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Being Sure - an Advent Sermon

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Being Sure

4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

 

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?

LUKE 1

 

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled

among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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 give him the name John….

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.”

It is my favourite New Testament book!   In his sensitive and erudite way, Luke tells us the story of Jesus in an unforgettable manner.

When he sets out his reason for writing, he tells Theophilus that he writes his carefully researched gospel so that his readers will KNOW THE CERTAINTY OF THE THINGS THEY HAVE BEEN TAUGHT.

And, just a few verses down, he introduces us to Zechariah – a man who grapples with the angel messenger’s promise and asks a question that goes so well with Luke’s aim:  “HOW CAN I BE SURE?”

Ours is an age of uncertainty – and we who claim to know the gospel of God need to be able to present our faith in confidence and clarity.   As our society gears itself up for the coming festive season – we must be prepared too, for we have a serious responsibility to present the wonder of our Lord Jesus to an uncertain – a doubting world.

And so, this Advent Sunday morning, I want to speak for a little while about BEING SURE.   First of all from Luke’s preface – and then from the story of Zechariah.

À    Being sure about what really matters

À    Being sure because of reliable witnesses

À    Being sure by faith in the One who speaks

À    Being sure as we follow it in practise

From LUKE we recognise that what we must be sure about is:

What really matters

Of course we need to be certain about many everyday things – but when it comes to the really big questions:

What is this all about?

Why am I here?

Is there more to life than what I now know?

Is God really interested in me?

We need to be REALLY SURE

So, as Luke sets about the task of introducing the Good News of Jesus – he makes it clear that he is writing because the story he has to tell is indeed the GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.

Luke knows he is one voice amongst many voices that tell the story of Jesus – but his concern is that no one will escape the understanding that THIS JESUS MATTERS MORE THAN ANYTHING AND ANYONE ELSE

If like me you believe that – then, like me you need to ask yourself “Are you sure?” and then “If so  - why aren’t you telling more people more often?”

The subject of his book is JESUS – and Luke wants Theophilus who has already been told and taught about Jesus – to KNOW EVEN MORE

TO BE CERTAIN.

it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Reliable sources

You could argue that the Gospels are all we have – and that would be true. It is worth reflecting on the quality of their witness.  Luke says:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled

among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account

Not only is Luke the longest book in the New Testament – it is a remarkable Gospel containing a remarkable amount of material found by Luke alone.  So many of his themes like the sources he used speak to our modern day.   He knows there are other sources – he is not suggesting that his will be different in its central message – but he is recognising that what he has to say will reinforce the testimony of others.

He stresses the value of EYE-WITNESSES and SERVANTS OF THE WORD

Committed to the recording – at first verbally and then in writing – of the most powerful truth of all – that God loved us and sent His Son to live amongst us, to show us the Father and to die for our sins – Luke wants us to be SURE!

You can count on his record. 

You can count on his research:

Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning,

There are many mysteries about the Synoptic Gospels – Mat Mark and Luke – but there is NO DOUBT AT ALL ABOUT THE CENTRAL TRUTH.

Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of God

Jesus is the Son of God

Jesus is truly human

Jesus is the One who died for our sins

The fact that, with Matthew, Luke is a CHRISTMAS GOSPEL – telling the story of the birth of Jesus – is an added bonus.

Make sure you know it – and can share it as Christmas approaches.

He has come … and is coming.

But we turn to the first story in Luke’s Gospel – the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah the elderly parents of John the Baptist.

As a PRIEST Zechariah would have one – or at the most two opportunities in his lifetime to serve at the temple.  It so happened that the wonderful news that God had for them both came at a time and under such amazing circumstances.

He has gone up to the temple as part of his duty – and, wonder of wonders, it is to be HIS DAY

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 

Such an exciting things for a priest who had most of his life lived under a shadow:

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well on in years.

And it was a shadow indeed – many of their neighbours would say there must be some secret sin in their lives to explain Elizabeth’s barrenness.

Into the darkness the light shined!    (A good Advent message!)

Being sure – by faith in the One who speaks

At such a time, and against such a background God sends His premier angel Gabriel to Zechariah as he lights the incense in the temple.

It is a message of hope and an answer to prayer

Not just for him – but for the whole nation, indeed the world:

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 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 give him the name 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. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Hope in a promise – which was itself a fulfilment of an earlier promise

How wonderful to be engaged in the service of the Temple – or in our case the service of the Church and to hear God speak to us as clearly. Possible?  Yes.

But the message is UNBELIEVABLE in its magnitude.

And when Zechariah asks:

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?

Gabriel tells him to recognise WHO is speaking.

19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

There are two important strands to that response:

À    GOD has spoken

À    GOD’S word will be fulfilled.

I remind you this Advent morning that  GOD HAS SPOKEN – and HIS WORD IS UTTERLY DEPENDABLE

And, finally: 

Being sure – as we follow it in practise

I guess Zechariah needed the writing tablet quite a lot during the next few days and months – when, because of his dumbness he needed to explain to his wife what had happened – and then they both wonder as the promise is fulfilled.

Dumbstruck! Indeed.

But, as the story develops we reach that point where God’s word is fulfilled. (Was there ever any doubt?  For Zechariah, yes – but for God no!)   The child is born

And still Zechariah is dumb – until a week later they come to name the child.

THEN

57 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.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no-one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 The neighbours were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

At last the dumbness (and deafness v62) leaves Zechariah – and a song is composed to celebrate the occasion.

Despite his original doubts Zechariah believed and – in the fullness of time – God restored his voice and hearing so that he could praise Him.

We will appropriate the CERTAINTY OF THE GOSPEL by personal faith, and personal obedience.

We will follow it through – until God gives us too a song to sing in His praise and in witness to all the people.

ARE YOU SURE?

You can be – the word is reliable, the witnesses dependable, the word comes from God Himself and is about the Son – we apply it by FAITH and BY FOLLOWING.

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