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

Because You Did Not Believe

20131221_192030Luke 1:18-25

We must remember what the Holy Spirit already said of Zechariah the priest. He was right with God and a fully committed follower of the Lord (Luke 1:6). He was a righteous man, but he was not a perfect man. Righteous people still struggle with sin in all its ugliness. Sadly, Christians have a skewed view of sin, assuming that believers commit rather petty sins. This conveniently forgets that all sins are against the Holy God. One sin we struggle against is unbelief. It was about to lead Zechariah into difficulty.

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news (Luke 1:18-19 ESV).

Zechariah gave a reasonable, from his point of view, response to the angel’s good news. In many Bible studies over many years, I have heard professed Christians respond to the truth of God’s word like Zechariah did. Though the message was supernatural, which requires submissive faith, they reacted to it with natural, human-centered reasoning. Zechariah did not consider the power of God. He could only think about what he and his wife could do. When God’s word is clear, we must trust God and do what the word tells us. It might not make sense, we might raise several scenarios that indicate improbability, but we must rely on God’s ability, faithfulness, and love. Gabriel quickly pointed out what Zechariah ignored. He was sent from the presence of God in heaven to tell him good news. Why was Zechariah doubting and arguing against good news? Sadly, followers of Christ too often argue against God’s good news for them, exchanging faith in God for their supposed wisdom.

“And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home (Luke 1:20-23 ESV).

Zechariah received discipline from the Lord. The reason was his unbelief. God used him to teach all of us the importance of faith in God’s word. The discipline corresponded to his sin. He failed to believe God’s message, so the Lord took away his ability to speak for a time. We should realize that the Lord requires us to take his word very seriously. Though we might struggle to understand it, we are not free to debate it. God’s word is the starting point for how we look at this world and our lives. For this reason, Zechariah had to ponder the supremacy of God’s word for the full length of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:24-25 ESV).

Elizabeth’s response was better. She believed and thanked the Lord for his mercy to her. Children are a gift from God, and we should highly treasure them. This Christmas, if you have children at your family gathering, reflect on the blessing of God to your family. Pay attention to them. Play with them. Rejoice with them. Laugh with them. Though Zechariah doubted the Lord’s promise, his doubts could not hinder their fulfillment. Praise God for this truth!

Grace and peace, David

Decrease in Spirituality

IMG_09932 Chronicles 16:7-10

Last time we remarked about the honesty of God’s word. The Holy Spirit does not cover-up the sins of believers. This is far from the course of this world, where political parties hide, cover-up, explain away, and blame shift the sins and errors of their candidates. You will never hear political parties admit, “Yeah, we’re asking you to vote for a deeply flawed person.” But God wants us to see that he graciously works with and through sinful people. Asa is one example. He was loyal to the Lord God his whole life; he didn’t turn from the Lord to false gods. Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life (15:17 NIV). Yet in his latter days, Asa refused to listen to God’s Word.

For this reason, God sent a prophet to rebuke Asa for his lack of faith. As we have already observed, there were many sins connected with what Asa did. But Hanani the prophet focused on the crucial point: Asa’s unbelief in God’s power. Unbelief is the epitome of evil, because it worships what is created rather than the Creator. Unbelief also leads to foolishness, since it turns from the faithful God to humanity, which is weak and undependable. Consider the words of Jeremiah. For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13 HCSB).

The prophet reminded Asa about God’s previous mercy. He told Asa that he had acted against his own experience of what the Lord could do. Every time we experience an answer to our prayers, it remains as a witness of God’s all-ability to needs yet to come. For example, over many years, I have seen God supply financial needs for various gatherings of Christ’s people. Those local churches experienced this year after year. But at the end of one year would come the cry, “Where will the money come from for the next year?” Why do we do this? What don’t we depend on the Lord? It’s like we want to see God’s provision in hand before we have the need or pray. I have truthfully said, “I don’t know where the money (or whatever the need is) will come from, but I am certain that we can always trust God, who is able to do much more than we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

“But see how deceitful our hearts are! We trust in God when we have nothing else to trust to, when needs drives us to him; but, when we have other things to stay on, we are apt to stay too much on them and to lean to our own understanding as long as that has any thing to offer; but a believing confidence will be on God only, when a smiling world courts it most” (Henry).

The prophet told Asa that he had acted against the truth of what God is. God was well aware of what his people needed. The schemes of Baasha were no surprise to him. And God was committed to help his people in their need (cf. Philippians 4:19), when their hearts are committed to him. Asa forgot the truths of God’s sovereignty, omniscience, faithfulness, and mercy to his own hurt. Sound theology is important to a healthy walk with God. The prophet also told Asa that he had acted against his own best interests. Asa had turned from the God of peace; therefore, from that point he will experience trouble.

Tragically, Asa rebelled against God’s message. He did not repent but hardened his heart.

He persecuted God’s prophet. This initiated a course of action in Israel that the Lord Jesus later condemned (Matthew 23:29-39). When we open the doors to sinful ways, we have no idea what the end will be. He oppressed some of the people. In a sinful world, many otherwise innocent people are adversely affected by the sins of leaders. The sinful actions of political leaders of both major parties in our nation are ruining the lives of many people. It is time for God’s people to turn from political hopes to fresh dependence on the living God.

Grace and peace, David