Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Bible shows us that God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. This is especially true surrounding the birth of Christ. We can take heart from the example of those involved in Christ’s birth that if God calls us on a special mission, we need not fear. Instead, we must have faith in His infinite power, which is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians.12:9). Without Him, we can do nothing, but with Him, all things are possible (John 15:5; Mark 10:27).
Sometimes He lets us go through trials, tribulations, doubts and fears to realize how completely we depend on Him (Philippians 4:13). If we stop depending on our flesh and turn it all over to Him, resting in His grace, His power, and His will, He will use us to accomplish great things to His glory (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). But if we are fearful or doubtful, that is a sin for which He must chastise us, for without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
As born-again believers, having placed our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we have no reason to fear. God is always with us (Hebrews 13:5), protecting us from all our enemies, physical and spiritual (Romans 8:31). He has won the victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:57); He prepares us for the battle; and our home is with Him in Heaven (Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 10:25; Isaiah 41:10; Joel 2:21).
In Scripture, God said “Fear not” to those He had called on a special mission for which it would be natural to be afraid in the flesh. Usually these words are spoken by an angel, or sometimes by God Himself, as when God promised to make Abram the father of a very great nation (Genesis 15:1) and to spare Ishmael’s life and to make him the father of a rival nation (Genesis 21:17).
In the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, angels appeared to several of those most involved -- Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds -- and told them to “Fear not!” It is a natural reaction to fear in the presence of one whom we recognize to be an angel, for they are holy and we are not, and we may fear bad news, punishment or even imminent death.
Like Abraham and Sarah, Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth had been faithful to obey and serve God, yet they had no children. Having no child in those days was a great cause for sorrow and grief, as there was no heir; no one to carry on Zacharias’s calling as a high priest. Women were defined by their role in raising children, and every Hebrew woman in that day dreamed of being the one who would give birth to the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9: 2,6-7).
The angel appeared to Zacharias while he was alone in the Holy of Holies performing his priestly duties, and told him to “Fear not.” At a very old age, Elisabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1: 5-13) to show the way to Christ. How often might angels be around us, trying to tell us something or asking us to do something for God, or even ministering to us, without our being aware of it? (Hebrews 1:14).
Even though the angel brings good news, Zacharias is afraid, which is the typical reaction of those recorded in Scripture as being visited by angels. These messengers of God reflect His holiness and command respect and fear of the Lord by sinful man.
Zacharias had not been afraid to pray for what seemed impossible in the natural, and God answered that prayer far beyond what they could imagine. Not only would they have a son, but one who was highly respected by Jesus the Messiah Himself (Matthew 11:11).and who would turn many to the Lord (Luke 1:16)
If we have faith, He always answers our prayers beyond our wildest dreams! (Luke 1:14-15; Ephesians 3:20). Zacharias and Elisabeth are a perfect example of never losing hope, never stopping to pray the prayer that is most dear to your heart even though it seems God doesn’t hear it, because He will do what is best in His perfect timing. The special blessing God gave this couple echoes His fulfilled promise to Abraham and Sarah, who were old and barren and yet parented a very special child: Isaac, who became the progenitor of the great nation of Israel.
The angel said that Zacharias and Elisabeth’ son John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth (Luke 1:15). Killing an unborn child is therefore murder, because John’s body was already the temple of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) even before he was born.
John’s abstaining totally from alcohol and being great in the Lord’s sight are mentioned together (John 11:11,18), as a result of him being filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. Alcohol and the Holy Spirit don’t mix, as you can’t be Spirit-filled and drinking alcohol at the same time (Ephesians 5:18).
John’s role would be that of a prophet, calling God’s people to repentance and obedience, to soften their hearts to hear Christ’s message (Luke 1:16-17). Because he was Spirit-filled, he was a great soul-winner.
Despite Zacharias’ lifetime of priestly service, and being described as “blameless,” he doubts the angel’s news of John’s birth. He lacks the faith to accept that God can accomplish this miracle in His perfect timing (v. 18).
Because of Zacharias’ unbelief, the angel Gabriel told him that he would be mute until the birth, as if God would prevent him from voicing his unbelief (v.19-20), and also to strengthen his faith. But even without speech he was able to be a testimony of God’s goodness and power (v. 21-22).
His time as a priest was now over, and he turned his full attention to God’s new direction for his life (v. 23). We need to be responsive to God’s will and recognize when He has a new plan for our life, even if it means giving up a ministry or position of honor.
God’s promise, delivered through the angel Gabriel, came to pass and Elisabeth became pregnant (v. 24). She hid herself for 5 months (v. 25), perhaps because she wanted to be alone with God to meditate on His goodness, to thank Him, to worship Him, and to seek His direction for her new role as mother of John the Baptist.
When God says “Fear not,” we can trust Him to equip us for the mission He has given us and have faith that He will keep His promises!
© 2013 Laurie Collett
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Prophecy tells us to watch for signs in the sky (Jeremiah 10:2; Daniel 6:27; Joel 2:10; Luke 21:11; Acts 2:19), and a special sign is now on the horizon! A comet that could be hailed as “Comet of the Century” flew around the sun on Thanksgiving Day, was given up for dead, but emerged and now may be best seen in all its glory on Christmas Day!
Signs in the sky will herald the second coming of our King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Mark 13:24-26; Luke 21:25-27). He will appear in the heavens like lightning (Matthew 24:27,30) in His triumphant return to defeat the enemies of Israel at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), and ultimately conquering Satan, sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). All those who have placed their trust in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will accompany Him in the armies of saints (Revelation 19:14).
Jesus said to look up when we see the signs of times (Luke 21:28), for our Redemption is near! At any moment, but at least seven years before the glorious second coming described above, the trump could sound, heard only by believers. We shall be changed in an instant (1 Corinthians 15:52), caught up to meet Christ in the air, to spend eternity with Him in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:49,54) that will never age or feel pain or sorrow.
To date, the most radiant and long-awaited sign in the sky was the Star of Bethlehem, illuminating the birth of Jesus, the Word Himself made flesh (John 1:14), and guiding the wise men who sought the promised Messiah (Matthew 2:2-9).
When will His second coming be? No man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36), but only God the Father Himself. Yet we are told to be vigilant and aware of the signs of the times (Matthew 24), which encourage us and strengthen our resolve to keep our hearts in Him (Matthew 6:21; John 15:5) and our lamps burning with the flame of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 26:1-13).
That is why I’m excited about recent news of a comet that made a hairpin loop around the sun on Thanksgiving Day, passing so close that some astronomers wondered if it would survive the encounter. I began writing this blog post the day before Thanksgiving, and I must admit that my heart sank when reports on Thanksgiving night proclaimed that the comet was destroyed, as it was no longer visible.
But on Black Friday morning, the headlines read: Hold the obituary! The comet has emerged from behind the sun and has begun to brighten. According to the initial predictions, it would reach its peak brilliance in December, even though its brightness to the observer already increased 25 times between November 13- 21! It may be ranked as one of the brightest comets of the past 50 years, and at its peak, it may even be visible in broad daylight!
For best night-time viewing, astronomers advise seeking rural areas, free from the light pollution of cities. The comet is most radiant against a backdrop of total darkness, seen without distraction from manmade lights. However, they strongly warned that only experienced observers should attempt to view the comet as it whipped around the sun. Although there is no danger in observing the comet itself, staring directly at the sun can result in blindness as infrared rays painlessly burn the retina of the eye.
As the comet approached the sun, the scorching heat and gravitational force of the sun presumably gave rise to a long, brilliant train, although this was not visible from the Solar Dynamics Observatory where NASA was focusing. According to initial predictions, the comet should climb noticeably higher in the north-northwest sky from December 21-31, and by Christmas Day, should no longer rise or set, but should remain above the horizon all night long.
By now you’ve no doubt guessed why I am so amazed by this comet, for it reminds me of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Its flight so close to the sun is like the proximity of Jesus Christ, Son of God yet God Himself, to God the Father. Even in His earthly ministry, Jesus and the Father were one (John 10:30), and now He sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Romans 8:34).
Even though Jesus told His apostles that He would rise from the dead (Matthew 20:19; Luke 24:7), they lost all hope after His burial and crucifixion (John 20:19). But just as He said He would, Christ rose again on the third day, that all who place their faith in Him would live with Him forever! (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
How appropriate that the comet’s approach to the sun occurred on Thanksgiving Day! What better reasons do we have to be thankful than for the Word becoming flesh to pay for all our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2;4:10), to give eternal life to those who trust Him (John 3:16), and now to intercede for us with the Father? (Hebrews 4 :14-16)
Yet not all are thankful, for many are lured away by the world and have not yet seen Him as their Lord and Savior. Even those who are saved can see Him more clearly away from the distracting glare of worldly light pollution (Romans 12:2). He is the Light of the world (John 1:9; 8 :12 ;9 :5 ;11:9) Who shines brightest against the darkness of our sin (Acts 26:18; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
The astronomers warned us not to look directly at the comet as it approached the scorching light of the sun, but to safely enjoy the view of the comet at night, When Jesus walked among us, bringing light to a world darkened by sin, looking at His face was no doubt the best blessing imaginable (2 Corinthians 4:6). Yet man cannot look directly at God the Father because of His supreme glory and holiness (1 Kings 19:13; Exodus 3 :6; 19 :21).
The astronomers initially predicted that this comet’s appearance to earth would culminate with an amazing display on Christmas Day, when it would neither set nor rise, but remain above the horizon all night long. Thanks to Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), as celebrated on Christmas Day, those who trust Him are no longer in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). We have seen the bright light of the Morning Star! (Revelation 22:16) He alone will light the New Jerusalem in continual radiance and there will be no night, nor any need for the sun (Revelation 22:5).
Oh, and did I mention the name of the new comet? It is Comet ISON! The name is an acronym for the International Scientific Optical Network, which discovered the comet last year. But to my mind, this is a contraction of I AM THAT I AM, the self-existent Name of God (Exodus 3:14), and GOD THE SON, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13; 1 John 4:15, etc.), the Word from the beginning (John 1:1) and eternally our Lord (Hebrews 13:8).
Not that we need any sign (Matthew 12:39) to have faith in Him, for the facts of His death and resurrection are sufficient! (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Regardless of whether ISON lives up to expectations or disappears from view, we have faith – the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1) – that Christ reigns forever. Look up, and remember the Word made flesh, Our Redeemer, and His promise to return!