When God sent His Son to put on human skin, the world was rather unexpectedly interrupted by a quiet and sleepy invasion from the Heavens. God has promised the coming to be sure, and the prophets often unfolded secrets of the story – but only in small bits at a time. For instance:
• At the Fall of Man in the Garden, God declared that One was set to come as a physical man to deal with Satan’s enlistment of man to enmity with God. In Genesis 3:15 The “seed of a woman” would be wounded by the enemy, but crush his head. The war of the Heavens would be decisively changed by a man on the earth.
• The prophets disclose the tiny village that would yield the Messiah: Micah 5:2 said “Bethlehem of Judah” would be the place of the Savior!
• God specified the lineage from which Messiah would come: Abraham’s seed through Isaac and Jacob would bring the Rescuer of mankind. (Gen. 22:18 “In your seed will all the nations…”)
• God set in motion the arrival of Messiah for a pre-specified time: At a time before the tribes were confused: Genesis 49:10, as well as 173,880 days after Jerusalem was to be rebuilt and before the fall of Jerusalem: Daniel 9:24-27.
• God related that Messiah would have a specific kind of mother – one who was a virgin at the time of the conception: Isaiah 7:14 “He would be born of a virgin.”
• God stated that Messiah would work in a specific geographic area: Isaiah 9:6ff He would live and work in Galilee.
• God related the details of Messiah’s death: Isaiah 53:1ff He would be brutally murdered by men.
There are literally dozens more of clear statements like this one. Messiah was well promised before His arrival – but not all in one passage at one time. God expected that His people would learn His Word, and take it seriously – and He made no attempt to simplify it to bullet points. The point is this: If we want to follow God – we must take His Word seriously, and carefully put the whole of it together — or we will miss the most important parts of the story. Lazy believers miss out. The story must be COMBINED and CONSUMED. We need to spend TIME on the whole of what God said to get a clear picture.
As Christmas comes closer, we again begin thinking of the opening two chapters of the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke – each which contain different characters within the larger story. Every character comes to the story with their own set of problems and challenges – and the narrative helps unbind many different kinds of people. While Zacharias learned to take God at His Word, the Prophetess Anna learned to find her identity in God’s call, instead of through a husband and children. She learned to move through the terrible pain of losing her husband, relying on God to financially and emotionally meet the needs of her life – and found the ultimate blessing wrapped in a bundle of the porch of the Temple. Wise Men learned to follow God’s direction – and not trust appearances of men over words of God. Shepherds learned that even those who were on the fringe of society could become powerful spokesmen of God!
In this lesson, we want to focus on one character – one elderly married woman. She lived a long life with a good man. She had a home – but she lacked children. In fact, she was ashamed that God had never given her a single child. Her womb had left her wounded and wanting. Her name was Elizabeth. Her lesson was one that is still necessary for believers to regularly revisit each year…
Key Principle: God has a reason for every answer to prayer – even if it isn’t the one we want. He knows what He is doing to tell His story the best way.
Luke 1 tells of the background of the Christmas story with a prologue and five scenes:
Prologue: Luke 1:1-4 explained how Luke set out on the quest to write this volume, lining up both his purpose and the procedures he used.
1. Luke 1:5-7 introduce the parents of John the Baptizer with their background information.
2. Luke 1:8-25 explained the prophetic announcement of John by Gabriel, and Zacharias’ silent months.
3. Luke 1:26-38 replayed the story of Gabriel and Mary – with the prophetic announcement of Messiah’s conception.
4. Luke 1:39-56 offered the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, together with the exclamations of “The Magnificat”.
5. Luke 1:57-80 closes the chapter with the story of John the Baptizer’s birth and Zacharias’ mouth opened in praise.
The scenes that regard Elizabeth are the ones we are looking at in this study. Let’s take a moment and look at them:
Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years…8 Now it happened that while [Zacharias] was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” 21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. 24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”… 1:41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”… 1:57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. 59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.
First, it is probably appropriate for us to recall the positive aspects of Elizabeth’s life.
She had several things working in her favor…
When you zoom in and look at Luke 1:5-7, you can see them.
1. She came from a godly heritage and lived in a good home (1:5).
Never discount the power of a godly family in the lives of the generations that follow them. Godly parents raised these two, and chose these two children to be married and form another home that would follow after God. Note that the truth was invested in them IN HIS NAME:
2. She and her husband had hearts were judicially clean before God (1:6a).
The word “righteous” (dika-o) meant virtuous, but also has a deeper meaning. It meant “rendering to each his due in the judicial sense”.
3. She lived and walked according to the high standard of obedience to the Word (1:6b).
They are described as blameless (a-memptos: an artisan’s term for ready for sale, without flaw or defect; a “premier product” and not a “second”). The text said they were without flaw under the quality control standard of the Torah of God. They were 613 for 613 in the commandment department! There are incredible benefits to walking within the rules. When a sports player enhances their performance with steroids that have been deemed illegal and illegitimate, they demean themselves. Even if they aren’t caught, the victory isn’t as sweet because they don’t know if they ever could have achieved the goals without the “help” of a drug. It isn’t just getting caught that sours the victory, it is acting outside the rules. So it is in our lives. There is a peace and sweetness to walking within God’s standards. Even though the world is SCREAMING that unfaithfulness and carousing will make you happy, they use up their lives without purpose and are not fulfilled!
With these three benefits came three profound flaws that could have been their undoing.
1. She pined with an empty nest.
Luke notes they “had no children”. In her time, identity was wrapped up in motherhood – but she had to see herself in a different way.
2. She was secretly disappointed with her life.
She felt shamed in her barrenness (1:7,25 note “disgrace). Luke makes the point that SHE was barren (1:7a).
3. Her hope was slipping away that things could ever change (1:7b).
She was “advanced in age”. They were getting past the time that it would be normally possible to have children. She had to “settle” for second best, and muddle through – embarrassed that God didn’t see her as quite good enough.
Like Elizabeth, I have to admit that my expectations can set up my disappointment and impatience with God’s Will. It is hard to remember, but we must be willing to let God hold back saying YES to our requests – to grow US past your expectations and prepare to use us in a way far more important than we imagine now. We have to let God be God – and recognize that we don’t see what is ahead – in our own lives and in His great plan.
How did Elizabeth let God adjust her expectations? There are five specific acts of Elizabeth that allowed God to redirect her and use her:
First, she stood on the platform God gave her to be used by God:
• She was from a Levitical family (Lk. 1:5) – the family background gave her balance and positive experiences of maturity to draw from.
I celebrate having Godly parents. I am thankful that although they were saved within weeks of the time that I gave my own life to Jesus, I saw them struggle to live rightly before God. The wisdom that came from their lips was often not their own – but that of the Word itself echoed through them. A few times in my life I have heard someone refer to my words as though I were wise – and I confess – they are invariably the times when I sound the most like my mom and dad. A good home is a treasure. You may not have come from one – but I urge those of you who are raising children – MAKE ONE. Make your home a place where God is honored, where the Bible is taught and lived, where the local church has your commitment in time, talent, and treasure. Make it a home where the enemy’s words and works are not welcome, where dirty jokes and filthy speaking are not blaring from you TV set or your mouths. Speak the Word of God to your children! Let them have the experience that far too few have in our time – a home that is led by parents that force themselves to be mature, and deal with their problems as adults should.
• She was personally and deliberately walking uprightly before God (Lk. 1:6). It was her choice to live the values she was trained in, and follow the Lord from within that afforded her the strength of a track record of God’s faithfulness to draw from. God resists the arrogant, and pulls away from the disobedient to teach the soft heart.
Elizabeth could not be both judicially right before God and walking in a way without blemish in a passive mode. Godliness in the Bible isn’t just about the position of the believer – it is about the CHOICES of the believer. She LIVED for God – and didn’t just tack His name on her self made choices. When she allowed God to shape her choices by His commands – she placed herself in the path of blessing and experienced His faithful rewards.
Heaven is the destiny of all believers – but a peaceful journey to that place is determined by our earnest desire to surrender to God the choices of our daily life. Paul told Eudia and Syntyche in Philippians 4 to “be of the same mind”. They were both believers, but they needed to be careful to BEHAVE with one another to have the peace of God that was promised to a believer. Let’s be clear: If you truly know Jesus, you are Heaven bound. If you are making every effort to follow Jesus – Heaven is already increasingly gaining your heart. Your availability for use is multiplying. Elizabeth WALKED her TALK – and that opened her to use by God. That may sound easy – but remember, this was a woman whose life hadn’t worked out as she thought it would.
• She was barren and beyond the point of expecting a child (Lk. 1:7); Her barren womb was interpreted as a personal disgrace by her (Lk. 1:25) – her troubles and prolonged personal pain gave her a depth of relationship with God to draw from. How many times do YOU think Elizabeth begged God for a child? How many times did she just barely make it back from the well and thrust the door closed because she didn’t want others to see her tears? How often did she ask God WHY He closed her womb.
Every time God heard her broken heart He wanted her to understand that He was working a plan. He isn’t cruel – He LOVES us. He LOVED her. He hurt for her – but knew her day would come…. And so will yours. It may not be until you sit at the feet of the Savior that you truly understand why He has decided to do what He has. This one thing I can say with unwavering confidence – there is NO complaint department in Heaven. When you see Him, you will know that He does what is best. The more you see Him in this life – the more you will trust Him to do right. Elizabeth had a deep well to draw from – even if that well was filled with her TEARS of misunderstanding and pain.
Second, she functioned even when her heart was wounded:
• She prepared with her husband for his Temple service, as required by Law (Lk. 1:6 note: blameless (am’-emp-tos) in respect to the Law) – this helped prepare HIM to do right. One of the things that is hardest to do in the life of a believer is to DISCIPLINE our emotional lives and follow God in spite of the pains of life.
I try to be very careful about sharing some things with my wife. She is both a godly and wise woman – and I cherish her words. She knows me incredibly well, and is able to help me when my focus is OFF. At the same time, I know that she would be wonded if I were to share every time someone said something harsh to me, or the enemy used the voice of one who was immature to land a hurtful punch on my heart. It happens. Thankfully, not often, but it happens. The reason I try to be careful is because pain is hard to work around. The toughest part of our work for God as a couple is when we are both wounded at the same time. If something happens in our family life that is particularly hurtful – we both have to pull hard to get a positive heart and continue to serve. I cannot imagine how Elizabeth did it. How did she live EVERY DAY with a shame that she must have felt she placed on HIM, and yet try to be a help. She could only do it if she understood that God’s call was to be obedient TODAY and let LIFE sort itself out. We can’t change some parts of life. Solomon said it this way (Ecclesiates 11:3):
“If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”
Stuff happens. We can’t control everything – and we don’t have the strength or ability to hold back forces bigger than us. Big trees fall and we cannot move them – that is just the way it is. Clouds come and rain – wedding or not. We don’t control most things in life – but we DO control our response to them. We can curl up in a ball and cry, or we can face the fact that God is God and we are not. He did not ask us to do HIS PART – He told us to do HIS BIDDING. We aren’t responsible to understand His plans – just follow His footprints.
• She received her husband home and believed the angel’s message (Lk. 1:59-60)– this helped her to understand GOD’S purpose.
1:22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. 1:24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.”…
He came home dumb, but happy! (No comments, ladies…please!) She watched with excitement as he tried to scribble out a profoundly animated message to her:
“God… said… baby…coming…in…YOU….Name….John….You….
Can’t you see her smile? She gets it. God hasn’t been ignoring her shame, He has been BUILDING HER CHARACTER so that when He answered – she was ready. She had many intimate moments with her loving husband, but none sweeter than when she grasped the promise of God in her heart.
• She secluded herself for five months of her pregnancy and rejoiced in God’s work in her (Lk. 1:25) – this helped her prepare for the coming ministry God was about to do through her. God had an assignment that she was to accomplish, and it was about to knock at her door…
God waits in order to display His glory, to dispense His grace, and to grow our character. I like how one author puts it.
• When we pray a prayer that is not right, God will say, “NO.”
• When we pray a prayer and we are not right, God will say, “GROW.”
• When we pray a prayer and the timing is not right, God will say, “SLOW.”
• But, when we pray a prayer and all is right, God will say, “GO.” – Pastor Brian Bill, Illinois
Third, she took the lessons she learned and shared them:
Oh, here was Elizabeth’s finest hour. She was used of God to explain the nature of the “unexpected God”. Mary came for reassurance, and she got it from a lady who forged a deep relationship through painful times with her Lord over a long experience of delays to her prayer.
• When Mary came to visit her six months into her pregnancy, she was yielded to the Lord and was empowered to offer rejoicing (eplēsthē: furnished, Lk. 1:41). Letting the Spirit dominate took preparation and choice.
• She grasped what the Lord was doing in Mary and aided the younger woman in coming to grips with what God was doing (Lk. 1:42-45). Learning from God’s lesson took insight and depth of relationship.
“You are familiar with Albrecht Durer’s famous painting “The Praying Hands,” but do you know the story behind it? The painting was inspired by the sacrificial, loving acts of a friend. Durer and an older friend were struggling to make a go as artists. Recognizing Durer’s talent, the older man took a job to provide for both of them until Durer could complete his art studies. The work was labor, but he did it gladly for his friend. Finally, Durer made a sale. The money was enough to care for both of them for several months. Now his older friend could resume his painting, but the older man’s hands had become so stiff from the hard labor that he was unable to paint. One day when Durer returned home, he found his friend in prayer, his work-worn hands folded reverently. Durer painted a picture of these hands, capturing them for ages to come as a memorial to the love and sacrifice of his older friend.” (Frank Morgan, Jr. Keys To Unlock Yourself. Nashville : Braodman Press, 1985, pp. 75-76).
Fourth she stood up for truth, even when she lacked support around her:
• She remained obedient to the words of the angel on behalf of her husband’s inability to speak, even when others around her disagreed (Lk. 1:61-62). When her “family covering” was weak, her choices were firm!
Fifth she became part of the wave of testimony of God’s new work!
• She shared the blessing and rejoiced with all who knew her (Lk. 1:57).
• She testified of God’s gracious work (Yohanon is short form of Yeho -chanan “God is gracious”). in the child in a memorable way to all who would hear (Lk. 1:66).
“Roland Allen tells about a veteran missionary who came up to him one day after he had delivered his sermon. The missionary introduced himself & said, “I was a medical missionary for many years in India. And I served in a region where there was progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured.” “But this missionary had developed a process which would [stop the] progressive blindness. So people came to him & he performed his operation, & they would leave realizing that they would have become blind, but now they were going to be able to see for the rest of their lives. “He said that they never said, “Thank you,” because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, “I will tell your name.” Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it….”– Melvin Newland
Stop and think for a moment, what would have happened if Elizabeth soured her heart because of her shame.
What would the story be like if she was BITTER instead of BETTER because of the ruling of the Sovereign God in her life? Her life, like that of thousands of others, would slip into eternity without so much as an honorable mention. God would have used another, and NOT her. He would have bypassed her and moved His hand to raise up another.
The difference in HER was that she came to understand that God has a reason for every answer to prayer – even if it isn’t the one we want. He knows what He is doing to tell His story the best way.
It is in the act of communion with me that God gives me the best of all gifts. It is in the act of working in my life, and spending time with me…