November 27, 2011 David Balzer

Luke 1: 57-80: What then is this child going to be?

What, then, is this child going to be? I reckon all parents have done it. The new baby’s asleep. And they creep into the room, and gaze lovingly over the side of the cot. And they wonder what life’s got in store for their child. So many opportunities, so much hope and expectation. So much potential.

They’ve made it through the pregnancy, and the birth. They’ve worked out feeding and bathing and changing nappies. And now they’ve got a chance to stop, and draw breath. And imagine. What, then, is this child going to be? Will they be healthy, smart, or good at sport? Will they have a job they enjoy? Will they marry and give us grand kids?

For MOST new parents, it’s a question asked out of IGNORANCE. They’ve got dreams and hopes. Priorities. Maybe a few plans. But they don’t really know much about the next few WEEKS, let alone the next few DECADES.

Zechariah misses the extraordinary

But for John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, things were a bit different. For a start, earlier in the chapter we’re told they’re both well along in years. Which is a polite way of saying they’re OLD. Passed it. And, also, we’re told Elizabeth’s BARREN. They’ve been trying to have kids for YEARS, but NOTHING.

Until one day an angel appears to Zechariah, and tells him that God’s heard his prayers. That’s there from v11 of Ch 1. He and Elizabeth are going to have a son after all these years. They’re to call him John, which means GIFT FROM GOD. Which he really will be!

And the angel goes on to say he’ll have A SPECIAL JOB. V15. He’ll be great in the sight of the Lord. He’ll be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. And v16. He’ll BRING MANY PEOPLE BACK to the Lord their God. Turn them around from heading in their own direction, and point them towards living life God’s way.

It’s all a bit much for poor old Zechariah to take in. v18. He asks the angel, “How can I be SURE? After all, we’re both old, and we’ve been trying for years.”

So busy focusing on THE ORDINARY, he misses the EXTRA-ordinary. Too busy looking at his wrinkled hands to see the ANGEL IN FRONT OF HIM who’s giving him the message.

He reminds me of the guy in the movie “Notting Hill”. Who misses the EXTRAORDINARY in the midst of the ORDINARY. Hugh Grant’s character, William, meets the superstar actress, Anna, played by Julia Roberts. He invites her to a family birthday dinner. And he introduces her to one of his friends, the bumbling Bernie, played by Hugh Bonneville.

Of course, Bernie doesn’t recognise her – the famous actress. He fails to see anything OUT OF THE ORDINARY. But he begins to make polite conversation. He asks her what she does. “I’m an actress,” she replies, with a funny look on her face. And so he starts to tell her about his OWN amateur acting experiences.

He finishes with, “Always imagined it’s a pretty tough job, though, acting. I mean the wages are a scandal, aren’t they?

ANNA replies, “          Well, they CAN be.”

BERNIE: “I see friends from university — clever chaps — been in the business longer than you — they’re scraping by on seven, eight thousand a year. It’s no life….  What sort of acting do YOU do?

ANNA:  Films mainly.

BERNIE           Oh splendid.  Well done.  How’s the pay in movies?  I mean, last film you did, what did you get paid?

ANNA  Fifteen million dollars.

BERNIE           Right.  Right.  So that’s… fairly good.  On the high side… Have you tried THE NUTS?

So busy focusing on the ORDINARY and EXPECTED that he misses the EXTRA-ordinary and UN-expected.

Just like Zechariah. Focussing on his old age, and his barren wife. And he’s missed the angel right in front of him, delivering a message from God himself.

And while Anna generously overlooks Bernie’s bumbling, the angel Gabriel’s not quite so gracious. V19.

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.

In other words, “Remember who you’re talking to here! You’re talking to an angel from God. If God SPEAKS it, it HAPPENS! Trust me! I’ve SEEN it. V20.

20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

And, sure enough, from that moment, he’s struck dumb.

What, then, is this child going to be?

Thankfully, in time, the angel’s OTHER words ALSO come true. Elizabeth becomes pregnant.

And, if you jump down to v57, she has a baby boy. And when they ask Zechariah what to name him, he gets the chance to put things right.

Now, the normal thing would be to call him Zechariah. After his Dad. But the angel had told him to call the baby John.

Will he make up for his mistake? Will he take God seriously?

He calls for the chalkboard. Verse 63. And everyone’s amazed when he writes, “John is his name” (Not “Call him John”, but “John IS his name – that’s it. It’s already done.) “I made the mistake of doubting God once. I’m not going to do it again.”

And as soon as he does, God unblocks his tongue. And he can speak again. And from v67, Zechariah makes up for lost time. And he starts praising God with an amazing song we’ll look at in a moment.

But just look at the reaction of the well-wishers. V65.

65 The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “WHAT THEN IS THIS CHILD GOING TO BE?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

There it is – that BIG QUESTION.

In other words, “Keep your eye on HIM. This one’s destined for greatness – what do you expect with a start like this? Angel visits, miraculous conceptions, and a man struck dumb. And then miraculously healed!

“What, then, is this child going to be?” That’s their question.

Because, you see, it’s not just a long-awaited birth for Zechariah and Elizabeth. In a sense, the WHOLE NATION’S been eagerly waiting.

Eagerly waiting for God to act. He’d been silent for 400 years. No prophets, no kings, no freedom. Israel were in their own land, but they were ruled by Rome. And before that it had been Greece. It had been 500 years since they’d been ruled by their own king.

And God had promised them a DELIVERER. A Messiah. A special king to set them free.

And they’d been waiting and waiting and waiting. But NOTHING.

Until Zechariah and Elizabeth. Until the angel Gabriel, and his words of promise. Until the baby John, and the miraculous healing of his dad.

What, then, will become of this child?

And so, in v67, Zechariah answers them. “Well, let me tell you! Let me fill you in on what God’s got planned for this little guy.”

Zechariah sees the extraordinary

And from v67, Zechariah gives us the HEAVENLY perspective. The EXTRAORDINARY that’s beyond the ordinary. He’d missed it before. But now God gives him inside knowledge.

He looks beyond the baby John. He looks beyond even the MAN John. To GOD HIMSELF, and the One God’s rescue plans would revolve around. The one John would grow up to announce, Jesus.

1. About God (v68-73)

Firstly, Zechariah tells us ABOUT GOD. In verses 68-73. It’s all to do with him RESCUING HIS PEOPLE.

And notice, this isn’t some ONE-OFF EVENT. A blip on the horizon. It’s the CULMINATION of God’s plans. The CLIMAX.

He’s promised it long ago. And now it’s coming to completion. The birth of Jesus is just around the corner. Look at v 68.

(Luke 1:68-73 NIV)  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has REDEEMED HIS PEOPLE. {69} He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (that’s talking about Jesus) {70} (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), {71} SALVATION from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– {72} TO SHOW MERCY to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, {73} the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

The people were right to expect big things of John. But not because there was anything significant about HIM. But because he was PART OF GOD’S SIGNIFICANT PLANS.

God’s plans are about SHOWING MERCY. By SAVING HIS PEOPLE. Because that’s what he PROMISED.

EXACTLY HOW God’s going to do that Zechariah gets onto in a minute. But for the moment the most important thing is that God’s SHOWING MERCY. By SAVING HIS PEOPLE. It might have been a long time coming. But God’s going to DO it, because he PROMISED.

2. About US (74-75)

Secondly Zechariah talks about US. The ones God’s going to rescue. Look at v 74 and 75.

(Luke 1:74-75 NIV)  to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and TO ENABLE US TO SERVE HIM WITHOUT FEAR {75} IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE HIM ALL OUR DAYS.

God’s purpose in rescuing us is so we can SERVE him. It’s the same word as WORSHIP. Just like he rescued Israel from Egypt so they could worship him.

It’s actually what we were MADE for. We were DESIGNED to be friends with God. To live with him as number ONE, and everything else SECOND.

But mostly, we just ignore him. We put OURSELVES as number one, and everything else after that. Mostly, we don’t even give him the time of day. And that’s what SIN is.

And God says ignoring him will lead to an eternity without him. He’ll GIVE US JUST WHAT WE WANT.

It’s not what GOD wants. And the amazing thing is despite the way we treat him. God actually WANTS us to serve him.

And so he sends Jesus. He sets out to RESCUE us. To make us friends again. So we can SERVE him and WORSHIP him. Just the way we were designed.

And look at how that’s described. Three things. Without fear. In holiness and righteousness before him. All our days.

God’s aim in rescuing his people is that they might serve him without fear. In holiness and righteousness before him. All their days.

Firstly, our friendship with God is one WITHOUT FEAR.

Once we’re friends with God, nothing else can affect us. DEATH has nothing to cause us to fear. Neither does JUDGMENT. When you know YOUR FUTURE IS SECURE, sickness, or poverty, or pain, loneliness, abandonment. None of it matters much.

It’s like going to a Christian funeral compared to someone who wasn’t a Christian.

A Christian funeral is SAD, but at the same time it’s sadness that’s saturated with CONFIDENT HOPE.

Jesus who conquered death. So, for the one who trusts Jesus death will be conquered for THEM, TOO. And ultimate life will BEGIN. Begins in THIS life. And then goes ON. Life that never ends.

Secondly. God’s purpose in saving us is that we worship Him IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE HIM.

That means we’re RIGHT WITH GOD. Nothing standing in the way. No sin. No anger. No betrayal or broken trust. No long list of charges hanging over our head. The past is forgotten. No more dredging up old failures.

To worship him in RIGHTEOUSNESS means God’s dealt with it all. Forgiven. Gone. And we stand before him with a completely clean slate. Right before him. Righteous.

3. All our days

And the third part is that it’s for ALL OUR DAYS. Eternity. Forever. Not “I’ll save you until the next time you slip up. Then you’re out on your ear.” But forever.

God’s salvation is so that we can worship him without fear. In holiness and righteousness. All our days.

That’s the big picture that’s been revealed to Zechariah. He missed the message the FIRST time the God revealed it. Not THIS time. He SEES it, and he PRAISES GOD for his goodness and mercy and faithfulness.

But FOR US, we can see things even MORE clearly than Zechariah. We saw how Jesus’ life turned out. We saw his glorious life and death and resurrection and ascension. We saw him grow his church through his Spirit and his apostles. And then saw it spread through the whole world. All in the pages of the Bible.

We can see how it all came from this baby John. All part of God’s amazing rescue plan.

Zechariah PRAISED God when he saw it. Is that YOUR RESPONSE, TOO? It SHOULD be. Because it’s the appropriate response when you see the extraordinary, like that!

3. About John

Thirdly. Zechariah moves onto JOHN HIMSELF. Verse 76 – “And YOU, my child” What part does JOHN play in this heavenly drama?

He’s a PROPHET of the Most High. A prophet who’ll DECLARE A MESSAGE from God. Who’ll prepare the way for Jesus.

And look at what his message involves. Verse 77.

(Luke 1:77 NIV)  to give his people THE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION THROUGH THE FORGIVENESS OF THEIR SINS,

To give people THE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION. That’s the same salvation Zechariah’s been talking about before. God saving his people so that they can worship him. So they can be friends with him.

And John’s job is to give people a KNOWLEDGE of that plan.

And look at how that plan works. How this new friendship starts. Through the FORGIVENESS OF OUR SINS. That’s the message John gets to declare. What a privilege to be handing out THAT SORT of good news!

Like a solicitor telling someone they’ve inherited a million dollars from a distant relative. Or a art expert who tells someone the old painting from their garage is a priceless masterpiece. What a privilege to be handing out THAT sort of good news.

And John gets to declare FORGIVENESS OF SIN. Notice how it happens? There’s no catch! No down side. It’s all GOD’S work! Because of the TENDER MERCY OF OUR GOD. Not because we deserve it. All because of God’s tender mercy.

The people’s question was, “What then is this child going to be?”

And Zechariah’s answer was, “He’s going to be the one who announces God’s amazing rescue plan. Who prepares for Jesus. The one who declares the forgiveness of sin. So that we can worship God without fear. In holiness and righteousness. All our days.

That’s big! That’s an awesome privilege for John to have.

And it’s OUR privilege as well.

To announce God’s amazing rescue plan in Jesus. To point people to him. To declare forgiveness of sin. So that we can be friends with God forever.

It’s our PRIVILEGE to lift people’s gaze from the mundane. From the ORDINARY and the EARTHLY. And help them to focus on the HEAVENLY. It’s not a drag. It’s not a chore. Let’s be TREATING it like that.

But what about E? We’re here this morning to give thanks to God for E. To baptize him as a sign of God’s commitment to him. A sign of him being a member of God’s family, the church.

And there’s plenty of people here who will take a keen interest in him as he gets older. There’s his church family who’ve promised to help G and L to raise him to follow Jesus.

And there’s G and L’s friends and family who will take just as great an interest in his growth.

And, I guess, where all wondering that same question the people asked of John. What, then, is this child going to be?

And I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know whether he’ll be a doctor or a truck driver. I don’t know whether he’ll have ten kids or none.

But GOD knows. Knows it ALL. He knows how many years he’ll live. How many hairs on his head. How many breaths he’ll take.

God’s COMMITTED to him. He sent Jesus for him. And baptism’s the sign he’s given us to REMIND us of that commitment.

And so, we can trust E into his care. He’s got his future mapped out. He’s got YOUR future and MY future mapped out TOO. He’s reliable, and WORTH trusting your life to.

Zechariah failed to trust God’s word when the promise came. “How can I know for sure?” he said. Will WE trust God’s word for E? He showed how much he loves E by sending Jesus to die in his place. So that his sins could be forgiven.

And then he gave us THE SIGN OF BAPTISM to help us TRUST those promises. To trust them for E, but ALSO to trust them FOR OURSELVES.

WHATEVER God’s got in store for E, may he grow up someone who KNOWS those truths. Who TRUSTS those PROMISES. And who LIVES it. And tells it to others, too.

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