Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

2 Timothy 2:2 Vision

Here is a video I shared this summer with many people. It is great to see how God is raising up and sending out leaders who are equipped to change Japan and the world for Christ! I had the privilege of building into Alex and Nozumu for a few years during their college days. It was a great blessing to go speak at Nozomu's church plant last year too!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Great Commission or the Great Suggestion?

by Dr. Daniel Wallace

"There’s a myth foisted on the Christian public about the meaning of the Great Commission (Matt 28.19-20). It goes something like this: “In the Greek, the word translated ‘Go’ is really a participle and it literally means, ‘as you are going.’ But the words ‘make disciples’ are an imperative in Greek. That’s the only imperative in these two verses. Therefore, the Great Commission is not a command to go; rather, it is a command to make disciples as you are going, or make disciples along the way.” The exposition based on this understanding of the Greek text then attempts to salve the consciences of the congregation, permitting them to do nothing about the lost if it at all means going out of their way. There are two major problems with this treatment of Matt 28.19-20."

Read this rest here.

Here is another great article on the same issue by Greek expert Bill Mounce.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Humbling Man to See God


(My message from this Sunday over Luke 3:1-14)

True to form, Luke opens chapter 3 with more close attention to historical detail and accuracy.

Luke wants his readers to see that the truth about Jesus is verifiable and utterly consistent.

Though the names listed here were as famous as Obama and Abe-san at the time,

they would have been forgotten long ago if not for a poor, simple preacher who lived in the wilderness at the time named John.

Perhaps this helps us to remember two principles about life:

One: that God has a sense of humor, and two: that God loves to put down the pride of man and lift up the humble.

We have already met Zechariah, John's father, who was humbled by blindness and eventually praised God as he saw God's goodness.

And now we jump ahead about 30 years to the beginning of John's ministry in the wilderness.

From chapter 1, we know that John was related to Mary and Jesus.

But John became more than just a relative to Jesus, he became the prophesied one who would prepare the way of the promised Savior.

But it wasn't because John was so great; it was because God had chosen that His Word would go out through this simple man even before he was born. (
show v.2)

And this Word from God comes directly through him to us today also, so let us pray that we will receive it just as it is, the very Word of God given to us by direct inspiration.

Dear Lord, please humble us under your Word, by your Holy Spirit's power today,

so that we can look up and see You in all of your great love, mercy, and holiness,

and receive You today and live with you daily as our wonderful Lord and Savior.

It's in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
v.3 says, And he (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Here we find the first lengthy OT quotation in Luke.

And this quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 should not be seen as just one isolated quotation to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist.

Rather, this fulfilled prophecy is significant to complete the foundation of the entire Old Testament and paves the way for all nations to see our need for our Savior, Jesus Christ.

This good news of salvation in Christ was not just for Israel, it was for all flesh, for all nations.

If you are going to prepare the foundation for a good house or a road, the first thing you need to do is to level the way and make it flat, smooth, and straight. (show picture)

Before Jesus came announcing salvation to the world, John was sent to prepare the way by announcing the utter neediness of man to the entire world.

Jesus, and Jesus alone has dealt with the problem of our rebellion against our Creator.

But the way all people will be prepared to
see salvation when it comes is first through seeing our own rebellion, and then seeing our need to turn to God for help and salvation.

This turning is called “repentance” in the Bible.

It means to have a complete change of mind about God and our sin.

Our hearts, minds and actions are naturally pointed away from God and towards rebellion because of the sin nature we inherited from Adam.

But then, by the Holy Spirit's working through God's Word, we begin to
recognize and feel how horrible our sin is, and at the same time how good God is to give us mercy.

As a result, a change of mind occurs and we turn away from sin and towards God.

This is repentance, and this is the work for which God's Word and God's Spirit was given to John.

To help people see a clear physical picture of what was going on inside their hearts, John was called to baptize, or immerse the people into water.

If you go to some temples and other religious places of worship around the world today, you may also see water for which to wash.

Deep inside people is a desire to be clean, not just on the outside of our bodies, but deep in our hearts.

By revealing the stench of our sin, John was not condemning, rather he was calling for
repentance in order for the people to find real cleansing and forgiveness from God.

If you do not know you are dirty, you will not seek to be washed.

If you do not know you are a sinner in need of forgiveness before God, you will not seek mercy from Him.

John was
preparing the way for the people to welcome the good news of the free gift of salvation and freedom from our sin and hell through Jesus Christ.

This explains a bit of why John is so bluntly honest with the crowds of people who were coming out to the wilderness to be baptized.

He doesn't welcome them politely, he begins by calling out to the crowds,
You brood of vipers!” (v.7)

The prophecy had said,
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,”

Every gap and valley of our understanding regarding sin against God must be filled in with the truth!

Every mountain and hill of pride that leads to our sin must be cut down and leveled low.

Every crooked and hidden way about us must be made straight and righteous.

And only
God's Word, working by His Spirit, can do this job right!

Imagine God's Word to be a bulldozer that can create new landforms in our hearts that human words and human hands cannot.

The Holy Spirit is the both the fuel and the driver for God's Word to work.

If I would try to level the land for the foundation of my new house with just my own two hands, I would be frustrated beyond belief.

But sometimes we try to live the Christian life on our own without God's Word and Spirit.

In a similar way, we think by our own wise words or actions we can lead someone to salvation in Christ.

It becomes a very frustrating way to live when those plans continue to fail.

But if, by the Spirit of God, we are working
with Him and the bulldozer of His Word, we can be like John and humbly prepare the hearts of ourselves and others to know Christ.

Even with these tools, preparing hearts and building a house of faith takes a lot of time and prayer.

But when we humbly admit our need for Him,
we will be built up and we can build up others as well.

In Isaiah 57:14-15 it says,
And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

True salvation levels and humbles man even as it lifts up God as rightful King over all.

Christian, do you feel contrite and lowly?

Do
you feel as low as a poisonous snake apart from God's work in your life?

I'm not talking about if you see the sins of others, I am asking, “Do you see and feel that there is
nothing to commend you to God right now apart from His grace?”

Do you know and feel
deep down that you truly deserve nothing but judgment from Christ?

The more we know and feel that, the more our hearts will be humbled to exult in and love the amazing grace of God that has saved such wretches as you and me.
He (John) said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Apparently people were coming with prideful hearts saying, “We're already pretty much guaranteed favor with God since we are Israelites, the children of Abraham.”

According to Matthew, in this crowd were the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were also coming to baptized, loving to appear righteous and religious to others.

But it also included crowds of others who just wanted to be known as “good people”.

At heart, many really believed that they were
already good people and already partakers of all the promises of God, and already prepared to go to heaven when they died.

God had promised to bless the offspring of Abraham, whom they were
already a part of, right?

Yes God did, but as Paul said later, not all physical descendants of the chosen nation of Israel really belong to the true spiritual Israel, the true chosen people of God.

In other words, People are not saved from God's judgment just because their whole family happens to be Israelites!

Or we could say today, “You are not saved just because your whole family are Christians or because you prayed a prayer once and were baptized.”

God graciously promised to bless the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

but that did not mean that every physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be a part of the promised blessing.

It was only
through these forefathers that the promise of the one offspring, the Savior Jesus Christ, would come!

Galatians 3:16 says,
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

So true Israel or spiritual Israel are those people from every nation who have the same faith as Abraham in his offspring, the one offspring, Jesus Christ!

Abraham
believed God that he would have this offspring, though because he and Sarah were too old, he knew it was impossible for him unless God did it for him.

In the same way we too must believe that while it is
impossible for us to go to heaven by our own strength or goodness; God has sent us His promised offspring, Jesus.

By faith in God's promise, we rest in and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation.

Galatians 3:7 says,
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

Those of
faith are the real sons of Abraham that are considered righteous before God;

those that look away from themselves and believe that it is because of what
Christ has done for us on the cross we are saved, and not by what we can do for ourselves.


Paul sums up the difference in Romans 2:28-29:


A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”


The religious leaders and many others were looking for the praise from other people instead of the pleasure that comes by being loved by God.


They thought the greatest thing was to be seen and respected among their peers.


So John scolds them, Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (v7)


In other words, “Do you even understand what you are doing here?”


I'm sure many in the crowd were only interested in having some kind of spiritual or emotional experience.


Possibly others thought they might even be healed if they just jumped through the right religious hoops for God.


They are all like vipers because just like the serpent in the garden of Eden their motives are hidden, and they deceive many people by their appearance of righteousness.


And even today this still happens, and it happens even in church.


Many people seem to make a confession of faith, and truly seem to make life changes, only to later fall away from the faith and reject it all together.


Like the crowds here, they may have only been interested in the attention and kind friendship of others, or in the feelings of goodness and spirituality that they felt,


but whatever their motivation, their hearts were never truly focused on God; He was only a means to their own self-centered desires and plans.


By the fruit of their lives we see that they never loved their Creator more than the things and people of this world.


So John would say to these, Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” (v. 8)


In other words, true conversion changes your whole life, your heart turns from sin to God.


This is the same message Paul preached, as he said in Acts 26:20.


[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.


Having a good family, checking boxes on papers, praying prayers, and getting baptized do not save people, only Jesus does!


It is not hard for Jesus to keep His promise to raise up spiritual descendants for Abraham from every nation and people group.


He works and He changes our stone-like hearts into soft hearts that can respond to Him.


That is what He did for each of us who are real Christians here today!


When He works, our hearts and our minds are humbled under His Word and our lives change forever.


We are born again into a new life in Christ that cannot continue on in sin, as 1 John says!


A good tree is known by the good fruit it bears.


In other words a true child of Abraham or a Christian, is one whose heart has been changed, however imperfectly, to love God and hate their own sin.


1 John 3:9 says, No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.


The fruit of the Holy Spirit living in a Christian is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. (Gal. 5:22-23)


The true Christian is one who has realized his or her great need for salvation and has trusted and is resting in Christ for it and has the Holy Spirit living inside their heart.


Obviously, that does not mean we are perfect, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12.


But if you have not experienced this kind of change, and if you don't love God more than your sin, then you may not really be a Christian yet.


Now if you feel any doubt about your salvation right now, maybe that is okay!


May our pride be humbled and leveled by the Word of God so that we can trust Christ alone for salvation and not our own strong faith or good works!


Today is the day to think about whether or not you are saved and in Christ, or whether you are still embracing your sin and headed for eternal judgment instead.


John says, Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (verse 9)


We are not guaranteed tomorrow, even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.


Are you right now, however imperfectly, bearing the fruit of love to God and love for others, or are you dead to God with no real love for Him in your heart?


If so, repent of your sin and cast yourself on His great arms of mercy, love and grace in Jesus Christ today, and He will begin to transform your heart.


He will save you and begin to fill your heart with every good thing you need to do His will, and then you will be ready to face the judgment of God.


But perhaps you wonder, if I have already repented for my sins and I already am a Christian, “What good fruit should a good tree be bearing?”


We already saw the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, but let's see how John answers.


And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (v. 10-14)


John is saying, you cannot be converted and not feel compassion for other people around you.


Each of these commands has to do with loving other people more than money and material possessions.


As we saw earlier, truly loving God and truly loving others around you is a fruit of God's Spirit inside of us – it is not something we can do on our own.


But a heart that is focused on material things more than on loving people is not a heart from God and it cannot please God; and in the end it leads only to judgment in hell.


1 John 2:15 says, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”


1 John 3:17 says,If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”


But why is money and material possessions the issue here?


Because they have the ability to expose what we truly value in life.


Many people say that they value the church and mission work, and that they want to help those in need, and yet when the time comes to give, they are nowhere to be seen.


Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”


Maybe you say, “But I don't have much money.”


No matter how much money we have, we are to love God first and trust Him, and He will fill our hearts with love and the ability to help others for His glory.


In the Scriptures, some of the most generous people had little money, but were rich in love.


In an overflow of love for God they used their money and resources to bring honor to God.


So let us humble ourselves and confess our need for His help today, knowing that He is ready and able to help us and lift us up.


As He fills our hearts and minds, we will become the kind of people that are truly satisfied and are able to give love and grace to others too.


He will provide us with all we need to do His will both for now and for eternity.


Jesus has come to save sinners and bring us to God, but first we must see our sinfulness and neediness for Him and turn to Him with humble hearts.


We will then begin to experience all of the great things our Creator has planned for us!


Let us humble ourselves now together as we bow our heads to pray.


Dear Lord, We confess that we have sin and cannot break free from its control unless you work in us.


You say in 1 Peter, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”


Lord, we are sorry for how we have not loved you or respected you as our Creator.


We have deceived ourselves into sin and been deceived by sin, such that we have become like lowly vipers.


But we thank you that you still love us and we can still come to you because of your great love shown at the cross of Christ.


By your death and resurrection on the cross, Jesus, you can heal us and give us new life that is full of love, joy and peace and continues forever in heaven.


We thank you that while we cannot save ourselves, you can, and you love to help us!


We come to you and ask you to change our hearts and make them new and alive in you today and each day as we walk with you as our Lord and Savior.


In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.





Saturday, May 28, 2016

Should Missionaries Ask for Financial Support?

(This old post of mine encourages me today. I hope it encourages you also.)

Having raised financial support for the last 18 years it comes as a surprise to me when otherwise strong Christians question the legitimacy of missionaries raising financial support.

As America faces more and more if its own problems, I believe it is essential that missionaries continue to put God's heart for all the nations front in center in all the recruiting and support raising they do. Support raising isn't about raising money, it is about raising a team of like-minded people who are passionate for the all the nations to be reached.

1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says,“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

Paul’s epistle to the Romans was a support letter. Check out Romans 15:22-29. He was writing them that they might glory in the gospel and share in his zeal for taking this same message onward to Spain. He needed teammates! Note a couple of key phrases… “to be helped on my journey there by you”, and “I will leave for Spain by way of you”.
Here Paul is not even asking, he is expecting support to come from gospel-centered Christians. He is expecting that the believers will want to help reach their neighboring country with the gospel.


3 John 1:5-8 says “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth."

For those who do not see missionaries asking for financial support in the Bible – the prophet Elijah even asked a poor woman for support - for food and water in 1 Kings 17. God wanted to test her faith. I think he also wants missionaries to ask for support in order to test the hearts of His people. Do we love money or do we love the mission of the gospel?

In Nehemiah 2 Nehemiah prays and then asks the king for support to go on a mission to rebuild Jerusalem. He knew that God could even use even a foreign king to further God's kingdom.

As a missionary I know that I cannot do it alone. I am not a "superman of the faith" while other Christians can just easily go to the company and expect money. We all work by faith. Just like everyone else I am also called to WORK through faith in order to build a team of people (from the rest of the body) with a like heart to build the kingdom of God, to reach the nations and make disciples in them, just as Christ commanded each and every disciple to do. Teaching and preaching are the means we use.

We do not expect fish to jump into the boat. We put down nets and God brings the fish. In the same way, we missionaries (with great humility) call for the teamwork of the other members of the body who have the same calling from their Lord. We cannot do this alone, nor are we meant to. We are simple sheep just like the rest. The apostle John (who was also a missionary) tells us that we are to support such people who go out for the sake of the Name. He probably learned this from Jesus while walking with Him for three years. Jesus and the twelve, including John, were also supported by the women who followed Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3) How humbling!

Let us not be slack in our calling as senders or goers. Let us not be slack in our calling to send or slack in our efforts to call forth senders and goers! While some missionaries today do go out without asking for any support, this is in no way commanded or even recommended in the pages of Scripture. We must be very careful concerning our Biblical understanding of this all important work.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Worry: The Other Side of Arrogance

Worry has been rearing its ugly head around me lately and tempting me to stress out about my future. This was a great refresher for me to read from John Piper. I hope it encourages you too.

"Let us remember how wonderfully secure we are in the confidence that it is God who finally governs our lives - God and not chance, God and not our enemies, God and not disease,...You are immortal until God's work for you is done.

James 4:13-16 says, "Come, you who say 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade a make a profit' - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will we will live to this or that.' As it is you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

It is arrogant not to believe in the heart and confess with the lips that how long you live and what you accomplish are ultimately in the hands of God."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For Nothing will be Impossible for God

(Listen to the audio and see the slides here.)

For years Maki and I have wanted to buy our own house.

We desired a place where we could invite more people and practically show them more of God's love, while also providing a lasting investment for our kids.

But five or six years ago when we began searching, God closed all the doors on that idea.

Not only were we not finding houses that matched our vision or our budget, but we ran into a big wall at the bank.

They looked at our missionary income (which comes through churches and friends in America) and politely told us that that part of our income would not be recognized!

Fast forward five years to last fall.

We were continuing to pray for land to build a new house on that would be within our budget and that was close to KIU, and close to Maki's parents so we could help them.

Long story short: God not only worked to give me favor through a conversation with a bank official to get us a loan, he miraculously gave us land nearby that was within our budget.

Basically, as we were searching, it was clear that land in Kyotanabe was not within our budget.

At one point, Maki echoed something that we had both said before, “It is impossible for us to afford buying land in this area!”

That was true, but then I remembered Luke 1:37 , which we will look at today.

I said, “But this is not impossible for God, so let's just pray specifically for God's glory to be shown, and then God will choose what He thinks is best for us.”

We prayed that night as a family that God's glory would be revealed no matter His choice for us, and we repeated our desires to stay in this area in order to be a blessing to others.

Two hours later, we get a phone call from the real estate agent who tells us he has a nice piece of land that was just right outside our window!

Amazingly, we negotiated for a price within our budget and, Lord-willing, we will start building soon and move in by November!

So, I hope you can all come over to visit someday!

Now maybe like us, you also have had a dream, and not just a selfish one, but a dream to help and bless others.

And maybe you have been praying about it too, and yet for years nothing seems to happen.

Or, maybe you are struggling with some problem today that has lasted for years and you feel that the situation is just impossible for you to change or even deal with much longer.

Perhaps you have felt a lack of hope in finding a good solution.

Maybe you have prayed a lot about it too, but God just seems silent.

My prayer is that God would encourage you through His Word today, so you can keep giving your heart in prayer to a big God who loves to reveal His glory at just the right time.

Nothing is too hard for Him.

So let's walk again through Luke 1:5-37 today, and I'll give some comments along the way.

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. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now as we have seen, Luke is the investigative gospel.

Luke loves to give many details that demonstrate how well he has researched the exact truth so that we can have certainty about what we read here.

But Luke isn't just some book of facts.

No, God, who inspired Luke to write, wants us to personally know Him and His ways through this book and be encouraged ourselves today!

So, we witness here the deep, personal pain and struggle that Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced in not being able to have a child.

Surely for years they had prayed, and even though they were faithful and righteous before God, he had not answered their prayers.

Through this, God is speaking to us today also-- He is whispering to us that He knows our pains and struggles as well, and that He tenderly cares for His children in the midst of it.

Now while he (Zechariah) was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Or as the Message paraphrase has it, “How do you expect me to believe this?”

Now before we blast Zechariah for being so hard of heart, let's think a bit more.

Righteous Zechariah had been praying and waiting for so long, possibly for 30 or more years, that I think he could no longer bring himself to even hope that God might give them a child.

He was hurt, and yet that doesn't excuse his sin of not trusting God and His messenger.

And  our hurt or disappointment is not an excuse for us if we lack trust in God's Word today either.

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. 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.

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.”

So Zechariah and Elizabeth walked with the Lord and though far from being sinless, they were honorable and blameless people.

Even so, God saw it fit to withhold for a time something that to them seemed very good.

In that culture, it was very shameful to be married for so long and not have children.

After years and years of prayer, perhaps Zechariah felt that it was okay to give up hoping about something that just seemed so impossible and so hopeless anyway.

And maybe you know the feeling.

You have prayed for years for a family member or friend to know Christ, but so far they have not shown any interest.

Maybe you have prayed for healing, or for God to fix some issue at work, or a relationship with someone, but so far there has been no change.

Or maybe you wonder, like we did about our request, “God, isn't this a good request?”

Indeed their desire for a child to love and care for was a good desire.

Praying for the salvation of a friend or family member is also a very good desire.

And yet God always waits for the best timing to reveal His grace and glory in His own way.

God was going to show Zechariah and Elizabeth His glory through these struggles so that the greatest number of people could enjoy His amazing work of grace among them, including us.

In the same way, let our focus and desire be for God’s glory more than any other hope we may have.

Being God, He knows much more than we do about what is best.
Zechariah’s son John would not just be a regular man, he was the one God had chosen to prepare the way for His own Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth, as it says here;
to show the greatness of God's grace and power, not the greatness of Zechariah or John.

The people of Israel had prayed and waited for 400 years for the salvation from their enemies since Malachi the prophet had delivered God's promise to them.

Malachi had wrapped up his prophecy, and the entire Old Testament with these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children...” (Mal. 4:5-6a)

And finally, through the direct Word of God through Gabriel the angel, this prophecy was going to be fulfilled in God's timing and in His power, through the life of John the Baptist. (see Luke 1:17)

What a gift of grace to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to John, to Israel, and to the entire world!

And from Genesis and now to the New Testament, we are beginning to see God's great work to accomplish His whole good and sovereign will to reveal His great grace in history.

Job 42:2 says, “No plan of yours can be thwarted,” and God wants us to know that also.

Let's go on to the next part of the story.

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

Again, Gabriel is dispatched to tell good news of more fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, but this time it is even bigger and greater news than before.

Mary's son was to be called Jesus, meaning, “God Saves” and He was to be called, “the Son of the Most High”.

I cannot imagine a more wonderfully shocking news story to hear – that you, barely a teenager and not yet married, will give birth to the Son of God who will rule forever!

But God had promised this in 2 Samuel 7- that one of King David's descendants would reign forever and ever as King.

Yes, in fact, the whole O.T. had pointed to this coming Messiah, or Christ, who would save His people from all of their enemies and bear all of their sins in His death and resurrection.

And shockingly, this descendant, who everyone was hoping for, would be born through a poor, young girl from the countryside!

God loves to surprise us and amaze us with His grace.

It is a wonder the young Mary didn't faint at such news!

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Though surely flabbergasted, Mary does not question the angel like Zechariah did.

She simply stands amazed at how God could be so gracious and do such wonderful things through such a lowly person as she!

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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It is impossible for a virgin to give birth to the Son of God, just as it was impossible for the aged and barren Elizabeth to give birth, until we remember who God is!

With our good and all-powerful Creator God, all things are possible!

And He will accomplish all of His sovereign plan because He is God over all!

Does this remind you of anything?

Way back in Genesis, God graciously chose Abraham and promised him that he would be the father of many nations, and that through his offspring all the nations would be blessed.

In Genesis 17, God promises Abraham and Sarah again that though they were nearly one-hundred years old, and even though Sarah was barren, that they would have a child.

When all human resources are exhausted, when Abraham and Sarah are reduced to laughter at the sheer incredibility of it all –

it is then that God delights to fulfill His promises.

You see, it was the perfect timing for God to reveal Himself so that even today we can see and enjoy Him and His ways in His Word.

God waits until it is humanly impossible for the child of the covenant to be born, in order to show that it is not by human effort or goodness that the covenant people will be created.

It is a work of sovereign grace in order to show His power and His glory alone.

And in seeing His glory, we experience His great love and are filled with joy.

God says in this context in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

The  answers is obviously “No!” and God wants us to see that.

He wants us to see that by His Word and in our experiences as we continue to look to Him.

Because God is so so much greater than any of His gifts, and He has chosen to love us,

He does it so we can know Him and treasure Him more than the things of else of this world.

In the New Testament, we see this same concept as it relates to our spiritual barrenness.

In Mark 10, a rich young man comes running up to Jesus to ask a question that is burdening his soul.

He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

Jesus points him to his hopeless condition apart from a complete heart change.

Lovingly, Jesus tries to help the man to treasure God and His goodness more than his own good works or material possessions.

But the rich man hangs his head and goes away sadly, since it is impossible for him to see what is right before him: that he is really spiritually poor and not rich, and that he greatly needs God.

And it is impossible for any of our wicked hearts unless God works in us to see that we need Him and that we need to embrace Him as our treasure above all else.

How do I know that? 

By what Jesus says next.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is impossible for those of us who think we have worldly wealth or moral riches on our own without Christ to receive Him as our Lord and Savior.

Until our blind eyes are opened to our neediness, we will never turn to the true riches of Christ.

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Just as a barren woman cannot physically give birth to a child, we cannot experience new life in Christ unless God does a great work in our barren hearts first.

We humans value ourselves and the things of this world more than God, unless God begins to heal our hearts by His Spirit to bring us to new life and faith in Jesus Christ.

We are spiritually barren and dead in our sins, with no real love for God, unless God Himself does the impossible for us.

Just as the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary so she could give birth to the Son of God,

and just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and created life at the beginning,

we also need the Spirit of God to do a miracle in our hearts through His Word so that we can   see His greatness there and desire to receive Him as our Lord and Savior.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

As we read or hear God's Word, by His Spirit, we begin to see God’s goodness and glory in the gospel, and in seeing His goodness and glory we are drawn to Him and are transformed.

And as we continue to see more and more of His goodness and glory in His Word, by His Spirit, we continue to be transformed to be more like Him through faith.

And that is why God had Luke write this book, and that is why we preach God's Word here each Sunday, so that by God’s Spirit we can see and know Jesus better and be transformed!

If you are a Christian, you have experienced some of this transformation already.

Saving faith in Christ is not just a mental assent to the truth of the Gospel, it is a change of heart – a seeing of beauty and worth in the good news of Christ that you could not see before.

Ezekiel had prophesied about it.

In Ezekiel 36:26 God says, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

In the New Testament this transformation is called the new birth or becoming new creations in Christ.

In Luke's second book, Acts he writes to Theophilus again,

In the first book (the gospel of Luke)... I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up” (1:1-2a)

The implication is that Jesus began to do and teach during His life on earth, but He continues to “do and teach” through His Spirit working through His inspired Word today.

So more than any other prayer, let's pray that we could continue to be taught of the Lord through His Word to learn to love Him and His great and amazing ways more.

And in having the Spirit of God in our hearts, and in learning His Word as new creations in Christ, we will begin to pray the kind of prayers of faith that God delights to answer.

And even if we have to wait decades for the answer, God will always do what is best for His own dear children who, however imperfectly, put their lives and trust in Him.

By His strength, we can trust Him as our loving Father who can do more than all we could ever ask or imagine.

Let us pray.

Thank you that nothing is impossible for you!

You say, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'” (Is. 46:9-10)

Lord help us to always keep in mind who you are and what you have already done in history when we face our own struggles and hardships.

Help us to learn to trust you more as we study your Word and see your continual faithfulness and goodness to us.

Lord, we thank you for your love and salvation that we can receive today by your grace.

Help us to see reality: That you are more valuable than all the things of this world and be able, by your Spirit’s power, to embrace you fully as our Lord and Savior.

It's in your wonderful name we pray, Jesus, Amen.