James Merritt - In The Waiting Room
I want you to turn to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, and we're going to study today about two people. We're going to talk about a really old man, and we're going to talk about a really young woman. And, both of them are going to remind us that God always shows up on time, that God always keeps His promises, that God always knows exactly what He is doing. So, if you're one of those people, and you really need this message because you've been in a waiting room for a while, whether a short while or a long while, and you're about ready to give up on God because you're going to see a lot people had 2,000 years ago, I just want you to remember this. Just wait, God is never late. Just wait, God is never late.
So, what do you do when you're in the waiting room of life? What do you do? Three things, watch this, I'm so excited about this message. I've got to tell you, I am. That might have sounded like Donald Trump, didn't it? All right, number one, keep waiting, God is moving. Keep waiting, God is moving. Now, we pick up the story in Luke 1:5. "In the time of Herod, King of Judaea, there was a priest named Zachariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Herod".
Now, had you been reading that 2,000 years ago, when you read these first words, "in the time of Herod, King of Judaea", when you read those words, your heart would have been crushed, because Herod was not a very nice man. As a matter of fact, it would be like saying, in the days of Attila the Hun, or in the days of Adolph Hitler, or in the days of Kim Jong II. He was a very bad man. He was a Roman king that had been installed by Caesar over all of Israel, because you remember, all of Israel is under the dominating rule of the Roman Empire. They are literally being crushed by the boots of the Roman soldiers, and it was a very sad time. The whole landscape was very depressing for the Jewish people.
Well, what was even worse was, God has just gone off the radar screen. God had gone silent. For 400 years, there had been no word from any prophet of God. For 400 years, there had been no miracle from the hands of God. For 400 years, even angels quit showing up. And then in this dark time, Luke introduces us to this precious couple, two pastor's kids, PK's, named Zacharias and Elizabeth. They were an awesome couple. As a matter of fact, this is what Luke writes about them. He says both of them were "righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly".
Now, Luke says, look, they were good people. They were righteous. Even God looked at them and said, you're righteous. They were not just good, they were godly people. They were observing all the laws and decrees, blamelessly. Now, I don't know about you, but you know, it just doesn't get better than righteous and blameless. I mean, if somebody were to say to you, and what do you know about James Merritt? If all you said about me was, boy, he's righteous and blameless, we're good to go! Thank you. Just stop right there. No more now, no more, don't say anything else. I mean, you just don't get better than, well, God says he's righteous. And before the people that watch his life, he is blameless.
So, unlike a lot of their other neighbors, who had kind of given up on God, they still believed God. They still thought God would keep His promise. They held out hope that God was not finished, that God would still send the Messiah. So, they would believe in God for Israel, but they were another story, because we read this next. But they were, this is a bad word. They were childless, because Elizabeth was not able to conceive and they were both very old. See, there was one blot and one blemish on the record of their life, according to the cultural standards of their day, by which they would be judged by their neighbors and their friends. They had no children.
Let me tell you why that was really a sad thing. Ladies, back in first century Israel, if a woman did not have a child, if a woman was not able to conceive, there was this belief that that woman had done something wrong, that that woman had ticked God off, and God had closed her womb up. So, it didn't matter how righteous she may look on the outside, people would look at that woman and they would whisper behind her back. I wonder what she did. I wonder why God's mad at her. I wonder where she messed up. I wonder what bad things she did, because she doesn't have any children. By the way, you notice that Luke says they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive.
Well, I think it takes two! But you see, back in that day, ladies, take a guess. Who do you think always got blamed if you couldn't have a child? Yeah, the woman. She always caught the brunt of it. She always got the blame for it. So, here you've got two people, and on the outside they're devoted. They love God, they're serving in the temple, they're doing what God's called them to do on the outside, but inside, they're sucking air. They're discouraged. They're depressed. They're defeated. They're despondent. And even though they believe God for the Messiah, they don't even believe in God for their own baby. And yet we go on to read that Zachariah didn't give up on God, at least as far as work was concerned. He was fulfilling his priestly duties and in fact, twice a year he had the duty to go into Jerusalem and go into the temple and burn incense, and that's what he's doing when this happened.
Then, I know you don't think that's a big word, but if you ever write in your Bible, you ought to put a big circle around that word. I'm going to show you why. "Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense". Now, I don't want you to miss the significance of this verse. It says, "then". What do you mean, "then"? Well, remember, heaven, as far as the Jewish people had been concerned, had been shut down for 400 years. They felt like God had put a sign on the door that said, Out To Lunch Permanently. No more help for you. And because remember now, there hadn't been a word from God for 400 years. Not a word from God for 400 years. And more and more and more, this is what people were saying, sometime out loud, but sometime in a whisper. God's dead. He's forgotten us. His promise is empty. No need to talk to Him anymore. The dream has died.
And then, to the least likely people, in the least likely place, at the least likely of times, this angel shows up and he makes an announcement that would set off a chain reaction that would change the world forever. Because remember, the last thing anybody expected to happen, especially Zachariah, was for an angel of God to show up and tell him, Zachariah, something is about to happen to you and happen to Elizabeth that you'd already convinced yourself a long time ago was absolutely impossible. Physiologically, it can't happen. Medically, it can't happen. Scientifically, it can't happen. But Zachariah, you're going to learn a lesson. God is not bound by physical principles.
Now, here's the second lesson he learned. It gets better. You keep waiting, because God is moving. You keep working, because God's listening. You keep working, God is listening. Now, let me set this up for you. Elizabeth and Zachariah had been praying for a long time for a child. As a matter of fact, if you read the whole story, Luke goes out of his way to emphasize over and over and over, they are very old. They are well advanced in years. Now, in the Greek language it tells us they were probably somewhere in their mid-90s. Now, think about this. If they were like most couples, they got married when they were teenagers. People got married very, very young back then.
So, let's say they just got married when they were both 15 years of age. Well, if they were both 95 around this time, that means for somewhere between 70 and 80 years they've been praying to God. Here's Zachariah. He's still working and he's still praying. And then the angel said this. Now, watch this. Listen to this. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zachariah. Your prayer". And I want you to listen to these three words. This is so fantastic. "Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to call him John". Now, I want you to listen again to those five words. Listen to them. Your prayer has been heard. Do you know what that literally says in the Greek language? It's even better than that.
What that angel literally said was not, your prayer has been heard. That makes it sound like he had just heard the prayer, just then. He said, your prayer was heard. He said, Zachariah, I just need to tell you something. You know all of those prayers that you've been praying for 70, 80 years? Yeah. God heard every one of them. You count up all the words that you laid before the Lord in those 80 years. God heard every word. Hey, have you ever been where I've been? Have you ever prayed and it just felt like your words were like rubber balls bouncing off concrete walls? Can I just see a hand if you've been there, because I want to know if I've got company. Okay, I'm telling you, there are times in my life I pray, I feel like God's right there. And then there are times in my life I feel like I ought to go, hey, hey! Can you hear me? It just seems like he's a thousand miles away.
Listen to me. When you think you're just throwing a ball against a wall, God is listening. He hears every word. Not a word you say falls to the ground that God doesn't hear. You know, when I was a kid growing up, you've probably heard the old question. There's this age old question, right? If a tree falls in a forest, you know the question, right? And there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Okay, two observations about that. Number one, only stupid people make up questions like that. Now, that's the first thing I just want to tell you. However, here's the easy answer. These answers this. If a tree falls in the forest, it does make a sound, because God hears everything.
So, if there's a God that hears everything, evidently it must make a sound. But what this angel says to Zachariah must have been music to his ears. Listen to what he says. Listen to this. "But the angel said to him, do not be afraid, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before he is born". Parenthesis, I guess an unborn child is a human life after all. Isn't that interesting? Okay, we'll just, that's just an aside. "He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before the Lord and the spirit and power of Elijah that turned the hearts of the parents of their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord".
Now, watch, this is so wonderful! God didn't just answer their prayer. He more than answered their prayer. They just said, can we just have a little boy? Can we just have a Goober or a Gomer? Can we just have just a kid? This angel says, oh, you're going to have a boy. Let me tell you about that boy. He won't even get out of his mother's womb without being filled with the Holy Spirit. He will never know a day in his life that he doesn't have the spirit of God on him. He's going to be the forerunner for the Messiah. And when he stands up to preach, he's going to turn many hearts back to the Lord! Oh yeah, you're going to have a son, and what a son you're going to have. See, Israel had turned their back on God because they thought God had turned his back on them. But God never turns his back on us.
So if you're out there today and you've been doubting God, that's okay, God's still listening. If you're out there today and you're just disbelieving God, that's okay. God's still listening. You're out there today and you say, you know, I just kind of got off the prayer rail a long time ago. That's all right, God is still listening. But let me tell you this, this is kind of a funny part of the story, okay? It really is. I want you to notice how Zachariah responds. Now, this angel from God has come all the way from heaven to tell him he's going to have a child. Now, how does Zachariah respond? Happy New Year? Merry Christmas? Happy days are here again? No, this is what he says.
Now, listen to this. "Now, how can I be sure of this"? Dude, you've got an angel! Help, help me, Rhonda, you've got an angel here, right? Well, how can I be sure of this? Now, watch what he does here. You talk about a blameless husband. He says, "I'm an old man and my wife, she's well along in years". Now, let me think about this. Here's an angel of God telling him he's going to have a baby, and he still doesn't believe him, but even worse... now, notice his reasoning. I'm old. And he says, look, the ground is no longer fertile, the seed is no longer fresh, the farmer's no longer full of energy and yet, you're going to tell me we're going to have a crop! All right, listen to the angel's response.
Now, listen to this. "I am Gabriel. I stand at the presence of God and I've been sent to speak to you to tell you this good news, and now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day that this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come bear", big, big key phrase, "at their appointed time". Now, listen to what he says. He calls a technical on Zachariah. He says, Zachariah, you go to time out. You're not going to be able to speak another word until that little baby is born. You know why? Because, Zachariah, you didn't get it. God doesn't do things at your timetable, He does them at their appointed time.
And you see, God had marked, what this angel was saying was, Zachariah, God had marked this on His calendar before you were even born, before Elizabeth was even born. He had been listening to every prayer, all of those prayers you prayed for 80 years, he heard them. He heard every word, every syllable. And you know what He's been doing since you've been playing? Just like a chessman, He's been moving the pieces around on the board. He's been orchestrating events in your life. He has brought you to the point where you are. He has brought Israel to the point where they are, so He can do what He always planned to do. Now, listen. I'm going to throw something up on the screen. And I may not say anything for another 12 months that's more important for you to hear, and never forget what I'm about to tell you, okay? God does not always do what we want Him to do when we want Him to do it. But when He does what He wants to do when He wants to do it, it is what we would have wanted all along.
Now, that's worth coming in here for nothing. When God does what He wants to do, when He wants to do it, it may not be when we want it or the way we want it, but what we always want, we wanted all along. Now, here's the great news. Are you ready? All of this is just a warm up! This is just a warm up. This is not the main act. Because remember, this baby, John, is not the star of the show. He's just a warm up guy. He's going to be the forerunner for the Messiah that was promised thousands of years ago, and it was God's plan all along. Because God fulfills His plan by keeping His promises, and God's plan for the world then, and the world now, is to keep His promise to send His savior twice. He sent Him once to redeem us. He's already done that. He's going to send Him the second time to rule over us. Always in the plans, always in the work, but it's always in His time.
That's why, unlike a lot of people, I just don't fret and sweat the second coming of Jesus. There are so many people, they're trying to figure out the exact day and they're trying to, you know, untangle all of these prophetic things in the Bible. Can I give you some news that you're not going to do it? Now, I don't fret it and I don't sweat it. You know why? I know exactly when Jesus is going to come back. I really do! At His appointed time. He won't be early, won't be late. He'll be right on time. But now, listen. All of this is just a warm up. Because there's one other person still to be considered in this story that gives us one last thing to remember when we're in the waiting room, okay? You keep watching, God is coming.
Now, watch what happens. Remember the angel, Gabriel, has talked to Zachariah? It was six months now gone by, six months later, and now this conversation takes place, in Verse 26. "In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin placed to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, Greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you". Now, here's Gabriel back again. He'd just been here six months ago, right? So he goes all the way back to heaven, now six months later, here's Gabriel back. Would have loved to have his frequent flier miles. Would have loved them.
Can you imagine Gabriel? I mean, you talk about triple diamond? Double platinum? 24 carat gold elite? First class? I mean, you know, the whole nine yards. Because let me tell you one thing I want you to remember and don't ever forget this, okay? If an angel ever shows up to you and starts talking to you, it's a good day. If he says, by the way, my name is Gabriel, it's going to be a really good day. I mean, a really good day! Right? So, Gabriel comes to this little girl and he says, do I ever have some good news for you. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you've found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son and you're to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever and his kingdom will never end".
Now, watch this. This is unbelievable! This young girl, Mary was probably, maybe 14 years of age, never known a man, going to have a baby. And you think the promise to Zachariah was hard to believe, think about this promise. Here's a teenage virgin girl, maybe 14 years of age. She's illiterate, she can't even sign her own name. She can't probably read anything at all. And she's going to have a baby, but not just any baby. You're going to have the Messiah of the Jewish nation. You're going to have the Savior of the whole world. You're going to have the Lord of the universe. You're going to have the King of all kings, and you're going to have the King of all kingdoms, and He's going to rule over a kingdom that will never end.
Now, keep in mind, remember, there had not been a king in Israel for 600 years and the nation is now under the hobnail boots, that's a good quote. The nation is now under the domination of the most powerful empire in the world, and now this angel comes along and he says to this 14 year old girl, Mary, you're womb is about to become a palace that's going to give birth to the King of every king, and the Lord of every nation, and the Ruler of the entire universe. And what I want you to see is this. This is what I want you to get. From the time that God first lit the sun and hung it in the sky, from the time that God created the first man and the first woman, and from the time that first man and that first woman blew it all and rebelled against God, from that moment, God had a plan.
God had a plan to bring the Messiah of the Jewish people into the world. God had a plan to bring the Savior of the world into the world. God had a plan to get the Lord of the universe to leave His throne and come down to planet earth, and He was going to do it through a virgin teenager. Now, Mary asked a question. That's very normal. And when you ask this question of God, don't ever feel bad, because number one, he can handle any question, but number two, he fully expects you to ask a question like this, okay? Here's the question she asked.
"How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin"? Because Mary is stating the obvious. Because physiologically, we know this can't happen, it's impossible. Gynecologically speaking, this is an impossibility. Medically speaking, this cannot happen. Scientifically speaking, this cannot happen. Even logically speaking, this cannot happen. Now, watch what the angel does. He doesn't give Mary a physiological or a scientific or a medical answer. Instead, he gives her a theological answer. Here's what he says, in Verse 35. "The angel answered, the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God".
Now, let me stop right there. I appreciate the words, Gabriel. I appreciate that. But frankly, from a medical viewpoint, that's not an explanation. And, from a gynecological standpoint, that is not an explanation, and from a physiological and biological standpoint, that is not an explanation. And Gabriel says, oh, I realize that, so can I just give you one more explanation that ought to satisfy every doctor, and every physician, and every scientist, and every gynecologist, and every pediatrician, and every skeptic in the whole world? Yeah, I'd like to hear it. Okay, it's real simple. For nothing will be impossible with God. End of discussion. Nothing will be impossible with God. Let me show you something. That statement is the punchline of this entire story. That statement is really what Christmas is all about.
Every time you look at that little baby in the cradle, you'd better think this. Nothing is impossible with God. That is the theme of the entire Bible. Go all the way back to the Book of Genesis. What do you read? We serve a God, we know a God, we worship a God, we love a God that can take nothing and out of it, create everything. Nothing is impossible with God. I got to thinking. What if they had Christmas music 2,000 years ago like we have today? What if they had radio and what if they had CDs and what if they had, you know, music that you could hear all over? And what if Nat King Cole had been alive 2,000 years ago? So, I got to thinking.
So, how would the lyrics of The Christmas Song have gone 2,000 years ago? Well, I don't know, but I'll kind of give you what I think, and I think it's good. And it's about humility. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight. They know that Jesus is on His way. He's bringing lots of love and grace to save the day. And every mother's child is going to spy, to see if angels really know how to fly. I made that up. And here's what we found out, 2,000 years ago. Angels do know how to fly. And God knows how to keep his promise, and God knows how to do it at just the right time. So you're in the waiting room and it's tough, and I get it and I understand. I just want you to know this. God's always moving. God's always listening. And at the right time, He will show up and He will keep every promise He's ever made.