Advent; Zechariah and Elizabeth ~ 20211205 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

12/05_2nd Sunday of Advent; Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1); Audio available at:


We were meant to wonder and worship. This season especially is a time when we ought to be filled with wonder and awe at what God has done.

The gospel – the good news – that Jesus came; that Immanuel, God, became human; God with us. And that he came not because we were so good, but because we were so bad, because we were without hope and without God, because we needed rescuing. Jesus came to take our place, to die as our substitute, to bear the penalty we deserve. He came to reconcile our broken relationship with God, to bring us near to God. All of this ought to stop us in our tracks with our jaws dropped and our hearts filled with awe and wonder.

But so often we are distracted; last time we looked at what Jesus told us in his parable about the sower and the soils, ‘the cares and riches and pleasures of life’ (Lk.8:14) grow up and choke out the truth of God’s word in our lives, and we fail to wonder, we fail to worship. Our wonderers are broken.

My goal is not to fill your head with more information or teach you something you don’t already know. My goal in these advent weeks leading up to Christmas is for us to stop, to look, to pause, to behold, to let our jaws drop in wonder, and to worship.

Childless and Godly

Today I want to look at Luke 1, where we find the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older relative of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Luke 1:5 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. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

We are introduced to this godly Israelite couple. They were both of priestly lineage, descended from Aaron. They were not sinless, as this story demonstrates (no one is), but they were seeking to obey God, to be faithful, to do what is right. We are told this to remove a question we might have about their childlessness. Children are a blessing from God, and to be childless was sometimes viewed as punishment from God. This couple was old, post-menopausal, past they age of being able to bear children, and they had no child, but this was not punishment or a sign of God’s displeasure. They were both righteous before God.

Temple and Priests and Incense

Luke 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.

Zechariah was one of around 18,000 priests, serving the Jerusalem temple in rotation. King David had organized the priests into 24 divisions according to 1 Chronicles 24, each to serve for one week, twice a year. Incense was to be burned on the altar of incense that stood just outside curtain of the most holy place every day, both morning and evening when the golden lampstand was tended (Ex.30:7-8). Zechariah was on duty at the temple and was chosen to enter the holy place and offer the incense on the altar of incense, a once in a lifetime honor.


Luke 1:11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.

Zechariah was troubled. This is a classic understatement. Remember, the destroying angel killed all the firstborn of Egypt in one night (Ex.12:29; Ps.78:49-51). An angel killed 70,000 Israelites in a day (1Chr.21:12-15) One angel slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2Ki.19:35). When angels are described in detail the Bible, they have four or six wings and four faces and are full of eyes (Is.6:2; Rev.4:8; Ezek.1:5-14). The typical human response is to fall on your face in fear and worship (Rev.19:10;22:8).

What Prayer?

Luke 1:13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 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. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.”

Your prayer has been heard. What prayer? I always assumed it was his desire for a child, but his response to the angel’s promise of a son shows that that was probably the furthest thing from his mind, and something he had long since given up on. More likely it would be the prayer he was offering in the temple as he offered the burnt offerings, a prayer for God to redeem his people Israel (Ps.25:22). We will see more of what was on the heart of Zechariah toward the end of this chapter. Jerusalem was under Roman rule. The hated Herod the Great had been appointed by Rome as king of Judea. This was the Herod who was soon to order the execution of every male child two years old and under in the whole region of Bethlehem. Israel needed a redeemer, and the very appearance of this angel in the temple was indicating that God was answering this prayer.

This is not merely the answer to the longing of a childless couple. Many would rejoice at his birth. The child’s name was to be John – YHWH is gracious. The Spirit of God would empower him to turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. This was the root of the problem. The problem wasn’t the Roman occupation. The Roman occupation was a symptom. God’s people had turned away from him. This promised child would be used by God to turn the hearts of many back to God.

Who is ‘Him’?

The next phrase is interesting – look at verse 17; ‘he will go before him’. This is where grammar gets really important. Who is the ‘he’ and who is the ‘him’ that ‘he’ is going before? The ‘he’ and ‘his’ throughout this passage refers to John. But who is John going before? The nearest antecedent to ‘him’ comes at the end of verse 16 ‘the Lord their God’. He will go before him. John will go before the Lord their God. Pause and let that sink in. John is to prepare the way for the coming of Israel’s God. John will be filled with the Spirit of God to turn people’s hearts to the Lord their God, and John will go before the Lord their God. The Lord God is coming! Coming to Israel! God is going to visit and redeem his people! God is coming down, and John is to prepare the way for him!

The rest of this verse confirms that we are on the right track.

Luke 1:17 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.”

The closing words of Malachi prophesied:

Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 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.”

The great and awesome day of the Lord is coming, and God is sending an Elijah to turn the hearts of the people so that when he comes, he does not have to come with complete destruction. God is coming, and John’s role is to ‘make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’


Luke 1:18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

This is the wrong kind of wonder. This is the wrong kind of stunned disbelief. Zechariah wasn’t standing in stunned disbelief, in awestruck wonder, reveling at the revelation of the angel. He was actually disbelieving, doubting, wondering how this could be possible. He was calculating, and his calculations added up to the fact that what the angel said was impossible. He was old and his wife was old – too old to have children.

His ‘I am’ is emphatic. I am an old man. Here’s a big part of our problem. Zechariah was righteous before God; he wanted to honor God, but he was way too focused on himself, what he brought to the table, his own inability; the impossiblity. If he had been thinking less of himself and more of God, he might have remembered another couple, a barren couple, a couple likely much older than he was (Abraham and Sarah were pushing 100), and God said to them in their disbelief ‘Is anything too hard for the LORD?’ (Gen.18:14).

Perspective in the Presence of God

The angel confronts Zechariah’s ‘I am’ with an ‘I am’ of his own.

Luke 1:19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 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, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Gabriel had his focus right. He was one who stood in the presence of God. If you spend your time in the presence of God, you get your focus right. Remember, this interchange was happening in the temple in Jerusalem, the place of God’s presence. Zechariah had this once in a lifetime opportunity to offer prayers in the very presence of God, but his focus on himself eclipsed the presence of God from his view. He was being told good news; the best news ever, from an angel sent to him by God, and he couldn’t believe it.

Word leads to Wonder Leads to Words and Witness

Here’s the thing. The good news, the gospel message, the word of God is meant to lead us to wonder. And our wonder is to be expressed with words. Our wonder at the word of God is meant to be expressed in words and witness. Because of Zechariah’s disbelief, because he was unwilling to receive the word, he would be unable to speak a word. He was given good news – great news – but because he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone about it.

If we receive the gospel, the good news as truly good and truly true, if we wonder at the gospel with awe and amazement at the goodness of God toward sinners like us, it will be just natural for that wonder to overflow with words. We will want to tell people – everyone – what God has done. We won’t be able to help ourselves – we just have to gossip the gospel. If we are hesitant to speak, it might be because deep down we really doubt. It could be that we have failed to stop and take it in, to catch our breath in wonder at the greatness of the good news.

Luke 1:21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.

Something wonderful was happening, they didn’t know what, but they sensed it, and they were filled with wonder.

Luke 1:23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

We’re going to skip ahead nine months in the story, to verse 57

Luke 1:57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.

Here’s some more wondering going on; YHWH is gracious. Why name him that?

Luke 1:64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 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.

After nine months of silent frustration bottled up because of unbelief, he finally burst forth with worship. How frustrating it must have been to have such good news and to be unable to share it. But he learned his lesson, now he believed, and he was brought to worship. And his words created more wonder, and more words. There was fear, there was good gossip, and all who heard laid these things up in their hearts with wonder.

Visited and Redeemed; as Good as Done!

Luke 1:67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 ​as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 ​that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 ​to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 ​the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 ​in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

This reveals some of the things that were on Zechariah’s heart, things he was praying about in the temple that day. God, you made promises to your people. You made a covenant. People hate us. Show us mercy! Save us from our enemies! Remember your covenant! Bring us back to you; bring our hearts back to worship and serve only you.

The Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed his people. Was this true? Had God visited and redeemed his people? Nine months earlier, God had sent a message by an angel to a priest in temple, bringing good news; good news that God was coming to visit his people. Three months earlier, God had sent an angel to a virgin and told her that she would conceive and bear a son – the Son of the Most High. Mary, pregnant with Jesus, had visited Elizabeth, and by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognized ‘why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ (v.43). The Lord had visited his people. Immanuel, God with us, was growing in the womb of the virgin. He would be born to be the redeemer, the one who would save his people from their sins, the one who would be obedient to death, even death on a cross, to save us from our sins. Zechariah was beginning to understand that when God gave a promise it was as good as done. God was good for his word. The act of redemption would take place on a hill outside Jerusalem some 30 years later, but God had

visited and redeemed his people.

Luke 1:76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

You will go before the Lord. The sunrise shall visit us from on high. The Lord God of Israel is coming! God with us. Immanuel. Prepare the way for YHWH! Wonder and worship!


2021.12.05 Sermon Notes

2nd Sunday of Advent – Zechariah and Elizabeth

The gospel ought to create wonder in our hearts!

Priests and the Temple

1 Chronicles 24; Exodus 30:7-8

Angels and fear

Exodus 12:23, 29; 1 Chronicles 21:12-15; Isaiah 37:36

Isaiah 6:2; Revelation 4:8; Ezekiel 1:5-14

Revelation 19:10; 22:8

The prayer of Zechariah; to redeem his people

Psalm 25:22; Numbers 6:23-27

He will go before Him

Luke 1:16-17; Malachi 4:5-6

Perspective and the presence of God

Luke 1:19; Genesis 18:14

The Word leads to Wonder leads to Words

Luke 1:20-22, 63-66

Visited and Redeemed; as good as done!

Luke 1:43


Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~