Great Expectations: Too Good To Be True

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18)

In the first chapter of Luke, we see the angel Gabriel foretelling Zechariah that he and his wife, long barren, will have a son. It is a scene repeated often in Scripture: God intervening in the life of a faithful family to deliver unexpected and seemingly impossible blessings. Sarai… Rebekah…Rachel...Hannah. Seemingly just as repetitive is the disbelief that almost always accompanies such pronouncements. And so it is here: Zechariah, in a direct encounter with a celestial being, cannot put aside his doubt and embrace the joyful news that he has just received.

In this case, the son being promised would turn out to be John the Baptist, a forerunner of Jesus who would tell many of His coming, and whose own arrival was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5. This was no small event, and this pronouncement itself foreshadows a similar angelic visit that will be made to Mary just a few verses later.

Zechariah pays a price for his doubt, however. Gabriel informs him that because of his unbelief, Zechariah will be unable to speak until John’s birth. Imagine the excitement of Elizabeth when she realizes she is somehow pregnant after so many years, and being unable to participate with her. Imagine the guilt, shame, embarrassment, and frustration Zechariah must have felt for nine months!

I’ll ask a question I often ask when studying Scripture: how often do we see ourselves as this person? How often are we Zechariah? How often do we truly trust God for His promises to us? Many times, we don’t even need the hand of an angel to silence us; our excitement and enthusiasm for God is silenced by our own doubt and cynicism. In so doing, we miss out on the grandest opportunity of all: to participate with God in the work He is doing on earth.

Zechariah’s punishment of silence stands in stark contrast with what his promised son represented: a voice crying out, declaring the coming Messiah. As we enter the Advent season and begin our Christmas sermon series, let us together vow not to let doubt - or anything else - keep us from loudly and boldly proclaiming the good news. Christ has come! Emmanuel, God with us - there can be no greater news.  

Sing Too: He Will Fight For You

One of my favorite aspects of the Bible is learning about God (and ourselves) through the genre of stories.  There are so many excellent stories gracing the pages of God’s redemptive Story. One character that has always been a favorite of mine is King Jehoshaphat, the leader over Judah.  Opening to 2 Chronicles 20 we have a front row seat of God at work.

Jehoshaphat hears of a vast army that is coming against them.  A situation that would prompt most to fear and rapid action. But how he responds is so encouraging.  He doesn’t immediately start military strategizing. He doesn’t enlist a draft to get more men ready to fight.  He proclaims a fast for the whole land to seek rescue from the Lord. And the end of his heartfelt prayer to God contains these famous words, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  An expectant and prayerful trust and hope in the Lord.

As he learns of how the enemy will move towards them and where the conflict will occur, Jehoshaphat also learns that the battle is the Lord’s and that the Lord will give them deliverance from their foes.  He is told multiple times to not be afraid or discouraged.

So here we pick up in verse 18 and see the King lead his people into a posture of worship.  They bow to the ground and notice there’s no mention of any music or voice yet. The emphasis is on the message of the song, not so much the melody.  Then in verse 19 the praise follows and they’re not bashful about it. The next morning they go out and Jehoshaphat encourages all the people to have faith in the Lord.  He appoints people to worship the Lord and praise him “for the splendor of his holiness”. To go before the Army and declare joyfully, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”  

So while they sing and praise, the Lord fights for them and their enemies are defeated.  There is utter chaos and they destroyed one another. Then the people of Judah come upon the scene and see the totality of their God at work.  The response to this victory is not self reliance or pride but an assembly in a valley to praise the Lord.

Following this, they return joyfully to Jerusalem.  Their rejoicing over their enemies was fully credited to the Lord.  So they came home in triumph and went to the temple of the Lord armed with not their weapons of war but ones of worship!  Harps, lutes, and trumpets. A joyful noise for sure. Then the fear of God comes on all the countries around and Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace.  God had given them rest on all fronts.

We can learn much from this story!  When we experience the Lord’s favor and working, a response of worship and gratitude is only fitting.  Jehoshaphat is facing a really tough situation and instead of leaning on his own strength and abilities, he looks to God.  And every step of the way his posture, his interacting with his people, his heart towards God; every bit of it is worship! They asked for rescue and their God rescued them.  Too often I find myself facing a challenge and my instinctive response is to widen my stance and try and bear the load myself. Without altering my course and looking to God to work, this always leaves me worn out and depleted.  But I am so thankful for a Savior that gives me cause to rejoice every day and invites me to look to him in all my battles! In the face of trials, may we like Jehoshaphat be quick to turn to God and lead ourselves and those around us into praise.  May we give thanks to the Lord, whose love endures forever!

Sing Too: We Will Sing

We will sing. It amazes me how different we are when it comes to music. What causes one person’s heart to rejoice causes another to shutter. However, the common thread that we all can relate to is that music does something to us. It may be different styles, cadence, rhythms, or genre, but there is likely some type of music that causes your heart to leap.  The reality is that it is hardwired in our DNA to sing.  Now, I am not suggesting that our singing will always sound good to the ear, but we will sing. It may be a hum, a sign, a clap, a leap, a sway or many other forms, but we will sing.  

Singing is an expression of a joyful heart that overflows into some form of rhythmic celebration.  God put that inside of us. From the youngest to the oldest, we sing.  Yet, there is a rebellious side we all possess that has taken what should be joyous and turned it into something dreadful.  This happens when we focus too much on the melody and too little on the message.  Don’t get me wrong! I love a good beat, hook, and rhythmic cadence. Nothing like bobbing to a ferocious beat or cadence. However, we all can think of songs that had a killer beat, but the message was horrible. It wasn’t until we had been singing along for 90 seconds or several minutes until we recognized the lyrical tragedy flowing from our mouth.  We must be intentional in making sure the message is just as beautiful as the melody. At times you may have to choose which one and I believe the melody must take a back seat to the message.  The message we sing is more important than the melody which we sing. 

The first song recorded in the Bible is found in Exodus 15. It is the song of Moses. God had just delivered Israel from the wrath of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. He brought them across the Red Sea on dry ground while using the same path to destroy the Egyptians. After watching God perform this miracle, Moses and the children of Israel began to sing. I am not sure of the melody and my Western experience of music makes it hard to follow the tune of this song. It does not match the poetic syncopations I am used to hearing. However, it does match the prophetic singing I am used to declaring.  This first song is about a Great God that deliverers. It is about a God that can do the impossible and saves those that call out to Him. It is about His might and strength. It is about His power and sufficiency. When it comes to congregational singing, this gives us a template of what it should entail. It should remind us of the Greatness of our God and that all of our hope should rest in Him.  Singing awakens us to our joy found in the Lord. 

This week you will sing.  I pray that some of the songs you sing, will remind you that your God is big and your problems are small against the backdrop of this big God.  May you sing fervently throughout the week so that when Sunday comes and you join with the congregation, your natural response will be to sing loudly unto this Great God.