Sermon Title: Prepared for Us
Main Scripture: Luke 1:5-25; 57-80

Sermon Outline: 

God’s Plan for Preparation for the Coming of the Messiah

I. Priest’s Family (Lk. 1:5)
     A. Godly (1:6)
     B. Ordinary (1:7)
II. Promise
     A. Given (11-17)
     B. Doubted (18)
     C. Reaffirmed (19-22)
     D. Fulfilled (23-25; 57-66)
III. Prophecy (1:67-80)
     A. The Coming Messiah (67-75)
     B. The Prophet of the Most High (76-80)

Sermon Summary:

As we enter into this Christmas season, we are beginning a sermon series entitled "His Presence."  And experiencing the presence of God is what Christmas is all about. Over 2000 years ago, God gave us the greatest gift imaginable by sending his son Jesus to earth.  But, God's great love for the world was shown even before this by him implementing a plan to prepare the world the coming of the Messiah.

In Luke 1, we find that God's plan for preparation begins with a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. The couple is known for their godliness, but they are also very ordinary in that they have hurts and struggles just like everyone else.  Mainly, they are not able to have children.

However, through a miraculous encounter with an angel, God promised Zechariah that he would bless him and Elizabeth with the child who will be go before the messiah to prepare the nation of Israel for his coming.  This was child that was prophesied about hundreds of years before this happened. Then we learned that God fulfilled his promise, and the couple had a baby boy.  They named him John (better known as John the Baptist).  

John would later grow in spirit, and fulfill all of the promises God had made, by making ready a people prepared for the coming of the Messiah.  And as the church today, our purpose is the same except that we are to make ready a people prepared for the Messiah who has already come.  As we learned with Zechariah and Elizabeth, we don't have to be extraordinary to be used by God.  We just need to be faithful and he will use us as his ministers to prepare the people around us for the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.  

Sermon Discussion Questions:

1. ICEBREAKER: An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and promised him that God would give him a child.  Despite all of the signs, Zechariah still doubted his promise. Share a story about when you missed something that should have been so blatantly obvious.

2. We learned through the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth that God uses ordinary people to accomplish his extraordinary promises.  How have you seen God work in your life to accomplish things you thought were impossible?

3. God has given us the mission as his church to prepare the people around us for his presence.  This sounds difficult, but Jesus said it is as easy as loving your neighbor as yourself (The second part of his Great Commandment).  

So, first, what are the names of all of your neighbors that live right around your home? If some are unknown, make an intentional effort this week to get to know their names.

Secondly, how are you preparing your neighbors for the presence of God? This week make an intentional effort to get to know some of your neighbors better. They may just see how God has fulfilled promises in your life as you share some of your story. 

 

Sermon Notes:

Good Morning. I hope that everyone is doing well. The flu and other illnesses have been rampant lately. But, I hope you are making it through okay. Today, we’re here and I believe we are going to learn some very important truths as well as practical life application.

We are beginning a series entitled His Presence. We are right in the middle of Christmas season now. The significance of Christmas can often be blurred, skewed, or even forgotten during these times as we attempt locate and purchase gifts, have parties, pictures with Santa, Christmas lights, etc.

None of these things are bad or wrong necessarily. They give us a good opportunities to join in fellowship, to be generous, to grow in closeness with family, and to teach our children. But during this Christmas season, God wants to remind us about what is of utmost importance: His Presence.

And God’s presence is vital for us. Without his presence, we miss out on what Christmas is all about. So over the next three weeks we are going to talk about how his presence has been made known to us so that it may experienced by us and through us.

Today we are starting off with His Presence that was Prepared for Us. Our Key verse for the entire Series is very well known. In fact, more people have this verse memorized than any other in the Bible. John 3:16.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. God’s love is great for this world. And the ultimate culmination of that love was Jesus Christ coming to this world and sacrificing his life on the cross for us. But, his love for the world didn’t begin with that act. In fact, God also showed the world immense love by preparing it for the coming the Messiah.

I don’t know about you, but I am grateful that we don’t go straight into adulthood after we finish being a toddler. Now, some of you may know other adults that still act like toddlers, but that’s not what we are talking about. We don’t automatically enter adulthood after that age.

There is a span of many years where children are parented and guided through childhood and adolescence, and have an opportunity to be prepared for the real world before they enter it.

I know that are troops in the military are very grateful that they have a season of training and preparation instead of being thrust to front line of battle right when they enlist. I know that when I go to the doctor, I am grateful that he prepared for many years how to practice medicine.

You see preparation is of utmost importance. God loved the world so much that he even made plans to prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. 800 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about the preparation for His coming,

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up,every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

400 years prior to the birth of Christ, God spoke through the prophet Malachi, and gets more specific with his people about what his plan of preparation would be. Let’s look at Malachi 3:1,

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

After this prophecy is shared, there are 400 years of silence. No more prophecies, just waiting. Today, we are going to study the story of God breaking his silence and beginning his plan to prepare the world for its Savior, and then we are going to talk about the significance of this plan for us today.

If you will, turn with me in God’s Word to Luke 1. For those of you without a Bible, we will have the verses on the screen behind me to read along with. Just so you know, Luke 1 is the beginning of the Christmas Narrative. Let’s read starting in verse 5.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.

We see here that God’s plan for preparing the world for the coming of Jesus begins it’s implementation phase during the time of King Herod, which is 37 B.C. - 4 A.D. King Herod was provincial king under the authority of the Roman Empire. He was only a big deal of sorts in the province of Judea.

He was responsible for collecting taxes for the Romans, maintaining and improving the infrastructure of the area so that commerce could thrive, and making sure the people behaved themselves. But there was a problem. Herod, or Herod the Great as he was called, was crazy.

He was a paranoid egomaniac. So, he wanted to make sure everyone knew who was boss, but he was paranoid that everyone around him wanted to be the boss. So, Herod would kill people. Lots of people. He even murdered his wife and his three sons.

Anyone who he thought was a threat, he would have them killed. And, it is important to know about this hostile environment because over the next couple of weeks we are going to learn about the King of kings who will be born right in this area. What a threat he would be to a king like Herod.

Now the setting for the beginning of this story is Jerusalem. This where Herod lives. In fact, his house was right next to the temple that he rebuilt for the Jews. The temple that was constructed by Solomon in the Old Testament had been destroyed, but Herod rebuilt it, bigger and more extravagant.

The temple was the epicenter of worship for the Jews living all over Israel. Now, there were plenty of synagogues, even in the smallest towns, but throughout the year, the people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, also known as the city on a hill, to worship God.

So, with all of these synagogues and especially with the main temple in Jerusalem, the need for priests was great. And at this time in Jewish history, there were about 20,000 Jewish priests serving. They were divided into 20 different divisions with 1000 priests in each.

A priest’s main responsibilities consisted of teaching the scriptures, leading worship services, and managing the upkeep of the temple and synagogues. And God’s plan to prepare his people for the coming of the Messiah begins with one of these priests and his wife.

God’s Plan for Preparation
I. Priest’s Family (Lk. 1:5)

Zechariah was one of 1000 priests that belonged to the division of Abijah, and he is married to a woman named Elizabeth. Both of them are descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. And traditionally, descendants of Aaron had a long standing generational heritage of being priests.
And in verse 6 we learn more about this couple.

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.

So, God’s plan for preparing the world for the Messiah begins with a priest’s family and the characteristic that they are known for is their godliness.

God’s Plan for Preparation
I. Priest’s Family (Lk. 1:5)
A. Godly (1:6)

They are godly people. This description of being righteous means that they are wholly devoted to God. They love, serve, and follow God. They’re not just going through the motions. Priest was not just a title for Zechariah. It was actually a true reflection of his relationship with God. His and Elizabeth’s obedience overflowed from the heart.

And that’s what God looks at. The heart. So his plan begins a couple that is righteous in his sight. They are godly. Let’s learn more about them in verse 7

But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Do you ever look at certain people and think, man they have got it together. They are involved in church. They never seem to have problems. They always have a smile on their face. They seem like super Christians.

At first glance you might think this way of Zechariah and Elizabeth. But verse 7 helps us to take a look beyond the surface. What we find there is very ordinary.

God’s Plan for Preparation
I. Priest’s Family (Lk. 1:5)
A. Godly (1:6)
B. Ordinary (1:7)

They had hurts and issues to deal with just like everyone else. The one mentioned here is that they were unable to have children. They were older and it didn’t appear possible to conceive a child any longer.

Some of you can relate to that. You have wanted a child for so long, but for whatever reason haven’t been able to conceive. You’ve been heartbroken over it, and maybe with feelings of inadequacy, anger, or even failure. This is a couple that you can relate to.

As we’ll see later, Elizabeth actually describes her feelings as being disgraced. In her day, if a couple wasn’t able to conceive, it was the woman’s fault. Some would consider her cursed. Others thought she may be on God’s bad side because of sin. And, men actually had legal grounds to divorce a barren wife.

They were ordinary people with real problems, but they remained faithful throughout. They didn’t get a divorce. They didn’t sin by trying to have children in and adulterous relationship. They continued to serve when others would give up. They didn’t allow it to define their relationship with God.

Maybe there is something going on in your life right now. Something different than this. And your allowing that situation to define and shape your relationship with God in a negative way. I just want to encourage you to stay faithful. Stay grounded in your faith. Stay focused in your devotion to God.

How much better is it to have the favor of God and to be righteous in his sight than the alternative? He may just do things that you never thought were possible. He may just perform a miracle, but in the waiting, in the unknown, he promises to give peace and strength in your circumstances as you continue to abide in Him.

Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea, but God was about to do something incredible in their lives. He was about to make them an intricate component in his plan to prepare this world for the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Let’s continue reading in verse 8,

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

So God chooses a godly, yet ordinary man. Nothing extraordinary about Zechariah. Remember, he was one of 1000 priests in his division. In verse 39 of this same chapter, we find that he was a priest of a small village in the hill country of Judea outside of Jerusalem.

But, once a year this ordinary priest and his division would get to go and serve at the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a big deal that priests would have looked forward to. It would be like a high school basketball player being able to go play at an NBA arena.

And when they get there, they cast lots, or roll the dice basically, to see which one of them will be able to go inside and burn incense inside the temple. This was an honor that was restricted to a one time opportunity. If you got picked, you never got to do it again, and a large percentage of priests never got this opportunity.

But Zechariah gets picked and gets to go inside the temple to burn incense. Incense symbolized the rising of prayers to God. Their prayers would rise as incense and be a sweet aroma to God, a sweet sound to his ear. And as that one priest, out of 1000 possibilities, goes inside, the people remain outside, worshiping and praying as they wait for him to come out.

God’s Plan for Preparation
II. Promise
A. Given (11-17)

And as Zechariah is inside burning incense and praying, God begins phase two of his plan. The second phase is a promise that is given to Zechariah starting in verse 11.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

God gives him a promise. He heard his prayer, which I believe may have been two fold. I think he prayed, “God, send the Messiah,” and “bless Elizabeth and me a child.” The angel tells Zechariah, your prayer has been answered. You will have your child and he won’t be just any child.

He is going to be the child that fulfills the prophesy given by Malachi 400 years. And as verse 15 said, he is going to be the great in the sight of the Lord for he will be the messenger who goes before and prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. His specific job is to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

This is astounding!!! On this day, Zechariah finally gets his number called, gets to perform a once in a lifetime opportunity in the temple, has an angel of God appear to him, and is promised that he and is old wife will have the baby the was prophesied about 400 years ago. What a day.

And at this point, you would think he Zechariah would say, THANK YOU! YES SIR! Yes sir angel! But no, Zechariah has other thoughts in mind and completely ruins the moment. Look at verse 18,

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

God’s Plan for Preparation
II. Promise
A. Given (11-17)
B. Doubted (18)

What are you doing man? As I sit here and say this, he does what I and many of us guys would do. We don’t recognize that which is blatantly obvious. I am one of the most nonobservant people you will ever meet. My family just laughs at me about it. One day I asked my mom, “when did you change the furniture in here.” She’s like, “a year ago!”

That kind of stuff happens all the time. Things that should be blatantly obvious, for some reason aren't so obvious for me sometimes. Zechariah’s the same way. He doesn’t see all the signs and he doubts the promise. And look at how the angel responds to him in verse 19,

The angel said to him, “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.

I can just imagine imagine Gabriel going back to God later and saying, “I don’t know what else you could do God. Seemed pretty obvious to me and he still doubted.” So the Gabriel does something in response to his doubt in verse 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 appointed time.”

God’s Plan for Preparation
II. Promise
A. Given (11-17)
B. Doubted (18)
C. Reaffirmed (19-22)

So this is what Gabriel does. He reaffirmed the promise by giving Zechariah a clue, a sign for his doubts. He basically says, “since you couldn’t keep your mouth shut and just be thankful for what just happened and was promised, I’m going shut your mouth for you until the promise is fulfilled.” Verse 21 makes me laugh as well,

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.

They have been out there worshiping for a long time. There shoulders are tired from raising their hands. Their knees are sore from bowing down. They are hoarse from singing. They are starting to ask themselves, “how much longer is this going to last.” And then finally he comes out of the temple in verse 22,

When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple,

for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

The people knew something amazing had happened to him. God had given him a promise, but it wasn’t until he returned home that God began to fulfill the promise. Verse 23-25 says,

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

God’s Plan for Preparation
II. Promise
A. Given (11-17)
B. Doubted (18)
C. Reaffirmed (19-22)
D. Fulfilled (23-25; 57-66)

So God is fulfilling his promise. Elizabeth becomes pregnant, and it says she secluded herself for 5 months. Some speculate her reasons for this was that she worried about having a miscarriage.

Others believe the circumstances of her pregnancy would bring unwanted attention. But regardless, at the end of five months, it would be unmistakably evident that she would be a mother.

For this she praises God for his favor and blessing. She also praises him that any feelings of disgrace, and the whispers behind her back would be no more. You can just sense her relief because she received such a long awaited answer to decades of prayer. And now we skip over to verse 57 to see the rest of the promise fulfilled.

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. Luke 1:57-66

God fulfills his promise. The child is born. Zechariah’s mouth is opened and he is finally able to speak again just as the Gabriel said. In obedience, they name the boy John, which means “the Lord is gracious.” Zechariah speaks praises to God, and the people in the hill country of Judea are in absolute awe.

The word begins to spread and people wonder, “What then is this child going to be?” God fulfilled his promise! And now to complete his plan of preparation, God gives Israel another prophecy.

God’s Plan for Preparation
III. Prophecy (1:67-80)
A. The Coming Messiah (67-75)

God uses Zechariah to share the first prophecy that the people of Israel have heard in over 400 years. The silence that has existed since Malachi shared his prophesy is no more. And the first thing that Zechariah prophesied is the Coming of the Messiah. Verse 67-75 says,

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us-to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

He prophesies the coming of the Messiah. He declares that god has raised up a horn of salvation. A horn which represents victory in the battle. And he is done this for three reasons. In verse 72, to show mercy. In verse 74, to rescue us. And also in verse 74 to enable us to serve him in holiness and righteous. This is what the Messiah will do.

God’s Plan for Preparation
III. Prophecy (1:67-80)
A. The Coming Messiah (67-75)
B. The Prophet of the Most High (76-80)

And now for the second part of the prophesy. Zechariah declares to those present what the angel told him that his son was born to do. He prophesied that his son John would be the Great prophet of the Most High. He is the fulfillment of the prophesy in Malachi. In verse 76,

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

So in summary, this is what John was created to do. John, the Prophet of the Most High, will make ready a people prepared for the Lord by preaching one simple message.

He will give people the knowledge of salvation, which will shine light on those living in darkness, and guide their feet into the path of peace.

That’s his purpose prepared for him. And then it says in verse 80, that John grew and became strong in Spirit until he appeared publicly to Israel later on in his life. Now we are not going to get into this too much but, just two chapters later, John the Baptist prepares the way for the Lord. In Chapter 3, it says,

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

What a great story! What an awesome plan! For God so loved the world, he even had the forethought, and took the time to prepare his people for the coming of his presence through Jesus Christ.

Now, you probably agree that this story is amazing, but what does it have to do with us today? I’m so glad you asked! Let me tell you how it applies.

John the Baptist’s life mission was to prepare the way for the messiah who was coming soon. Our mission as the church is to prepare the way for the messiah who has already come. We now have the responsibility to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Let me show you, 2 Corinthians 5:19,

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

Jesus also gave us the great commission commanding us to go and make disciples. And what does making disciples mean. Based upon the scriptures we read today, I would say that this could be an appropriate definition:

Making Disciples is helping people discover the presence of God through Jesus Christ.

So here is the question for us to think about: How are you preparing the people around you for the presence of God. Are you helping to make the people around you ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord in their lives.

A few us on staff went to a conference last month, and it was all about discipleship, being on mission as the church to make the gospel known. And one of the speakers talked about how complicated we make. In fact, people often go to conferences to find out that next best, greatest, relevant method to make disciples.

And I was encouraged to hear him remind us that Jesus made it very simple. He said it starts right at home. Right in your neighborhood. Making a difference right there in your world. Jesus says that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And secondly, to love your neighbor as yourself.

In your copy of the current, you should have received a piece of paper that has an image representing your house on it. And surrounding it are 8 other houses with question marks in them. The first question I want you to ask yourself is, “Do I know the names of my neighbors that live and sleep sometimes just 100 feet from my home.

The second question I want you to consider is this: How are you preparing them for the presence of God? Do you have concern for your neighbors? Do you have a relationship with them? Do you show them the love of Christ? Are you making an intentional effort right there where you live to make a difference in their lives?

So this week, the first step of practical application of this message is to make an effort to know the names of your neighbors. Now, don’t make it all creepy. Let it be natural. Let it be real. But make the effort. How can you expect to share with them the message of Christ if you don’t even know their names.

And then the next step would be to make an intentional effort to get to know some of them better, to make ready a people prepared for the presence of God. Then your neighbors will be a witness to you living out the promises of God, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors were amazed by what they witnessed. We need to make ready a people prepared for the presence of God.

For God so loved the world that he took the time to prepare his people for the coming of the messiah. May we join him in that mission today. We don’t have to be extraordinary. Zechariah and Elizabeth weren’t extraordinary. We just need to faithful. Let’s pray.