This morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled, “God Encounters.” As we look forward to what this Christmas season holds, we also look ahead to what God has planned for us in the midst of it. We’re going to learn about God encounters as we work toward the ultimate God-encounter ever experienced; the pregnancy and birth of Jesus! Immanuel, literally God with us!
Last week, we were challenged to seek after God encounters in the midst of our daily routines as to avoid missing them as Jacob almost did and proclaiming, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
That God encounter gave Jacob peace in the midst of chaos, certainty in the midst of confusion, and guidance for his life’s journey. In fact, this morning, we look to the beginning of that promise of God unfolding. God was about to bless all nations through Jacob’s offspring and to increase his descendants, as numerous as the dust, spreading across the earth to the north, east, south, and west.
Before we read about this encounter with God, we’re first going to learn a little bit about one of the most common characters used to celebrate this time of year; angels. In fact, angels often play a large part in God encounters and they certainly do in today’s encounter. In fact, they were also a part of Jacob’s encounter with God as he saw them ascending and descending from heaven to earth.
We don’t know all of the details about angels, but there is quite a bit that the Bible teaches us about them. For time’s sake this morning, I won’t quote all of the references for these facts, but they are available upon request. We know that they were created by God before the creation of man. Although it is a commonly held belief, the Bible is very clear that angels are distinct creatures from humans. Angels are not chubby babies with wings. No, when we pass away, we do not become angels. Sure, we do receive new, heavenly bodies free from the corruption of sin, but we do not become angels.
As we learned from Elisha’s encounter with God last week, angels are usually not visible to us. When they do appear to us, they usually appear to us in human form. In fact, the Bible teaches that sometimes when we show hospitality to strangers, we are actually entertaining angels without realizing it. Although this is true, there are also many occasions when an angelic encounter caused people to be terrified. There are also descriptions of angels appearing like a human, but shining bright like lightning.
Angels are spirits sent to minister to Christians, they also serve as messengers of God and are warriors in His army. They essentially help to carry out the plans of God including the judgment of Jesus throughout the end time events and to separate the saved and unsaved at the final judgment. They also act to protect us and to bring us God’s revelation. Angels worship God and totally refuse to be worshipped themselves.
Although the Bible says that the amount of angels in existence are countless, we know that a third of them were cast out of Heaven and we now call those angels demons. Although they were created to carry out God’s plans, they now choose to rebel against God and to resist His plans. Satan, himself, was created as the most beautiful angel of them all and was responsible for waging that war in heaven believing that he could be equal to God.
Being warriors, there is a hierarchy among them and there are also different types. Two of the angels named in the Bible are Gabriel and Michael, who is also labelled as an archangel. The Bible also refers to specific types of angels such as cherubim and seraphim. Although, it really doesn’t explain what the differences are between them. There are also a few verses that seem to indicate that there are angels assigned to us as personally as guardian angels. However, these verses aren’t clear enough to say this for certain leaving this aspect an arguable matter.
Hopefully that helps to bring a little bit of Biblical clarity to understand what angels are and what their purpose is. One of the most important aspects of angels to our series is that God often uses them to bring us into encounters with Him.
We now turn to where God’s promise to Jacob begins to come to pass beginning with a God encounter that Zechariah had during a routine workday.
5 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. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
These few verses are loaded with information to help us get a picture of the life lived by Zechariah and Elizabeth. Many believed at that time, and some still do to this day, that the quality of one’s spiritual life can be clearly revealed through their wealth. If someone has a lot of money, possessions, and family, then they are considered to be blessed by God. If someone is poor, needy, and barren, then they are considered to be cursed by God.
Of course, we know that this isn’t necessarily the case. Plenty of people amass for themselves wealth through dishonest means and have women and children galore through sexual immorality. In these cases, this is definitely not a sign of God’s blessing.
Elizabeth and Zechariah always had their infertility hanging over them giving them a sense of shame even though they were righteous in the sight of God. They were very old and had been waiting their entire lives for a child. God had a purpose for their waiting. After all, they weren’t going to give birth to just any child. They were going to bring into the world a man who would be filled with the Holy Spirit from conception and who would prepare the way for Jesus, the savior of the world!
If we remain faithful to follow God’s ways and to serve Him, we can be sure that the only reason for our wait is because it is going to be better than we can even imagine it when His promises do come to pass in our lives!
God’s promises speak to our end and do not often speak of the process and time between now and then. In any case, they will prove themselves to be true if we patiently and faithfully wait for them. This was certainly the case for Elizabeth and Zechariah. Though they didn’t understand why God had not permitted them to have a child, they still walked faithfully and obediently with Him and gave their lives to serve Him. In fact, it was while at work serving God that Zechariah had his God encounter!
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
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. 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.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “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. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
This encounter with God through an angel bringing a message to Zechariah literally left him speechless. Seeing as it was his tongue that Zechariah used as an instrument of doubt, the angel made for sure that he didn’t use it again to bring doubt into the lives of anyone else until God’s word came to pass. After all, our words are powerful and are able to speak both life and death, blessing and curses into our own lives and those around us. I’m sure that we all have experienced times when we probably wished that an angel would have done the same for us and stop us from saying things that we now regret!
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
Can you imagine having an experience like that and not being able to tell anyone about it? Not only could he not tell his coworkers at the temple and those worshipping there, but he also couldn’t tell Elizabeth!
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant
I won’t go into any details here, but this is one of those times when cooperating with God to bring His word to pass didn’t require much of a sacrifice. I’m sure that it was Zechariah’s joy to do his part in the pregnancy of Elizabeth. 🙂
24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
I’m not really sure why Elizabeth stayed in seclusion here. In fact, we can only speculate on why she chose to do this. Perhaps it was because of their old age and the risk of this pregnancy that caused her to stay in bedrest during the critical stages of this pregnancy. After all, she waited for decades for this pregnancy and wouldn’t want to do anything to put it at risk.
Perhaps she was waiting until she was showing enough to make her pregnancy authentic to everyone without a shadow of doubt. After all, it sounds as if though she was well past natural child-bearing years and she wouldn’t have wanted people to think she had lost her mind. She was already suffering at the hand of the people because of her infertility as it was.
Perhaps she was just a private person and didn’t want everyone who had been so critical of their barrenness to have another thing to gossip about.
Perhaps she was lead by God to do so until Mary, her cousin, came to visit her. At the time of her visit, Mary was also pregnant with Jesus.
Although we don’t know the reason for sure, we know that she remained in seclusion for five months, then visited with Mary for three months. Of course, then the big day came.
We can only imagine the joy and wonder that must have overwhelmed Elizabeth’s life. She knew that there was something very special about this child. She knew that within her womb jumping around was a living promise of God who just had to be destined for great things. This child was going to remove all of her shame and finally prove her faithfulness to God to all those who questioned it for so long.
The times of waiting for God’s promises to come to pass in our lives aren’t intended to cause us pain and sorrow. They exist to grow and mature us. They are intended to be seasons of eager anticipation as hope fills the void caused by those things that we long for and have not yet received. Hope is sure of the things promised and never gives up on them. It is to be a season of drawing close to God and confidently trusting in Him and His word. For Zechariah and Elizabeth, their season of hope was coming to an end.
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
God encounters. This encounter that left Zechariah speechless also lead to the greatest moment of joy in his life. Jacob’s encounter that we learned about last week was in the midst of intense pressures of life while he was on the run. Zechariah was just going about his routine day at work. He was found simply faithfully serving when his God encounter took place.
What is the purpose of these God encounters? In this case, it served to guide Elizabeth and Zechariah into God’s plans and purposes. It also served to encourage them and silence the shame and condemnation that some heaped on them in their barrenness. There is no doubt that this encounter changed their lives forever!
Throughout this series, we’ll continue to learn how these unique God encounters can serve to:
– Guide Us
– Correct & Teach Us
– Encourage Us
– Save Us
and how they always serve to:
– Change Us