As we all know, Christmas is coming. So, starting this week, this Advent we’re going to look at the first chapter of Luke.

If you take Luke and Acts together, you will discover that Luke wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else, even Paul. You can see that these two books are really two volumes of one work when you read the first verses of each - Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up.

But who are these two men?  The “most excellent Theophilus” was a Gentile who probably held some important office in the Roman government. Luke was a physician and a “fellow worker” with Paul in his missionary journeys.

Luke’s aim in writing to persuade Theophilus that the Christian teachings he has heard are true. He does not want Theophilus’ faith to be a leap in the dark. He wants it to be based on sufficient evidence. So Luke points out three things:
1) Verse 3, that this account is a product of thorough, careful, and patient research;
2) Verse 1, that he has many written sources;
3) Verse 2, that he has direct access to eyewitnesses to confirm his work.

Now Luke begins his story. Let’s read Luke 1:5-25

Have you ever encountered yourself at a point where you believe in something so strongly but struggle to practice or live it out? Most of us can happily endorse the creeds or confessions of the church. Our problems seldom arise from a lack of belief in a confessional or theoretical sense, but more often they arise from functional or practical disbelief. The problems lie in the gap between what we believe in theory and what we do in practice.
● On Sunday morning I sing of my belief in justification by faith (confessional faith), but on Monday morning I still feel the need to prove myself (functional disbelief).
● Or I may believe I’ll be counted guiltless on the Day of Judgment, but I still want to justify myself in an argument tomorrow.
● I may affirm that God is sovereign, but I still get anxious when I can’t control my life.

This is what some people call it practical atheism. Not many of us think of ourselves as unbelievers or atheists. But sometime we struggle with functional or practical disbelief. Something similar like this we see here in Luke 1:5ff.


a. Zechariah and Elizabeth lived during a dark time for the nation of Israel.

It had been 400 long years without a prophetic Word from God, since the prophet Malachi promised the coming of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6). Furthermore, the nation of Israel was no longer independent. Their king was Herod the Great, a foreigner, and a deputy of Rome. He was an oppressor. It was this Herod of whom one historian said, that it is better to be a pig in Herod’s barn than a son.  In other words, the pig had a better chance to live to an old age than his own son.

b. Zechariah and Elizabeth were a godly couple living in this dark time.

Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah and his wife was also a descendant of Aaron (v.5). Their names said it all. Zechariah means “Jehovah/God has remembered.” Elizabeth means “God is my oath.” This was a couple who lived for the Lord and loved the Lord and served the Lord. “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (v.6).

Luke used almost the same language for Zechariah and Elizabeth that was used for other righteous people, such as Noah (Gen 6:9), Abraham (Gen 17:1), and Job (Job 1:1). The description doesn’t mean any of these saints were perfect. They were still sinners like you and I.

The Psalms say that the “righteous” were not without sin (Psalm 32). They were those who did not rest in their sin but repented and trusted in God and on the whole made his commandments a way of life. When it says they walked in all his commandments it does not mean they never once coveted; it means this was not the normal track of their life. “Blameless” sounds very strong but probably means that they did their duties in such a way as to give no one an occasion to hold anything against them.

c. There was one big sorrow in their life.

Scripture tells us “but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren” (v.7a). Not only were they childless but they expected to stay that way for the rest of their life and the Scripture says, “and both were advanced in years” (v.7b).

This created a problem. The Jews regarded childlessness as a sign of God’s displeasure, and therefore as rebuke. After all, children are a heritage from the Lord and a reward from Him (Ps 127:3).
● How was it, then, that such a godly couple as Zechariah and Elizabeth had no children?
● Was there some hidden sin in their life? Was there something lacking in their faith?
● Were they being punished by God?
Often we think God must be displeased with us because things are not going the way we want; yet, in reality, He has more magnificent things in store for us. People thought they were being rebuked by the Lord, but God declared them to be blameless and had a unique blessing and privilege in store for them.


a. There were far more priests and Levites than necessary (8-10)

According to some accounts perhaps there were as many as 18,000 priests in Israel. The priests were divided into 24 teams or divisions and each team was given 2 weeks of temple service per year. Members of the team on duty drew lots to determine the tasks to be done by each person. Zechariah, we are told, was chosen by lot to offer incense in the holy place (v.9). This was a high honor that a priest got but once in a lifetime. The incense represented the prayers of the people so while the priest was burning incense inside the holy place, outside the congregants were praying. It was no mistake the Luke added this bit of information because he wants us to see God’s hand involved in the selection of Zechariah that day.  Most priests would spend their lifetime serving never to be selected to burn incense in the temple.

b. An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah as he was serving in the temple (11-13)

V.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.

What was Zechariah’s response to the angel’s appearance?  Zechariah was troubled when he saw him and fear fell upon him.

Whenever angels appeared to people, this was the normal response.  When the angel appeared to Mary, it said she was troubled.  When the angels appeared to those guarding the tomb of Jesus they fainted.  This was the normal human response to angelic beings.  Zechariah was afraid so the angel said, “Do not be afraid” (v.13). The angel had to say the same words when he appeared to Mary (Luke 1:30), to the shepherds (Luke 2:10), and to the ladies who went to the empty tomb (Matthew 28:5). “Do not be afraid”. Then, a messenger from God declared the truth of what was about to take place.

c. “Your prayer has been heard” (v.13-17).

What prayer? There is no way to tell for sure what the angel was referring to here. Was he referring to the prayer that Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt prayed, time and time again for a child or was the angel referring to the priestly prayer for the Messiah.  In that time, that place, while offering incense, Zechariah was praying for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. He was praying for the coming of the Messiah. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” were the words on his lips I believe.

Don’t forget, Zechariah and Elizabeth were a godly couple. So every day they prayed for the Kingdom of God to come in all its glory. Their prayers were not just about themselves, their needs, their sorrows. We can learn from this godly couple. How, many times, aren’t our prayers all about us and our needs: give me, bless me, help me, and my children, and my grand-children. But this godly couple saw beyond themselves. However, isn’t it just like God to really tie these together?

The prophet Malachi spoke of a coming prophet, someone like Elijah, who would go before the Lord (Mal 4:5). The angel announced to Zechariah that his son would be that prophet. That he would “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (v.17). In other words, the Messiah was coming.

They were not kept from having children because of sin but it was an issue of time.  God was working to bring about the Messiah and He caused the lot to fall on Zechariah and He caused him to pray the priestly prayer and then God announced through Gabriel that John would be the great forerunner of the King Jesus.

The angel foretold of the greatness of John the Baptist in verse 15: “for he will be great before the Lord”. Jesus himself said in Matthew 11:11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”.
The Angel Gabriel broke the 400 year silence with the most glorious news. ”You and your wife will be having a baby shortly, you will call him John, he will be great, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will cause many to repent.” Verse 16:  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.

“Your prayer has been heard.” Imagine the joy and excitement. “He will be a joy and delight to you” (v. 14). Good news brings joy. The Good News of Christmas brings joy for all the people (Luke 2:10). But instead we see Zechariah’s unbelief here in following verses.


The priest’s unbelief showed when he demanded some sign from the angel.  “How shall I know this?”
Zechariah says, “I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel says, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news”. What was the sign given to Zechariah?  It was his punishment for unbelief – “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words”.

Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s promise. He was in a spot almost just like Abraham but did not respond like Abraham, of whom Paul said in Romans 4:19, “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about 100 years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith giving glory to God”. Zechariah did waver in unbelief.

This is a warning to us, lest we like Zechariah demand too much evidence before we believe God’s promises. How many of us, when we are laid low by dark and distressing circumstances, cannot believe that God is working it all out for our infinite good until some ray of light, some extra evidence, shows us that it is all going to be OK? O, how often we fail to take God at his word! And if Gabriel has a right to become indignant, how much more the absolutely trustworthy God whom he serves!

Zechariah and Elizabeth were people who were trying to follow God and did it very well. They were keeping the requirements of the Law and did everything they were supposed to be doing. And yet, in Zechariah at least, there was a subtle unbelief underneath the surface, perhaps the result of the monotony of going through religious motions but seeing very little power at work…perhaps because it seemed God hadn’t answered his prayers. And, my friends, we can easily be much the same…just going through the motions of reading the Bible, going to church, and doing other things that Christians do…perhaps reading the Bible but not really believing we can actually put it into practice…maybe living with little expectation that we can defeat sin or see God accomplish miraculous things as we call out to him in prayer. If unbelief is our heart’s attitude, it should be no surprise that we’re not experiencing much transformation or seeing God’s Word bring about real fruit in our lives.

Thankfully, I see much evidence that there are many of you in our church who are leading believing lives and who are experiencing real change and power as you read God’s Word, believe it and put it into practice. But let’s challenge ourselves to believe more and ask God to build our faith and pull out any roots of unbelief and doubt that remain!

My friend, God was faithful just the same and worked in the lives of these two elderly people.  God’s promise was fulfilled…v. 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.”

Remember, Gabriel said to Mary, “With God nothing is impossible” (1:37). God wants to teach us from this text: Trust me! Trust me! I can and I love to do the humanly impossible. Trust me! Put your whole trust in God and in Christ.


There is one other lesson to learn from Zechariah’s unbelief. It was preceded by a life of godliness and followed by a life of godliness. Zechariah’s unbelief is in the same category with Peter’s three denials of Christ: it is a temporary fall—not a way of life. At least, this means Zechariah was not a chronic unbeliever. Not only that, verse 13 says that God was answering Zechariah’s prayer when he promised him a son. So Zechariah was a righteous and prayerful man. But even the best of men fall into unbelief now and then. None of us trusts God’s promises perfectly from day to day.

But thanks be to God, though we may have to endure some chastisement for our unbelief, God does not cast us away, if we repent and set our hope afresh on him. When Zechariah followed through obediently and named the child John, verse 64 says, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and he spoke, blessing God.” And verse 67 goes on, “And (Zechariah) his father was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people’”. That’s the last we ever hear of Zechariah. He’s there righteous and blameless, then unbelieving, then blessing God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So the lesson for us here is that we must not despair if we fall into unbelief. Instead we must repent, accept God’s forgiveness in Christ, and go on blessing the Lord—even more fervently because of his great mercy to us in our sinfulness. 1 John 1:8-10 – 2:1-2 says,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

There are so many truths we can take away from this account of Zacharias’ encounter with the angel Gabriel. As we’ve gone through it, I hope that you’ve already made some applications to your own life. Some things that jump out to me:

1) God’s sovereignty in choosing Zechariah by lot at just the right time, to accomplish his will in his timing.
2) God hears and answers our prayers according to his will, in his timing and in ways beyond what we expect.
3) There are consequences for persisting in unbelief and allowing it to take root in our lives.

But I want to wrap up today by pointing out the key application that I believe is central to what God’s communicating to us today through this little bit of true history. And that application is this: a heart attitude of belief and trust in God and his Word is the key to living effectively in his kingdom. God has given us so many evidences that he is real and active in our lives today and that his Son, Jesus Christ, is a true historical person, fully man and fully God, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and rose from the dead. He’s given those of us who’ve trusted in Christ his Spirit to live inside us and testify to our spirits that we really are God’s children. And he’s given us the Bible, tested and true and consistent throughout, to tell us all about him and his plan of salvation and how to live with him and by his power.

The question for us is this: Are we ready for the next work of God? What if the next work of God is to send Jesus back to earth the second time, are you ready?  What if the next work of God is to send some trial your way to strengthen your faith, are you ready?  What if the next work of God is to answer that prayer you’ve been praying now for what seems to be decades, are you ready?

Let’s be true believers in a world of unbelief, my friends, and watch what God will do in and through us as we learn to trust him and walk in his power!

Doupu Kom

Doupu’s understanding of how the gospel is central to life and ministry has radically transformed his life. Since graduating from SAIACS, Doupu has served with a church planting team in Bangalore. He is passionate about discipleship and helping young people live for God’s mission. In response to God’s call to serve in Delhi, Doupu moved to the city recently to be a key member of the New City – Delhi church planting team. He is a Reformed Manchester United fan.

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