These are the notes I used to preach at Hilltop Chapel in What Cheer, Ia. on December 25, 2016. Feel free to use them anyway that seems fitting.
This is the last Sunday in 2016 and I can’t think of a better place to be than church.
What a year this has been…
- Strange political climate.
- A roller coaster of a year in news events.
- The Cubs won the World Series. (That ruined some of my favorite sports jokes)
And today is Christmas! In our house Christmas time is a BIG deal. Every horizontal surface is adorned with festive décor. If you sit still during decorating time there is a good chance you will become a part of the holiday scenery. With much anticipation we excitedly look forward to days of celebrating with family and friends. For our household Christmas is a season of celebration that lasts for weeks.
This is a season of hope, joy, and peace.
- Hope is the fruit of faith.
- We can have joy despite our circumstances.
- Peace is the calm in your heart knowing God is in control.
This is the time we set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus who is the only hope for a lost world, the Prince of peace, and the provider of joy.
What about the times when we struggle to keep hope alive and our joy is not complete? Let’s take a look at a couple we don’t normally think about at Christmas. Their story begins in Luke 1:5-25
Luke 1:5-ff (NKJV) There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
(Teachers hat time)
Before the universal acceptance of calendar years, time was recorded by events. In the Bible there are events that are recorded to specific dates such as in Ezra 6:15 Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. However, in this passage we only have a general time period recorded as the days of Herod, the king of Judea. In modern context it is comparing a specific date such as July 4, 1776 with a general time frame such as during the Reagan Administration.
History records that this king Herod had three of his own sons and one of his ten wives killed out of jealousy. This is the same Herod that ordered all baby boys near Bethlehem to be killed when he heard of the birth of Christ. There was a saying about this king that it was better to be a pig in his stall than to be a son of Herod. In other words you had a better chance of living to an old age as a pig in the king’s barn than you did if you were his son. This was the political climate in the days this passage was written.
Setting of the story;
There were 24 divisions of Priests and each division served in the temple twice a year. Two times a day a priest would offer up incense at the hour of prayer. Only one priest would enter in while the others stood outside and prayed. Lots were cast to determine who the Lord chose to enter the Holy place. There were hundreds of Priests in each division so the chances of being chosen to offer incense was low. Most Priests would spend their entire life without being chosen.
This would have been a great day at work for Zacharias. The kind of day you can’t wait to tell the wife about. He got to offer the incense that represented all the prayers of the people. That would have been quite an honor.
Sometimes the Lord orchestrates our day. Have you ever been at the right place at the right time to be used by God?
The day was already going great but then look what happened next.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
It seems this day couldn’t get any better. Zacharias had just been told his prayer had been heard. It is easy to assume this was referencing the often repeated prayer for a child. Most likely he had quit praying for a child years earlier. It could be that he even rationalized his situation.
But then 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
- Delayed answers to prayers can cause personal hope to diminish.
In all fairness he was looking at the reality of his situation. Old age had set in and made it physically impossible to have a child. Young people have children, not old people.
Studying this passage caused me to think Zacharias’ response seems kind of a strange. As a priest he certainly knew the scriptures. He would have known of Abraham at age 100 and Sarah at age 90 having a baby. He would have known of the great miracles God performed in times past. He would have known the prophecies of “one calling in the wilderness”.
In addition to that, there had not been a direct message from God in 400 years. Not a single prophet had been raised up in four centuries and now he was receiving a direct message from the Lord. It seems to me his response should have been like somebody just winning the lottery. I would have expected him to be dancing and rejoicing.
People have said to me many times that they thought God would help them more if they had more knowledge, or knew how to pray better, or helped the church more.
God doesn’t show favor because of knowledge or how much you serve at church. It is through faith that our prayers are answered. Zacharias had all the head knowledge a priest was expected to have. He was considered righteous before the Lord. He was even faithful in his responsibilities at the Temple.
Hope is not dependent on what we know or how religious a person may be. Even when we have been in the presence of God and our prayers have been proper and often, God does not always answer when and how we might want.
- A mature believer accepts no as a reasonable answer from God.
- Doubt is a result of losing hope in a given situation.
- Facing the demands of reality is not the same as doubting.
2. Lost hope prevents us from expressing joy to the Lord.
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
Instead of asking for clarification Zacharias stated the message was impossible. In other words he doubted God’s ability to do the impossible. Somewhere along the way Zacharias lost hope in ever having a son. When a person has lost hope they lose the ability to have the joy of knowing God can do the impossible.
Doubt is caused by lost hope. Here are three indisputable symptoms of doubt in your life.
- If you can’t express the joy you have for what God has done, there is doubt in your life.
- If you did not share the Gospel with anyone this year the root cause is doubt.
- If others cannot hear from your words the great things Christ has brought into your life doubt is the cause.
There are times we all struggle with doubt. The proper response is to ask how this can happen, or help me with my doubt. The wrong attitude is to make the statement that God cannot do something especially after He said he will!
Zacharias was disciplined for a season because of how he expressed his doubt. Discipline in this life is intended to bring about positive change to our lives. We read later in Luke 1 that when Zacharias’ son was born and he named him John that he regained his voice and praised God. He must have praised Him loudly because two thousand years later we are still talking about it! Our lives speak loudly of what we believe.
Losing hope does not cancel God’s plan.
3. Answered prayers bring us peace.
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Some of us know the pain and disappointment of not being able to have children. To be sure it is a difficult path to walk. However, in the times the Bible was written, people often thought it was a curse from God to not have children. Sometimes it was a curse from God. Even when it wasn’t a punishment, to be childless was the cause of much bitterness and sorrow. At the point in time this story took place they were “well advanced in years” meaning they were beyond child bearing age.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful believers and yet they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. Elizabeth struggled finding peace of mind and heart because she was childless. To receive the good news that she would have a baby in her old age caused Elizabeth to rejoice. Finally, after all those years she could have peace of mind knowing God did not forget about her.
Sometimes we spend years praying for something or someone without a definitive answer. When we are given an answer to prayers there is a peace that settles in our mind. Even when we are in a season of waiting we can have peace knowing God is listening to our prayers.
Let me share some good news with you today;
- Your prayers have been heard.
- God has a plan for your life.
- Because a child was born unto us to take away our sins we can have hope, joy, and peace. It begins with faith in believing in Jesus as your Lord and savior.
Hope is the fruit of faith. Are you struggling with doubt? Have you been praying for years and it seems God isn’t answering?
We can have joy despite our circumstances. Don’t allow Satan the opportunity to steal your joy by making you think things will never change. God can do the impossible! Put your faith in Him and believe he will! He will help you overcome the doubt and restore your joy and bring you peace I’m talking about Godly peace. Peace that passes all understanding…the kind of peace that brings a calm to your heart, knowing God is in control even when…
- Ungodly people are in control of the political world.
- Your best efforts don’t yield the results you want.
- The plan for your life is not yet been revealed.
- It seems too much time has passed.
This morning the God of hope, joy and peace is here. If you do not know him, don’t walk with him, or don’t trust him in the way we’ve talked about this morning, all of that can change today. Please bow your heads and I want to ask you to consider a few questions. Look within yourself, examine your own heart, to determine where you stand. With all eyes closed and no one looking around, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand in response to each of these questions if you know you need change in your life. Be honest before God and be honest to yourself. Raise your hand in faith – God is here and wants to help bring about change in your heart and life. I won’t embarrass you or ask you to do anything more than privately raise your hand in a quiet moment before God, as a sign that you are serious about needing His help and need more of him in your life. Here we go.
Have you lost hope waiting for an answer to a prayer? If you have grown weary in praying because God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers and doubt has creeped in, or if you have stopped praying because it seems like God isn’t listening, raise your hand. Be honest with him – have you lost hope while waiting for your prayer to be answered? Raise your hand.
Are you struggling to express joy for the promises of the Lord? If it is difficult for you to be joyful and recognize the daily blessings in your life, or if you feel like God has walked away from his promises, I want you to raise your hand.
What about peace? Do you need peace about a decision or situation in your life? If you are facing a proverbial “giant” in your life and need direction, or if you are unsettled and anxious, lift your hand.
Still with eyes closed, if you have raised your hand in response to any of these, I’m going to ask you to lift them again, as I pray. Your arms don’t have to be lifted high, but I encourage you to open your hands as a symbol to God that you are letting go of the doubt, the pain, the discouragement, or anything that has become a barrier, and putting your trust in Him to bring new faith, hope, joy and peace in your life today. Show him you are serious with this physical sign of lifting your arms and opening your hands. (PRAY)
As you go today grab hold of faith and don’t let go! That faith will produce hope that will lead to joy and peace!
Rev. Burt Schwab