************ Sermon on Luke 1:25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 5, 2010
"Elizabeth: the Lord has Done This for Me"
Luke introduces the story of John the Baptist in words that are almost as majestic as those used for Jesus. Which only makes sense when you consider that John is the Elijah to come who prepares the way for Messiah's coming (Mal 4:5-6; Lk 1:17). Which only makes sense when you remember that John is the greatest person of his generation (Lk 7:24-28). There is one major difference, though, in the two birth narratives: as Scripture makes clear, John's birth is miraculous while Jesus' birth is supernatural.
I want to spend some time this morning looking at Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah and mother of John the Baptist. She is an integral part of the Christmas story and, yet, we mostly ignore her or simply see her as an extension of Zechariah.
It should not surprise us that we come across Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke. Of all the Gospel writers, it is Luke who pays the most attention to women, to Greeks, and to physical and medical details.
I The Work of the Lord in Elizabeth's Past
A "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). That's what Elizabeth said upon discovering she was pregnant with John the Baptist. "The Lord has done this for me." As we will discover, this is one of the greatest quotes we can glean from the Christmas stories.
"The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). Elizabeth is talking about her pregnancy. But, this is not the only thing the Lord has done for her. In fact, the hand of the Lord is evident in her life way before this.
"The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). These are the words not only of Elizabeth but also of Allison, Chris, Tommy, Linda, and Rachelle on this Profession of Faith Sunday. Those of you who professed your faith this morning, let me tell you something: as you well know, you did not come to this point on your own. The Lord is at work in you – in your heart and your life. It is the Lord Who has done this for you.
B In our Scripture reading, the work of the Lord started already with the name. In God's providence, her name is "Elizabeth." "Elizabeth" is the Greek form of the name borne by Elisheba, the wife of Aaron the high priest (Ex 6:23). So, it is a name of significance and honor among the Israelites. Now, remember, in the Bible names mean something and reveal something about the person having the name. The name "Elizabeth" means "my God has sworn." Or, as we would put it, "my God has promised." It is a name, then, reminding us of God, His promises, His covenant, and His faithfulness in keeping His promises and His covenant. Right away, then, we know God is going to be keeping some promises.
C Did you notice the "when" of our story? We are told, "in the time of Herod king of Judea" (Lk 1:5). This was a dark time in the history of Israel.
How dark was it? There had been no prophetic Word from the Lord for four hundred years. The last Word from God had been Malachi's promise that Elijah would come (Mal 4:5-6).
How dark was it? The spiritual leaders of Israel were shackled down by tradition as a guide for faith and life instead of looking only to the Word of the Lord. Plus, they were legalistic to the point of weighing down the people with rules and regulations that actually set aside the Law of God. Furthermore, some of these spiritual leaders were so corrupt that they were buying and selling their office and their service.
How dark was it? Herod was king of Judea. Remember Father Jacob's death-bed blessing upon Judah? Jacob announced that "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Gen 49:10). And, remember God's promise to establish David's kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:12-16)? With Herod as king, the scepter was quite departed from Judah and no descendant of David was on the throne. Furthermore, Herod was a tyrant; he had nine wives, one of whom he executed for no apparent reason; it was this same Herod who killed the baby boys of Bethlehem.
How dark was it? No families in the world were ever so honored of God as those of Aaron and David. With Aaron was made a covenant that he and his heirs after him would serve the Lord as priests. With David was made a covenant that he and his heirs after him would sit on Judah's throne. Yet, by the time of the New Testament both families had forfeited their honor.
In today's Bible reading we see that God chooses to honor Aaron's house with the birth of John the Baptist even as David's house was honored with the birth of Christ. With the coming of John, and Jesus, we see light shining in the darkness. "The Lord has done this ..." (Lk 1:25).
D Did you notice Elizabeth's family tree? Not only did she bear the same name as Aaron's wife, but she was also "a descendant of Aaron" (Luke 1:5). She was of a priestly family. Furthermore, we find later in the text that Elizabeth was also related to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lk 1:36, 39ff). Isn't this amazing? Isn't it amazing that God chooses to restore both the honor of Aaron's house and the honor of David's house through two women of one humble family? "The Lord has done this ..." (Lk 1:25).
Elizabeth was also married to a priest, to a man named Zechariah. You need to realize that though the priests could marry any pure Israelite, they often chose to marry daughters of priests so as not to dilute the purity of the priesthood of Israel. To be a priest and to be married to a priest's daughter was considered a double distinction. I suppose today's equivalent is to be a preacher married to a preacher's daughter. "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). It is the Lord, of course, Who brought Zechariah and Elizabeth together.
E We are told that Elizabeth, and Zechariah, walked with God:
(Lk 1:6) Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.Did you notice Whom it is that considers Elizabeth, and Zechariah, to be upright? This was not their judgment about themselves. This was not their boast: look at us, look how good we are, look how holy we are, look how honest we are. They were "upright in the sight of God." This is God's judgment. This is what is recorded in God's holy and inspired Word. Which means it is true. Reliable. Something you can believe.
God judged their walk with Him to be "upright." Righteous. On what basis? God looked into their hearts and saw that they loved Him. God heard godly talk in their conversations. God witnessed loving deeds in their lives. God knew that they set aside time every day and every week for worship and prayer. No one could charge them with any scandalous sin. They lived openly and honestly and inoffensively. In spite of the godlessness around them, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, were enabled by God's Spirit to obey the Word of the Lord and live blamelessly.
We see, then, two godly people of Aaron's family married to each other. It is a happy thing, indeed, when those who are joined to each other in marriage are first joined to the Lord; this is God's will for the marriage of everyone of His children. And, it is especially important that God's servants, the Lord's ministers, be married to someone first joined to the Lord. Which is one of the reasons I rejoice in my wife – even though she may not be a minister's daughter.
The terms Luke uses to describe Elizabeth, and Zechariah, are the same ones that the Old Testament uses for righteous people like Noah (Gen 6:9; 7:1), Abraham (Gen 17:1), and Job (Job 1:1). Like them, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, served and obeyed the Lord. What an example they are for Christians young and old, for those who professed their faith this morning.
Now, keep in mind what Elizabeth said: "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). No child of God ever claims credit for his or her own righteousness. It is all of God. Not even the best Christian is perfect. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of the obedience God wants. So, for instance, think of Noah's drunkenness (Gen 9:21), or Abraham's lies about his true relationship to Sarah (Gen 12 & 20), or the urging of Job's friends that he should repent because they knew firsthand that he was a sinner (Job 4:7-8). Likewise, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, were not sinless and perfect.
"The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). It was God Who made them righteous, in Christ. It was God Who declared them to be righteous, in Christ. It was God, with His Spirit, Who lived in them and worked in them. Though it was a dark time for the nation of Israel we see that it was God Who took care to preserve for Himself a faithful remnant.
F Notice, very carefully, the next detail Scripture gives us about Elizabeth, and Zechariah:
(Lk 1:7) But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.Again, Elizabeth could say, "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). But not for the reason popularly believed. Back then popular opinion said that Elizabeth was childless due to some great sin for which she was being punished. As we have already discovered, this cannot be the case with Elizabeth for she was "upright in the sight of God" (Lk 1:6).
Children were so highly valued in Jewish society that a childless woman felt intense shame (Lk 1:25; Gen 30:23; 1 Sam 1). Think of Sarah, Rachel, Hannah. Furthermore, a barren woman played no role in God's promise to greatly increase the nation and bring forth the Messiah. And, to be childless was an economic disaster because elderly parents had no one to support them in old age (cf 1 Tim 5:4,8).
I am sure that God-fearing Elizabeth prayed for children. I am sure that Elizabeth, like Hannah, often implored the throne of grace for a child. Yet, she remained barren. And, not only was Elizabeth barren but, because of her age, there no longer was any human possibility of having children.
Barren and old. The Jewish reader would immediately think of righteous Abraham and Sarah. They, too, were old and without children. In fact, Scripture is filled with mothers who had long been childless: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah the mother of Samuel, the mother of Samson, and now Elizabeth. Each of them learned, after the fact, that the Lord has done this. That their barrenness was God's will and part of God's plan. That God wanted it this way.
II The Work of the Lord in Elizabeth's Present
A And now the best part of the story: God tells Zechariah that Elizabeth would become pregnant and give birth to a child who would prepare the way for the Messiah. God says this about a woman who is barren. A woman who is old. A woman who has given up all hope for children. A woman, like Sarah, who laughs and says to herself, "After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure?" (Gen 18:12).
"After this," says Scripture, "Elizabeth became pregnant" (Lk 1:24). That's when Elizabeth says, "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25).
Elizabeth suddenly realizes that everything is in God's plan and God's hands: her pregnancy, her barrenness, her age, her righteousness, her marriage, her family tree, the darkness of her time, her name. This is all part of a divine plan. "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). Do you hear the delight, the joy, the pleasure, in these words? "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25).
Elizabeth now stands in a long line of women with similar stories: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, the mother of Samson; women who are barren, women who give birth, women whose child advances God's plan of redemption. Elizabeth share with them and participates with them in the long history of redemption.
What a lesson we can learn here. How often we think God is displeased with us because things are not going the way we want or the way we think they should. Yet, in reality, God has far more magnificent things in store for us! Elizabeth considered herself a disgrace; but God not only declared her blameless but gave her a unique blessing and privilege to be the mother of the Messiah's forerunner. "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25).
B "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). God does the impossible and the unlikely, to remind us that His power is not restricted by our limitations. Sarah thought a child was impossible – she was too old. Mary thought a child was impossible – she was a young virgin. Elizabeth thought a child was impossible – she was too old. Our God loves a challenge! Our God loves showing us His might and His power. Our God loves doing the impossible. As the psalmist puts it, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs" (Ps 2:4).
I want you to listen to these verses from Scripture. Verses that point out the power and strength of our God:
-(Gen 18:14) "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" This is what God said to a disbelieving Sarah when she was told she would have a child.
-(Num 11:23) "Is the Lord's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you." This is what God said when the Israelites wanted meat. Moses looked around and all he saw was barren wilderness. How could he give meat to six hundred thousand men, plus their wives and children?
-(Job 42:2) "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." This is what Job finally ended up confessing about God.
-(Lk 1:37) "For nothing is impossible with God." This is what the angel said to the virgin Mary.
-(Lk 18:27) "What is impossible with men is possible with God." This is what Jesus said when He talked about the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God.
"The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). Do you see and hear what Elizabeth is saying? What a mighty God we serve! How great and mighty is He!
Today, we rejoice that God continues to do His work. He works in and with those of you who professed your faith this morning. He works with hard hearts in prison. He works with couples whose marriages are on the verge of breaking up. He works with drug addicts and alcoholics. He works with sinners like you and me. He works with everyone of us so, like Elizabeth, each one of us can look at our lives and say, "The Lord has done this for me" (Lk 1:25). In our lives, God is advancing His plan and His kingdom. What a mighty God we serve! How great and mighty is He!
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