This past Friday my wonderful wife was cleaning up the dishes and consolidating the leftovers from Thanksgiving (you people that get it all done on Thursday are just overachievers!). In the midst of her labors Benji, having seen an open butter bowl on the counter, came from behind and instinctively stuck his finger in said bowl trying to get a quick draw on his daily desired quota of buttery goodness! Little did he anticipate that the butter bowl had already been emptied of its original contents and was now serving the purpose intended for all empty butter bowls, that of holding leftovers of various and sundry kinds! Much to his surprise, or should I say to his chagrin, he got a good dab of lima beans! He shouted “Hey!”, looked at his mommy and said, “that’s not what’s supposed to be in there!” He will learn more in the years to come but right now, to him, lima beans and butter bowls don’t go together. We have begun a series of sermons on Sundays in December entitled “Prelude To A Promise” where we are studying Luke chapter 1 leading up to the birth of Christ as recorded in Luke 2. The first installment of this series deals with things that often don’t seem to go together, at least from our limited human perspective, but certainly do from God’s point of view as seen in the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the prophesied birth of their son, John the Baptist (see Luke 1:5-25)
God Speaking After 400 Years Of Silence…Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written in the 400’s BC. God had been speaking to His people through prophets and giving canonical revelation (material that would make it into the Bible) fairly regularly for over a thousand years, but after Malachi the Lord seemingly went silent. He certainly was at work in the world and in the lives of men and women but there were no major prophets with Scripture worthy prophecies or writings. Enter Zacharias. He was a priest. At this time the priesthood had been divided into 24 courses, basically meaning that each course (group) served in the Temple for two weeks out of the year. During Zacharias’ annual two week term the lot fell to him to perform the specific task of offering up incense in the holy place, a great honor that a priest was allowed to do only once during their lifetime. In the midst of doing this task, that though special was done quite regularly by a number of folks, God broke His 400 year silence and began speaking again. The Lord sent the angel Gabriel to one man, a man faithfully doing a God ordained task. Zacharias was told that he and his wife would bear a son and that their son would be the forerunner of Christ performing the function prophesied in Malachi of turning the hearts of the fathers back to the children. This angelic visitation would be recorded in Scripture in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke, occurring 400 years after the last book in the Old Testament. God had been silent for 400 years! Does it go together that sinful man would be spoken to by a holy God again? Not really, at least from a human perspective, but thankfully God is gracious!
Blameless People In The Midst Of A Sinful World…Watch your news at night and you can easily be overcome with the thought that “I never thought I’d see the day when ______________.” It seems like the world is on an increasingly fast track to “going to hell in a hand basket.” That being said, a mere cursory study of history will reveal that the heinous sinfulness of man has been around since the first bite was taken out of the forbidden fruit. No historic period has a monopoly on the manifestations of the boundless evil in the corridors of the unredeemed heart. The time of Christ was no exception. The political leaders were not worthy of admiration. The emperor of the Roman Empire demanded worship as if he were a god. Herod, “the king of the Jews” and basically the governor of the holy land, had ten wives and was a murderous thug who killed people, even children, even some of his own kids, to ensure they would not try to overthrow him. Perhaps worse yet their religious leaders were unfit as well. They placed their own tradition above the Word of God, they hypocritically put rules on other people that they themselves did not follow (and did not intend to follow), and they took financial advantage of the common man; and all of this they did in the name of God! Yet in the midst of an idolatrous, murderous, perverse, and blasphemous society lived Zacharias and Elizabeth, described as “blameless” in the eyes of the Lord. That does not mean they did not sin nor does it mean that they did not need a Savior. But it does mean that they had faith in the one true God, had respect for His Word, and tried to live by His commands to the best of their ability. Does it go together that there could be blameless people in the midst of such a sinful world? Not really, at least from a human perspective, but God will always have a remnant people no matter how dark the days.
Blameless People Going Through Struggles…We used to have Comcast but switched to Direct TV a couple years ago. (This is certainly not an advertisement either way though I will say that we far prefer our new arrangement over our former.) We used to only get one Christian channel, now we get about 15. While I am grateful for some Christian television I do think there is much that could be different; and I’ll leave it at that. Tune in to any one of these faith based channels at nearly any time of day and it seems that there will be someone implying that if you come to Jesus then you will be rich, successful, happy, and problem free all the rest of your days! In fact, there seems to be more emphasis on success than there is on salvation, more focus on gimmicks than grace, and more instruction on how to be happy than on how to be holy—just saying, but again I’ll leave it at that. Well, if you’ve never heard it before, then let me tell you now, the teaching that you’ll never have another care after believing in Jesus is a lie. You can be a believer, be striving to keep your sin level low and your faith level high, and quote all the Scriptures you have breath to utter and you will still have troubles. It rains on the just and the unjust. Just ask Zacharias and Elizabeth (and Job and Moses and Daniel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Elijah and John the Baptist and Peter and John and James and Paul and…well, I think you get the picture). They (Zacharias and Elizabeth) were called “blameless”, not by themselves or by some person or by some committee, but by God Himself in His Holy Word. Yet, all was not well with them and they did not have everything for which they had prayed. In their time it was seen as a curse, almost as a condemnation showing God’s disapproval, not to have a child. Yet they were barren and were getting older in years. Surely there were more sinful people who had more money, more success, more fame, and more children; yet these blameless people were suffering, they were struggling. Does it go together that God’s people, faithful people, blameless people, should struggle? Especially since there were less righteous people, even really dirty-no good-rotten scoundrels who were seemingly more blessed than were they? Not really, from a human perspective, but God always works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.
Blameless People Sometimes Doubt…How many people do you know (or perhaps you are one) who says or at least thinks, “if God would only appear to me in a miraculous and sensational way, then I would believe in Him, follow Him, and never doubt again?” Do miracles happen? Absolutely! That having been said, Scripture as well as history both past and present is filled with people who have been beneficiaries of the miraculous hand of God, yet in their incessant unbelief and over a period of time choose to dismiss the goodness of the Lord as the randomness of the universe. (As Jesus said, if people don’t believe the words of Scripture then they will not believe even if one rises from the dead.) Zacharias and his wife had long desired a child; as blameless people who genuinely loved God they had prayed for a child; yet when Gabriel appeared unto Zacharias proclaiming that they would conceive, he responded by saying, “How will I know this is true, seeing as how my wife and I are both advanced in age?” Not exactly the response of Abraham, the father of our faith (see Romans 4:19ff.)! Do blameless people and doubt go together? Not really, at least from a human, un-grace filled perspective. However, God knows and the Bible rightly illustrates, that even the most faithful of human hearts do doubt sometimes and go astray (yes, even Abraham, remember Ishmael!). Zacharias was struck dumb (mute) and possibly even deaf because of his unbelief, but God would restore His servant and use him again (see Luke 1:57-80).
John The Baptist Has A Name That Means God Is Gracious…Anyone ever seen those little pocket cards with names on them telling you what the name means in the Hebrew or Greek along with an accompanying Scripture verse? People often get them for their family or friends, especially for their children. Well, if Zacharias and Elizabeth had a local Christian bookstore in their day and went down to get a name card for John (the name that Gabriel instructed for the child to be called), it would have read “John means God is Gracious”. Now, when the baby was born to the precious older couple, so cute and so cuddly, bringing them a joy they never dreamed would be their own, the name “God is gracious” seems quite appropriate. But later on when he dresses in camel hair clothes with a leather belt eating a diet of locusts and honey, when he confronts the religious leaders for their hypocrisy calling them a brood of vipers, when he declares that repentance must be in deed as well as in word, when he decries the powerful political leaders of the day for their adultery calling it the sin that it is, when his main message is “REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”; it would perhaps seem harder to some to use the phrase “God is gracious”. Does being a little strange in clothing and diet, being one who calls out sinners no matter who they are, commanding people to truly repent in word and in deed go together with the concept of God being gracious? Not really, at least from a human perspective that refuses to call anything sin so that we can go on living as we want and that thinks of grace as simply an ooey, gooey, sloppy agape that says God just loves everybody and lets them into heaven no matter what they believe or how they live. However, from God’s point of view, from a biblical perspective, where we are all sinners who must confess sin, recognizing it as such and repenting of the same, before forgiveness can be received; a man who clearly points to our sin and calls us to repentance has a gracious ministry indeed.