When we consider the Christmas season and the celebration of the birth of the Lord Jesus we often focus on Mary and Joseph, or the Magi and their three gifts, or maybe the lowly shepherds and the heavenly host singing “Glory to God in the highest”— to the exclusion of all else. It seems that if the cast of characters at the birth of Christ don’t rate a place in our Nativity scene or weren’t around on that fateful night in Bethlehem then, we reason, they must not have been very important.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Did you ever hear of a man, a common priest named Zacharias, and his beloved wife, Elizabeth? The Christmas story actually begins with them.
To find out more about these two incredible people, keep listening.
The following is a study on Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.
Download this episode (right click and save)
At the beginning of Paul’s’ first missionary journey, right after John Mark deserted them (Acts 13:13) and shamefully returned to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas entered Antioch in Pisidia and began to preach in the local synagogue. During his first major sermon, as he spoke of the resurrected Christ, Paul made a statement that has troubled me since the first time I read it. In Acts 13:36 Paul says of David, in part:
“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep.”
This is so convicting for me. It states that David served the people of his own generation, and he did so by or through or in accordance to the will of God, and then, he died. He faithfully served His God in the time and place His God placed him, and when God was finished with David, God brought him home. He fell asleep. He simply died.
This is how I want to live my life.
I want to faithfully serve my God in the time and place of today, in my generation, with all that is in me. And when God is finished with me, when I have finished the race as Paul would say (2 Tim 4:7), I eagerly look forward to God receiving me unto Himself, that where He is I will be also (John 14:3). Ah, this is the promise of the abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). To be used by God for His purpose in the generation He sovereignly places us and then, like soldiers returning from war, He brings us home to Himself.
It is a joy to be found faithful in Him in the generation He has placed us in, is it not?
This Christmas Season
I am also mindful that today is the first Sunday in December and the trappings of Christmas are all around. As I prepare my sermon on the birth of Christ the words of Paul echo again in my mind. “David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep.”
I wonder if the statement about David and his generation could also apply to those in the generation of Jesus’ birth? Amazingly, they do.
As a gift this Christmas season, consider how each of the following served God in the time and place sovereignly chosen by Him during their own generation, and relish in the truth that God has the same plan for you. Regardless of your upbringing, your inherent advantages or disadvantage, your past failures or great triumphs, God still wants you to serve Him in the generation He has placed you. Why? Because this is the will of God for you.
Be blessed as we look into the lives of the cast of characters surrounding the birth of our Lord.
Zachariahs and Elizabeth
Zachariahs, whose name means God or Jehovah Remembers, was an aged, elderly priest of the division of Abijah who lived and faithfully carried out his priestly duties in obscurity in a small, remote town in Judea. He was married to a fine woman named Elizabeth, meaning My God is an Oath, and they were both “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Yet, in spite of their reverence and devotion to the Lord and their lifetime of service, God, for His own reasons, had not seen fit to bless them with children. Elizabeth was barren. Therefore they had no children, no offspring, no future, no one to carry on the family name and, being “well advanced in years,” no hope that tragedy would ever change (Luke 1:7).
Zachariahs and Elizabeth were growing older day by day, seemingly content with their lot in life, spending their lives faithfully “serving their own generation by the will of God”— until something marvelous happened. Something so great, we still talk about it two thousand years later.
It was Zachariahs’ time to serve in the ministry of the Temple and he was chosen, by random lot, to burn incense at the altar. This was a once in a lifetime event and marked the height of this old man’s priestly service. It was something in Zachariahs’ life never to be repeated again. It was his finest hour, his time of greatest joy, the cumulation, the reward of a lifetime of priestly service. It was Zachariahs’ greatest time of honor. It was the zenith of his life, the pinnacle, the mountain top experience of all. Nothing, it seemed, would be greater than this.
His family and friends waited patiently outside, at the bottom of the Temple steps, as Zachariahs carefully and reverently entered the Holy Place. To them, it was the crowning celebration for a life well lived in reverent service to the Lord. They viewed this honor as the reward Zachariahs and Elizabeth earned for serving in the generation they were placed. But little did they know what more the Lord had in store for this simple couple who walked blamelessly before Him all those years.
Suddenly, while preparing to offer incense, Zachariahs realized he was not alone.
Standing, at the right side of the altar of incense, was an angel, Gabriel, the heavenly messenger sent from God to this simple man (Luke 1:19). Zachariahs was shocked, literally terrified, by what he saw and overcome with fear. But the divine plan of our sovereign God was about to unfold and this old, faithful, loving man and his treasured wife were to become a vital, intricate part of it. They were about to experience the beginning of the greatest move of God known to man, and they were to experience it center stage, with front-row seats.
The angel said:
“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17).
The promised forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, was to be born to Zachariahs and Elizabeth. All those years of longing and hoping and praying and crying, those countless dark nights of unanswered questions and doubts and fears would now find their fulfillment and joy in holding and cradling their own baby boy— a son named John.
Zachariahs and Elizabeth had more service to the generation God had placed them. Their time, even at their old age, was not yet over. Retirement? Out of the question. They were to raise and train their son to someday proclaim the coming of the Lord of all. They were entrusted with the earthly care of the one spoken about by Isaiah the prophet centuries earlier. Their young son, a miracle from God Himself, was to be the one who is:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’ ” (Luke 3:4-6).
No greater task had been given to such a couple, save maybe Joseph and Mary, the ones given the privilege of raising the Lord Jesus from a boy into a man.
What About You?
So what about you? Have you come to the conclusion that your life of service to the Lord is just about over? Are you convinced your best days are behind you and God cannot, or will not, do more through you than He has already done? Do you feel like your spiritual ship has already sailed and you, somehow, missed the boat? Are you drifting in neutral, just coasting along until the day He calls you home because you don’t think you have anything to offer the King or His kingdom?
“I’m too old for God to do anything through me now. Maybe when I was young, but not now.”
“I’ve committed too many sins for God to use me. He’s looking for someone else to use, not me.”
“I’ve wasted my life. God doesn’t want what I have left— which is next to nothing.”
Do not be deceived. God will use whatever life is placed in His hands— including yours, as broken and wasted and worthless as you think it is. All you have to do is trust Him and His sovereignty.
After all, he took an old couple, well past the age of child-bearing, and not only gave them the desire of their hearts, a son, but He also gave them a son that would grow to be, according to Jesus, the “greatest man who ever lived” (Matt. 11:11).
And what He has done for others, He will also do for you.
Be encouraged. Your time of faithful service to your Lord and your generation is not yet over. There is still much to do.
So let’s get about doing it, shall we?
Message from Malachi
A Prophetic Warning to the Church
Dealing Treacherously with Those We Love
“For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence.”
Beginning in Malachi 2:10, there is a shift from God’s chastisement of the priests to His reproof of the people in general. Lack of priestly leadership, it seems, is no excuse for unfaithfulness to the Lord. However, sheep follow the shepherd. So judgment begins, as the Scripture states, in the house of the Lord, with the shepherds, the priests, and the preachers of today (1 Peter 4:17). Malachi employs some strong words in this chapter to convey God’s dealings with His people and their attitude towards Him. He uses treacherously five times in 8 verses. We also find profane or profaning, abomination, and God saying He literally hates something. Those two words alone, God and hate, should get our attention.
These are strong words for erring people.
Why Do We Deal Treacherously with Each Other?
The first question God directs to the people in Malachi’s day, and to the church today, is “Why do we deal treacherously (or, unfaithfully, deceitfully, traitorously) with one another?” (Mal. 2:10). Why do we betray each other? Why do we deceive, mislead, and victimize each other? Why do we hold each other, especially within the Body of Christ and in our own marriages, with such contempt, disdain, and disrespect? Why do we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as family, heavenly siblings, those chosen by God and created in His own image, profane the Lord by destroying His children, those for whom He died, by our unfaithfulness to each other? Why would we do that?
Our answer is, of course, we don’t. We categorically deny any responsibility or knowledge of the offense. But God sees it differently. He says all of His people, Judah, Israel, Jerusalem, have “profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves.” And what institution is that? we ask. Marriage. And how have we profaned marriage? We have “married the daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11).
At this point, most of us would look at the national statistics and our own experience and know we stand guilty regarding our rejection of the sanctity of marriage. We, the church, divorce each other as fast as those outside the church, sometimes even faster. It’s now so hard to find someone who is still the “husband of one wife” to serve as our pastor, deacon or elder that we go to great efforts to redefine what “husband of one wife” means so more people in our congregation can qualify (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). And, as the church, we do this to our own shame and peril.
One Man, One Woman, One Lifetime
This passage, primarily, deals with the marriage covenant— one man, one woman, for one lifetime— and how the people and priests in Malachi’s day, and in our own day, have forsaken and profaned it (Mal. 2:11). Divorce is the greatest betrayal most will ever experience in their lives. And the children of divorce, those who suffer the most, carry the scars of that betrayal to their graves, often inflicting their pain and hurt on their own children. Divorce becomes a generational curse, children suffering for the pain of their parents.
Because divorce has become such a part of the fabric of our church life, we’ve become desensitized to it. After all, every family I know has been impacted by divorce. Everyone, including my own. My parents divorced. My wife’s parents divorced. My only brother divorced, and on and on it goes. And since “familiarity breeds contempt” we have turned a blind eye to what God says about divorce.
Malachi is our wake-up call.
Worship, Church-life, and Divorce
The permissive, tolerant, “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards the sin of divorce by the priests in Malachi’s day, and from the pulpits today, is the reason the church is in the shape it’s in regarding marriage. Pastors today tend to shy away from controversial topics that may incite the congregation and divorce certainly is top of the list. But truth is to be proclaimed from the pulpit and from the man of God regardless of how uncomfortable that truth may be. Pastors, priests, and shepherds are to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not simply what the people want to hear (2 Tim. 4:2-3). Pastors today should view the sanctity of marriage much like Nehemiah did when he rebuked the marital infidelity of the priests and drove the grandson of the high priest from his presence because he had “defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites” (Neh. 13:29). His crime? He had divorced his wife to marry another woman, a foreign woman (Mal. 2:11). Where are the men of God today who will not allow divorce as an option among those he shepherds!
When Malachi speaks of the “daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11) he is referring to a woman who is not from Israel nor holds to the beliefs and values of the people. He’s talking about a pagan woman, one the Lord warned would lead His people to worship foreign gods (Ex. 34:11). It’s a classic case of mixed marriage, being unequally yoked, a believer with a non-believer, which God explicitly forbids (2 Cor. 6:14). God is speaking about a believer, one under covenant, who divorces his own wife to marry a pagan, a heathen, someone who is not a believer (Mal. 2:10). And this sin, dealing treacherously with your spouse, had crept into the camp of Israel while the priests, the watchmen and shepherds of God’s people, did nothing to stop it. In fact, they encouraged divorce and were divorced themselves. Same can be said of the church and the pastors today.
But why is this so important?
Simply put, as hard as it is to accept, God says He will not receive your worship if you are unfaithful to the “wife of your youth” (Mal. 2:13). Why? Because “He hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). Cut and dry. Not open to negotiation or compromise or political correctness.
God says the man who divorces his wife and marries the “daughter of a foreign god” will be “cut off” from Him and His people since he is fully aware, willfully aware, of what he is doing. Then that very man, while showing such contempt to His covenant, has the arrogance, the audacity, the blatant hypocrisy to come and bring an offering to the Lord and expect God to be pleased (Mal. 2:12). Not gonna happen.
Malachi 2:13 reads:
And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
Regardless of how much emotion you put into your worship of the Lord, even with tears and weeping and crying, God will not hear you nor receive your worship as long as you profane His covenant. In what way are we profaning His covenant? you ask. “Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously (or, unfaithfully, deceitfully, traitorously); Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14).
In other words, until this sin of treachery and betrayal against our spouse is made right, God and the church can go no further. They stop at this point. The pride and belligerence of those who are called by His name (Isa. 43:7), those who defiantly refuse to change their attitudes about something God calls an abomination (Mal. 2:11), must be confessed and repented of. Must. Why? Because God “hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16). He hates divorce because it is the breaking of a covenant between a man and a woman (Mal. 2:14), between two who are now one flesh (Mal. 2:15; Gen. 2:24), and the violation of an oath given before God of our vow, our pledge, and our solemn promise of faithfulness in marriage (Mal. 2:14). It’s the very definition of dealing treacherously with each other (Mal. 2:10).
There’s no middle ground with God on this issue. None. In fact, it might be that the anemic spiritual condition of the church in the West, and of you and me as Believers in Christ, is caused by our willing acceptance of divorce as a viable option in relationships covenanted by God— which is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, the Bible gives us only two acceptable reasons for divorce: sexual immorality (Matt. 5:32, 19:19) and the abandonment of a believer by an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:15). No where do we find popular phrases like: irreconcilable differences, incapability, or lack of fulfillment, as reasons for divorce.
How Did We End Up Here?
How did we get in this place?
By lowering our standards and accepting the political correctness of this fallen age more than the unchanging truth of Scripture (James 4:4). By leading our churches via consensus and not by the truth of God’s Word. In essence, as our congregations begin to experiment with divorce, instead of standing tall and strong for the truth and offend those who are sinning, we change our preaching and morph our Biblical standards just enough to keep those in dire need of repentance coming back. We want to make church comfortable, even for those in the very throes of sin. And in doing so, we systematically diminish the holiness of God and the covenant relationship of marriage. “After all,” we say, “it’s the loving thing to do. We don’t want to offend anyone.”
Really? Looks like the only One offended is the Lord.
There’s a conversation that takes place in the movie Courageous that sums up the attitude of the church today regarding divorce. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the following. And if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to watch it today.
David: I had a good dad, I guess. I mean the guy wasn’t perfect. My parents split up when he had an affair. But I think he regretted it and I struggled with it for a while. But, you know, divorce just comes with the territory now.
Nathan: I disagree, man. Divorce happens because you make it an option.
David: Nathan, you don’t always know what’s gonna happen. People change. You can’t always work stuff out. Sometimes you need to part ways.
Adam: I think I agree with Nathan. People don’t fight for their marriages anymore.
The church needs to step up, to take charge, to boldly lead in the fight to save our marriages. Why? Because divorce can no longer be accepted as an easy option for the believer in Christ. We, as the people of God, desperately need the blessings of God to once again freely flow in our churches, families, and in our nation. And tolerating what God calls an abomination is not the way to make that happen.
Evil is Not Good in the Sight of the Lord
One final thought. Are you tired of hearing and reading messages like this one? Are you weary of preaching that makes you feel bad, uncomfortable, or uneasy? Would you rather come to church, or read a post, and be blessed and told how good and wonderful you are?
Sure you would. Most people would. In fact, that’s what they wanted in Malachi’s day. But God had another idea.
Malachi 2:17 reads:
Statement: You have wearied the Lord with your words;
Question: Yet you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?”
Answer: In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
Just so you’ll know, the Lord doesn’t delight in those who sin and do evil. In fact, His Word says just the opposite, “God is a just God, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).
Repent of the sin that separates you from His blessing and enjoy the freedom only He can give.
Sometimes I get a bit depressed when I look at my extended family and see their unbelief. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if they haven’t been exposed to the truth or know the truth, because they have. They just simply don’t believe.
We pray and witness to them and they either reject the message of Christ outright or they claim to believe something that they made up in their head, on the spot, that fits with their own world view but has nothing to do with the Bible or the Gospel or, well… much of anything. And days turn into weeks and weeks into years and nothing seems to change.
But today, while I was preparing for our Tuesday night Bible study, I was struck by the fact that Jesus was somewhat in the same situation with His own family. He had four brothers, actually half-brothers, and at least two sisters, maybe more (Mark 6:3). These were the natural children of Mary and Joseph that were born after their journey to Bethlehem. His sisters are not named in the Scriptures but His brothers are. Jesus’ half-brothers were: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, or Jude (Matt. 13:55).
Try to imagine what it must have been like to have Jesus as an older brother. He never sinned, never lost His temper, never disobeyed His parents and never made less than perfect grades in school. He was perfect in a way that would tend to make you jealous at best and angry at worst. In fact, the Psalms tell us that Jesus did not have the kind of relationship with His siblings that He probably wanted. He was, to quote our phrase, so “heavenly minded that He was of no earthly good.” Psalm 69:8-9 states:
I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children; (why) because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
Not a happy home for the Lord.
So after 30 years of obscurity Jesus embarked on His ministry defined by signs and wonders and healings and revolutionary teachings (John 6:2). John the Baptist declares Him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He easily feeds 5,000 men, plus their wives and children, with a boy’s sack lunch (John 6:4-13) and has to fight to keep the crowds from declaring Him King (John 6:15). Multitudes of thrill-seekers constantly follow and press all around Him and the religious establishment continually searched for ways to destroy Him out of jealousy or hatred (John 7:1). Everyone had an opinion about Jesus and He was the trending topic on their social media for years on end. Not too bad for the brother of James, Joses, Simon and Judas.
Near the close of His ministry, only six months before He was to be betrayed and crucified, Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to go with them to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus declined. His brothers said, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world” (John 7:3-4).
Note the “if” in their statement:
If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.
Or If You can really do the things the people say You can, prove it to us.
Or if this is not all a sham or some slick sleight of hand.
Or if You really are who You say You are.
Or if there is some reason for all this notoriety and popularity, or if… whatever.
Their doubt and unbelief is painted all over their statement to Jesus. It wasn’t about Him, it was about their doubts, their wanting more proof, more evidence, of Jesus being who they really knew He was. They just simply refused to believe.
Think about it, no people on the planet knew more about the sinless life of the Lord Jesus than those in His earthly family: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. Yet, as John tells us, they did not believe (John 7:5). Why? Scripture is silent about their reasons. Maybe they, like the rest of the fickle masses that followed Him, wanted Jesus to be their political King, their man in the White House, their delegate before God. Or maybe His brothers wanted Jesus to jump through another couple of hoops for their entertainment, to prove Himself to them to their satisfaction, to call down fire like Elijah or part the sea like Moses or walk across their swimming pool. But whatever their motives were, Jesus would have no part of it. He was on His own divine timetable and would not bend to the agenda of His family or the crowd. Jesus would not be rushed.
I know you are wondering how this relates to my situation with my extended family. Simply this: Jesus had done all He could to show His brothers the truth about Who He was and yet they rejected Him and His message. They chose to walk in darkness, in committed, radical, unbelief. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, they willingly chose the wide road that leads to destruction and damnation and forsook the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14).
But they didn’t do this forever.
After Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, the early church met in the upper room waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-6). After the Twelve are listed, less Judas of course, the Scripture states:
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:14).
Did you catch that? In addition to the hand picked Twelve (Luke 16:13-16), Mary and Jesus’ brothers were part of the formation of the early church. And it was these, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas that also experienced the Acts 2 infilling of the Holy Spirit. They went from unbelief in John 7 to a committed follower by the time we enter into the pages of the Acts. In addition, they grew mightily in their faith in their half-brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.
James became the head of the church in Jerusalem and penned the book in the Bible that bears his name (James 1:1). And Judas, or Jude, also added His words to the cannon of New Testament scriptures (Jude 1:1).
Not too shabby for the sons of Mary and Joseph.
If Jesus can turn his unbelieving brothers into pillars of the early church… well, I guess He can do the same with my extended family. After all, He is God. And if He can save and redeem my family, then He can do the same for you and your family.
For me, I take great encouragement in that.
So I will continue to pray and witness and talk to them about the grace of God found only in Christ Jesus and trust that, in His time, He will bring those that belong to Him to Him. I will joyfully do my part and leave, and I mean really leave, the results up to Him.
After all, He is God.
Two related truth, one from the Old Testament and one from the New:
Proverbs 12:26 – The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Or, “Bad company corrupts good character.”
See any connection?