Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
An Open and Shut Mind
We’ve begun our journey through the gospel of Luke—answering the question: Who Is This Man Jesus? Luke is a Greek, he’s writing to a Greek—in an accurate and orderly fashion to provide an answer we can put our weight down on.
Luke first sets the historic backdrop—a kingdom in Palestine ruled with an iron fist by an evil man named Herod. Herod will stop at nothing to stay in power and meets opposition and criticism with overwhelming force.
Onto the stage steps a man named Zechariah, a priest, a righteous man—but who has no children. The one time in his life this priest gets to serve in the Temple, as he is offering incense on the altar of incense—representing the prayers of the people—an angel appears to him. Somehow Zechariah must have prayed to God for a child and now the angel tells him that he and Elizabeth will bear a son—a son they are to name John.
In verses 13 through 17 of Chapter 1, the angel tells Zechariah that this boy will be a delight to them and a great joy to many people—why? Because He will announce that God is once again going to become active in Israel after 400 years of silence. John is to soften the hearts of the people in repentance to prepare them for this work.
He will do this in the “spirit and power” of Elijah the prophet. John, you see, will become the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he will hand the baton to the Messiah Himself. His preparation will be powerful, unbending, aggressive, and unrelenting: “Repent! For the kingdom of God is near,” he will say. He will challenge kings and rulers and will pull no punches.
You would think that an old, childless man like Zechariah would leap for joy at the news of a child. He does not, and it stands as a symbol that by rejecting the Messiah, the voice of Judaism, like Zechariah, will be muted when it comes to speaking for God.
Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, has a different response—and thus represents the person who says: “whatever God wants to do, let Him do it!”
Zechariah’s answer to the angel is one of doubt. He says: “How can I know this?” You might think—but didn’t Mary, later in the chapter, say much the same thing when the angel came to her? No, she didn’t. Zechariah’s was a statement of “prove it to me” whereas Mary’s was one of curiosity about how the Lord was going to do this. This is shown in the Greek words for “how” in verse 18 and in verse 34. “How” in verse 18 is the word kata, a word of opposition or being against something. In verse 34 “how” is the Greek pos, which means: “in what way”. So Zechariah is calling the whole thing into question, whereas Mary just wants to know how God is going to do it.
Zechariah’s answer to the angel is like Abraham’s in Genesis 15:8, 17:17 and 18:12. Both Abram and Sarah laughed when the Lord told them they would have a child.
“My physical reality obviates against your words,” Zechariah says. “I trust what I can see more than what you are telling me.”
How often do we let our physical sight be the arbiter of our trust?
Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” (John 20:29)
Later Paul would say: (Rom. 10:17) “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.”
Zechariah should have believed the angel because what he spoke was in line with the Scriptures. Zechariah wanted it proven. He wanted a sign, as if the angel and his words weren’t sign enough. So the angel gives it to him, with both barrels!
19 – 20
The angel answers his question by stating his credentials. He gives his name as Gabriel. This is no run-of-the-mill angel. Gabriel is one of only five angels actually named in the Scriptures. Three are demons (Abaddon, Beelzebub, and Satan) and the other besides Gabriel is a servant of God angel named Michael. Michael is one who does battle. Gabriel first comes on the scene in Daniel 8 where he is one who brings understanding of God’s plan to Daniel. Gabriel also comes to Mary, which we’ll see next time.
Gabriel talks about who he is as a person. Right there Zechariah should have cried uncle—but the angel goes on to speak of his position as one “who stands in the presence of God.” So here is God’s right hand man, um, angel. Not only that but he finally speaks of his purpose: “I was sent to speak to you and give you this good news.”
So he is an archangel who stands next to the God of the universe and was sent to Zechariah personally with this news. I get the picture of Zechariah wanting to sink into the floor, but the angel isn’t through. Zechariah’s snarky response to the angel’s message and his demanding of a sign does not go unnoticed.
“I’m speaking words you should have believed,” Gabriel says, “so now you won’t be able to utter a sound until the child is born!” Not only was Zechariah mute, but verse 62 suggests he was also deaf. This becomes important because of the name the angel tells Zechariah to give the child. Those words of Gabriel may have been the last he heard until the child’s circumcision.
Now he’s got to go out and face the expectant crowds.
21 – 23
When the priest came out of the temple he and the other four priests who performed the service were supposed to speak a blessing to the people:
“May Yahweh bless you and protect you; may Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may Yahweh look with favor on you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26 HCSB)
Here Zecheriah could have said those words with incredible meaning. God was shining on Israel; God was sending His grace and favor in order to bring peace—real peace. But he could say nothing.
The sign that he asked for he got—but it was a sign of judgment and punishment, which signs often are.
Jesus said: “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. (Matt. 12:39)
Zechariah’s mind was not open to hearing from God and wanted God to prove Himself. In return he was unable to be a blessing and unable to participate in God’s miracle child until he was circumcised. All that was left for Zechariah was to finish his service, and go home, carrying with him the badge of his unbelief.
Next, let’s contrast that with the attitude of Elizabeth, who neither saw nor heard an angel, yet had faith anyway!
24 – 25
It is no accident that Luke contrasts Zechariah’s unbelief with Elizabeth’s reception to what God is doing. Her husband returns and eventually she finds herself pregnant. Why did she remain in seclusion for 5 months? We don’t know. Perhaps she worried that in her old age she might miscarry and didn’t want to have false hopes raised among her friends – maybe she kept herself quiet to protect the baby in her womb, given her age.
It might have been that to go out earlier could have subjected her to more ridicule: “You’re pregnant? You’re too old, Elizabeth—maybe you’ve had one too many falafels.”
But after five months there would be no mistaking it. The physical signs of pregnancy would be obvious and many of the dangers of miscarriage over, so she feels free to share the news.
Her response to the pregnancy is wonderful. She recognizes that it is God’s hand, it is personal for her, and that it removes a disgrace that she has felt, I’m sure, for many many years.
There are hints here towards what Mary will say when Gabriel comes to her, but also hints at what God is about overall in sending the Messiah:
God is working salvation for us, we are not earning it. It is personal—salvation is for you individually. God wants to know you as a person. And it is grace that removes the shame of sin that separates us from God.
Why did Zechariah react the way he did?
- Perhaps bitterness at having served God all these years with nothing to show from it
- His physical reality did not leave room for the supernatural
What was different about Elizabeth?
- She recognized her lack (disgrace)
- She acknowledged that it was God doing it for her, not her doing it for herself
- She verbalized that it was grace—unmerited favor, not something she earned
In all we see here a contrast between those that believe and those that choose to remain in unbelief.
Zechariah: When God speaks the message of the gospel to you, do you demand proof? Are you openly skeptical? Is your mind closed to things you cannot observe?
In contrast, Elizabeth: recognized God’s sovereignty, His grace, His provision, and His plan.
Don’t make the same mistake. Listen carefully with an open mind to God’s plan—it is loving and gracious and puts you in a much better place, even if it means allowing someone else to do what you cannot do—save yourself.
What lessons do we learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth?
- Zechariah didn’t carefully consider what the angel was saying, do you?
- Zechariah is a stand-in for the Jewish nation, which wasn’t open to hearing about the mission of this person, so it is left without a voice in God’s plan. Make sure you don’t presuppose an outcome on God.
- God may be listening when you least expect
And He may answer in a way you don’t expect and you may even have a hard time accepting His answer.