Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Three)

1 Kings 17:17-24

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (17:24 NIV).

Elijah found himself in a situation that no one had previously confronted. God had promised to provide for him through a widow and her flour and oil. But the widow’s son died unexpectedly. She blamed him for her son’s death, and it appeared that God’s promise had miscarried. Did the true God only give the Gentile woman an illusion of hope? How could he demonstrate that God was worthy of her trust? What could Elijah do or even say? Could the dead be raised? His response provides a helpful pattern for us. Elijah prayed effectively.

  • It was a fervent prayer, for “he cried out to the Lord”. The typical “church prayers” (Sunday service or small group) very rarely are spoken passionately. They are lukewarm, boring, and impersonal. People get more excited about junk mail or telemarketer calls than praying to the true and living God!
  • It was a personal prayer. He addressed his God—“O Lord my God”. He knew God, for he had waited on the Lord for daily provision. He knew that God understood his condition and believed that God cared about the widow and him. In contrast, “church prayers” seem like a phone call to some unknown person at a utility company. “With whom am I speaking?”
  • It was a bold prayer—“have you brought tragedy…?” Elijah didn’t whitewash the tragedy to appear reverent. He talked with the Lord in the hideous pain of the loss of the widow’s son. Why pray this way? Because God wants us to be real with him.
  • It was importunate prayer: “three times”. Some mistakenly suppose that prayer is a once spoken request, like the less they pray the more faith they’re supposed to have. Such wrong ideas come from a misunderstanding of Matthew 6:7, which they suppose “excuses” them from wrestling with God in prayer (cf. Colossians 4:12). Yet Jesus himself prayed repeatedly!
  • It was a specific prayer: “let this boy’s life return to him!” He didn’t pray glib, trite, vague requests. He asked for something precise. God wants us to pray this way.

Elijah received a miraculous answer. The means was the prayer of faith. By faith… Women received their dead, raised to life again (Hebrews 11:33-35). Elijah had the same faith Abraham did—that God could raise the dead (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). This is the same faith that every believer has—faith that God can and will raise the dead. He had the great faith to trust God for what had never happened before. Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3 NASB). Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

The cause was solely the power of God. Elijah’s faith by itself did nothing, but he had faith in the One who was, is and always will be All-powerful (cf. Acts 26:6-8). This exercise of faith showed the truth of God’s word (17:24). It showed he was really God’s prophet. It led the widow to a greater faith in the Lord.

With an ending like the one in this passage, it is easy to see the truth of Romans 8:28. But we must remember what the all things are which Paul includes in that reference. Read Romans 8:31-39 very carefully. Is your confidence in the living God who has all things under his control?

Are you worshipping the Sovereign God? Are you giving glory to him? “The whole life of a Christian should be nothing but praises and thanks to God; we should neither eat nor drink nor sleep, but eat to God and sleep to God and work to God and talk to God, do all to his glory and praise” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:17-24

We can know God, trust God fervently, and yet come into situations where our faith in God is incredibly tested. We may even know that God has done miracles in response to our faith in him, but we wonder, “Can God provide the help I need now?” Faced with the death of the widow’s son, Elijah knew that  he must trust the living God for a greater miracle. So, Elijah said a powerful prayer. He believed that prayer was more worthwhile than the other actions he could have engaged in. We need to rid ourselves of the saying, “All we can do now is pray.” Stop it. Ideas like that corrupt our minds. Prayer is the best thing we can do.

  • Elijah prayed instead of argued. We need to follow Christ when we cannot understand the ways of God. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). It’s a good rule not to take offense at the words of a grieving person. Not every saint is able to bow before the Lord as meekly as Job was able to (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). Love should cover sorrowful, bitter words that occur at a time of grief.
  • He prayed instead of debated. Some are under the totally misguided notion that all times are opportunities for theological debate. As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2 CSB) Sadly, I have observed this attitude. Don’t dispute in the face of suffering. Show mercy! Humbly, let us remember people need compassion rather than our knowledge. Some think they are being “bold for the Lord” when they are merely being brash for themselves. Christ was compassionate; imitate him.
  • He prayed instead of complained. Some would complain, “Now I’m in such a mess! She’s blaming all this on me, and I didn’t do anything. Poor me!” Does it really matter what someone thinks about you, when they need your help?
  • He prayed instead of questioned. “Why did this happen Lord?” It’s very natural to ask, “Why?” But it may be better to invest the greater part of our energies in asking, “What do you want me to do now, Lord?” Or better, “What will You do now, Lord?”

Elijah refused to look at second causes. Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (17:20 NLT) Elijah believed that God is in control, even including the hard events of life. We need to have a larger view of the sovereign God in our thoughts and viewpoints. Think on what the Spirit has written in the Word.

  • [Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22 NIV).
  • I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7 NIV).
  • When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV).

The time of trouble and trials is the time to worship the Lord as God over all, and to call upon him as the Ruler of all.

“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven; therefore, if poverty be good, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses be good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it; for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good” (Sibbes).

Grace and peace, David

Elijah’s Greatest Challenge (Part One)

1 Kings 17:17-24

Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” (17:17-18 NIV)

The Scripture passage referenced above presents us with perhaps the greatest challenge to Elijah’s faith. What he had to face is with us today. The worldly-minded person still scoffs at us and what we believe. Is there a factual and historical reality to the resurrection of the dead? Does the Christian truly have a reason for hope in this otherwise hopeless world? Every unbeliever assumes that a Christian is a fool. “Why waste your life on following Jesus Christ? The dead can never live again,” they think. But they never consider what the Maker of heaven and earth can do!

We have already seen Elijah trust God for some great things. But now his faith faces its greatest challenge. Can God raise the dead? And consider this. Never before in human history, as far as we know, had a resurrection from the dead occurred. Neither Noah nor Abraham nor Moses nor Joshua nor Samuel nor David had performed or witnessed someone raised from the dead.

Many times people, including God’s people, find themselves in horrible situations. We might call these events a “dark providence”. Here are three puzzling aspects of the situation in which they found themselves (17:17-18).

  • The widow and her son had earlier been rescued from death by the Lord’s mercy (17:8-16). Was all that God had done for them now to be undone? It didn’t make sense. You and I are able to acknowledge that there is an incalculable amount of trouble and sorrow in the world. But it is hard to accept when it comes near us, isn’t it? It is harder when blessing is replaced by misery.
  • She was doing God’s will at that time by feeding Elijah (17:9). She had believed the word of the Lord to her. If she trusted and obeyed the Lord, why was she having such sorrow? Do not think it unusual if you encounter sharp and painful difficulties in the service of God. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12 ESV).
  • All had seemed to be going right. Wouldn’t God want her to keep on being happy? When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favor, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when you hid your face, I was terrified (Psalm 30:6-7. CSB).

Remember that we live in a world that is filled with sin and under the curse because of sin. Our immediate happiness is not the ultimate purpose in the universe. God has a greater goal — the display of his own glory. For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NIV; cf. Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

To make matters worse for Elijah, he was blamed for all this (17:18). Regardless of who you are and what you do, people won’t always approve of you. Perhaps you, too, will be blamed for things you had no connection with. For example, many coaches and managers have been blamed for the failure of their teams, when the actual reasons are the injuries of key players, disgruntled players, or the actions of the owner or upper level management. Elijah wasn’t to blame. Life and death are in the hands of God. God’s people can receive criticism because we are looked on as his representatives (cf. Matthew 10:24-25).

Estimate the cost before you join Christ’s team! A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27 NLT).

Grace and peace, David

The Difficulty of Faith (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:8-16

In our last article, we considered that faith is difficult because it requires us to put our hope in God instead of our wisdom or apparently favorable circumstances. We continue with two more ideas about the difficulty of faith.

Faith is difficult because it must confront the realities of life (17:7-10). Let us remember that Elijah exercised obedient faith in God as he made his way to the widow’s house in Zarephath in Sidon. Every step on his lonely journey tested the faith in God he had. Faith does not eliminate our thoughts about how God will act or the way that his provision will appear. Faith thinks through the situation and trusts God when the way seems unlikely or impossible to us. Otherwise, we walk by sight and human reasoning, instead of by faith. Here is what believing Elijah had to face.

He saw the desperate condition the widow was in. She lived in poverty; she was out gathering sticks. He could easily have wondered, “Lord, why didn’t you send me to a rich widow?” She had a home, but not much else. She lacked sufficient food. She had enough for one more meal. I don’t know what Elijah did, but I think I would have been checking my email about God’s directions or my GPS on my phone about this time. “Lord, am I in the right place? This seems like another drying brook?”

Elijah saw the despair of heart which controlled that widow. She was prepared to eat her last meal and then die. She was not living by faith but by fear. “Don’t be afraid” (7:13).

The widow was an unlikely person to help God’s prophet. But the hearts of all are in God’s hands. A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9 CSB). God decreed to provide for the needs of Elijah through the means of the widow’s generosity, and so it would be. But how would that happen? God uses means, which brings us to the next point.

Believing Elijah had to act in a way that was consistent with the faith in God that they would need to live by. For this reason, he had to test the woman. At first glance, Elijah seems selfish and uncaring. But he had to know if she would put God first. Was she unselfish? Could she trust God sufficiently to follow God’s words through him to her. Do not be mistaken; it was difficult for a man of God ask her to do such things in the bitter hardship he saw she was in. All this was to teach the woman. She had to know who was providing food for her, so that she could provide for God’s prophet. He told her God’s promise. “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says…” (17:14 NIV).

Faith is difficult even when God provides (17:15-16). Living by faith is difficult because it requires daily trust. All that they had to live on was the contents of the jar and the jug, refilled each day with just enough for one day. But God gave them food daily! “It may be that we shall never have much in hand, but this is no evil, for then our provision will never grow stale, but come to us fresh from our heavenly Father’s hand” (Spurgeon). That is an expression of joyful faith!

Again, living by faith is difficult because it requires contentment. Both Elijah and the widow and her son could only eat of what was made from the flour and the oil. There was nothing else. But we see that God was true to his word! He promised Elijah food, and food he had! But it was even less than he had received previously. Before he had meat and bread, now it was only bread. Remember Israel’s experience in the wilderness. They had manna every day for nearly forty years. The lesson of daily bread is to humble ourselves, in order that we trust God.

Here are two lessons as we conclude.

  • Do you think that the life of faith is easy? Do not be misled! But the Lord is sufficient to supply all that we need. He will provide what he knows we need.
  • Only those who come to God through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have any basis for confidence that God will supply their needs. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). Trust in god for salvation, and then you can trust him for other matters. It’s the way of God’s kingdom.

Grace and peace, David

Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:2-7

“You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (17:4 CSB).

Our text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. In the previous article, we looked at God’s command. Now, let’s examine the other three.

God gave Elijah a promise (17:4). What can we learn about our God who makes such promises? First, let’s focus on his sovereignty. The living God has power and authority to command the birds, and other creatures. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Ps 135:6 ESV; cf. Jonah 2:10). He also directed Elijah to the place he was to hide. Elijah was to go to the wadi (or brook) Kerith, and there he would be fed. Then, consider the manner in which Elijah was fed. The Lord used “The Raven Catering Company.” He fed Elijah by ravens, not by people or angels, although God used both means to feed Elijah later. All creatures, high and low, are at God’s command. In using ravens, God restrained their natural tendency to seek food for themselves and instead to feed a prophet. He put Elijah’s location into their “GPS”.

Wonder at the Lord’s wisdom. If people or dogs had brought the food to Elijah, perhaps his hiding place would have been discovered. But who cares where birds are flying? God taught Elijah humble dependence. Ravens, unclean birds under the law covenant, brought him his food little by little.

Second is our response. So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook (17:5-6 NIV). Elijah acted according to God’s word. He found God’s will for his life in God’s word of promise. And he did it. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22 NIV). God is not impressed by how much we know; he is concerned with how well we obey. If Elijah believed that God will provide for him at Kerith, then he would quickly go to Kerith. The same is true today for you and me. True faith produces obedience to God’s commands.

God was true to his word. He provided his prophet’s daily necessities: bread and meat. I agree that it’s nice to have filet mignon, but it’s not necessary. The Lord did not give it all at once, but little by little as Elijah needed it. Twice daily he was taught God’s faithfulness.

Third, the test came. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (17:7 NLT).      The brook dried up. Why? This was the answer to Elijah’s prayer! Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land (James 5:17 CSB). Be careful what you pray for; God might give it to you! If you pray, make me like Christ, consider what that means (cf. Hebrews 5:8). Or we might pray, give me patience! Then we could find ourselves in the hope sequence (Romans 5:3-5). Are we ready for the changes that God’s answers to our prayers might make in our lives? All this tested Elijah’s trust. Was his trust in God or in God’s gifts? Had the Lord suddenly lost control of the situation?

Do you have a drying brook today? Perhaps it is the drying brook of fading popularity, of failing health, of diminishing business, of decreasing friendships, or of a feuding family. Has your hope been in such a brook that is now drying up, or is it in the living God? Let each one of us exercise a vigorous faith in the living God! And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

He Came Under the Law

Luke 2:21-24

God reveals himself and his redemptive purposes in his word. He does this for his glory and our joy! His message concerns his dearly loved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is formed according to what God did, does, and will do through him. It declares from its earliest pages “he will come,” and then “he has come” and “he will come again”. Various themes assist in the telling of this message, such as the kingdom, the seed, and the covenants. In our text we ought to see how the Christ or Anointed One came. He came under the law, meaning the old or law covenant, made by God with his people Israel. Listen to Paul’s statement. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV).

Why do you and I need to know this? We can begin by saying we must understand how God tells the story of his glory to us. It helps us as we read parts of the Scriptures like this text, because we can wonder, “Why does the Spirit of God use four verses of the Bible on this stuff?” I think I can safely say that no one ever was told to memorize these verses in Sunday School, Bible study, or a discipleship program. It provides part of the background for understanding what Christ did for us and the newness of life we are called to walk in. It also provides a rare glimpse into the infancy of the Redeemer. Let’s observe a few things of his earliest days.

His parents walked obediently according to the old covenant. He was circumcised and presented to the Lord as the law required. They presented an offering required by the law. Remember that the covenant given at Sinai functioned as the people brought offerings to the priests at the tabernacle or temple. This was their worship. Since the new covenant has one finished sacrifice offered by Jesus the great high priest, our worship is in him. We come to God through Christ, but Mary, Joseph and Jesus approached the living God through sacrifices like this. So then, they were obedient worshipers, just as we should be.

They, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, kept the word of the Lord that came to them through the angel Gabriel. They named their son Jesus (Luke 1:31). This shows their faith that God had indeed spoken to them. We have received the New Testament Scriptures through the apostles and prophets of the Lord. When we read the Bible, we read what the Lord has said. We are to keep what the Spirit has caused to be written for us with the same spirit of faith. In other words, when we pick up God’s book, let us reverence God for what he says to us, and let us respond with faith.

Jesus was born to poor parents. We learn this from the offering that Mary brought for her cleansing after the birth of a son. But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean (Leviticus 12:8 NIV). The earthly parents of the Messiah could not afford a lamb. So, the Lamb of God was presented to God Most High with a pair of doves or pigeons! It was all they could give, but they gave what pleased the Lord. In the same way, God only expects us to give according to the manner that God has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2). God does not burden us beyond our abilities. In fact, he sent his Son from heaven’s riches to earthly poverty to make us rich in him. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). Rejoice in the God who gives generously to make us forever rich!

Grace and peace, David

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26-38

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus (Luke 1:31 NLT).

God enjoys working through his creatures to accomplish his purposes. In doing this, he makes us part of the story of his glory. In this section, we see two of his creatures. The first mentioned is Gabriel, one of the holy angels or messengers. God sent him with a special announcement to the second, Mary, who was a descendant of King David. A thousand years had passed since God made a promise to David. The time had arrived to fulfill that promise. God waits long years, because he desires the salvation of many people.

Gabriel came with a joyful greeting to Mary (1:28). Mary was highly favored, which Gabriel would shortly explain. He assured her that the Lord was with her. Mary knew the Scriptures, and this phrase would not only tell her of God’s presence, but also that good things were about to happen (cf. Genesis 39:2; Joshua 1:5; Judges 6:12). What was about to happen? How did Mary respond to the Lord’s message to her?

God gave Mary clear information, so that she could trust him concerning what he would do in her life.

  • Gabriel told her not to fear. Instead, she was in a special position before God. Peace is the great word that describes our relationship to God (Romans 5:1). Mary needed assurance that God was pleased with her.
  • She learned her mission: to give birth to the Son of the Most High God (1:31-32). This set Mary thinking, because she would enter something unique in human history. A woman would bear God’s Son. The promised Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) would come through her. (By the way, the “seed” concept is an important theme in the Scriptures.)
  • She learned something of her son’s mission. His name, Jesus, spoke of what he would do (save). And she was told that he would rule on David’s throne forever. Luke will show how this part of the message was fulfilled in Acts 2:29-36.
  • Gabriel told her that all this would happen by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary would become pregnant by the power of God, not by normal human means. Again, Luke teaches that history had entered a new age, the age of the Spirit of God. Great changes were on the way.
  • Notice the happy word that Gabriel concluded with: For nothing is impossible with God (NIV).

Mary had to respond as the message was “unfolded” to her. With each part, she had to act with faith in God, who spoke to her through Gabriel.

  • She was troubled about the sudden appearance of an angelic visitor. Angels did not usually reveal their presence to people in Biblical times, though it might seem that way to us. Hundreds of years might pass before anyone saw an angel. She also was concerned about the greeting. Was she the first woman to hear that the Lord was with her?
  • Mary wondered how she could conceive. She was a virgin and a godly woman. She was engaged, but not yet married. She was sexually moral. Was this promise come true after she was married? Unlike Zechariah, she did not doubt, though they used similar words. She simply didn’t understand how a virgin could have a child. Mary needed information. Observe that we need to discern why people ask questions. Some may be doubters, but others merely need to know.
  • When Mary had heard an explanation, she responded with humble faith. She gladly accepted what the Lord had for her to do to serve him.

The Lord called Mary to do something unique in human history. She was a humble, believing believer. May we imitate her kind of faith!

Grace and peace, David

The Case of the Unbelieving Believer

Luke 1:18-25

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19 CSB).

Unlike many people, I have never been into watching crime and detective shows. The exception would be Dragnet, which I always watched with my dad, including reruns. But I digress. We all know that detectives attempt to solve cases that involve murders or other crimes. Counselors also consult case stories with others to help them learn how to help others. In Zechariah, we have a case of a believer who failed to believe.

Let us understand clearly that Zechariah was a believer. How do we know this? The Holy Spirit had already guided Luke to write that Zechariah and his wife were upright in the sight of God (Luke 1:6 NIV). The only way anyone can be right with God is by grace through faith (Romans 3-4). His faith showed itself in his works, in his zeal to obey God. The Spirit wants us to know that Zechariah was a good man.

Zechariah had heard a message of good news for himself and his people through the angel. His prayer for a son would be answered. His heart ought to have been rejoicing! But… he began to doubt. He looked at his and his wife’s physical capabilities and knew that in the normal course of life, childbirth was impossible for them. This is where you and I often get trapped. How many times have I seen a church count noses and pocketbooks and assume that a challenge to move forward for the Lord was simply “impossible”. This corporate experience is simply the overflow of the hearts of the members of the church, who have for long years assumed that it was simply “impossible” for them to see their friends and neighbors become followers of Christ. And so, they choose easy ways “to serve the Lord”, like being greeters or working in the nursery or buying cookies for Vacation Bible School or serving on church boards and committees. Faith in God is simply “impossible”, because they live by sight, rather than by faith. I can’t listen to Zechariah explain his failure to believe God two thousand years later, but I’m rather certain where our failures lie.

Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger, did not shrug off Zechariah’s unbelief, like you and I regularly do. Contemporary Christians have a very short list of sins, and our unbelief and the unbelief of our family and friends isn’t on the list. In fact, if anyone raises the issue of our unbelief, we become huffy and “hurt” by the mere suggestion. All right, I’ll risk “offending” you. What matters of unbelief in God and his provision are you struggling with? Could you be a case of another unbelieving believer? Back to Gabriel, he had a “tough love” response to Zechariah’s unbelief. He removes his ability to speak until his son is born. Boom! And let him know that Gabriel’s message will certainly happen. Boom!

Since Zechariah could no longer speak, Luke returns to the waiting worshipers. They wondered about his delay in performing the ritual, and on his return to the temple courts, they realized that he could not speak. He had some kind of vision in the temple, but they didn’t know what had happened.

When Zechariah finished his temple service, he went home. Then he acted in faith and made love to his wife, and… she became pregnant, though he had previously thought it “impossible”. Here is the good news. The unbelieving believer can return to believing when he or she trusts God and his promises in the Good News. God works through the good news of the gospel to save (Romans 1:16-17) and to change (Titus 2:11-14) his people. You and I can by grace turn back to a believing condition. As for Elizabeth, she believed, since she traced back her pregnancy, not to natural circumstances, but to the power of God. “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” (1:25 NIV). Thank God that the gospel is always good news for his people. So then, let’s trust God to do what he sets before us!

Grace and peace, David

Had God Abandoned Them?

Luke 1:5-10

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years (Luke 1:7 ESV).

Life does not usually conform to our expectations. We usually assume this is a bad happening, though occasionally we might say, “I’m glad that events went differently from what I wanted, because if they had, I’d be in bigger problems.” However, our typical pattern is to feel disappointed (or frustrated or hurt or bitter or envious or angry – you pick where you are on this spectrum). Let’s face it. We want God to give us what we want, when we want it, because we’re sure that we know what is best for us. In an affluent society, we can’t imagine anything but the full, immediate satisfaction of our desires to be God’s agenda for us.

We must beware of psychologizing our text. The Holy Spirit through Luke does not disclose the feelings of Zechariah and Elizabeth to us. He simply states the life situation they were in before God stepped into their lives with his kingdom agenda. You see, God has his plans for us, and he does not ask us to approve his plans before he puts them in motion.

Luke, as the careful student of history, tells us the historical setting of the beginning of the gospel events. They began in the time of King Herod, who ruled from 37-4 BC. Near the end of his reign, God acted in the lives of two of his people. Zechariah was a priest, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. (A thousand years before, David had divided the priests into twenty-four divisions.) Notice what the Holy Spirit lets us know about Zechariah and Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord (Luke 1:6 CSB). They served the Lord, yet they were denied the blessing of children up to this point in their lives. They were nearly fifty (the age when priests retired from temple ministry), and though they had prayed for a child (Luke 1:13), God had not blessed them in that way… yet. God can answer our prayers “yes”, “no”, or “wait”, and they received the third trying answer. One of the lessons of their trial of faith involved waiting until God’s time arrived. This made it seem like God had abandoned them. I suppose God could have given them other children before John, but the Lord often calls his children to wait while he waits for his time. This is a “sharing of waiting” with God. It develops our faith in him.

Then one day, Zechariah’s number came up in the lottery (1:9). He was selected to go into the temple to offer incense, as required by the law covenant. Those who have studied this subject say that this was probably the only time in his life that Zechariah had this privilege. He had to wait to do what priests do for many years. But God had not abandoned him. God has many servants that he tells to wait for years before their hour comes. God wants us to live with him in his presence, serving him faithfully, while we think we are only waiting to serve. Don’t miss the small actions of your life, in which you serve the Lord, because you or your family or your friends or others don’t think they are significant. God had a special reason to delay Zechariah’s service in the temple. God only knows the reasons for apparent delays and seeming abandonments in your life. Keep on walking by faith!

Had God abandoned his dearly loved children Zechariah and Elizabeth? No, in fact, he was about to do much more than they could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). God had formed their lives for a significant purpose: to be the parents of the forerunner of Jesus their Messiah. Joy was about to enter their lives!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

As we consider the subject of secret sins, we come to a fourth point. The person who knows the Lord has confidence in the grace and compassion of the Lord. This is the confidence in God that is part of the essence of faith. Here we see a believer that has sinned freely confessing hidden sins to his or her God. But why does the believer confess them? We do because we know that God is ready to receive us, to help us in our weaknesses, to blot out even the stain unseen. Make no mistake, people set apart for God take their sins seriously, because God is very serious in our lives. (In other words, we fear God.) But we also have a large view of the magnitude of redeeming love, and so we ask for forgiveness! However, there is more to our war against remaining sin.

Keep your servant also from willful sins…. The law covenant recognized two categories of sins: unintentional and defiant (Numbers 15:27-31). The law covenant made provision for a sacrificial covering for those who sinned unintentionally. However, there was no sacrifice provided for those who sinned defiantly or willfully. The law had only one word for any such sinner: death. Since David lived under the law covenant, he was concerned not to bring the force of God’s law upon his head. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (ESV). So, David prayed that God would keep him from such sins. It is good and wise that we pray for God’s help in spiritual warfare. In the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper against sin (cf. Galatians 5:16-26).

David continued with the plea may they not rule over me. Again, we must remember that David is praying as an old covenant believer. In many areas, our spiritual experience is similar to those who lived under the law. But in others, we must never underestimate the difference that Christ established in his new and better covenant. We must understand this phrase used by David carefully, because what David prayed for under the law, we now possess in the new covenant. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). “What he [David] there [Psalm 19:13] so earnestly prays for, the apostle in the words of the text [Rm 6:14] promiseth unto all believers, by virtue of the grace of Christ Jesus administered in the gospel [the new covenant].” [Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 506.] Having said this, we must carefully consider the following facts:

  • Sin still continues in new covenant believers (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Sin still continues to incite us to rebellion against God and to break his commands. In this way sin has lost none of its character as sin, whether one has been a Christian five minutes or fifty years. Sin is still deceptive and persistent.
  • Yet sin is a weakened force in believers. Though it is still sin, it is unable to rise to dominate the inner person of the heart of the believer. There is a new master in the heart, the reigning grace of Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 5:21; 6:15-22).
  • Though sin is weakened in believers, it still strives for domination. We are still in a war against sin. Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). And since we are in a war, we need to make use of every kind of privilege and spiritual armor that God has given us to fight sin (Ephesians 6:10-18).

“This is one principal difference between the law [the old covenant] and the gospel [the new covenant], and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, ‘What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?’ Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: ‘The strength of sin is the law.’ But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 546-547, my emphasis).

Grace and peace, David