Midweek Advent Sermon – For Unto Us a Son is Given: John
Dear people who are waiting for God to fulfil His promises: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The elderly priest, Zechariah, was chosen by lot to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense. This was a rare privilege to be in the Holy Place of the Temple, right in front of the veil that led to the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant rested. Zechariah was there to pray and offer incense to the Lord.
Offering incense was combined with offering prayers. Thus, we sing, “Let my prayer rise before You as incense” from Psalm 141. These were not personal prayers offered by the priest, but corporate prayers for all the people. Most especially, these prayers were that God would send the promised Messiah to save His people; that God would send the Saviour promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all God’s people.
Thus, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah by the altar of incense and said, “Your prayer has been heard,” this was certainly in response to his prayer on behalf of the people, that God would send the promised Saviour. Also, Gabriel brought word that Zechariah’s elderly wife would conceive and bear a son, one who would go before the promised Saviour in the spirit and power of Elijah, preparing the way of the Lord.
This was to fulfil what the prophet Malachi has written, “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.” (Mal. 4:5-6)
Zechariah had a hard time believing this could be. He wanted proof. He wanted a sign. He said, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
Zechariah was not ignorant of what had happened to Abraham and Sarah. He knew very well that God had granted the elderly Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age. He knew well that the Lord had rebuked Sarah for her laughter of doubt. He knew well that God keeps His promises and does not break His Word.
Yet, the fact is, when God’s promises become personal to us, that is when we doubt. Oh, sure, God fed the Israelites manna in the wilderness. He sent food to Elijah by ravens during a famine. He fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Yet, somehow when it comes to feeding us, we worry that He will not feed us when we are in need. Somehow, we think His arm is too short to keep His promise to us to feed us like He feeds the birds of the air. Are you not of more value than they?
Oh sure, God rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from an evil king that commanded them to commit idolatry. He shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel refused to stop praying to God. He rescued Peter who was thrown into prison for preaching God’s Word, though he was chained to two soldiers, behind locked gates, and guarded by four squads of soldiers. Yet, somehow when it comes to protecting us from the evil and wickedness of the world, we think we are doomed and hopeless. We worry about the future as we see how wicked our Prime Minister is and how ungodly his every word. We think we need to be silent instead of confessing the truth, as if our salvation from the evils of the world lies within ourselves, and not in God’s protecting arm.
In response to Zechariah’s doubt, the angel responded, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to you to bring you this good news.” In other words, “These are not my words. Thirty seconds ago, I was standing before God. He spoke these very words to me to bring to you. Here I am, speaking them to you. How can you doubt my words? Doubting the message God sends to you is doubting God Himself.”
What is God to do with us doubters? Will He stop providing us our daily bread? Will He stop protecting us from the devil and the world? Will He stop forgiving us our sins? Surely, we deserve these, and nothing but punishment, but God does not give us what we deserve.
Sarah was rebuked for laughing at God’s promise. Zechariah was mute until the prophecy concerning his son was fulfilled. God corrects His children, He does not punish them. God does not make an end of His children, when they in their weakness have their struggles and doubts. “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:14)
God does not punish us or give us what our sins deserve, because Jesus was punished for us. Jesus got the punishment that we deserve.
Despite our sins, God keeps His promises to us. God could have told Zechariah that because he doubted, he would not have a son; because he doubted, God would not send the Saviour. But God did not break His Word. A son was promised to Zechariah, a son was given to Zechariah. A Son was promised to save all of mankind, and Son was given to die for all of mankind. God keeps His Word even when we have our doubts.
Zechariah was unable to speak a blessing when he came out of the Temple, but upon the birth of his son, his tongue was loosed and he could speak. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied about his son, the forerunner of the Saviour. Even more, he prophesied about the redemption of God’s people through the promised Saviour. He prophesied that the Saviour would save us from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Once again, we have God’s promise of deliverance from all that would seek us harm. Whether it is from those who would command us to commit idolatry like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, those who would command us to not pray like Daniel, or those that would throw us into prison like Peter, we will be delivered.
Yes, even if like the prophesied son of Zechariah and the forerunner of Christ we are beheaded for speaking God’s Word, we will be delivered from all who seek us harm. Death is our ultimate delivery because Christ has conquered death.
All the death Zechariah witnessed and in which he participated at the Temple was to be at an end. All the Temple sacrifices would no longer be needed, because they only served to point forward to the one sacrifice of our Saviour on the cross. The death of one has brought life for all. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, but by the single sacrifice of Christ on the cross, He has perfected us through the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 10:4, 14).
This was the message proclaimed by John, the forerunner of Christ. He gave knowledge of salvation to God’s people in the forgiveness of their sins, as Zechariah prophesied. This meant that he did the same thing every prophet ever did: he pointed to Christ.
However, John was unique. While Moses could say, “One day, the Lamb of God prefigured by these Passover lambs will come and save us,” John was able to point at Jesus standing before him and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) While Isaiah prophesied concerning a child that would one day be born of a virgin, John could point to Him in the flesh, born of the virgin Mary, and say, “Here He is!”
Promise fulfilled. Doubting be gone. Our prayer has been heard. God’s promises to us have been fulfilled. The Saviour has come. He has come, and He has taken away the sin of the world. His death has brought life for all. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.