AN UNUSUAL BIRTH
A couple of years ago I attended a men’s breakfast where the key speaker was Rory Steyn, Nelson Mandela’s former chief of security. He told us some interesting stories of his experiences. One that stood out to me was the story of being in a heavily armed motorcade leaving a stadium heading to another appointment and Mandela stopped the motorcade so that he could speak to an old white policeman who looked distressed and just encouraged him.
It was interesting as well to hear Steyn’s recollections of preparing for Mandela’s travels. One time Mandela travelled to meet the British royalty in London; and for you or me we just jump on a plane and head over. But Steyn told us about the months of preparation that went into that trip – security teams going over months in advance to discuss and plan details, brainstorm and problem solve with other security teams from that side. I was just blown away with how much work went into one statesman’s arrival.
I recently read another story about Bill and Hillary Clinton travelled to India. Apparently they were preceded long in advance by dozens of envoys, hundreds of FBI and CIA agents and commando guards.
When you think of all the work and planning that goes into the trip of a president of one country, a man among men, how well do you think God was going to prepare for the sending of His own Son into the world; the King of kings and Lord of lords Himself?
Well the Bible tells us that God was planning the arrival of this VVVIP from the very beginning. In Genesis 3 the Bible tells us that as soon as man sinned, God started preparing them for the coming of His Son. For thousands of years He began informing people of the Big Event. Especially in the hundreds of years before His coming, God spoke through prophet after prophet. Speaking through them He told them why, when, how the King of Glory would be coming.
And then there was silence…for four hundred years. People were searching, people were hungry. “Where is He? Where is the promised Messiah?”
And then…it began. God sent angels after angels upon hosts of angels to announce the Greatest Event in History. The Saviour of the world was coming. But there was one great detail still necessary. God had promised a herald, a voice who would cry out and prepare the way of this Saviour.
This herald whom God had planned is the subject of our message tonight.
We’re going to be reading from Luke 1, please turn with me there. It’s a fairly long passage. But please recognise that these were God’s first words to His people after 400 years of silence, and so they’re worth taking note of and soaking in.
Read Luke 1:5-25
First I’d like you to appreciate the unusual circumstances of John’s coming.
1. HE WAS GIVEN TO GODLY PARENTS
John’s parents loved the Lord and were seeking to serve Him with their lives. Notice the descriptions about their lives: “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the commandments and regulations blamelessly.”
That word ‘blamelessly’ does not mean ‘perfectly’. No one is perfect except God, but those who love Him and walk in His ways are blameless – God holds no blame against them for their sins. That’s the wonderful story of God’s grace. So I don’t want you to think they were perfect people, but they were godly people – they sincerely sought out the will of God and obediently followed them while trusting Him for their redemption.
Why is this important? Notice that God sent this great gift to godly people. Imagine if they hadn’t been. Imagine if Zechariah, on the day that he was to go into the temple, faked a cold so that he could sleep in late. He would have missed out on the great blessing the Lord had for him through his faithful service to God.
I think of another man who has the same story. We read about him in Bible study this last week. After Jesus was born and circumcised his parents took him to the temple to offer sacrifices as the Law of God required. There they met a man named Simeon, whom the Bible describes as righteous and devout. God had revealed to Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Messiah. Then it says, “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” There he met Mary and Joseph carrying Jesus, and this simple, godly man got to hold the Saviour of the world and Lord of Glory in his arms.
What a blessing, hey?
And I think about this, and I think about how many more blessings God has even for us in our time. And how often do we eagerly desire the blessings of God and we miss them because we’re unwilling to follow Him wholeheartedly. We want to see and experience God’s power, but we’re unwilling to spend even just a little time with Him every day.
We heard a great message from Hennie Venter while we were on our missions trip about the prodigal son. The son experienced all the blessings of the Father when he came into the Father’s house. He got the clothes, the ring, the sandals, the feast and the party when he was in the Father’s house. He didn’t receive any of those blessings when he was in the pigsty. Some of us want to get the blessings of God while we’re still in the pigsty. But the Bible is clear that the blessings of the Father are in His presence, in His house. If we want to experience the blessings of God we’ve got to go to Him and remain with Him.
So Simeon had to remain in God’s presence. He was moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple. He could have ignored the Spirit’s leading – he would have missed God’s blessing. Or worse, his heart could have been distracted, or hardened, or in sin – he would have missed God’s blessing.
So Zechariah too had to remain in God’s presence. It was in the temple of God that he saw the angel and received the promise of God.
That doesn’t mean you have to remain here in the Church all the time. It would get a little manky after three days, we have no shower facilities. You don’t need to remain in the Church, but you do need to remain in God’s presence in order to enjoy the blessings of His household.
John, this great person, was born to godly parents. Even today, that’s unusual. But not only was his coming to godly parents unusual, but those parents also had an insurmountable problem. Elizabeth was barren.
2. HE WAS GIVEN TO CHILDLESS PARENTS
Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was a godly woman with a terrible burden: she couldn’t have children. Even today that is a terrible lot in life; but back then even more so because childless parents were seen to be under the judgment of God.
But in being barren, Elizabeth joined a league of well-remembered women throughout the Bible. Sarah, mother of a nation, Rebekah, her daughter in law was mother of twins, Rachel, her daughter in law who became a mother of Joseph and Benjamin, two of the pillars of Israel. Samson’s mother was barren also, until God blessed her with a child. Hannah also was barren, and gave birth to one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: Samuel.
There are countless other barren women during the Old Testament times who never had children; and by this time in her life, Elizabeth had probably given up all hope. She certainly had no guarantees of a child…before Gabriel appeared.
When we look at the stories of those who had to patiently endure much rebuke and scorn, both from within themselves and from others, before receiving children, we see that in most cases, how God resolved their barrenness appeared to be the main reason their story was in the Bible.
Why is this important?
God used their suffering and longing to show His miraculous power and to carry out His plan for human history. What does that mean for us? If we give our lives to God, sometimes He will take us at our word and put us through some dark, sometimes very dark valleys, in order that He might be made more famous when He delivers us safely on the other side.
God is focussed on bringing Himself glory through our lives.
Think about it. If Elizabeth became a mother when she had first wanted to, the news of this baby would have been amazing and many people would have spoken about it – and then forgotten about it. The birth of the baby certainly wouldn’t have been put under the ‘miraculous’ category, to be remembered and thought about often.
In fact, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and everyone who knew them for that matter, had given up on their chance of having children, which made his coming so much more profound.
God doesn’t always give us what we want when we want it. And what will you do under these circumstances? Will your trust in God fail you? Will you get angry with God? Will you harden your heart against Him, so that the next time He tells you to trust Him you snub your nose at Him and tell Him to find someone else?
How will you view God when He withholds something you think is good for you, vital, even maybe something you think you deserve?
I struggle with this. I think we all do, but I can certainly say for myself, I struggle. As I was about to finish college last year I started looking for a new place to live. I had to move out of the college flats by December, so I started looking from October. I looked around and prayed about it and really trusted God to provide just what I would need. In fact, knowing God, I was expecting something more than I could have hoped, cause He often spoils us.
Finally, in December, I found a place. But time was running short. I had to be out by the 7th, and the flat I was to move into was still changing ownership from the previous owners to the new owners who I would be renting from. But I couldn’t move in until things were sorted, so I prayed and prayed and asked God to speed things up.
Time ran out, and I had to move all my belongings into the Leaders’ home and stayed there for a few weeks. I was about to leave to spend Christmas with my family and the legal issues still weren’t worked out and I fell on my knees again and again before God saying, “God – you’re Almighty, and I’m your son. I’m not asking for a fancy new car, or a trip to the Bahamas, all I’m asking for is a home. Why won’t you give me a place to rest my head?”
It seemed so simple, so necessary, and yet God wasn’t providing. It’s a struggle in times like that to trust that God’s working, and working perfectly.
My wait then was for a couple of weeks. I can tell you about another struggle time which some of you older folks might remember from your past: my desire to get married. I’ve been ready and waiting for years for God to provide a way and to say ‘Now’s the time’. I’ve watched friend after friend after friend get married, and I ask God, ‘When’s my time, Lord?’
Waiting for God can be a struggle. But how will we view God and relate to Him when He withholds something from us that we think is good for us?
I love the words of Habakkuk the prophet. The book covers his dialogue with God. First he says to God, ‘Look at all the immorality around me? Will you leave this corruption forever??’ God responds and says, ‘No, I’m sending the Babylonians to punish you.’ Habakkuk says, ‘Wait, what? They’re even worse than we are? How can you do that?’ So Habakkuk was like a real person, he struggled with understanding and accepting what God was doing.
But finally, after God reminds Habakkuk of who He is – Sovereign and Almighty and perfect – and He tells Habakkuk that He will then punish the Babylonians afterwards, Habakkuk relents and says, these great words:
“I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”
How will you view God and relate to Him when He withholds something from you that you think is good for you?
Zechariah and Elizabeth were upright and blameless in the sight of God. They chose to say, ‘Even though there is no child of our own, yet we will rejoice in the Lord our Saviour.’ They served Him faithfully, and God graciously, in the end, gave them a child. And not just any child, but a very, very special child – the one who would prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry.