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Scripture: Matthew 2:3-5; Luke 1:5-25; 1 Chronicles...
Track 1 of 4 in the Illuminating the Light of the World series
Running time: 1 hour, 03 minutes, 14 seconds.
Luke starts off his account of Jesus birth with the introduction of John the Baptist. Without understanding John and the times he and Jesus were born into, the whole concept of hope is missed. Last week when we studied together the coming of the magi, the purpose was in some ways to describe the hope Israel had about their future.

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Illuminating the Light of the World: Hope
Luke 1: 5-25

We live in a time of hope. If you were paying attention to the election this year, one of the promises made by our next president was hope. There wasn’t a speech he made where change and hope weren’t the main point of his message. Hope can mean many things to different groups of people and the message of hope is a dangerous thing to play with if you are a leader of people and you can’t deliver.

Dr. Jerome Frank at Johns Hopkins talks about our "assumptive world." What he means is that all of us make assumptions about life about God, about ourselves, about others, about the way things are. He goes on to argue that when our assumptions are true to reality, we live relatively happy, well-adjusted lives. But when our assumptions are distant from reality, we become confused and angry and disillusioned.

Hope is hollow if it doesn’t point to some ideal, dream or promise to come. Hope just for the sake of hoping, or in many cases, wishing, really isn’t anything and in the end brings about greater despair, anger and in many instances, will destroy the messenger of hope.

What is the difference between wishing and hoping? Which is more powerful? Is it important where the source of hope is found? Why? For me, true hope comes from someone who can really deliver.

In order for hope to be alive, what components need to be present? There are a number of things that are present; someone or something that can give hope and anticipation of something better to come. If a person doesn’t anticipate that things will get better, then there is no hope.

What would life be like if there was no hope in the world? How would a life without hope be like? How does it feel?

Luke starts off his account of Jesus birth with the introduction of John the Baptist. Without understanding John and the times he and Jesus were born into, the whole concept of hope is missed. Last week when we studied together the coming of the magi, the purpose was in some ways to describe the hope Israel had about their future. A lot can be said for what Matthew wrote about the situation and the reaction of Israel:

Matthew 2:3-5 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied.

Last week I pointed out that the news of the Messiah didn’t cause all of Israel to be joyful. In fact, the news caused Herod to be disturbed as well as Jerusalem. The chief priests knew where to look for the child but no one but the wise men traveled to Bethlehem to seek him out. I always wondered why. I think the reason lies in the fact that there no longer was any hope in Israel.

Luke 1:5-7 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. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Look at this passage; put yourself in Zechariah’s position and tell me about hope. Look deep into his life and all that is going on around him and explain to me the hope he had in his life?

• The time of Herod, king of Judea
• Zechariah and Elizabeth both were descendants of Aaron
• Both were upright in God’s sight
• They had no children and were old

The arrival of John and Jesus marked the beginning of something that had not been real for several centuries. John came from the priestly family (Aaron) and Jesus came from royalty (David). But during the time of Herod, neither really existed. The scepter was not in David’s hands but in Rome’s and the family of David was now sunk. The priesthood had forfeited its honor and was corrupt in many ways. But Zechariah was different; in spite of all the despair and hopelessness that filled the land, he and his wife remained faithful to the law and did what was right in God’s sight. But the nation had slipped.

It s important to note that Luke points out that Zechariah and Elizabeth both were direct decedents of Aaron. During the time of David, in order to make sure there were enough priests to do the daily duties in the tabernacle, he divided the family of Aaron up into 24 families or courses. Zechariah descended from the family of Abijah (1 Chronicles 24:10). After the captivity many of the families were lost forever so the Jews replaced the lost families with others. That replacement brought corruption into the priestly family.

John, from the family of Aaron and Jesus, from David will come together and reignited the emphasis back into worship and royalty. The nation of Israel was about to experience the fulfillment of the promises made to it long ago through the prophets and a sense of anticipation would be felt for many years. It started with the arrival of the wise men looking for the king of the Jews leading to John and ending with Jesus.

“Hope is not hope unless there is anticipation of a promise to be fulfilled founded on a truth claim.”

Elizabeth comes from a long line of women who were unable to have children because they were barren. Can you name for me the men who were born in this manner? Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel and John. What did each one of these men have in common? What does their birth tell us?

Luke 1:11-15 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

I don’t know if Zechariah realized this at the moment, he was probably concentrating more on the angel standing close by and gripped with fear, but God chose him to be the first person to hear from Him in over 400 years. The 400 years of silence from the time of Malachi to the time of Jesus was now broken and it was Zechariah that God decided to give his message to. I don’t know about you but I would want to tell the entire world about the news.

n a time of hopelessness, what are some of the emotions a person can experience and feel? One of the most powerful emotions is fear. What is the first message the angel gives to Zechariah? Don’t be afraid. Notice the angel didn’t say, “Don’t be afraid of me” but ““Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. From this declaration, what was Zechariah afraid of?

I love how the scriptures work so well together. 400 years seems like a long time but to an infinite being like God, 400 years is like 400 seconds…a short continuation of time that leads from one great promise to the next great moment. We miss so easily the wonder found in God’s Word by not living in it every day.

Look at what the angel says about John, “and many will rejoice because of his birth”. Do you see the significance in that statement? What is so special about John?

Luke 3:15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with£ water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

400 years earlier, the last thing God said to the nation was the following:

Malachi 4:5-6 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

After the 400 years, the first words God gives to Israel are:

Luke 1:16-17 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 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.”

And that is exactly what John did. He went out preaching a Gospel of repentance, warning the nation to turn from their evil ways and come back to God. He warned that the Messiah was coming and anyone who refused to accept him would face a dreadful judgment to come. The Old Testament ends with a warning and the New Testament picks up that same warning to be delivered by John, the son of Zachariah.

Why is it that when an angel shows up and tells good news, the news is usually hard to believe? If you were visited by an angel just Like Zachariah and were told some good news, would you find it hard to believe?

Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Why did Zechariah doubt what the angel said? Was he afraid the angel was misleading him? Was the angel’s message simply too good to be true? Would you doubt the message if you were in his shoes?

Signs of wonder are important to many who believe in God. To many, they can’t believe in God unless they see some proof that he is real. There has to be some tangible proof that God is real before they can trust the Words and promises. Zechariah believed in God and deeply worshiped Him in all he did. He and his wife were righteous but the words the angel spoke were hard to understand and accept. He didn’t come right out and ask for proof but his doubt required proof to be given.

We have to be very careful when we act this way to war God because sometimes God will give you all the proof you need and I might not be what you expect. It was exactly that way with Zechariah.

Luke 1:19-20 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. 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.”

What is the danger in asking for a sign to renew your faith in what God will do? Did God give Zechariah a sign? What was it?

Luke 1:21-25 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Hope had been revived. For the next 30 years the anticipation about the arrival of the Messiah will mount to the point that when John comes onto the scene, the people are ready to listen.