Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“As thou goest, step by step, I will open up the way before thee.”
Proverbs 4: 12
“Child of My love, fear not the unknown morrow,
Dread not the new demand life makes of thee;
Thy ignorance doth hold no cause for sorrow
Since what thou knowest not is known to Me.
Thou canst not see today the hidden meaning
Of My command, but thou the light shall gain;
Walk on in faith, upon My promise leaning,
And as thou goest all shall be made plain.
One step thou seest – then go forward boldly,
One step is far enough for faith to see;
Take that, and thy next duty shall be told thee,
For step by step the Lord is leading thee.
Stand not in fear, thy adversaries counting,
Dare every peril, save to disobey;
Thou shalt march on, all obstacles surmounting,
For I, the Strong, will open up the way.
Wherefore go gladly to the task assigned thee,
Having My promise, needing nothing more
Than just to know, wherever the future finds thee,
In all thy journeying I go before.”
Frank J. Exeley, D.D.
“The reason God created the Earth round is so that we don’t have to see too far ahead. Instead, we learn to walk step-by-step each day.”
Today’s Study Text:
“In the days when Herod was King of Judea there was a certain priest whose name was Zachariah, of the daily service, the division of Abia; and his wife was also a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they both were righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, for Elizabeth was barren; and both were far advance in years.”
Luke 1: 5-7
“He Came to Them First” - Part 2 –
Elizabeth, Zachariah and the Gift of Joy
“For those who love God, laughter isn’t optional, it’s scriptural.”
Liz Curtis Higgs
She Who Laughs, Lasts
In a society that believed a woman who couldn’t bear children was cursed, do I think I would have been able to have joy in my heart?
What am I missing in my life that has taken away my joy?
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
Proverbs 17: 22
“And there appeared to (Zachariah) an angel of the Lord; standing at the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zachariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear took possession of him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid Zachariah, because your petition was heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you must call his name John (God is favorable). And you shall have joy and exultant delight, and many will rejoice over his birth…Now after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she secluded herself entirely, saying, ‘I have hid myself. Because thus the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He deigned to look on me to take away my reproach among men.”
Luke 1: 11-14, 24, 25
They were an elderly couple. Most likely well known in Judea for Zachariah, the Bible tells us, was a priest. What’s more, his wife Elizabeth was a respected “descendant of Aaron.” The Scriptures shed light on the fact that this couple “lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God” (Luke 1: 6, The Message Bible).
However, after such a glowing report regarding the spiritual lives of this elderly duo, the Biblical record uses the word “But!” Now if you came to me and said, “Everything is perfect, but…” I’d be wondering exactly what “but” represented. As Webster’s dictionary tells us, the word “but” really means “on the contrary.” And in the case of the Godly couple, although they lived righteously, there was a “but” in their lives. It is important for us to grasp the significance of the small word “but,” especially as it is used and where it is used in this story.
At that time in Jewish history, upright behavior was associated with the blessings of heaven. If you lived righteously you expected good things to befall you. In the case of women, godly living meant your “womb was open” and you were able to bare children fruitfully. Yet we find that there were many women throughout Scripture who could not have a child easily. There was Sarah who didn’t have a child until she was way past child-bearing years. Rachel also had difficulty having children and ended up dying during the birth of her second child, Benjamin. And we can’t forget Hannah who was accused by the priest Eli of being drunk as she was actually praying in deep distress over the fact she was barren.
As we go to the New Testament, right at the beginning we read about Elizabeth who was also plagued with the problem of infertility. Her story gives us a clearer view of what childlessness meant at that time, especially for women. As Matthew Henry describes the situation, “Zachariah and Elizabeth had “been long childless…Elizabeth was barren, and they began to despair of ever having children, for they were both now ‘well-stricken’ in years, when the women that have been most fruitful leave off bearing.”
Matthew Henry follows up his comments on Elizabeth’s unfortunate situation with this very astute observation which I could personally relate to since I was only in my early twenties when I found out that I would never be able to have a “biological” child of my own. This news at such a young age affected my life in ways which are difficult and painful for me to put into words. As Henry points out though, God was still at work even in the dark: “Many eminent persons were born of mothers that had long been childless, as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, Samuel, and so here John the Baptist to make their birth the more remarkable and the blessing of it the more valuable to their parents, and to show that when God keeps his children long waiting for mercy, He is pleased to ‘compensate’ them for their patience by doubling the worth of it when it comes.”
In the case of the elderly Zachariah and Elizabeth, a day came when God moved heaven on behalf of His precious children here on earth. Dr. Luke tells us that, “While on duty, serving as priest before God in the order of his division, as was the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the sanctuary of the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1: 8, 9, Amplified Bible).
I want to stop for a moment as together we reflect on the actions of Zachariah and Elizabeth. I’m certain that as a young couple they eagerly looked forward to having a child of their own. However, when their hope turned into disappointment, rather than allowing a bitter spirit to corrode their lives, they continued to minister as they were called to do by God. They didn’t throw up their hands and say, “If God isn’t going to give us what we want and when we want it, we’re not going to work for Him!”
Instead, I want to share the words found in The Message Bible: “As Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his one turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense” (Luke 1: 8-10, The Message Bible). Did you catch the importance of these words? As Zachariah continued to serve God in his daily duties which God had asked him to perform, God entered his regular work-a-day world and “WOW” – something fantastic happened! Here’s how Dr. Luke describes the scene: “Unannounced, an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense” (Luke 1: 11, The Message Bible). Zachariah wasn’t at some big convention or rally. He wasn’t on a mountaintop or on a long retreat. The angel arrived when Zachariah was doing the daily routine of his job. How about that! God sent the angel right into Zachariah’s workplace. God knew where to find faithful Zachariah and He knew where to find the faithful Elizabeth who in later verses in Luke we find became the motherly mentor to the young Mary who held Jesus Christ within her womb.
Are there times when you feel that you aren’t doing anything valuable for God? You think your abilities aren’t being properly used. In fact, you may have called your life barren for you feel as if you are waiting and waiting and waiting for God to honor your faithfulness. You may even think that at your age you are too old and God has totally overlooked you and slid you to the “back burner” of service. Well, look out! Hang on! For as you do your daily duties, ask God to open your eyes to the angel He has ready at a moment’s notice to let you in on the surprise of your life. Just when you, and just when I, think our birthing days are over and done, God’s going to step in and say, “I know exactly where you are and your greatest days are ahead.”
I have two dear friends, Ken and Dottie Phillips. They have raised six fantastic children who are married. They have 20 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They have shared a lifetime of service for God and then a few years ago, a very difficult situation confronted them. Something very unfair happened in their lives. And in a certain way, I feel that God blessed me with the ability to see how these two servants of God reacted to the unkind treatment which befell them. No complaining that I ever heard. No words like, "Why would God let this happen after all the years we have served Him." Instead, they kept watch for an angel, sent with a heavenly message: "I have need of both of you. Your work isn't done yet." This was the message sent to them. In fact, I'll add that the ministries they are involved in now may very likely serve to be the defining work of their lives as they bring hope to hurting families all around the world. And all this happened when some people would have felt as if they had hit a dead-end. God just doesn't work that way in any of our lives for when we think we are about to run out of gas -- He refills our tank with "Supreme" gasoline and we are good to go in His power much longer than we could ever imagine!
I’m not going to stop with the fact that a speechless Zachariah had to get home as fast as possible and write a note to Elizabeth to tell her she was going to have a baby after all. Instead, I want to share the words the angel Gabriel conveyed to Zachariah: “Do not be afraid, Zachariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name of John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah; to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1: 13-17, N.I.V.).
They were an old couple going about their daily routine. Most likely still wondering why their desire for a child had never been fulfilled. But even though they didn’t completely understand the ”why?” they knew the “Who!” And their faithfulness never wavered. Then one day, they were given the gift of joy – an unexpected gift that helped them understand God’s eternal plan in their lives happens when we least expect it!
Author Luis Alonso Schobel in his book, Led By Hope offers this wonderful perspective which applies to each of us no matter our age: “There is a time in our lives when we try to give shape to the mysteries, give them a conceptual form. We make an effort to understand them, we read about them. As (our) life goes on the shapes blur. Not because we understand less, but on the contrary, because we understand more. Struggling with our minds…we contemplate with faith…and thus we glimpse that the hidden face of the mystery, the depth beneath its surface was much greater than what shows. We understand how little we understood. Not with a sense of frustration, but with the joy of knowing that we stand on the shore of a wide and mighty sea and can only hear its waves breaking on the beach…”
Do you long for the gift of joyful birthing this Christmas? Then keep watching for God’s angelic messenger who will enter your world with this song of hope: “(your name here), you are to give birth to your dream. Your fulfilled desire will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice and glorify God because of you. You have nothing to fear!”
“O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.”
“Joy is peace dancing; peace is joy resting.”
The Sense of Joy
“Grant to us, O Lord, the royalty of inward happiness, and the serenity which comes from living close to Thee. Daily renew in us the sense of joy, and let the eternal Spirit of the Father dwell in our souls and bodies, filling every corner of our hearts with light and grace; so that, bearing about with us the infection of good courage, we may be diffusers of life, and may meet all ills and cross accidents with gallant and high-hearted happiness, giving Thee thanks always for all things.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“One filled with joy preaches without preaching.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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