NO ROOM FOR THE TROUBLEMAKER LUKE #4

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS    Luke #4

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Judea

39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice, she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!”

46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” 56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

 

BATTLE LINES

As we survey the gospel stories to find out how battles are to be fought, it is crucial to notice incidents like this one. If I was going to categorise this story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, it presents us with an opportunity to see such a fulness of grace from heaven happening that the enemy has minimal or no chance to intervene. I am sure there are many of these occasions. I remember Suzette Hattingh talking about the impact of a Reinhard Bonnke crusade in Africa. She said that the focus of prayer and the faith of a united church coupled with the presentation of the gospel saw amazing miracles happening and tangible transformation. One of the challenges they observed was to see the impact wane after a period of time. She said it was as if the resident demons all left town for a while, but then found ways of returning. Jesus taught about this in a straightforward way when he talked about demons being cast out and then returning with a bunch of mates to make the latter situation worse than the former.[1]

That would not be the case concerning Mary visiting Elizabeth. She went because the angel had told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. When two people who have experienced such a wonderful measure of grace from heaven get together, divine sparks are bound to fly. The little six month formed baby leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. On could hardly imagine a more powerful prophetic act. John the Baptist’s whole purpose was pointing people to Jesus. His life’s work was to bear witness to him – even before he was born. Such was the abundance of Holy Spirit presence.

Then what was inside of Elizabeth overflowed as she made a prophetic declaration, testifying that the baby Mary would bear was the Messiah, whom she called her Lord. Humbled by what was happening in her presence, she honoured Mary for her trust in what the angel had said. This led to further flow of revelation.

The overflow of prophetic utterance is both exciting and instructive. I think it represents important universal principles about the working of the Spirit in our lives. If you read it slowly and think about what Elizabeth is saying we realise that the Holy Spirit is taking what she is experiencing (her story) and putting it in the context of the big story. God has poured out divine favour on her, even though in the status stakes she doesn’t finish anywhere near the top of the bill. She now realises that God is not just giving her and Zechariah a wonderful baby boy and removing their shame (the disgrace for her was much greater since guilt was more readily placed on the woman than the man). Her boy will herald the coming of the Messiah. Then she realises that what is going on will be told and retold for that reason.

In the second part, she declares the difference between the ways of God and the ways of earthly kingdoms. God has typically bypassed all of the people who may represent likely candidates by the values of the kingdom of this world, especially all of those who may presume to be shortlisted for a divinely appointed task. He has taken two unknown women from way down the pecking order and has drawn them into his divine purpose. The choosing of unlikely candidates is a consistent theme in Scripture. The danger for us is to get one part of that picture and miss the other. Yes, it is true that God chooses nobodies to do important kingdom tasks. But it is not just any nobodies. These “nobodies” are chosen because they are people whose willingness to trust God knows no limits. Both Elizabeth (and Zechariah) and Mary (and Joseph) have been called to walk a journey of faithfulness to God that had and would cost them plenty. It has and will always be the same regardless of the generation or culture.

The third section of Elizabeth’s prophesy ties what is happening in the big story. It is about God’s purpose for Israel, not just about two baby boys being born. It also bears the testimony of the Scripture record. This is consistent with the old testament promises of God recorded over centuries by prophets and others who have listened to God. In other words, what is being spoken ties the current events into God’s big story: the redemption of the world. True prophetic revelation will always do just this.

So, as far as battle lines are concerned, there are none. We see no evidence anywhere of the enemy having access to what is going on. What we see instead are two people following through a brace of invitations from heaven to play a profoundly significant part in the plan of God. They qualified because they chose to be faithful and open to God before an angel showed up. They further qualified when they fully embraced the calling described by the angel, and now they were discovering that this plan involved other people whose testimony and faith would enable them to see and embrace that bigger picture. There is something sad about people who choose to put up fences and barriers everywhere to limit the purposes of God in their lives. Our broken culture keeps assuring us that we are masters of our own space and rulers of our own destiny. We program both the work of the Spirit and the application of the Scriptures so that it conforms to our own preferences and predetermined priorities. This allows us to develop church congregations that are corporate expressions of those limitations. As the process is allowed to continue, we find ourselves building religious structures around those barriers and borders. Both the kingdom and the purpose of God lie beyond the borders we set up. We can worship, pray and engage in all kinds of activities that are carefully (but less and less consciously) designed to accommodate us. We wonder why our prayers are so impotent, why enemy attacks are so brazen and our gatherings so devoid of Holy Spirit power.

By contrast, these two women embraced a single message from heaven and offered themselves to journey to its fulfilment. As such, they were opened to Holy Spirit revelation and a world that was beyond anything they had ever thought about. When Jesus talked about the meek inheriting the earth, his message applied fully and directly to these women. As they met and stayed together in the hill country of Judea their friendship, lifestyle and faith commitment rendered the enemy powerless. To be sure, the day would come when there would be another attack, but while these two babies were being formed in the wombs of their hero mothers, there was no opportunity. Instead, profound downloads of revelation by the Spirit – as is evidenced here and wait, there’s more.

 

 

WEAPONS

A few years ago I was making a slow journey through the Psalms. I would take a single Psalm to my place of prayer and read it enough times to get the story. Then I would pray my way through using the inspiration before me. It was a wonderful journey, and I was very powerfully impacted. Not only were there amazing moments and encounters but the experience transformed me. One of my summary insights was to see the link between “The Harp and the Sword.” That was my way of describing David’s intercessory experience. At the time I was influenced a lot by a prayer movement that had taken a phrase from the Book of Revelation: “Harp and Bowl.”[2] Their wonderful approach to intercession involved a focus on worship (harp) and prayer (bowl). My observation from the experience of David, and later, Jesus and Paul was the way intercession was seamlessly connected to the ministry of the gospel and I was worried that the prayer movement was capable of producing people who prayed and worshipped but didn’t seem to be so keen to get out and do the work of the gospel. It seemed to create a false dichotomy so that pray-ers didn’t seem to be very committed to ministry and those doing the work of ministry didn’t seem to be much involved in intercession. We saw two tribes emerge and even the idea that there was a special calling to be an “intercessor.” This has no warrant in either old or new testaments.

So I figured that David (then, Jesus and Paul) had a “Harp and Sword” approach. When David came in from fighting battles with his sword, he put his sword away and picked up his harp – as we see in the Psalms. When he worshipped and prayed, we can see that he brought all of the issues of the battle-field into the place of prayer. Sometimes he struggles deeply with what has or hasn’t happened. The story of each Psalm tells about a journey from pouring out all of the frustrations, fears and foibles associated with fighting battles. Then he gets connected to heaven, and the tenor usually changes. He starts the journey in pain and defeat and ends up in praise and faith. Then he puts down his harp and picks up the sword and goes off to battle once again, filled with confidence and the anticipation of victory. And the cycle repeats again and again. The place of prayer ought to be filled with the issues that arise from the battles we are engaged with, and the battles should be filled with the faith and insight we gain from the place of prayer. The same people who pray should be those who fight and the same people who fight should pray: the Harp and the Sword.

The weapons here are used offensively. Elizabeth speaks unseen reality as she declares what is happening in and around her. That’s a weapon for which the enemy has no countermeasure. She manifests peace and love with Mary – that’s righteousness. It gives the enemy a headache. She declares the salvation that is to come to Israel – that’s the gospel. She has and continues to exercise faith in what God has told her – that’s faith. She honours the favour of God upon her – that’s salvation. She clearly hears what God is saying and embraces it – that’s the word of God. And she prays. So all seven of the Ephesians 6 weapons are here, and the enemy is nowhere to be found.

As I have said previously, there is no reason to assume that if we use these weapons offensively all the time that the enemy will not come near to us. He will. He finds opportunity, vulnerability, circumstances and people to exploit the situation so that he can oppress, influence, confuse and destroy. There will be those times, though, when we find ourselves in circumstances where the presence of God is active and free flowing the enemy will have no opportunity. We should be diligent to embrace the purposes and promises of God, to be open to the leading of the Spirit, be obedient to everything God has said. As we do, we will find many of these occasions.

 

 

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

  1. Like Elizabeth, we need to fashion our hearts and minds around what can’t be seen rather than being limited to what can be seen. The promises of God always come as unseen reality. We have a choice to make. Do we go with what we see OR do we place what we do see within the reality framework of what God has revealed but can’t yet be seen – i.e. the kingdom of God reality?
  2. Like Elizabeth we need to understand that the purposes of God may well bring us great personal joy, i.e. bearing a child after being childless but this child needs to be prepared to serve the kingdom of God. That’s a bigger world and a world that requires us to live beyond our own personal desires and preferences. When Mary shows up, the world comes to Elizabeth’s door. I wonder what our response will be when God’s world shows up, and we have to embrace a bigger plan, bigger story and a bigger world than the one we might prefer? That willingness is called faith, and it is an enemy-dart-quenching weapon we need to employ if we are going to see battles being won.
  3. Giving ourselves into the expanded world of God’s purpose brings a flow of revelation and a breathtaking awareness of God’s nature as well as his purpose. He uses nobodies – not just any nobody but nobodies who are faithfully serving where they are when no one else is watching. No one would have thought much about either of these two women by human reckoning. But when no one was watching, they were righteous, and their hearts were open to God. That was their ticket into this amazing “game.”
  4. Faithfulness to one revelation is the entry point for more revelation. As we see in Elizabeth’s house, God made his will and presence known AS they were celebrating what he was doing. We get more when we fully invest in what we have already been given. Jesus said exactly that.[3] Sadly, Christian history is replete with examples of individuals and groups who were privileged to be given fresh insights into Biblical truth. They embraced it, followed it out and then found themselves defining everything only by what they were told. When someone comes with a further instalment, it seems that the people with the previous revelation provide the most ardent opposition to what happens next. Elizabeth and Mary are examples of two people who walked fully in the revelation they had but were also willing to receive more. More came to them when they got together (and there is a little principle all on its own – I reckon more comes when we get together ). It’s not a series of fashion changes. It is the unfolding of a divine story. The Word of God will always move us further toward the end goal. And it is a sword in the hand at every stage.

[1]         See Matthew 12:43-45

[2]         See Revelation 5:8 “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

[3]         See Luke 19:11-27 The parable of the ten minas

ANGELIC VISIT TO MARY Luke #3

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS             Luke #3

 

ANGELIC VISIT TO MARY CONCERNING THE BIRTH OF JESUS

 

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.   ( read Luke 1:26-38)

 

BATTLE LINES

As with all of these occurrences, the battle lines are formed at different levels. Let’s start at the biggest arena and work to the smallest. When God sent Gabriel to Nazareth it was a declaration of war against the kingdom of Satan. There are many references to this throughout the New Testament. Here are a few samples:

Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. (John 12:31)   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (First John 3:8)

Jesus came to overcome the rule of Satan in the world. I should say, he came to make it possible for the rule of Satan to be broken. He modelled it during his ministry and completed it on the cross. A fuller discussion of this matter will have to wait for another occasion. What is more important is to see the visitation of Gabriel to Mary as an act of war. If you want to get a better picture of the way God engages with the enemy, let this picture stay in your mind and wrap around your heart. The way God declares war on the Satan is to send an angel with a message to an unknown girl from an unknown village in a nothing province. Think about it slowly. If you or some earthly organisation were planning to take over the world and enthrone a new king would you/they be likely to do it that way? No way on any day. But this is the kingdom of God happening, not the kingdom of this world. We have to tell ourselves again and again that this kingdom from heaven is totally counter to the culture of the kingdom of this world.

Like the announcement to Zechariah about his soon-to-be-conceived son, John. It happened privately and quietly. The greatest event in the history of the world is about to happen and only one living person knows about it. Sure, there are going to be additional signs when the birth happens, but for now, it depends on one person receiving the divine message and being prepared to live with its implications. We need to remember this principle. When God comes to establish his Son as King of Kings, does so by speaking to a young otherwise undesignated girl. We, like Mary, need to be ready to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.” The angel leaves Mary sitting or standing in the same place, but because she responds, her whole world is about to erupt.

The second arena for battle is between Mary and Joseph (and the members of her family and village). We know that Joseph is going to get his own visit from the angel, but not before he finds out that Mary is pregnant. Scripture is not written like a Jackie Collins novel. We are not privy to any conversation between Mary and Joseph. It did happen, but we can only speculate. First, the word is confirmed, and Mary realises she is pregnant. Rather than giving a reason for celebration, it creates an understandable cloud of controversy. Whatever she said to Joseph didn’t satisfy him. The religious traditions were very specific about what should happen to an unwed girl who became pregnant – public shame and if the letter of the law was fulfilled, stoning to death. You can readily imagine how lame it sounded for Mary to tell the truth: an angel came and told her that she was going to supernaturally conceive and give birth to the Messiah?” Can pigs fly???? We might ask the question as to why God didn’t help Mary out by having the angel show up when she told her story to Joseph, or immediately afterwards. We are told in a different part of the Bible that it was Joseph’s righteousness that motivated him to simply send her away to some other place (Matt. 1:19). There is no information to help us answer that question in this case but there is a consistent pattern throughout the Scriptures. When God speaks to someone, they are always called upon to BECOME the embodiment of that word. It is called, “incarnation.” The Word from heaven becoming flesh” (see John 1:14). There could hardly be a more literal example of this than Mary. She began to carry the fulfilment of the message in her womb. She eventually gave birth to the Messiah. Every part of her life was affected. We need to reject the pressure from our western culture to compartmentalise things, usually for the sake of personal convenience and comfort, and allow the word from heaven to have its full effect. This is at the heart of Mary’s response to the angel, “May your word be fulfilled.” She then carried both the fulfilment of that word and its implications. She had to trust that God would honour her faith. We don’t get to choose the outcome of our obedience. We just get to choose to trust as we obey. That trust has to come from the inside. When Mary became pregnant and Joseph started to make plans for her exile, she had to trust that God would find a way to resolve the struggle – i.e. win the battle. She had no idea he was going to send an angel to Joseph. It is important to note, by the way, that while Joseph’s assumptions were cleared up by the angel, they still had to face the wider family and townspeople. The rumour that Jesus was illegitimate carried all the way to the religious leaders and their insinuation to that effect (see John 8:41).

There would be another battle that Mary (and Joseph) would have to face. They were the ones who had been told he was the Messiah. They would have assumed the default view that Jesus would raise up and army to throw out the Romans and enable Israel to rule the world from Jerusalem. When Jesus failed to fit that picture, instead going about preaching, healing and casting out demons, Mary was among the members of Jesus’ family who concluded that he was mentally ill and went to Capernaum to bring him back to Nazareth (Mark 3:21). And we know that Mary was among those who watched him get arrested, tried and crucified. In the next chapter of Luke, the text tells us that on at least two occasions, Mary saw things and heard things and “treasured and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19,51) These were the battles she had to fight from beginning and even more at the end. It is the battle that comes when you build your life around what God has said. It brings you into conflict with opposing ideas in your own mind, with the opinions and attitudes of others and with circumstances that are carefully orchestrated by the devil to stop the fulfilment of God’s plan. God’s plan was for his Messiah Son to make him known on earth and to reveal the nature and working of his kingdom. Jesus was nothing like any earthly king and his kingdom was nothing like any earthly kingdom. Mary was called to embrace that journey in a unique way. The principle still stands. The message from heaven needed to be embraced for the rest of her life in all kinds of different circumstances and against all kinds of different challenges. It is our inability to do this that has landed us in a place where we lose the transformational power of the gospel of the kingdom and become a pallid religious reflection of our wider community.

 

WEAPONS

The seven weapons referred to in Ephesians 6 are as follows:

Truth – making known the unseen pertinent God-reality.

Righteousness  – making God’s character tangible.

Gospel – declaring God’s saving power and purpose.

Faith – trusting God to intervene to bring about the kingdom of God.

Salvation – taking primary significance and identity from being a child of God.

Word of God – knowing and fully embracing what God has said.

Prayer – engaging in every form of relevant prayer activity related to the situation.

I am sure you will be able to see these weapons deployed through this incident in the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The truth she made known was to tell Joseph exactly what happened. He couldn’t see it, but her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit was the unseen God reality. Regardless of how he reacted, making truth known is not just for the benefit of the humans involved. It is to strike and the attack potential of the enemy. Her righteousness in all of this was the quietness with which she carried herself at this time and as the story progressed. The gospel message in this situation was that God would fulfil his promise and save her from harm and from the punitive power of religious tradition. She trusted God before she was pregnant and afterwards – that trust was to see God’s full intention fulfilled. She obviously faltered a bit when she and her family thought they should intervene and restrain Jesus because he didn’t seem to be acting like the Messiah they had envisaged, but it was certainly restored by the time of the wedding at Cana when the wine had run out and they needed a miracle (John 2). We don’t have information about the last two weapons, although there is evidence to suggest that Mary had a strong sense of living in God’s favour and was no stranger to prayer.

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY?

  1. The visit of an angel with a message from heaven is an act of war. There are no guns, no tanks and no bombs.  The world at large is totally unaware.  But alarm bells are sounding in the kingdom of darkness.  Mary listens to the message and then offers herself to serve its fulfilment.  The world knows nothing of this, but again, a bomb lands on the gates of hell.  When she becomes pregnant and tells Joseph spiritual minions are commissioned to move Joseph to get rid of her.  But they fail.  Mary and Joseph join in their commitment to journey along the path of faith and obedience.  This is how wars are fought in the realm of the kingdom of God.  They don’t need government permission. They don’t need a majority vote.  They just need an incarnation to happen.  The messenger is gone, and a betrothed young couple become the living embodiment of that message and its custodians.  This is also how warfare is carried out in God’s kingdom.
  2. Look at God’s way of choosing.  There is a theological term to describe this.  It is called “divine election.”  It means that God chooses someone to do a job.  We have so badly messed this up over the centuries.  We think of “chosen” from a human point of view.  That is, the chosen person is better than those who are not chosen.  This is never the case.  God certainly chooses people whose hearts are righteous, but that doesn’ t mean they are more worthy than others.  Choosing relates to responsibility.  How sad that the people of God from so many generations have taken the view that they are better than the other people. Worse still, that God likes them and hates the other people.  The other side of this is the fact that God has never chosen anyone for political, tribal or personally preferenced reasons.  He generally tends to choose the unheralded and unlikely just because they don’t come with a bag filled with pride and arrogance.  God chose Mary.  He can just as likely choose you – and most likely has.
  3. The idea of Mary being impregnated by a work of the Holy Spirit is part of a detailed description of a one-off historical event, but it is also a powerful metaphor of what happens every time God speaks. Just as Mary was challenged to fully embrace what the angel, so it is with us with every word that God has spoken. This applies to the written word as well as when God speaks directly by his Spirit. That word means nothing until it is welcomed and embraced in our heart and becomes part of who we are. The image of a period of pregnancy is a wonderful way to think of things that we carry inside of us that are not yet fulfilled in open experience. I have never been pregnant like Mary was but I have carried a word from heaven inside me that was growing and waiting for the time when it would be seen and known by everyone. As I said, the idea of pregnancy is powerful. I can only observe the strange phenomenon for a woman who has a little one inside of her. These days you can have images from very early on, but this little one is a mystery. Those of us who lived before ultra-sounds had to wait the full term to find out the gender. There were all kinds of theories and signs that were supposed to give a clue, but as the baby in the womb grew the mystery remained. Even the wonder of birth retains a whole world of mystery. Suddenly a husband and wife are invaded by this amazingly small but vibrant bundle of free will. Their lives are totally revolutionised. So it is with the word from heaven. We need to nurture that word, so it grows and when the waiting is over, we need to be fully involved in giving birth and nurturing that word toward its fulfilment.
  4. Have you ever wondered why you can have some amazing encounter with the Spirit of God? You receive a revelation and embrace it with all of your heart. Then all hell seems to break loose. You can even find yourself wishing you never received the word in first place. Sometimes some people are so intimidated by the push back that they stop following and pursuing its fulfilment. Jesus warns us about this in a story he told about seeds in four different kinds of soils. The word can be directly stolen by the devil. It can be intimidated by hardship and extinguished by worldly distractions. Many followers of Jesus read the Bible. A lesser number embrace what they read. A lesser number allow that word to become part of their lives. A lesser number carry that word to its fulfilment and completion. It takes a lot of deliberate effort to bear a child and make the lifestyle choices that ensure its healthy development. There are untold challenges in giving birth. And that’s just the beginning. So it is with the word. It will be resisted and contended by the enemy just because it carries the purposes and redemptive love of God. We have to be prepared for this battle and keep utilising the weapons made available to us to ensure complete fulfilment.

WEAPONS MASTER CLASS Luke #2

Zechariah is visited by an angel 

Luke 1:5-25

 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.

 

 

QUESTIONS

This biblical research aims to ask the following questions about the assumptions and modelling given by Jesus in the gospels. The working hypothesis here is that Jesus engaged in battle with every work of the enemy, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry. In addition, I am also suggesting that Jesus never lost a battle. His ministry not only defines the spiritual battle we face each day, but he also models victory.  If that is so, then we will discover that we need to modify some of our ideas about what victory represents when we allow it to be defined by the life and ministry of the Son of God.

 How were the battle lines drawn up in this incident?  How was the presence and dominion of the enemy evident?   What does God do to engage in this battle?   What do people do to engage in the battle?   What happens?   What is the nature of the victory?   How does this apply to our own circumstances?

 

BATTLE LINES

The day Zechariah entered the Temple in Jerusalem could not have been more critical as far as the kingdom of God on earth was concerned. The Romans had exceeded their predecessor imperialist rulers, gaining ignominious proficiency in every kind of human injustice. In addition to this, corruption and compromise was the order of the day for Judaism. As always, a quiet righteous remnant remained. Godly men and women lived their lives by avoiding trouble and praying for the kingdom to come. It seems that the closer anyone got to the religious centres of power the more difficult it was to avoid the toxic traditions and their abuses.

Like others mentioned in the New Testament (Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna), Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were able to maintain godliness with humility. If you want to think about battles, then this is a day to day battle that is hard to fight. Anyone who has lived under corrupt authority will know this all too well. I heard someone say a few years ago that if a righteous person was elected to public office in Australia they would soon be crucified. We are in a time when people love darkness rather than light, so the systems need to be corrupt to stay in place. It is the same with Biblical truth in the church. There are far too many ungodly leaders and leadership systems.  They operate pretty much like their secular counterparts and making it harder rather than easier for ordinary believers to be passionate about following Jesus.

It was because Zechariah and Elizabeth chose to live lives of true godliness that they qualified for an angelic visit and were aware of the prophetic presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this was made the more difficult when they were not able to bear children. It was not just the frustration of unfulfilled maternal and paternal desires that needed to be managed. It was the unwritten but publicly assumed idea that if someone remained childless it was because they were being judged by God for some hidden sin. It’s hard to remain righteous when people think you are hiding some sin that has incurred divine judgment.

But on the one day of the year when a priest entered the Holy Place, an angel showed up. After four hundred years of silence that is an astounding event. And it happened in one of the few places where there would be no one to witness it other than Zechariah himself. It seems to be the way of God to bring a word to a man or a woman and for that person to become the embodiment of the word, not just the witness of it. The battle engages and a number of different levels. In the first place, the presence of the angel and his message was the first in the biggest battle, the one that will be won on the cross. The Messiah’s advance party is being secretly announced to one man. John will be born as a priest but will be known for a prophetic ministry that will happen a long way from the Temple precinct. At another level, a godly man who has been praying for a son is being asked to believe God for the fact that, even though the child will be born by natural processes of conception and gestation, it is also a miracle because both of them are well beyond the normal age for childbearing. The small battle is as important as the big battle. This is always the case. Whatever the particulars of our God-given vocation, each battle needs to be won the same way: faith and obedience. When Zechariah starts to think of the angel’s announcement as a rational human being, the angel gives him a little supernatural reminder. He is not going to be able to speak for a little more than nine months. This will be a daily reminder that the kingdom issue is not about normal human experience but about divine power working through ordinary human activity.

The next battle is trying to convince Elizabeth that they need to “try for a baby once again.” He had to do it without being able to talk. There’s a little battle all on its own. I reckon a good portion of prayer, fasting together with a largish slate with an even larger supply of crayons. I don’t want to dwell on the matter, but there are genuine challenges associated with older people trying to conceive. Just ask Abraham and Sarah when you meet them in heaven. They would have a story to tell on the subject. I only point this out because it needs an example of the battles needing to be fought.

We need to be very clear about how the battle is engaged. God sends a prophetic message by angelic visitation to a man who has been praying that he and his wife could have a child. Way after all human hope is gone. The man can’t believe his prayer is now to be answered. His hesitation invokes a temporary supernatural block on his ability to speak. With this increased level of difficulty, he goes home to his wife.  They miraculously produce a son by the natural process. This is how God fights battles and this is how his servants wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, spiritual darkness and wickedness. It is when the supernatural works in and through the natural.

The nature of this victory is the birth of a special Spirit-filled prophet and forerunner to the Messiah. This event will be linked to another angelic visitation about which Zechariah and Elizabeth knew nothing. Their initial faith was to live godly lives in a time when Israel’s public faith was compromised. When they received the word from God they obeyed and God worked a miracle to give an old couple a baby boy. Then they began to receive further prophetic revelation and a visit of a young unmarried relative from Nazareth who would give birth to the Messiah about three months after John was born.

 

 

HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO US?

  1. Be faithful to God even if the systems and other people are compromising Biblical faith. This is important not only as a qualification for more specific roles, but for its own sake. It is hard to be a radical counter-cultural revolutionary, but every person who seeks the kingdom of God first and lives a lifestyle mandated by the Bible will find themselves at odds with both the religious and the secular culture, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth.
  2. Regardless of how revelation comes – angelic visit or reading the Bible or a prophetic Holy Spirit word, we need to embrace that word until it becomes our lifestyle. Just think how Zechariah and Elizabeth began and continued to live on the basis of this word. First, they tried to have a baby in their old age. Then, they raised this child according to the further prophetic revelation they received.
  3. As they pursued this new purpose they were sovereignly linked to God’s big story.  They became part of the birth and life of the Messiah.  Then they saw their son take up a ministry that became so confronting that he was imprisoned and then executed. Their obedience immersed them in the bigger story. They were faithful in small ways and became partners with the biggest story in the history of God’s purposes for the world he loves. We have exactly the same opportunity.  It is only when we allow the word and purpose of God to shape our lives that God brings us together with people who make up the bigger picture.  The kingdom of God is a big but amazingly connected group of people doing an amazingly connected work. Whenever we plug in, through faith and obedience at any point,  it is like connecting to the internet.  We are directly connected to a world of kingdom people and kingdom work.  We will find that God puts us together with all kinds of people we would never have known and with work that we would otherwise not have been aware – and we immediately belong to it.

 

Brian Medway

February 12.  2019