Study # 3
Thesis: Before there can be a great number of specific answers to prayer, the issue of loyalty must be answered: to Whom will I be loyal and from Whom do I expect loyalty?
Introduction: In our study last week we considered the text's focus on the daily routine as the chief mechanism for the accomplishment of the will of God. We saw that there are times of divine intervention in which God acts contrary to the norm, but these unnatural occasions are neither the norm, nor the way the will of God typically gets done. There are two kingdoms functioning in this creation. The one that carries the weight of sensual perception is one of incremental chaos and the gradual destruction of the quality of experience. The one that depends entirely upon revealed Truth, as opposed to sensually based perceptions of what is true, is one of incremental development of character and a sometimes imperceptible movement to ecstasy. Luke, being aware of the presence of these two kingdoms and of the desire of Theophilus to participate in the latter of the two, deliberately set the stage for his presentation of Christ in the context of prayer [note the fact that the coming of Gabriel to Mary did not have this focus] and the question before us is, Why? What is it about prayer that Luke wanted Theophilus to grasp? What should we learn from the fact that the record of John's coming was surrounded by the connotations of prayer, while the coming of Jesus was not?
September 14, 2003
- I. The Significance of the Hour of Incense.
- A. In the beginning, the burning of incense was set forth as a requirement by God for proper worship.
- 1. Exodus 30:1-10 tells us that the altar of incense was the central item within the holy place and the burning of incense upon it was required morning and evening perpetually.
- 2. Leviticus 16:13 tells us that the High Priest, on the Day of Atonement, was to take enough incense with him into the Holiest of All to create a cloud over the mercy seat "lest he die".
- 3. Leviticus 10:1 and following tells us that during the consecration of the Aaronic priesthood, two of the sons of Aaron offered strange incense and were executed by fire from Yahweh because "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me..." and then Aaron was forbidden to publicly grieve, "lest you die".
- B. In the latter years of Israel's history, the burning of incense to false gods was the summary term for apostasy [2 Kings 22:17].
- C. In Psalm 141:2 the psalmist calls his "prayer" "as incense" before Yahweh.
- D. In Isaiah 66:3 the offering of incense is fundamentally identified as "blessing" the god -- i.e., identifying the object of deepest appreciation.
- E. In Jeremiah 44:16 and folowing we are told that the people offered incense because all of their needs were being met.
- F. The conclusion of the matter: the burning of incense was, at the root, a response to One/one Who/who was given by the offerer the place of final loyalty.
- 1. Prayer was "incense" in that it appealed to a "God" -- one whose attributes included the ultimate sovereignty over how a person would be treated.
- 2. Incense was burned to signify two issues:
- a. One's willingness to be loyal to a specific God.
- b. One's statement of confidence in the loyalty of that God.
- 3. Ultimately, the burning of incense was either a statement of self-loyalty (I will worship the god who serves me as I demand) or a statement of loving-loyalty (I will worship the God Who Is regardless of how I am treated).
- a. Thus we are told that Zacharias was already committed to loyalty regardless of his wife's barrenness.
- b. Thus we are told that he entered the temple to offer incense upon the altar as a real expression of his loyalty decisions.
- G. The Point: Luke sets the coming of John into a context of personal loyalty in the face of general disloyalty.
- II. The Significance of Gabriel's Position in Respect to the Altar of Incense.
- A. The "right" side of the altar depends entirely upon the perspective of the one making the description, so that either side can be the "right" side.
- B. That it is called the "right" side, however, is highly significant.
- 1. The "right" side/hand is used in Scripture to indicate the most favored.
- 2. That Gabriel was on the right side of the altar means that he was to be seen as one in a special relationship to Yahweh.
- 3. The significance is that the "favored" one appeared to announce "favor" -- Zacharias was aware that whatever the angel said would carry enormous weight.
- a. This always generates tension among men.
- 1) Men inherently wage war with the loyalty issues -- wanting to be loyal while also wanting life to run according to their desires.
- 2) Any time a pronouncement comes down from the God, men want to know what it's going to cost them!
- b. Zacharias' development in godliness did not spare him this tension -- no matter how godly a person becomes, he is never ready for the revelation of glory.
- c. And, as is always the case, no matter how godly Zacharias was, there was always the chance that he had, somehow, offended God in a way that brooked no tolerance.
- III. Luke's Overall Point.
- A. The coming of Messiah was to be heralded by a special person whose setting in life arose in the context of genuine godliness -- marked by the humility of fear.
- B. The foundations of our faith rest in a loyal God Whose interruptions of the norm are designed to reassure us that He sits in dominion for our joy.
- C. The years of disappointment will be erased in a moment of time -- in His time -- for those who have decided that loyalty to God is absolutely fundamental.