Allen Jackson - God's Unfolding Plans
It's an honor to be with you today. Our topic is "God's Unfolding Plans". Be certain of this, God is moving in the earth, and he's looking for men and women who will participate with him. I wanna be one of those, and I believe you do as well. That's more than sitting in church or being polite or singing our church songs. It's actually engaging with the purposes of God in the earth. We can do that. Grab your Bible and get a notepad. But most importantly, open your heart.
But I began a topic that I wanna continue with you, and the titles may change a bit, but the spirit of this will not. I wanna spend a while exploring with you this idea of God's unfolding plans in the earth. And what I wanna suggest to you, and I'm gonna assert it repeatedly throughout this series, is that God is moving in the earth. You know, I think the messaging that we hear so frequently from media outlets and your favorite online sources, the things that they can monetize in sharing with you typically is bad news, or it changes with the fabric of culture. And so it feels like we stand beneath this torrential waterfall of horrific things. And there just are not as many places for you here, or you're given insight or understanding into the remarkable way God is watching over his people.
How could you go through the horrors of the holocaust, lose the overwhelming majority of your family, have your property confiscated, and still have joy and hope? It would seem impossible. The messages that we get say you'd have to be filled with anger and bitterness, and you would have to demand all sorts of things. And yet I have been in those gatherings with dozens and dozens and dozens of people for whom that is their story, and they have a joy and a happiness that I'm chasing, trying to keep up with. God's purposes are moving in the earth. And I'm gonna use some familiar narratives, I suspect, to many of us to highlight that and see if we can inform our own journey, because I wanna participate. I do have an agenda, and I'll tell you on the front end I wanna do everything I can to deconstruct the notion that being a Christian means you attend church when it's convenient and you sit politely for a few minutes, and then you go live your life on your terms.
Folks, that isn't Christianity. I'm not opposed to attending church. I do it frequently. But I don't imagine that my presence in this building or even my presence behind this podium or even the fact that I have a shelf full of Bibles is what makes me a Christ follower. Who I am outside the building and when I'm not behind the podium is far more important in my eternity than who I am and for those limited number of minutes. But I wanna start with just a simple idea. The Bible presents to us a premise. The first verse is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".
So the story of this book is that there is a God who is the creator of all things. And the implication, which is most remarkable, is that Almighty Creator God can be known. He doesn't have to remain a mystery. So there's this principle that we're introduced to from the very beginning of the story that there's an almighty, omniscient, all-knowing God. Now, if you will accept that premise, it's then illogical not to get to know him. If there's an all-powerful God and an all-knowing God and he would grant you an audience, why would you not accept it? Because it is a holiday season, I started with Matthew. Matthew chapter 1 and verse 22. It's a statement that is made about the birth narrative of Jesus, and it says: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God with us.'"
The statement that Matthew made in that verse is repeated multiple times just in the Gospel of Matthew, dozens and dozens and dozens of times throughout the broader New Testament. But just in Matthew's Gospel, something is explained or presented and said this was done to fulfill what one of the Hebrew prophets had said would happen hundreds of years earlier. Look at Matthew 2: "And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'" Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with the infant Jesus because Herod was looking to murder him. And Matthew reminds us that that wasn't a surprise in the halls of heaven, that God had said it would happen hundreds of years before Jesus ever drew his first breath in that stable in Bethlehem. Or in Matthew 2:17, "This is what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled".
Again, this idea... it's not subtle, it's not some anecdotal component that you could overlook as a footnote. In the fabric of the story of scripture is this presentation that God knows the outcome. He knows the ending and he knows all the things that are gonna happen between where we are today and that point. And again, the amazing part in that presentation is he would like to know you. The outstanding question is do you care enough to have a relationship with him? At face value you'd think, well, why would anyone decline that? Because you don't walk very far towards that before you come to the recognition that if there is a God and he is both all-powerful and all-knowing, that it would probably be in your best interest to yield to him. I mean, that's a function of logic. But the awkward reality of our existence is we're a race of rebels. We don't like to yield to anybody. I don't even like to yield in traffic.
If there's a sign that says yield, I read that accelerate. 'Cause if I can get to the junction ahead of you, you can yield. I'm changing, but that's still pretty much alive and well within Pastor Allen. And you have your own expressions of rebellion. I have worse than that. We could know God. Well, I wanna take a familiar character. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are the parents of John the Baptist. Zechariah is a priest in first century Israel. And in Luke's Gospel, we're given a little window into Zechariah and Elizabeth. They have no children and they're at a point in their life where if there were going to be children, they should have already arrived. So the conclusion is they're incapable of having children. And Zechariah serves in Jerusalem in the temple on a rotating basis, and it's his turn to serve. And that's where we're gonna step into the story. He has an angelic visitor in the temple. Imagine that.
"And the angel said to him, 'Don't be afraid, Zechariah, your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you're to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he'll be great in the sight of the Lord. He's never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he'll be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.'" That description of not drinking alcohol and not cutting his hair is a description that is given, it's an assignment that is given to a subset of the Jewish people. A sect within the larger group. They're called Nazarites, not Nazarenes. If you come from the village of Nazareth, you're a Nazarene. If you don't drink alcohol and you don't cut your hair, you're a Nazarite.
Can you think of another biblical character that was not supposed to cut his hair? Sampson. So God is giving something of a special designation to John, a special way of yielding his life to the Lord. You know, I love that if you look at creation you know God is the God of infinite creativity. When he made trees, he made an almost unlimited variety of trees. Some of them flower, some of them have needles, some of them have leaves, the leaves turn different colors. It's just amazing to me. When he made flowers, they're of an infinite colors and array of colors and shapes, and they bloom in different places in different times. It's remark, you know, if the government made flowers, they'd be one color and they'd be backordered, except where the officials lived, and then they'd be in a variety of colors and they would always be there. Ooh, I'm sorry, that was... How did I get that far from John wasn't supposed to get a haircut?
Verse 16: "Many of the people of Israel," this is the angel's message now to Zechariah in the privacy of the temple, "Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord". Some of you have small children at home and you think of them in terms of yours. And then there's an appropriateness to that. They're certainly your responsibility. But I think it's worth at least acknowledging someplace in your heart and your awareness that they began with the Lord. He knew them before you did.
The Bible says that God knows us when we're knit together in our mother's womb, and that he has an assignment, a plan for every one of those children. And it's inappropriate and it's not helpful to think of the children as being there for your fulfillment. They bring joy to your life and a blessing to your life, and they enrich your life. They bring a responsibility to your life, and I don't wanna add to that sense of responsibility, but I would remind you that it's the ultimate train and release program, and your fundamental assignment is to prepare them to honor God in this world. Not to be religious nuts. Not to be weird. Being godly does not make you weird. If you're weird, stop blaming God and have the courage to say, "I'm weird".
Let's go a little further in the story. Same book, fact it's the same chapter. Spoiler alert: Zechariah and Elizabeth conceive. And they have a boy. Who knew? And when John... I'm sorry, Zechariah questioned the angel when he gets this message understandably, and when he did, the angel said, "I'm Gabriel and I stand in the presence of God, and because you wouldn't accept the message I brought you, you'll just be silent for a while". So when he came out of his service in the temple, he couldn't talk. And they bring the child to the priest to be circumcised according to the rules of Moses, and John's still mute and it's time to name the child, and they expect him to name him after his father or a family member and there's some debate about it, and John asks for a tablet and he writes, "His name is John".
Zechariah writes, "His name is John," and he can speak again. And so then Zechariah makes a proclamation and in the scripture it's said it's Zechariah's song. And I don't know that he sang it, but I know that it was an exclamation of joy, and I put just a portion of it in your notes. Beginning in verse 76, and he said: "And you, my child," he's speaking to this new baby now; this will grow to be John the Baptist. "You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation to the forgiveness of their sins. And because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace".
And then Luke gives us just a little commentary. He says, "The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel". Well, you read what Zechariah had to say about this infant. It is shaped in a very profound way from what Gabriel had said to him in the privacy of the temple and what Zechariah has learned from scripture. Now, did he know it before he had the visit with Gabriel? I have no way of knowing. But I put a couple of passages from Malachi in your notes because I think they'll help you understand what's happening in Zechariah, and I hope it will help you have a confidence that when you read your Bible, to know that God is still watching over his word, that what he said, he is going to fulfill. But when you're in the midst of that, it's not easily understood. Typically, an invitation from God is disruptive, because it's not yours.
If you get an invitation to a Christmas event or a holiday event or a birthday party or an invitation to anything, it wasn't on your calendar, that's why you were sent an invitation. You had a plan, you had a schedule. You had a purpose. You had allocated time and energy and resources, and someone sends you an invitation. It's an intrusion. Now, if it's someone you like, it's a welcome intrusion. If it's someone you don't like, it's a problem. Now you need an excuse. Or maybe you enjoy just RSVP-ing "No chance". Well, God's invitations in our lives are really not dramatically different than that. We have a plan. We have an outline. We have a schedule. We have a timeline. We've allocated resources and energy and built a calendar, and then we get an invitation. And I'm like, what? Last time I took one of those God invitations, it was really disruptive. There were all sorts of unintended consequences.
Well, I'm intrigued by Zechariah's willingness and the degree to which he embraced what Malachi had said. Look at Malachi 3:1. You have it. This is what the prophet said hundreds of years before Zechariah's birth and certainly before John the Baptist's birth, "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me". That's what Gabriel said! Gabriel's message to Zechariah was informed by what the prophet had said. Why are we surprised by that? That pattern is repeated in the New Testament dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of times. "'Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you will desire, will come,' says the Lord Almighty".
And again, it's not all listed in the text so it's a bit of my opinion, but I believe Zechariah became aware of Malachi's prophecy, either prior to his meeting with Gabriel or afterwards, but it's clear that he came to believe that he and Elizabeth were a part of the unfolding plan of God. They were more than just parents decorating a nursery. And by the time John was born, Zechariah has absorbed the Word of God into his understanding of this inexplicable circumstance, because there is no explanation. It's beyond science. It's clear he's read further in Malachi than what Gabriel said to him. I put the passage in your notes. It's Malachi 4 and 5: "I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers". All of that was embodied in the message that was brought to Zechariah.
Now, I need to ask you a question, because it's germane to whether or not we just stop here, or you might leave your heart and your mind open for a moment. Do you think God is still moving in the earth? And you don't have to answer outwardly because the real answer's probably more deeply within you. Do you really believe God is still fulfilling his Word in the earth? If you do, I would invite you for about just a minute or two more, because there are some things that we can know are still ahead of us. You don't have to be a great biblical scholar.
There's really not a lot of argument no matter where you would be on a theological spectrum about the nature of the general invitation. I believe that Zechariah and Elizabeth provided us with some lessons in following God. I believe the purposes of God are breaking forth in the earth in our generation, and he's looking for men and women who are willing to accept an invitation to be a part of his plan. I know that you've been coached to be saved and then to do what you wanna do. I'm sorry for that. It's a far more robust presentation of the kingdom of God to be invited to serve the King, not some loathsome set of rules, but to be involved in what an almighty, all-knowing God is doing in the earth. That is an honor.
I brought you a prayer. Why don't you stand with me? If you're at home, you can stand with us too. You can read this together. The prayers of God's people are so powerful. If you're not a person who's been a person of prayer, change. Say, "I don't know how". There's a prayer with every session we do. Cobble those together. We got several books of prayers. Find some other prayers. Start to read the Psalms out loud; make them prayers over your life. You'll find your voice. But in the meantime, start to pray the prayers of those that you know have been inspired by the Lord. Let's read this one together:
Almighty God, nothing is hidden from your sight. You know even what lies in darkness. Grant us understanding hearts and eyes which can see beyond the obvious. We are listening. Holy Spirit, direct us towards paths of righteousness for the purposes of our God's kingdom. May Jesus's name be exalted throughout the earth in our generation. Give us the boldness necessary to complete our assignment. In Jesus's name, amen.