Fear Not - God's Plan Includes John

Bible Book: Luke  1 : 5-25
Subject: Christmas; God's Plan; Jesus, Birth of
Series: Tidings of Comfort and Joy
[Editor's Note: This is part 1 in a 4 part series of sermons that are very fitting for the Christmas season. The other messages will follow in the next two weeks.]

Recently, I preached a series of sermons on “Facing Our Fears” from the Gospel of Matthew. And as we enter the Christmas season, it is on my heart to lift up a similar theme, again using some instances of the words “Fear Not.” In some passages that lead up to and follow the record of Christ’s birth in Luke chapter 2, these words are used four times.

We find this message declared in a place of barrenness in Luke 1:13…

(Luke 1:13) But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

We’re told here that there is no reason to fear because God still answers prayer!

We find this message declared in a place of blessing in Luke 1:30…

(Luke 1:30) And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

We’re told here that there is no reason to fear because God is showing His favor and graciousness to humankind!

We find this message declared in a place of battles in Matthew 1:20…

(Matthew 1:20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

We’re told here that there is no reason to fear because God is interested in marriage and the family!

We find this message declared in a place called Bethlehem in Luke 2:10…

(Luke 2:10) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

We’re told here that there is no reason to fear because God sent a Savior!

As I have thought about this repeated refrain in the Christmas narrative, this message of “Fear Not,” I have thought about a traditional English Christmas carol that was sung for centuries before being published in Britain in 1833. The composer of the song is unknown, but the song says…

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy.

That is the theme of this series … “Tidings of Comfort and Joy.”

Today, we are looking at the first chronological instance of this phrase, which is found in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel made a visit to the temple to speak to a priest named Zacharias. The Bible says…

(Luke 1:12-13) And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. {13} But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

Two weeks ago, representatives from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA announced that their next movie following “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof,” would be a film project about fatherhood called “Courageous.” Roughly two thousand years ago, a representative from heaven announced to Zacharias that the next project in his life was fatherhood. And the first words out of the angel’s mouth prompted Zacharias to be “Courageous.”

And let’s face it, when you find out that you are going to be a father, this message of “Fear Not” is a needed message!

One article entitled “Fear of Fatherhood” stated…

Almost all men have some fears about fatherhood, says Robert Rodriguez, PhD, an Ohio-based psychologist who often works with expectant couples. … As a psychologist, Rodriguez digs into some of the deeper fears. “When I talk to dads in groups, they talk about finances and how they had to turn their office into a nursery,” he says. “But the undercurrent is that they’re afraid of losing their identity.” As soon as a woman says, “I’m pregnant,” a man sees life as he knows it slipping away, Rodriguez says. He won’t be able to go out with his buddies as often as he wants. He probably won’t be able to afford the house or car or vacation of his dreams. And, perhaps most of all, he will no longer be part of a couple. He will be part of a family. “All of a sudden, from now until the [grave], his life won’t be the same,” Rodriguez says.

(Chris Woolston – http://www.ahealthyme.com/topic/fatherfear)

In another article entitled “Seven Fears Expectant Fathers Face,” Jerrold Lee Shapiro wrote…

From the moment you learn of your partner’s pregnancy, you’re thrust into a strange new world and encouraged to participate in the pregnancy and birth process. Yet, you may feel awkward about sharing your fears and insecurities. (http://www.babycenter.com/0_seven-fears-expectant-fathers-face_8247.bc?showAll=true)

Zacharias’ situation was a little different. Before he experienced the fear of security, of being able to be a good provider for a newborn child; before he felt the fear of responsibility or the fear of a changing relationship with his wife or the developing relationship with his child … before any of this, Zacharias was afraid because of … the angel.

The Bible says that Zacharias was performing his priestly duties…

(Luke 1:11-13) And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. {12} And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. {13} But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

troubled – Greek 5015. tarasso, tar-as'-so; of uncert. affin.; to stir or agitate (roil water):--trouble.

fear – Greek 5401. phobos, fob'-os; from a prim. phebomai (to be put in fear); alarm or fright:--be afraid, + exceedingly, fear, terror.

fell – Greek 1968. epipipto, ep-ee-pip'-to; from G1909 and G4098; to embrace (with affection) or seize (with more or less violence; lit. or fig.):--fall into (on, upon), lie on, press upon.

The angel indicated in verse 13 that Zacharias should not be troubled because he was there in response to a prayer that had been heard. Apparently, it was the prayer that he and his wife would have a child. But because the Bible says that “they both were now well stricken in years” (Luke 1:7), this may have been a long-forgotten prayer … forgotten by them, but not by God. It seems unlikely that they had been recently praying for a child because…

I. We Find An Aged Couple In This Passage

(Luke 1:5–10)

In the IVP Bible Background Commentary, Craig S. Keener said that, according to Jewish tradition set forth in the Mishnah, the reference to them being “well stricken in years” or…

“Aged” may suggest that they were over sixty.

A. Notice The Faithfulness Of This Couple – There Was Blamelessness In Their Lives

(Luke 1:5-6) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. {6} And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

righteous – Greek 1342. dikaios, dik'-ah-yos; from G1349; equitable (in character or act); by impl. innocent, holy (absol. or rel.):--just, meet, right (-eous).

blameless – Greek 273. amemptos, am'-emp-tos; from G1 (as a neg. particle) and a der. of G3201; irreproachable:--blameless, faultless, unblamable.

(Luke 1:8-10) And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, {9} According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. {10} And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

Of the reference to this priestly course, Albert Barnes wrote…

When the priests became so numerous that they could not at once minister at the altar, David divided them into 24 classes or courses, each one of which officiated for a week, 1 Chronicles 24. The class or course (shift) of Abia was the “eighth” in order, 1 Chronicles 24:10. Compare 2 Chronicles 8:14. The word “course” means the same as “class,” or order. The Greek-based word “Abia” is the same as the Hebrew-based word “Abijah.”

Craig Keener wrote…

There were many more priests and Levites than necessary (perhaps eighteen thousand) for any given function in the temple, so they were chosen for specific tasks by lot, during their appointed time of service (besides service on the three major festivals, they served about two weeks out of the year). Given the number of priests, a priest might get the opportunity (in 1:9) only once in a lifetime; this would have been a special occasion for Zechariah.

Perhaps in light of this, Zacharias was using his one opportunity to be in the temple burning incense to pray that old prayer again, in the slim chance that God might still answer, as unlikely as it was.

Keener said of the description of their character in verse 6…

The terms Luke uses to describe Zechariah and Elizabeth are the same that the Old Testament used for some other righteous people, such as Noah (Genesis 6:9), Abraham (Genesis 17:1) and Job (Job 1:1). One who reads those narratives understands that although they may not have been morally perfect (Genesis 9:21) or complete (Job 42:3-6), they did not violate any stated commandments in the law. Thus Luke uses these terms to challenge the misconception that could arise from conventional wisdom concerning barrenness (Luke 1:7).

There may have been misconceptions about the missing conception in their lives. But as Matthew Henry wrote…

Now that which is observed concerning Zacharias and Elisabeth is, that they were a very religious couple (v. 6): They were both righteous before God; they were so in His sight whose judgment, we are sure, is according to truth; they were sincerely and really so. … They walked not only in the ordinances of the Lord, which related to divine worship, but in the commandments of the Lord, which have reference to all the instances of a good conversation, and must be regarded. They were universal in their obedience; not that they never did in anything come short of their duty, but it was their constant care and endeavor to come up to it. Herein, though they were not sinless, yet they were blameless; nobody could charge them with any open scandalous sin; they lived honestly and inoffensively, as ministers and their families are in a special manner concerned to do, that the ministry be not blamed.

B. Notice The Fruitlessness Of This Couple – There Was Barrenness In Their Lives

(Luke 1:7) And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words says that the word “barren” (NT:4723 – steiros) comes from a root ster — meaning “hard, firm” (hence Eng., “sterile”), signifies “barren, not bearing children,” and is used with the natural significance three times in the Gospel of Luke 1:7,36; 23:29.

well stricken – Greek 4260. probaino, prob-ah'ee-no; from G4253 and the base of G939; to walk forward, i.e. advance (lit. or in years):--+ be of a great age, go farther (on), be well stricken.

The idea here is that they had been down the road a ways.

A. T. Robertson said…

Well stricken in years ‎probebeekotes ‎‎en ‎‎tais ‎‎heemerais ‎‎autoon‎. Wycliff has it right: “Had gone far in their days.” … See also Luke 1:18.

(Luke 1:18) And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

If we were to paraphrase Zacharias’ words using our vernacular, we might put it like this: “I’m old as dirt, and my wife is no spring chicken!”

Craig S. Keener said…

To be childless was economically and socially disastrous: economically, because parents had no one to support them in old age; socially, because in the law barrenness was sometimes a judgment for sin, and many people assumed the worst possible cause of a problem. Most people assumed that barrenness was a defect of the wife, and Jewish teachers generally insisted that a man divorce a childless wife so he could procreate. … Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, Zechariah and Elizabeth are clearly righteous, and the Jewish reader would immediately think of righteous Abraham and Sarah, who was also barren. The Lord also opened the wombs of other matriarchs, Rachel and Rebekah, and those of Hannah and Samson's mother; yet Elizabeth is especially like Sarah, who was not only infertile but also too old to bear.

(From the IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament)

As Bishop Hall said…

A just soul and a barren womb may well agree together. Among the Jews barrenness was not a defect only, but a reproach; yet, while this good woman was fruitful of holy obedience, she was barren of children.

(From The Biblical Illustrator)

There is a heartache in the term “barren,” and there is a hopelessness in the mention of their being “well stricken in years.”

Cunningham Geikie wrote…

Notwithstanding all the satisfaction and inward peace of innocent and godly lives, in spite of the natural pride they, doubtless, felt in the consideration that must have been shown them, as born of a priestly ancestry, stretching back through fifteen hundred years, and though they must have had round them the comforts of a modest competency, there was a secret grief in the heart of both. Elisabeth had no child, and what this meant to a Hebrew wife it is hard for us to fancy. Rachel’s words, “Give me children, or else I die,” was the burden of every childless woman’s heart in Israel. The birth of a child was the removal of a reproach. Hannah’s prayer for a son was that of all Jewish wives in the same position. To have no child was regarded as a heavy punishment from the hand of God. How bitter the thought that his name should perish was for a Jew to bear.

(From The Biblical Illustrator)

Perhaps they had suffered through four decades of physical barrenness in their marriage. In some ways, it is a reflection of the four centuries of spiritual barrenness in their nation. But God is not through; His plan is not complete. “Fear Not” Zacharias and Elisabeth! God is not through with you yet!

Another recent sermon series has been the Resurrection Scenes of the Bible. And the same God that can conquer the lifelessness in a tomb can conquer the lifelessness in a womb!

II. We Find An Angelic Communication In This Passage

(Luke 1:11–17)

A. Gabriel Spoke Of A Gladness In John’s Manifestation

(Luke 1:11-14) And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. {12} And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. {13} But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. {14} And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

Notice how it would affect Zacharias personally. “Thou shalt have…”

joy – Greek 5479. chara, khar-ah'; from G5463; cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight:--gladness, X greatly, (X be exceeding) joy (-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous).

gladness – Greek 20. agalliasis, ag-al-lee'-as-is; from G21; exultation (ecstasy, delight, euphoria); spec. welcome:--gladness, (exceeding) joy.

There will be a peaceful joy and a pronounced joy; both joy and jubilation; an inner calm and an outward celebration.

Rudolf Stier wrote…

The significant names of both Zacharias [The Lord remembers] and Elisabeth [God of the oath, or covenant] are mentioned by the angel, to point out the rich fulfillment of their prophetic meaning. (The Biblical Illustrator)

According to Hitchcock’s Dictionary of Bible Names, the name “John” means the grace or mercy of the Lord.

Matthew Henry said…

This son shall be the joy of his family and of all his relations. He shall be another Isaac, thy laughter; and some think that is partly intended in his name, John (gracious). He shall be a welcome child. Thou for thy part shall have joy and gladness. Note, Mercies that have been long waited for, when they come at last, are the more acceptable. “He shall be such a son as thou shalt have reason to rejoice in.

Albert Barnes said…

[Many shall rejoice at his birth] This does not refer so much to the time of his birth as to the subsequent rejoicing. Such will be his “character,” that he will be an honor to the family, and many will rejoice that he lived: or, in other words, he will be a blessing to mankind.

B. Gabriel Spoke Of A Greatness In John’s Ministry

(Luke 1:15-17) For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. {16} And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. {17} And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

He may not have been great in the eyes of some men, but “in the sight of the Lord,” he would be “great.”

great – Greek 3173. megas, meg'-as [includ. the prol. forms, fem. megale, plur. megaloi, etc.; comp. also G3176, G3187]; big (lit. or fig., in a very wide application):--(+ fear) exceedingly, great (-est), high, large, loud, mighty, + (be) sore (afraid), strong, X to years.

filled – Greek 4130. pletho, play’-tho; a prol. form of a prim. pleo, pleh’-o (which appears only as an alt. in certain tenses and in the redupl. form pimplemi); to “fill” (lit. or fig. [imbue (permeate), influence, supply]); spec. to fulfil (time):--accomplish, full (. . . come), furnish.

The old preacher and commentator John Gill wrote that…

[he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb] or “whilst in his mother’s womb”, as the Syriac, Arabic, and Persic versions render it: like Jeremiah, he was sanctified, set apart, and ordained to be the prophet of the Highest, before he came out of his mother’s womb; and was then under such an influence of the Spirit of God, as to leap in it for joy, at the salutation of the mother of Christ to his.

Concerning some of the details of John’s ministry that are listed in verse 17, Barnes’ Notes says…

[Shall he turn] By repentance. He shall call them from their sins, and persuade them to forsake them, and to seek the Lord their God. …

[To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children] In the time of John the Jews were divided into a number of different sects. They were opposed violently to each other, and pursued their opposition with great animosity. It was impossible but that this opposition should find its way into families, and divide parents and children from each other. John came that he might allay these animosities and produce better feeling. By directing them ALL to “one Master,” the Messiah, he would divert their attention from the causes of their difference and bring them to union. He would restore peace to their families, and reconcile those parents and children who had chosen different sects, and who had suffered their attachment “to sect” to interrupt the harmony of their households. The effect of true religion on a family will always be to produce harmony. It attaches all the family to “one” great Master, and by attachment to him all minor causes of difference are forgotten.

[And the disobedient to the wisdom of the just] The “disobedient” here are the unbelieving, and hence the impious, the wicked. These he would turn to the wisdom of the just, or to such wisdom as the “just” or pious manifest-that is, to true wisdom.

[To make ready a people] To prepare them for his coming by announcing that the Messiah was about to appear, and by calling them to repentance. God has always required people to be pure in a special manner when he was about to appear among them.

Gabriel magnifies the fact that what God is about to do will produce gladness and it will produce greatness. Those are still among the effects of God’s work in our lives. In other words, what God does will be a glad thing and it will be a great thing.

III. We Find An Actual Conception In This Passage

(Luke 1:18–25)

A. There Was A Response Of Hesitation

(Luke 1:18-22) And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. {19} And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. {20} And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. {21} And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. {22} And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned (he was nodding and gesturing back and forth) unto them, and remained speechless.

Warren Wiersbe said…

You would think that the presence of an angel and the announcement of God’s Word would encourage Zacharias’ faith, but they did not. Instead of looking to God by faith, the priest looked at himself and his wife and decided that the birth of a son was impossible. He wanted some assurance beyond the plain word of Gabriel, God’s messenger, perhaps a sign from God. This, of course, was unbelief, and unbelief is something God does not accept. Zacharias was really questioning God’s ability to fulfill His own Word! Had he forgotten what God did for Abraham and Sarah? Did he think that his physical limitations would hinder Almighty God? But before we criticize Zacharias too muck we should examine ourselves and see how strong our own faith is.

Faith is blessed, but unbelief is judged; and Zacharias was struck dumb until the Word was fulfilled. “I believed, and therefore have I spoken” (2 Corinthians 4:13). Zacharias did not believe; therefore he could not speak. When he left the holy place, he was unable to give the priestly benediction to the people (Numbers 6:22-27) or even tell them what he had seen. … Zacharias must have had a difficult time completing his week of ministry, not only because of his handicap, but also because of his excitement.

The assurance was this in verse 19…

I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God… A. T. Robertson said…

The description of himself is a rebuke to the doubt of Zacharias. (From Word Pictures in the New Testament)

James Foote said…

Ah, friends, if God were as strict to punish us for our distrust of His word as he was to punish Zacharias for his, how many of us also would He strike dumb! (From The Biblical Illustrator)

Often when God begins to lead people in the path of His choosing, there is hesitation and unbelief, and we want more proof.

B. There Was A Response Of Happiness

(Luke 1:23-25) And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. {24} And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, {25} Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

reproach – Greek 3681. oneidos, on'-i-dos; prob. akin to the base of G3686; notoriety, i.e. a taunt (disgrace):--reproach.

After he came home, she conceived. On a humorous note, it seems that his remaining silent helped the romance in their marriage.

Of this time of hiding, Albert Barnes wrote…

[Hid herself] Did not go forth into public, and concealed her condition. This might have been done that she might spend her time more entirely in giving praise to God for his mercies, and that she might have the fullest proof of the accomplishment of the promise before she appeared in public or spoke of the mercies of God.

Eugene H. Peterson’s paraphrase of Luke 1:24-25 in “The Message” reads this way…

It wasn’t long before his wife, Elizabeth, conceived. She went off by herself for five months, relishing her pregnancy. “So, this is how God acts to remedy my unfortunate condition!” she said.

In essence, she is bragging about what God had done for her in verse 25. She said, ‘In this way, God has dealt with me. He has looked in my direction, and He has turned my disgrace (the meaning of ‘reproach’) into grace (the meaning of ‘John’).

Craig Keener said…

Praise such as Elizabeth utters here was common among the barren whom God visited (Genesis 21:6-7; 1 Samuel 2:1-11) but especially recalls Rachel’s exultation, “God has removed my reproach!” (Genesis 30:23).

Cf. (Genesis 21:5-7) And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. {6} And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. {7} And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.

Cf. (1 Samuel 2:1) And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the LORD, mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation.

Cf. (Genesis 30:22-23) And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. {23} And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:

And what a special child this was! In fact, when Zacharias’ speech was restored later in this chapter, those that heard him praising God said, “What manner of child shall this be!” (Luke 1:66)

I’ll tell you what manner of child this was. The Bible declares in John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” What a gift from God in response to prayer!


Our family recently went to see the new animated rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol.” The spirits that come to Ebenezer Scrooge reveal his miserable condition and the bleak future that lies ahead of him. They come with a fearful message for Scrooge.

But the Christmas Carol before us this morning is not a fearful message. Rather, it is a message of “Fear Not”!

Are you burdened about the spiritual barrenness in your life? What burden have you prayed about in days gone by? I want to encourage you today to pray that old prayer again! And keep on praying that prayer.

Fear not; God still answers prayer!