1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Now we all know that when a father says that something is going to happen or else…, you know that he’s being serious. Dads don’t often make empty threats and our Heavenly Father certainly doesn’t speak and then not act. Also, just in case some of His children might have not taken this word seriously, there was then a 400 year period of silence following that “or else…” word.
This week, we’re starting a new message series entitled, “Christmas.” Through one of the greatest events in human history, we learn an amazing truth about God. Paul wrote about this truth about God here:
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Through this series, we’ll look at key individuals in the Christmas account and see just how true it is that God chooses the lowly things of this world, the things that are not, and does the impossible through them so that anyone who boasts will boast in the Lord alone!
400 years of silence ago, God said that He would turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to the parents. It should have been, then, no surprise that the first events that broke this 400 year silence was the birth of two children born impossibly to the least likely of parents; a very old, barren woman and a very young, virgin woman.
This week, we turn to the first parents; Elizabeth and Zechariah.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
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. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 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. 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.”
(Remember the last words of God before the 400 year silence? God is coming not to strike the land with destruction, but to turn hearts)
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.”
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. 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.”
(Do yourself a favor. When you receive good news from God, don’t doubt it, but believe it no matter how impossible it may seem!)
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 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.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
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, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
(See, your relatives trying to make your decisions for you and to tell you what to do is nothing new!)
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 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. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 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,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.
This child, we know as John the Baptist. He was filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. Even as his parent’s heart was turned to him and his heart to his parents, he prepared the way for his cousin, Jesus. He turned the hearts of God’s children to him and their hearts to God. Thousands came to him to learn from him and to be water baptized symbolizing their choice to repent of their sin and to be cleansed of them all.
Why is it that God chose Elizabeth and Zechariah to give birth to a child and to so richly call, empower, and bless this child? I’m sure there were other older men and women all over the earth at that time who desired to have a child. Very likely some of them were even in the family lineage of Aaron. There is one simple phrase recorded which I believe was the key in why God saw and chose them. “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.”
When was it that Zechariah was informed about his wife’s pregnancy? While he was serving in the temple. God seeks after not the rich, powerful, and skilled to be powerfully used by Him. God seeks after the humble, the willing, and the faithful to be used powerfully by Him. Both Elizabeth as well as Zechariah were fully committed to serving and worshipping the Lord. Their lifestyles were ones of sacrifice and commitment. This type of faithfulness catches the attention of the Lord. In fact, He actively seeks after ones like this.
2 Chronicles 16:7-9
7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. 8 Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
This Christmas season, will we choose to be fully committed to the Lord and to live in peace, or will we choose to instead be divided and to live at war within ourselves?
Elizabeth and Zechariah chose to live in peace fully committed to the Lord. Yes, they experienced disappointment and hardship, yes they lived with failed hopes and dreams. Though it was nearly their entire lifetime, that season of disappointment and heartache was only temporary. God was not unaware of their hopes, prayers to Him, and their sacrificial service to Him and His people. God was simply waiting until the right time to grant the desires of their heart abundantly above and beyond the limitations of their hopes. This child would be a blessing not just to them, but to all people from that moment on into eternity.
Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, if we remain faithful to the Lord and fully committed to Him, the dark seasons in our life will be broken through with His glorious light. If we are patient and remain hopeful, God will fulfill His promises to us. Our seasons of mourning will become seasons of praise and rejoicing! Our seasons of questioning and wondering will become seasons of receiving and understanding! The prior seasons can be ones filled with hope and peace rather than darkness and despair.
This morning, let us turn our hearts back to the Lord. Let’s cast all of our doubts, fears, and despair upon God and receive His peace, hope, and joy. Let’s commit ourselves fully to Him and trust that He is a good, good Father and will fulfill His promises in our lives at the right time and in the right way that is best for us and will cause many to boast in Him alone!