This Christmas, I thought that we would revisit in more detail some the teaching surrounding Jesus’ birth that we have looked at in our Luke series. I’ve entitled this teaching series, ‘Mary Treasured up These Things’ (from Luke 2:19) because my hope and prayer is that, like Mary, we will treasure the story, the truths and the God of the Christmas story. Today, we reflect on the promise of the birth and ministry of John the Baptist.
Lesson: As is often the case in scripture, God chooses to enact His great plans through unlikely people so let’s trust that God can do great things in our day through His church.
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1. God is working through unlikely people
As is often the case in scripture, God chooses to enact His great plans through unlikely people.
‘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. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.’ (Luke 1:5-7)
Zechariah and Elizabeth are reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah, who were told that God would make them 'a great nation' (Gen. 12:2) but could not conceive. Likewise, Isaac and Rebekah, who inherited this promise, initially could not conceive (Gen. 25:21). Rachel, the wife of Jacob, and Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, along with Zechariah and Elizabeth, found it difficult to fulfil the requirements of their calling and needed the miraculous intervention of God. All of these examples encourage us to trust that God can and will fulfil His plans for His church and mission, as well as His plans in our personal lives. God often works through unlikely people, and the words of rebuke to Sarah when God promised her a child are very strengthening for us:
‘Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”’ (Genesis 18:13-14)
2. God promises that John will prepare the way
God not only promises the miraculous birth of John, but also makes great promises over His life:
‘He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 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. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.’ (Luke 1:14-17)
This text speaks of the personhood of the unborn and that this child in the womb will be filled with the Spirit and go on to prepare the people for Jesus.
God often works through very unlikely people who have to learn to trust Him over their incompetence so that God receives all the glory. Zechariah, initially, struggles to believe God:
‘Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.’ 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. 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.’ Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.’ (Luke 1:18-22)
Zechariah, understandably, allowed his weakness (‘I am an old man…’) to drown out God’s character and promise. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth and others, may our struggles with believing God to do great things in our day and through our church and through us be replaced with trust and worship:
‘When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”’ (Luke 1:23-25)
God is on the move in our day. He is working to glorify Jesus and bring many into the Kingdom. He is building His church. And God continues to make great promises to incapable people. God always works through weak and imperfect people so that all the glory goes to Him. Let’s treasure these things up in our heart. Let’s pray:
“Lord Jesus, I thank you for the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth. You worked in and through these very unremarkable people and so you continue to use ordinary Christians to be your body and temple through whom you work in the world. I worship you over all my weaknesses. Amen.”
COMMUNITY GROUP NOTES AND STUDY
It might be good to begin with notices. Please share from this week’s Church News.
Very importantly, let’s be praying and inviting to our carol service on 10th December.
How has God been speaking to you from His Word this week and how has this helped you?
3. Worship together
Let’s begin our time together by lifting our eyes and hearts to worship our great God. Perhaps you have readings and songs that you would like to use together. Let’s be open to the gifts that the Spirit wants to give in order to encourage one another.
4. Study and pray together
This Christmas, we will revisit in more detail some the teaching surrounding Jesus’ birth that we have looked at in our Luke series. I’ve entitled this teaching series, ‘Mary Treasured up These Things’ (from Luke 2:19) because my hope and prayer is that, like Mary, we will treasure the story the truths and the God of the Christmas story.
Please read Luke 2:1-19
What are the sorts of good and bad things that we can treasure and ponder at Christmas rather than Christ?
What are the various things that Mary may have been treasuring and pondering?
To 'treasure' (syntēréō) means to preserve, to protect, defend, treasure, preserve in memory. What truths about Jesus are taught in Luke Chapter 1:32-33, for example, that we are to treasure?
To 'Ponder' (symbállō) means to encounter, meet with - to reflect in a way that encounters the God of truth. How could you make time to ponder the truths of the Christmas story this year?
SIV - Why will treasuring and pondering truth make you effective as a witness?
SIV - Who do you plan to invite to the carol service?
SIV - Do we have any stories of how we have ‘Served, Invested, and inVited’ this week?
SIV - Lets now pray together that, this week, we will have opportunities to SIV.