There is a simple truth that I want to speak with you about tonight. God is in control. And when we lose something – whether it be our health, our job, or even someone we love, those can be hard times, but they don’t need to break us down. In fact, God wants to use that experience of loss to turn us back to Him in worship and obedience. In our loss, God wants us to GAIN GOD.
With that in mind, we’re going to read tonight the story of Zechariah, who lost his ability to speak. We’re going to be reading a couple of verses from earlier in chapter one of Luke, and then I’ll ask you to catch up with me when we get to verse 57. So please turn with me to Luke 1.
Paraphrased: There was once a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth. They were both upright and blameless in the sight of God. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Once Zechariah was chosen to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. While he was doing this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified. 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 give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day my words come true, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” When Zechariah came out of the temple, he could not speak. He kept making signs to the people but remained unable to speak, so they knew that he had seen a vision.]
[Continue from vs. 57-66]
While there are many great things we can look at in these passages, tonight I want to focus on Zechariah.
FOCUS ON ZECHARIAH
The Bible tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth had wanted a baby for a long time, they’d waited into their old age for an answer to their prayers. They had also been waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver them from their suffering under Roman rule.
But they were a godly couple. And while Zechariah was serving in the temple of the Lord, an angel came to him and told him that his prayers would be answered; prayers not only for a child, but also for the long-awaited Messiah.
Zechariah couldn’t believe this. His response was probably similar to the response you or I would have in a similar circumstance, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Zechariah’s question seems reasonable enough, but Gabriel’s response shows us that Zechariah’s attitude wasn’t right. Later, when Gabriel shared the news with Mary that she would also have a child, Mary asked a similar question: “How can this be since I am a virgin?” she asked.
While Gabriel reassured Mary, he rebuked Zechariah, which shows us that Mary’s question came from an attitude of humble submission, while Zechariah distrustfully questioned God’s ability.
So for 9 months, God closed Zechariah’s mouth and paralyzed his tongue, until the thing that God had promised came true, proving His great ability and His great faithfulness to His word.
When it was done, God opened Zechariah’s mouth and loosed his tongue, and what was the first thing Zechariah did? He overflowed in worship and praise to the Lord.
Last week we spoke about times of waiting, and how God gives us times of waiting as opportunities for growing.
This week we’re speaking about times of loss, and how God sometimes takes precious things from us as opportunities for us to gain something more precious; in a sense, to GAIN GOD.
And I want to start off by saying this: God values our worship of Him and obedience to Him so much! The first two Commandments deal with this: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:2-6)
So far as I am aware, you probably don’t have shrines with little figurines dedicated to other gods in your home. But I am certain that there are times in your life when something takes the place of Almighty God in your life, and that is an idol. If you’re trusting money to save you from your financial struggles, instead of God, then money has become your idol. If you’re trusting tv to save you from stress, instead of God, then tv has become your idol.
But see what God says, ‘I am a jealous God’. God will not suffer idols in our lives. Recently I’ve heard a number of stories from wise and godly people that show me that God is not afraid to strip precious things from us if they are taking us from Him. I haven’t received permission to share those stories, but I can share a few from the Bible.
Nebuchadnezzar was the king of a great and powerful empire: Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar knew he was a great man, over a great nation, and he became very, very proud. The book of Daniel tells us that God noticed Nebuchadnezzar’s pride – He saw that Nebuchadnezzar would not worship the one True God because his idol was himself. So God decided to humble this great man.
God first sent Nebuchadnezzar a dream to warn him to humble himself. God told him through Daniel that unless he repents and humbles himself, God would drive him out of his place of power until he recognised God’s Sovereignty.
The Bible tells us that one time he was admiring his kingdom and praising his greatness when his own people drove him out into the wilderness where he lived and became like an animal – likely completely insane, and he was that way for seven years until he looked up to heaven and recognised the LORD’s Sovereignty.
God restored his sanity, his power and his place in the kingdom. These are the words that Nebuchadnezzar started speaking after all this had happened to him: “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation...His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’...Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4)
God was not afraid to take Nebuchadnezzar’s power, his money, his possessions, and even his sanity, in order to turn this man’s heart back to him.
Interestingly, both Nebuchadnezzar and Zechariah were removed of their physical capacities until they recognised that God could do whatever He wants and nothing is too difficult for Him.
Another example from the Bible is the story of Lazarus.
As you’re reading through the book of John you’ll see there that Jesus did a lot of miracles before Lazarus died. He changes water to wine, he feeds 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, he walks on water, heals many people including a man who had been crippled for 38 years, and another man who had been born blind, and another man’s son – this time from a long way away. He shows again and again that nothing is impossible for him.
Finally, he receives a report that Lazarus is very sick and about to die. But instead of rushing off to heal him, or healing him from a distance, the Bible tells us that he stayed where he was for two more days. Then, sensing that Lazarus had died, he moved with his disciples to Judea.
Why would Jesus wait for two days? The situation would have been an ‘easier fix’ if He’d sorted it out right away. Maybe you might feel like that when trouble first comes. You pray and ask God to solve the problem you’re facing, but the problem just gets worse and it seems like God’s not even in the picture!
Well, Jesus allowed Lazarus to die. Why? Jesus tells his disciples why: ‘so that God’s Son may be glorified through it...so that you may believe.’ You see it again – that Jesus would be worshiped and obeyed.
We know the story. Jesus goes to Judea, to the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. Then he goes to the tomb, and raises Lazarus from the dead.
John 11:45 shows us the result of this event. It says “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”
God was so passionate about having the affections and obedience of the people that He was willing to allow Lazarus and his sisters a heavy loss in order to get it.
There are many other stories from the Bible of people who suffered loss in order to show God’s glory and to draw people to Himself.
The gospels tell us of a man who was born blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, and the story happens in John 9. Jesus heals him. The man does eventually worship Jesus, but along the way bears testimony to others that Jesus is Healer, giving God the glory He deserves.
The apostle Paul was struck blind for three days, and after being healed “at once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name?” (Acts 9:20-21).
In those three days of blindness, Paul saw like he’d never seen before. At last, he truly wasn’t blind anymore. God gave him back his sight so that he could use it from now on for God’s purposes, rather than his own.
When we look at it, in the grand scheme of things, there is only one True God, and that’s the LORD – not you or me. But sometimes, we like to think that the world revolves around ourselves. But God is passionate about showing us that He alone deserves our worship and praise.
Now that might sound inconsiderate and egotistic of God. But when we get to know God better we realise that it’s the best thing for us. Only when we are completely surrendered to Him, only when we are focussed entirely on His glory will we ever be properly satisfied and properly at peace.
So what am I saying with all of this?
I’m saying that God’s purpose for our lives is more than our comfort, His plan for our lives is to bring us to a place of complete surrender to His Son Jesus.
Sometimes, a part of God working that in our lives is that He allows or causes loss in our lives. But that loss is not arbitrary or illogical.
No, God has a great plan – for us to realise that He’s worth more than those things, whatever they are, that He alone and no other truly satisfies. So while we may lose something precious, we gain a deeper relationship with Him.
Maybe there’s something in your life that you found precious and have recently lost. Maybe it’s a job, maybe a friend, maybe a loved one, maybe you’ve recently been robbed and lost your once comfortable sense of security.
I do hope that your response during times of loss would be the same as that of Zechariah: learning to trust the Lord in the loss. And if and when He provides you with a replacement, that you’ll be ready to use that to God’s purposes. When Zechariah’s ability to speak was returned to him, he used his words to glorify God.
Are you willing to surrender all you have and all you are to the Lord? And are you willing to give what you have to Him, to be used for His glory?