The Silence and Song of Zacharias
December 21st, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
THE SILENCE AND SONG OF ZACHARIAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-21-86 8:15 a.m.
I have a beautiful message from my own heart on Christmas Eve: Do You See What I See? It is a sermon about what the different people saw when they visited the Christ-child. What the shepherds saw in the Babe, what Herod was afraid of in the Babe, what the magi saw, what Joseph and Mary felt, and last of all how we see the Lord in a manger. Do You See What I See?
We welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Silence and Song of Zacharias. I want you to turn in your Bible; we are going to read out loud together. Turn in your Bible to Luke, Luke, and we are going to read verses 57 to 66: Luke chapter 1, verses 57 through 66. Remember the title of the message, The Silence and Song of Zacharias? Do you have it? Luke 1:57 through 66, now together:
Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son.
And her neighbors and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.
And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father.
And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name.
And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called.
And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marveled all.
And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.
And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea.
And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
The story begins in verse 5 of this first chapter. In the days of Herod, bloody Herod, there was a certain priest named Zacharias. In some of the Bibles it’s called Zacharias, changing from Hebrew to Greek; but let’s keep it Hebrew, Zechariah. Zacharias means "whom the Lord remembers, whom Jehovah remembers," Zacharias. And he belonged to the course of Abijah. David divided all the priests into twenty-four courses, and they came from Sabbath to Sabbath twice a year to minister in the temple. And this priest Zacharias lived in the hill country of Judea and twice a year came and spent two weeks ministering before the Lord in the temple. He was married also to a high priestly member of the tribe of Levi. Her name was Elisabeth. And they were holy and righteous people, walking in all the commandments of the Lord. But they had an unspoken and silent sadness: they had no child. And the Scriptures say both of them were now well-stricken in years. That was a calamitous providence for any Jewish couple. For them, it was a sign of the displeasure of God, that they have no child. And this sorrow was borne by Zacharias the priest and by his wife Elisabeth.
Now upon this day, they gathered in the hall of polished stone in the court of the priests and they cast lots as to who would go into the sanctuary, the Holy Place, to burn incense. Once in a lifetime would such a privilege be given to a priest, and this day the lot fell upon Zacharias. Now when the time came at the offering of the sacrifice, Zacharias and two assistant-priests walked up the long ramp to the great altar, the burnt offering altar. And one of his assistant-priests took a silver spoon and scraped living burning coals from off the altar into a silver fire pan. Then they walked back down the ramp. Then Zacharias took a golden bowl full of sweet incense, and they walked up the twelve steps to the door of the sanctuary. And the three priests, Zacharias and the assistant-priests on each side, entered into the Holy Place – a sanctuary that was forbidden to all except the sons of Levi, the holy priests.
On one side would be the menorah, on the other side would be the table of showbread. In front of them would be the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. And in front of the veil was the golden altar of incense. As the three priests approach the sacred veil, one of them took away the coals that had been burned at a former offering, and cleaned the golden altar. Then the other assistant carefully and evenly placed the coals, the burning live coals from off the burnt offering, spread them evenly over the golden altar. Then the two assistant priests bowed and went out, and Zacharias was before the Lord alone, holy, sacred, once in a lifetime. As he placed the golden altar, as he placed the incense evenly, the perfume began to rise. It was a sign, the Bible says, of the prayers ascending unto God, and the worshiping people bowed in the court of Israel, while the incense arose to the Lord. Then a marvelous thing happened: on the right side of the golden altar, in the haze of smoke there appeared an angel of God [Luke 1:11]. And the angel said to Zacharias that he and his aged wife Elisabeth should have a son, and they were to name him John [Luke 1:13]; and he is to go before the Lord Christ announcing the kingdom of heaven [Luke 1:17].
[He should have] rejoiced at such an announcement. Instead of that, he answered the angel in unbelief: "I am too old and my wife is old [Luke 1:18]. We cannot have a son"; as though anything were too hard for God, anything. And the angel replied, "My name is Gabriel," the hero of God, Gabriel, God’s hero, "and I stand in the presence of God, and I am sent to speak unto thee these glad tidings that you do not believe and refuse to accept. Now," says the angel Gabriel, "you shall be dumb and not able to speak, until the day that these things are performed, because thou believest not my word" [Luke 1:19-20].
Now the people who were worshiping outside could not understand why the priest delayed in his coming. When finally he emerged, Zacharias did not realize that the sign he had asked for, that they’d have a child, had already come to pass. He couldn’t speak. He didn’t realize that. And he came to the edge of the steps that lead from the court of priests down to the court of Israel, and raised his hands for the benedictory prayer. Do you remember it, in Numbers 6:24-26:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
Remember it? The most beautiful benediction in English, in any language. Well, Zacharias came before the people and lifted his hands to speak that benediction. And when he sought to speak, he was dumb; he couldn’t frame the words, he couldn’t speak. And it says here, "Then when they perceived that he had seen a vision, he beckoned unto them and remained speechless" [Luke 1:22]. Luke’s Greek of that is interesting to me. Dianeuon is a perfect present, it’s a present participle, "going on, going on," from dianeuÃ³, "to make signs." He kept trying to talk, he kept trying to speak and he couldn’t. And he made signs and he made signs, and he kept on making signs until the people realized he’d seen a vision in the sanctuary.
Now we’re going to contrast that – and this is the sermon today – we’re going to contrast that with that same Zacharias when the lad was born. They came to his mother and said, "We’re going to name him Zacharias after his father." That was the tradition of the Jewish family, you called the child after the family name.
And Elisabeth immediately rejected the suggested, saying, His name is John. And they said to her, There’s none in your family or in your kindred by that name. Then they made signs to his father, What shall his name be called? And the father asked for a writing table,
– a hollowed out piece of wood full of wax –
and he took a stencil, and he wrote in that wax, His name is John.
In the faith and in the adoration and in the praise for what the angel had said, he’s now full of faith and belief, “His name is John.” And immediately, “immediately his tongue was loosed and he spake and praised God.” [Luke 1:64].
Now the sermon: unbelief always silences praise and prophecy and the glory of God. But belief always is filled with the presence of the ableness and power of God, always. Unbelief silences testimony, and praise, and adoration, and understanding, and everything that pertains to the glory of the ableness and might of God. Unbelief shuts God out. That’s true in every area of human understanding and life.
The things I want to know, I can ask the unbeliever – a learned scientist, an academician, a teacher, a professor, a great representative of the human species – any of them; things I want to know. And I ask the unbeliever, the infidel, "Where’d this world come from, all that I see above me and around me?" He says, "I do not know. I have no answer. I am dumb. I am speechless." Finally, if you press him, he’ll say, "Possibly it came about with a big bang." That’s the latest scientific explanation for the world around us, a big bang, the big bang theory. Well, where did all the substance come from in the big bang? And how did it come out that the world was born in such a catastrophic explosion? "I do not know. I cannot answer. My voice is dumb."
Or I ask the infidel and the unbeliever, "What is the meaning of life? And does it have any purpose? Is my life any different from that of an insect or a dog? The insect dies, the dog dies, I die. Is there any purpose or any meaning in my life?"
"No, no," says the unbeliever and the infidel, "life has no purpose, it has no meaning. You die and that’s it. There’s no meaning to it."
I ask the unbeliever and the infidel about sorrow and disappointment, "Does sorrow and disappointment, does hurt, does that have any meaning in my life?"
"No, no meaning whatsoever."
And I ask about the world to come: "Is there a heaven? Is there some place where we’ll see each other, where we’ll be together, where God is?" And he answers, "No, there’s no life after death, there’s no heaven, there’s no rendezvous, there’s no gathering of God’s saints. Death is the final blackened curtain that ends all of existence." Unbelief silences testimony; unbelief has nothing to say. It is dumb, it is speechless, it is silent.
Then Zacharias, believing the angel, immediately his tongue was loosed, and he praised God. Unbelief is silenced, it is dumb; but belief, and acceptance, and adoration, and worship loose the tongue, open the heart, and vistas of glory are presented from heaven before our eyes.
Where’d this world come from? All of the glory that I see above me and around me – the stars of the firmament, and the beauty of the earth – where did it all come from? And belief answers, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." [Genesis 1:1]. And belief answers, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork, His lacework," [Psalm 19:1]. Belief says that “He is the image of the invisible God: and by Him were all things created, and in Him all things sunesteke, sunesteke, they hold together" [Colossians 1:15-17]. The Greeks called it the cosmos. Cosmos is the Greek word for order and beauty; your word "cosmetics" comes from it, cosmos. They saw beauty and order in the created world about us and they called it the cosmos, the hand of God. And if you have a heart to believe, you will see the hand of God everywhere. Every little flower, every rainbow, every star that shines, the rising of the sun, the beauty of the day, the falling rain, to the one who has eyes opened to believe, God is everywhere.
And does life have purpose? Does it have meaning? Do you remember Jeremiah 1, verse 5? Jeremiah, the Lord says to him, "Before you were separated from your mother’s body, I knew you. And before you came out from the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee to be a prophet to the nations." God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. He knew us, He says, when we were in our mother’s womb. And He called us by our names, and we were born for a purpose. God has a plan for every life: for you, for you, for you. And it is a wonderful thing to know that God has purposed for us a beautiful ministry. And in belief, sorrows and disappointments have a place. To the infidel they are meaningless; but to the believer every sorrow and hurt has a purpose from God. When the Lord called Saul of Tarsus, he says in the [ninth] chapter of Acts, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. There’s purpose in every tear you’ve ever shed and every sorrow you’ve ever known.
I one time heard a little group talking about a wonderful preacher. And one of the men had heard him in the years gone by; but another man who knew him currently said, "You should hear him now," and described a great sorrow that had come into his life. There’s a reason, there’s a purpose for every tear and every hurt that enters in your life. God means a blessing for you.
And what of death? Does God stand by us in death? And does death have a meaning? And is there a life beyond death? Is there a heaven? And shall we see one another again? And does Jesus await us on the other side? Infidelity, unbelief, says, "No. Death is nothing but an open grave. Death is nothing but eternal darkness and night. Death is nothing but a final farewell and a forever goodbye." But belief says, "Death is the open door into heaven. It’s our introduction to the glories God hath prepared for those who love Him; and it’s our entrance into our eternal and final home. It’s the rendezvous of God’s sainted people." Death: our entrance into heaven.
A few days ago I looked at that film that Mary Crowley had made of my life. I had forgotten how it ended. The name of the film is, "This I Believe." And the film is made from a sermon I preached here in this sacred pulpit, This I Believe; and I named those great, mighty tenets of our faith; This I Believe. And the way the film ends is this: I believe, I believe in a life to come. I believe in heaven. I believe we’ll see Jesus someday. And it closes with an incident in my life. My father sang all the time. He sang shaped notes. When you look at those Stamps-Baxter books that he would buy – every time one would come out my father would buy it – all of the notes are different shapes. Do, re, mi, so, fa, la, ti, do – and he would sing those songs. He’d sometimes beat the time with his hand, and he’d just sing those songs. If there was a singing convention to which he could go, he’d go and sing all day long at those singing conventions. The last time I was with my father, he sang me a song. The next time I saw him was at a funeral service. Why he should have done that, I do not know, except he must have had a premonition of his death and that he wouldn’t see me anymore in this life. You know the song that he sang for me? I have it here in my hand.
I’ll meet you in the morning, by the bright riverside
When all sorrow has faded away
I’ll be standing at the portals when the gates open wide
At the close of life’s long dreary day
I’ll meet you in the morning, in the sweet by and by
And exchange the old cross for a crown.
There will be no disappointments and nobody shall die
In that land e’er the sun goeth down.
I’ll meet you in the morning, at the end of the way
On the streets of that city of gold;
Where we all can be together and be happy for e’
While the years and the ages shall roll.
["I’ll Meet You in the Morning"; Albert E. Brumley]
He sang me that song, and kissed me goodbye. You believe that? Unbelief says that’s nothing but emotional fancy. Unbelief says there’s nothing beyond death: no heaven, no tomorrow, no being with Jesus. But my Father says, "Son, I’ll meet you in the morning, by the bright riverside, when all sorrows have faded away."
I don’t mean to be unbelieving in what I say; but for me, I had rather be mistaken and wrong and be a follower of Christ and believe in Him than to be right and be an infidel. I’d rather follow Jesus. I’d rather open my heart to Him. I’d rather sing His song, and love His name, and place my life in the fellowship and communion of the people of God. Like old Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15].
And that’s our invitation to you today. To give your heart to the blessed Jesus, or to bring your family into the circumference and communion and fellowship of this dear church, or to answer a call of the Holy Spirit in your heart, in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, if you’re in the balcony, down a stairway, if you’re in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, this is a beautiful God’s day for me, and here I stand." Welcome. Come. Do it now. Let’s go to heaven together. Let’s be together in His presence and praise forever and ever. Welcome. Come, while we stand and while we sing.