Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grace in the Midst of Reproach

Luke 1 Read it yourself

Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous and walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord, (verse 6).

They lived Godly lives, following the intent of God's law, yet for years, for most of their lives they could not have a child. Having children was a sign of God's blessing in their culture. Children were considered a reward for good and faithful service. In Psalm 127:3 it read that children are a heritage and a gift from the Lord. Yet for years they were shut out from this blessing and gift. People then, like people now, most likely looked on this lack of children and inferred that the opposite of the statement in Psalms is also true, i.e. no children means no reward, which means that Zechariah and Elizabeth must have done something wrong. They must have a 'secret' sin that is keeping God's blessing from them. People are often ungracious to each other. That social reproach weighed heavy on both Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Imagine the emotional pain of Elizabeth, speculate on the gossip and whispers behind her back that occurred. When she turned to face the whisperers picture the pasted on smile on their faces as their thoughts continue to judge her. "Oh hi, how are you?" carrying out the vowels sounds to make the greeting sound more sincere than it is. Elizabeth can see the reproach in their eyes even though their words and smiles say something else. Elizabeth half-believed them, she was of the same culture and probably wondered what she had done to deserve this. Yet she remained faithful and upright in the face of disgrace. When she conceives she alludes to this disgrace in verse 25 "when he looked on me to take way my reproach among people."

Zechariah is diligent and faithful yet while others in his social circle are having children and raising families he is soul-searching and left out of the experience. There is a social pressure that occurs in human relationships. When all of your friends begin to get married and have children, there is an emotional desire to be part of that experience. Singles tend to hang-out with singles, young-marrieds with young-marrieds. When children begin to come, those without are often left off the invitations to children's birthday parties. Unless they are family they are typically not invited. Perhaps out of awkwardness or perhaps out of scorn, regardless of the reason, Zechariah and Elizabeth's barrenness led to isolation and distance from others socially.

He doesn't stand out from the rest, he is in there doing what everyone else is doing and suddenly he is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the temple and burn incense. Consider the thoughts of Zechariah when he is visited by an angel. It must have been shocking and unbelievable to him. Imagine entering a dimly lit room that is 'off-limits' to everyone except yourself. You are supposed to be alone when suddenly you find you are not alone. Being righteous and godly, Zechariah would have approached his duty being mindful of the responsibility and honor that has been placed upon him. He was fully focused on the specific tasks that he was to perform and the order in which he was to perform them. Perhaps he could still hear the voices outside of the people praying, a background level of sound that was a muffled murmuring within the room. As he is standing there he suddenly becomes aware of the presence of another. His heart leapt to his throat and his legs suddenly felt weak. He trembled within and perhaps tottered on the brink of collapse.

The presence said, "Do not be afraid..." it's a bit late for that. Why does God always do that? He engineers circumstances in which you are suddenly engulfed in fear and then says, "Do not be afraid..." If God had given some sort of warning or notification that he was sending an angel, perhaps Zechariah wouldn't be so filled with fear. But God doesn't do that, my guess is that the notification is so extraordinary that we will naturally be afraid. The angel is a messenger, bringing a notification from God about what is going to happen. This is an early warning, it is God's way and he doesn't do it to frighten but because of his grace and love for us. The fear of Zechariah is the result of the fall. It is no different than the fear that fell on Adam and Eve when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden in Genesis 3:8. Fear is a sign of our fallen condition and we cannot rid ourselves from it. The supernatural, by definition, doesn't happen everyday, and we naturally fear that which we don't understand or cannot explain.

God was gracious to this couple in their old age, blessing them, and in so doing, honoring them among those who had previously despised and reproached them. Your focus must remain firmly focused on God and his words. To seek the blessing and praise of fallen people is idolatry. You must live in the grace of God's gaze knowing that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father knowing it, (Matt 10:29). Secondly, be aware that your judgments of other people are based on your fallen sense of righteousness. You can't see their heart, nor do you know the workings of God's grace in their life.

Be gracious and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

All biblical quotations in this post are from
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

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