The Angels in Luke 1 (Gabriel Visits Zechariah Luke 1:5-25)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5, 2021
The American storyteller Garrison Keillor recently claimed that you don’t have to believe in Jesus to have a great Christmas. Keillor said,
Although you may decide that instead of Christmas carols you are going to hold hands and breathe in unison, Christmas will still live deep in the cockles of your heart—or actually in your neo-cortex, stored as zillions of neuron impulses … It’s [your brain] that sends tears to your eyes when you smell the saffron cookies that your grandma used to make or you sing Silent Night. So Christmas is: number one lights, number two food, number three song, number four being with people you like. You need no more.
Tim Keller comments on Keillor’s quote:
Keillor is saying that it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not. You can still hold hands, you can still breathe in unison. All the good feelings of Christmas are just a reaction in our brain. But here’s why that doesn’t work. I know enough about Garrison Keillor to know that he is very upset with cruelty and prejudice. But if it’s really true that there is no God, if there is no supernatural or miracles, and if everything is a function of natural causes—if that is all true, then it is also true that love, and joy, and even cruelty and prejudice are just all chemical reactions stored in our brain. Keillor is against cruelty and prejudice, but if it’s true that everything is just chemistry, then how in the world can you say there’s a moral difference between love and cruelty, between kissing someone or killing someone? They’re both nothing but neuro-chemical responses. So if there is no God, and if Christmas is all about lights, songs, and being with nice people and your neo-cortex going crazy about it, then I don’t see how Keillor can stand up and say that there is something wrong with cruelty and prejudice. He can’t do it. Without the theology behind Christmas, you lose the core meaning of Christmas.
You see, Jesus is the point of Christmas. Jesus is the point of the New Testament. Jesus is the point of Luke’s Gospel. But Luke doesn’t begin His gospel with Jesus. He begins with John the Baptizer. Really, Luke begins with John’s father, Zechariah, and his mother, Elizabeth. Over the next month I want to focus on the accounts of the angels in Luke chapters 1 and 2. To begin the Christmas narrative we see an angel visit Zechariah. What does the word angel mean? The Hebrew word malak simply means “messenger”; it may refer to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2) or a divine messenger (Gen. 28:12). The basic meaning of the word is “one who is sent.” As a divine messenger an angel is a “heavenly being charged by God with some commission.”1 The word is found 103 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word angelos occurs 175 times in the New Testament; however, of men it is used only 6 times. The word angelos is similar to the Hebrew malak; it also means “messenger … who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”
God sent the angel Gabriel to announce His plans to Zechariah. This was because Zechariah and Elizabeth were older and did not have children, yet God was going to allow Elizabeth to conceive and John the baptizer would be born. John would prepare the way for Jesus.
God sends Gabriel to announce His miraculous plan to Zechariah.
Let’s read Luke 1:5-25:
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 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. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Let’s walk through this passage:
- Notice the godliness of Zechariah and Elizabeth (verse 6).
- The passage says they were both righteous in the sight of God, observing the Lord’s commands. Now, this does not mean they were perfect, but it does mean that they were striving to be. It means that the patterns of their life were following God and His will.
- Yet even when one is godly one can still have trouble (verse 7).
- Most of you know there is a Christmas classic called It’s a Wonderful Life. In this movie George Bailey is doing everything right, but he comes up with a major problem.
- Now, look at verse 7: they are very old and they are childless. Not being able to bear children in that day was a very bad thing. It was quite a curse. Sometimes people may even think this is the case because of some sin they have been involved in. People would think that God has not been blessing them. But in the previous verse we can see that this is not about sin. They are living godly lives. They are righteous. They are observing the Lord’s commands.
- We know from context that this is about the Lord’s commands. Zechariah and Elizabeth will be blessed for this trouble. They will eventually still have a child and he is to be the forerunner for the Messiah.
- God answers prayer (verses 8-17)
- Now, as we look at the next few verses, we see that God does answer this situation.
- All through the Bible we learn that God controls the womb. Way back in Genesis Abraham and Sarah could not have a child until God fixes that situation (Genesis 17). Later on, Samuel’s mother Hannah could not have a child either, but God gives her a son and he is among the greatest of prophets (1 Samuel 1). God controls the womb.
- So now we have Zechariah, who is a priest, and he is selected to go into the temple and burn incense. By the way, this is a high honor. Apparently there were around 13,000 priests and so they chose this person by lot, and no one could do this more than once, but most never got such an honor. But you know what? God was over this process. The Lord was active in every single detail in order to work out His Divine will.
- Verse 10 shows us that a whole multitude was outside praying while he is inside performing his priestly duty.
- Praise God for prayer warriors. We also need to value prayer in this way. I wonder for all of us who are Christ followers, are we praying for God’s work in every worship service. Are we committing to prayer meetings?
- Now, you are wondering, “When do we see the angel?” We are going to see the angel now.
- Verses 11-12 show the angel Gabriel shows up. What would this be like? What would I think if I was preparing a sermon and all of a sudden God’s messenger is right next to me? This really did happen. And he was scared. But the Bible says that Gabriel told him not to be afraid.
- In verse 13 the angel tells him that his prayer has been heard. Was his prayer for a son? Was his prayer for the Messiah? What was his prayer? Was his prayer right there in the temple or was it a prayer that he had been saying for years? Even if he was praying for the Messiah that is answered in his son performing the role of the forerunner for the Messiah.
- God answers prayer, but they are answered according to His Divine will and plan.
- We must realize that this is all taking place to prepare the way for the Messiah. All of these details for Christ’s advent.
- John’s role (verse 16-17). Now, notice what John the baptizer’s role will be:
- He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is in the womb. In the Old Testament some had temporary baptisms with the Holy Spirit, but John will have the Spirit from the womb.
- Remember that we also have the Holy Spirit as Christians. We are never alone (Romans 8:9).
- He will turn many of the Jewish people back to the Lord their God (verse 16). John the baptizer had a role in calling the people in repentance.
- He will be a forerunner for Him (Jesus).
- As a forerunner, he will be in the Spirit and power of Elijah. In Malachi 3:1 God talked about sending a messenger ahead of the Messiah and then again in Malachi 4:5 God talked about the same thing.
- Point of importance is that all this happens to prepare the way for Jesus
- But notice that Zechariah has unbelief (verses 18-20).
- In verse 18, Zechariah asks how this will be. R.C. Sproul says it is like he is saying, “I am too old, you have the wrong address Mr. Angel!”
- Then in verse 19 look at Gabriel’s response: And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
- That is powerful. He reminds Zechariah who he is talking to. Then he says that he stands in the presence of God, wow!
- Gabriel’s name means “the greatness of God.” He appears in Daniel 9 and 11 as well.
- It seems that when God has something major to announce He sends Gabriel.
- Notice that even people who are great models of faithfulness do have problems. Notice also that the Scriptures do not gloss over these problems. God still uses this for His glory.
- Listen, God will still use us in our unbelief. God has not given up on any of us and He has big plans!
God sent Gabriel to announce His plans. Prior to this there were 400 years of silence. From the time of Malachi until Luke 1, there were 400 years without special revelation from God.
To illustrate the 400-years of silence prior to the coming of Jesus, Del Tackett compares it to the Apollo 13 incident. On the evening of April 13, when the crew was 200,000 miles from Earth and closing in on the moon, mission controller Sy Liebergot saw a low-pressure warning signal on a hydrogen tank in Odyssey. Alarm lights lit up in Odyssey and in Mission Control as oxygen pressure fell and power disappeared. The crew notified Mission Control, with, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
For re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, there would be a blackout period, lasting a few minutes. During the silence, Mission Control petitioned, “Apollo 13, this is Houston, do you read me?”
The Apollo 13 blackout lasted only a few minutes. Imagine 400-years of silence. Then the silence was broken. At the right time, God brought forth his Son, born of a woman and fulfilled all the promises and the prophesies. For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace.
 Adapted from Tim Keller, “God with Us: Conversations with Tim Keller about Christmas”
1 Gerhard von Rad, “Mal’āk in the Old Testament,” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:76–77.
 Del Tackett, “Del Tackett Apollo 13 and Jesus,” Youtube