Luke 1:18-19

Sermon preached on January 13, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Just before Christmas last year the American Atheists organization placed a huge ad on a billboard in New York's Times Square. It had two pictures. The top one was of Santa Claus, the bottom one was of Jesus on the cross. Under the Santa Claus picture, it said,

"Keep the MERRY!"

And under the one of Jesus on the cross it said,

"Dump the MYTH!"

That ad was very audacious. I found it incredible that they would be so bold and yet so wrong. They don't believe the gospel. They don't believe Jesus. They think it's a myth like Santa Claus—only, unlike the stories about Santa—they think the stories about Jesus are harmful.

What are we to believe? How can we be sure? Is the gospel true? Or are we following cleverly devised fables? Is it good to be skeptical about the claims of Christianity? Zechariah's question is one we all want answered. When the angel appeared to him and told him about how he would have a son in line with the promises of God, Zechariah said to the angel, (verse 18)

"How can I be sure of this?
I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."

How can we be sure? Our text gives us much insight into this question. One of the main things it tells us is that we should not be like Zechariah. So let's look at the lessons here.

The first thing our text shows us is that

the human heart is so sinful, so prone to doubt and disbelief, that even when an angel appeared to Zechariah, he doubted.

Most people think that if they saw an angel of God they would believe. Well-known philosopher, mathematician and atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would say to God if he found himself the Pearly Gates and God asked him why he hadn't believed in him. Russell said he would reply,

"Not enough evidence God, not enough evidence."

Not only is that not true—Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God and that everyone is aware of that—but Russell's answer misses the real problem. Sin has blinded us so that even if people saw miracles, if left to their own devices they would not believe. Sinful men have enough evidence—yet they still don't believe. Pharaoh saw Moses do many miracles yet he did not believe. He hardened his heart. The Pharisees and religious leaders saw Jesus do many miracles and the end result was that they hated Him and sought to put Him to death. They even accused Him of casting out demons with the power of the prince of demons.

The same was true of Zechariah here. He saw an angel in the Holy Place of the Temple. The altar of incense was located in the Holy Place. It was right in front of the curtain which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place—the Holy of Holies. The Holy Place—that's where the angel appeared to Zechariah. If there was ever a time and place that was suited to give credence and authority to the appearance of an angel—this was it. Yet Zechariah doubted.

Our hearts are sinful. Our minds are sinful. Our wills are sinful. Sin has corrupted our reasoning. We even see this in Zechariah the priest. Verse 6 says of Zechariah and Elizabeth,

"Both of them were upright in the sight of God,
observing all the Lord's commandments
and regulations blamelessly."

This was a godly man. He had dedicated his life to serving God. Yet, when this angel appeared to him, he doubted.

How can we be sure? One of the things that ought to be obvious is that

we need God's help with this.

We need grace. It's only through God's mercy and grace that people can see things as they really are. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul said,

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,
so that they cannot see the light
of the gospel of the glory of Christ,
who is the image of God."

They need God's grace to open their eyes. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:25 about a Christian worker,

"Those who oppose him
he must gently instruct, in the hope that God
will grant them repentance leading
them to a knowledge of the truth,"

We need God's help in opening our hearts and minds. Our sinful minds are naturally in darkness. An angel appearing, in itself, is not going to break through the rebellion and disbelief of the human heart.

Yet, having said that, we see that

Zechariah is criticized and punished for doubting God's Word through the angel.

Zechariah should have believed. God gave him enough evidence. He should not have doubted. On the surface his words aren't very much different than Mary's when Gabriel appeared to her. When he told her that she was going to have a son, she asked, (Luke 1:34)

"How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

In the Old Testament, Gideon asked for two signs and he wasn't rebuked or punished by God for that. When Abraham was told by God that He was giving him the land of Canaan and that he would take possession of it. Abraham asked, (Genesis 15:8)

"O Sovereign LORD, how can I know
that I will gain possession of it?"

Zechariah's words don't seem that different from theirs. So why was Zechariah rebuked when the others weren't? The answer lies in the fact that God can see the heart. He saw what is really behind Zechariah's words. There was something sinful in Zechariah that was not in Mary, Gideon or Abraham. From Gabriel's reaction there was unbelief and disrespect in Zechariah. As William Hendriksen puts it, it's like Zechariah replies to the angel, (Matthew, p. 74)

"I don't believe you, for people as old as we are do not become parents."

Zechariah should have believed. He should have been jumping up and down for joy at Gabriel's words—but instead he is filled with doubt.

To this doubt, Gabriel responds,

"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."

Gabriel's words shows us that

we should have absolute confidence and belief in God's Word.

William Hendriksen writes, (Luke)

"The confrontation is… between the priest's cold skepticism and the angel's towering certainty, between the former's presumptuous doubt and the latter's profound conviction. Gabriel is conscious of having delivered God's good news, bound to be fulfilled when the appropriate season arrives…"

Your belief in what God tells you is to be certain. You are to be like Gabriel, not Zechariah.

Why should Zechariah have believed? It's clear from the context that God gave him enough evidence to believe.

First of all, he should have believed

because an angel appeared to him.

In the time that Zechariah lived one of the ways that God made His will known to people was through the visits of angels. An angel appeared Mary, to Joseph and to Zechariah. The other two believed. Zechariah should have too.

We live in a different age that Zechariah. God's means of revelation was different in his age than it is in ours. In ages past God appeared to people in vision's, in dreams, through appearances of angels. As we read in Hebrews 1:1–2 also reminds us of this. It says,

"In the past God spoke
to our forefathers through the prophets
at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
and through whom he made the universe."

In the stage of revelation that we are in, we have enough revelation from God to test the spirits. In 1 John 4:1 the apostle John told us,

"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,
because many false prophets
have gone out into the world."

Satan can appear as an angel of light and he and his followers can perform great signs and deceive many. In 2 Corinthians 11:14–15 the apostle Paul warned us about this. He wrote,

"And no wonder, for Satan himself
masquerades as an angel of light.
It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade
as servants of righteousness."

2 Thessalonians 2:9–10 also says,

"The coming of the lawless one
will be in accordance with the work
of Satan displayed in all kinds of
counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders,
and in every sort of evil that deceives
those who are perishing.
They perish because they refused
to love the truth and so be saved."

Revelation tells us that Satan's servants will be able to call down fire from heaven to deceive the inhabitants of the earth. Revelation 13:13–14 tells us about the Beast out of the Earth. It says,

"And he performed
great and miraculous signs,
even causing fire to come down
from heaven to earth in full view of men.
Because of the signs he was given power to do
on behalf of the first beast,
he deceived the inhabitants of the earth.
He ordered them to set up an image
in honor of the beast who was
wounded by the sword and yet lived."

We are not at the stage of revelation from God where we are to just believe an angel who appears to us. Zechariah lived in such an era where angels spoke to people. We do not. But even in the Old Testament, the saints were told to test prophecies. (Deuteronomy 13)

We see this clearly in the New Testament as well. In Galatians 1 the apostle Paul rebuked the Galatian Christians for so quickly deserting Christ and the truth of the gospel. He said to them, (verses 8-9)

"But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach
a gospel other than the one we preached to you,
let him be eternally condemned!
As we have already said, so now I say again:
If anybody is preaching to you
a gospel other than what you accepted,
let him be eternally condemned!"

So we are not to just believe because an angel tells us something. Nor are we to believe just because the messenger can do a miracle. The written Word is the means by which God speaks to us now.

But getting back to Zechariah.

The second reason He should have believed is because of God's past dealings with him.

Note well what Gabriel said to Zechariah after he expressed doubt. Gabriel said that

he stands in the presence of God.

He stands before God. What's the significance of this? John Calvin says,

"To stand before God signifies to be ready to yield obedience."

That is certainly true and one of the things that Gabriel is doing is contrasting his readiness to obey to Zechariah's doubt and reluctance.

But there could be something else here.

Gabriel's words could also mean that he is stressing that He knows from His past experience that God is true and that it is most unreasonable to doubt.

Gabriel stands before God. He knows what God is like and he is amazed that Zechariah would doubt God's message. Gabriel knows God. He knows God's character. He knows that God is true. He knows that God is faithful to His promises. He knows that God can accomplish all His holy will. He knows God. He has stood before Him, in His presence and he knows without a doubt that He is God and what He promises will surely come to pass. It is incontrovertible. To doubt is unreasonable, irrational, senseless. That's what Gabriel knows.

Now, you haven't stood before God in the same way that Gabriel has—but it can truly be said that

you have stood before God.

In a certain sense you have stood before God your entire life. You have stood before Him and experienced His goodness. You have stood before Him and experienced His love and faithfulness. Time after time He has proved Himself to you. As the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22–23

"Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

This past experience with God ought to make you like Gabriel—absolutely confidence that the promises of God will come true.

The third thing from Gabriel's words that show us that we have enough evidence to believe has to do with
the first words that he spoke to Zechariah.

Gabriel's words had to do with the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture, with God's promises.

These words should have had a remarkable effect on Zechariah. He should have believed the angel because what the angel said was in line with the Old Testament prophecies.

The angel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son. In the Old Testament the births of Isaac and Samson were announced like this. The fact that the angel told Zechariah what to name the child is also significant, because, like God's words to Abraham in Genesis 17:19 about Isaac, they show the, (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 257)

"significance of that person in the covenantal plan of God."

The commands about him not drinking wine or other fermented drink recall God's instructions to Samson's parents. Samson was to be a Nazirite. The language of 'bringing back' people to God is a common Old Testament theme. The reference to Elijah and turning the hearts of the fathers to their children comes from Malachi 4:5-6 and pointed to the arrival of the last era in which God would act mightily among His people.

When Zechariah heard these things—he should have been filed with joy and praised the great name of God. Instead he doubted. It was incredible.

How can we be sure God's Word is true? We saw earlier that we need God's grace because our hearts are so blinded and hardened by sin. His grace shows forth in your experience. How much grace He has shown you throughout your life. These experiences should have make you absolutely sure of God's promises. God's Word—promises that were predicted so long ago and fulfilled in Jesus—that Word proclaims it's truth. We should be absolutely convinced of its truth. The Westminster Confession says, (Chapter 1:5)

"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the W~rd in our hearts."

Through God's grace we can be sure.

How wonderful God has been to us! In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the apostle Paul wrote,

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,'
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Praise Him for opening your eyes. Praise Him for His grace to you. Praise Him for showing you the glory of Jesus. There is nothing like the grace of God in showing us Jesus. How you should be praising Him for it.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians.

Are you thinking, "Not enough evidence. Not enough evidence."

Yes, there is enough evidence. The problem is that because of sin you're refusing to acknowledge it.

Repent. Go to Jesus. Find life in Him.