WONDER WOMEN — ELIZABETH
by Pastor Mike Fortune
September 18, 2010
- Know their righteousness comes from God [Luke 1:5-6; Hebrews 10:14]
- Are sure God can provide [Luke 1:7; 21-24; Genesis 18:14]
- Affirm others [Luke 1:25, 41-43, 80; 1 Samuel 2:26]
The Wonder Woman we’re studying today reminds right away us that our righteousness is a gift from God. And because of that gift, imperfect people are perfect in Christ. Just like Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. Yes, as our video clip pointed out, the church is full of hypocrites. Elizabeth’s husband was a priest in it, but even he didn’t believe God could provide a son to his barren old wife—even though God already proved he could when we most recently studied the life of another wonder woman Hannah. Finally, Wonder Women care about others and affirm the good and Godly things in them because people are priceless. These are just a few things that become obvious to us as we read Scripture’s account of Elizabeth. So turn in your Bible to Luke 1 and follow me there.
“5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.”
“7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”
“8Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[a] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." 18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." 19The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." 21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25"The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
According to Philippians 3:6 and Acts 23:1, prior to his conversion, Paul felt that he had “the righteousness which is in the law” and was “blameless.” But after conversion, Romans 2:23-25 makes it clear that he realized such “righteousness” wasn’t enough. In 1 Timothy 1:15, he adds, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” The King James renders it “I am the chief of sinners.” Not “was chief” but “am chief.”
The present continuous Greek of that verse means he thought that about himself now. Toward the end of his life. When he’s writing to Timothy. Since all men “have sinned and fall short of the glory of god” [Romans 3:23], all stand in need of someone to “deliver” them from death [Romans 6:23]. But until Jesus came into the world, God ordained a system of sacrifices to point people to Jesus. And Zacharias and Elizabeth apparently obeyed the Lord’s commandments and observed these regulations as best they could. And that’s why God considered them “blameless.”
It’s obvious they weren’t sinless though. Since Romans 14:23 says everything that doesn’t come from faith is sin and Zacharias didn’t believe Gabriel so he definitely sinned. Same thing with Noah [Genesis 9:21] and Abraham [Genesis 20] who were accounted “righteous” but obviously weren’t since Noah got drunk and Abraham kept lying about his wife Sarah being his sister. No, when the Bible uses the word “blameless” or “righteous” about humans, it does so in the relative sense of how their hearts are toward God. In the New Testament, these terms refer to people who are mature or are maturing in their faith who live up to the best available light they may have [1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 3:15; Hebrews 5:14].
Solomon, the wisest man on earth, said in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” When Paul says in Romans 3:10-12 and 20-23 that there is “There is no one righteous, not even one” he is actually quoting Psalm 14:1-3 which says the same thing of the people in the Old Testament. That’s why Hebrews 10:14 says, “14By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” So imperfect people are perfect or blameless in Christ. HMS Richards said it this way: “Righteousness by faith is the only righteousness a believer can have.” All too often, Martin Luther’s point about being “simultaneously sinful, yet accounted holy” is missed [Luther: Lectures on Romans, Wilhelm Pauck, pp. 64-65]. Point number is: Wonder Women know their righteousness comes from God.
And this is important today, as the author we’re discussing on Wednesday night points out, because if we don’t grasp this, we will become perfectionists or approval addicts living in shame. For in our heart of hearts, we know that we aren’t perfect. And can never win enough approval. But grace based churches from beginning to end admit that God’s salvation and sanctification is solely the gift of His grace. Members with obvious problems are expected since the past and present effects of sin does cause problems. But because they know they are in the lifelong process of being sanctified, of being transformed, of slowly becoming more and more like Jesus, their imperfections don’t surprise them. Instead, there are programs and small groups available to encourage one another “toward love and good deeds...all the more as you see the Day approaching” [Hebrews 10:24-25].
I’m going to do a whole series soon on what a grace based church looks like. If you want a preview, read the last part in Appendix E of the book Hurt People Hurt People. And don’t forget to bring a friend on Wednesdays @ 6:30pm. We’re starting chapter two this week! Moving on: Wonder women are sure God can provide. Luke 1:7 says Elizabeth had two things going against her. One, she was barren. And two, she was old. And in her time, the people then considered this to be a sign of divine judgment. Leviticus 20:20 said, “If a man sleeps with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.”
So childlessness was considered a penalty from God. But even after Gabriel shows up and tells Zacharias otherwise, Elizabeth’s husband doesn’t believe. In verse 18 he asks, “"How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” And then Gabriel breaks it down for him and tells him he’s not gonna be able to ask any more dumb questions until the baby is born because he’s gonna make him mute. Interestingly, the word in Hebrew for mute there can also mean deaf. Which makes sense when you read verse 62 where it says to communicate with him, the people had to make signs. So Zachariah probably couldn’t speak or hear. For nine months.
So here you have the same angel who five centuries earlier had appeared to Daniel in Babylon in Daniel 9:21 and 25 to announce the time of the Messiah’s arrival through prophecies Zechariah would have been very familiar with but when he shows up, he isn’t sure God can do what the angel says. Gabriel tries to help him. He shows up on the right side of the altar in the sanctuary which was a position of honor and indicated favor [cf. Matthew 25:33; Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 1:3]. He told him not to be afraid in verse 13 which is something God is always telling us [cf. Genesis 15:1; 21:17; Luke 1:30; 2:10; 1 John 4:18]. But like the prophet Ezekiel, who God made mute as well [Ezekiel 3:26] and remained so [Ezekiel 24:27] until the fulfillment of his message [Ezekiel 33:22], that’s what happened to Zechariah too.
But notice, Gabriel didn’t have to zap Elizabeth’s mute button. When he returned home, verse 24 simply says, “Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.” Perhaps she went away to learn how to be a good mom so her child could become as Gabriel promised “great in the sight of the Lord.”. No know Jewish custom required her to do so. But she did so anyway. True disciples and humble followers of God are always willing to read a new book or learn something more. And point number two, wonder women like Elizabeth are sure, even when their husband’s aren’t, that God can provide. Genesis 18:14 says, “14Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” And Isaac was born. Gabriel would use Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence six months later when he told Mary the same thing in Luke 1:36-37, “36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”
God can provide. That doesn’t mean He always will in the way we want him to. But He does provide. We just have to be humility and maturity to trust Him no matter what. We should ask for what we want. But surrender all like Jesus in Gethsemane, “Not my will but your will be done.”
And finally, wonder women affirm the good and Godly things in others because people are priceless. Why do they do this? Because verse 25 says, “25The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” And since God did that for her, she shared grace with other people. Starting with a frightened teenager named Mary. Verses 39-45 add, “39At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Elizabeth affirmed in Mary the good and Godly things in her. Which had to have encouraged Mary and confirmed what Gabriel told her in verse 36. Verse 41 says Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounced a blessing on Mary. And all followers of God can, like this wonder woman, become blessings to other people. Simply by using kind and encouraging words. Apparently, Elizabeth did for John the Baptist what Hannah did for Samuel. 1 Samuel 2:26 says, “26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.” And Luke 1:80 adds, “ 80And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”
Wonder Women like Eve taught us that true beauty comes from the inside not the outside. Sarah tells us that God uses divas who doubt and yell. Rahb reminds us that God can redeem anyone—even lying prostitutes and professed followers of God who lie. Ruth teaches us that love is loyal. Hannah taught us how to end hate and respond to those who falsely accuse and condemn. And now Elizabeth reminds us that righteousness comes from God [Luke 1:5-6; Hebrews 10:14]. Point number one. That we can be sure God can provide [Luke 1:7; 21-24; Genesis 18:14]. Point number two. And that we can affirm the good and Godly things in others because people are priceless [Luke 1:25, 41-43, 80; 1 Samuel 2:26]. Point number three.
Don’t you think if churches were full of more people like this, more people would want to join them? I do. And the good news is God can grow a grace based church like this. As we conclude this summer series, would you join me in praying that God continue doing so here? Please read aloud 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 from the screen as we conclude. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”