We are exploring the idea that the early verses of Luke provide the setting for the Christmas story and for the whole story of God’s glory in Christ that Luke publishes. In the previous article, we saw the historical setting and the old covenant setting. God worked out his message in real history and consistent with his covenant dealings with Israel. Next, we see that the narrative contains the unexpected ways of the Lord.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him (Luke 1:11-12 ESV).
The angel of the Lord completely surprised Zechariah, by his appearance in the temple. Because of the relatively compact narrative on the Scriptures, we tend to think that meetings between angels and humans were common, supposing people in Bible met with angels once a month. That simply did not happen. Most people lived their lives and never met an angel. Hundreds of years might pass even in Israel without an angelic encounter. The nearest in time interaction between a human and an angel recorded in the Bible before this event was with Zechariah the prophet, who lived almost five hundred years before Zechariah the priest. When the angel of the Lord appeared in the temple, Zechariah had no previous experience with meeting and talking with an angel. This appearance prepares the stage for the unexpected appearances of angels to Mary (Luke 1:26-27) and to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). When you read through Luke, you will discover the Lord doing many unexpected actions. (I won’t list these in the hope that you will read them yourself. The joy of discovery is important in the learning process!) Notice also the true to life reaction to the sudden, unlooked for, appearance of the supernatural. Zechariah was troubled and afraid. Compare the like response to the angels and to the Lord in Luke’s account of Christ’s resurrection (24:4-5, 36-37).
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1:13-14 ESV).
The angel surprised Zechariah with good news. People who long for children will pray for them. God sent the angel to encourage the priest with answered prayer. We confess our dependence on the Lord when we pray. Joy happens when God answers our requests! Many times we have heard others rise to praise God for answered prayer. The angel also told the priest the gender of the child, apart from the need for an ultrasound. Their son was on the way. They would also be spared the effort of looking through lists of baby boy names, because God had named him. God also promised joy and gladness for the parents. Long years of waiting would end in joy.
“For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17 ESV).
His child had an unanticipated mission. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah! While they prayed for a child, they would not have dreamed that their son would be given this important spiritual task. John would be the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 40:3-5). By the Holy Spirit, he would have a part in turning many to the Lord. Luke will write about how the Lord would use many men and women in the Lord’s mission. God’s call of grace and power would come to them to do what they never expected to do. For example, read the stories of Philip, Barnabas, and Paul in the Acts.
For us, are ready to do unexpected things for the Lord? Perhaps you are middle aged or even old now. Your life seems to be moving on at a slow and unspectacular pace. But God can step into your life and call you to reach others for Christ and to spread the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in unexpected places. Are you ready?
Grace and peace, David