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The Men of Christmas

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(12/7) Every year I try to do a different short series for Christmas. In the past we have looked at Christmas according to Jesus; according to Paul; according to John; and according to Isaiah. We have looked at the gifts of God; Advent themes, and six words on our Christmas cards. This year Sharon is doing a series about the Women of Christmas in her class and so, I thought I would do the Men of Christmas.

Several years ago, before Thanksgiving, Debbie and I stopped in at the mall in Westminster for something we wanted to get one of our grandchildren and we were amazed that there was already a long line of parents and children lined up to see the Santa Claus. I thought of the movie, A Christmas Story with little Ralphie sitting on Santaís lap and asking for a Red Ryder BB gun. That BB gun was what he wanted more than anything for Christmas. Every year children everywhere will make wish lists and will write letters to Santa, or will sit on his lap somewhere and tell him the things they want. Or, they will give their lists to their parents. And every year what they want seems to get more expensive as children also want technology and all that goes with it.

Ever go through Christmas and not get that thing that you wanted the most? If so, how did you feel? About 10 years ago, I really wanted a Bow-Flex machine so I could get that body I always wanted. I still donít have a Bow-Flex or the body.

How about now? Is there something that you really want? Letís go a little bit deeper. Is there something that you really want that is not for self-indulgence, something that you know would honor God, as well as bless your own heart? Is there something that you have desired and prayed about for a long time? Something that you have worked and prayed for and yet it hasnít happened and doesnít look like it will ever happen? Perhaps it is the salvation of a loved one? Reconciliation with a loved one? Children or Grandchildren? To feel loved and respected? To hear someone say, "I am proud of you," or, "We need you?" To be able to overcome an addiction? To have an opportunity to do something great for someone or for God? To be out of debt? To be healed of a disease, depression, or deformity? Have you ever been disappointed with God? You have served God and obeyed God and loved God and prayed and poured your heart out to God, and have given to God, and worshipped God, and yet heaven seems to be silent and God seems to be distant?

We know that our God is a covenant keeping God. Today we will celebrate the covenant that He made with us called the New Covenant. We rest in the certainty that God is going to keep His word. We know and believe that God is faithful and yet it seems like He has forgotten us at times. There are places like Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." Jeremiah 33:3, ĎCall to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know, and Matthew 7:7-11, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 1 John 5:14-15, " Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him." And our Lord Jesus also said, "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14). We arenít asking for diamonds or to win the lottery or to find buried treasure. We want the joy or peace that is associated with our desire, and we want to give the glory to our God for what He gives, and yet heaven is silent, and we canít understand why. Ever been there? Are you there now?

We begin our study with two people who are there. We know them as Zachariah and Elizabeth, the ones who become the parents of John the Baptist. Paul the apostle would tell us, "that all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable to us," (2 Tim. 3:16). Our Lord had their story written down for generations to come to read and to benefit by. So, letís look at their story. (Read Luke 1:5 ff).

Luke begins his gospel with their story. Let me remind you that all of Israel had gone 400 years, give or take, without a word from God. Thatís the time between the last jot of Malachi and the birth of Jesus. Thatís about the time span between when Jamestown was founded (1607) or the pilgrims landed (1620) and now. Malachi 3-4 are about the coming of the Day of the Lord and the Lordís fore-runner or announcer, who would be like Elijah. Luke is connecting the dots between the two for us.

In that time span, a lot of history has occurred, Israel has had at least 4 different occupying armies and nations to answer to. And they had the Maccabean uprising that reclaimed and cleansed the temple after Antiochus desecrated it, resulting in the Hanukah celebration that our Jewish friends have about this time of year. But in His silence, God had been up to something good. He has, according to Galatians 4:4, been preparing Israel and the world for the right time to send the promised redeemer. "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law." Ever since the incident with the fruit tree in Eden, God has promised a redeemer. By the way, here is a trivia question. To whom was the promise of a redeemer first given to? The answer is, the serpent or Satan! Listen: So the Lord God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." (Gen. 3:14-15)

After 400 years of silence God speaks and the first person He speaks to is an old priest named Zachariah.

I. His Profile-

A. Both Zach and Beth were direct descendants of Aaron. (v.5) Therefore, Zachariah was a priest, but as by this time there were so many priests, each would serve on a rotation basis and would probably only serve for just one week. By the way, Zachariah means, the Lord remembers.

B. Both were righteous and blameless (v.6). This man and his wife loved God and loved serving God and they obeyed God in the smallest detail, so that no one could say anything negative about their character or their faith. They had a good reputation. The kind that both Peter and Paul said that Church leaders need to have (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1; Acts 6). Their neighbors and community would testify that these were good, God-fearing people. They lived what they said they believed.

C. Both were now older, and well past menopause, and probably in their 60ís or 70ís.

D. They had no children- no daughter to teach how to cook or bake cookies or make potato candy. No son to throw a ball with or teach how to hunt or fish or change a wagon wheel. And a child was the one thing that they desired more than anything else in the world.

II. Their Problem- They also had a Stigma - They were childless. Elizabeth called it a "reproach" in verse 25. She was looked down upon as being less a woman than others. Though no one could accuse them of any sin or disobedience to Godís laws and ordinances, they were barren and to a Jewish family not to have children, it was assumed that there had to be something wrong with one or both of the two and the finger of blame was usually pointed to the woman. William Barclay wrote in his commentary, "Jewish Rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God," and the list began with, Ďa Jew who has no wife or a Jew who has a wife and no child.í Childless-ness was grounds for a divorce." Your children are your legacy, your name, your inheritance, etc.

We can only imagine what people whispered about these two for years now. Maybe like Jobís friends, though no one could name a single wrong, they may have been counseled to confess their secret sin. Likewise, we can only imagine what they felt, knowing that there was nothing between their soul and their God, and knowing that they had lived their lives for God and yet God had not granted them the one thing they wanted most. It was not money, nor long life, nor things, nor power, nor position, they just wanted a child that they could raise for the Glory of God and leave a legacy and an inheritance to; someone to pass their name on to. Both must have thought about Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Manoah and his bride (Samsonís parents), and Elkanah and Hannah. Though God had delivered for them, He seems to have closed His ears to us.

What made the problem seem worse was that he was a priest, a man chosen to serve God.

III. His Place (v. 9)

Zachariahís turn at serving had finally arrived. He had spent his life anticipating this time. But not only that, but he was chosen especially by God to burn incense at the Alter of incense in the Holy place. Lots were cast to see who would be the one, and it fell to Zachariah. Listen to Proverbs 16:31, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." The Lord God had chosen for him to be at that place at that time. This was a high honor and a man could only do it twice in a lifetime. Listen to Alfred Edersheimís description in, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.

This was the Alter of Intercession. As the sweet smelling fragrance of the incense was pleasing to the nose of the priest, it pictured for the worshippers, the pleasure of God for the prayers being offered. This picture is magnified for us in Rev. 5 and again in Rev. 8.

IV. His Promise

It was there in the midst of serving God and the people that God sent a message to this faithful man. (vv.11-17). It appears that even as an old man Zachariah still prayed for a miracle. Maybe, he was praying for the Messiah to come or maybe he begged God to do for him what he did for Abraham and Sarah, and the others we mentioned earlier. The angel Gabriel appears on the right side of the Alter of Incense to affirm that God had heard and would answer his prayer. Zach is scared to death as any of us would be if we saw the glory and presence of an angel. They may appear like Roma Downey, but in scripture they most often appeared in glorious presence. If we would have been there we would have reacted with the same fear. Seeing an angel other than my wife, daughter, and grandchildren, would frighten us beyond our comprehension.

Now, there was a reason within the plan and purpose of God for waiting all these years until now to answer Zachís prayer. This pregnancy would be evidence that God was doing something great.

"Your prayer has been heard and you will have your child, a son that you are to name John" Notice that with this child would be:

  • Joy and gladness (v. 14a)
  • Rejoicing of many (v. 14b)
  • The child will be great in the sight of God. Jesus would later say that John was the greatest of all the prophets ever (v. 15 cp. 7:28).
  • Reconciliation of people to God (v.16)
  • Reconciliation of families (v. 17a)
  • A people ready to meet their Lord. (v. 17b)
  • He would be in the Spirit and Power of Elijah (v.17)

V. His Puzzlement. (v. 18)

Zachariahís response was probably like ours would be. Eugene Peterson paraphrased it this way. "You expect me to believe this? My wife is old and I am old." Zach knew that he and Beth were both past menopause. Like Sarah, He may have even laughed a little sarcastically, like "yeah, right. Who are you kidding?" And he asked exactly what Mary would ask in a few months and what Abraham asked when God told him about his heirs and inheritance. How will I know for sure because this is impossible? Perhaps he shook off the angelís appearance and pronouncement much like Scrooge tried to shake off Marleyís appearance as a piece of undigested beef. Well, God gave him a sign that would leave him speechless for nine to ten months.

VI. His Praise (Vv. 57-79)

And all that was promised came to be (Elizabeth conceived v.24). Their reproach was removed and they had joy in their home as 9-10 months later, in their old age, a son was born.

Their neighbors rejoiced with them (v. 58). He named him John as the angel said. In Hebrew the meaning of the name John is: Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor. A very appropriate name.

And Zechariah praised God as his voice returned to him (Vv. 64-79)

A sense of awe and wonder came on everyone in the neighborhood and everyone knew this child would be special (Vv. 65-66)

And Israel had someone to announce the coming of the Messiah as we will focus on next week. (Vv. 76-79)

VII. The Principles from Their Story

A. Examine your heart. It is true that there are times when God will not answer our prayers because of sin that has not been confessed and forsaken. (Ps. 66:18). If we are not caring for the poor or obeying our Lord neither will He hear with the intent to answer? So there are times to examine your heart and if He reveals the thing, donít rationalize or justify or make excuses, confess it, forsake it, make restitution, and seek reconciliation. Do I love God with all my heart? But, if you have confessed your sin and donít know of any unconfessed sin, then donít try to blame yourself for Heavenís silence. Do you understand this?

B. Be Faithful. That is, even if heaven seems to be silent, it is not. God has given us His grace and salvation and adopted us and prepared heaven for us. Therefore even when I donít understand why God doesnít answer my prayer I am going to serve Him. I am going to honor Him, I am going to obey Him, no matter what. These two faithfully served God and lived their lives to glorify and honor God even when they felt disappointed with God because they did not have the desire of their heart.

Do you remember Paulís testimony from 2 Cor. 12? He had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him lest he should be proud and arrogant because of his privileged vision of heaven. He begged God to remove it and God said, "No." "And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." If God never answers another prayer, would not His forgiveness, His presence, His promises be enough? Be faithful and donít stop serving and loving God.

C. Be Persistent. That is, never give up on your dream, even if it seems impossible. Our Lord Jesus gave a parable in Luke 18:1 to this end, "that we should always pray and not lose heart." There are times when, for His good reasons, God waits until it is impossible before He makes it possible. Just ask Abraham, Gideon, Jehosaphat, Moses and others. There is nothing too hard for the Lord nor is anything impossible with God, as the angel Gabriel would remind Mary in 1:37. Never give up on your dream if that dream will honor God and bring you peace and joy. That is the point of Jesusí teaching in Matt. 7:7-11; Luke 11:5-13; and 18:1-8. So, never give up on your dreams and desires.

 

D. Trust God Ė No matter what. Proverbs 3:5-6 and Hebrews 10-11 shout to us to exercise faith in the plan of God. Romans 8:28 says, that He has a plan even when we donít understand. Jeremiah reminds us that that plan is ultimately for our good and not our harm. When the little prophet Habakkuk asked why God wasnít doing something, the reply was (Hab. 1:5), "I am doing something, but if I told you what, you wouldnít believe it." Your Father in Heaven loves you and Romans 8:35-39 reminds us that nothing will ever cause Him to stop loving you.

The word wait doesnít simply mean to sit back and twiddle your thumbs like some of us do on a deer stand. It literally means to wrap around like the stands of a rope or binding twine. Those who wrap themselves around God are made stronger by His strength. While I am waiting for my dream or desire I am about Him and His will. I am wrapped up in Him.

I know that we live in an instant society. Like the prayer that says, "Lord give me patience and give it to me now." But Godís ways are not ours and He has a plan and a purpose for what he is doing in our lives." My friend and pastor used to say, "God is seldom early, but He is never late." May I encourage you to take these simple principles and post them in your Bible or on your refrigerator and review them from time to time? I believe that they will strengthen your heart.

Our God does keep His word. He has given us promises and he does not, and cannot lie. Today we celebrate the Covenant that He has made with us, called the New Covenant. This Covenant promises forgiveness, adoption, an inheritance and Godís eternal presence in the life of everyone who receives His Gift of Grace that He gives us in Jesus. When Jesus raised the cup on the night of His betrayal, He said that that His blood was the assurance, the guarantee that all God has promised He will do.

The Bread reminds us of the means by which God displayed His love. He came in a body, sacrificed Himself, and died in our place, paying for the sins that we have committed and deserve to pay for. We eat to remember His great love and sacrifice.

The Cup reminds us of the Blood that drained from His body to give us a Hope and a sure Future.

I pray that the eating of this bread and this cup will both remind you of the length that God will go to so that you would know He loves you, and an incentive to trust and obey Him as you wait for Him to work with regard to the desire of your heart.

Letís pray-

Do you know Jesus as your Savior and Lord?

Are you loving Him, serving Him, trusting Him, persistently praying about your desire, and wrapping yourself around Him right now?

If this life lesson has challenged, encouraged or helped you, let me know, or if you have any questions, write to me at pastorgarybuchman@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you. (p.s. I wonít put you on a mailing list or ask you for money). It would encourage me to know that you were encouraged.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman