Healing for Barrenness
(Elizabeth & Zechariah)
Luke 1:5-25; 57-80
Begin by reading Luke 1:5-25
What emotions come to mind when you think of Christmas?
While we like to think of peace on earth, joy to the world, excited angels, Bethlehem where all is calm-all is bright, anticipation of gifts, Those were not necessarily the emotions of the first Christmas.
And yet the same emotions that were felt then are felt today:
Healing for Hurt of Joseph, Confusion of Mary, the indifference of the innkeeper, the Fear of the Shepherds, the Anger of Herod, the disappointment of the wisemen in Jerusalem, the Sorrow of the Women of Bethlehem.
This month we are going to look at Christmas as the Healing Seasons. This evening, we come to Christmas as a time for the Healing for Barrenness.
When I talk barrenness, I am not limiting myself to infertility. There are many types of barrenness.
At the first Christmas, it was a time of Barrenness
The land and people had been conquered by the Romans and they lived in political, social and spiritual bondage.
The people were impotent to make changes. Occasionally a leader would arise and try to rebel against Rome, but they were inevitably squelched and executed.
Their ruler, Herod the Great was barren in character. The statement, “In the days of Herod, the king of Judea” gives the time of this setting. He was called the great, not because of his morality or his leadership or his courage, but because he built many public works projects in Judea: he remodeled & expanded the temple, but he also had introduced Roman temples into the land and had built idols to Roman gods.
According to the historian Josephus, Herod the Great died about the year 4 B.C., after having reigned for 36 years.
Herod the Great was merely a puppet, a vassal put there by the authority of Rome. He was a man of degeneracy. He could have been a spiritual leader, a model to the people, yet he was everything but that. The land was rife with immorality. He had introduced the Roman games into the life of Israel. Gentile money flooded the country, causing great economic instability and imbalance. He had encouraged a Babylonian immigration into Israel which upset the economy.
When he died, everybody within the nation breathed a sigh of relief for he was unwanted by his family and hated by his people. Thus, the term “in the days of Herod, the King of Judea” refers to one of the darkest periods in Israel’s history.
These were politically barren times in Israel, times of darkness, weariness, injustice, disease, economic desperation.
God had not spoken through a prophet for 400 years
Temple was a barren place. Even the priesthood was corrupt; there was much buying and selling of priestly offices.
Religious leadership was barren
Pharisees had sought to return godliness by legalism.
God’s angel did not appear to the high priest, but to a country priest who was in the city for his annual week rotation of service
And yet in the face of all of this; when righteousness appeared to be a forgotten virtue, God began to work. It is well to remember that often the darkest hour is just before the dawn. In the darkest hours of the Herodian reign, we are introduced to a couple who walked against the trend of the times: a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.
v. 6: “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.”
They were both walking in the same direction, for the same destination, shared the same communion. There is much we could say just here.
Let me stop and mention first of all this fact reflects a decision they once made. This is directed to single people. You are at an impressionable age. Many of you are finding your life’s partner. Make sure they are going in the same direction and enjoy the same salvation. It is disobedience but also the source of infinite heartache for a Christian to marry a non Christian.
For Zechariah & Elizabeth it was a time of Personal Barrenness. They had been unable to bear children throughout their child-bearing years. And now they were long past the age of being able to conceive.
These two unusual people were suffering. Most Jews at this time did not believe in eternal life. Immortality came through their children and heirs; it was through them that one lived on forever. So although righteous, Zachariah and Elizabeth had no children, and were thus suffering the ultimate disappointment and humiliation.
I cannot speak of the emotions of infertility
Loss of interest in usual activities
Depression that doesn’t lift
Strained interpersonal relationships (with partner, family, friends and/or colleagues)
Difficulty thinking of anything other than your infertility
High levels of anxiety
Diminished ability to accomplish tasks
Difficulty with concentration
Change in your appetite or weight or sleep patterns (increase or decrease)
Persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt, or worthlessness
Persistent feelings of bitterness or anger
Women may feel unfeminine and men may feel powerless and unmasculine.
Increased use of drugs or alcohol
I am sure that most, if not all, of these were felt by Zechariah and Elizabeth. It did not mean that they were unfaithful or not cherished by God. It meant that they were human.
But perhaps the most damaging barrenness of all is seen in Zechariah’s Barrenness of vision
He had given up hope.
He is gripped with fear when the angel appears in front of him. If I were confronted with an angel, (the way that angels are described in the Bible) I would be gripped with fear as well.
“Have a child? Prove it…I am an old man and my wife is an old woman.” He lacked the vision. He lacked hope.
And while God did not blame him for his lack of fertility, he did blame him for his lack of hope; his lack of faith.
Zechariah was stricken mute until it came time for the baby to be named, eight days after the birth of John.
Barrenness is an emotion that is known to many people today. While Zechariah and Elizabeth were physically barren, (and I in no way want to minimize the unique pain of that), others feel barren emotionally as well. Giving up hope. Fear of the future. Lack of productivity,
The Wall Street Journal (3-9-07) “The Great Depression,” called America the World’s Saddest Nation
According to a recent study by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School, America may very well be the saddest nation in the world. Researchers found that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder—the highest among 14 major nations polled. Those nations that scored better than the U.S. suffer from ongoing wars and rumors of war (Lebanon), vast unemployment (Mexico), and profound poverty (Nigeria). In his Wall Street Journal article, “The Great Depression,” Bret Stephens argues that perhaps America scores poorly as a nation because its population is generally comfortable and wealthy. Such luxuries allow that much more time for critically picking apart life situations and personal circumstances. Those who live in countries torn apart by varying social and economic issues have less time to fret over personal gain and ambition. They are simply too busy trying to survive.
Intersperse: Luke wanted Theosophilus to see the power of God working in the births of these two men
Ann. of coming of John by Gabriel
Ann. of coming of Jesus by Gabriel
The name is given by Gabriel: John was given a name which means “God is gracious”
The name is given by Gabriel: Jesus was given a name which means “savior”;
Birth to an aged & sterile woman
Birth to a virgin
Zechariah responded in
Mary responded in submission
John was to prepare for the Lord,
Jesus was the Lord would reign forever.
Gabriel declared that the one to Come will come declaring an answer for barrenness
“Filled with HS” –first person to be described as filled with HS “from birth”
This baby boy would be a forerunner, preaching repentance, purifying the hearts of people, creating a desire and expectancy for the gospel of Jesus Christ which would follow.
Turning towards God
God has not forgotten and will work in power
Voice of God will again speak (reflects Malachi’s prophecy)
Mal. 4:5-6: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. ?He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
John the Baptist came declaring an answer for Barrenness:
God will come in his time, not ours
Why God waited 400 years after Malachi, I don’t know. Why God waited until Zech & Eliza were well beyond child-bearing years, I don’t know. Why Mother Teresa had to live out the last 40-years of her life in a spiritual desert, I don’t know. Why God allows barren times to go on and on in our lives, I don’t know. But I DO KNOW That God will come in his time and not ours.
God’s delays are not necessarily His denials. God’s, “Wait” does not necessarily imply, “No.” He may simply be saying, “Not right now.”
So, rather than letting His delays cause doubt, let them cause growth in your life. During the wait, experience to the fullest what trusting Christ really means. Look for what he is trying to expose about you and to you in the barren years.
The summer drought of 2007 allowed scientists and archaeologists in Florida to look through a window into the state’s past and uncover hidden treasures just below the surface of Lake Okeechobee.
Okeechobee is the nation’s second-largest freshwater lake wholly within the continental United States, second only to Lake Michigan. Because of the drought, the lake hit its lowest level on record. In some areas the shoreline receded more than a mile, creating areas of dry lakebed where historical artifacts have been uncovered, with some dating back 500 years or more.
Pottery shards, arrowheads, weaving tools, and pendants now lay on top of the dry ground, providing clues about the Native Americans that lived in the area hundreds of years ago. Evidence of the Florida tourism and fishing industries also lurk nearby, including a fishing trawler from 1904 that probably sank during a hurricane in 1928 and evidence of paddleboats that once ferried tourists around the area.
All these items have rested just beneath the surface of the water for many years. It took a drought to bring them out into the light of day again.
Spiritual droughts are not fun, to say the least. But the trials and moments of doubt that come during personal drought can reveal many things about us and to us.
The power of God is the only answer for barrenness
Barrenness is seldom solved by human effort. Usually we have tried to do what we knew to do before we recognized the barrenness.
If we know what God wants us to do…we need to obey.
But if we have done all that we know God is asking us to do, we simply have rely on him and look for the fruit that he is seeking to bear or what he is trying to expose through this barrenness.
God wants to
Restore that which robs us of dignity.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had lost their dignity. Children were seen as a blessing from the Lord—which they are, but childlessness was seen as a curse, which I would reject as not necessarily a correct corollary.
But their dignity was gone. They had been robbed of their hope. To feel abandoned is the greatest barrenness of all.
One of Loretta’s and my favorite moveis is “August Rush”, a terrific movie about a musical prodigy orphan who is seeking to find his parents. After running away from the orphanage, Evan Tyler falls in with a group of street kids in NYC that is led by Robin Williams who plays a character kind of like Fagan in Oliver Twist, who wants to use Evan’s gift to make himself rich. One of the few times I have ever seen Robin Williams play an evil character.
But when Robin Williams’ character, Wizard, feel himself losing his grip of influence on Even, he seeks to rob Evan of hope: “You are all alone. There is no one looking for you! Your parents are dead.”
To be robbed of hope robs us of dignity.
The angel promised Zachariah that he personally would have joy and gladness and that many would rejoice at the birth of his son. But not all. Eventually this baby grew to manhood and was beheaded for speaking out against the sins of the king. Nevertheless, according to the angel, many were to rejoice at the birth of John the Baptist.
Did many (or any) rejoice at your birth? If nobody rejoiced at or about your birth, then you’ve missed your inheritance. Certainly John was special, but remember what Jesus said about his cousin, John: “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). If you are in the kingdom of God then you are meant to be a greater source of blessing than John.
TALK ABOUT RESTORED DIGNITY!
Give us the restoration of our homes.
More than anything else Zechariah & Elizabeth wanted a child.
The angel says that others will know that John is of God because he will “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” In other words, there will be family reconciliation. I consider that a good test of the presence of the Spirit in any age. If you want to know whether or not you are filled with the Holy Spirit, examine the emotional climate of your family.
Authentic love between family members is one sign of God’s presence. The bad news is that the real you is the person you are at home with your family. You may perform well at church and on the job, but the real test comes in how you treat the people you live with every day. That’s somewhat frightening. But when God’s Spirit is at work, the parents are reconciled to their children, according to the angel’s promise.
Reality, love, openness, and acceptance within the family structure are the proof of an authentic work of the Spirit. The angel promises that through John’s ministry there will be revival and renewal in the home.
God wants to…give us something too good to be true.
Think of the dialogue: The angel tells Zachariah that he and Elizabeth are going to have a son. Zachariah argues that he is an old man. The angel pulls rank. He says, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” In other words, “God sent me. How dare you argue with me?”
Zachariah could not believe the good news, chiefly because of his age. I love the story of the man in his nineties who went to his doctor with knee trouble. The doctor said, “At your age, what do you expect?” “I expect you to fix this knee,” was the reply; “my other knee’s the same age, and it works fine.” Our age can be a barrier, whatever age we are, and we can believe we are restricted because of it. Zachariah’s age was not a factor in his ability to carry out God’s purposes.
If an angel said to you, “Your prayer is heard,” what would it mean for you? What is the “too good to be true” news in your life? You may have given up believing God can bring it about. You may think you’re too old to start something new and exciting. Remember that people in their nineties have written plays and governed nations. Perhaps you have been praying about your loneliness. You are single and well past the age of expecting to marry. I had a wedding invitation recently from somebody well past the accepted age. It said, “Celebrate with me. I have found my true love.” And that message gladdened my heart. Whatever it is that might seem too good to be true for you, remember Zacharias.
A farmer once told me that a watermelon seed is able to reproduce itself two hundred thousand times. That tiny seed draws power from the earth to become a great, green watermelon. In the same sense, God can use a single life—John’s or yours, or mine—to reproduce blessings for countless others.