Friday, December 15, 2017

ZECHARIAH: THE PRAISE



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember His holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Luke 1:67-80

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

It had been months since he was able to speak, months since he encountered the angel Gabriel in God’s temple while performing his priestly duties in the Holy of Holies. If only he hadn’t doubted God when Gabriel shared that he and Elizabeth were going to have a son. He had to feel ashamed over his lack of faith in a God who He knew could do all things. After all, he was a priest. How could he have questioned whether God could do what He said He was going to do?

These thoughts had to be racing through the mind of Zechariah as he paid the price for his lack of trust in the God who he had served and been so faithful to through the years.

But what was done was done and all Zechariah could do was wait for the opportunity to be obedient to the Lord and show he was ready to be restored to His favor, given a second chance to be righteous in His sight. Zechariah knew how long he would have to wait. Gabriel told him so. And so eight days after his baby boy was born, the time had come for him to be circumcised and named. Everyone thought the boy would be named after his father but Elizabeth quickly made it known that the baby would be named John, a proclamation that Zechariah validated through words he wrote on a writing tablet, words of conformity with what God had told him to do, words that led to him receiving his voice again.

So what was the theme of those first words that Zechariah spoke after being muted for so long?

The scriptures tell us that they were words of praise and as we see in today’s passage, Zechariah had a lot to thank the Lord for. Look again at his words here:

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember His holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.  Luke 1:67-80

Yes, Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, lifted his voice in praise, thanking the Lord for:

1. Coming to His people.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people.”

2. Redeeming His people.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has redeemed them.”

3. Raising up the horn of salvation (the horn was symbolic of power and majesty that would be found in Jesus who was coming to bring salvation to all mankind).

“He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”

4. Showing mercy to His people.

“to show mercy to our ancestors”

5. Remembering His covenant with His people.

“to remember His holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham”

6. Rescuing His people from their enemies.

“to rescue us from the hand of our enemies”

and

7. Enabling His people to serve Him fearlessly in holiness and righteousness for all their days.

“to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

He then turned his praise toward his newborn son and who he would become in the big scheme of God’s plan of salvation for all people. Specifically, Zechariah showed gratitude and appreciation that John would be called a prophet of the Most High as he would come on the scene before Jesus to “prepare the way for Him” and “to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins”. Through John’s work, the people of God who were “living in darkness” would see first-hand the “rising sun” who came from heaven to shine on them and guide their “feet into the path of peace.”

And indeed, John would do just that after he grew up and became strong in spirit, living in the wilderness until he emerged to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah when he wrote:

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”  Isaiah 40:3

Zechariah had endured his quandary, accepted the proposition from Gabriel, and experienced the resolution of his quandary, leading him to a point of praise through the Holy Spirit.

As we go through life, we can find ourselves following the same model and maybe that’s a good thing because we’re reminded how very much alive the Lord is in and around us, never compromising His expectation that we remain obedient to Him and His word, correcting us when we choose sin over righteousness but offering us a path to redemption, a path that leads us to resolve His issues with us. All this is accomplished in the spirit of love and forgiveness while returning us to His favor, an act which leads us back to a place of praise and thanksgiving for all He is, all He has been, and all He is yet to be.

Tomorrow, we’ll see where Zechariah wasn’t the only New Testament figure who worked through the quandary, proposition, resolution, and praise process. Joseph, the man who would marry Mary and become the earthly father of Jesus, would go through it as well.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

ZECHARIAH: THE RESOLUTION



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In Christ, Mark
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Luke 1:57-66

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

For the last two days, we have looked at the story of Zechariah and how he first got himself into a quandary when he doubted God but received a proposition detailing how a day would come when his son would be born and his voice would be restored.

Today, we look at the events that led to the resolution of Zechariah’s punishment and the subsequent restoral of His relationship with God but before we dig in too deep, we need to do a little refresher.

First, you’ll recall that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both very old, well beyond the years that would have allowed them to have children. The way things looked, Zechariah would die with no son to carry on his name and receive his inheritance while Elizabeth would be left with the embarrassment and shame that came along with being a woman who was barren and unable to bear children.

But then something amazing happened. While Zechariah was carrying our his duties as a priest in God’s temple, tending to the sacrifices and the burning of incense at the altar, an angel named Gabriel appeared to share a special message from God, a message of miraculous proportion. Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth were going to have a son and they were to give him the name John and this son would be special, already purposed by God before he was born. We know this because the scriptures tell us so in these verses:

“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for 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 before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:14-17

Now, this should have been enough for Zechariah who the scriptures professed was “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” He should have received God’s word with thanksgiving and trust that God could do all things, even allow his beloved Elizabeth to become pregnant with his son. But Zechariah didn’t do that. Instead, he doubted and it was a critical mistake, one that put him into a quandary for Gabriel went from being God’s messenger to an instrument of His judgment, removing Zechariah’s ability to speak until such a time when his son would be born into the world. This was the proposition that moved Zechariah from quandary toward resolution.

Fast forward ahead now to our scripture passage for today. Elizabeth had carried her baby to term and God’s word tells us that she gave birth to a son. It was a time of joy for Elizabeth and Zechariah. The improbable had not just become probable but a reality as relatives and neighbors all shared in the jubilation of the new parents.

Eight days after the baby’s birth, the time had come in accordance with Jewish law where the baby boy would be circumcised in keeping with the covenant God had made with Abraham many years prior. During that circumcision ceremony, the baby would be named and everyone assumed the boy would bear the name of his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth spoke up and declared that the boy’s name would be John, something that took everyone in attendance by surprise for they were unaware of any relative in the family who carried the name John.

And so they turned their attention toward Zechariah, looking to him to see if he would be in agreement with the words his wife had just spoken. Since he could not speak, they motioned to him with signs to try and communicate with him but to no avail and so Zechariah asked for a writing tablet on which he jotted these simple words:

“His name is John.”

And with that, Zechariah immediately had his speech restored and the scriptures tell us “he began to speak, praising God.”

What a spectacle this had to be for everyone who witnessed it!

First, Zechariah comes out of the temple mute, leaving everyone to speculate what happened when he was inside.

Then, Elizabeth becomes pregnant in her old age and a baby boy is born, healthy as could be. It was nothing short of a miraculous birth from anyone on the outside looking in.

Finally, as soon as Zechariah writes four simple words on a writing table, communicating the name given to his son, his voice is restored and he immediately begins praising the Lord. His quandary had been resolved and it was little wonder afterwards why “all the neighbors were filled with awe” and everyone in the “hill country of Judea” were left “talking about all these things.”

Who wouldn’t after witnessing all that?

So in the end translation here, we have seen the full cycle of events we can experience when we find ourselves in tough situations, whether we are in the midst of God’s consequences or placed in predicaments where we’re not sure what we should do in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Things start with a quandary which is followed with a proposition to help us through that quandary and then finally, God brings a resolution to the matter at hand, a resolution that so very often leaves a person in a spirit of praise.

Tomorrow, we’ll see what that spirit of praise looks like in our final devotion focusing on Zechariah.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

ZECHARIAH: THE PROPOSITION



Can I pray for you in any way?

Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com.
In Christ, Mark
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
** Follow The Christian Walk on Twitter @ThChristianWalk
** Like posts and send friend requests to the author of The Christian Walk, Mark Cummings on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mark.cummings.733?ref=tn_tnmn
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The scriptures. May God bless the reading of His holy word.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “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. And 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 appointed time.”

Luke 1:18-20

This ends today’s reading from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.

In yesterday’s devotion, we examined Zechariah’s encounter with the angel Gabriel while he was performing his priestly duties inside the Holy of Holies. During that encounter, Zechariah learned that his prayers were going to be answered and that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to be blessed with a son even though they were both very old. Zechariah was to name his son John.

If it had ended there, then Zechariah wouldn’t have gotten himself in trouble with the Lord but he decided to open his mouth and question God’s plan by asking if Elizabeth’s conceiving could really happen since both she and he were “well along in years.” That expression of doubt led to a quandary as the angel removed Zechariah’s ability to speak but not without an accompanying proposition. For Zechariah would not be mute forever but only until after his son was born when the time came for him to be named.

This occurrence, getting into a quandary but then receiving a proposition which dictates an end to that dilemma, is not something that should be foreign to any of us. I think we all have experienced it at one time or another.

For me, I can go all the way back to when I was a kid and the times when I tested my parents by the way I behaved. I knew the things I wasn’t supposed to do but yet at times did them anyways. This would lead to some form of discipline, typically being grounded. It might have gone something like this:

My parents would tell me not to do something. I wouldn’t listen and would do it anyways. My parents would find out and would place a penalty on me, such as getting grounded and unable to go out for two weeks. If I was good and obedient over those two weeks, then I would be restored to good favor and my freedom would be restored. And so, my punishment wouldn’t last forever but only until I had paid the prescribed price.

Go back many years before Zechariah and examine the lives of his ancestors, the Old Testament Israelites, and you will find other examples of times when the people got themselves into a quandary with God but knew the hardship wouldn’t last forever.

For example, take the Israelites who had been delivered from the clutches of the Egyptians. They journeyed for forty days through the wilderness under the leadership of Moses, allowing God to guide them to the Promised Land of Canaan. Once there and on the brink of entering the land, the people got cold feet after spies sent to do advance scouting came back with news that there would be challenges ahead in fighting the people who already inhabited the territories. The people failed to trust God’s promise to give them the land and so He sent them back into the wilderness one year for every day they had spent getting there in the first place. The Israelites got themselves into a quandary but it wasn’t without an associated proposition from God for after the forty years, they would be allowed to return and enter the Promised Land, this time under the leadership of Joshua. And as we know through the scriptures, this indeed happened.

Fast forward from that point in Old Testament history and you will find the Israelites in trouble with God again, this time directly violating His command to not worship false gods and idols. The Israelites chose to be unfaithful to God and chase after the gods the pagans worshiped, disrespecting and disregarding Him along the way. And so God, who refuses to be mocked, sent His judgment down on His people which included the destruction of their Canaan homeland and an exile to Babylon which would span seventy years. Such was the quandary of that generation of Israelites. They had abandoned God and so God let them see what it would feel like to be abandoned but the punishment was not without a finishing point. For a proposition was given that the people of Israel would be allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild their homes, lives, and relationship with God after the seventy years had ended. And that’s exactly what happened as the Persians overthrew the Babylonians after which the Persian king allowed the Israelites to return back to Judah and Jerusalem to reclaim their land and rebuild.

You see, God’s word is trying to convey an important message to us today. For whenever we sin and end up in a quandary because of it, God, who still ever loves us and is merciful, provides a proposition that allows us to move from our quandary to a resolution and restoration of our relationship with Him. Yes, we need to be corrected and disciplined for the sins we commit but we experience this punishment from a God who is also compassionate and caring, a God who loved us so much that He desired to make a way for us to escape the most severe quandary we could ever be in, one that we all are in.

For we are all sinners and destined for doom and annihilation as a result. None of us can stand before God and be found innocent enough to deserve His pardon. This is our quandary and without an intercessor, none of us would have hope. So God provided us a proposition, one that would provide us a means to get out of our quandary and back into His favor, not just for the moment but eternally. He did this by sending His only Son, Jesus, to earth to take away the sins of the world. Yes, this precious little baby we are soon to have a birth celebration for would grow up to be brutally crucified and hung on a cross to bear the price for sin that we deserved. His subsequent resurrection three days later, conquering death and the tomb, paved the way for others to follow if they would just place their full faith, belief, and trust in Him as Savior.

In the end translation, Jesus became the ultimate resolution to the quandary of sin upon sinners and that resolution comes as a result of people accepting God’s proposition.

So where do you stand in relation to this today? Are you still mired in your quandary or have you chosen to receive God’s proposition, placing your hope in Jesus as Savior?

The truth of the matter is that there is really no third option. We’re either delivered from our quandary through Jesus, the only way to the Father (John 14:6), or we’re not and destined for destruction.

Do yourself a favor and resolve your relationship with God through Jesus if you haven’t done so already. You’ll never regret escaping your predicament and experiencing His deliverance and salvation.

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

PS: Feel free to leave a comment and please share this with anyone you feel might be blessed by it.

Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com

Amen.

In Christ,

Mark

PS: Feel free to leave a comment and please share this with anyone you feel might be blessed by it.

Send any prayer requests to OurChristianWalk@aol.com