Sunday, July 24, 2011

Women of the Bible: Elizabeth – Luke 1:5-7, 24-25 and 57-66

Today we are going to conclude our preaching series focusing on the lives and examples of a few of the prominent women in Scripture and as we look to these women, I believe you will see great acts of faith and devotion in how they lived their lives. We began this series three weeks ago as we focused on the story of Deborah and how her faith in God and her ability to be humble, allowed her to deliver the Israelites from certain defeat. Two weeks ago we continued by turning to Esther, as we discovered how her courage and faith saved not only her own life but those of her people as well. Last week we looked at Ruth, a woman whose concern for others, combined with her ability to love, and loyalty to God, allowed her to influence another for Christ while inspiring the rest of those around her. Today we are going finish up this series by shifting our attention to Elizabeth, as we look to her faith in the face of the impossible, the benefits of her willingness to believe, and the resulting boldness she exuded in the way she lived her life.

The Fear of the Unknown
This past week Parker and I were walking home from the church. I was at a stopping point for the day and Parker was done at YMCA camp. As we were walking up the backyard I began to tease him a bit that July was almost over, that next month, August, school would start again, and his summer vacation was almost over. He grunted at me and immediately said that he did not want to go back to school. I asked him why and he said that second grade was going to be too hard. I then reminded him of all of the stuff he learned in first grade and how well he grasped all of those new facts and concepts. He said, “yea, but” and said, “but what?”. Parker without missing a beat said, “yea, but I already know all that first grade stuff!”

When we have to face uncertainty or try and understand those things that make no sense in our minds, we have a tendency to fear. We have a tendency to doubt, not only our own abilities, but those of God as well. Even though we understand God knows all and sees all, we sometimes have a hard time finding peace in that and being able to exist in that.

Doubt is a Painful Seed
That is where our story begins this morning. Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah had been going about his duties as a priest when he was visited by an angel. The angel brought him news that he and his wife were going to be parents and that they should name their son John. That in and of itself doesn’t seem like a big deal unless we realize from Scripture that Zechariah and Elizabeth have never had any children and are past their child-bearing years. Culturally speaking, people would have thought that they had sinned or done something wrong to be barren, but the writer of Luke makes it clear that they were both faithful in obeying the law and righteous in the eyes of God. When Zechariah questions the angel, he is rendered mute until after the baby is born. Elizabeth does indeed become pregnant and she secludes herself in her home in the hill country of Judea.

At this point Zechariah drops out of the picture for a bit and we get to focus on Elizabeth. And in doing so we see a stark contrast in demeanor, faith, and joy. When go back and look at Zechariah we see how his doubt causes him extraordinary trouble. Zechariah was performing his duties as priest and an angel of Lord approaches him. Telling him something that he initially believed to be impossible, even though this message was from God and this pregnancy was to have God's blessing, he still doubted. When told of this incredible news Zachariah’s response is, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18 NIV). Other versions translate his question as “How can I know this?” Eugene Peterson offers this paraphrase, “Do you expect me to believe this?” which captures the note of doubt and skeptical unbelief. Though it was quite true that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were old and past child-bearing years, the angel clearly expected Zechariah to believe what God had said. And because of this doubt he is rendered mute. It is almost as if God says to him, if you do not believe then move over, be quiet and watch.

Elizabeth's Model of Faith
Here is where Elizabeth becomes our teacher. God has a plan for our lives, a perfect plan. A perfect plan that we are blessed enough to be a part of, when we do not doubt. Zechariah doubted, Elizabeth did not. Elizabeth, like her cousin Mary, was grateful for this blessing of a child, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorable on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people” (Luke 1:25 NRSV). This feat of becoming pregnant at her age was a cultural and physical anomaly. The physical process of reproduction had more than likely ceased for Elizabeth, but that did not deter her faith. For Elizabeth, this was a gift from God, blessed by God, and in her mind a done deal. Regardless of any perceived obstacles or doubt in her mind, she showed incredible faith in the face of a physical impossibility. She allowed God to work his plan through her. She allowed God to bless humanity through her. She was given the opportunity to act for God and she took it.

So often in this life we are presented with opportunities. Opportunities for witness, opportunities to grow our faith, opportunities that will change our life and the way we perceive this world. We are each given, at various times, the opportunity to play a major role in God's plan for the building of his Kingdom here on Earth. That is where the decision comes. We can either demonstrate faith in the face of uncertainty, like Elizabeth, and be a part of extraordinary happenings; or we can allow doubt to be our guide, like Zechariah, and be left on the sidelines. God's plan is going to happen. With or without our involvement. Zechariah’s doubt did not stop Elizabeth's from getting pregnant and giving birth to the man we know as John the Baptist. In fact, despite Zechariah's doubt, John was still born and he still paved the way for Christ's earthly ministry. Doubt will never change God's plan only the way it comes about.

Unbelief the Thief
And it is in that doubt that we become familiar with our little nemesis, Unbelief the thief. Unbelief does not steal anything tangible or physical. Unbelief takes our emotional property. We talked a few weeks ago about the incredible, indescribable exhilaration we get when we are used by God. That exhilaration that comes when we believe and take that step of faith for God. The joy that we feel is what Unbelief will steal, when we doubt.

In Zechariah’s case, our nemesis Unbelief the thief, robbed him of the pride and joy in being a vocal part of Elizabeth's pregnancy. It robbed him of the honor of being able to name his son in the Temple. It robbed him of being able to help spread the word of the tremendous, incredible, and extraordinary gift God had given to him and Elizabeth. Instead, in what should have a been a time of joy and celebration, it was a time of shame and embarrassment. A time of regret and sorrow. But it was also a time of uncomfortable but necessary growth.

Unfortunately, Unbelief the thief is someone we all know and someone we have all done battle against, and unfortunately someone we will all see again. However, we have hope. Hope learned from the life of Elizabeth. Hope given from the power of the Holy Spirit. Hope that is ours because of the love of God.

Elizabeth does not have a whole book devoted to her in Scripture. She does not have chapter after chapter retelling the story of her life. But what we do have is an incredible example of faith in the face of the impossible. We are able to learn from her example the benefits of her willingness to believe, and the resulting boldness she exuded in the way she lived her life. Boldness that allowed her to stand before the elders in the temple, speak when Zechariah could not, and name her son John. Boldness not from her own doing, but because she had faith in the face of the impossible.

So my challenge to all of us, is to find that faith in face of the impossible. To have faith like Elizabeth and trust in God to accomplish anything. God's plan is not for us to decide. It is not for us to doubt. It for us to do. When God calls and directs us to those places where we are stretched; go. When God calls and directs us to those places where we are scared; go. When God calls; go. If you struggle with that, if you want help with that, if you want strength to continue that, come. Come to this rail and pray to your Father in heaven. Ask for whatever you need, turn over your worries and your unbelief, and renew and strengthen your resolve for Christ. God is here, listening, waiting, and eager to do those very things. All we have to do is ask.

You see, the joy, the goosebumps, the connectedness you feel when you are part of God plan for love, restoration, grace, mercy, and love is sensational. It will change your life, not to mention the lives of so many countless others. You know, God's plan is going to be why not be part of it?

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