Sunday, December 6, 2009

Serving in the Silence Luke 1:5-17

A sermon preached on December 6, 2009 at Hebron Baptist Church, Denham Springs, Louisiana by Pastor Joe Alain.

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-17

Focal Verse: “...But they had no child...” Luke 1:7

Background Passage: Malachi 4:4-6

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is one of great faith and hope. We find their account recorded in Luke chapter one. Verse 5 provides the setting for the story. The reference to “the days of Herod” reminds us that this was a dark time in the world. Herod had been appointed as King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 B.C. Herod the Great was an evil man (see Matthew 2) and a paranoid tyrant who held on to his throne at all costs, even executing family members he felt were a threat to his power. His paranoia led him to kill one of his ten wives and three of his children! This is the same Herod who had the children two years and younger in Bethlehem put to death.

Lights In The Darkness
In contrast to such a wicked person was a “priest named Zechariah...and his wife...Elizabeth.” They were two shining lights in a dark and crooked world. Zechariah was one of many priests in the days of Christ. From the time of David, in the Old Testament, the priests were divided into 24 courses or divisions, approximately 20,000 priests. All of the priests served during the three great Hebrew festivals: Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles, and Passover. The remainder of each year each division served two periods of one week each. Zechariah was only one of many in “the division of Abijah.” Abijah was one of the heads of the priestly families (see Neh. 12:17 and 1 Chron. 24:10). Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron, was also of priestly lineage. Luke 1:6 provides two glimpses into the character of Zechariah and Elizabeth which allowed them to shine in the darkness.

1. Righteous (On how a person is made righteous, see Gal. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:21)
First, “they were both righteous before God.” To be righteous means to be just, to be in a right relationship with God. God declared them righteous by faith.

2. Obedient
Second, they walked in “all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” They “remembered” God’s law (see Mal. 4:4). The word walk in Scripture has to do with a person’s life, especially their conduct. Zechariah and Elizabeth conducted their life according to God’s Word. They patterned their lives after the divine standard. Biblical righteousness is an inward quality that manifests itself in obedience to God’s word

Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in their character, they were obedient to God’s word in their conduct, and they were steadfast in their confession of faith. They were committed to living out (expressing) their faith. What a testimony of faithfulness! Do we stand righteous before God? Right with God and right in our character? Are we patterning our lives after God’s standard? Do we give consistent and visible expression to our faith?

"But They Had No Child"
3. Childless
Verse 7 provides the first hint of tension in the story, but with it’s revelation we have a theological bombshell dropped which shatters the otherwise perfect world of Zechariah and Elizabeth. “But they had no child.” For a Jewish couple to be childless was thought to be a sign of God’s displeasure. At the very least, it resulted in shame and reproach (Lk. 1:25). To be barren was considered to be a tragedy, personally and socially. Why did they have no child? Elizabeth was barren (lit. sterile) and they were both beyond the age to have children, humanly speaking.

We can be sure they tried to have children for many years. It was probably always on their minds. It was a desire of their hearts. It was their constant prayer request. They tried, they longed for, and they prayed, but all they heard was SILENCE.

Some of you have known that kind of heartbreak. Longing for a child. Praying. Waiting. But only hearing SILENCE. What do you do when God is silent? How do you respond to God’s silence? Zechariah and Elizabeth could have reacted in anger and bitterness. Certainly all their friends had little ones running around. They watched their neighbors kids grow up while they grew old. While their friends counted their kids birthdays, Zechariah and Elizabeth counted wrinkles and saw their dreams of a family fade into time.

What do you do when your dream dies? What do you do when Tragedy strikes? What do you do when you stand on God’s word and nothing happens? Did not God say that he would give us the desires of our heart? What do you do when He does not? You can get angry, bitter, and jealous. You can even give up on God.

“But they had no child.” Insert your situation here. “But he had cancer.” “But they had a divorce.” “But they had big dreams that didn’t come to pass.” Do you know what Zechariah and Elizabeth did? They continued serving God even in the SILENCE.

Nothing had changed except the passage of time. Zechariah and Elizabeth still were steadfast in their devotion to God. Why? They did not let their personal tragedy keep them from loving and serving God. Nothing had changed. They were still right before God. They were still patterning their life after God’s Word. They were still worshipping God! They refused to let God’s SILENCE become a stumbling block.

"But If Not" Faith
Sometimes we inwardly long for a faith that will move mountains. Perhaps we should long for a faith that will keep praying when we can’t see the answer? How about a faith to be content when you have been dealt a hardship? Or a faith to be satisfied when all around you people are getting the things you desire? How about a faith that will hold to God’s word even when years go by? Or a faith to keep serving in the SILENCE? That is faith!

1. Daniel’s Three Friends (Dan. 3:18)
“But if not faith.” That is what three young Hebrew men had. You remember their story from the book of Daniel? Daniel’s three friends were about to be thrown in the fiery furnace. They were given a chance to recant their confession, but this was not an option for these young men of God. They told the king “our God is able to deliver us, but if not, we will still praise God anyway!” That is “but if not faith.”

2. Job (Job 13:15)
Job had that kind of faith. Here was a man who lost his home, his family, and his health. He lost it all. His friends forsook him. Even his wife! After all that he could say, “though He slay me ,yet I will trust in Him!” That is “but if not faith.”
There is a certain “Rose-Colored-Glass” theology today that has left many people disillusioned. The godly do suffer. Christians are not immune from life’s difficulties and heartbreaks. We serve Him in the tragedies and disappointments of life. We serve Him in our suffering, our sickness, and in the SILENCE. Why? Because he is our God! We are inseparably joined to God in Christ! There is a purpose in the silence and the silence won’t last forever.

3. The Heroes of the Faith (Heb. 11:39-40a)
Hebrews 11 is overflowing with people who served in the SILENCE. We often forget that it says about them that they never received their full reward. They died in faith. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better” (11:39-40a). Some of them died with their prayers unanswered. They served in the SILENCE.

Does it require more faith to trust God and be delivered from the fire then to trust God and go through the fire? All around and in every church there are living flesh and blood epistles that bear the engravings of deeds of great faith and perseverance. The pages of their lives may be tattered but their bindings have been sewn with God’s enabling grace. Some of you have experienced great personal tragedy. You have had every human excuse to give up on God a long time ago but you haven’t. You still keep serving in the SILENCE. Zechariah and Elizabeth were people of great faith. They stuck to it. They learned to serve God in the SILENCE.

Silence Doesn’t Last Forever
Faith knows the SILENCE doesn’t last forever. “While he was serving” (verse 8). Don’t miss what is happening. Zechariah is getting ready to hear from God. What if he had quit? What if he had given up? What if he had said, “God, there is nothing happening.” It was while he was serving that God spoke to him. God broke the SILENCE.

Perhaps our dullness of hearing is due to the fact that we are not in a position where we can hear from God? God speaks in the suffering and the serving. How often do we miss out on hearing God because in our trial we cease serving and worshipping God? It is difficult to steer a car when the engine is not running. Keep your ears open to heaven. The latter rains are coming! Trials are not the time to drop out. They are times to press in even closer to Christ.

One of the highest honors for a priest was to offer incense (Lk. 1: 9). This was done twice a day, when morning and evening sacrifices were made. This represented the prayers of the people. The priest who was to offer the incense was chosen by lot. Since there were probably around 1,000 priests in each division, being chosen to burn incense on this day was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Being selected for this honor would be about as likely as winning the power ball this week! However, when God wants to speak and act he opens doors that no man can shut. Zechariah means “God remembers” and Elizabeth means “God’s oath.” On this day, God was not only remembering Zechariah and Elizabeth, He was remembering His eternal covenant of redemption.

While Zechariah was worshipping and serving, the angel of the Lord (Gabriel, Lk. 1: 19) appeared. Zechariah was understandably afraid. Gabriel announced that they would have a son. Their SILENCE would be broken.

Luke 1: 14-17 emphasizes John the Baptist’s role in God’s redemptive plan. However, there was even a larger purpose at work. God was breaking into the SILENCE of the world and John would be the forerunner who would announce the coming Messiah - Jesus! The fullness of the time had arrived (Gal. 4:4-6).

It is encouraging in our trials to remember that the Lord is working out His eternal purposes. His answered prayers for us are ultimately for His kingdom purposes. The story is always bigger than us. God broke the SILENCE of Zechariah and Elizabeth. But more than this, God broke 400 years of SILENCE. He was about to fulfill the longing of the people for the Messiah!

Zechariah and Elizabeth were willing to be used by God, they learned that God’s “No” is not forever, and they were faithful to the Lord in spite of their circumstance. What about us? Will we continue to serve God no matter what? Will we serve Him in our suffering and in our sickness? Will we serve Him when things are not going the way we thought? Will we serve Him in the SILENCE? That is faith! That is the kind of faith needed today. The kind of faith that will serve in the SILENCE, knowing that the SILENCE will not last forever. What breakthrough could be just ahead to end your SILENCE and bring glory to God? You may never know until you learn to serve in the SILENCE.

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

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