Miracles Come to the Old and Young

Do you ever have trouble believing a promise of God or believing He will see you through a particular situation? Perhaps your circumstances seem impossible to bear right now, maybe impossible for even God to handle. Just because it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” does not mean the problems disappear. On the contrary, for many the holidays just intensify the hurts, despair, and those impossible circumstances. The good news is God delights in doing the impossible.

I would like to explore the lives of three people to demonstrate this truth. Note: You will find links to Biblegateway by moving your mouse under each Bible reference.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple who suffer from infertility, are promised a son. As I have said in a previous article, among the Hebrews of Biblical times having a child, especially a son, was HUGE to them. Even today, a childless couple may suffer a certain degree of shame and often a lack of understanding from others. For example: “When are you going to have kids?” “Don’t you want children?” “If you really want kids, you can take mine for a while.” or “Why don’t you adopt?” Okay, that may be a topic for another day. (In the meantime you might want to read this link: http://www.infertilitysurvivalguide.com/issues/chapter14.htm)

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story begins in Luke 1. This is a godly couple who had been unable to have children. Let me repeat, they are a GODLY couple. Zechariah is a priest whose division is serving in the temple at this time. It is their turn to perform the tasks required according to Jewish law, and “it happened he was chosen by lot to burn incense”. Just the fact that his division or clan is on duty was not a common occurrence. And for him to be chosen as the individual to burn incense did not happen every time they served. Notice people are praying outside as he minister, and an angel appears to Zechariah promising the priest a son. Zechariah questions the angel, not understanding how this could be. That seems to be understandable as he and his wife are well-advanced in years. Apparently the angel has a real problem with Zechariah’s attitude however. He introduces himself as Gabriel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19, NIV). He tells the priest “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words…” (Luke 1:20, NIV). Notice this messenger from God had name picked out as well! Seems Zechariah should have taken the angel at his word. But still the “not speaking” thing seems a tad harsh. Perhaps.

Now let’s jump ahead a few verses to another individual whose life is about to be upended. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph, and as I’m sure you realize this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She also receives an angelic visit from Gabriel who tells her she has found favor with God and will bear a child and name him Jesus.

Take a moment now and notice the similarity between the two situations–Zechariah’s and Mary’s. First of all, an angelic visitor comes to both of them, and secondly, they both receive the promise of a baby when that seems impossible. Thirdly, both receive a name to give the child.

So how does Mary react? Is she perfectly fine with this? Nope. She is troubled by the angel’s greeting. And then *grimace* she questions Gabriel, asking how in the world she can have a child since she has not been intimate with a man. Whoa, wait a minute. She questions the angel? What is Gabriel about to do to her? Take away her speech too? If you’re reading along you see that Gabriel does not even reprimand her, AND he explains how this will happen. He then goes a step further, offering her encouragement as he relates the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He gives Mary an example of a miracle proving “nothing shall be impossible with God.”

So why the different treatment for these two individuals? Did the angel just not like Zechariah? I doubt it. Did Gabriel feel sorry for the young Mary, and was he just in a bad mood when he visited poor Zechariah? I don’t think that was it either. Was there some difference in the faith they displayed? Ah, maybe now we’ve got something. After all, that is the reason angel gives for Zechariah’s loss of speech.

So now let’s look at the differences in their stories. There are at least two that should be obvious. First of all, Mary was a woman, probably a very young woman barely of the age to have children. She was also, as she said, a virgin. Had a virgin ever been pregnant in all of Biblical history? While this had been predicted by the prophets, no, it had never happened. What about Zechariah’s circumstances? Was he in a better position to have children? Well, he was married. Did married couples have children? Uh, yeah. Did OLD married couples who were past the age of child-bearing ever have kids? Hmm. Might have to think about that one.

What about Abraham and Sarah as just as one example? (See Genesis 17 and 21) Both were well on in age, but they were promised a son, and while it was some time later, God delivered on His promise. Now think about this: did Zechariah know this Scripture? Well, let’s hope so. He had been a priest for many years and part of his education was to learn the books of the Hebrew Bible. He also knew about the doubts of both Abraham and Sarah and how the Lord proved faithful.

Maybe this explains the difference in the angelic response to their questions. But I certainly don’t have all the answers. Perhaps you can come up with some other reasons, and if so I would love to hear your thoughts.

One more thing: I love the part where Gabriel tells Mary she is “highly favored”. Is there any way that you and I can apply those words to us? Are you and I “favored” of God? To find an answer to that, I encourage you to read: Colossians 1 and 2 and Ephesians 1. Among the words and phrases used to describe Christ-followers are: reconciled to God; without blemish; having fullness in Christ; forgiven; triumphant; holy; dearly beloved; redeemed, and much more. In the Holman Christian Standard Version of Ephesians 1:5 you also find that He adopted us “according to His favor” and in verse 6 He “favored” us with His grace.

Women of Christ’s Lineage

How many of us have examined our personal history? Our legacy? Have you ever visited one of those sites that explore your ancestry? Or perhaps you know stories that were handed down word of mouth. My aunt recently went to an ancestry site, and found some interesting facts about our family. Among the treasures of the past she located documents, censuses, marriage licenses, and so on. This has helped her to learn a great deal about our relatives, and to dig up a number of interesting facts.

 To some a family legacy is not that important; whereas to others it is essential.  To the Jews it was their identity, providing the essence of who they were. So as Christmas approaches, I would like to take a look at the genealogy of Christ. (Yes, a genealogy, but it is in the Bible so don’t ditch me now.) This is an often overlooked part of Jesus’ history, but something very meaningful to Him and His Jewish family. We as Christ’s followers, however, tend to skip over it, and leave it out of the Christmas story altogether. After all, it’s boring, irrelevant, has nothing to do with the advent of Christ. Hmm. Perhaps you can tell my opinion is different from many Christians.

While I am not going to write out the entire genealogy from Matthew chapter 1, I ask that you look carefully at some of the names in His lineage, and take note of the women who are mentioned.

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse,and Jesse the father of King David,David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

 The writer mentions four women with interesting backgrounds. First of all, in Genesis 38 we find Tamar. This particular Tamar is not the one raped by her half-brother, Amnon (David’s son), but who waited by the road dressed as a prostitute in order to entrap Judah. Why had she done this? The answer is simple when you consider the culture of the day. She was Judah’s daughter-in-law (I know, ewww, but hang with me) whose husband (Judah’s son) Er, had died. Judah had promised that she could marry his son Shelah when he grew up, but failed to keep his word. And she wanted a child, hopefully a son. Having a child in those days especially a son, was essential for a number of reasons. Long story short, when Judah was confronted with the evidence, he had no choice but to admit his blunder. He was the man who had sex with Tamar and now she was pregnant. Not only that he had broken his promise to her, and admitted that he was more wrong than she.

 Next woman on the list, Rahab, (Joshua 2) who the Bible frankly tells us was a harlot. She helped the Israelites to capture Jericho when they first came into the Promised Land by hiding the Israelite spies. She and all those in under her roof were protected by a simple red chord displayed outside her home. She went on to marry an Israelite named Salmon. Not only was she a woman of ill-repute but also a Gentile, but she recognized the God of Israel.

 Third woman mentioned is Ruth. You may remember the story of Naomi whose husband and sons died while they were living in Moab to avoid a famine in Judah. Ruth, a Moabite, and one of her daughters-in-law insisted on going with Naomi back to the land of God’s people. Ruth’s tender words to her mother-in-law are well-known: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17 NIV) Who was Ruth but a heathen woman from a foreign land? Yet she loved her husband’s mother so much, she literally could not leave her. The wonderful love story that follows of a man named Boaz who “spoke tenderly” to her and became her husband is a romance that touches the heart. 

 The fourth woman is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. It’s difficult for me to find fault with her. Some say she was raped by King David, that he was the one purely in the wrong. Others seem to think that she was a willing participant in the affair and, perhaps by bathing where David could see her, provided ample temptation (no excuse for the king in my mind). But if David as sovereign of the land, called her to the palace, she had no choice but to go and to do as he bid.

Four women listed in the genealogy of Christ: Tamar who played the harlot and becoming pregnant by her father-in-law; Rahab, a heathen prostitute; Ruth also a Gentile who loved her Jewish mother-in-law and became a follower of the one true God. And lastly Bathsheba who some would call an adulteress. No matter, she is still one who gives us a wonderful insight into God’s love.

 I think we can learn from this that God esteems women. He loves them and can take broken, perhaps shame-filled lives, and redeem their past mistakes, making them into something beautiful. What a reversal—the honor of being named in His Son’s lineage!

You and I will never receive that particular prize, but isn’t this adequate evidence that God does indeed take lives that seem messed up beyond repair and love those individuals into His kingdom? You may think your hurts, your sins are outside the reach of His love. Your shame and guilt may have wreaked havoc on your conscience. You believe your deeds have done the same to your relationship with Him. But God is there, unashamedly waiting for you, wanting with all of His heart for you to know His love. His arms are open.