God’s Grace Towards Unbelieving Hearts – Luke 1:1-25

6 December, 2021

Book: Luke

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God’s Grace to Unbelieving Hearts

Luke 1:5-25

  • How would you begin to tell the greatest story ever told?
  • Well, Luke having carefully researched the events from familiar eyewitnesses writes his story.
  • His introductory story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the introduction of John makes several key points:
  • God is Sovereign over all history,
  • God is Omnipotent to bring about all his purposes and desires.
  • The Gospel Msg. must be received, believed & acted on
  • Unbelief will result in discipline and judgement, and ultimately Unrepentant Unbelief will result in an eternal judgement.
  • But God is Gracious.
  • Well, lets work our way through the text, entrusting the Lord to teach, to rebuke, to strengthen our hearts this morning.
  • At the end I want to draw several lessons from the text.

Outline: (Sorry no outline in the Bulletin)

  • A Godly Couple,      5-7
  • A Prayerful Context, 8-10
  • A Joyful Promise,      11-17
  • An Unbelieving Heart, 18
  • A Gracious Discipline, 19-20

One: A Godly Couple, Luke 1:5-7

Notice Z & E Godly Heritage

  • Notice the historical context, in days of Herod, king of Judea
  • Notice Zacharias’ name: The Lord Remembers, a highly significant point when we consider his life sketched out B4 us.
  • Both Z & E. are born of Levitical lineage and Marriage of two fr Priestly line: Considered a Great Blessing

Notice Z., & E.’s Godly Character:

Vs. 6, Righteous in the sight of the Lord

  • Some have said that Z. & E. had a merely external, legalistic righteousness different to what Paul’s describes in Romans 3
  • That’s Unlikely. From Genesis to Revelation, God saves all men the same way:
    • By God’s Grace,
    • Thru Faith in God, which is accounted to the believer for righteousness.
    • Genesis 15:66 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
    • Habakkuk 2:44 But the just shall live by his faith.
  • & E. are considered Righteous, in the sight of God
  • Spurgeon, in his sermon on Zacharias, describes Him as one saved by faith, making his slip into unbelief all the greater.


Vs.6, Walking in all commands & statutes, Blameless

  • Their regular custom & practice was blameless, but not sinless
  • In fact Paul describes himself the same way in 3:6
  • Blameless: none could bring a charge of unrepent. sin ag. them
  • If we were to follow them around we would not discover grounds for a charge that would hold up in court against them
  • Where they sinned, and failed, they sought the appropriate remedies. – They were Righteous, Blameless, but not Sinless


Notice Z. & E.’s Sad, Personal Condition:

  • 7, But they had no Child
  • Childlessness was often considered the result of sin in life
  • But Luke has sets out that they were righteous & blameless
  • At the age when E’s women-friends and relatives are beginning
    • to enjoy,
    • to spoil, and
    • to send the grand-kids home…
  • Elizabeth would’ve had to concede there’d be no child for them
  • It is no stretch to see that Z. & E. are disappointed.
  • Yet, for us, knowing some of the similar OT stories, Luke is building a sense of Expectation as He unfolds their story
  • The OT contains some notable stories of other couples that waited long into later years to know the joy of child-bearing
  • Z & E, are Similar to Abe & Sarah, who waited 25 yrs for Isaac
    • Who’d be: son of promise, a type of the Christ to come
  • Z & E, are Similar to Isaac & Rebekah,
    • Who waited 20 years for Jacob & Esau, from whom would come the brother-nations of Israel & Edom
  • E is Similar to Hannah, who waited for years to bear Samuel
  • Barren Hannah knew that shame for her childlessness
  • To Heb. Women, childlessness was the cause of great shame as it hindered husband’s name being carried on
  • Many men esp. priests considered it honourable & right to divorce a barren wife, & re-marry to raise up sons.
  • Remember: God gives the gift of children –
  • Children are a blessing of the Lord (mixed at times)
  • Remember: 1Samuel 1:5, it is God, who opens and closes wombs
    • for His purposes –
  • Remember: 1:21, God gives & God takes away, Blessed be…
  • Remember: God is Sovereign over all things, Children incl.

To Summarise:

  • Zacharias & Elizabeth were righteous-in-God’s sight, devout, faithfully serving the Lord, despite what was certainly a bitter personal disappointment

So, What’s the point for us?

  • Beware that disappointment does not lead to unbelief
  • Beware of Disappointment leading to Doubt, leading to Unbelief


Two: A Prayerful Context, Luke 1:8-10

  • Notice Zacharias’ Faithfulness to the role/work God gave him
  • ’s feelings/disappointment over their childlessness had not hindered his work in serving the Lord.
  • Notice that His service, like his state: is before God,
    • in the eyes and estimation of God.
  • As a priest of God, he had two main responsibilities:
    • 1) To teach the people the Law of the Lord
    • 2) To assist God’s people in worship at Temple.


But Notice Especially: God actively working in His life – vs.9

  • The lot falls to Zacharias to burn incense on the altar
    • opposite the Ark of Cov’t, hidden from view behind Veil


  • This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for every priest – some never saw that opportunity carried out. – but only once if it did
  • The Bible tells us very clearly that the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord! 16:33
  • God, at just the right moment drew Zacharias into Holy Place,
    • To meet and speak to him, thru the angel


Notice: God’s Rev. of His Will & Purpose to Z. is in Context of Prayer.

  • The Great multitude of people who’re gathered indicates that this is probably an evening sacrifice of incense – prayer
  • The Priests began their preparations in the late afternoon, so that the offering of incense would happen at evening
  • The Priests would all go in and prepare, and when all was ready they would withdraw and leave the one chosen by Lot to offer.
  • He would carefully spread the hot coals across the whole surface of the Altar of incense and then lay the incense on it
  • a great cloud of smoke would then rise up before his eyes, and as it did so, he would pray
  • As priest of God, he would
    • pray for the people,
    • pray for the redemption and the consolation of Israel, Pray for Messiah to come!
    • Pray for the forgiveness of the people’s sin
    • Pray for the protection of God’s people from Romans


Simultaneously, outside the Holy Place, in the courtyards,

  • The Great Multitude of People are also Praying:
  • Targum Traditions record that the people’s prayer was:


  • The Merciful God would enter the Holy Place and accept with favour the offering of His people.
  • They prayed that God would answer the Priest’s Prayers.
  • When we say our ‘amen’ at the close of another’s prayer we’re saying: “let it be so” – we’re asking for God to answer: prayer.


Listen: God’s sending of revival begins within prayer meetings

  • God’s began His work to send the Messiah in a prayer meeting
  • God’s began His work in the book of Acts by sending the Holy Spirit during a long, multi-day prayer meeting


God’s People, True Israel of God, have always been a Praying People

  • The question is, did Zacharias pray and ask for a son, a child?
  • Most scholars will say it’s unlikely he is now praying for a son.
  • The fact of his unbelieving response makes it highly unlikely
    • that he prayed,
    • he asked for a son,
    • then refused to believe the angelic messenger who told him his prayer was answered – unlikely!
  • Not only that, but in his highly honoured situation of offering prayer for the nation…
  • Would he use that time to pursue a personal request? Unlikely.
  • Most scholars agree: His personal, private prayers certainly at one time included request for a son-a child,
  • but this time of prayer was on behalf of the nation, as befits his priestly role.
  • But God is Gracious, God answered his prayers for the Messiah



  • God is Gracious, he not only sent Messiah, He also allowed Z. the privilege of fathering John, the Fore-runner, who would pave the way for Jesus the Messiah.


Three: A Joyful Promises, Notice vss. 11-17

  • As Zacharias is praying, he notices something utterly unexpected: an angelic form standing to the right side of altar
  • The side is seen as the position of favour, of grace, blessing
  • The Scribe who wrote Cert. of acquittal sat: Right Side of HP.
  • Christ is enthroned to the Right of His Father, to intercede


  • Zacharias Seeing the Angel was gripped with terrifying fear
  • did not see some figment of his imagination
  • saw the very real presence of the angel standing before him
  • was terrified by what he saw, sim. to others in same setting


The Angel is announcing to Zach. God’s Omnipotent Power at work

  • Just as He’d brought Isaac from deadness of Sarah’s womb…
  • So, Now He will bring John from another dead womb…
  • And in an even greater display of God’s Omnipotent Power He will bring the Son of the Living God Forth from the Womb of a young virgin girl: Mary


The Angel’s words pronounced and promised a child, a son

  • A son bringing joy & gladness
  • A son who will be great before the Lord
    • Not merely great in Men’s eyes, but Great in God’s sight
  • A son: to serve the Lord all the days of his (albeit short) life


  • A son: dedicated to the Lord
  • A sone: who will spend vast portion of life in wilder. obscurity
    • Similar to Jesus’ spent 90% of life in obscurity: Nazret
  • A son: filled with the Holy Spirit even from the womb
    • No wonder Jesus could say: Matthew 11:11 “Assuredly, I say to you, there has not risen one greater than John”
  • A son: whose very name spoken was a pronouncement of God’s grace – John means the Lord will be Gracious… is Gracious
  • A son: to lead many to the Lord: a revivalist among God’s People
  • A son: used to turn people back to the Lord
  • A son: to prepare the way of the Lord, Jesus, the Messiah
  • A son to Usher in Christ who’ll bring salvat’n for all who believe
    • John will be forerunner – Jesus is the fulfilment
    • John will pave-prepare the way – Jesus is the Way
    • John’s birth will be unlikely, born out of barrenness –
      • Jesus birth was impossible, born of a virgin
    • John was the Prophet before the Lord –
      • Jesus is the Davidic King, Who is the Lord


  • What more could any father possibly want?
  • How great was the news that Zacharias saw?
  • Surely, everything, every fibre of his being yearned for such an announcement to be true… {long pause}


Fourthly: An Unbelieving Response,

  • Zacharias response is almost too much to believe
  • Confronted w/ an angelic form: struck fear deep into his soul,



  • Confronted with the message that his and E.’s deepest desire as parents was about to be miraculously answered….
  • Confronted with the Good News of Great Joy that his Son would be the one to prepare the way for Messiah, surely he would have fallen to his face on the ground and worshipped – not the angel – but God almighty himself…
  • But no! Zachariah’s response is prideful
  • Zachariah’s response is faithless and unbelieving
  • How shall I know this… in other words, Its not enough for me that an angel has announced this….
  • Just because you say it, does not satisfy me, I need more proof, more evidence, something more a sign, a proof.


Unbelief has taken root in his heart

  • Disappointment has led to Doubt, Doubt has led to Unbelief
  • Unbelief has blinded his eyes, and deafened his ears to hearing what God is saying and What God is doing in His life
  • Zacharias’ perspective has settled firmly on his own circumstances and limitations.


Notice vs.18 For I am an old man & my wife is well advanced in years

  • He has begun to judge and decide what God can and cannot do, based on his own estimation of his circumstances and limits.
  • Notice the sharp contrast between Abraham and Zacharias
  • In Romans 4:19-21, Abraham, “…not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was


strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.

  • Zacharias’ unbelief is a serious, it is a sin against God.
  • Zacharias, who was tasked to be a teacher in Israel, to instruct the people in loving, serving, obeying, walking with the Lord, should surely have known better
  • Zacharias had access, as priest of God, to the books, the Law, The Writings, the Prophets, the stories of old.
  • He should have known that God is able to keep His promises
  • Zacharias very name was a testimony against him:
    • The Lord Remembers… including the mean: to deliver
    • God was remembering Zacharias to deliver Him
  • But Zacharias does not believe, Unbelief has blinded him.


And so Zacharias’ sin is punished… But God is Gracious!

  • God is so kind to Zacharias in His dealings with Him.
  • Notice vs. 19, the angel Gabriel speaks again.
  • Notice the poignant comments he makes to Zacharias
  • I am Gabriel, angel who rev. eschatological promises to Daniel, If anybody knew God’s working in the future it was Gabriel.
  • I stand in the presence of God – exactly what Zach. was doing.
    • He was standing at the altar of incense,
    • before the veil,
    • 1 meter away from where the ark of the covenant sat,
    • with the presence of God resting above the mercy seat
    • he was ministering in the presence of God



  • I was sent to speak to you – Zacharias, you have been sent and tasked to speak to the people for God, I am here giving you God’s words for you, but also for them!


  • But then God’s judgement and discipline are pronounced:
  • You will be mute and not able to speak.
  • From 1:61-62, its clear that Zacharias is also deaf.
    • Leon Morris adds the word kophos, translated mute can mean both deaf & dumb


  • He that should have heard and believed, was now prevented from hearing anything for 9+ months until the birth of John
  • He that refused to believe and should have had the wonderful privilege of going outside the Holy Place, out of the Temple and
  • shouting from the hilltops that
    • God had again spoken,
    • God had remembered His people,
    • God was about to do wonderful, mighty, miraculous things in the birth of his son, and infinitely greater in the coming birth of Messiah…
  • He had to sit silently, waiting, for that moment when he would again be able to speak.
  • The reason is given by Gabriel: You did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time.
  • God is faithful to keep the promises he makes
  • Our Unbelief will not hinder God from keeping His promises!
  • But our unbelief will rob us of the joy of participation, and possibly result in rebuke, discipline and punishment.


Lastly: A Gracious Discipline & Restoration

  • But, God is gracious.
  • God’s discipline would have stung and smarted, and no doubt caused some frustration for the aged couple as
  • She became pregnant – and he couldn’t speak
  • But God is gracious, God allows this man’s first words spoken after the birth of John, to be words of blessing and praise to God, for the sending of the Messiah!
  • God Graciously Restores this aged, faithful, devout man to usefulness again – we’re going to look this month at Zacharias’ Benedictus his speech, of which the greater part is praise to God for Messiah…


  • God is Gracious to His People…
  • God disciplines that He might restore us to usefulness…
  • If you’ve slipped into unbelief, fear not, God is not done w/ U
  • If you have allowed your perspective to shift from God and His Omnipotent power to accomplish all He desire in your life…
  • to seeing only your circumstances and your limitations, then lift your eyes, focus again, not on what the Omnipotent, Sovereign God can do


  • God graciously withheld from them, the son/child they so desperately longed for, in order that, in His time, He might give them so much better: the indescribable joy of their miracle-child paving the way for the Messiah 
  • God may in your life withhold something that you so desperately long for, good, right, honourable, lovely, praiseworthy things, why would God do that – in order that in His time he might give you the double blessing of something so much greater.
  • God graciously, sovereignly at times allows His people to suffer disappointment, sorrow, shame, physical pain, because what he is doing in that is far greater than simply relieving the disappointment, sorrow, shame, etc.
  • Zachariah – God always remembers His people, to deliver them not out of, but through the difficult circumstances that He places them in.