Tuesday, 20 December 2011

TTWO RESPONSES: Doubt versus Faith. A devotional. I had planned to write a couple of different Christmas things, but this is such a busy time of year I am only going to share a few thoughts with you on one aspect of the Christmas story. This is just somethin I put together quickly. Luke's Gospel presents us with two angelic visitations. The Angel Gabriel visits Zechariah in the temple: 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." 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." [Luke 1:11-20] The second angelic visitation took place six months later, when Gabriel appeared to a young girl called Mary: And he [Gabriel] 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."  And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"  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." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:28-38 Notice that both Zechariah and Mary asked a question; but one was punished and one was not. Why? God doesn't punish people for asking a question, though he may choose not to answer, so that can't be the issue. I've heard it taught that the reason Zechariah was punished was because he had been praying for a son for many years and God was finally answering his prayer. Therefore Zechariah should have rejoiced and gladly accepted the message, whereas Mary had not been praying that she would be the mother of the Messiah so her question was understandable. I wonder though, if the difference didn't have something to do with faith. I'm not a pastor or theologian and I could be misreading this, so I encourage you to study this for yourself and allow the Lord to teach you. I see Zechariah as a person who had been praying for so long and had finally given up hope He still served the Lord and did what was good, he is described as a righteous man, but maybe he didn't want to get his hopes up again just to have them dashed. Maybe he didn't want to believe again because it would be too painful if it didn't happen. Even the visit of one of God's angels didn't penetrate his heart and cause him to hope again.. In that culture children were seen as blessings from God, so a childless couple were thought to have sinned in some way. You can imagine how fervently Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child in their younger days but as time went on and Elizabeth went through the change of life it seemed impossible for them to have a child and so perhaps they gave up hope. We tend to do that sometimes in our prayers, don't we? We pray fervently for something, such as the salvation of our parents or friends, but as time goes by and we don't see any changes in their lives we give up and stop praying. This is something we should not do, God rewards faithful and persistent prayer, even over many years. Abraham is a perfect example of this, he and Sarah prayed for a son and finally God gave them one when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. So, I think it could have been Zechariah's doubt and lack of trust that got him into difficulty. Gabriel tells him: "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." As for Mary, I suspect her question came from curiosity. She was betrothed, which in that culture was as legally binding as marriage except that the girl still lived with her parents and there was no physical intimacy. That being the case she was naturally curious as to how she , a virgin, could become pregnant. We can see her faith and trust in God clearly in her response: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." [v38] We can't imagine how difficult and scary it would be for Mary to be discovered to be pregnant when she wasn't married. These days it is an accepted thing in our culture though that doesn't make it right, but in Mary's time and society she would have been shunned and possibly, if Joseph chose to denounce her, she may have been put to death by stoning. Apart from all of that, can you imagine the awesome challenge and privilege of being mother to God's only son? She might have been expected to do as Moses did and ask God to give the job to someone else but instead she says "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.". In Hebrews 11 we read these words: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. So to sum up, we see two things: 1. Persistent, faithful prayer is pleasing to God. We should not give up praying even if we have been praying and waiting for many years. 2. We cannot please God and do what he wants us to do if we don't have faith and trust in him. We must believe that what he says he will also do, and put our confidence and trust in him, stepping out in faith even if what he is asking us to do seems impossible. I wish you all a very merry and blessed Christmas. wo Responses: a Devotional