You say it best…

You say it best…

You say it best…

You say it best…

December 22, 2019

December 22, 2019

December 22, 2019

December 22, 2019









You say it best… // Luke 1:5-25

What you listening to?

So its that time of year again, when Spotify reveal to us who we are listening to... everyone’s been sharing their results on social media, and I know you are dying to find out mine, so hear you go (you’re welcome).

This year I listened to 3,551 different songs - top songs, King of my Heart, by Bethel, 2nd place: Everlasting Arms, by Stew (got to help him earn is 0.03% of a cent per play), then its: Wheels On The Bus go round and round... we share the account with the kids, so its quite an eclectic mix - its a little off putting when you’ve been worship for 5 minutes and then realise it’s: wheels on the bus and you don’t notice for a while... 

Songs are amazing though aren’t they? They can lift the mood, they can help us express what we are feeling, pray the prayers we want to pray, find the energy to push through in exercise: 

I can tell when our friend Ken is exercising as it pop us up on the side to say: Ken is listening to ATOMIC POWER, DRUM N BASS WORKOUT EXTREME... Some of you seem surprised that you can see what other people are listening too, yup that’s a thing - our newly wed friends were also surprised when we could see that they were listening to their playlist: Classical Sexy Time... 

(You can turn it off in settings if you need to, do that now...)

In the latest stats, we’ve discovered that the most streamed song ever is: ‘Shape of you’ by Ed Sheran 

But if we had the full stats, of the most sung songs in the world - it would almost definitely be one of the songs that get sung in the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel, in the Christmas story, in our reading for today. 

Luke’s Gospel open’s with the Christmas story and there are no less than five songs, in the first two chapters: 

Mary sings, 

Elizabeth Sings,

Zechariah Sings,

The Angels Sing

Then Simeon Sings 

That’s a lot of songs... 

(Eat your heart out Frozen 2) 

And these songs have been used as part of the daily prayers by the church around the world for the last 2000 years, one of which is the song of Zechariah, known as the Benedictus: 

This is how it often gets prayed in traditional churches: 

Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, 

who has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, 

born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets God promised of old 

to save us from our enemies, from the hands of all that hate us,

To show mercy to our ancestors, 

and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath God swore to our father Abraham: 

to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

Free to worship him without fear, 

holy and righteous in his sight

all the days of our life.

And you, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, 

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation 

by the forgiveness of all their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God 

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, 

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

// 3:40

This is a great song, full of great faith, and great joy - but as our story begins, you’d be really surprised that Zechariah wrote it - you’d be surprised that he sings at all let alone composes of the most sung songs, ever sung - filled with some of the most amazing joy filled words you’ll ever hear. 

Zechariah’s Problem: 

See the story of Zechariah, is basically a story of a guy who has been worn down by the pressures of life: namely other people’s expectations of him, and his own disappointment that his life didn’t work out the way he expected.

Outwardly he looks okay, but inwardly he’s so jaded and disappointed that even when God sends an angel to him, and makes incredible promises to him, says ‘I’ll give you your hearts desire’ he is unable to receive it. 

Our Problem:

And I don’t know where you are today, but we all have those moments or seasons, (or mornings before coffee) when it doesn’t matter what promise God gives us, the weight of life on our hearts makes it seem impossible to accept them. You might be here today and hear the words in the songs and it just seems so out of our reach... 

Our Problem = God’s Problem

But the good news is that God not only makes amazing promises to us, he helps us to receive them as well. And he never gives up on us, even if we give up on us. 

Doesn’t mean it will be all easy

Now that doesn’t mean that it will all be easy, we’ll see that God’s remedy for Zechariah is challenging - if there’s one thing we learn from the Christmas story is that God’s presence does not always make life easy! 

(For Mary God’s presence was felt as morning sickness)

God’s presence doesn’t always make life easy but it always makes life fruitful!

If you knew...

There is this saying: 

“If we knew what God knows, we would ask for exactly for what he gives.”

- Tim Keller

And it is true, but it is a hard teaching, you can’t just accept it, and you defiantly must not hit others over the head with it, next time someone says: this has happened - what they are looking for is a hug, not a proverb. 

You can’t just accept it, you have to wrestle with it, in Zechariah’s story we see the truth of this in a profound way, which I think will help us to understand what it means for us, so that we can accept and receive all of God’s promises to us. 


So we are going to look at the reading in two parts, the problem, and God’s solution and then come back to look at the result...

Just before that though, we are just going to look at the family tree as there are quite a few characters in the story and it’s easy to get lost...

Family Tree - Diagram...



So in Verse 5, we meet Zechariah, and we see that he has so much going for him: 

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; (Good Job - TICK)

his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. (Married Well - TICK)

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. (Faith filled - TICK) 

On the outside, everything looks like it’s going well, but...

But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

In other words something that they longed for, they had been denied. This would have been hard personally - infertility is painful, but also socially, later Elizabeth speaks of her disgrace among the people, people were speaking about them, speculating about them - maybe there was a secret sin, nope they are blameless we are told, its because God has a secret plan... which he is about to make known...

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 

The priests job was to represent the people, they would go into the special part of the temple and pray for the nation, and as a sign of this they would burn incense on the altar and as everyone outside saw the smoke go up and smelled the incense they would know that God had accepted their prayer (because it meant the priest had gone into God’s presence and hadn’t died). 

10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

This is the pinnacle of Zechariah’s career, his whole life had been working up to this moment, you only got to go in once - so I imagine he’d planned what he was going to pray - this wasn't the moment to ad-lib, he’d probably written it out, and was going to pray his best prayer, eyes closed, bum clenched because you really mean it: “Ahem, OH LORD OF THE OVERARCHING RAINBOWS, WE BESEECH THEE...” 

And then hears something, opens’ his eyes and: BAGH!

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 

And if I was him, I’d probably be thinking, is this normal? How come no one ever told me about this bit?! But it isn’t normal, this is extraordinary moment and he’s got an extra ordinary message: 

13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.

And I reckon he’s possibly thinking which one, the one I just prayed for the nation? (The one about the sports car?)  No the one about a child... 

Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.

And I’m sure that was a surprise, I imagine he’d given up praying for a child, but this is such an encouragement to us, none of the thousands of prayers that you pray are ever wasted, no prayer is ever too small, or too selfish - he hears your desires, so they might as well be conversation points in prayer. There is nothing that passes through the human heard that is unworthy of brining before the Lord in prayer. 

And then the angel expands the promise... 

14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.

WOW, what an incredible set of promises: joy to you TICK, many rejoice TICK, great in God’s sight TICK, can’t take him for out for a drink but don’t worry he’ll have the joy of the Lord so won’t need it...

What a wonderful thing, you can be filled with the Holy Spirit even before you are born, pray big prayers for your kids, pray for them even in the womb to be filled with his love - also know that if you ever feel unqualified, on our side the only achievement you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be conceived... ie it’s not about us... God loves little people. 

But Zechariah’s possibly thinking, yes but that’s not what I’m here for, I’m here to pray that the nation will turn back to God... and the Angel’s like don’t worry this is a buy one, free one situation: 

16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

In other words the whole possibility of the priesthood, everything that the thousands of priests outside and the whole temple building itself exist for are going to culminate in your son and he’ll point people back to God. 

WOW, this is like you’ve hit the jackpot... 

This is the Jewish equivalent of, straight A student, Grade 8 violin, and become a Doctor...

you’d be excited right? Or not... 

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Now before we look at the foolishness of this question, we do have to first acknowledge that whilst he stupid enough to talk back to an angel, he is not stupid enough to call his wife OLD, even if she isn’t there... which was a good call because this conversation went down in the Bible... (unless it didn’t and that became his new prayer, Holy Spirit please when you are writing this down, make one creative amendment...) 

My wife is Ol... well along in years...

But apart from that this is the most foolish question ever asked (outside of when they asked the British public if they wanted Brexit or not...) 


It’s foolish because he is a priest of Israel, his job is to tell the story of Israel, in which at nearly ever key juncture there is a challenge over conception, and God overcomes it. God’s favourite miracle in the OT seems to be making babies. 

What was he expecting: “My wife is old...” “Oh well said the angel, fair point then, never mind, I guess God nearly did it... if only he was the God of miraculous births, say like Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, Elkanah & Hannah...” this is kind of in your story Zechariah... God’s got priors in this area... this is the God Israel you are speaking about... he knows what he’s doing...

Hold the head:

A friend of ours has just become a Father and his mother, came to see her new grandchild and was holding the baby and he said to his her: “You have to support the head...” he said to HIS MOTHER ‘you have to support the head’ to which she replied, really? Oh if only I’d known that when raising you and your six siblings... of course I know to support the head, the fact you are saying that is evidence of that fact...

The fact that Zechariah, a priest of Israel even exists is because God knows what he’s doing in this area...

What Zechariah says is not just foolish because of what he asks but because of who he’s asking the question to... Zechariah asked the angel...

He’s speaking to an Angel, but this just goes to show the depths of his disappointment and hurt - he’s got a divine messenger, an incredible message, but he still can’t receive it - and whilst God will be gracious to him, he’s not going to concede the point to him...

Zechariah says: I’m old... 

19 The angel said to him, “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.

I don’t care who you are, I am Gabriel... I stand in God’s presence, I had to leave there to come to this mess - you think I’m here for kicks...

20 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 appointed time.”

You want proof, here you go watch what God is about to do... but watch in silence... in God’s mercy he doesn’t take back the promise but he says there is going to be a consequence to your unbelief... you’re going to remain silent till it comes. 

And really Zechariah is a picture of Israel, and a picture of us. God comes to Israel, makes amazing promises, they can’t receive them so go through a period of silence and the God does what he said he would do in the first place (only Israel ends up going through a lot more difficulty because of their unbelief). And its the same with us, God comes to us makes amazing promises to us, but they are are hard to received.... but this doesn’t stop God - but he also never bypasses our humanity - he doesn’t say I’ll do it by myself Zechariah, you are still going to be involved but it’s now going to be harder for you than it would have been if you trusted me. 

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.

Everyone is wondering what is going on, they are still on their knees outside, they are thinking come on Zac, short prayers, this hurts - I’ve got gout.. stop hogging the glory... then they possibly thought maybe He’s dead - he walked into the presence of God with sin in his heart and, that’s why he’s not come out - we always had our suspicions about him...

What was supposed to happen next is the priest come out and pray a prayer of blessing over the people: 

“The LORD bless you and keep you and make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the LORD turn his face towards you and give you peace.”

And they were supposed to reply: “Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting...” but instead... SILENCE....

22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

And thus was created the great Christmas tradition of playing charades with your friends... I HATE Charades, imagine having to do it in front of 1000 colleagues that you’ve just really annoyed, they are not in the mood for party games... poor Zechariah, you have to wonder what he did... 

3 Words.... T = The... FLAPPING ARMS = Angel... his faithlessness made life a lot harder than it needed to be. All he’d been asked to do was go home and make love to his wife with his wife... instead he has to go through all of this as well....

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 

No voice therefore no job... goes home, puts on classical sexy time playlist... and lo & behold...

24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant...

... on the divine side God had enabled them to conceived, but as my wife likes to remind me, on the human level all that was required to solve their problem was for her husband to stop talking... (which is a joke, but also its really not... and sometimes the wisest thing to say is nothing...

...and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Do you see what God has done, God has taken this guy who is beaten up by the world, crushed by his own unbelief, and he’s said to him in effect: 

Go home - you aren’t needed here any more.

Enjoy life - be husband and wife again 

Be silent - he’s not got a voice any more

Be still - he’s not got a job 


And Zechariah went home and in silence watched his wife’s belly grow.

Zechariah is going to become a man of praise but first he’s going to be paused. 

He is going to be a man of song but first silence. 

God’s medicine for his unbelief, and hard heart, his inability to receive what God has for him, his remedy is silence. 



That is the first challenge, and application of this passage for us is the practice of SILENCE. And this is hard right, it doesn’t come naturally. 


In fact if you are going to be in a place that is silent for a long time, you have to train for it. The silence of space for example is so quiet that NASA has to train their astronauts so that they don’t go crazy.

The way they do this is they put them in an Anechoic Chamber - a room with no echo, meaning that it absorbs all sound and completely silent... but the problem is, which is why they train, that when you enter silence - your body becomes the orchestra... first you start to hear your own breathing, then own heart beating, even your eyes blinking make a sound, then you hear bones rubbing against each other, your skin moving across muscles, organs churching which is usually the point at which people start hearing things that aren’t actually there... and go slightly mad...

Hear Yourself

And it’s an apt metaphor: when we enter silence the first thing we start to hear is ourselves. We hear what is going on in a way that you can’t in the normal world. 

I’m sure the first thing Zechariah noticed was the ridiculousness of his response to God’s promise, and then noticed the anxiety, disappointment, and fears that brought that response out of him. 

But then in silence God makes him sit at home and watch his faithfulness grow, so he can receive what it is that God has for him. And this is one of the key ways that God speaks to us and to his church.

Martin Luther King

There is a key moment in the life of Martin Luther King - it was January 27th 1956 - a month after he was elected to the Montgomery improvement association, its in the middle of the bus boycott and he is getting death threats, he was just jailed on trumped up charges, his family are not safe  - he says he was lying in bed one night and I was about to quit, it was too scary, to much of a threat for my family, he didn’t think he had the strength to do this work and I was about to quit.

And so he goes and sits down in the kitchen by himself, late at night, and he just sits there for a moment and he records: 

“It seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth and Lo I will be with you even till the end of the world.”

And that was the turning point, he said Okay I’ll do this, and he gave himself fully to it and then he became who he was and had the impact on the world that he did. 

Now the question I have is, what would have happened if Martin Luther King had an iPhone? What if in that moment he’d reached for that instead? Because I know that that is my temptation when I am discouraged, or sad, or tired.... and I wonder how much I miss out on when I do that. 

Silence, Stillness, Gratitude

I’m not wanting to demonise technology but there is a specific challenge to us as followers of Jesus in this time - God uses Silence, Stillness, and Gratitude to change Zechariah’s heart - all three of which are hard today:

Silence & Stillness become hard in a world of phone notifications, but gratitude becomes hard too because we have 24 hour access to the results of sin in the world - meaning ANXIETY and we have 24 hour access to other people’s insta-highlight reels which we are tempted to compare with our worst takes. COMPARISON - both of which are Gratitude killers. 

You need this

God is saying here you need silence and stillness in your life, in order to become aware of what I am doing in your life. 

Especially if you find yourself in the place that Zechariah does as this story starts, in the times of disappointment.


How much silence is there in your life? 

One of the main tools it seems to be that God uses to help us receive his promises is silence. 



And this is the result of 9 months in silence: 

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 

The Name Zechariah, means GOD REMEMBERS, 

60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

Which means God is gracious! 

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

And now again you have to feel sorry for Zechariah... 

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.

He’s like for the MILLIONTH TIME! I can’t speak but I can HEAR.... TALK TO ME.... The Lord’s like - no you know what its like not to be listened to... So 

63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.

67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

This is amazing, 9 months earlier he couldn’t believe his wife could have a child, now filled with the Holy Spirit he is so confident of God’s redeeming work he’s put it in the PAST TENSE!

He continues to speak of God’s work: 

He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

It's amazing he goes from someone who can't see past himself to someone who is able to look forwards in faith and backwards in gratitude. God has saved him from his enemies, one of which is himself! In silence God has taught him that this is what he will do. 

Turn the Camera Around

You may remember the Story of Joseph Griffin - who went on the holiday of a lifetime in Las Vegas, borrowed his son’s GoPro Camera to document the trip and filmed the whole holiday with the camera facing the wrong way - filming himself. 

He began by filming a "view of the mountains" from his room...

Ironically he did attempt to take a selfie, on his trip - shall we have a look?

Turn the camera around...

9 months before, it was all about himself: I AM OLD, but now the focus is on who GOD is. 

He then starts to sing about what John will do, which is a picture of what each of us get to be involved in too... his work, our witness: 

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 

John the Baptist’s role was to get people ready to receive Jesus - its the way God likes to work, there’s nearly always a pre-story to someone coming to faith in Jesus, a praying grandmother, or friend who shared their story... God likes to involve us. We have two friends who have just moved to Malaysia and they felt called to Asia but were wondering if Malaysia was where God wanted them, and so they came to explore and felt this is probably right but we need to make sure so they prayed and then it was time to leave so they ordered a Grab to the airport and the drivers name was: JOHN BAPTIST... he must be old now, and he’s driving a Grab somewhere around KL...

He used John the Baptist and he wants to use us too, it’s his work but its our witness... what to we witness to: 

to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,

Why will he forgive them their sins? Because of something we do? No...

because of the tender mercy of our God,

Which is all about God lavishing his grace on us... 

by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Zechariah has turned the camera around, he’s no longer focused on himself but on what God has done, and what he will do through his son. 


God’s Timing

In silence, God brings Zechariah to a place where he can receive his promises. And its the same with us, there is a work in us that God can only do as we wait on him, that proverb that I opened with: 

“If we knew what God knows, we would ask for exactly for what he gives.”

- Tim Keller

If God had given them a child when they wanted a child he would have missed out on what he was called by God to do. He wouldn’t have been able to prepare the way because he’d have missed the window. 

And the waiting would have been painful, but I bet they wouldn’t have changed a thing. As my Grandmother says: I wouldn’t go through it again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. 


But also in that time of waiting God would have been doing some serious preparing of them to parent John the Baptist. 

See I think one of the most crushing things about what Elizabeth and Zechariah were up against were other people’s expectations of them. That telling line from Elizabeth: 

“In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.” - verse 25

People had placed their expectations on them, and the disappointment was crushing - I know speaking with many people their fear is disappointing others - but do you know what you can’t please everyone. Jesus didn’t.

At certain points Jesus disappointed his parents, his disciples, the crowds, even the political leaders when they met him (they thought he’d be taller) - they all had these unfair expectations they’d placed on him and he disappointed them, but do you know what Jesus never disappointed his Father in heaven. 

I bet people were disappointed with John:

“Everyone who head this wondered about it, asking “what then is this child going to be?” 

And the story finishes...

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

(30 ish years later...)

Which I bet was a disappointment to a lot of people, who want things now... 

But his parents were incredibly well equipped to teach him how to wait on the Lord, and not run ahead of him.

Nothing you go through will ever be wasted. God makes fruitful even the most dead looking trees. Even the hardest circumstances.


God took Zechariah, this dry crusty old priest and turned him into a Spirit filled singing evangelist. 

And he’s still doing it today:

I have a friend called Andrew, we were at Uni together, and he was doing really badly - he was failing at life, failing at his course - spent all his days watching TV or playing XBox, and then a friend invited him on Alpha and he enjoyed it - but it was the weekend that made the difference, I saw him when he got back - and he looked different, taller, happier and I asked him what had happened and he said, I got filled with the Holy Spirit, I asked him what happened and he said: you know that feeling when you’ve had a cold and you’re all stuffy and then the cold goes away and you can breath again, he said it’s like I’ve had a cold my entire life and now I can breath. 

In this story God fills unborn babies and old crusty priests with his Holy Spirit, 

In silence, God teaches him to be grateful 

And then in the Spirit he releases him in song: 

Their calling is restored

And he wants to release us too, to recieve what