if you weren’t here last week we began last week a study of luke’s gospel. we looked at the first 4 verses. this week we accelerate into chapter 1
even though our reading was from the first part of the chapter. I want to do a wide scope overview of ths chapter. and then next week and the following we’ll look more at the detail.
Cast your eye over the chapter as a whole and you’ll see its content. That is is a chapter of 2 angelic miraculous birth announcements,
there’s the one we just had read to us - the promise of a son to this barren elderly couple.
and that’s followed in v26 with the more familiar, extraordinary promise of a son to a virgin - Mary. and then those birth announcements are followed by 2 celebratory songs: the song of mary v46ff and then the song of zechariah in vv67ff. and those songs provide the key to what is happening with the arrival of these 2 miracle babies.
what is happening?
well, we will discover i hope that God is demonstrating that he is RICH IN MERCY
i wonder if you believe that about God
I wonder what you do believe about God? I don’t mean can you recite the creed with faith. I mean what do you believe deep down about God? Who is he to you?
a crucial question isn’t it because what we deep down believe about god will affect everything - our decisions, our behaviour, the way we pray or don’t pray. does god really care about the world? is he a god of mercy? does he care about me?
we look at the suffering and the injustice of the world. where is he? perhaps when things go wrong in life personally - the loss of a job, or a relatonship, the pain of illness, prayers that for years seem to go unamswered. we are bound to ask: does god see me, does he know me? why doesn’t he help? sometimes a bitterness can grow up can’t it where we stop praying, stop expecting. become resigned to small thoughts about god.
or perhaps we have got so bogged down in our moral struggles, failed so repeatedly that we believe that god must have given up on us; thrown his hands up in frustration and walked away..
well we saw last week that Luke has an aim with his gospel. he wants his reader/us to be certain.
to be strengthened in faith..
and straight away as we enter chpt 1 the resounding message - the word occurs several times - is that god is a god of MERCY/ God cares about the world and he cares about you. you better believe it!
- God’s mercy in his promises
In order to God’s mercy in fulfilling promises in this chapter. We need to go back and learn what the promised. History lessons can sometimes be a bit dry - so tune in especially hard if you will for the next couple of minutes as we do a brief history of time acc to the Bible.
In the beginning, the bible says, God created a perfect world. he didn’t have to. he did it because he wanted to - an overflow of his lifegiving love. But it didn’t last long.
Human beings sowed the world’s troubles by rejecting God’s rule. All of our problems are self inflicted wounds.
Now at that early point God could have left us in our misery.
BUT because of his great mercy he acted..
The bible says that right at the start God bound himself by a promise to one man - Abraham
It was a promise to bless Abs descendents and through those descendents to bless the whole world.
Well during the ensuing history of Abs descendents, the nation of Israel, that promise of world blessing is given progressive shape and definition. And in particular a key figure emerges - the Messiah - who would come and singlehandedly enact God’s rescue and restore God’s rule. He would be a mighty King born from the royal line of King David. Messiah.
And, final thing, the sign that the Messiah was comingwould be the arrival of another key figure - a messenger. The prophet Isaiah calls him ‘a voice ..calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord’ and Malachi the last prophet of the OT calls this messenger “Elijah” and uses a stange phrase “he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children”
Well now you see when we come to Luke chapter 1, the power and significance of this chapter is that here the fuse is finally lit; the countdown is started. the long promised rescue operation of God is underway. So look at the angel’s word in v13 to Zechariah “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.” and look at v17 “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” Do you hear it? do you hear Isaiah? it’s almost a direct quote from Malachi - this baby! here is the promised messenger!
And then…. just as God had promised, hot on his heels comes the Messiah himself. So look over the page, v30 “But the angel said to [Mary], ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.”
In our culture we’re so used to broken promises. Politicians who make pledges that they either do not or cannot keep. We just become cynical.
But imagine someone who’s word was absoultely sure. Who is so pure of character that he will never go back on a promise. And who is so able in his power that he can carry out exactly what he says. Well this is who God is.
Just have a look at how his promise keeping, his ‘covenant faithfulness’ is celebrated in the songs in the second half of the chapter. Zechariah’s song from v67
“67 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
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 ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham”
Mary expresses something similar at the end of her song v54
“He [,God,]has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
just as he promised our ancestors.…”
Normally when we talk about remembering something it’s something that we’ve previously forgotten. “oh no! wedding anniversary!”
But occasionally we talk about remembering as a stimulus to action: “I remembered my Grandmother’s death by going to her grave” or “my work is done in memory of her.”
And when the Bible talks about remembering it’s in this second sense. God doesn’t suddenly remember to be merciful because it had slipped his mind to do so. No, God’s promises are rooted in his mercy. And when the time is ripe God acts to fulfil his promises. he remembers.
So listen, God has promised good things to those who trust him. he promised Jesus and he delivered. And now many of the promises of the full fruits of Jesus’ work are Future things:- that one day he will put all things to rights and give his people life eternal in a restored creation. These promises are absolutely sure.
2. God's mercy in our need.
What is the nature of the salvation that the messiah brings?
Imp Q - what is christian salvation? Is it only spiritual? Forgiveness? the hope of heaven when we die?
Look at Zs song again v71 “salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” or v74 “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear…”
could be spiritual enemies?
But then look at Mary’s song v51
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
It’s remarkable. The Messiah’s birth has just been announced as coming soon. She speaks of the Messiah’s rescue, all these things as if they have already happened! It is as if in her mind they are as good as accomplished because the Messiah is now here. Even though as yet he is barely a foetus in her womb!
But here’s the thing: The salvation that Messiah brings… it’s not just a spiritual salvation is it? Not in Z and Mary’s minds. It’s not just forgiveness and eternal life..this sounds like political revolution doesn’t it? Bringing down rulers, lifting up the humble, filling thehungry with good things. This sounds like Practical down to earth help. Which is exactly what they needed. Ist C Jews living in grinding poverty under the brutal regime of their Roman overlords, their enemies. Because of course our needs are not just for forgiveness - primary as that is - we long for other things such as justice and peace and harmony! Is God’s salvation about those things too?
When Jesus grows up he heals the sick and demon possessed. To some extent he does feed the hungry. he even raises the dead. But of course he doesn’t overthrow the roman overlords, he doesn’t bring political restoration and justice to Israel .. let alone to the world
So had Mary and Zechariah got salvation wrong?
Well no, they hadn’t got it wrong.
v67 Z was speaking directly under the leading of God the Holy Spirit
They hadn’t got it wrong. It’s only that their timing was a bit out. See the coming of the Messiah IS God putting the whole world to rights. It’s not just forgiveness. It’s turning back all the effects of sin. It was always going to be but there’s this small matter of ‘timing’.
Salvation comes, if you like in 2 stages, 2 comings of Jesus. Jesus comes the first time as a baby, to die for the brokenness of the world and to rise again. He’s done it - everything is in place.
But, the writing of all wrongs will not be fully implemented until Jesus’ second coming. This is what advent waiting is all about. And Jesus’ feedings and healings which we’ll see as we look at Luke’s gospel are like the blue print of that fulfilment, that future kingdom that future world taht he is gonna bring.
Z and Mary might have missed the timing but they haven’t missed the nature of the salvation that Jesus brings. and neither must we. it’s breathtaking in its scope. God’s mercy extends and will extend to every detail of brokenness and need. God feels for our suffering world and one day through Jesus he will put it completely right. He’s promised to do so.
And if God cares, with deep mercy, about justice, about poverty, about suffering then the church, as his people now, cannot stand back from suffering and injustice and poverty. The church is to live out that blue print of the future kingdom of God.
ill. so many people involved in HWNS - drop in the ocean, makes a difference and people give up their time and energy to show mercy. and often the motivation God is a God of mercy towards human need. he cares for the world.
and now it follows that if God cares for the world it means that he cares for every individual in his world.
This chapter contains a wonderful illustration of God’s personal mercy in the story of Z and Eliz.
Let’s just look at them very briefly. Z and Eliz were this lovely godly older couple. the kind of couple in church that you love going round for a cup of tea to sit down with them. Godly and faithful. But of course there is this shadown of sorrow v7 they’d never been able to have any children because eliz was barren. No doubt they’d tried for children for years. They’d prayed we’re told in v13, they’d hoped; they’d wept and in v25 eliz calls her childlessness her disgrace. the stigma of childlessness in that culture presumably would have affected their relationships socially; with each other and i guess their rel w God. They’d lived for God, they’d prayed. They must have said does God see us? does God care for us?
You kind of get a hint of that with Z when he’s in the temple. I mean ok any of us encountering an angel would be freaked out. But when God does turn up with the answer to Zs prayers, Z simply can’t believe it. Maybe his view of God had gotten small?
But God acts and look at what he says again v13-15a “‘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. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. …”
You know that lots of names have meanings don’t they. so people say “i’m Sarah, which means princess” or “I’m James which means loved of God” or even “I’m Giles which means young goat” (Cheers, mum and dad)
Well Z is to call his miracle son, John. This son whom the angel says will be a joy and delight; who will perform this function of preparing the way for the Lord. The messenger of Isaiah and Malachi’s foretelling. This is Z and Elizs longed for son. His name will be John… which means?: God is gracious.
You see God knows. God knows what he’s doing. he heard Z and Eliz’s prayers v13 every one of them, just as he hears yours. he wept with them in their pain, just as he does with us in ours. But he knew what he was doing. he had something better for them. Something worth waiting for. John.
And of course when it came to it Z just couldn’t believe it! If only Z and Eliz had known how God cared for them in his mercy. How God saw them, every step. How he had plans for them. If you look over the page at v57 “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.…”
You see God is a God of mercy in our needs.
It doesn’t mean that he will always answer our prayers in exactly the way we think he should. he knows best for us. and perhaps the things that we most long for and deeply need will only be there for us when God puts all things to rights at the end of the age. And yet he is rich in mercy, he is with us, he knows, he knows what he is doing, his timing is perfect.
3. God’s mercy for our sin
the salvation that Jesus brings is more than a spiritual salvation
but it is certainly not less than a spiritual salvation.
the salvation that Jesus brings encompasses the whole world put to rights
but at it’s heart is thegift of forgiveness.
our greatest need, it doesn’t always feel like our greatest need, is for God’s forgiveness
Z proclaims this in his song as he holds his 8 day old litle son in his arms
look at v76-78a “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,77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God,…”
we sometimes speak of God’s hatred of sin. his anger towards our rebellion and his judgement on it. and we rightly speak about those things because the bible speaks about them. but there is also v78 God’s tender mercy as he looks upon us in our sin. It’s actually just one word in the original language and it’s the word for bowels; guts the greek word splachna. In the ancient world - the seat of your emotions was not the heart but the bowels, thats where you felt things. lit says ‘the forgiveness of sins ,because of the bowels of our God!!”
i don’t know what illicits in you your deepest feelings of pity, or outrage of longing,
for me seeing that photograph of the body of that refugee child drowned in the mediterranean and washed up on the beach. so much need in our world
but you know even though God looks upon those things and he sees them much more deeply than we do - he has mercy in our need. Even so above all the sufferings of the world, all the attrocities, nothing moves the heart of God, the bowels of God like human suffering in sin.
Look at how Zs song describes that human plight in v79 “living in darkness and in the shadow of death” It is to be without direction, without peace. And yet in the tender mercy of God he must act . And so God acts in the person oh the Messiah, his recuer King to bring light into that darkness. Salvation in terms of sin being cancelled, it’s debt being paid; the barrier it creates being broken down to allow light to flood in. sin done away with so that we can have peace again with God. It’s like, Z says v78, the coming of the dawn. Think of someone who’s been in a dark place all night and it’s been a miserable night. campageddon - no electric light, no matches, no fire and the pitch darkness makes the agony in their hearts all the more painful and then the dawn at last comes and with the pink flecks on the horizon comes a rising in their hearts.. dispeling the darkness and then the sun itself is coming up pouring out rays of warmth and light.
and that is what the coming of Jesus will do, says Zechariah ‘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 the shadow of death to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
God’s mercy for our sin
So what do you really believe about God?
That he isn’t involved. that he can’t be trusted? God keeps his promises unfailingly
That he doesn’t care about the world; that he doesn’t care about you? God’s mercy in our need. He knows, he sees, he will one day right all wrongs and satisfy our hearts.
Do you believe that he rejects you in your moral failures? Well no, God’s mercy for our sin is deep and everlasting because of jesus.
So put your trust in him
Like Mary in this chapter
Blessed is the person who believes, rejoicing in being his, waiting for him, trusting.