that inevitably comes. Because, you see, “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[13] Either accept the gift or embrace the judgment.

The judgment of God is a day that is fixed. It is a day that will be absolutely fair. It is a day, when the judgment is rendered, it will be absolutely final. And people scoff and they say, “Oh yeah, sure.” The way that people would have said in Zechariah’s day: “It’s four hundred years since we heard anything. The place is pathetic. It’s chaos. There’s no way to fix anything at all.”

If we do not believe God’s words, we shut ourselves up to judgment.

Meanwhile, “the people were waiting for Zechariah.” Had you forgotten about those poor souls? The prayer meeting’s going on forever. They’ve run out of things to pray about by now. They’re waiting and they’re “wondering at his delay in the temple.” And when he came out, he couldn’t even tell them what was going on. “He was unable to speak to them.” And they put two and two together, and “they realized … he[’d] seen a vision …. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.” And then the wonderful news of the pregnancy of Elizabeth and all that now awaits them as the story unfolds. And he went home to discover that God is watchful and that God is faithful.

You see, God answers prayer in his own way and in his own time. That’s a hard lesson for all of us to recognize. Prayers, longings, desires; those for whom we’ve prayed that they might know Christ, that they might love Christ; areas of our lives—God answers prayers in his own way and in his own time. And even when the cultural and political and societal environment seems increasingly dark, God is still at work. Because God is watchful, and God is faithful. And in every generation, God raises up his servants to say this to the nation, to say this to the people of God: “You’re tempted to believe that it’s all going down the tubes. God is watchful. God is faithful.”

“Yeah, but what about all these people that say all those things?” Well, Peter addressed that, didn’t he? “Know this,” says Peter, “that scoffers will come, and they will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? He’s not gonna come back now. It’s two thousand years since he was here! I mean, it’s finished.’” That’s what he says: that’s what they’ll say. And he says, “Don’t overlook the fact that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day.” We’re not operating on normal mathematics here. This is a whole different timescale. Four hundred years? Four hundred years isn’t even half a day. It’s not even twelve hours. Four hundred years of darkness and silence—the lifetime of our nation. So what’s going on? He says, “Let me tell you. The Lord isn’t slow to fulfill his promise, but he is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”[14] That’s why. That’s why he hasn’t come: so that you might have the opportunity, if you do not believe, to bow down your knee before him and to ask him to be the Savior that you so desperately need, to consider the implications of what that will mean, and then to go out to say, “I’ve come to know a God who is both watchful and faithful.”

Well, Father, we thank you that your Word shines light into our darkness and that your voice speaks into our silence. We thank you that this wonderful story is not some kind of truncated version that is buried in the past but is both relevant in the present and takes us forward to the day when you, Lord Jesus Christ, will come in power and in glory. But on that day—on that day—we won’t be fascinated by anything other than the reality of your presence when we see you as we are, when we become like you.

So prepare us for that day, and help us as we prepare in this Advent season for our Christmas celebrations to be reminded again and again that you’re a God who’s at work in the dark, in strange places, with inconspicuous people, and that your divine intervention is mysterious in the unfolding story of history. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (London, 1883), 1:127.

[2] Matthew 2:1 (ESV).

[3] See Matthew 2:16–18.

[4] See John 1:7–9.

[5] Psalm 121:8 (paraphrased).

[6] Nahum Tate, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” (1700).

[7] Luke 2:29–32 (paraphrased).

[8] Luke 2:25 (ESV).

[9] See Matthew 11:11.

[10] Luke 12:49–53 (paraphrased).

[11] See Isaiah 29:22–24.

[12] See Isaiah 29:13.

[13] Romans 6:23 (KJV).

[14] 2 Peter 3:3–4, 8–9 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.