As we continue on through the Christmas season, we’re reminded that God’s plans are very rarely in line with our own. He doesn’t often work in the way in which we would expect Him to nor when we would expect Him to. There is perhaps no better example of this reality than with the Christmas story.
Even though the arrival of Jesus was prophesied about in great detail, even those who were scholars and teachers of these prophesies who were eagerly and earnestly seeking out after this Messiah didn’t recognize Him face-to-face.
We could probably spend quite a bit of time going around the room here and sharing testimonies of painful times in life when it felt like God was so far away and that our prayers were going unheard.
We could share times when the enemy caused us in this season to question God and ourselves. When he caused us to wonder if we were being punished by God because of our sin or if we have somehow strayed outside of God’s will or a whole slew of other doubt-seeding questions.
I’m sure that we could also spend quite a bit of time going around the room sharing testimonies of how God worked a miracle on our behalf and how we could then understand a little better how God’s ways were better than our own. Not every story ends that way while we’re still living in this flesh, but so many of them do!
This is why we’re called to walk by faith and not by sight. That’s why we’re called to trust His word and not our feelings. That’s why we’re called to:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
We start this morning with a couple who spent decades in that very place and what God did for them; Zechariah and Elizabeth.
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke was a Gentile physician who travelled and ministered with the apostles as we find documented in Paul’s epistles. He also served as a bit of a historian as he interviewed and investigated and documented the accounts of first-hand eyewitnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There were plenty of truths and lies alike being spread about these events and Luke wanted to be sure that Theophilus could place his faith in certain truth. This written account still serves the same purpose for us nearly 2,000 years later!
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
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.
Now these few verses can be quickly read, but can’t even begin to describe the torture that this must have been for Zechariah and Elizabeth. To be barren was considered to be cursed and punished by God and yet they were blameless and righteous in God’s sight. Both of them being descendants of Aaron in the priestly bloodline would have made their barrenness that much worse.
Though they were blameless in God’s sight, well, people would have found plenty of reason to blame them. As Elizabeth soon describes their condition in the people’s sight as disgraced. Though they faithfully served the Lord their whole lives; tradition believes that they were in their late 80’s at this point, people would have thought otherwise.
How quick do you think people would have been to take their burdens to this couple to intercede in prayer for them or to accept their offerings and sacrifices for the Lord or to ask them the Lord’s direction for their lives? It would have been a difficult and painful paradox to live within.
Blameless before God, but disgraced before people.
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.”
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.”
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.
Finally, after decades, their disgrace is about to be removed before the people, but with no way of telling them!
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.”
As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Perhaps a better way for us to understand this promise of God found in the Old and New Testaments is that for those who trust in the Lord, their circumstances will never END in shame.
Whatever you may be going through, no matter how long you have been waiting, no matter how impossible the circumstances are from human standards, let hope arise! Put your trust in the Lord and let that eager anticipation bubble up once again!
There is nothing too hard for our God! His word will never fail! His promise will never go unfulfilled!
As we soon find, God was just saving something way, way, way better for Zechariah and Elizabeth. His timing was late by all human standards, but perfect by His own. Their child wasn’t just any child!
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
No word from God will ever fail! From human standards, it came way too early for Mary and way too late for Elizabeth, but in God’s view, it was all part of His perfect plan. Both of them suffered shame and disgrace in the eyes of people, but were highly honored and favored in the eyes of the Lord.
1 Samuel 16:7
… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Let’s be a little more like Jesus and a little less like our old selves. A little slower to condemn and a little quicker to mercy. After all, you never know what the Lord might be up to working through what appear to be consequences for sinful choices from a human perspective, even if you have scripture to back up your view!
God was birthing the greatest revival that the world had ever experienced and people condemned it. John, who was the fulfilled prophecy of Elijah returning to turn the hearts of people back to the Father! Filled with the Holy Spirit from conception within Elizabeth’s womb! Jesus, who was the fulfilled prophecy of God in the flesh, the Messiah, the Savior, the eternal King coming to save His people!
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
God’s word will never fail! God’s promises will never go unfulfilled! After all, God’s word is not just a story passed down verbally. God’s word is not just letters written down on parchment passed down. God’s word is alive and active! God’s word is JESUS!
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus will never fail! Jesus will always fulfill His promises!
This Christmas season, let’s turn our hearts back to the Lord fully once again! Let’s allow His joy to rise up within our lives no matter how challenging our circumstances might be! Let’s share the good news with others that God isn’t finished yet. If only we place our lives in His hands in faith, He will work a miracle on our behalf!
Let Peter’s words that we’re about to read come alive and stir back up in our lives a hunger and thirst and zeal for God’s word in our lives again. Let’s believe fully that God’s word is prophetic and will certainly come to pass!
2 Peter 1:12-21
12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s grab hold of God’s living, prophetic word in our lives and let it breathe fresh life in and through us! Let’s use it to fight through our circumstances until we become overcomers in everything!
1 Timothy 1:18-19
18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.
This Christmas season, let’s allow revival to stir here on the earth once again! Christ is come! Jesus is alive! His word will never fail and His promises are ALL YES AND AMEN!!!