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    Dec 16, 2012

    Zach & Liz: Johnny Come Lately

    Passage: Luke 1:5-25

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: All I Want for Christmas Is...

    Category: Holiday

    Keywords: perseverance, patience, hope, expectations, christmas, john the baptist


    This message looks at how growing our hopes and dreams to God-sized proportions often takes God a long time...a lifetime. Meanwhile, how are we to live and love as we deal with unfulfilled longings in our lives. Zechariah and Elizabeth from the Advent story show us how.


    Zach & Liz—Johnny Come Lately

    All I Want For Christmas Is…

    December 16, 2012


    MORNING INTRO:  In the 1970s, scientists at Stanford University used marshmallows to investigate temptation's power. Preschoolers were left alone with instructions that they could eat one marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows.

    Some went for the immediate payoff; others held back, distracting themselves from the puffy white treat by singing, trying to sleep or covering their eyes.

    A decade later, researchers tracked down the children and, according to news reports, found that those who had waited for the second marshmallow scored significantly higher on the SAT, were better educated, felt a stronger sense of self-worth, coped more effectively with stress and were less likely to use cocaine/crack than those who couldn’t delay gratification.  [http://magazine.nd.edu/news/27926-gotta-have-it-now-right-now/]

                Saying “no” to desires that are strong and immediate in order to say “yes” to what God has planned has been a battle since the beginning of the human race.  From the very beginning, Adam and Eve had choices to make about whether they were going to trust God, wait for Him and develop holy character OR take matters into their own hands, give into their fleshly desires of the moment and lose life in the process. 

                Life has changed little in thousands of years.  God still uses waiting to get His work done in our hearts and human history.


    CONNECT:  Share with several people near you one or two things you routinely dislike having to wait for in life?  (The bus?  Test results?  Computer start-up? Etc.) 

    MESSAGE INTRO:  We live in an “instant” culture.  In fact, we’re THE most “instant” culture and generation in history…and we’re more miserable than ever if you examine rates of suicide, family disintegration, depression and addiction.

    Think about how “instant” we have become about just the following things:

    FOOD:  Not that long ago, most people lived on farms.  To get food from the soil or barnyard to the table usually took at least one growing season if not more.  Just to have food for a winter was a monumental task as you needed to pick it, preserve and/or package it and ultimately prepare it from scratch. 

    Soon, individual meat, fruit and dry goods shops gave way to big grocery stores that had every kind of food all in one place so you didn’t have to waste time traipsing from one shop to the next. 

    Since “cooking from scratch” took too much time, in came frozen foods of all kinds.  The microwave replaced the conventional oven, but that still required too much time. 

    So we became a generation addicted to “fast food.”  (BTW, Today McDonalds serves in just one day the equivalent of 15% of the U.S. population or 1% of the world’s population daily.) 

    Results relationally?  57% of American families don’t eat together in any given day. 

    Is life really better because we can now have whatever we want, when we want it, as soon as we want it? 

    Results physically?  66 percent Americans are overweight, 30 percent Americans are obese.

    So what do we now do to take care of our weight problems in this “instant” society?  Why bother taking weeks or months to exercise and change our eating habits when you can take “weight loss pills” and, vuwalla, in just days you’re losing weight?


    Think about one more “instant gratification” trend in our culture, the DIGITAL WORLD. 

    • The advent of TV a half century ago into most homes made news and entertainment immediately available.  You didn’t have to get in your car and drive to the theater to enjoy a show.  And you had a full 3 channels to choose from!
    • Now anyone with a smart phone or computer can watch just about any movie or any show “on demand.”  You can access the library and more information than you can ever sort through in a decade on any subject imaginable right from your home…or airplane…or car…or office. 

    And if your web site or search engine is too slow, watch out.  Nanoseconds can make a big difference.  

    • Google found that when our questions aren’t answered quickly enough, we stop asking questions.  By slowing down response time just 4/10ths of a second, the number of searches a day dropped by 8 million!
    • 1 in 4 people abandon a web page that takes more than 4 seconds to load.
    • Amazon, which makes about $67 million in sales each day, could lose $1.6 billion in a year just because of a 1-second web page delay.
    • And 46% of Americans are skipping the theatre or rental store for the convenience of watching pirated movies from their smart phones or computers. 

    Do you think our demand for instant gratification is changing our morality?


    Add to this things like…

    • Speed dating for those who can’t be bothered spending a whole evening getting to know someone before they crawl in the sack with them.
    • Instant credit for those who can’t wait to apply for a credit card and have it sent in the mail in 3 days much less actually earn and save up the money for purchases they want to make rather than go into debt.
    • Speaking of money, for those who don’t want to have to wait to raise their standard of living the old, boring way of getting a job, working hard and saving year after year, we now have over 50 different lotteries and 1,500 legal casinos in America.  But, of course, that isn’t “instant” enough.  So we now have “instant winner” scratch lottery tickets for those who can’t wait to the end of the week…or to get to their car…before finding out if they are “winners.”  After all, these little “instant riches” games are only costing Americans $78 billion a year right now.


    Is it any wonder that we tend to get frustrated with God when he doesn’t give us what we ask for WHEN we ask for it?  Why on earth would God not get into the “instant gratification business” with his children?  What possible good could He be waiting to develop by teaching us, His kids, to wait? 


    For answers to that and a few other important life issues, let’s turn to Luke 1 as we continue our Christmas series All I Want for Christmas.  We’ve been looking at what different people in that original Christmas story wanted from God that first Christmas and what it was that God did with them to give each of them what He wanted that Christmas and beyond. 


    Read Luke 1:5-7


    When you are first married, there are so many hopes and dreams you have for life.  For most couples, that includes a deep and God-given desire to have children.  Funny how God uses this whole child-rearing thing to grow our hearts.  Those who have children will usually know the pain that comes with a lifetime of loving that sometimes is interrupted by rebellion, waywardness or foolishness.  And those who desire to have children but for whatever reasons are unable to know the deep ache of empty arms, rooms and dreams.

    Every human heart knows, at some time or other, the ache of emptiness.  For Zechariah and Elizabeth it was not the emptiness of the single life.  They undoubtedly had a very fulfilling and happy marriage.  Luke tells us that “both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”  

    Wow, here was a couple who were doing it right, fulfilling “all the Lord’s commandments” and by doing so were certainly fulfilling the greatest of all commands – to love God with their whole being and to love each other as themselves.  Theirs was a life of love, not a misery…but it was missing something…for decades.  If they had been married in their late teens as most people in ancient days were, they were probably now in their 40s, 50s or even 60s as the phrase “well along in years” would indicate in vs. 7

    Childlessness for couples and singles alike can be one of the most difficult waiting experiences to deal with, particularly for women.  And when you know God has the power to change something your heart longs for so deeply, that waiting can become a spiritual crisis unless you guard your heart and trust completely in God’s timing and seeming inaction. 

    ILL:  Lewis Smedes relates the journey of his own life through childless barrenness when he says, “For the first decade of our marriage, my wife, Doris, and I hoped passionately for a child. I think we wanted a child more than we wanted anything else in the world. So we hoped and prayed for ten long years. And then finally, after ten years, Doris became pregnant. We thanked God and drank a toast to hope.

       “One night, about six months into the pregnancy, something went wrong, and I called the doctor. He told me Doris was going into labor and to get her into the car and take her to the emergency room right away.

       "I'll meet you there," he said. "Oh, yes; I have one more thing to tell you; I should have told you before. Your baby is going to be seriously malformed."

       "Malformed? Seriously? How serious?"

       "Very serious. It's up to you now to tell Doris on the way to the hospital."

       Well, I told her. But we decided that we were not going to give up hope. No matter what the doctor said, we were not going to give up hope. So we kept on hoping all through the night.

       At six o'clock in the morning, the doctor came to me with a somewhat embarrassed grin from ear to ear. He said, "Congratulations! You have a perfect baby boy. Come and see." I went with him, and there he was, yelling his head off, looking just like me--a perfect man-child. “Praise God!”, we thought.

       But two days later our baby was dead. It's true. Never give up hope. Never, ever give up hope.  But even hope can break your heart.”   ["Keep Hope Alive," Preaching Today, Tape No. 139.]


    What’s been your difficult encounter with barrenness…or waiting for God to act…or emptiness? 

    • An unfulfilling career?
    • An unmet marriage longing
    • The absence of children?   
    • Maybe failed health, unrealized personal dreams, empty ministry longings. 

    Growing our desires to divine-sized proportions sometimes takes a LONG time…even a lifetime  It is that realization of barrenness that in some way brings our spirit to the place where we look with greater intensity and frequency to God himself for the ache of our soul.  Barrenness is one of God’s secret tools that He uses to push us out of the nest of complacency and onto the road of his blessing. 


    Waiting on God does something else:  it invites us to contend with disappointment and silence too. 

    Childlessness has different implications in different cultures.  In America, it may be simply a decision a couple has made. But in most cultures, as in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s, barrenness brought an added emptiness.  Barrenness was considered a disgrace, even perhaps a punishment from God for an immoral life in some cases (Lev. 20:20-21).  It attached a social stigma, particularly to the woman.  (SEE Luke 1:25 for Elizabeth’s words about what having a child did for her socially.  “In these days [of pregnancy] [God] has taken away my disgrace among the people.”)

    How long had this gone on?  Vs. 7 simply says that “they were both well along in years.”  Not only had the dream died.  Even the normal mechanism for the maintenance of the dream was dead.  They were both too old for child-begetting and child-bearing. 

    Why does God do this?  Why does he so often seem to force his children to deal with deep, deep disappointment in life, disappointment that can so easily be laid at the feet of His own silence or inactivity? 

    How many of you have found the incredible experience of blessing it is to know someone who has wrestled through with God some personal experience of barrenness and has through that very experience developed into a person who is amazing, “upright in the sight of God”?

    God is, at times, very silent.  In fact, for the people of God at the time of Zechariah and Elizabeth, there had been generations of silence on God’s side of the equation – 400 years of silence.  We call it the “inter-testamental period” of the silent 400 years.  God stopped sending prophets to His people.  He stopped speaking to his priests.  All the form and ritual was still there at the Temple where He was supposed to be present.  But God was silent. 

    God-silences are perhaps the most difficult experiences of life – those times when the heavens seem like brass, the word of God stops being vibrant and vital to you, stops speaking to your heart. 

    I’ve got news for you:  every child of God must face those times.  The question is, what will I let that barrenness and silence do in my life? 

    • Make me bitter, angry, frustrated with God, critical of life and everyone around me?
    • Make me better, patient, persevering, more dependent on God and more understanding with everyone around me?


    The road of blessing may contain troubling and disappointing God-silences.  How you and I respond to them determines just how far down that road we will go.


    Zechariah and Elizabeth were amazing people…but people just like us…who found that the way to resist bitterness and anger with God was to continue to draw near to Him in worship…even when life was disappointing.  You see, according to this passage, in their waiting they never stopped worshipping God.


    Zechariah was a priest, an ordinary country priest, one of an estimated 8,000-18,000 living in Israel at the time.  The priests were divided according to an arrangement first instituted 1,000 years earlier under King David. Each priest served in the temple 2 one-week-periods a year.  They were divided into 24 divisions of which Zechariah was in the 8th.  Each day, 56 priests were chosen by lot to participate in the temple service of that day.  Of those 56, 2 were chosen to officiate at the sacrifice – one at the time of morning prayers (9:00 a.m.) and one at the afternoon time of prayer (3:00 p.m.). That privilege happened only once a life! 

    Such a temple service would have been the apex of a priest’s religious duty.  Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish nation.  The Temple was the center of Jewish life and culture.  Even the Jewish historian Josephus described the Temple of that time which had been reconstructed at the behest of the Roman king Herod as “wanting nothing that could astound either mind or eye.  For being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays.  To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain;  for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white.”  [Quoted by Kent Hughes in his commentary on Luke, vol., 1, p. 19-20.]

    I don’t think that it is coincidence that God chose a time of worship in which to break His silence to Zechariah and Elizabeth as well as with the entire nation of Israel! Zechariah refused to let cynicism or frustration keep him from giving God what was still due Him – regular, frequent and heart-felt acts of worship. He kept praying. He kept entering into willing sacrifice to God.  He kept engaging with God’s people in that place of worship, regardless of whether God “showed up” or not.  His worship, like King David’s of old, cost him something.  He did not come just because it felt good.  He worshipped in spite of the fact that some of his heart didn’t feel good. 

    Frustration or disappointment with God’s silences and those barren periods of life is normal for every child of God.  But so is a growing “uprightness” with God that comes through continued wholehearted worship of Him.  Never let anything stand between you and worship of God. Never let anything get between you and prayer to God.  Never let anything come between you and your joyful, sacrificial offerings to God.  Especially not bitterness and disappointment.  Begin by humbling yourself before him but don’t stop until you are once again offering full worship to Him.

    When you do that, your pathway will also experience what Zechariah’s did…surprise encounters with God

    In Zechariah’s case, his adrenaline must have been flowing.  On what had started as a very normal day was turning out to be THE most important day of his priestly life. He had been selected to do what some priests never got to do in a whole lifetime.

    Zechariah was a popular priestly name of the day that meant “The Lord has remembered”.  Here he was, taking incense into the Holy Place where he had never been – incense that was to be a visible and olfactory reminder to all of the importance of the prayers of God’s people that were that very moment ascending to God.

    Before him rose the richly embroidered curtain of the Holy of Holies, resplendent with cherubim woven in scarlet, blue, purple and gold. To his left was the table of special bread.  Directly in front of him was the horned golden altar of incense.  To his right stood the golden candlestick.  Zechariah purified the altar and began to offer the incense even as his heart offered a prayer to God.

    Suddenly right between the altar and the candlestick was a supernatural being.  We don’t know what form the angel of the Lord, Gabriel, took.  We do know that it startled and virtually petrified Zechariah with fear.  (That was the same reaction Daniel had when the same angel Gabriel had appeared to him at the evening sacrifice some 500 years earlier (Dan. 8:16-17).

    Vs. 13 indicates that Gabriel was, in fact, responding to some prayer of Zechariah.  The structure of that word in Greek seems to indicate that Gabriel was referring to the prayer Zechariah had just uttered as he offered incense. 

    Some think he was praying for a child.  But his response of virtual disbelief which immediately follows Gabriel’s answer makes me think that it is more probable that he was praying for a bigger issue, something a priest who is interceding for a whole nation of people should be seeking God for -- like the redemption of Israel…the revival of a whole nation?

    What surprised him was that God would choose to answer that prayer for a whole nation while at the same time answering his and Elizabeth’s prayer, perhaps long forgotten, for a child.  God promises them a son while at the same time giving the name they are to call him, John, which means “God has been gracious” or “God has shown favor.”  John the Baptist would be part of God’s answer to a whole nation in spiritual need.  At the same time he would be more than the answer Zechariah and Elizabeth could have ever anticipated. 


    But the surprises were not over yet.  The final one had a bit of irony…or perhaps divine humor and spiritual discipline.  God meets Zechariah’s unbelief about the feasibility of grandparent-age childless couples getting pregnant with an experience that would help Zechariah experience the heart of God the Father towards a whole nation of spiritual children.  God had kept silent for 400 years in anticipation of the greatest single event of human history – the coming of the Savior of the world.  Now Zechariah would know what it was to be silent for 9 months with the message that meant hope for his whole country.

    When we pray for things, things that may well be at the core of God’s greatest plans for us and others, we must be willing to not only receive the answer but experience the heart of the Father who gives the answer. 

    • God doesn’t just want children; he wants children who share his heart and nature.  To do that, we must sometimes share in his sufferings, his silences and his sorrows.
    • When we ask for children, we must be prepared to enter into the heart of God towards His children including the pain as well as the joy.

    With blessing and answered prayers often comes increased responsibilities and expanded time-frames. 


    Growing our desires to divine-sized proportions sometimes takes additional responsibilities, vss. 13-17

    This paragraph is really a commentary on the life and person of John the Baptist.  But imagine what these instructions and prophecies would mean for Zechariah

    • He would be assuming the role of dad at a stage in life when most of his peers were pack’en it in. 
    • He would be called upon to raise this son in a very different fashion from most boys – to develop habits and a lifestyle that would set him apart as holy unto God (Possibly as a Nazarite).
    • He will need to be raised spiritually in such a way that his spirit becomes submissive to God but bold with men, like the radical prophet Elijah. 
    • He will need to teach his son “the wisdom of the righteous” so that John can in turn “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17).


    When God does speak…and answers our longings…it often means a radical jump in spiritual responsibility and work for the Kingdom of God.  There are some powerful challenges here for everyone.

    • Parents:  if God prophesied this kind of child for us, how would our training and parenting have to change?  Why hasn’t it changed already?  Just because we’ve been blessed with children at a natural time and by a natural means does not mean that God is asking any less of us in regard to the training of our children.  How would I parent differently if I knew one of my children would be a national spiritual leader when they grew up?  Whose to say we aren’t raising in our home or our church the next Billy Graham?  The next Supreme Court Justice?  The next James Dobson or William Carey or Senate Chaplain?
    • When God revives this nation and city, are we going to be eager to “step up to the plate” and get our spiritual hands dirty caring for new believers by the dozens?  Changing spiritual diapers?  Walking day after day with new, sometimes messy spiritual siblings? Are we ready to begin “parenting”… discipling others like we may never have done?
    • When God answers our longing and barrenness, are we ready to completely change our plans and expectations for how we envision life working out or ending up? 


    The text here tells us (vs. 20-22, 62) that in the midst of this angelic encounter and astounding news, Zechariah was stricken both mute and deaf.  The angel specifically says he would not be able to speakVs. 62 indicates that he might not have been able to hear either.  In fact, the Greek word used here can mean both mute and deaf.  But even under the hand of God’s gracious and gentle discipline, this godly couple were filled with humble joy and rejoicing. 

    Zechariah finished up his week of service in the temple and went home.  Imagine the pantomime that must have ensued for him to explain to Elizabeth everything that had happened in that brief angel-encounter!  “1 word…first letter…”P”…pouch… potbelly…pregnant?  Very funny, Zach.  At my age???  Your age???  I think you’ve been in the sun a little too long today.”   

    And it is no less amazing that the first words out of his mouth after 9-months of imposed silence were words of praise to God (vs. 64).  These two were a couple that was in the habit of cultivating hearts of humble submission and lips of gracious praise…even when it meant personal change and adjustment of almost unimaginable proportions.  

    Growing our desires to divine-sized proportions sometimes takes a LONG time…and unexpected journeys. 


    So do you see yourself somewhere in the lives of these two people?

    1.)  Ever thought, “God won’t bless me.  I’m too…old…too young…too poor…too rich…too plain…too eccentric,…too weak…too afraid…too whatever?  I’m just a…young women…or an old woman…a teenager…or a senior past my prime. 

    Would it surprise you to see God choose you to do something truly significant in his cosmic plan?  It wouldn’t surprise God!  He loves tapping unsuspecting yet God-fearing people on the shoulder to do something truly divine in their lives. 

    We can all come up with what we think are good reasons for God not to bless us or choose us or use us.  How about giving God permission today to do something fresh in your life…even if it catches you by surprise?


    2.) Is God asking you to persevere in waiting for something or someone rather than demanding instant gratification?  Never stop praying.  You never know when or how God may choose to surprise you with His answer.