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Nov 28 2021Advent 1 - How to Deal with Unanswered Prayer and Disappointment

Luke 1: 5 There was a certain priest named Zacharias, and he had a wife…, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8 Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

14 "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb.

16 "And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 "And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." 19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.

20 "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time."

21 And meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple, and he repeatedly [p]made signs to them, and remained speechless. 23 When the days of his priestly service were concluded, he went back home.

24 Now after these days his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and she kept herself [q]in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among people.”

The Birth of John the Baptist

57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

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

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

We are looking at the story of the birth of John the Baptist.

Father, we ask, as we just sang, that You would speak Your truth into our heart s- that our minds would be focused on You and we would be able to hear from You. I ask that You would have a special message for each of us, You know our needs and can meet them. Speak to us deeply.

6 And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

They lived in a time when having children was everything and being barren was one of the worst possible scenarios. We are told, right off the bat – that this is a story of disappointment – a story of long-term disappointment. All of us, at some time, have experienced some form of long-term disappointment. Maybe with ourselves – why do I keep doing this? Or with someone else – why do they keep doing that? Or disappointment with God? At times, all of us will feel disappointment with God, because things don’t always work out the way we think He may have told us they will work out.

Today – we will look at the impact of the long-term disappointment with God – through this lens of Luke 1-2 –

But first – There are some really cool design patterns that come up. If you are unfamiliar with that term – these situations in the New Testament are connected to and a continuation of the Old Testament – obviously – first – Abraham and Sarah. Also, an older couple beyond the time of having children having a son. This is also a connection to Hannah – the mother of Samuel, who was a prophet to David. Elizabeth was the mother of John – the prophet to the Son of David. God’s plan of redemption just flows through history.

Zacharias and Elizabeth are also pictures of Israel – Israel has spent 400 years waiting – in silence – waiting for what had been promised under the oppression of enemies. But this is the starting point of Israel receiving its promise – the blessing they have been waiting for.

Vs. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him.

When you see an angel – this is the standard description of what happens – fear gripped him! He recognized he was in the presence of a divine being! Gabriel! And there are others to whom the angels appear.

The angel, Gabriel here – his response – must be taught this from kindergarten up…

13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

So Zacharias has been praying – How long? A long time.

The question? Was he still praying? Had he given up? We don’t know. It doesn’t say! We all have been in situations where we pray for a long time with no answer – all of us have been in that situation. But what do we do? What is our response?

Sometimes, if we are honest – we stop praying. We just kind of give up.

Sometimes, we keep on praying – but it is just a thing written on our prayer list – and we are doing it out of duty and don’t believe that anything is going to happen.

Other times – we accept – God has a different – hopefully better – plan!

All of us have done that! Maybe He wants to do something else! Maybe He wants to do something else in US! There is something in our expectations that needs to change.

Being in ministry – as an occupation – you have dreams and visions and goals and hopes – and most people don’t receive those! Not what you had hoped for in your early 20s… But what God works on changing is YOU!

Fourth – life goes on, and other things become more important. Maybe there are more important things to focus my prayers on.

Occasionally – We keep praying in faith and God answers! Or doesn’t! Here is something to think about – does our failure to persevere negate the earlier possibility that our prayers would be answered?

Do we think God is up there saying – Welp, you stopped! To bad for you!

I think, when we stand before God – we will get to see the prayers that were answered. And I think – as someone once told Cindy and me – that our prayers may not be answered until we are gone from this earth!

I like the prayers that are answered instantly – you know – the ones where I had the most faith!

16

16 "And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 "And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Turn back.

John’s job – help people to turn back.

We think of the word, REPENT! –

I think we have the definition of repent backwards. It is not a repenting AWAY from something bad – but a REPENTING TOWARD GOD. Yes, you do turn away from sin when you turn toward God. But if we turn away from sin without turning toward God, you will turn back to sin.

If we turn toward God, we move away from our failures – our failings – in doing that.

Jesus told a story – one of the most famous – Luke 15 – the story of the prodigal son – the son had wasted all of his inheritance – and his thoughts go to his father – “All of my father’s servants have plenty to eat – what am I doing here?” and THEN – he turns away from his wayward ways.

Advent is a time of preparing for the coming of the Lord – a TURNING back to the Lord – so it is in one sense, a time of repentance – because we are turning to – our expectations of the Lord’s coming.

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

We are going to look at the questions of Advent over the next 5 weeks of Advent – and one character does not have a question – and that is the point –

The first though, is a question of doubt! You can’t blame him! He has been praying and trying – and they are old –

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years."

There are all kinds of people who ask God questions of doubt. We all have questions of doubt that we would like to ask God – why did this happen? How can I know for certain that things are going to work out?

We can sympathize with Zacharias – and now the angel’s response seems harsh – You’re not going to talk anymore!

As you look back through these questions of doubt – you’ll see that God responds differently each time. Sometimes God, in His grace, accommodates to our doubt – think of Gideon – show me a fleece! Okay, knucklehead – here’s a fleece.

Moses – I can’t speak! Send Aaron! Okay, fine, I’ll send Aaron!

Sometimes God REWARDS THE DOUBT – think of the psalmist. Think of Abraham.

And Sometimes, God rebukes them – like here, with Zacharias.

What matters, is what we do with the question.

How we respond to our doubt and relationship with God is relative to our faith struggle

What we see in the Psalms and Job and Old Testament – God really wants our raw honesty.

Think of how many times – “How long, O Lord…?” – God can handle that! He wants that from us.

The second thing we do – we need to ask ourselves – what are we doubting? We need to discern that WITH God.

Sometimes, what we are doubting is God’s love, care and faithfulness. Sometimes that is the problem.

Sometimes we are doubting God’s word or promises. I’m not convinced God can do this in my life.

Other times, we are doubting what others or the church has told us about God. If you are doubting that – THAT IS A GOOD THING! God wants you to make sure that what somebody or some church told you is what He truly has to say to you!

Paul told them – the Bereans were more noble minded because they took what I said to the scriptures to see if what I said was of God.

There are a lot of folks today who have been told stuff by their church and have found that to not be accurate and are leaving the faith – but what they need to do – ask - What does God actually say about these things! Sometimes the difference between what God says and what we’ve been told God says is huge!

We need to find the source of our doubt.

For Zacharias – it was disappointment. For others – or you – it could be wounds you have received – either from people or perceptibly by God.

Sometimes the source is our need to control things. We doubt because we can’t control a situation.

And then sometimes, our need for security or certainty that become so important to us emotionally – that our faith falls apart.

I listened to this podcast – a theological podcast – while I was doing my last cutting of the grass – and looking back on one – I realized I had no clue what they were talking about. But in this one – talking about young people leaving the church – we have lost the ability, in the church – to say the word, PERHAPS.

Jonathan and his armor bearer… Perhaps, God may give them into our hands. It also means – perhaps, we are going to die!

When the three were thrown into the fiery furnace – “Our God can save us – but if he doesn’t…. perhaps he will save us… But if He doesn’t, we will not bow down and worship.”

Mother Teresa had a Jesuit philosopher visit her in Calcutta. What would you like me to do for you? Pray that I would have clarity! To which she said, No – I will not pray for clarity because that is what you are clinging to – what I will pray is that you will learn to trust and surrender!

Zacharias wants to be certain – God wants him to trust and surrender.

God is bigger than our doubt and can work within our doubt.

Jesus – a man came to him and the disciples could not cast out the demons – do you believe? I believe – help me in my unbelief. God wants to work with us – and as we turn that over to our relationship with others – God wants to work with others and wants to help us as we work with them!

Let’s pray.


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