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December 3, 2022

Second Week of ADVENT

 

“FEAR NOT, JUST TRUST”

 

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

 

 

 

Have you ever been afraid at Christmas time?

 

Maybe it was a tough year financially and you were afraid that you’d let your family down and not be able to buy those gifts on their Christmas lists.  You just couldn’t meet their expectations!

 

Maybe it was a first Christmas in your new reality and you were afraid of spending Christmas alone . . . either because of death or divorce.

 

This is week two of our “Fear Not” Advent Sermon Series.  This sermon series takes a look at the various “Fear Nots” that are found in the Christmas story.

 

Last week our message was “Fear Not, Just Believe,” and we looked at the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and his message, Luke 1:13  . . . 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.”

 

We looked at the ramifications of those words, “God has heard your prayers.”  Sometimes we are afraid that God won’t answer our prayers, but we need to understand that when our prayers are answered there are usually many different moving parts that go along with the answered prayers.  If you missed last week’s message, you can find the full sermon notes and the video on our A&D website.

Today, we are moving to the next chapter of the Christmas story.  It’s here that we are first introduced to Mary.  If there’s a person who should receive best supporting role in the Christmas story, it would be Mary!  She almost deserves best lead, but how do you compete with the Son of God?

 

It's kind of like the story about the Sunday School Class, where the teacher asked the children, “What’s grey has a bushy tail and collects nuts.”  One little boy blurted out, “It sounds like a squirrel, but I bet the answer is Jesus!”

 

Mary was a critical piece of the puzzle . . . and, she is truly what makes Christmas . . . well, Christmas.

 

Through the years she’s been called The Holy Mary, Saint Mary, The Blessed Mother, The Mother of God and on and on and on.  But in the Bible, she is simply called . . . Mary.

 

Pastor and author Max Lucado lists 25 questions that he’d like to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Here are a few of my favorites:

 

What was it like watching him pray?

 

When he saw a rainbow did he ever mention a flood?

 

Did you ever feel awkward . . . teaching him how he created the world?

 

When he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter how did he react?

 

Did you ever try to count the stars with him . . . and succeed?

 

Did he ever come home with a black eye?

 

Did he have any friends by the name of Judas?

 

Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under your own roof?

 

Did you ever accidentally call him Father?

 

What did he and his cousin John talk about, as kids?

 

Did you ever think, “That’s God eating my soup?”

 

Mary is my hero.  She was the one chosen to change the diapers of God.  But, before that she was just a young lady, with all the dreams and aspirations that young ladies 2,000 years ago had.  She was going to get married and she was going to raise a family.

 

So, our story begins with these words . . . 

 

Luke 1:26-27 (NLT)

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.

 

Up to this point, it really isn’t all that complicated.  It’s just a young couple who were planning on getting married.  But, it’s kind of interesting how Mary is described.  Did you catch that?  God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary.

 

I don’t know when the last time was that I introduced someone by stating they were a virgin.  Let me think, NEVER!  But, that description is going to be instrumental in this story.

 

I know that there are folks who poo-poo the entire idea of the virgin birth - and even some pastors and churches who say that it’s not possible for a virgin to conceive.  They tell their people that it’s not really necessary to believe in the Virgin birth. 

They would tell you that Matthew simply meant that Mary was a young woman, or perhaps a young unmarried woman.

 

In Athens, Greece, there is the remains of a structure called the “Parthenon.”  This is considered to be the most important surviving example of Classical Greek architecture.  It was built around 400 years before the birth of Christ and it was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena.  This is a stature of her which is called Athena Parthenos, or literally, “Athena the Virgin.”  Parthenon means the Virgin’s Room.

 

Why is that important?  Because the Greek word Parthenos is the word that is used time and time again to describe Mary.  And really there are only two options, either Mary was a Virgin or someone other than Joseph got her pregnant before the wedding.  Because, we know from Joe’s response to the news, that it wasn’t Joseph!

 

Entire sermons have been preached on the Virgin birth, as a matter of fact I have preached entire sermons on the virgin birth - but the bottom line is:  you either believe it or you don’t believe it.  The choice is yours.  I believe it!

 

It was Mary who was there when Jesus was conceived; it was Mary who was there when Jesus was born; it was Mary who was there when Jesus was murdered.

So, let’s pick up the story again . . .

 

Luke 1:28-30 (NLT)

28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman!  The Lord is with you!”  29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!”

 

Gabriel is actually mentioned six times in the Bible.  Four of those instances were in the book of Daniel, it would appear that this was the Angel who revealed the prophecies of God to Daniel, and twice in the book of Luke; where he first spoke to Zechariah concerning Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and again here.

 

We touched on this last week - we don’t know what an angel might or might not look like, but I don’t think Gabriel was saying “Don’t be afraid, I’m an angel!”

 

What Gabriel said was . . . 

 

Luke 1:30 (NLT)

“Don’t be afraid, Mary, . . . for you have found favor with God!”

 

At first glance, one wouldn’t think that finding favor with God would be something that you should be afraid of.  But, listen to what finding favor with God entailed for Mary . . .

 

Luke 1:31 (NLT)

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

 

Oh, and look at the next sentences . . .

Luke 1:32-33 (NLT)

32 “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

 

I love the fact that Mary doesn’t question that her son will be great, or will be called the Son of the Most High, or will be given the throne of David and will reign over Israel.  She’s a little more practical. 

 

Listen to her question . . . 

 

Luke 1:34 (NLT)

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen?  I am a virgin.”

 

Now in this instance Mary doesn’t use the Greek word Parthenos, instead what she says is, “I’ve never known a man.”  Which may seem a little vague to us in 2022, but was crystal clear 2,000 years ago.  She was stating without hesitation that she was a virgin.  The Angel’s response was basically, “Yeah, that’s no problem.  You just need to trust the Father on this.”  Actually, he was a little more wordy than that . . .

 

Luke 1:35-37

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!  People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.

 

I don’t know what was going through Mary’s mind right then, but listen to her response to old Gabe . . . 

 

Luke 1:38

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May everything you have said about me come true.”  And then the angel left her.

I know that what I’m about to say is not popular, but sometimes, as Evangelicals, I think that we tend to leave Mary in some obscure corner and rarely talk about her.  We see how the Roman Catholic Church has virtually made Mary a deity, so in an effort to not appear “pro-Catholic” we do what is normally done with other pregnant teenagers like Mary . . . we prefer that she not come to church.

 

The only time we mention Mary is at Christmas.  The rest of the time, you'd think that Jesus had been raised as an orphan! 

 

But, Jesus wasn't raised an orphan, it was Mary who changed God's diapers and it was Mary who wiped God's nose and it was Mary who held God when he was crying.  Kind of a mind-blowing thought, isn't it? 

 

Well,” you say, “he was the Son of God.”

 

That’s true, but let me tell you a little story.  I'm the son of Lloyd William Scherer.  For the first ten plus years of my life, my dad took care of his elderly and sickly mother (my Grandma, Maude Scherer).  She lived in her own home and refused to go to assisted living.  My dad would go to her home early in the morning  to get her out of bed / use the bathroom / fix her breakfast . . . all before he went to work.

 

Then, he’d take his lunch break and go to his mother’s home and do more “care giving.”   

 

When he got off of work, he’d come home and take dinner (which my mother had prepared) to feed my grandmother.  He’d then come home and eat dinner with mom and me. 

 

A couple of hours later, he’d head to grandma’s house to get her cleaned up and ready for bed.  He’d tuck her in and then come home . . . watch a little TV . . . go to bed . . . and wait to do it all over again the next day.

 

So, the major influence in my life was not Lloyd Scherer (although Donna says that I become more like him each year that I live . . . and I haven't figured out if that is a compliment or a complaint).  The major influence on the young adolescent life of the Rev. Dr. Ralph L. Scherer was Margaret Scherer.

 

In much the same way, God was an absentee father and delegated the raising of his Son to a very young Galilean lady by the name of Mary.  Yes, Jesus was the son of God, and he came to take away our sin, but before that he was a teenager.  And before that, he was a child.  And before that, he was a baby!

 

So, I ask you, “Who held him to her breast?” and “Who cuddled him?” and “Who rocked him, told him bedtime stories and sang him lullabies?”  “Who stayed up all night with him when he was sick?”  “And, who wiped away the tears and bandaged his knee where he fell and scraped it?”

 

God may have been his Father, but Mary was Jesus’ mother . . . and she was the one who raised Christ to be the man that he became.

 

Ask yourself this question:  What type of person would you want to raise your kids?  I’m not sure I’d want me raising mine . . . I'd want somebody that was a really good parent!

 

But what made Mary so special that God was willing to entrust her with his one and only son?  God was willing to trust Mary because Mary was willing to trust God.

 

What was it that she needed to trust God with?

 

Mary Needed To Trust God With The Details.

 

If we believe that life begins at conception, then the reality is:  one minute you’re not pregnant, and the next minute you are.  But, you’re at least somewhat aware of the possibility of that happening.  Regardless of how unplanned it was, or how surprised you were, the possibility was there.

 

For Mary, that wasn’t the case.  She was unpregnant. (Is that even a word?)  She was unpregnant and then she was pregnant . . . with nothing in between.

 

Elizabeth and Zechariah were unable to have children and then Gabriel told Zechariah that their prayers had been answered and they would have a son.  But other than the fact that they couldn’t have children and then they did have a child there was nothing “miraculous” about what happened.

 

We have to assume from the story that Elizabeth and Zechariah did their part (wink / wink) and as a result Elizabeth conceived.

 

Elizabeth could say that John looked just like his father, Zechariah.  When she was scolding or praising her son, she could say, “You’re just like your father.”

 

But with Mary, it was outside the natural.  She had to believe that she would become pregnant, not because of anything she might do, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

That’s a tough one isn’t it?  It’s all well and good to say you believe that God has your very best at heart.  It’s easy to say that you believe that God can do anything.  But Mary was basically saying, “Not only do I believe it here, in my heart, but I’m allowing you to work it out in my life.  I may not understand it, I might not even agree with what you are proposing, but you are God. So, bring it on!”

 

Can you trust God with the details of your Christian life? 

 

I mean, the everyday, real life stuff!  When he asks you to serve?  When he asks you to give?  Can you trust him to take care of the details?

 

We kind of get the highlights:  Mary was engaged to Joseph; she became pregnant by the Holy spirit; she travelled to Bethlehem with Joseph; Jesus was born; they got married and they all lived happily ever after.  The end.

But . . . do we stop and think about the upheaval in her life?  Her plan, I’m sure, was to get married and then get pregnant, not the other way around!

 

Her plan never included the scorn of people in her community, or the distrust (if only for a while) of her fiancé, and ultimately the stress of raising the Son of God.

 

Mary Needed To Trust God With The Immediate Results.

 

Think about it, Mary lived in a small community, where everybody knew everybody, and, everybody’s business.  I’m sure that people knew Mary and Joseph were engaged, and they probably knew when Mary and Joseph were supposed to be married.  Now, all of a sudden, she’s pregnant and they are not yet married.  And she has this unbelievable story about how she is still virgin . . . and how the father of the baby she’s carrying is God?!

 

You probably would have believed Mary and supported her, right?  But, I’m not sure that the rest of the community would have been as understanding and compassionate!

 

And, I’m not sure that Mary understood all of the ramifications.  She would have known some of them and she willingly gave up her reputation and her plans for the future in order to be obedient to God.  And, she had to think about raising a child.  We all worry about messing our kids up, but what if you had the added pressure and responsibility of that child being the SON of God?

 

I wonder, as Mary watched Jesus grow up, how often she thought of the words of the angel and wonder when the rest of the prophecy would come true?

 

Luke 1:32-33 (NLT)

32 “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

 

For four hundred years the Jewish people had looked forward to the day their Messiah would come.  They waited through the Babylonian Conquest, and then the Assyrian Conquest.  They felt sure it would happen time and time again.  And now, they watched as the armies of Rome occupied their country . . . and still they waited.

 

It hadn’t happened yet, but they were confident that God would send his Messiah to deliver them.  And, most of them envisioned the Messiah arriving riding a white horse and conquering ALL - with the might of the sword!  Perhaps that was what Mary envisioned . . . but, that wasn’t who Jesus was. 

 

Instead of leading an army, he came preaching grace and forgiveness.  He told others to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile.  Instead of arriving on a white horse as a conqueror, we read that he fulfilled the prophecy of the Prophet Jeremiah . . .

 

Matthew 21:1-5 (NIV)

1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her.  Untie them and bring them to me.  3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”  4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:  5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

 

And that of course led to the Cross. 

 

I can’t imagine losing a child, and to have that loss magnified by having your child murdered.  And, to have to watch him being murdered!  We see Mary at the beginning of her son’s story and we also see her at the end . . . 

 

John 19:16-18, 25 (NIV)

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.  So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.  17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).  18 There they crucified him, and with him two others - one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

 

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

 

Finally . . . Mary Needed To Trust God With The Ultimate Results.

 

How could God have let this happen?  This wasn’t part of the plan.  How could this be part of the plan?

 

The angel said he would be called the Son of the Most High, but they called him a heretic and a traitor.  The angel said that his Kingdom would never end, but now she was watching his life end on a Cross - as his followers, scattered, betrayed him and denied they ever knew him!

 

If Mary only knew that in three days her Son would conquer the grave and rise again!  If only Mary could have seen the difference that her Son would make through history, with sins forgiven and lives changed!

 

If only Mary could see the difference that those who followed her Son would make in a broken world.  That for two thousand years, hospitals, schools, and orphanages would be started, and wells would be drilled and water provided - all in her Son’s name.

 

God calls us to trust him, even when we can’t see all of the picture, even when we might not agree with the direction the path is taking.

 

We are reminded, in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”

 

At the foot of the cross, all that Mary could cling to was her faith in God and his promises.

 

 

 I don’t know where you are on your journey.  I don’t know your whole story.  But, if God has called you to follow him, then God has called you to trust him.  Trust him with the details, with the immediate results and with the ultimate results.  And as we close, my prayer for you this second week of Advent is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Church in Rome 2,000 years ago:

 

Romans 15:13 (NLT)

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

FEAR NOT, JUST TRUST!

 

 

November 26, 2022

First Week of ADVENT

 

“FEAR NOT, JUST BELIEVE”

 

Luke 1:5-15 (NIV)

 

Fear and Christmas are not words that I would think go together.  Maybe Halloween and fear -but not Christmas!  Right?

 

Well, according to those “in the know,” there’s plenty to fear about Christmas . . .

 

If you have selaphobia, it means you have a fear of flashing lights.

 

Or, if you suffer from Cyssanophobia then you have a fear of kissing someone under mistletoe.

 

If getting together with relatives is a fear that you suffer from then you have Syngenesophobia.

 

And, Meleagrisphobia is a fear of turkeys, even if they are cooked.  (Maybe you should go with a Christmas Pizza?)

 

Gift giving takes a hit if you have ghabhphobia.  That refers to a person with social anxiety who hates the attention placed on them once they receive a gift.  (My mother always told me, “Just say, ‘Thank You.’”)

 

If attending Church at Christmas time gives you the willies, you have ecclesiophobia.  (Apparently, a lot of people have that fear . . . all year long.)

 

Maybe it’s the entire Christmas season, that you’re afraid of.  You’ll be glad to know that while it may all be in your head, there is a name for it . . . it’s called Christougenniatikophobia.

 

This is the first weekend of Advent.  Our sermon series for the next few weeks is, “Fear Not . . .”  We will be looking at various times in the Christmas story where the people were told to not be afraid.

 

Today, we start in the months leading up to the Christmas story.  It is a familiar story for this time of year . . . a heavenly messenger, a miraculous birth, a normal childhood, a short ministry preaching to people who both loved and hated his message - and then, a dying much too young . . . at the hands of the authorities he had offended.

 

Most people could fill in the missing details of the Christmas story, if they were asked, and they would be wrong.  They’d probably talk about shepherds and wise men, heavenly choirs and stables, little animals, a drummer boy and flying reindeer!

 

But none of those were part of the story.  I know that you are thinking, “Well maybe not the drummer boy and the flying reindeer . . . but the rest were.”

 

Nope!  The problem is that the story is familiar but only because it mirrors another story.

At this time of the year we are all too familiar with the Christmas story and all that goes with it, and most of us can repeat the details . . . both the details that are biblical and the details that are extra biblical. 

 

Wrapped up in the Christmas celebrations are facts and legends and poems and songs.  And that is why Christians, will celebrate around the world in less than a month.  And, even those who would never darken the door of a church 364 days out of the year will take time to at least tip their hats to the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.

 

But, the story didn’t start when the Angel appeared to Mary.  No, the story began half a year earlier and over 60 miles away.

 

Before the angel appeared to Mary and Joseph, he had already appeared in Jerusalem to a man named Zechariah - to announce the birth of a boy who would be named John.  Part of that story was read for us earlier, and, we are going to look at the story of Jesus’ older cousin John - because the story of Jesus wouldn’t be complete without the story of John.

 

Actually, we are going to take a look at John’s parents, and, in particular his father.  So, let’s begin our journey where our journey should begin - at the beginning. 

Historically, we are at the end of four hundred years of silence in the story of Israel.  The last recorded words from one of God’s prophets had been written in the book of Malachi and the people of Israel have been waiting to be delivered from the various occupiers of their country.

 

So, our story begins . . . 

 

Luke 1:5 (NIV)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.

 

Interestingly enough Elizabeth is actually a relative of Mary’s.  Earlier I called John a cousin  to Jesus, because I didn’t know what else to call him.  And that’s what he would have been called in those extended families - when you can’t think of anything else to call someone who is kin, you call them your cousin.  You know if they aren’t your brother or sister, niece or nephew they have to be your cousin!

 

When the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary at the beginning of the Christmas story he revealed this to her . . . 

 

Luke 1:36 (NIV)

Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.

 

In the King James Version, Elizabeth is called Mary’s cousin, but the word in the original Greek was much broader than that and simply meant someone who was related to you - somehow.  And she may have been her cousin, we just don’t know.  What we do know is that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron and we are told that Mary was a descendant of David, so, whatever relationship they shared was on their mother’s side of the family tree.  And, we do know a few things about Zechariah and Elizabeth.  We know that they were good folks . . .

 

Luke 1:6 ((NIV)

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.

 

Sounds like good folk to me!  And we know that Zechariah was a priest and that Elizabeth was descended from the priestly line, and we know that they were childless.  To be childless in those days was a tragedy for most folks . . . but for a priest, it was a double tragedy in that there would be no son to carry on his priestly responsibilities.

 

Also, we know that they were older.  We don’t know how old, but they were old enough for it to be mentioned.  

 

And, we know that they were chosen for a very special assignment . . . to birth and to raise John.  This wasn’t just an, “Oops we are pregnant, what now?” situation.  This was part of God’s plan.  From the beginning, this was to be a very special birth and a very special child!

 

Let’s look back into the story . . .

 

Luke 1:11-13 (NIV)

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  13 But the angel said to him:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”

 

Now understand, there are folks who don’t have children because they don’t want children.  And that’s their decision.  (Some people don’t have cats . . . because they don’t want cats.)  The reason that Elizabeth didn’t have children was because she and Zechariah couldn’t have them. 

 

I’m pretty sure that 2,000 years ago people had figured out how babies were made.  And Zechariah and Elizabeth had been trying for years and it hadn’t worked.  I’m sure it wasn’t for lack of trying, or for a lack of wanting a child . . . because, when Gabriel breaks the news to old Zech, he tells him that their prayers were going to be answered!

 

As far as we know, old Zechariah went home and conveyed the message of the angel to Elizabeth.  Can you imagine that conversation?  “An angel told you we are supposed to do what?”   Seriously, Liz, I’m not kidding.” 

 

Actually, if you are familiar with the story then you know that Zechariah lost his voice in the temple and could not speak, so he had to explain all of this to Elizabeth using hand signals and charades.  Now that would have been interesting!  Well, the story doesn’t get into more details; but we can assume that they did the things necessary to make a baby . . . and they made a baby.

 

DON’T MISS THIS:  This is the first time the words “Don’t be afraid” are mentioned in the Christmas story.  So, let’s dive in a little deeper and see why the angel told Zechariah not to be afraid.

 

Maybe Gabriel scared Zechariah.  After all, he was alone inside the temple offering sacrifices . . . and all of a sudden, he’s not alone!  I don’t know what all angels look like, but that’s beside the point, because not only wasn’t Zechariah expecting an angel, he wasn’t expecting anybody.  But Gabriel didn’t say, “Don't be afraid, it’s only me, and I’m an angel.”

 

What Gabriel said was, Don’t be afraid, God has heard your prayer!”

 

And not only had God heard their prayer, but God was answering their prayer and was going to grant their request!

 

Sometimes when we say, “God didn’t answer my prayers,” what we are really saying is, “God didn’t grant my request.”  And those are two different things.

 

A lesson here for us all is - Prayer Delayed Is Not Prayer Denied.

 

I wonder how many times Zechariah and his bride had questioned whether God even heard their prayers.  But, their son was going to be born at just the right time!

 

We often hear that each of our lives has a purpose. I truly believe that each of us has been placed here to make a difference.  I’m not sure that we all necessarily fulfil that purpose, but, there is something that only you can do . . . if you choose to fulfil your destiny.

 

John’s life had a purpose.  But that purpose had to be served at a specific time.  His preaching set the stage for Jesus!

 

This makes me realize what a gift it was that John was born in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s old age . . . 

By the time of his death, John was in his early thirties and his parents had probably passed away.  So, they weren’t around when their son was executed; they were spared that heartache.

 

Now, I realize that people don’t always like to hear this truth . . . but, if you are a Christian some prayers for healing are only answered in heaven.

 

You may think, “I prayed for healing for my child, my spouse, my friend and God didn’t answer that prayer.  They still died.”

 

Listen to John’s description of heaven . . . 

 

Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people!  He will live with them, and they will be his people.  God himself will be with them.  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.”

That sounds like healing to me!

 

The reality is that very few of us, who truly believe that, wouldn’t want that for the ones we love.  We don’t grieve because our loved one is in heaven with God, we grieve because they are not here with us.

 

And Gabriel continues . . . 

 

Luke 1:12-17 (NIV)

12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  13 But the angel said to him:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

Another lesson here for us is - Answered Prayer May Have Multiple Ramifications.

 

Gabriel told Zechariah, “God has heard your prayers.”  Then, look at the ramifications that were spelled out:  Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.

 

You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  I’m sure that Zechariah and Elizabeth had friends and family who knew how much they had longed for children.

 

He will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Without commentary, note what goes hand in hand with the promise that John 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.

 

And, he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah.

 

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.  What more could a priest and the daughter of a priest ask for . . . that their long-awaited child would be a man of God, who would make a difference!

 

He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.  If you know the story of John, he was the one who announced the coming Messiah; he was the one who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the lamb of God.”

 

Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for a child, and when that prayer was answered there were all kinds of God-ordained ramifications!  Some of those things were seen immediately, like the birth of John and the fact that people would rejoice with them over that birth.

 

But other things were years in coming to fruition - like his ministry and his announcement of Jesus as the Messiah.  It would be 30 years before those things happened, and we don’t even know if John’s parents were still alive when all that happened.

 

Another lesson for us all is - Answered Prayer May Have Unforeseen Consequences.

 

I’m not sure that while Zechariah and Elizabeth were praying for a child that they were also praying for dirty diapers and sleepless nights . . . but, that was part of the package.  Sometimes we pray for things, and don’t realize the full scope of what answered prayer will bring!  When Gabriel told Zechariah . . .

 

Luke 1:16-17 (NIV)

16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

Zechariah probably had assumptions about what that would mean.  After all, he was a priest just like his father and his father in law.  So, Zechariah probably assumed that John would be a priest also . . . that he would serve in the temple, wear the ornate robes of the priesthood and say the words that the priests had been saying for well over a thousand years. 

But, listen to the descriptions of John’s ministry . . .

 

Luke 1:80 (NLT)

John grew up and became strong in spirit.  And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.

 

Matthew 3:1-4 (NLT)

1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching.  His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!  Clear the road for him!’”  4 John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.  For food he ate locusts and wild honey.

 

I’m not sure that was what Zechariah envisioned when Gabriel told him that his prayers had been heard!

 

And if you know the story, then you know the part that I alluded to earlier, that John’s preaching eventually cost him his life.   When he confronted King Herod with his immoral behavior, he was thrown into prison and eventually was executed - by being beheaded.

 

If Zechariah had known all of that ahead of time, do you think it might have changed his prayers? 

 

Please, understand this - John’s death was not the result of Zechariah’s prayers.  Nor was it something that God could be blamed for. 

John made choices in how he confronted Herod.  I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have confronted Herod . . . just that confronting Herod had consequences.

 

You could say that John died a violent death as a result of his righteousness.  All John had to do was back away from what he said, and his life would have been spared.  But, he refused!  Not because he had a death wish but because he knew what was right.

 

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  John wasn’t willing to do nothing.  His calling wasn’t to obey Herod - his calling was to obey God.

 

Ultimately, John’s death was not caused by his righteousness . . . it was caused by evil, the evil of Herod and of his wife.

 

Zechariah was told to not be afraid of the answers to his prayers . . . and each one of us need to understand that when our prayers are answered, that we need to trust God to have control.

 

Gabriel was telling Zechariah . . . “Don’t Be Afraid, Just Believe.”

 

In this Advent season, this Christmas of 2022, and in all of our lifetime - we have to trust that God is in control . . . even when things don’t go the way we assume that should go, and even when we don’t agree with the way things go.

 

Don’t Be Afraid, Just Believe!

 

 

November 12, 2022

 

“What Do You Need Delivered From?”

 

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NLT)

 

The Pilgrims began as a religious group who felt that the only way to practice their religion was to separate from the Church of England. These “Separatists” were in the village of Nottinghamshire.  In 1607-08 the congregation moved to Amsterdam and in 1609 to the city of Leiden - in the more religiously tolerant Netherlands.  The community began to move to America in 1620.

 

The religious tensions which led to the formation of the Separatist group stemmed from the Reformation, particularly in England.  In 1532, King Henry VIII withdrew the Church of England from the jurisdiction of Rome, in order to divorce his first wife.  (Kind of a mixed motive, huh?!)

 

One group believed independence from Rome, and moderate changes in religious practices, would be sufficient.  The other group wanted to “purify” the Church of England through a second Reformation that would do away with bishops as well as the Pope! 

 

Some of these “Puritans” believed they could accomplish their reforms within an ecclesiastical structure or a more systematic way.  Other more radical reformers believed that each individual congregation had to operate independently.  The “Separatists” could not support a “National Church.”

 

The English Crown (the governmental rule) forbade separation from the Church. They persecuted and imprisoned members of the Separatist movement.

 

The beginnings of Thanksgiving comes from the Reformation . . . because this a group of people felt that they needed to be delivered from England to a place where they could worship GOD the way they felt GOD wanted them to worship.  Today we are going to look at a passage of scripture that tells us that WE are delivered and WHO delivered us from our enslavement.  Let’s go to our scripture.

 

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NLT)

14 Because God’s children are human beings - made of flesh and blood - the Son also became flesh and blood.  For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.  15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

 

Do you remember your High School English class?

 

I can remember in English class my teacher would always have us asking the who, what, when, where and how questions - in order to tell the noun, subject and the verb of a sentence structure.  I believe that we ought to do that with this verse!  We have to understand what we need to be delivered from, when can it take place, who delivers us and how are we delivered.  So let us begin.

We need to know who is in need of deliverance:

 

15 . . . all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.  

 

That is you and me!  We humans are fearful of so many things that we could not list all of the phobias we have.  We’ve become a people who are afraid of anything and anything.

 

We also need to answer the question of whatWhat do we need to be delivered from

 

We need delivered from the fear of dying.  We are in need of deliverance from the fear of death!  Because we are humans, made of flesh and blood, we are all sinners and we are sentenced to death . . . 

 

Romans 3:23 (NIV)

. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 

Romans 6:23 (NIV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

And our curiosity about death is phenomenal.  We fear how we are going to die, when we are going to die, and where we are going to die.  We also wonder about the process of death or what is on one’s mind before dying.  And more than this, human nature wonders if there is an after-life.

 

I read a story of a man who had rejected Jesus in his lifetime, and just before this man passed away the people in his room could hear him saying, “No!  Get away from me!”  Some said that he was murmuring something about demons. 

 

I have been with several people, from churches I’ve pastored, at the moment of their death.  Some were smiling and the moment of death or reaching upward toward something or Someone.  What / Who were they seeing?  No one knows for sure  . . . we can only speculate. 

 

I do know that recorded in the Bible Jesus preached more on hell than he did on heaven.  Ever wonder why?  Because the way to heaven is narrower than the way that leads to hell.  We are, as a nation and creation, so caught up with the thought of death.  We are worried about losing a loved one / leaving a loved one.  We’re almost enslaved by the thought of death.

 

Now let’s answer the how part of the question.  How are we delivered?  In order to answer this question we must go to verses 14-15.  These verses tell us, so let’s break it down.

 

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NLT)

14 Because God’s children are human beings - made of flesh and blood - the Son also became flesh and blood.  For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

 

Only JESUS CHRIST breaks the enslavement that we are captive to.  Since humankind sinned (Adam & Eve), we have been captive to Satan’s lies and deceitfulness.  But, since Jesus became flesh and blood we can be delivered from the fear of death.  HE became like us:  susceptible to sin and death.  HE humbled HIMSELF because HE was equal to GOD but became lower than the angels.  As a matter of fact, HE was tempted in every way we are . . . but HE did not give in.  JESUS becoming like us is unique in that HE limited HIMSELF from GOD.  How are we delivered from the fear of death?  BY JESUS!

 

HOW was the fear of death broken?  Through death!  Jesus died on a Cross.  He died a death that no other man had ever suffered . . . paying for the sins of ALL humankind!

 

Perhaps the most important question is the when question . . .

 

When can I be delivered from the fear of death?  You don’t have to wait for any specific day . . . you can be delivered today.  Right this very moment!  Just confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord of everything, and believe in your heart that he died to forgive your sins, and as you ask - HE WILL FORGIVE ALL OF YOUR SIN!  Like the Apostle Paul, today you can ask, “Hey death, where is your victory?  Grave, where is your sting?”

 

Let’s be honest . . . statistics are alarming.  Did you know that you and I have a MUCH higher chance of dying today than winning the recent 2 billion dollar lotto?  As I write this message, the statistics for winning that lotto prize is about 1 in 300 million.  The statistics for dying show that 100 out of every 100 people will die!  Death is a fact that cannot be disputed.  The Bible says so.

 

Hebrews 9:27-28 (ERV)

27 Everyone must die

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