Allen Jackson - Luke - Part 2
Now, after that birth announcement Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. Canceled culture got her in Nazareth. Great with child before you're married, and the explanation is God did it. I expect that was as difficult to sell in the synagogue in Nazareth as it would be in the church in Middle Tennessee. So Mary leaves Nazareth, it was a little village, probably 1,500 people or less in the time she was there, and she goes south near Jerusalem to visit Aunt Elizabeth.
"And at that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home, and she greeted Elizabeth. And When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? And as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who is believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.'"
Now, the skeptics will read that passage and tell you that it was written after the fact and that Elizabeth words are put in her mouth retrospectively because they have the benefit of time to understand what was happening. Luke presents them to you and to me, asking us to believe that when Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit, the Spirit of God gave her understanding and insight into the child that Mary was carrying. That she understood just as she was pregnant in a most remarkable way, that Mary was pregnant in an even more remarkable way. Elizabeth said that Mary was carrying the Son of God. You have a choice to make when you read your Bible. You have a choice to make whether you'll sit in the seat of the skeptic, and stand apart from it, and look down on it, and act as if somehow you're a little more clever than it is or whether you'll submit yourself to the authority of Scripture and decide to become a believer yourself.
I'm not asking you to check your brain at the door. You'll need your brain to serve the Lord. But if God's purposes are going to break forth in your life, you'll have to learn what it means to be filled with the Spirit as well. Elizabeth, we're told, was filled with the Spirit. She believed Mary was carrying the Messiah. In verse 45 she affirms Mary's faith. You see, when we choose to believe, when we choose to abandon the seat of the skeptic and become believers, we become a strength to others who have faith. It's precisely the place, the struggle we're in right now. We've filled our churches with people sitting in the seat of the skeptic, and we've done theoretical Bible studies, and discussed the circumstances of antiquity as if they had very little relevance for us, as if we have a new moral code or some new heightened or more enlightened morality. Somehow we've branched out beyond he created the male and female, and now we have so many categories you need a thesaurus.
Folks, we're going to have to decide whether we believe the Word of God and what we're going to do with it. Stop lamenting what churches are doing or ministers are doing or denominations are doing, and begin to talk to the Lord, and say, "I want to yield my life to your authority. I want to honor you in my home, in my life, in how I do business, in how I conduct myself. I'd like to honor you, Lord, not according to my standards and my precepts. I want to honor you". You can't imagine how significant it is when you choose to believe and the strength it will bring to other people when you'll affirm them in their belief. Mary has fled a difficult circumstance to come visit Elizabeth, and when she gets there Elizabeth is overjoyed, affirming what's happening in Mary.
Verse 57, "When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son". Who knew? "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", John didn't have much to say yet, "His mother spoke up and said, 'No. He's to be called John.' And they said to her, 'There's no one among your relatives who has that name.' They made signs to the father to find out what he would like to name the child". 'Cause clearly Elizabeth is a little rattled. "And he asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, 'His name is John.' And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God".
Do you think God would cause somebody to be mute? Bible seems to suggest it. I mean, we could call that discipline, but then we'd have to believe that God disciplines his kids. Wow, that's another sermon, isn't it? We wait for that one. We'll do that after Christmas. "And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all 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.'" It's a fascinating, little segment. And I know you've turned the page, but don't just hurry ahead too fast. It won't make me get done more quickly. Hope springs eternal.
Chapter 2, "Then those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world". We know this part 'cause Charlie Brown reads it to us every Christmas. "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David because he belonged to the house and line of David. And he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in cloths, and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn". Safe to say that could have been a stressful evening; long trip, very pregnant, baby is coming, no place to stay. "We'll put him in the manger".
There was a cool breeze in Bethlehem. In verse 8, "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified, and the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David the Savior has been born to you. He's Christ the Lord. And there'll be a sign to you. You'll find a baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger.' And suddenly a great company of the heavenly host," many angels, "appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.' And when the angels had left them, the shepherd said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.'"
Luke can't tell this story without the help of the angels. There is no Jesus's story without the help of the angels. Folks, the purposes of God are not going to be brought forth in our generation without the help of the angels. Can we stop having the seminar on whether or not we believe in angels? The Bible says we entertain angels, and we do it unaware. We don't even have the discernment to recognize them. That if we have the privilege of seeing an angel or hearing an angel or recognizing an angel, it's because God and his grace and mercy has pulled the curtain back to give us spiritual insight. Do you understand how naive it is to imagine that your five senses define reality? That if you can't see it, hear it, taste it, touch it, or smell it it doesn't exist. With that set of tools there's no such thing as a virus 'cause you need an assist to see the virus.
You can see the outcomes of a virus, you can see the impact of a virus, but you can't see the virus. We can play cause and effect and use many things you take for granted on the base of somebody is trustworthy is... That it's a virus, and yet when it comes to your faith we balk, we're hesitant, we're reluctant to invite the power of God into our lives. In Luke's presentation the person and the work of the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the purposes of God. And I would submit to you that the church has no hope of fulfilling the purposes of God apart from the help of the Holy Spirit. Don't begin that discussion with him with limits. Welcome him into your life without any barriers. "I want your presence in my life. I need to hear your voice to recognize your prompts, to understand your direction. I want to cooperate with you".
I'm an advocate for study, and learning, and training, and discipline, and disciplined thoughts, and I'm all in on those things, but at the end of the day I want outcomes more than my intellect. Holy Spirit, help us. We need your help. Verse 21, "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he'd been conceived. When the time of their purification, according to the Law of Moses, had been completed, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord". At 8 days Jewish boys are presented to the priest for circumcision. "And there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout".
Again, these characters that God invites are people who lived a disciplined life for the Lord. What kind of life are we leading? What are we pursuing? Whose approval is it we are after? What's the court we most want to be appealing to? They're very important questions. I hope they're a bit intrusive. And I want to invite you away from this notion that because you said a prayer and you went through some ritual at some point in your past that there was nothing left to think about or nothing left to talk to the Lord about. He was righteous and devout, and he was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. Luke can't help himself. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he'd seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts".
So there's three statements made about Simeon and the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was upon him, the Holy Spirit had revealed something to him about his life and the end of his life, that he wouldn't die until he's seen the Messiah, and on this particular day he's moved by the Spirit into the temple courts. "And when the parents brought in the child, Jesus, to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God". We do baby dedications around here. We'll do another one in a few weeks. There'll be dozens and dozens of babies before you at the front of the church. Can you imagine looking at that, and saying, "Oh, that one is special"?
Well, if it's your grandchild, I get it, but if you're making a random observation you just to picked a fight with every other parent and grandparent in the room. Simeon wasn't prompted because Jesus was a uniquely pretty baby or he was the one that was quiet. Imagine a day when dozens of children are being presented, and Simeon, directed by the Spirit of God, takes Jesus in his arms, recognizes him to be the fulfillment of the prophets. "Sovereign Lord, as you've promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. My eyes have seen your salvation, which you've prepared in the sight of all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for their glory to your people Israel". He's holding a baby, and he said he's going to be a revelation to the whole non-Jewish world. That's bold.
I hope you'll note it's worth reflecting on at your own leisure the significance to the Holy Spirit in the life of Simeon. Now, I want to close this. Every angelic visit we've had in this narrative with Luke has involved not being afraid. There's an anxiety that comes when the curtain is pulled back and you bump into the power of a living God. Almost without exception the angels begin by saying, "Don't be afraid". They're excited. They're giving glory to God. It's like a heavenly party has broken out. The King has come. The redemptive purposes of God have broken into time. The story of humanity is going to change forever. They've known Jesus in the eternal halls of heaven, and now he's stepped into time to a stable in Bethlehem, and the angelic hosts are vibrant with anticipation, but the human beings participating with the purposes of God are frightened.
So the question I want to pose, and we'll do it in just a moment, is what is it we're to fear and what is it we're not to be afraid of? Because we live in a season when fear is stalking our streets. We're afraid to say God created us male and female. We're afraid to say a marriage is between a man and a woman. We're afraid to say parents should be responsible for the education of their children. We're afraid to say we believe censorship is more prevalent than it should be. We're afraid of so many things. We're afraid to tell the truth about our economy. We know it's a sham. I mean, fear stalks our streets. It's a very important question. What is it we should be afraid of, and what do we not have to be afraid of?
Well, I brought you two passages. Isaiah, "The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people". "Don't go with the crowd. Don't follow conventional wisdom. Don't be caught with what's trending in the social media. Have the courage to stand apart," he says. "Do not call a conspiracy everything that these people call a conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you're to regard as holy. He is the one you are to fear. He is the one you are to dread".
Be more concerned with pleasing God than with the people that are displeased with you. Don't count your adversaries or your critics, weigh them. You want to do the things, make the choices that you know to be pleasing to God. And as you grow in the Lord and mature in the Lord, your understanding of what that means will grow and change and emerge as you grow; founded in Scripture, derived from the texts. It's not whimsical. God hasn't changed the Ten Commandments. So if you prefer the New Testament, 1 Peter 3 and verse 13, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good"? It's a rhetorical question, and the answer in Peter's day and our day is, well, there's quite a list. "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed".
Now, I know that's in the Bible, but that's an awkward sentence. If you suffer for doing what's right, and you're blessed. It doesn't feel blessed, feels mistreated, makes me angry. If I paused to let you in traffic and you cut me off and let 12 more cars in, I don't feel blessed. I'm feeling a myriad of things, and blessing is at the end of the list. So I don't want to read that and act like, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense". That's a very grown-up sentence. "If you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be frightened".
Folks, there is turmoil in our world. Lawlessness is exploding. The rule of law is crumbling before our very eyes. Prudence is difficult to find. Truth is stumbled in the streets. Ungodliness and immorality are being celebrated as if they are virtues. Deception and untruthfulness flourish in very powerful places. But those things aren't frightening 'cause God's watching over us. God is watching over us. We don't have to fear what they fear. We can't afford to ignore it because we have to make decisions based upon those things. We'll be asked to respond to that and to be salt and light and we'll be asked to speak the truth, but you don't have to be filled with fear. You don't have to be afraid. Ask the Lord to help you.
See, there's a fear that's an unhealthy fear, and ungodly fear, a demonic fear that's stalking our lives, and you need to recognize its source, and not welcome it in. God will secure our futures. You honor the Lord. You choose the Lord. You stand for the truth. It doesn't mean it won't always be difficult. What did Peter say? He said it's possible that you'll suffer for what is right, and if you do you're blessed for it. You're blessed for it. Doesn't mean when you stand for what's right it always gets easier. Sometimes there's a price to be paid, but there's a response from Almighty God even in those circumstances. I want to close with a prayer. I'd like to pray for deliverance from fear.
You know, fear comes in a lot of packages, but I'd prefer to treat it in a single way that it's a person without a body. It's not some abstract force. Fear is a person. It has all the marks of a personality, it just doesn't have an earth suit, and it comes calling to threaten you, to intimidate you, to bully you, to show you pictures of a dark future, of an uncertain future, of an unacceptable future, to diminish you, to push you into inactivity, to disobedience. Fear will try to convince you that you should take license and step away from what you know to be God-honoring. You have to learn to deal with fear. You have to renounce it.
"In Jesus's name your authority over my life is broken. You have no place here, no right to me, no authority over me through the blood of Jesus. Now, you go". If I left church this morning and there was somebody sitting on the hood of my car and said, "I decided to take this," I would disagree. And depending on how big they were, I would form a response, but I wouldn't yield the vehicle without a bit of a struggle, and that's just a vehicle. Don't give into fear. He's an intruder. He's an intruder. See, I think when the angel said, "Fear not," it wasn't just the present of the presence of the angel that inspires fear, I think it's the magnitude of the God invitation.
If you've never said yes to the Lord around something that invokes anxiety or uncertainty in you, you haven't said the yes to the Lord about very much. God will invite you to places where you know in yourself you can't finish it and that if he doesn't participate with you, you're going to look like the village idiot. I'm not talking about being presumptuous. If your car's out of gas, don't pray for faith, look for a gas station. All right, fear.
Why don't we stand. You can stand with me at home. I'd have asked you to stand as individuals, but the presence of fear in your life would tell you if you stood up and told everybody you were afraid you'd look like a fool, and you'd be afraid to stand. So I'm going to ask you to be honest with the Lord for a moment. And if there's a place in your life that you have yielded to fear, you're afraid your dreams won't come true, you're afraid of fear comes in so many packages, you can be free today. The same Spirit of God that visited Mary in Nazareth, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Simeon, and all our other heroes is present to help us today. That is such good news. That is such good news. Hallelujah. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you for your Word, for its truth and power and authority, I thank you that you love us, that you've called us out of the dark, into the kingdom of your light, and I thank you that greater is the Spirit that is within us than any spirit that's presence in this world. I thank you for your angels that stand in guard around us, that had been dispatched on our behalf and for your purposes in this generation. Lord, give us the discernment to recognize what you're doing and the courage and the willingness to say yes to you, the boldness not to shrink back. Forgive us when we've been timid or afraid or disinterested. Forgive us for our ambivalence. And, Lord, we come this morning in Jesus's name to address the fear in our hearts. It's not a fear you brought; it's an intimidator. It's a threat. It's a presentation apart from the grace and the mercy of the living God. And in Jesus's name, we speak to that spirit, "You go today. Your authority over our lives is broken. You have no place in us, no power over us, no authority over us through the blood of Jesus. With every lie, with every intimidating scenario, with every threat, you stop your lies. You go in Jesus's name". And, Father, I pray that your peace will come, that you'll give us new understanding, new insight, new courage, new boldness. We praise you for it. May Jesus be born in our hearts afresh in the authority, in the triumph of his victory over death. I thank you for it, in Jesus's name. Amen.