Luk 1:1 Considering the fact that so many have tried to put together a record of the prophecies that have been fulfilled among us,
Luk 1:2 attempting to be just as accurate as the original eyewitnesses and officers of the word were who told us about them,
Luk 1:3 I also thought, after carefully reviewing all these works, to write a historical account for you, Dr. Theophilus,
Luk 1:4 so that you may know well about the reliability of the things you were taught.
Luk 1:5 In the days when King Herod was ruling Judea, someone named Zechariah became a priest of Abijah’s division, and his wife was also among the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Luk 1:6 And they were both in right standing before God, because they were walking blamelessly according to all the Lord commanded and required.
Luk 1:7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well matured in their days.
Luk 1:8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,
Luk 1:9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priestly office, to enter the temple of the Lord and offer incense.
Luk 1:10 And the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering.
Luk 1:11 But an angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the incense altar.
Luk 1:12 And Zechariah was deeply disturbed when he saw him, and fear landed on him.
Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth is going to give birth to your son, and you will name him John.
Luk 1:14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
Luk 1:15 Because he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or beer; and he will be filled from the Holy Spirit, while still in his mother’s uterus.
Luk 1:16 And he will restore many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.
Luk 1:17 And he will precede before him, in the same Spirit and power as Elijah to restore hearts of fathers to children, disobedient ones to right standing wisdom, to prepare a people who have been built for the Lord.
Luk 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I actually know this? Because I am elderly, and my wife is well matured in her days.”
Luk 1:19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and announce these good things to you.
Luk 1:20 But, notice! you will be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things happen, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their appointed time.”
Luk 1:21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering why he was delaying in the temple.
Luk 1:22 And after he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.
Luk 1:23 And when his days of service were completed, he went to his house.
Luk 1:24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she kept herself hidden for five months, and this is what she said:
Luk 1:25 “this is what the Lord has made, in the days during which he looked on, so he could take away my shame among men.”
How to welcome revival
Dr. Luke was a scientist. He believed in what worked, and what could be proven. He was a man of faith, and that faith did not resist scientific knowledge, it welcomed it. That is why I think Luke’s Gospel and his companion history (the book of Acts) are very important for this modern generation. Generally, our generation has swallowed the lie that any kind of religious talk is empty talk, and really insignificant. As a result, we are paying less and less attention to the Bible, and more and more attention to what the “experts” are telling us, and assuming that these experts are telling us the truth because they also ignore everything religious. That is stupidity. So, I have decided to do what Luke did. I decided to go back and carefully investigate the events and teachings of and about Jesus, and use Luke’s Gospel to do so. My reason is the same as Luke’s reason. He wanted his friend, Dr. Theophilus, to know well about the reliability of the things he had been taught (4). As Christians, we owe it to ourselves to know the same thing.
The first thing Luke investigated was the story of the birth of John the Baptist. Until John was born, most Jews in the first century had become convinced that the Holy Spirit had totally abandoned them. They believed that God existed, but they did not believe he would ever interfere with their lives again. They had no hope. They believed that God’s Holy Spirit had departed the temple, flew up into the sky, and essentially disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
That sounds a lot like the church of this generation, doesn’t it? I think this passage of scripture gives us some good advice if we want to stop living like that. I think we all want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s active intervention in our lives, and be involvement in our circumstances. Follow with me in the text as I explain how to welcome revival in this generation.
I. DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED BY THE CURRENT POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT.
The Jews in Zechariah’s day had some good reasons for being pessimistic about life. The whole nation was back in bondage. They had been rescued from slavery in Egypt so many centuries before, but now they were in bondage again — this time to Caesar in Rome. They didn’t even have their own king. Luke identifies the date on the calendar by saying that Zechariah lived in the “days when king Herod was ruling” (5). Herod was not a Jew; he was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, not Jacob. Herod’s entire rule was a total embarrassment to the Jews. His name meant “hero” but he was no hero. He was a corrupt, conniving, brutal puppet of an even more corrupt, conniving and brutal dictator in Rome.
Nothing saps the strength and life of a nation like disappointment and lack of trust in its political leaders. These days, I have to admit, I understand more and more how those Jews in Zechariah’s time felt. I feel like that — a lot. But the word I get from reading today’s text is that the Holy Spirit can still intervene — even in days like this. He is not hindered by a less than favourable political environment.
I have determined to start really praying for revival, and expecting the Holy Spirit to make a difference — even a political difference.
II. MAKE PRAYER A REGULAR PART OF YOUR LIFE, EVEN IF IT SEEMS A RITUAL AT TIMES.
The Jews in Zechariah’s time had not forgotten how to pray. They prayed regularly, ritualistically. We can see this in Luke’s description of the temple worship. While Zechariah enters the sanctuary to offer incense, “the whole crowd of people were praying” (10) just on the other side of the curtain. We could learn a thing or two about prayer from that generation.
But, you say, didn’t Jesus condemn ritualised praying? He condemned a certain type of ritualistic praying, yes. He said “And when you pray, do not pile up repetitions like the Gentiles do, because they think that they will be heard because of the volume of their many words. Do not be like them, because your Father already knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt. 6:7-8 JDV).” Prayer that just says a lot of stuff because it is trying to get God’s attention and force him to respond is pagan prayer, and that is always wrong. But prayer that regularly, even ritualistically asks for the same things because we choose to declare our trust in God to supply those things, that is faithful prayer. That’s why Jesus taught us what we call the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
One of the things Zechariah had been regularly and ritualistically praying for was a son. That wasn’t an empty request from him and Elizabeth. They really wanted a child. And the older they got, the more they wanted it. The less possible it seemed, the more fervently they prayed. All the couples around them had kids, and raised those kids. They kept praying. No kids. Their hair started getting a bit grey on the edges. They kept praying. No kids. Elizabeth went through menopause. They kept praying. No kids. Their neighbours’ kids started giving them grand-kids. Zechariah and Elizabeth kept praying. No kids. So, I am not surprised to read that Zechariah was a bit sceptical when he heard the angel say “your prayer has been heard” (13). But, sceptical or not, I want to remind you that John came to Zechariah and Elizabeth because they had kept praying.
III. RAISE CHILDREN AND DISCIPLE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
One of the true tests of our faithfulness to the Lord comes after we get what we initially ask for. That was the case with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Our Lord chooses to bless us, but he holds us responsible for properly utilising those blessings for his kingdom. That is why some people pray to God for healing, get their healing, but then they disappear and you never see those people in church. That is why some people go through the twelve steps, pray to God for their deliverance from alcohol, sober up, and then go on to either relapse or find some other substance to abuse. The really big test of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s faith was not how long they waited for John, but how they parented this gift.
They recognised John as a gift from God’s grace. The angel told Zechariah “you will name him John” (13), which is derived from a Hebrew name that appears a few times in the Old Testament. Yohanan means either the LORD’s grace, or the LORD’s gift of grace. This little gift would brighten the lives of a lot of people in the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. The angel said “he will be a joy” (14) to them.
But this little bundle of joy also came with huge responsibilities to this elderly couple. They had to parent him in such a way as to make sure this little guy became “great in the sight of the Lord” (15a). They had to make sure that he would “drink no wine or beer” (15b) no matter what kind of peer pressure he experienced from others.
They had to trust the angel’s promise that John would be “filled from the Holy Spirit” (15c), but they had to parent him just the same. Anyone who wants to be a godly parent has got to keep that balance. We have to pray for the child, and trust God to answer those prayers, but we also have to do our part. The same is true of our children in the faith. To properly disciple people, you have to pray for them, keep them from making wrong choices, and keep feeding them wise counsel from scripture. Those are the kind of people who are going to make a difference.
IV. FOCUS YOUR MINISTRY ON PREPARING PEOPLE FOR THEIR FUTURE, NOT PROTECTING THE PAST.
John was going to have a ministry of revival and restoration. The angel said that “he will restore the sons back to the Lord” (16), that “he will restore hearts of fathers to children” (17a)and that “he will restore disobedient ones to right standing wisdom” (17b). But the interesting thing was that John did not try to bring revival the way his parents did. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both descendants of Aaron, and their lives and ministries were all centred on the priesthood and the temple worship.
But the angel predicted that John was going “to prepare a people built for the Lord” (17c). He broke all the rules. He didn’t go to the temple, he went out into the desert. He called people to go out to the desert and meet him there. He challenged them not to conform to their past, but to repent, because the kingdom from the sky was coming, and he had to get a people ready to live in that kingdom.
If we are going to see revival in this generation, we have got to stop asking people to conform to us. We all have a great church heritage, but what if God wants to do something even better in this generation? In every generation, the church has to keep reforming and transforming so that the eternal gospel can take root.
How do we welcome the revival in this generation? Don’t allow the dismal secular and humanistic political environment to discourage you. Pray regularly for God to intervene. Trust that God is going to answer your prayers, and some of those answers are going to come in the form of children and others that you can disciple. Disciple them by getting them ready for God’s eternal kingdom instead of insisting that they conform to your memory of the good old days. The coming kingdom is going to be much better that those good old days ever were.
LORD, thank you for being real and for giving us a real hope for revival. Challenge us to stop complaining about our present, and start preparing for the future we can have once your Holy Spirit begins to revive this generation.