Luke, chapter one. We come to the end of our Advent series, looking at the coming of Christ through the eyes of Old Testament mothers. And today we look at the last of those two, with Elizabeth and Mary. He would please join with me in prayer before the reading of God’s Word.
Lord God, we call upon your good name, since all the fullness and wisdom and light is found in you. We ask them that you would enlighten us by your Holy Spirit and a true understanding of Your Word to give us grace to receive it in true fear and humility that we may be taught by Your Word to place our trust only in you and to serve and to honor you as we ought so that we may glorify your holy name in all of our living and to edify our neighbor and to render to you the love and obedience to which faithful servants owe their masters. In this we pray and ask through Christ our Lord. Amen. Beginning in verse five, there was a priest named Zechariah of the division of Babbage.
And he had a wife and the daughters of Erin, 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. And there appeared to him an angel. And the angel said to him, do not be afraid, Zachariah, 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 the 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 of people prepared, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and he said, greetings, O favored one.
The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. And you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great.
And we call the son of the most high. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And in his kingdom there will be no end. The word have you had this experience playing one of those word finder games where they give you a bunch of letters and then you’re trying to figure out the right words? Be some type of crossword.
Could even be like a Wheel of fortune kind of thing where you’re struggling to get the word because you’re stuck on the wrong sound of the vowel. You’re seeing that you’re like you’re going Lyon instead of lion, pyana, Pyana instead of piano. All the letters are right, but you still couldn’t get it because you had the wrong sound in your head. And then it comes to you and there’s that duh moment, like, obviously that’s what it is. Well, the coming of the Messiah was that way for Israel Misie me.
See, instead of Messiah, because they were hung up on what they thought was the right sound, jesus was staring them in the face, and many of them still could not see it. Now, much of the story did make sense, and yet the greater mission of Jesus did not even his birth. It sent them mixed messages, mixed signals. The very hope that God gives for his people, it rests on the coming of a son of promise. And we’ve seen that.
We’ve seen that through Scripture. We’ve seen that with Sarah, with Rebecca, with Leah, Rachel, Ruth, Hannah. Those who are barren brought forth a son to continue the promise.
And all of these, given this hope by God, were anticipating the one son of promise who was yet to come. As you recall, ancient cultures placed so much hope and expectation on the birth of a child. Infertility was a social shame, a reproach. It was a disgrace. And we understand this how circulating in human hearts is always that little mantra, good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.
And even if it was recognized not as necessarily a divine punishment, but as some unfortunate circumstance, the reproach, it still burned deep. The birth of a child was the removal of this pain, of this disgrace. Now, for all of us, we recognize it’s hard to be in a spot of waiting for the Lord to come through. That’s true everyone. And whether it is, whether we desperately want the Lord to bring us the lack of it, it only highlights our weakness and our powerlessness as we wait for it to happen.
And sometimes that reproach, that shame, can even come because of our faith in the Lord. We look foolish to other people because of what they see as a misplaced hope, a misplaced trust, or a misplaced set of beliefs. And you and I then are waiting for God to come through. And because the Lord brings his glory through our weakness, you and I must be willing then to wait to be vindicated by Him even as we live through these very events that are so painful. And we’ve seen that with the various bursts that have taken place and here Luke brings another set of bursts to us, a barren to birth story.
And these opening words of Luke then are very familiar. Luke’s account starts off with this well known motif an aged couple, a barren wife like oh, this sounds familiar. And it does because Elizabeth actually resembles both Sarah and Hannah in her birth narrative. Jewish people would be thinking OOH, this fits into our story. Understandably, there’s great expectation then for this child.
What amazing thing is going to happen to Israel because of him? And that question is left out. There a Godly couple, an aged couple, beyond childbearing, like Abraham and Sarah, well beyond childbearing years. And a son of promise is given the hope of God’s. Covenant promises are still going forward.
And also a child who is to be what appears to be a long life nazareite all of his life dedicated to the Lord’s service, like Hannah’s son Samuel, samuel a Levite, a prophet who announces King David, john a Levite, a prophet who announces King Jesus. All of these things coming together in these birth accounts. And Gabriel tells Zechariah that his name is be John, and the basic meaning for that is the Lord is gracious. And then in verse 14 that you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great before the Lord. He must not drink wine or strong drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Like Sampson and Samuel, john would be dedicated to the Lord from his birth. In number six we see the Nazareth vow, which includes refraining from alcohol or grapes in any way is a part of that vow. And here it’s lifelong put upon these children, put upon John. In the biblical world, absence from wine and strong drink was highly unusual. And so immediately it’s like well why?
Because it speaks to John’s mission of lifelong dedication to the Lord. Giving up wine for a short period was a part of the life of a priest on duty. And John, as we see, was always to be on duty. There was no going off for him. Why?
Because as the angel tells us of verse 16, he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He 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 lords of people prepared. That was the ongoing life dedication of John. And here we hear the prophecies of Malachi woven into John’s mission. Elijah was considered Israel’s greatest prophet and John is stepping into that role.
He is preparing the people for the Messiah’s advent. He calls them back to the Lord, he calls them back to obedience, into faith. And then we get the first hiccup in the entire story. A godly man stumbles with doubt. Zechariah says, how shall I know this?
For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. Well, as a priest, as an old man, all of this should sound exactly like what he’s heard in scripture. Already. He has God’s word confirming multiple stories of this taking place. And also, don’t forget the angel Gabriel standing in front of him in the temple park.
And the angel answered, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God and I was sent to speak to you, to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time. John does get a zachariah, gets a sign, but it’s him being mute for nine months as a reminder of the power and the might of God. Elizabeth, of course, becomes pregnant.
And her response thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me to take away my reproach among people. The Lord removes her reproach, her feeling of disgrace. No doubt she has endured both the haughty looks of some who have pronounced her baroness as God’s judgment, because there’s some in every crowd like, oh yeah, Elizabeth zechariah must have done something really bad. And she’s also endured the size, the well meaning looks of pity from others who have attributed her barrenness to God’s unsearchable will. Poor Elizabeth.
That’s been her endurance. And now the good news of joy, which the Gospel, a son of promise, comes. And like Hannah before her, elizabeth’s child is not simply a removal of her personal reproach. This son would come to remove the reproach of Israel. It’s a familiar story that causes those involved to wonder with excitement about what’s around the corner for God’s people.
And immediately we’re brought into something new and unexpected. Another birth announcement comes, but this time not to a barren woman or even a married woman. A young virgin is addressed. Zechariah and Elizabeth were part of the religious establishment. He was a respected priest who was a regular part of temple worship in Jerusalem.
They were somebody’s. Mary is an unwed teenage girl who is poor, powerless and placed well outside of the centers of Jewish life. Nazareth is a backwater village, the region of Galilee. It’s mixed with Gentiles and is looked down upon by those at the center of Jewish power and politics. Mary is a nobody.
And Gabriel comes and he gives her a message that’s very similar to what he said to Zechariah don’t be afraid. You will bear a son. You shall call his name Jesus. He will be great. Basic meaning of Jesus is the Lord safes?
So the announcements to both are very similar. The ministry of each one differs. But John and Jesus are a hand in glove pair. And like Zechariah, Mary too has questions for Gabriel on how this would happen. Unlike Zechariah, hers is not said in unbelief.
He’s asking for a sign. All the while an angel is standing in front of him. For Zachariah, there’s gas and a lighter. And he’s like, well, how is it going to ignite?
For Mary, she only has one of those present. It’s a legitimate question of how. She’s asking for an explanation, not for a sign. There are no version bursts in the history of God’s people. Her marriage to Joseph also lies in the background of her question.
And the angel answers her question. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth, in her old age has also conceived the Son. And this is the 6th month with her who was barren, for nothing will be impossible with God.
That last statement, it echoes what the Lord told Sarah back in Genesis 18, where he asked the question, is anything impossible for God? The question, of course, is no, and of course not. And Mary says, behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word. Mary is a young woman of great faith, and in this patriarchal society, the Lord centers his redemptive plan around two women’s birth.
The lies of Jesus and John are not going to follow the expected script. John, he comes from the insider family and he ministers on the periphery, on the outside, calling people to repentance. Jesus is from the outsider family, and his ministry is going to take him to the very center of Jewish life, calling people to follow him.
Now, this is something that we like today about this story, but this was an embarrassment to them. In the birth of John, Elizabeth’s reproach is removed. Her feeling of social shame and disgrace is lifted. In the birth of Jesus, mary is given a reproach. She’s unwed.
Fiancee or not, it’s a social disgrace, a cultural shame from the viewpoint of a basic Israelite. John comes to announce the coming of one who had an illegitimate birth. The very new light that is shining so brightly on Elizabeth now cast a shadow on Mary. This was unexpected, but it tells us a great deal about the kind of Messiah Jesus would be. Then these two women of great faith, they come together and they praise God for what he’s doing.
Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, blessed are you among women, blessed to fruit of your womb. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. And then Mary replies, in what we refer to as the Magnificon, the opening lines my soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit, rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed for he who is mighty has done great things for me and Holy is his name. The song of Hannah and Mary are very similar here.
They both point us up to God most high. He is the one doing great things with his people. He is the one who’s demonstrating his power through weakness. But all of this, it comes at a great cost to marry. By the time she returns back to Nazareth from visiting Elizabeth, three to four months have gone by.
Her baby bump is starting to show.
Matthew’s gospel tells us what happened. So when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together, he was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. How does Joseph respond to this great news? Her husband Joseph in the betrothal, he was considered her husband, not yet in a formal way, but the betrothal caused him to be called her husband. Her husband Joseph, being a just man, unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
That’s how he took it. And he was a just man. It took an angelic visit to straighten this out and now Mary’s reproach comes on him too. They both forget to bear this reproach.
Don’t think that ancient cultures were somehow far more superstitious and gullible than we are. People are people. An unwed pregnant girl means somebody was messing around before they were married. And Mary came back from a long trip from her relative already pregnant. This does not look good for the Holy Family.
This was a social embarrassment. And they were from a very small village and they had to endure this.
This was unexpected. This was not the sound of the vowels they were anticipating. Messier. Messiah. Not Messiah.
But isn’t that the problem for us too at times? Our lives, what God is doing in them, doesn’t fit the sound that we have in mind, the sound that we want in our head. No, Lord, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t what I was anticipating following you. And of course it can seem foolish in the eyes of the world, the hope that we put in our God.
And then to have what we hope for, it’d be something entirely different and somewhere, either internally or externally, go, Lord, how is this a blessing? I’m waiting for something that sounds familiar to happen and this is what I get.
That’s the struggle. Jesus birth was shrouded in the shadow of a scandal. The Lord of Glory came to bear our reproach. In the midst of reproach, he took our shame and disgrace upon himself outside of the camp so that we would have full acts to Seth the Father inside. That’s the good news.
That’s the hope that’s given. And this one then has also called those who follow him to take up their cross. That was true for Mary. It was true for Joseph. It’s true for all those who bear the name of Jesus.
You take up your cross, you will bear reproach for his sake. And it is a privilege to bear, to follow where he leaves, to live by faith and not by sight. And this privilege is a tremendous struggle. It’s hard. It has always been hard.
There has not been an easy part of this struggle for any generation.
They had an angelic visit one, and then everybody in the village talking about them for the next few decades, sure, wink, wink, and they would bear that reproach. We bear that reproach. People think we’re foolish for following Jesus. We also bear just that reproach when things aren’t going the way that we hope they would. This just doesn’t sound like what I wanted my life to be.
This doesn’t look like that. And yet here Jesus is in the midst of it. Follow me. I have borne your pain. I have borne your disgrace.
I have given to you life and abundance. And now go and tell, go and show point people back to me. Oh, and yes, you will bear some of the same marks that I did. You see in Christ Jesus, all the letters fit together in your life. They do.
And now you need to allow the sound of those words of salvation to ring in your ears so that those things connect the words of redemption sounding in. And you see those and you go, yes, that is for me. And even when they’re not as clear, say, I will trust in him. I will put my hope and my faith in him, because he is great and good and worthy of my praise. And that is the life that he has called you and I to life in the sun.
The privilege of bearing reproach for his name, bearing even our own disappointments when it’s not quite the way that we expect it. Trusting that in the end, that the Father will bring all glory and majesty and honor to his son through the lives that he has given to each one of us as we live out the role, the part that has been handed to us, we don’t get to pick it. We get to live it. And may the sound of Jesus fill our ears and lift our hope as we center ourselves on him anew and afresh this Christmas. Caesar, pray with me.
Father of all glory, we thank you that in the fullness of time you brought forth our Savior, born of a woman, to bear our reproach, to bear our sins. And Father, we thank you that through Him we have forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation in you. And Lord, we would ask that you continue to strengthen our faith, that you continue to help us to walk by faith and not by sight. And Father, where we have struggled, where we have doubted, please come alongside us. Uphold us by the power of your mighty hand, Lord, that we would live to see the redemption and the fullness of Christ bearing that fruit in our lives because we are attached to him.
Father, thank you so much for the beautiful sound of Jesus ringing in our ears. For it is in his name that we do pray.
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