- Fear of God’s Trustworthiness
- Luke 1:5-23
- Lyndol Loyd November 27, 2016
When my girls were little, there was a video series that was all of the rage called, “Veggie Tales” featuring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. In one particular episode, entitled “Where is God When I’m Scared?”, they show up to help Jr. Asparagus who has been watching a television show that was a little too scary for him and now he can’t go to sleep.
To help Jr. overcome his fear of perceived monsters in the closet and shadows on the wall, they sing to him this song that says, “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man. Oh he’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on T.V.. God is bigger than the boogie man and he’s watching over you and me.”
They wanted Jr. to understand that God is bigger than anything else out there and that we can trust him. What a great message for little children who are afraid of the dark and can’t sleep. Right?
But what about when we grow up and our fears shift from seeing eyeballs staring out of the closet to things such as the fear of losing my job or going broke? What about when we feel fearful about the future or how our kids will turn out? What about our very real fears that we carry with us?
Then there are those times when our fears have to do with GOD himself:
- Have you ever feared if God is trustworthy or not?
- Have you ever feared what God might ask you to do?
- Or worse yet, what people might think of you if you actually did it?
- How about a fear of where you stand with God?
The story of Christmas speaks to these fears. Multiple times throughout the Christmas story, God sends the message of “Fear Not” or “Don’t be afraid.” Once Jesus begins his public ministry, we find him saying the exact same thing over and over again. There are twenty-one instances of some kind of imperative that Jesus gives of this nature. In comparison there are only eight occasions in which Jesus instructs us to love God and to love our neighbor.
So, if quantity is an indicator, then I think we can see that God takes our fears seriously. The one statement we find over and over again, more than any other, is “Fear not.” So as we enter into the season of Advent where we prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of Christmas, we are going to spend some time looking at the “Fear Not’s” of the Christmas story and what they have to do with our lives in 2016, especially as it relates to trusting what God is up to and not fearing his plans. We begin today with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and their fear of God’s trustworthiness. But before we do let’s pray together…
5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary.
23 When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
Luke begins his telling of the Christmas story with the angelic announcement of Gabriel to Zechariah, an elderly priest, that he and his wife would have a son who would come in the spirit of Elijah the prophet, who will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and would prepare the way of the Lord.
We all long for certainty in life, we crave some assurance that the things we believe are real. The story of Zechariah is the story of just such a struggle. In spite of Zechariah’s godliness, his obedience to the law and a lifetime of service in the ministry, his faith was weak when it came to believing such a promise.
Zechariah says, “How can I be sure?” I think that is hilarious! Most of us figure, “God if you would just show me a sign, send an angel, something like that, I’ll never doubt again.” But here is Zechariah and he receives all of that and still it is not enough.
Zechariah and his wife were good people but certainly not important people. They lived in an obscure little village in the hill country of Judah. But more important than physical pedigree, was their spiritual devotion. Luke describes them, as “righteous in the sight of God.” They were not perfect but they were set apart from their peers in the way in which they walked with God. Their only sorrow was that they had no family.
Zechariah was an ordinary country priest, one of perhaps as many as 20,000 estimated to be living in Palestine at the time. Because there were so many of them, they were divided into twenty-four groups. Each group would serve at the Temple for a week at a time, twice a year. When it was time for a priest’s division to serve, he went to Jerusalem.
Every day, one of them would be chosen by lot to burn incense in the Holy Place. Because there were so many priests, they were only allowed to burn the incense once in their lives, and still some never got the chance to do it. For a priest to receive the honor of burning the incense was the greatest day of his whole life. In this case, the lot finally fell to Zechariah and in an instant he was at the apex of his personal history. This was, without a doubt, the greatest day in all of his life.
There can be little doubt that his heart was filled with both awe and fear as he stepped into the Holy Place. Then Gabriel spoke. The text says that Zechariah was “shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” That is an understatement. He wasn’t just startled! He was terrified at the sight of the angel Gabriel.
Zechariah was going about his “religious duties”, but he never envisioned actually meeting God. I wonder what that says about our own attendance in “worship services”. We come to worship God, but do we have any idea that we might actually meet up with Him?
Like so many of us today, Zechariah seems to have believed in God, but never expected God to work in his own life. He served God but he was not ready when God spoke to him personally. He did not live in such a way as to expect God to act in his life.
Think of how you would have felt in that awesome place where you alone were allowed, when suddenly you realized that you were not alone, there was another person present with you.
Verse thirteen reveals that the angel’s first words were words of comfort; “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah.’” But the angel’s next words were a bombshell. The angel continues with, “for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”
He assures Zechariah that his prayers have been heard. Zechariah was no doubt praying for the redemption of Israel as he entered the Holy Place.
The angel tells him that his wife will bear a son, and Zechariah is to give him the name, John. John, which in Hebrew means, “God has been gracious.”
The angel continues in verse fourteen to reveal the character of this son. “And 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 shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This man, John, who would come to be called “the Baptist”, was to be an extraordinary man! He would have a great heart. Jesus would later say of him in Luke 7:28, “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
We have already noted Zechariah’s response was to question, he says, “How can I be sure?” He uses an emphatic statement when he says. “For I am an old man.”
God’s blessing for Zechariah is limited by his own lack of faith. He could only see what he thought to be an impossibility.
Maybe this is a good point for us to start thinking about how our own lives intersect with this part of the Christmas story. Our impossibilities are only the platforms upon which God is able to do his best work.
When you have come to the end of your hope – hope that a certain family member will change his or her behavior; hope that the medical problems you have will be resolved; hope that you will ever find the right job. Remember nothing frustrates God.
The same truth that Bob the Tomato told Jr. Asparagus in Veggie Tales is true for us as well. We need to remember that “God is the biggest.” I’m here to tell you today that our God is bigger than anything we might face right now. Scripture reminds us that while there are things that are impossible for human beings, nothing is impossible with our God.
Where do you need to see God do the impossible today?
Another take away that I see for us in Zechariah’s story is that God’s delays are not denials. We should never confuse a “wait” with a “no.” God may simply be saying that you will have to wait. When faced with a “wait,” we can either allow it to cause doubt or we can use the time to grow in our spiritual walk.
Chances are that amongst us this morning are people who have something that they have been praying about for a very long time. Maybe it is about a relationship? Maybe it is a struggle you face? Maybe it is something you have faced for years?
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for what must have seemed as if forever that they would be able to have a child. It had become an issue of great pain for them. Maybe you can relate to their struggle?
You have prayed and prayed and you have wondered if God has even heard a word you’ve said. Maybe you feel like your prayers just bounce back off of the ceiling.
Know this, just because you haven’t received the answer that you want to your prayer in the timing that you desire, does not mean that God is not going to answer your prayer. It might simply be that God’s timing and your timing are two different things. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story teaches us to be patient and to wait on God.
This also shows us that when God does choose to intervene, it is always for His glory and our good. God may not answer your prayer in the way that you expected, but you can be assured that God’s way is best.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous people, but even they had God in a box. They had confined him to acting in ways that they could comprehend and understand. God, on the other hand, had different plans. God had a grander and greater plan for their lives. He intended to use them for his glory and also do something that would be for their good.
In the Old Testament there is a passage of scripture that has been incredibly important to me and my family through the years. It is Jeremiah 29:11-14 and states, “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”
Know this morning that God has that same heart toward you. It was true for Zechariah and Elizabeth. It has been true for me throughout my life. It is also true for you.
Perhaps some of us came into this place today asking the question of Zechariah – “How can I be sure?” I want you to know that it is possible to leave here today with your question answered.
God’s word for you today is that you don’t have to be afraid. His word is true and his promises can be trusted.