Perfect Planning (11)

Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem

Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem.

Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of contemplate, read, think, pray and watch. 

Contemplate – Why wasn’t the timing and location of Jesus’ birth better planned by Joseph and Mary?

Read:  Luke 2:1-7

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Think – Despite your best intentions, do you sometimes experience a complete fail when it comes to trip planning?  I do. But that doesn’t surprise me, because I’ve never been the best trip planner, mostly because I’m pretty laid back.  But when it comes to big events – like the birth of my children – I’ve turned up my planning several notches because it’s so important.

That’s why I scratch my head a little when I read the account of Joseph’s and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus in a stable. It seems like the couple suffered from a complete lack of planning, so much so that the entire section from Luke 2:1-7 virtually begs for an explanation. One wonders how Joseph could have put his wife and the unborn Messiah into such a precarious situation by allowing Mary to travel such a long journey so near her due date.  It is also curious how Joseph, whose ancestral home was Bethlehem, didn’t find a cousin to stay with in Bethlehem.  Even so, how could he not find a single home or inn that would make room for Mary to have the baby?  Either Joseph was a complete pushover, or the people of Bethlehem were completely heartless (how can there not be a person would give up a room for a pregnant woman to have a baby?)!  What gives?

It seems that Mary and Joseph may not have been able to calculate exactly when the baby would be born, and did not know that their travel would coincide so closely with Christ’s birth. Or, more likely, Mary was under much consternation in Nazareth, and did not want to be separated from Joseph when Jesus was born. There is also the simple explanation of love; Mary and Joseph just wanted to be together for the birth of the child. The fact that

Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem

Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem

the child was of such incredible significance makes it almost impossible to imagine that Mary would NOT have gone with Joseph.  The text may also imply that Mary was required by law to go with Joseph (2:5 says Joseph was “to be registered with Mary, his betrothed). Of course, not going to Bethlehem for the census and defying Roman law was not an option for a righteous couple (and for their own welfare), and it is virtually assured that the couple saw in the Roman decree God’s providential hand moving them to Bethlehem for the birth of Messiah, just as Micah 5:2 had prophesied would happen.

But why didn’t they have a better place to stay in Bethlehem?  I recently read a blog which tried to explain these difficulties by saying that we just don’t understand the story – that they were staying with family, and it was quite normal to stay in an attached stable, etc.   But I think that view misses the point.

Mary and Joseph were not in a normal place to have this baby – any baby – and I think Luke is highlighting that in his Gospel.  I think there is a practical, and a spiritual explanation for what took place that first Christmas.  The most likely explanation for their lack of lodging was that the long bumpy journey caused Mary to go into labor earlier than the couple expected, and it was around nightfall when they reached Bethlehem. Mary must have been in labor for the final leg of the journey and was on the verge of having the baby when they reached the outskirts of Bethlehem. There was just no more time to look up relatives, and little time to locate a room. They had come to Bethlehem for a census, and with them a crowd of people had likewise descended on the small town for the same purpose, and Bethlehem was splitting at the seams with visitors. In ancient times, splitting at the seams was almost to be taken literally, as entire families (and their baggage and food) would crowd into tight spaces that modern Westerners would consider a one-person room (I have seen similar conditions first-hand when I lived in East Africa).  As Joseph rushed about knocking on a few doors of homes and “inns” (informal lodging places), he was turned away from these overcrowded locations because there really wasn’t any room. There was simply no more time to argue, bribe or force his way into a home; when he was offered an open stable, it was one step better than having the baby in the street, and he took it.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think that Joseph and Mary were pretty upset over this horrible turn of events. Birth is supposed to be a joyous, “perfect” occasion, and instead, they were stressed out of their minds finding a place to have the baby and ended up in a barn!  And not just any baby – the Messiah!  But this was all God’s planning.  He wanted the world to see that He related to the lowliest, not just the greatest. He was also trying to teach us from the start that greatness is not found in the external things like wealth, prestige and worldly honors. Greatness is found by glorifying God and giving one’s life in service to others.

Shepherds arrived to worship the Christ Child.

Shepherds arrived to worship the Christ Child.

I am not sure when the couple realized that this was what God was doing, but it must have hit them by the time the shepherds visited them after Jesus was born — God was doing this on purpose!  All of the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. Messiah was born to a peasant girl. His earthly dad was a common carpenter, from a town of no importance (Nazareth). Though he was the second king born in Bethlehem, a son of David, and the King of Israel, not a single home made room for him to be born (John 1:11). His place of birth was not just meager – it was below the lowest of low standards – a stable for animals – and his first crib was a hay trough.  The fact that lowly shepherds were the “dignitaries” to whom God sent angels to announce Messiah’s birth, and they were the first to worship Jesus, well, that was the final touch.

I think Mary and Joseph grew wide-eyed as this realization set in, then awe-soaked tears and joyful laughter followed. God is not like earthly Kings. He’s not really like selfish people at all. His ways are not our ways.  And He loves the whole world so much that He is willing to relate to the lowest of the low in order to save us.  The fact that He even let Himself be wrapped in human flesh and go through life as a human being is the most humiliating thing of all. Remember, He is Holy. He is the Creator of the earth! The babe laid in a manger reminds us of the lowly state of humanity, and the exalted love of God to break into history and become one of us lowly folks. It was the ultimate object lesson.

Or almost.  The ultimate object lesson was to see the awfulness of sin and sinners poured out on this babe-turned-man.  Sinners crucified a completely loving, innocent God-man, and the sin of mankind was born in His flesh.  God had gone much further than the humiliation of a manger – He had offered Himself as a sacrifice through the shame of dying like a common criminal on a cross.

“Oh the wonder of it all.  Laid in a manger, no place for a King. Nailed to cross, for us suffering. Divine humiliation begats eternal glorification. The babe born that night, His praises sing!” (author)

Pray – Lord Jesus, we praise you for your humility, that you, being God, did not hold onto your right as King, but you gave it up to become a peasant like us, and through your life, death, and resurrection, have granted salvation to all who call on your Name! We praise your Name this season, and always! Amen.

Watch – On the Road to Bethlehem

God Uses Our Mistakes (9)


Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of read, contemplate, think, pray and watch.

Read: Luke 1:57-80 (ESV)

“67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

68 ” Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people  in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”

Contemplate: What is a sin you’ve committed that God used to teach you a lesson that has since then benefitted other people in some way?

Think:  After the shocking revelation that his son would be named John, the friends and family gathered at Zechariah’s house were in for another surprise.   Zechariah’s prophecy must have really shocked them.  First of all, old Zach hadn’t spoken in about 10 months, so to hear him say anything was unexpected.  But to hear him bellow out such a confident prophecy that the coming Messiah was in fact on the way – and that his newborn son John was going to be a prophet, well, that was just shocking.

Have you ever looked closely at what Zechariah said?  He spoke of God’s work as having already been accomplished.  “He has redeemed his people.” “He has raised up a horn of salvation.” Zechariah’s incredible confidence in what God was going to do must have been shocking as well.

Zechariah is a great example of what God can do in our life through difficulties, even those caused by our own sins. Zechariah, the one who temporarily doubted God, was now Zechariah, the man who trusted God’s Word so much that he spoke of future promises as already having been fulfilled.  That kind of confidence goes way beyond blind faith, and is rooted in deep experiences with God.  Yes, Zechariah doubted God in the temple, and he suffered from speechlessness for 10 months because of it, but what he learned in the process catapulted his faith to a new level and resulted in a prophetic explosion that shone a bright light on the coming Messiah, and became a song sung by the church for centuries.  God uses our strengths – and our weaknesses – for His purposes and His glory. All we have to do is trust and obey.

Pray – Lord, use me. Use my strengths and my weaknesses for your glory.  Use my triumphs and my failures for your purposes.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

Watch: “His Name is John!” Zechariah’s Song of Praise The Benedictus” from The Promise at

Research for this article was conducted using the Olive Tree Bible Study App.OliveTreeIcon

Mary’s Jubilant “Post” (7)


Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of read, contemplate, think, pray and watch.

Contemplate: If something really great happened in your life, what would you do first?

Read: Luke 1:46-56

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm;  he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones  and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers,  to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.” (ESV) Luk 1:46-56

Think: You just got good news. You did a victory dance in the kitchen. Then you pulled out your favorite electronic device and posted about it to your 1,000 closest friends.  What did you say?

When Mary described her emotions about being chosen to be the mother the Messiah, she gave us quite the status update.  Her “post,” called The Magnificat, has been sung by the church for ages, because it is one of the purest, most jubilant songs of praise recorded in Scripture.  It also reveals a lot to us about Mary’s spiritual
01c0f64389f60cf6decf2836ef04f22bd5d9ce4c96maturity, as she references Old Testament passages about the Messiah, and looks forward to her son’s ministry on the earth with uncanny insight.

Mary’s status was not directed at mere personal  excitement.  She channeled her personal jubilation into praise to God. She was truthful about how blessed she felt, but the post was not really about her, it was all about God. She began with, “My soul magnifies the LORD…holy is His Name…” and ended with “He has helped his servant Israel…”  Mary had a deep abiding faith. Her life was consumed with God. Isn’t that why she was chosen to bear the Messiah?  I think so. And I think those are the qualities that God is still looking for today in His servants to whom He really entrusts the important stuff, don’t you?

Pray:   Lord, my soul magnifies You!  I rejoice that you are my Lord, Saviour and King.  When I open my mouth, it will be to praise you among all peoples, because you are supremely worthy of praise.  Amen.

Watch: “My Soul Magnifies The Lord!” Mary’s Song of Praise The Magnificat” from The Promise at

Research for this article was conducted using the Olive Tree Bible Study App .OliveTreeIcon

The Spirit of Christmas (6)

IMG_2660Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of contemplate, read, think, pray and watch.

Contemplate: What is the “Spirit of Christmas?” What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life?

Read: Luke 1:39-45 “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Think:  There’s a lot of talk about “The Spirit of Christmas,” during the holidays, but very little of it has anything to do with “God, who is Spirit.”   The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is often upstaged by a “moralistic trinity” of peace, prosperity and mysticism.  Christmas is just a magical, feel-good time of winter celebration with friends and family.  Not so with the original Christmas story told by Luke.  The Father, Son and Spirit all appear in the first 18 verses of Luke – and by 18 verses later, they’ve each been mentioned again.  God is clearly the center of the first Christmas event.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the active role of the Holy Spirit in the events of the first Christmas. Most famously, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary conceives Jesus.  But Luke highlights the often underrepresented Holy Spirit in his Gospel way beyond that miraculous event. Gabriel tells Zechariah that his son John will be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). The evidence for this is noticed even before his birth when he leaps in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when she greets Mary. The Spirit is at work, even in wombs! John’s role of prophet of the Most High had begun even before he was born, and all because the Spirit of God was on Him in a special way.  At that moment, the Holy Spirit next worked in the life of Elizabeth, and she understood that IMG_2654
Mary carried the Messiah, and she made this known to all around, exclaiming loudly, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42-43 ESV). That’s no lucky guess. That’s the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit helping her understand what is going on.

Jesus came to earth and was announced as Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” When He ascended He promised His disciples, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).”   At Pentecost He sent the Holy Spirit to all believers in order that we may experience His miraculous presence as He gives us power to use spiritual gifts, to understand God’s Word, to witness for Christ, and even to be convicted of sin. Truly, in the person of the Holy Spirit, God is with us still.

The same Holy Spirit who was powerfully active in the first Christmas event promises to be active in our lives this Christmas. Isn’t that sort of amazing?  He is with us. May our Christmas celebrations acknowledge the true Christmas Spirit who works in our lives and in our world powerfully to this day.

Pray:   Holy Spirit, we praise you for your activity in the first Christmas in our lives this Christmas. We need your illumination to understand the Word and Will of God, and we need your nudging to keep our eyes and hearts focused on the true meaning of this season.  Thank you for being with us as we celebrate the birth of Christ, and we pray for your power to do the will of God this Christmas season.  Amen.

Watch: “”Elizabeth’s Blessing” from The Promise at

Research for this article was conducted using the Olive Tree Bible Study AppOliveTreeIcon

Beyond Cliché – Nothing is Impossible with God (5)

Many things changed after this early flyer of The Promise was produced, but the truth of the caption did not: "Nothing is Impossible with God."

Many things changed after this early flyer of The Promise was produced, but the truth of the caption did not: “Nothing is Impossible with God.”

Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of contemplate, read, think, pray and watch.

Contemplate:  Is a Virgin Birth (virginal conception) possibleDo Christians believe things that are contrary to science?

Read: Luke 1:31, 34-38 (ESV)

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus….  34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Think: Recently, Popular Science magazine revealed the ugly truth about the virgin birth: it’s impossible. In a biological tour de force, PS described all of the reasons why a woman could not have a baby on her own without the contribution of genetic matter from a male counterpart.  The only thing shocking about this article is that PS seems to somehow believe that Christians today, and those in Bible times, believe differently from this. We do not, and they did not. We agree that the virgin birth (more aptly called the “virginal conception”) was not possible by any natural means whatsoever.  It is clear that the people of Mary’s day also denied any natural means of virgin birth as evidenced by the way they doubted her story of “dreams and angels,” and concluded that her unplanned pregnancy was the result of a sexual transgression.  This was the conclusion of her fiancée Joseph, too, who “sought to put her away,” i.e., divorce her for having sex with another man.

So if Christians today, and ancient folks of yesteryear are not so naïve as to believe that a young girl can become pregnant all on her own without some man involved, then how does any thinking person believe in the virgin birth?  It’s simple. We think it was a miracle.  The very definition of a miracle is something that is not supposed to be able to happen.  The Scripture tells us of the Angel Gabriel’s explanation to Mary, that “the holy Spirit will overshadow you.” This is in no way some sort of divine sexual act between God and a maiden like the Greek gods were want to perform. This is, in fact, a holy act, whereby God miraculously formed a child in the womb of a virgin girl. And that child was himself holy, “the son of God.”

How can Christians believe in such a miracle? It’s really quite simple really.  Once a person examines the evidence and concludes there is a God, then it is logical to believe that such a God – who created the entire world no less– can do pretty much anything else He desires. In fact, it would be wholly illogical to believe in God and not to believe that He could intervene in the affairs of the earth He created. If God can create the world from scratch and establish the laws that govern it, then He can supersede His laws at times in order to fulfill His loving purposes.  Or, as Gabriel put it, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  That’s more than a phrase, it’s a IMG_2762logical, faith response to a loving, almighty God.  And that’s exactly the response that righteous Mary gave, saying, “Ok, let all these things happen to me just as you said. I am a servant of the LORD.”

Mary got it God’s absolute ability to do anything and bowed to it. Do we?

Pray: Father God, if you spun the world into existence and established all its laws, certainly nothing is impossible with You.  I ask that you give me faith that I might believe in your power to anything you so choose, and spiritual insight, from your Word, to make my desires Your desires, that when I pray “your will be done” You may grant me the desires of my heart. Amen.

Watch: “Nothing is Impossible With God” from The Promise.

Research for this article was conducted using the Olive Tree Bible Study App. OliveTreeIcon 

Favored by God (4)

12.54.12 Let all these things happen to me sunset

Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of read, contemplate, think, pray and watch. 

 Read: Luke 1:26-33

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Contemplate: Who does God favor? Why are they favored?

Think: One of the things that Christians have long wondered is how did a young girl like Mary from an obscure village like Nazareth get the job of being the mother of God’s Son?  She just seems too young, too poor, and way too inexperienced for such a task.  There are many things we do not know about Mary, but here are a few things that we Here’s what we do know. Scripture tells us that Mary was a righteous. We know that she caught the eye of “a righteous man,” Joseph, a poor carpenter, and was pledged to be his wife. History tells us that Jewish brides of the period were often young by today’s standards — with some marrying as early as 13 years old –so Mary was very likely this side of 15 years old when she was engaged to Joseph.

Mary was clearly a person of great faith and devotion to God. When Gabriel told her she would bear the promised Messiah, she didn’t doubt that God could cause such a thing to happen, but she simply asked how she was going to have the baby — since she was a virgin and had kept herself pure before marriage (more on this in tomorrow’s devotional). Compared to biblical figures like Zechariah, and Sarah who doubted God when they were told they would have a miracle child (and were reproved by God for their lack of faith), Mary believed God immediately. Because of her faith, Gabriel was happy to tell her how it would happen – “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

mary_welcomebackMary also showed enormous humility as she accepted the task God had given her, saying, “Let it be as you have said. I am a servant of the Lord.” Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff) also showed a serious and careful devotion to the Word of God (listen to our version entitled “I Will Magnify” on the music page). In this song of spontaneous worship, Mary draws on deep theological themes and ancient prophecy to extol the grace and mercy of God for sending the Messiah to save His people. Clearly, Mary knew God and knew much of His Word by heart.

We come away from our study of Mary noting two polar opposite things. First, in worldly terms, Mary was super common – poor, young, and basically unremarkable. On the spiritual side, however, she was humble, righteous, holy, faithful, and dedicated to God’s Word.  What’s to be learned from this? God does not choose the important-looking people of this world to do His important work. Instead, He seeks out the meek, humble, and holy people who love him and His Word simply and truly. That is an encouragement to all of us that no matter how the world looks at us, we can be used by God if we cultivate the things of the heart, our faith in God.  To be favored by God is to be one who favors God in the deepest part of one’s life.

Pray: Dear God, all the world around me is consumed with things of this world that do not last. Help me, like Mary, to place my eyes firmly on you and on your purposes that I may cultivate a deep, abiding relationship with you and be highly favored. Use me, Lord, even as you used Mary, to do your will and your work on this earth. Amen.

Watch: “Nothing is Impossible With God” from The Promise

Research for this article was done using the Olive Tree Bible Study App. OliveTreeIcon

God Has a Plan (3)

5. Zechariah - His Name is John 
Get more out of the story of Jesus’ birth through this process of contemplate, read, think, pray and watch.

Contemplate: How do you know that God has a plan? What is your part in God’s plan on earth?

Read: Luke 1:5-25 (ESV Text below)

Think: My wife and I have not suffered the pain of barrenness, but we know friends and relatives who have.  What seems like a biological “given” for most people is not for others. For childless couples, praying to God for a child can become a desperate cry of the heart that is not always answered by God.  Though some people take it better than others, many react with understandable bitterness.  But no matter how one reacts, there is something deeply heartbreaking about not being able to have a child.  It has been described as experiencing the death of a child, except there are no memories of its life. Now that is difficult stuff.

One can only image the pain of the childless couple Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose misfortune was compounded by the suspicions of family and friends around them who viewed barrenness as a sign of God’s disfavor. In ancient Israel, if you couldn’t have children, it was assumed you must be committing some sin against God for which He was punishing you (although barrenness did befall disobedient persons and entire nations in Scripture, this was certainly not the rule).

Luke begins his Christmas narrative with the story of the elderly priest Zechariah being chosen to offer the sacrifice in the temple. This was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, determined by lot. God called his number that day, and sent the angel Gabriel to give him some surprising – no, shocking, unexpected, blow-your-socks-off – news: he was going to have a son!  And not just any son – a son, like Elijah, who would prepare the way for another who was coming. And not just any other – Zechariah’s son would make way for none other than the long-awaited Messiah who would finally come to save his people Israel.  So, when Gabriel said to Zechariah “Your prayers have been answered,” he could have been referring to many of these things for which Zechariah was likely praying.  But we know that the dearest to Zechariah’s heart was the promise of a son, and the hope that such a miracle would remove his reproach in the community! Zechariah had a lot riding on this promise by Gabriel.

And that’s why it shouldn’t surprise us that he choked. He doubted, he hedged his bets, and tried to get Gabriel to verify what he’d just told him. “But, but, but, my wife is very old…”  Big mistake. The “God who does not lie,” doesn’t like His Word to be doubted, and Zechariah got to spend nine months thinking about that one.  But it was nine months that he spent contemplating the words of Gabriel and the Word of God, searching the Scriptures for clues as to the role of this new son, and the Messiah he would herald.  It was time well spent because when he named his son John, as ordered by Gabriel, his mouth was opened and his lips loosed the most powerful prophecy of the Messiah heard in hundreds of years – and possibly since.  The church is still singing this song, called “The Benedictus.”

master by dailies.Still035I think we can learn something very important from Zechariah’s ordeal. The lesson goes beyond “God answers prayer” or “God loves the humble.” It goes beyond even “God is with us in our pain,” or “Trust in God.” All of these things are very important, and very true. But the deeper thing Zechariah discovered is that God has a Master plan, and that his life – and all of our lives – are intertwined in it. Zechariah’s suffering and his joy were both the result of God working out His divine plans on the earth. Even his momentary lack of trust in God was used by God to work out God’s plans (Zechariah got some quiet time, and his muteness brought even more attention to the special nature of his coming son and the Messiah he preceded). Zechariah was lucky because he lived to see this intersection very clearly. But we must remember that this happened when Zach was very old. For years upon years, he languished without a child, and without a clue that Messiah was coming, not knowing that any of his hopes and prayers would be answered. We who know how this story ends must not miss what is said of Zechariah and Elizabeth to begin the story: “…they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6 ESV). They didn’t wait to trust in, love, follow and obey God until their prayers were answered. They followed the Lord all their lives, and they got to see him make sense of their suffering in the end. But they were prepared to live out their lives righteously, not knowing God’s purposes. How many childless persons in his day died not knowing what part that may have played in God’s Master plan for the salvation of Israel and the whole world? Those of us who have the more common experience of not seeing the divine purpose of the events of our lives must remember this: when we can’t see God’s hand, when we can’t see His plan, we can trust the heart of God that is always at work in the world, working out His saving purposes for our good and for His glory. This is not an easy lesson to learn, and it is not easily put to practice, but nothing of great significance ever is, right?

Pray –  Lord, our suffering is hard to bear sometimes, even when we’ve caused it ourselves. When we cannot sense your plan, we can even doubt your goodness. Thank you that we may trust that you are the Master Designer with a Master Plan.  We see from Scripture and from the lives of those around us who know you that you work in mysterious, but redemptive and loving ways. I trust that you, O Lord, have a plan, and I place my life in your hands and say, “let your will be done.”

Watch  “His Name is John,” a scene from The Promise featuring Zechariah’s jubilant mouth-opening moment.

Extra Reading: Here is the entire text of Luke 1:5-25 (ESV)

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 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. 20 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.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 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. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

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

This article prepared with the aid of Olive Tree Bible Study Software. OliveTreeIcon