The Silence and Song of Zechariah
December 21st, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE SILENCE AND SONG OF ZECHARIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-21-86 10:50 a.m.
Welcome you who are sharing this hour on radio. You are a part of the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Silence and Song of Zechariah. I want you to read together and aloud in the first chapter of Luke, verses 57 to 66. Luke, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 57 to 66; now you have it? Luke 1:57-66; now, together:
Now Elisabeth’s 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 Zechariah, 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 the first chapter of Luke with the priest, Zechariah. When it comes through Greek, it’s called "Zacharias." His name in Hebrew is Zechariah, and it means "he who remembers God." He belonged to the course of Abijah [Luke 1:5]. David divided all of the Levitical priesthood into twenty-four courses [1 Chronicles 23:3-6, 24:1-19], and each course went to Jerusalem and ministered in the temple from Sabbath to Sabbath, two times a year. This man, this priest Zechariah, lived in the hill country of Judea and belonged to the eighth course of the twenty-four. He belonged to the course of Abijah.
There was a silent sorrow in his life. His wife Elisabeth and he were now well-stricken in years, the Bible says, and they had no child [Luke 1:7]. To a Jewish family, this was an indescribable heartache and disappointment. It was a sign, they thought, of the displeasure of God. And to the neighbors and friends, it was a sign of some secret and unconfessed sin. It was a judgment of God to a Jewish family not to have a child. And Zechariah and his wife Elisabeth are now well-stricken in years, and they have no child.
Upon the day when the course of Abijah is in Jerusalem, from Sabbath to Sabbath to conduct the services in the temple, they are gathered this hour in the hall of polished stone which is in the court of the priests. And a lot is being made to choose the priest who that day would enter the sanctuary and burn incense before the Lord while the people are bowed in prayer. It was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege. And upon this day, the lot fell upon Zechariah, and he was chosen to enter the Holy Place in the sanctuary, there to burn incense on the golden altar before the veil [Luke 1:8-10].
Zechariah, being chosen, and two assistant priests, walk up the long ramp to the top of the great altar of burnt offering. And there, one of his assistants with a silver spoon rakes into a fire pan, a silver fire pan, hot burning coals from off the burnt altar. Then the three walk back down the ramp and then up the twelve steps into the entrance of the sanctuary, and thus into the Holy Place; on one side, the menorah, the seven-branch lampstand; on the other side, the table of showbread; and then before them, the golden altar of incense.
Before the veil, one of the assistant priests takes away the coals of the previous intercession, and the other assistant carefully and evenly spreads the live, living coals on the altar. Then both of his assistant priests bow and leave, and Zechariah is there alone before God, in his hands a golden bowl of sweet incense. And at the appointed hour of prayer, he spreads the incense on the burning coals, while the people outside are bowed in intercession. And the smoke of the incense rising upward is a picture of the intercessions of the people coming before the Lord God [Revelation 8:4].
In the midst of the offering of the incense, there suddenly appears on the right side of the golden incense altar the form and figure of an angel [Luke 1:11]. And he announces to Zechariah that he and his aged wife shall have a son, and that they are to call his name John. And he will be great in the sight of God and will be the messenger to announce to the world the coming kingdom and the Messiah, who will be Lord of all the earth and the Redeemer of His people [Luke 1:13-17].
Then a remarkable and an almost unforgivable and astonishing thing happens. Instead of this godly priest rejoicing over the heavenly announcement, he demurs and defaults and defects. He says, in effect, "My wife is old, and I am well-stricken in years. We cannot have a child. That is too hard for God. Even God cannot make it possible that an aged couple like us could have a child" [Luke 1:18]. Whereupon, the angel rebukes the unbelieving, disbelieving Zechariah, priest. He says to him, "My name is Gabriel" – that means "God’s hero." "I stand in the presence of the Lord" [Luke 1:19] – a place of supreme dignity. "And because you have not believed" – the Scripture here reads it, "Because thou believest not my words, you shall not be able to speak. You shall be silenced. You shall be dumb until this prophecy and promise is fulfilled" [Luke 1:20].
Thereupon, the angel messenger Gabriel goes back to the presence of the Lord, and Zechariah leaves the sanctuary to pronounce the holy benediction for the people. They have been waiting for him to appear out of the sanctuary, and have been wondering why he is delayed so long [Luke 1:21]. Eventually he emerges, and he walks to the steps that lead up from the court of Israel into the court of the priests, and he raises his hands to pronounce that beautiful and incomparable benediction.
You will read it in Numbers 6:25-26: "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" [Numbers 6:25-26] – I think the most beautiful benediction in human speech.
Zechariah stands there as the appointed priest for the day and raises his hands to pronounce that final benediction, and he is speechless [Luke 1:22]. He did not realize that the sign has come immediately upon him, and he cannot speak. He is dumb. And when the people see that he is speechless, he makes signs unto them. The Greek word is very poignant: dianeuon, which is a present participle. He kept on making signs, making signs – from "dianeuō, "to make signs"; and finally understood that he had seen an angel, a vision from God, in the sanctuary, and could not speak. He was speechless [Luke 1:22].
We’re going to contrast that with a beautiful passage that we just read. Unbelief brings speechless silence. There is nothing to be said. But belief brings a paean of praise to God. It loosens the tongue. It opens the heart. It makes wide the mouth. It praises God and lifts Him up in love and adoration. In the passage that we just read, when God brought to pass the promise that He made, they said, "This child will be called Zechariah" [Luke 1:59]. That was the tradition of every Jewish family; they named the child after the family, Zechariah. And when his mother interdicted in no uncertain terms, "No, not so! He shall be called John," they said, "Nobody in your family is called John. His name is to be Zechariah." And they made signs to his father, Zechariah, "How is he named?" [Luke 1:60-62].
And in great faith, and confidence, and assurance in the prophecy delivered by Gabriel, the angel of God, the hero of the Lord, he asked for a writing table – a piece of wood, hollowed out, covered in wax, in which a stencil could make a character, could write. And they gave that to Zechariah and he wrote, "His name is John." And immediately his mouth was opened, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God [Luke 1:63-64]. Belief opens the heart and the soul God-ward and heavenward, and fills the life with praise and glory.
Now the two: unbelief, infidelity, has no answer to anything. It has no word, it is speechless, it is dumb. Any of the vital questions of life that I would like to ask, unbelief and infidelity have no answer at all. They are speechless; they have no word to say.
I look around me. I look above me. The glory of the handiwork of the omnipotent Creator is written in every sky, is seen every morning, is published in every sunset of an evening [Psalm 19:1-2]. I see the wonder of creation everywhere – in the snowflake, in the flower, in the face of sweet children. Lord God in heaven, where did it come from?
And I ask the infidel and the unbeliever, "Where did this wondrous world come from?"
And they say, "We do not know."
Then when I press for an answer, the pseudoscientist and the unbeliever says, "Possibly, it was a big bang." That’s the latest scientific explanation of the world: the big bang theory. And out of that big bang came all the wonder of the earth around and above us.
"Where did the big bang get together? Where did all of those things that would make possible such an explosion, where did that come from?"
"We don’t know." There’s no answer. They are speechless. They are dumb.
Not only that, but I see design and intelligence everywhere. The Greeks called it kosmos; kosmos is the Greek word for order and beauty and development. And when they looked at the created world around them, the Greeks called it, because of its beauty and its order, they called it kosmos. A woman’s "cosmetics" comes from that word, to make beautiful. They saw the beauty of creation all around them, the kosmos.
And I ask the infidel and the unbeliever, "Where did such beauty and order come from?"
And they answer, "We do not know. We are speechless. We are dumb."
I see intelligence back of everything in God’s creation. I see it in children. I even see it in animals; intelligence; thought.
"Where did it come from?"
"We don’t know."
"You mean to tell me that you suppose that intelligence came out of inert matter?"
"We do not know. We have no answer."
And I ask, "Is there a plan and purpose in life? Is there meaning to our existence?"
"No," they say. "None whatsoever. We live our lives like the life of an insect. And when we die, we are forever forgotten. We live our lives and die like dogs. There is no meaning. There is no life, no heaven, no world to come."
And I say, "Death has no meaning?"
"None at all."
"And there’s no such thing as heaven?"
Infidelity and unbelief are silent. They are speechless. They have no answer.
I turn to the believer, to those that look upward into the face of God, and I ask them those same eternal, everlastingly significantly meaningful questions, and I hear them say, "The universe around you, the glory of God is seen everywhere. ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ [Genesis 1:1]. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the universe shows His lacework’" [Psalm 19:1]. In the King James Version it’s translated "handiwork," God’s fingers lacing all of the beautiful wonder around us; God’s presence. Paul wrote it in the first chapter of Colossians like this: "He is the image of the invisible God, And in Him, all things, sunestēken, all things find their order. All things subsist. All things consist" [Colossians 1:15, 17].
It’s the hand of God everywhere: in a flower that blooms in the desert, in the great stars that shine in the sky, in the beautiful rainbows and sunsets, all of it is the handiwork of God. "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made" [John 1:3]. And I ask about the purpose and plan in life. "Yea," says the believer. "God has a purpose and a plan for every life."
As He said to Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 1:5: "Before you came forth out of your mother’s womb, I sanctified thee, and ordained thee to be a prophet to the nations. And while you were yet in your mother’s body, I knew thee by name." What a wonderful thing! Before I was born, while I was yet in my mother’s womb, God saw my substance. And it was His omnipotent hands that shaped me and created me. He knew me by my name. And before I was born into this world, He purposed and planned my ministry before the Lord.
And what God has purposed for me and planned for me, a like calling and plan and purpose He has for you and for each one of us. It is not by accident that we are here. We are here by the called, named, omnipotent, sovereign calling and purpose of God. And the sorrows and hurts that come in our lives, God has a purpose in them. There is a meaning in them. Every tear that falls, God has a purpose in it. When He called Saul of Tarsus, He said: "I will show him what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16] – a purpose in our sufferings and our hurts and our disappointments.
I one time overheard a little group talking about a preacher, a great preacher. One of them had heard him years ago but not since, and he was remarking on what a splendid preacher he was. But another one added, "But, oh, sir, you ought to hear him now. He had experienced a great sorrow in his life, and he’s somebody else." God has a purpose in every tear that falls and every heartache that comes. His hand is in it all.
And if I ask about death and heaven and a world to come, the infidel and the unbeliever is speechless. He has no voice. He has no promise. He has no hope. It is nothing but impenetrable and eternal darkness for him. But you ask the believer about death, and he will say, "It’s the entrance. It’s the open door into heaven." And in the life to come, these are they whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15; 21:27]. And heaven is the assembly of God’s redeemed saints. Our inheritance is not here; it is there [1 Peter 1:3-4]. Our home is not here; it is there [John 14:2-3; Revelation 21:1-3]. Our reward is not here; it is there [2 Corinthians 5:10].
I am a stranger here, Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear, Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and danger stand round me on every hand.
Heaven is my fatherland, Heaven is my home.
["I’m But a Stranger Here" by Thomas R. Taylor]
This is the answer of a child of God, of those who lift up their faces in God’s redemptive love and grace, God having provided some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
A few days ago, I watched and listened to that televised portrayal of my life, made possible by sweet, dear Mary Crowley. It is entitled, "This I Know." It is based upon a sermon, a message that I preached here one time, entitled This I Know. And the sermon concerns those great verities of the revealed promise and Word of God. And in that picture, in that televised portrayal of my life, I had forgotten how it ended. It ends like that. "This I know: I know that God has a home for us in heaven. This I know: that death is God opening the door into glory."
And it closes with a scene about my father. He was one of the sweetest, humblest, finest Christian men in all this earth. The last time I was with him, and before he bid me a final farewell, he sang me a song. My father loved to sing. He sang with shaped notes: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. And each one has a form, a note shape. And he could just sing any song if it were in shaped notes. Every time Stamps Baxter published a new songbook, he would buy it. And he’d just sing it from beginning to ending. If there were some place to which he could go where they had a singing convention all day long, in some church somewhere, he would go, and he would just sing all day long. He loved to sing. He just sang and sang and sang.
The last time I was with him, maybe he had a premonition that he was soon to die, and this would be the last time we would ever be together. I do not know. I just know that he sang me this song. I have it here in my hand:
I will meet you in the morning by the bright riverside
When all sorrow has drifted away.
I’ll be standing at the portals when the gates open wide,
At the close of life’s long, dreary day.
I will meet you in the morning in the sweet by and by
And exchange the old cross for a crown.
There’ll be no disappointments and no one shall die
In that land ‘ere the sun goeth down.
I will 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 aye,
While the years and the ages shall roll.
["I’ll Meet You In The Morning," Bill Monroe]
And he kissed me goodbye. Do you believe that?
The infidel and the unbeliever says, "What foolish, fanciful thinking! Death is the close of the door and the end of the way, with nothing beyond." But belief says, God hath prepared that more beautiful place for us, our home in heaven. "And son, I’ll meet you in the morning." I may be mistaken in the avowal, but I had rather believe in our Lord, and in the great precious promises of God and be mistaken, than to be an infidel and be right. Lord God in heaven, what a beautiful life to live, what a precious promise to embrace, and what a marvelous way to die! "I’ll see you, my brother. I’ll see you, my sister. I’ll see you, sweet family. I’ll see you, my love. I’ll see you in glory." That’s what it is to love Jesus and believe in His wonderful name.
And that is our invitation to your heart today, this moment, this hour, "Pastor, by the grace of God and in the gift of His love and redemptive remembrance, I’m standing here, taking the Lord Jesus in my heart and life, my Savior and Redeemer." Or, "Pastor, we’re coming to put our lives in the fellowship of this wonderful church. The whole family of us are coming." Or, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart."
There were two young men at the 8:15 service who were here asking the Lord to pray for them as they gave their lives to the work of the Lord. "The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and I’m dedicating my whole strength and length of days to Him." It is the Spirit that must make the appeal, not I. It is just for us to sound the word, to lift up the banner, to make the call, and then we answer it with our lives. Do that now. In a moment, when we stand to sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I come." In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the lower floor, down one of these aisles, "The Lord has said the word, and I’m answering." Do it now. Make it now. May angels attend you and God bless you as you come now, while we stand and while we sing. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come."
THE SILENCE AND SONG OF ZECHARIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The story
A. "Zechariah" – "he who remembers God"
B. Of the course of Abijah
C. His silent sorrow (Luke 1:7)
D. Chosen by lot to enter the Holy Place to burn incense
E. Gabriel appears with a message (Luke 1:13-14)
1. Zechariah’s disbelief (Luke 1:18-20)
2. The sign upon him – speechless
F. Belief brings a paean of praise to God
1. His mouth is opened at his son’s circumcision (Luke 1:63-79)
II. Unbelief has no answer – it is speechless
A. The world around me
B. Design, intelligence
C. Purpose, meaning in life
D. Death, heaven
III. Faith, belief open the heart, fill the mouth
A. God’s creation (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1, Colossians 1:15, John 1:3)
B. Purpose, plan in life (Jeremiah 1:5)
1. In sorrow, suffering (Acts 9:16)
C. Death, heaven