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When God Shows Favor

Luke 1:57-66

We’re back in Luke’s gospel this morning, and I am rejoicing at that.  So, turn in your Bibles to the first chapter of Luke.  And we’re in Luke 1, verse 57.  We’re coming into the final narrative scene of chapter 1.  Which is, as you know, set at the time of the birth of John the Baptist.  We, we were last in the text when Mary visited Elizabeth at the urging of the angel Gabriel.  Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy then.  And the virgin Mary had just recently conceived, miraculously conceived.  And as Mary entered into Elizabeth’s house, greeted her dear relative, this baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.  

And that was as we said, John the Baptist’s first testimony to the Messiah.  Right there, filled with the Holy Spirit.  And that unleashed a paean of joyful praise.  First from Elizabeth, and then from Mary.  And we’ve been all through Mary’s song.  As we said, Mary had arrived at Elizabeth’s house somewhere in Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy.  She stayed another three months to witness the delivery, help with the newborn baby, then return home after that to get ready for her own baby to be delivered.  

Those intervening weeks, the time that Elizabeth and Mary spent together had to be a time of rich, rich fellowship.  Joyful, fruitful meditation on all that God was doing so intimately through them.  Time of profound rejoicing.  Those two women talking together about all that God had in store, anticipating his grace.  All the while, while these two women are chatting on and on and talking about all the things that God was doing.  Zachariah is there.  He’s looking on in silence.  He’s waiting for the day when he too would be delivered from his prison of silence.  And his silence here is about to be broken.  It’s about to be open.  Zechariah is about to join audibly in the rejoicing that’s going on.  

Look at verse 57, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.  And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.  And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.  And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’  And they said to her, ‘None of your relatives is called by this name.’  And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called.  When he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’  And they all wondered.  And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.  And fear came on all their neighbors.  And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 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.”  

As you can see, a lot of people are involved in this story.  Elizabeth is there.  She’s the very first one we see, and her son, her newborn child, John, he’s there.  The neighbors and relatives are coming in, crowding around into the narrative.  Mary is among them.  Zechariah is there.  He’s featuring more prominently at the end of the story.  And then off in the distance we start to see other folks.  Those who are living throughout the hill country of Judea.  Those who hear the news of everything that had taken place.  So, lots and lots of people in this account.   

It’s also a good deal of focus, as there should be, on John.  He’s at the center of the stage.  Whether it’s by naming him individually or else using a noun or a pronoun to refer to him.  John is mentioned in this account ten times, maybe even more than ten times.  On one level, as a baby, he doesn’t seem to be doing much in this account, he’s just there.  He’s just sitting there.  He’s doing what babies do, right?  Bringing joy, generating excitement, providing a reason to thank God.  But on another level, even here, early, early in his life he’s pointing to Christ.  He’s pointing to Christ.   

And if you look closely, I want you to notice something here.  The main character in this story I haven’t mentioned yet.  And it’s someone I really don’t want you to miss.  Someone we cannot miss.  He’s only mentioned three times in the narrative.  He’s almost invisible to us, but he is ever-present.  His sovereign will is directing all these events to his perfect ends.  And by his providence he is ever working behind the scenes to bring everything to its intended culmination.  Just take a moment to show him to you in case you missed him.  

There are three main sections in what we just read. The first section is verses 57 to 58, where John the Baptist is born and we read, “The Lord had shown great mercy to Elizabeth.”  The birth is meant to reveal him.  In the second section, verses 59-64.  The biggest section, when they named the child John.  We read in verse 64 that Zechariah’s “mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed and he spoke blessing God.”  That calls to mind why Zechariah was silent in the first place.  And it shows us what it took to restore his speech.  

In the final section, verses 65-66, when word spreads around the Judean countryside, we read there, final phrase.  “The hand of the Lord was with him.”  “The hand of the Lord was with him.”  He’s the main character.  John proved to be an extremely effective forerunner for the Messiah, spreading the news, preparing hearts, calling people to repentance.  It all started here at his birth, and John was so effective in accomplishing his mission.  Why?  Because God was with him, “the hand of the Lord was with him.”  From start to finish, God is present.  He’s thoroughly immersed and meshed, embedded in these very human circumstances.   

He’s the one here who’s responsible for all the joy.  He’s responsible for all the hope, all the wonder.  In the midst of the drama here, God is on full display.  He is the reason that this scene has come to pass in the first place.  It’s his plan that is unfolding here.  The delivery of this child.  The insistence on the correct name.  And the spreading of all this news to the entire region.  The whole account, even though it involves all these human actors, this whole account is ultimately about God, as we might expect.  All of this gives testimony to him.  He shows up here to, to demonstrate his great favor, his amazing grace.   

His favor is what delivers a baby into the arms of Elizabeth.  His favor is what elicits vocal, audible praise from a censured priest.  And his favor is what spreads the news of grace, pouring forth to all of his people.  God has orchestrated all these events to fulfill his promises.  To restore his saints, and to prepare his people to receive their Messiah.  

So, as we work through our outline this morning, you can find it there in your bulletin.  And especially in view of the Lord’s table before us, I want you to see three marks of God’s favor.  Three ways that he has manifested favor in this simple narrative.  On the surface, it’s, seems simple.  It’s about the birth and the naming of a very special child, a miraculous child.  But underneath the surface, available to those of us who take the time to ponder and meditate, all of us here today.  This is the most significant reason that we need to focus on this text is to learn more about our God.  Here we have an opportunity to see what God does when he shows favor to his people.  This is his typical way of acting and dealing with us.   

This is so vital for our understanding of God, so vital for our understanding.  Even putting our lives and trials and triumphs and everything into perspective.  We need to see it through the lens of what God is doing.  Whether we sense him or not, whether we feel anything or not.  No matter how we’re feeling, we know that God is always at work.  Jesus said, John 5:17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”  Psalm 121:4, “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”   

God is always working. He is at work to accomplish his sovereign will and he does it in and through our circumstances.  He’s always there in the midst of our lives.  Whether it’s significant things, remarkable things.  Or whether it’s more mundane and routine things.  He’s involved in all of it.  Whether it’s in hard times or easy times, whether it’s in good times or bad.  God is always there, always present to show favor to his people.  To bring everything into conformity with his perfect will.   

We’ll take a look at the first evidence of God’s work.  As God demonstrates his grace in this remarkable, remarkable account.  It’s there in verses 57-58.  God shows favor first of all, by keeping his promises.  God shows his favor by keeping his promises, by fulfilling his word.  It says there in verse 57, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth and she bore a son.”  That first verse is like the breaking forth of a flood of fulfillment.  God has begun to do exactly what he promised he would do.  That short phrase there, “she bore a son,” that’s a pretty understated way to announce the birth of this amazing, amazing child.  No fanfare at all, but it’s pretty typical of Luke to simply let the facts speak for themselves.  And he requires that we think and we look closer.  And the closer we look, the deeper our appreciation becomes for what God has accomplished here.  

That phrase, “she bore a son,” that hearkens back to a similar phrase in Luke 1:13.  When, you might want to keep a finger there and go back and forth.  But when Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, he used the same language.  Same words, same grammatical structure, just the verb tenses are different.  Gabriel said, he told Zechariah, “She will bear a son,” future tense.  Nine months later, “She bore a son,” past tense.  So, there’s promise in fulfillment here.  Simple as that.  No fanfare necessary, no banners, no colored lights required.  God said it and then he did it.  He simply did what he said he would do.   

And that really, for those of us who’ve been reading the Bible, that doesn’t surprise us really at all, does it?  But it should cause us to rejoice.  It should cause us to rejoice.  Which is exactly what happened to the gathering crowd.  Look at verse 58.  This is yet another aspect of fulfilled promise.  Verse 58, “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.”  They rejoiced because God fulfilled his word, because God did what he said he would do.  

And if we look back to what Gabriel told Zechariah again, you’ll see how precisely God is keeping his word.  Notice Luke 1:14, God said, “you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”  That’s happening right here, right now.  But that’s not all.  If we keep looking at Gabriel’s birth announcement, we can start checking off several elements of promise God is fulfilling.  Starting right here, and then cascading out of the birth of John the Baptist.   

Up to verse 57, we knew Elizabeth was pregnant, but it wasn’t until the baby was born we could confirm the gender, right?  So, the promise, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”  She was pregnant all the way up until verse 57.  We knew she was bearing a child, so we knew that part was fulfilled.  But when she actually delivers, verse 57, we see it’s a son.  We also see back in Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah, there’s the promise of “joy and gladness, many will rejoice at his birth.”  And that’s happening right here in verse 58.   

And then to an even greater extent and degree as it spreads throughout the land, verse 66.  But notice in Luke 1:13, where Gabriel said, “And you will name him, John, you will name him John.”  That comes to pass in the next section, which we’ll get to.  It’s another example of promise fulfillment.  Another instance of God keeping his word, demonstrating his favor.  Gabriel also said, Luke 1:15, “He will be great before the Lord.”  Which is right here in the initial stages of development.  Verse 66, from the beginning people are wondering and pondering in their hearts, “what then will this child be?”  It’s an expression here of wonder, of marvel. This child is to be great before the Lord and the ant, the excitement is already anticipated.  It’s already growing in people’s hearts.  

“God shows favor by restoring his servants.”

Travis Allen

The fullness of that prophetic commendation comes later, in Luke 7:28, when Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.”  That is high praise from the Messiah himself.  God’s keeping his word.  He’s bringing to pass every word that he gave to Gabriel.  Elizabeth has had a baby.  It is indeed a son.  They name him John.  Many are rejoicing at his birth.  He’s great before the Lord.  Again, verse 66 because “The hand of the Lord was with him.”  God is here just keeping his promise over and over and over again.  

Gabriel also promised that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, Luke 1:15.  We saw it already in the previous account, verse 41, when John leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting.  When the mother of his Lord entered the room, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Even then testifying and pointing to the Messiah.  He’s doing his job even before he was born.  Yet another mark of God fulfilling his word.  Other things Gabriel said, would have to wait for their fulfillment until John matured and entered his public ministry corresponding to the filling of the Holy Spirit.  John would not be drinking wine or strong drink.  Remember, he said that?  That was universally acknowledged throughout the land as Jesus mentioned in Luke 7:33, “John the Baptist came, has come eating no bread and drinking no wine.”  In time, as John grew, that too would be fulfilled.   

And when Gabriel revealed John’s mission back in chapter 1, verses 16 to 17 that John would be a preacher of repentance.  That he would restore fathers to children and children to fathers.  He would, he’d basically unite the family, preparing the way for the Lord.  That would be fulfilled perfectly in chapter 3, verses 1 to 22.  That’s all the focus there is on John’s mission and his fulfillment of his mission.  Jesus would testify, as I said, to the greatness of John, the impeccable nature of his ministry.  There, in a significant section in chapter 7.  But all the things that God promised, he accomplished.  He kept his word and it all starts here with a simple statement in verse 57, “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth and she bore a son.”   

God keeps his word.  God shows favor by keeping his promises.  Listen, whether you can see it or not.  God keeps his promises.  Whether you sense it or not, whether you feel it or not, feel anything at all good, bad, or indifferent, God keeps his promises.  Whether you are a success or a failure.  Whether you’re the hero or the dog.  Whether things look up or down, bright or gloomy, none of that ultimately matters about us, because ultimately God keeps his word.  His plan continues unabated, unaltered, unhindered.  God is always busy.  He’s active.  We might say he’s passionately energetic to do what he said he would do.  And the written testimony is right here, here in his word.  And it shows us over and over and over again, that God keeps his promises.  But because he has kept his word in the past, we have every reason to have confident hope that he will keep his word in the future.  

That, beloved, is what gives us an unspeakable joy which can never be shaken.  And that, I think, is why Paul could confidently declare and tell us, Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded.”  I am sure.  I am certain.  I have an unshakable conviction, “that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord.”  No separation.  Why do we have that confident hope and assurance?  Because God keeps his word.   

Our confidence and our joy can never be touched by trial.  It can never be uprooted by circumstance, never diminished by uncertainty.  Any changing cultural, political, economic dynamics around us.  A flood of changes we’ve seen, but none of that can diminish our confidence in the God who shows his favor by keeping his word.  Poor health, relational struggles, profound loss.  Whatever it is, God remains on the throne.  Still fulfilling his promises, still doing exactly what he said he would do.  If we put all our hope in God, then the fact that he keeps his promises means our hope and our confidence, and our joy is well placed.  It’s unassailable in his powerful, omnipotent hands.  It will never be moved.  

Well, I’d love to camp here a little bit longer on this point, but there’s more I wanna show you in the text.  God shows this favor not just by continuing to be sovereign and fulfilling all of his promises.  But also, number two, God shows favor by restoring his servants.  God shows favor by restoring his servants.  This is such a beautiful part of the narrative, and it’s actually the heart of the narrative.  It has the chief emphasis, the most verses to it.  Luke takes us away from the birthing room, out of labor and delivery, and Zachariah and Elizabeth are there at their home with their little bundle of joy.   

We move from verse 58 to 59 and seven days have passed.  John is about to have his first surgery, which was practiced on all Jewish males.  Verse 59 says, “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.  They would have called him Zachariah after his father.”  Just a quick note on that.  Like all Jewish parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth had their son circumcised, that was in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 17:9-12, where it says, “God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.  This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.  You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.  Every male throughout your generations.’”  

And it goes on in that text to talk about even strangers, aliens, people who just sojourn with Israel, should also undergo this circumcision.  So, by circumcising their son they were doing what any faithful Israelite parent would do.  What any loving parent would do.  Obviously why they, they would want him to be part of the blessings and protections that were promised to Father Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant.  This is good.  This is a good thing.  It shows their faithfulness, but it’s, it’s not necessarily exceptional because all Israelite parents would do this, it’s just normal.   

As for the naming of the child on the eighth day, I couldn’t find any clear evidence that that had, had to occur at the circumcision right.  Naming seems to have occurred right out right around the time of birth.  And so Zachariah and Elizabeth, they may indeed have named him already.  But it’s clear from this verse that the neighbors and the relatives have other designs.  When they came for the circumcision ritual, they had already assumed that the child would be called Zachariah.  Well, whenever the naming occurred, these folks were clearly putting their vote in to name this special child after his father.  Which was not, by the way, a common Jewish practice.  More on that in a minute, okay?   

Let’s keep reading, verses 59 and following.  “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.  And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’  And they said to her, ‘None of your relatives is called by this name.’  And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’  They all wondered.  And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.”   

So, there’s this, this conflict.  This controversy over the naming of the child and we’ve got to ask, why record all of this in sacred Scripture?  What is the intention of the Holy Spirit by including a record of this controversy?  If the only purpose of this narrative interlude was to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in keeping his word, you know we could have significantly shortened this account.  It could read from verse 59, “and on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child,” and then skip to verse 53, “Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote his name is John.”  And then verse 64, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosened, he spoke, blessing God.”  Makes sense.  That would fit.   

But stop and think about that for a moment.  What would we have lost if this controversy had not been recorded in Holy Scripture?  What would be missing?  Look, we’d be missing a very, very important witness and testimony to Zechariah’s repentance.  We’d be missing the restoration and vindication of this faithful, faithful servant.  The controversy that’s recorded in this account, reveals what has happened deep in the recesses of Zechariah’s heart.  So that when God restores his speech, Zechariah is fully vindicated in our eyes.  That is important to God.  Not just to bring us to repentance, but even to restore us, and to vindicate our reputation in the eyes of others.  

Listen, if recording a heart of repentance and recording restoration is important to God, we need to sit up and take note.  This whole issue of repentance, restoration and vindication is very, very significant.  So, that’s important, even as we think about the Lord’s table before us, isn’t it?  Now, let’s unpack this for a moment.  Back in Luke 1:6, go back there and take a look.  Luke 1:6, this is the divine testimony of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  And it says this, “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.”   

Their righteousness as a couple, as individuals.  Even though God affirmed it in the eyes of others, it had been in question.  Maybe not openly, maybe not publicly, but people did wonder.  Elizabeth even said when she discovered her pregnancy, remember that, verse 25, you can look at it there.  “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked upon me, to take away what, my reproach among people.”  Not reproach before God, because she was righteous before God, but reproach among people.  And God had vindicated Elizabeth publicly.  He was concerned to show others the righteousness that she truly possessed before him.   

There was no true reproach that belonged to her.  No blame that could be assigned to her.  It’s only what people assigned to her unfairly, casting a shadow over her pure reputation.  But that was not at all deserved.  She hadn’t done anything to be barren, she hadn’t committed any sin.  It’s just God’s providence, God’s plan.  The plan of his miraculous conception and birth of John.  So, this reputation before the people wasn’t at all deserved, and so God made it crystal clear when he removed her stigma permanently.  He vindicated a reputation before others by giving her a baby.  

What about Zechariah?  Was his reputation spotless?  Was his record untarnished?  No.  Clearly, he hadn’t committed some sin that contributed to his wife’s barrenness.  Or in the minds of other people, had he?  After all, his disobedience in the temple, by not believing Gabriel when he spoke a clear word from heaven, well, that may have called Zechariah’s integrity into question.  Maybe he’s been unbelieving all of his life.  Maybe that’s what’s going on.  The punishment of silence was pretty severe.  And it was strict, and it told everyone that he was under divine judgment for his sin.   

So, in the minds of others, had Zechariah been the reason for Elizabeth’s barrenness?  Would his failure at the temple remand him to the sidelines of God’s program forever?  You know what?  God intended to clear all of that away.  So he designed a little trial, a little social pressure, a little cultural controversy brought on by other people’s expectations.  God designed this little trial and threw them into a little controversy in order to restore and vindicate Zechariah as repentant and righteous in the sight not just of God, but of others as well.  God intended to restore his faithful servant, Zechariah, before watching neighbors and relatives.   

So as this little village naming committee enters into their home, they intend to name the boy Zechariah after his father.  That was not common among the Jews like I said to, to pass on the father’s first name to the son, like a Zechariah Junior or something like that.  Jews chose names to signify character, symbolize divine blessing, and they would look back into their family history to find a proper fit.  But they chose the name of a more remote relative, not the father.  Maybe the grandfather, more likely they’d go back earlier than that.   

So why are these people saying Zechariah?  Why do they want him named Zechariah?  Well, perhaps these folks from the village thought of Zechariah maybe is, is really too old for that social custom to apply.  I mean he’s after all old enough to be a grandfather, so might as well call him Zachariah because he’s really the grandfather.  He was certainly known by the community as a grandfatherly figure.  He’d been the priest throughout the region, so they may have thought of him in that way.  Maybe they intended to honor him.  Putting his name on his progeny.  There may be another reason, though.  The news of that angelic visit, coming to Zechariah in the temple sanctuary.  Like I said, that had become known.  That had spread.  That was talked about.  The reason for Zachariah’s silence, that disobedience and unbelief, that was probably also well known.  

“We see God preparing his people with a new orientation toward spiritual things.”

Travis Allen

So perhaps these well-meaning people intended to commemorate the good of that visitation and the good of Zechariah’s life and testimony in ministry, by passing Zechariah’s name to the boy.  Perhaps they were, they were intending good from this.  They wanted to bless him and honor him.  They were clearly insistent about the name.  Well-meaning, thinking to bring honor to a good-hearted man, even if he hadn’t been perfect.  I mean, who among us is perfect?  But look at mom’s answer.  Emphatically, “No. No.  He shall be called John.”   It doesn’t come across as strongly in English as it does in Greek, but Elizabeth is absolutely emphatic on this point.  She’s resolute.  Definitely not.  He must be called John.   

That barely deters them, and so they protest.  Verse 61, “none of your relatives is called by this name.”  And then they go around her, right?  They ignore her protest.  They appeal to Zechariah to get what they want.  Surely the man of the house is going to be reasonable.  Do you have any neighbors or relatives like this?  Go right around you?  They think they know what’s best.  So they made signs to his father.  Verse 62, “Inquiring what he wanted him to be called.”  The tense of the verb there indicates that the neighbors and relatives, they were motioning to Zechariah.  Again, he’s deaf and dumb.  He can’t speak or hear.  His whole world is silence, so they’re motioning over and over, and they’re making signs to get Zachariah’s attention. Try to communicate with this silenced man, who’s deaf and dumb, trying to figure out what he’s going to name the child.  

What would he name the child if he could really understand us?  And they fully expect that even if they can get his attention, well, absolutely he’s going to agree with them.  Let them name the child after himself.  Verse 63, “He asked for a writing tablet.”  This would be a small, like a block of wood covered with wax.  So, basically you could carve into the wax what your message you’re trying to say and that wax covering allowed for just mundane conversation to be heated underneath a fire or flame or something like that to erase that and then use that again.  Believe me, Zachariah and Elizabeth had been wearing that thing out over this nine months of silence, right?  Probably got a couple of them.  He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”  And they all wondered.  

Why do these folks wonder?  Possibly because of the firmness and the rigidity of his reply.  Zechariah didn’t, didn’t write his name shall be John, but rather his name is John.  It’s not even well, we’ve decided his name is John.  He wrote simply, his name is John.  This is settled.  He didn’t need to think about it.  It had been settled in Zechariah’s mind since some point in time within the last nine months.  After he’d reconciled himself to God.  After he’d confessed his sin, sought forgiveness of his sin, and God reconciled him to himself.  He put his faith in what God had actually said through Gabriel, believed him, and embraced it all.  And this is an indication on that.  

That’s what verse 63 is meant to demonstrate.  That Zachariah had truly repented of his unbelief, that he truly repented of his sin against what God revealed to him through Gabriel in the temple.  Zechariah wasn’t entertaining any doubts whatsoever.  He was fully on board.  He was all in.  His absolute reply, written on this tablet is just the consistent outworking of that repentant heart.  Pastor Phillip Ryken agrees when he writes this, “The words on the tablet showed that God had done a gracious work in Zechariah’s life, bringing the old man to sure and certain faith.  At first, Zechariah doubted, but God disciplined him in a way that taught him to trust.  This is something God often does, and it is always a mercy when he does it.  He uses the hard experience of suffering to teach us to trust in him.”  End quote.  

Well, not only did that settle the question about Zechariah.  It al, also mystified the neighbors, the relatives who had been so insistent.  They were so certain Zechariah would see it their way.  See the sense in what they were saying here.  That when he agreed with Elizabeth, and when he was emphatic about it, definitive, they were amazed.  They marveled.  They were awestruck.  That’s actually a really strong word used to describe their reaction.  The word, the Greek word there is thaumazó.  It’s to marvel, to wonder, to be amazed.  It’s used most often through the Gospels of people who’ve just witnessed a miracle, like Jesus calming the storm, like Jesus casting out a demon.  People are amazed.  They marvel at that.  And why wouldn’t they?  

But that Zechariah had agreed, not agreed with him.  Chosen the name, thaumazó?  Marvel?  Wonder?  What’s going on?  This word, thaumazó, marvel, wonder.  It’s not the first time Luke has used that word in this Gospel.  You want to know the first time?  It was also used in association with Zachariah and also in association with the crowd.  Look back at chapter 1 verse 21.  “The people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering, thaumazó, at his delay in the temple.”  The crowd marveled.  The crowd was amazed when Zechariah lingered in the temple.  And when he emerged, he emerged judged.  He emerged in absolute silence.  So that word here is a narrative indicator, it’s actually what happened.   

But it’s what God has done in his providence to weave all of this together.  It shows us what God is up to here.  He is showing favor to Zechariah.  He’s restoring his servant.  He’s vindicating him before people, establishing his righteous reputation.  You know what seals the testimony of Zechariah’s repentance?  Notice what came out of his mouth the moment God opened it and restored his speech.  Verse 64, “and he immediately his mouth was open and his tongue loosed, and he spoke blessing God.”  The moment his mouth is opened, as soon as the judgment is rescinded, Zachariah released what had been stored up in his heart.  Praise, worship, and the verb tense here shows he was continually blessing and praising God.  Literally, he’s eulogizing God.  That’s the word used there.  He’s blessing him, he’s saying nothing but good and positive things about God.  His joy is effervescent.  It’s incessant.   

The punishment of silence had been severe.  It had been terribly debilitating, extremely inconvenient, absolutely frustrating.  But there’s not one hint, not one hint of resentment here.  Not one hint.  There’s no heart of bitterness, no complaint against God, no anger.  What flows forth from his lips are praises to God.  Folks, that’s how you know someone is truly repentant.  When there is a complete change of attitude.  A complete and wholehearted reversal of speech and behavior.  When Zachariah had doubted and questioned, he was troubled and uncertain.  He was darkened.  He doubted.  He questioned.   

Now, it’s gone.  He’s confident.  He’s joyful.  He’s certain.  His heart is filled with praise.  Listen, that is the benefit, beloved, of repenting and believing God.  In taking him at his word and in acting in obedience.  As J.C. Ryle once wrote, “The sorrow that humbles us and drives us closer to God is a blessing and a positive gain.  No case is more hopeless than that of the person who, in times of affliction, turns his back on God.”  Zechariah did not turn his back on God, even when God had punished him.  Those who are truly repentant, they’re humble before God, they rejoice to obey him.  

So Zachariah not only circumcised John, according to the Abrahamic covenant, he stuck to the plan in naming him what Gabriel told him to name him.  His name is John.  And when God opened his mouth, his voice burst forth in praising and rejoicing.  God rejoices to bring his servants to repentance, to restore them to service, and then to vindicate their reputation before their community.  It’s just another way that God has shown his grace and his favor.   

And back to the previous point, when Zechariah’s mouth opened, it demonstrated yet another fulfilled promise.  When Zechariah’s mouth was opened, his faith and obedience lifted the curse.  Verse 64, it lifted it immediately, like it says there.  Remember back in verse 20 though, Gabriel had said, “You will be silent and unable to speak.”  What does it say there?  “Until the day that these things take place.”  Isn’t that fascinating how tightly these things intertwine?  God fulfilling his promises through the restoration of his servants.  

Well, let’s look at a final point.  Not only does God keep his word, fulfill his promises.  Not only does he rejoice in restoring his servants, vindicating his people.  God also shows favor by preparing his people.  He shows favor by preparing his people.  God is going to take everything that’s happened so far in chapter 1, and he’s going to broadcast it throughout the entire region.  Look at the last two verses.  “Fear came on all their neighbors.  And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 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.”   

God had shown favor by keeping his promises.  And by restoring and vindicating his servants, and that led to preparation.  It led to the preparation of Israel to help the nation receive its Messiah.  Gabriel had said Luke, Luke 1:17, “John will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  But from these two verses at the end of this account, we can see that it was God who empowered John’s ministry from start to finish.  God was very intentional in preparing his people and it starts right here at the very beginning.  

Let me just make a few remarks about the preparation that we can see in these two verses.  First, we see God preparing his people with a new orientation toward spiritual things.  You might say a new attitude.  Look at it says there, “Fear came upon all, all their neighbors.”  Everybody is there.  Fear comes upon them.  This isn’t abject terror.  This is talking about reverence.  This is talking about a holy awe that came upon them.   

Listen, there is no drawing near to God without a fear of the Lord.  There is no drawing near to God without a true reverence for him and for the things of God.  If you don’t have that, listen, don’t fool yourself.  You are not near to God.  Apart from the fear of the Lord, there is no salvation.  There is no blessing, nothing.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  There is no relationship with God apart from the fear of the Lord.  That’s what’s, that’s how God starts in preparing people, causing them to fear the Lord in their hearts.  

Second thing you can see, God is preparing his people with revelation.  Revelation, you can see there in verse 65, “all these things were talked about.”  What things?  Well, everything from Luke 1:5 to Luke 1:64.  That includes the angelic visit to Zachariah at the temple, and all that he said.  That it includes the angelic visit to Mary and all that he told her.  That includes Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, the baby leaping in the womb, Mary’s song, the birth, and circumcision, now the naming.  We’re also going to see verses 67-79, Zachariah’s Benedictus, his song of praise.  All of that.   

You know, once Zachariah’s tongue was loosed, he was released from his sentence of silence.  The text tells us that he immediately praised God.  Okay, in all this that we see verses 67-79, all that flows out of this.  But there had to be other conversation there as well, right?  He was finally able to describe all that had happened in the temple.  He was finally able to, to talk about the angelic visitation, give the full accounting of the message, answer questions.  He was able to talk about his unbelief.  He was able to talk about the angel’s censure, the punishment of silence, and he was able to talk about repentance.   

You see God doing the work of restoring a repentant heart to his people.  Even as John is a baby.  Zechariah was finally able to connect the dots for people.  He was able to exhort them emphatically to believe the Lord, to take God at his word.  Learn from me, people.  Learn from me.  Just trust him.  Whatever he says, just believe it all.  Embrace it.  Otherwise you’re going to end up, you know, you can’t talk.  He said whatever is coming in the ministry of my son, John, listen to him.  Believe him, do whatever he tells you.  Learn from me, be obedient in faith.   

All that revelation poured forth and people were now receiving it, talking about it.  So not only do we see a new orientation.  We see the dissemination of divine revelation.  But we also see widespread promotion as well, as God prepares people, his people.  Third way God is preparing his people, showing his favor.  All that God had revealed, it went far beyond the original recipients.  It spread throughout the hill country of Judea, and people were talking about it too.  When it says, “These things were talked about,” the focus there is not on the people doing the talking.  The focus is rather on the word itself, what they’re talking about.  “These things,” that’s the subject.  They were talked about, passive voice.  These things were spreading.  They’re being promoted.  

This is brush fire marketing at its best, right?  Word of mouth.  The verb tense indicates here the buzz about all this.  The conversation about all this was incessant.  It was continuous.  Word was spreading and it kept spreading.  People hardly talked about anything else.  You know, if you’ll indulge me for a bit of sanctified speculation here.  Have you ever wondered how Luke was able to record these songs in such perfect detail?  Mary’s Magnificat, Zachariah’s Benedictus.  I wonder if all that time of silence, forcing Elizabeth and Zachariah to become extremely proficient in the use of that writing tablet enabled him to write down those songs.   

And when Luke started poking around later in his investigations, verses 1-2 of this great Gospel says he’d consulted with “many who had undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that had been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.”  Huh?  Were Zechariah and Elizabeth may be the first to write down the words of Mary and then of Zachariah?  Was it their written account Luke used to write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to write that into the record of Holy Scripture?   

That’s speculation, I know, but it’s sanctified.  I assure you it’s educated.  It’s come from reflection.  It may not be right.  But if so, we see once again how God has multiple purposes in what he does.  We see how God, even in the punishments that he momentarily inflicts on disobedient saints, bringing them to repentance, he has purposes in that too.  More than just the immediate issue.  The record of all that God had done.  It went throughout the hill country of Judea.  Massive promotion.  Whether by written testimony, by word of mouth.  It had spread all over there.   

And today, whether by written testimony here in the word of God, or by word of mouth.  This has spread all over the world.  Here we are, in Greeley, Colorado, on the other side of the world from where all this has taken place and more than two thousand years later.  What are we talking about?  It’s still spreading, isn’t it?  We have our part in promoting this gospel even today.  God is preparing his people by giving them the right orientation, the fear of the Lord.  By spreading his revelation.  The content of what’s written here.  And he did it through the widespread promotion of the events that had recently taken place.  

There’s a fourth thing here.  God was preparing his people by building anticipation.  Building anticipation.  Look again at verse 66, “All who heard them, these words, laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’”  That question is an expression of wonder.  And it’s a wonder that is coming out of their hearts.  It’s coming from within.  People are wondering.  They’re thinking.  They are amazed.  They’re looking ahead.  They’re anticipating.  God has put this wonder in their hearts.   

It’s no small indication of God’s providence that the day John is born, Zachariah’s mouth is opened, and he prophesied.  Instantly from Zechariah’s mouth, a fountain of revelation began to flow.  Divine revelation came after that like a torrent, like a flood, and this here is only the beginning.  No one had ever seen God, but the only God who is at the Father’s side, that one was coming to make him known.  Starting right here.  God is building a sense of anticipation and wonder.  Getting people ready in their hearts to see and witness their Messiah.   

Well, the final clause there in the narrative, “For indeed the hand of the Lord was upon him.”  That’s a rare narrative aside from Luke.  He doesn’t often insert his comments into the text, but he does so here and there.  But he’s drawing the reader’s attention to contemplate the significance of John the Baptist’s ministry.  Luke is calling us, the readers here, to ponder God’s involvement in the events of John’s birth.  He’s calling us to anticipate God’s involvement in his ministry.  He’s preparing us to meditate on the significance of John’s ministry even in Zechariah’s song, which is coming next.  

You ever wonder why it was so important, so vital, to name the forerunner John and not Zechariah?  I did, so I did a little looking up on it.  The name Zechariah means, the Lord has remembered.  Yahweh has remembered.  Comes from the verbal root zakhar, which means, to remember.  And the idea of God remembering is not, as we’ve said before, it’s not about God calling information into his mind that he didn’t have at the moment.  God is omniscient.  He thinks about all things at all times.  Nothing ever escapes him.  But remember, as an anthropomorphism or anthropopathism, we might say.  It’s about assigning to God, human tendencies or human experiences that we have.  So his memory, his calling something to mind is remembering something.  It’s about the action of God.  It’s about God bringing that, and so now his time to act.  He’s about to do something.  It’s about imminent activity, immediate action.   

Very appropriate when Gabriel visited Zechariah, he delivered the message to Zechariah, whose name means, the Lord has remembered.  He delivered the message that God was about to act.  But with the birth of John, the Lord wasn’t about to act.  The Lord acted.  God didn’t want the name of the child to be Zechariah, but John.  What does John mean?  Very appropriate name to symbolize what here was taking place.  The name John comes from the Hebrew name Yohanan, which means, Yahweh has shown favor.  Or the Lord has been gracious.  The name indicates that something has happened.  It points to what has taken place already and it points forward to what will continue in the future. Grace, favor.  The Lord had already remembered.   

And before the child was born, he spoke the promise of remembrance to the child’s father, to Zechariah.  In Zechariah, the Lord remembered.  With the birth of the child, the Lord has shown favor.  And the Lord’s favor is indicated in the fact that John’s preparations to bring the Messiah, the son of David, whose name is Jesus, which is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means the Lord saves.  The Lord remembered.  He acted.  The Lord showed his favor.  He has shown his favor, and he’s bringing Yeshua.  Salvation.  Beloved, that’s what we’re remembering today as we come to the Lord’s table.  That Jesus saves.  John the Baptist’s entire life in ministry, though we remember him as a fiery preacher of repentance, he was really about the grace and favor of God.  God has shown favor in keeping his promises, in restoring repentant servants.  And in preparing his people.  Such an important point, and so immediately applicable as we come to the Lord’s table together.  

Let’s pray together.  Father, thank you so much for the time we’ve shared this morning, culminating around the table of the Lord.  We give thanks to you with full hearts, with our minds filled with truth from your word.  We ask that you’d use it to good effect by your Spirit.  Let us be that church that takes your word seriously.  That takes repentance seriously.  And then from us, let us be a mouthpiece for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ around this community.  We love you dearly because you have forgiven us of every sin, and you have charted our course for eternal heaven with you.  We can’t wait to see you face to face and to give you all praise and honor and glory with all the saints from all time, from all over the world to give you glory and praise and honor forever and ever.  Because you are due that from us.  We love you in Jesus’ name, amen.