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Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent 3: Characters of Christmas: Elizabeth

Eternal God, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that through patience and the comfort of Your Holy Word we may embrace and for ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Luke 1:23-25 & 39-45 


I came across this silly story earlier this week:
One day a man passed by a farm and saw a beautiful horse. Hoping to buy the animal, he said to the farmer: “I think your horse looks pretty good, so I’ll give you R1000 for him.” “He doesn’t look good, and he’s not for sale,” the farmer said. The man insisted, “I think he looks good and I’ll up the price to R5000!” “He doesn’t look so good,” the farmer said, “but if you want him that much, he’s yours.” The next day the man came back raging mad. He went up to the farmer and screamed, “You sold me a blind horse! You cheated me!” The farmer calmly replied, “I told you he didn’t look so good, didn’t I?”

This man was disappointed because his expectations evaporated as soon as he got the horse home. I wonder how many of us feel disappointed by something that’s happened. Or maybe we feel cheated because something that we’ve expected to happen hasn’t happened yet.

It seems that many feel a little cheated…let down… by the events of the last week (the booing, the interpreter, the weather, the poor travel arrangements, the foto of Madiba in his coffin)…our nation seems to have put on display some of our best behaviour,…but also some of our worst….there just seems to be a feeling that we could have done better. Very often we feel that our God could “do a bit better”. I picked up a book earlier this week called: “Disappointment with God” by Philip Yancey………our third Character of Christmas, Elizabeth, is someone who could have felt disappointed with God…but didn’t, and as I read her story I thought: She teaches us many of the virtues that we are losing or lacking in the instant society we live in.
While there is actually quite a bit of Scripture devoted to her, she sort of gets lost in the nativity narrative. We tend to skip over her role as the mother of John the Baptist in our eagerness to magnify Mary’s significance.

Let’s recap from 2 weeks ago: “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.” Zechariah and Elizabeth lived when wicked Herod was on the throne. He was the guy who not only killed members of his family but also ordered the extermination of all male babies under the age of two. Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth was also from a family of priests.

Verse 6 tells us about their character: “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” In short, they walked with God and took their faith seriously. They lived in an unnamed village in the hill country of Judea, obscure and ordinary, yet upright before God.

As we take a look at Elizabeth’s life, I want to draw out six practical truths that will help us persevere in our prayers and deal with disappointment. If you’re looking for the one sentence sermon, here it is: While you wait for something new, God is working on you.

What does Elizabeth teach us?

1. Describe your disappointment.
As devoted as Elizabeth was, she was also deeply disappointed. Notice how verse 7 begins: “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” There’s great disappointment described for us there. Some couples here may be experiencing this kind of pain as well. In that culture barrenness was considered to be a sign of God’s disfavor so this couple would have lived with some shame and the knowledge that while they were devoted to God, others probably thought they had done something wrong.

Let’s learn to name some of our disappointments. In what area of life are you experiencing unmet expectations? What prayers have been met with silence?

2. Pray for God’s provision.
Twice a year, Zechariah would leave home for a week while his division served at the Temple. This had to be difficult for Elizabeth but she also knew that it was an honor for her husband to serve in this way. Verse 9 tells us that Zechariah was chosen by lot to go into the Holy Place and burn incense. This was a once-in-a lifetime privilege and was the greatest moment in the life of any priest. As a thousand priests stand outside and thousands of worshippers have gathered in the Court of Israel, Zechariah stands alone in the holy place. Only he’s not alone because an angel of the Lord suddenly appears and announces in verse 13: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” The little verb phrase “has been heard” can be literally translated “was heard and is being heard” and I focussed on that two weeks ago, but I focussed mainly on the prayer Zechariah would have prayed as the serving priest….a prayer for the Messiah to come.

But there’s no doubt also, that Zechariah and Elizabeth had an ache in their heart for many years, and they would have kept on praying for a child. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says: “Pray continually.” They also kept serving and worshipping. I’ve seen too many people get so disappointed that they end up bitter toward God and then they drop out of church. Then God often has to put us in hopeless situations so we’ll turn back to Him.

In what area do you need to begin interceding again? Do you need to start praying again for that person who doesn’t yet know Jesus? For a relationship that will honor Christ? For your spouse? For a prodigal child? For your parents? For that impossible financial situation?

3. Trust God’s timing.
One of the hardest things to do when we pray is to wait for God’s answers. I’m intrigued by God’s sense of timing in Luke 1.

1:5 “In the time of Herod…”
1:10 “And when the time for the burning of incense came…”
1:20 “…my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
1:23 “When his time of service was completed…”
1:24 “After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.”
1:26 “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth…”
1:39 “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.”
1:57 “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.”

When God used Gabriel to speak to Zechariah, He was breaking 400 years of silence. But now the time was right for something new. The last words in Malachi speak of the promise of a prophet who would come in the spirit of Elijah: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.”

God answers prayer according to His timing and His delays are not the same thing as His denials. Isaiah 55:8-9: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

God often waits until things are humanly impossible and then He does what only He can do:

* Abraham waited 25 years for the son that was promised to him.
* Jacob was not given prosperity until after he became a fugitive.
* Joseph was ruler of Egypt only after he was in prison.
* Gideon had victory only when his army was taken down in size to 300.

I often wish He wasn’t like this, but 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.”

In what area do you need to trust God’s timing? Related to this, do you need to confess any anger you have toward God for not answering according to your timetable? Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t know it, but God had been planning this from the very beginning. What seemed like unexplainable silence was really God working to prepare them to be part of His plan to offer salvation to the world. Friend, it’s time to let God do His perfect work in His perfect time and stop trying to push Him to fit our imperfect schedules. Remember the one sentence sermon: Before God does something new, He’s working on you!

Conclusion
Two weeks ago, Zechariah taught us to believe rather than doubt.
Last week, Mary taught us that there is NOTHING our God cannot do
Elizabeth teaches us this week to:  Name our disappointments
                                                                  Pray for God’s provision
                                                                  Trust God’s timing

You might want to do some of these things right now.


With thanks to Brian Bill of
Edgewood Baptist Church for
the ideas informing my 3 points

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