Are there ever moments in your life when you feel like God is silent? Maybe when you get on your knees to pray but you don't feel like your prayers are getting past the ceiling? In this Christmas message Stephen reminds us that God's silence is never an indication that He is asleep or disinterested. God was silent toward the Jews for 400 long years before that dramatic night in Bethlehem where he ended that silence in unforgettable fashion. God has never forgotten His people . . . and He never will.
Additional messages in this series are available here: The Myths, Messengers and Mysteries of Christmas
A couple of times in the past year I’ve driven into my neighborhood and driven by a home that had pink or blue balloons attached to their mailbox. I’ve seen one yard covered with stork figurines, bearing the announcement, “It’s a girl.”
It’s only one more way a couple make the announcement to the world that their baby has been born.
Whenever I’ve driven by these homes, I’m filled with a sense of both joy for them, and concern. I try to imagine how they must be doing. Especially if it’s their first-born. Sleepless nights, upside-down schedules, a sink filled with formula cups and bottles . . . damp pajamas and towels and crib sheets overflowing the laundry baskets.
And that smell – you know that smell? It’s a combination of baby lotion and baby powder and antiseptic and dirty diapers all rolled into one – and it permeates the house. It follows you to work.
This new life and lifestyle is what I call the blur. The blur of those first days and weeks . . .
But it never fails, especially if you’re going through it – you’re exhausted and bleary eyed – you’re bound to meet another new Mom who’s bright eyed . . . filled with energy and she announces to you, “Oh, it’s so wonderful, isn’t it? From the first night we came home from the hospital, our baby has slept through the night – and then takes a four hour nap during the day.”
Aren’t babies great?
You just want to shoot her. In Christian love, of course.
For most homes, the birth of a baby signals more than an announcement of birth . . . it signals a change of life.
Putting a stork in the yard is the easy part. Life will never be the same.
Multiply that by at least a billion, and you have the birth of Christ.
Talk about a change of life for Mary and Joseph. Talk about turning life upside-down!
There are even announcements of His birth; not pink balloons, but a parade of angels.
Not storks in the yard . . . but shepherds in the barnyard, amazed at the sight of the Savior.
And a flurry of activity as the Father makes the announcement to the world.
We learned in our last session, the celestial glory of God burst forth 1,000 miles away to a group of eastern scientists and philosophers. They are, even now I believe, hurriedly packing for the journey.
The angels have filled the sky over Bethlehem making their announcement as well.
Even the angel Gabriel has made several personal appearances announcing the news.
What makes these announcements so remarkable, is that for 400 years the skies have been silent. No message from God at all. No stars or angels or prophets have declared any message from God.
When Malachi put down his pen, God went silent.
But now . . . after some 400 years, the silence is shattered by these announcements from God.
And what a grand sound it was as God used everyone from shepherds to angels.
There happen to be two messengers of God that are often overlooked in the Christmas story, when everything was a blur.
I’d like to take you to two different scenes where God made His announcement of Christ’s birth.
And I’ll tell you ahead of time; one messenger was a baby boy who wasn’t even born yet; the other messenger was an old man who was about to die.
Take your Bibles and turn to the gospel by Luke, chapter 1.
The angel Gabriel has made his first appearance, announcing the miraculous conception and soon coming birth of a baby boy.
But this boy’s name is not Jesus, it was John.
The father’s name is Zacharias and the mother’s name is Elizabeth.
Even though they are well beyond child-bearing age, Elizabeth conceives a son.
According to Gabriel, the baby boy is to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi and prepare the way for the Messiah.
The 400 years of silence are over.
And Elizabeth is going to have a son, named John. We know him by his prophetic distinctive, and we call him, John the baptizer.
When Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant, the angel Gabriel comes again. This time to Mary. She is given similar news – she’s about to become pregnant. But that’s where the similarity stops. She, a virgin, will conceive by the overshadowing miraculous Holy Spirit.
There is no doubt she is filled with questions. Joseph will be too!
Before Gabriel leaves Mary, he leaves this tremendous encouragement with her. Notice verse 37. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Why add that?
Because Mary will hear it once and she will hear it a thousand times – that’s impossible!
- No man is involved in this pregnancy? That’s impossible!
- God caused this to happen? That’s impossible!
- You’re carrying the Messiah? That’s impossible!
And Mary would be able to say, “That’s just what the angel knew you’d say . . . it is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God!”
But where does Mary turn? Where does she go for understanding? Where can she run for advice and counsel and help?
Did not Gabriel hint at the answer in the prior verse . . . 36. “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
Another miracle baby is on the way. Another impossibility is coming to pass.
Like Sarah of old, Elizabeth and Zacharias are expecting their first born son.
We don’t know if Mary told her parents . . . we don’t know how much she told Joseph . . . the text informs us that she took off on a 3 day journey to see her relatives who were also about to have their lives changed forever.
Now notice this incredible encounter in verse 39. Now at this time, Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40. and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
Now watch this carefully in verse 41. And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Look at verse 44. For behold (Elizabeth says), when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
This isn’t just some prenatal kick or a lap in the pool; this was literally an upward leap. This is the same Greek word for the skipping and leaping of sheep in a field.
But why would Elizabeth’s baby boy bump his head on his mother’s ribs?
For starters, because the Holy Spirit has induced him to do so, having already prepared him to be the announcer of the Messiah.
This baby is an Old Testament prophet and Old Testament prophets had a special anointing of the Holy Spirit at times as they carried out their prophetic ministry.
And Gabriel’s message to Zacharias clearly stated that John would be filled (under the influence) with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15)
Listen, this leap was John’s first prophetic expression. His first prophecy concerning the Messiah who had been conceived less than 3 days earlier.
Listen, as amazing as it sounds, the baby prophet is delivering from the uterus, his first prophetic utterance!
He’s only 9 inches long, weighing less than 2 pounds, he is overcome with joy.
What does this say about the life of the unborn in the womb? I’ll tell you – it is human life.
It is life!
At 6 months, John was able to experience emotion . . .
he responded with Spirit induced worship . . .
he was able to hear the sound of Mary’s voice . . .
he reacted physically to his Messiah’s presence. . .
He surged upward with the sentiment of adoration.
John did a dance of joy in the darkness of his mother’s womb.
Remember, nothing is impossible with God.
What an incredible encounter between these two women.
Imagine all they had in common in this uncommon scene.
- They were both miraculously expecting.
- They were both experiencing a pregnancy that only God could have arranged.
- And both sons had been announced by the prophet Gabriel.
- They would both have sons who would fulfill prophecies of Old.
Kent Hughes, The Gift (Crossway Books, 1994), p. 22
Luke informs us in verse 56 that Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zacharias for 3 month, then returned home to her parents and to Joseph, who by now had been visited in a dream by an angel, most likely, Gabriel, and told that Mary was indeed pregnant by the hand of God.
If I could fast-forward the tape and take you past the birth of Christ, I’d like to show you another messenger of God.
It isn’t a unborn boy who has yet to live outside his mother’s womb; this time it’s an old man who probably won’t live much longer.
Before we look at that brief encounter, notice the setting in Luke 2:22. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.
Ha – imagine – they are taking Jesus to ceremonially present Him before the Lord.
God the Father and God the Spirit observe the presentation of God the Son, in the flesh.
God, being presented to God.
Now, Joseph and Mary are fulfilling the prescription of the law. God through Moses commanded in Leviticus that the woman is to be purified by the offering of sacrifices.
After the birth of a son, the mother would not be in attendance at the sanctuary for 40 days. After this, offerings were made and she was returned to full communion with the assembly of worshipers.
Mary was not a sinless saint . . . she was not above the law of Moses . . . she, like every human being was responsible to commune with God through the guidelines and channels God had arranged.
And according to the law, she was unclean, until after these sacrifices were made on her behalf.
And since Mary and Joseph were close enough to Jerusalem, they traveled the 6 miles to personally give the offerings.
Luke tells us in verse 24b that Mary and Joseph brought, two turtledoves or two pigeons.
If we had time to look at this guilt offering, offered on behalf of the mother, you’d discover that Moses actually called for a lamb to be brought. Leviticus chapter 12 is outlined as the laws of motherhood and it defines this offering.
But then Moses made an allowance for poor women who couldn’t afford to bring a one-year-old lamb. They could instead bring either turtledoves or pigeons.
This was actually referred to as the Offering of the Poor.
William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 24
The wise men hadn’t arrived yet – their gifts of gold would have allowed Mary to buy the finest one year old lamb money could buy. And how she would have too!
But she and Joseph are poverty stricken . . . how do we know? Here, they brought birds instead of a lamb.
They didn’t have money for a lamb!
Oh, but do you see it?! They had indeed brought a lamb! The lamb of God.
There they are, presenting their sacrificial animals in the temple, while at the same time holding their baby who would become the final sacrifice.
And there was someone who knew it all.
Before Joseph and Mary made it to the priests, they were interrupted by an old man. Notice, verse 25. And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel (a reference to the Messiah). And the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Messiah). 27. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28. then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, Thou dost let they bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Can you imagine this scene? Mary and Joseph are interrupted suddenly by an old man who wasn’t even a priest . . . just a godly man who had been given the privilege to be on of God’s messengers, giving the announcement that the baby was born . . . the Messiah is here!
Let me wrap our study up with 4 observations:
Just because God has been silent for 400 years, didn’t mean He had stopped working.
Silence and sovereignty are a combination none of us like.
Take heart and hope . . . during dark days of silence, God is still at work.
The message from God tends to be heard, by those who want to listen.
Think about it. We have no record of priests gathering around Simeon . . . asking questions . . . prodding Joseph and Mary for information. No crowd formed, anxious to have a chance to hold Him too; demanding more information about the implications of Simeon’s prayer.
They’re all busy about the temple. Taking little notice of the introduction of this One whom every aspect of temple life portrayed.
He was the bread of the showbread table;
He was the candelabra of everlasting light;
He was the incense of pleasing aroma before the Father;
He was the blood of the lamb upon mercy seat;
He was the sacrificial animal on the altar;
He was the veil which would soon be torn away;
He was the High Priest who would one day sit down.
Why didn’t they hear Simeon then? The same reason, perhaps, why you do not hear me now. You don’t want to hold him either. You do not want the Savior in your life.
When God chooses to act, He most often uses ordinary circumstances and ordinary people to accomplish His will.
A poor carpenter and his young poor bride. An aged priest and his elderly wife and now here, an old man who isn’t even a priest, holding Christ aloft and declaring a message about this Messiah.
Even in the blur of life’s activities, God’s voice can be heard, His hand can be seen.