Dare to Be Different - Elizabeth and Zacharias' Story
Join Nicole and Sharon as they explore living faithfully in a fear-filled world. Elizabeth and Zacharias surely lived in a fear-filled world, and they had personal sadness in their lives as well. Yet they were faithful way back then. May they inspire us to be faithful right now in our own fear-filled world today. Join us for a Christmas chat about faithful living.
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Christmas, a beautiful time of year to remember the gift of Jesus. Come sit for a moment friend, as we share from God’s Word, how to live faithfully in a fear-filled world, just like Mary and Joseph and others did in their own frightening times. This Sweet Selah Moments podcast is brought to you by Sweet Selah Ministries and Word Radio.
Welcome to the Sweet Selah Moments Podcast. Happy December everyone! Sharon and I are going to wrap up season four with three episodes about the first Christmas. Our overall theme is titled: Faithful Living in a Fear-Filled World. Today’s episode, Episode 62, is called: Dare to be Different. We’re going back in time to first century Israel looking at how Jesus, and His relatives handled life in a fear-filled world. Sharon, why this topic at Christmas time?
Well, Nicole, I think it’s easy to think when we’re in the middle of scary times, like we are right now, that our generation is seeing things that are more frightening and more ominous and more scary than ever before in history. And in one sense, that’s good if it makes us long for Christ’s return, which we should do in every generation. But in another sense, it’s not necessarily true that we have it harder than everybody else. If we look through history, we see there’ve been countless scary times, times of turmoil, and unrest, plagues. How about the black death? That was pretty scary. Diseases, wars, famines, slavery abuse. It’s just sadly true that human kind is messed up. And in every single century we get ourselves into all sorts of trouble. (Nicole: It’s true.) Well, Jesus was born into trouble times just like every human is. It’s no different from today. And like today, in some ways his life was okay.
Rome was in charge of everything, which meant there was sort of peace. I mean, peace by conquering sort of a weirdo piece, but the roads were there. The aqueducts were there. They had some kind of a system of taking care of people like we have today. But at the same time, it’s not all fun and games to be living in your own country, but not in charge of it. To have a conquering nation over you. So, researching friend, I asked you to look into that. What was it like living under the thumb of Rome in first century Israel? Tell me about it.
So first we have to remember that no one had heard from God for over 400 years at this point. He had been silent. So that must have been really hard on His people to not be hearing from the prophets and hearing directly from God. And to top it off, they’re now being ruled by a king appointed by Rome, and not by God. King Herod was very liked by Caesar and he worked hard to stay in his good graces and not on being a good ruler to his own people. And the Jewish people were still required to pay taxes and it was devastating on them. The Romans taxed everything. And on top of the Roman taxes, they were still required to pay tithes and did the necessary sacrifices to the local priest. So that also added to their despair and their burden.
So, they’re pretty poor?
They’re extremely poor. I think it kind of took the joy out of going to the temple and doing the sacrifices and paying tithes, because it was still required on top of everything else. It just kind of took away a lot of the joy. Then the census that Mary and Joseph traveled far to partake in was also evidence that the people were under a really oppressive rule. It wasn’t optional. People had to come from near or far, or there would be a penalty Caesar Augustus wanted the whole world to be counted. And this was so that he would be able to tax people with greater accuracy. More taxes! He’s pretty greedy! (Sharon: Good grief.) And all the tax money was largely going to support the lavish lifestyle of the people living in Rome. So that obviously created even more animosity towards the Roman rule, whatever Rome said to do, they had to do it.
You had kind of mentioned it, but the Jewish people were almost exiles in their own land because they weren’t free to live the way that they wanted to live. So it’s really sad. They were living in poverty and hopelessness. And besides the heavy taxes and fear of the new rulers, many different groups arose out from among the Jewish people, themselves with warring ideas on how to deal with this Roman opposition. Riots among them were common, so the Jews were even fighting among themselves. There was no peace in Jerusalem.
It was a rough time.
You know, I can understand the factions even within their faith because it’s really easy in hard times to disagree violently, We’ve seen it in our own time, instead of kindly. Well then, they truly lived in scary times, too. Not to mention the punishments that were doled out. Nowadays you’re imprisoned If you’ve done something wrong and eventually after your appeals run out, you might get the electric chair. Back then it was pretty swift and you were crucified in public, hanging on a cross where everybody was staring at you. So they had that violence on top of everything else
that’s true, they had that too.
So I think we’ve established that we live in scary times, but so did they. In our times we look at our children and our grandchildren and we can easily start to worry about kidnapping and deceptions that will lead them astray. You know, when Ray was in the Persian Gulf war, which was years ago now, and also a scary time in my life, I stuck this awesome quote on my fridge. So then every time I opened the refrigerator, I would read it because I needed it all the time. I was reading, Streams In The Desert, which is a really old fashioned book that – it was just basically collection of quotes that helped this missionary woman, whose husband was crippled, to get through life in a way she hadn’t expected to. She called it, Streams In A Desert. I love the name.
Anyways, this is written by Arthur Summers Roche. And I love it. I’ve memorized it. It says this: “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Isn’t that so true? (Nicole: Yeah). Worry is a thin stream of fear. But if we encourage it, pretty soon you’ve dug a channel, like the Grand Canyon River at the bottom, and every thought becomes consumed with that worry. Worry does no good. So living in scary times, the response is not to get all stressed out about it, Nicole. Just isn’t
And dig that trench. (laughter)
So how do you guard your thoughts against fear? When we live in a world that’s literally trying to scare us daily with potential war and nuclear weapons and disease and chaos everywhere.
We could easily fall into that canyon. (Sharon: Yes. I feel like we could!) Well, I used to try to do it by being over prepared for whatever might possibly happen. But honestly, that made the fear worse because I was depending on myself to keep us safe and anticipate any possible disaster. And it’s exhausting. I can’t keep us safe cause I have no control over that. So now I try to do what you do with bitter thoughts. Every time I’m fearful, I stop and pray and give it to God. Then you’re just not digging that little trench and you’re giving it to God. And I’m also really selective about what I watch for news and what media I take in, because even a few minutes with some of these sources and I’m all in a worry tizzy again.
Yeah, I think that’s wise. Limit, limit, limit all the fear mongers out there that are trying to get you revved up and scared
Yes! On all and every side.
Turning it right away to prayer where it will do some good makes sense. Worrying does no good, praying does good. Well, today we are going to look at two dear people who lived faithful lives right in the midst of terrifying times. I mean, we talked about Romans and crucifixions, but even king Herod was pretty nasty.
He really was even the secular records of him, Sharon, do not paint a pleasant picture. Harrod The Great was very paranoid and ambitious. And he had at least three of his own sons killed and one of his wives, because he believed they were conspiring against him. (Sharon: Oh joy). So even his family wasn’t safe from him.
They were scared of him.
Yeah. So this is why the news of a new king being born, baby Jesus, really unnerved him. He did everything he could to protect his power, even ordering thousands of innocent children to be killed in order to protect his throne. It’s so awful. All boys two and under- gone! Like I can’t even imagine that. And even when Herod was dying, he was so despised at that point and had become so bitter toward the people that he ruled, that he asked his sister to kill a larger group of the Jews after he died, just to spite them. (Sharon: What!), Isn’t that horrible. I guess he locked up a bunch of men from every village in Judea so that this could happen. But thankfully his sister disobeyed him when he died and released the prisoners after. So, even the one good thing he did, he helped to rebuild the temple. But he used a lot of influence from the pagan temples in Rome. I think even that was probably a little bit disconcerting for the Jewish people.
It’s like this isn’t exactly how God said this temple should be built.
Right. It has things worshiping false gods. So he just wasn’t a very pleasant person.
Okay. So against this background with even the king who’s supposedly on the Jewish people’s side against them, we’re going to look at Elizabeth and Zachariah’s story in Luke, chapter one. So let’s go back in time a bit and we’re going to ponder, how did they stay faithful with all these things against them? And we’re also going to look at a time when Zechariah did give way to fear just a tad bit. So would you read the first part of the passage for us?
Sure. Luke 1:1-4. Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.
Most honorable Theophilus: Don’t you want to know what made him honorable? Who was this guy? (Laughing)
I know, He is quite distinguished with this fancy intro.
I love that Luke has said right from the start that what I’m writing is going to be accurate, I’m going to check out the eyewitness accounts, I want a thorough accounting. He’s sort of assuring us saying, I’m a historian here. He was actually a doctor, but he’s acting like a historian. I’m going to be careful with what I write. That’s really cool.
That is cool. That’s so important too. I’m sure Luke realized the massive importance of the stories for all of us in the future. You know, he didn’t want to just go off assumptions or his feelings, but he was very careful to make sure it was a truth and to record the facts and the truths. That’s so nice to see.
Okay. Then we have a careful man writing a well-researched gospel in order to preserve the truth. And he starts with our couple of the day Elizabeth and Zachariah. So I’m going to continue reading verses five through seven. When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. All right. So here they are. Well, Nicole, what would it have been like to be a priest under King Harrod and the Romans?
Yeah, it was hard to find a lot of information on the internet about this. I’m sure some scholars have some great books on it. From what I’ve found, their influence and power over the people directly was undermined by the Roman control. Priests were important. Decision-making figures in the Jewish community before and the people respected them and looked to them for spiritual guidance. But now under King Herod, they were used as political tools and people started to see this and to trust and distrust them. The Romans in some cases even took their priestly robes and wouldn’t let them have them, except for special occasions that Rome had ordained, they wear them kind of like a showpiece sort of thing. They just took away the dignity of it, you know? So it must have been really hard for them to have their sacred callings, so controlled and taken over and defiled really by Rome.
And yet at every turn, even though they’re a conquered people, our Zechariah and Elizabeth, who still obeyed the law, they were still faithful.
Yeah. So despite all of this, the Bible says that they were righteous in God’s eyes and careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They didn’t let what was happening around them stop them from serving and loving God as he had called them to do,
They are doing the right thing, even in the midst of it. Oh, we should learn from that instead of the worry tizzies, How about just doing the right thing? Let’s just do the right thing.
So let’s read more about them. I think I like this couple. So I’m going to read the next section again. So it’s eight through 24. It’s a little bit longer. And it has Zachariah feeling a little fearful. Sharon, If I ever saw an angel like Zachariah does, I think I’d be fearful to
Yeah, count me in on that one.
Speaker 3 (14:01):
All right. Starting in verse eight: One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary. When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
Can we start with Elisabeth? What a sweet response! Oh my goodness. The fact that she called childlessness a disgrace shows us that she really felt that full weight of condemnation given to women who couldn’t bear children in her day. What a nasty thing, like it’s her fault? But you know what? Her thwarted dreams never stopped her from obeying God doing what was right. She lived faithfully anyways. And when she gets pregnant, she’s grateful. (Nicole: I know.) I mean, honestly, some women would be so bitter by this point, they’d be like, really now I’m pregnant when I’m exhausted and tired. And I have to get up in the middle of the night and feed a kid. Because sometimes you can just be grumpy even about blessings. And it came kind of late in her life. She might’ve thought why in the world didn’t I get this baby earlier why right now? I’ll probably barely see him grow up, but no, she’s like, oh God was kind to me. Kind! she just rejoiced. I love her. She received it.
She’s such an inspiration. I do not think I would have been so kind. I think I would’ve been more on the: “now I’m so old to have to get up.” Clearly Elizabeth was leaning on God all those years and walking with Him. So her response, we see her faithfulness.
Yeah. You kind of see who a person really is under extreme circumstances and all she could think was God’s kind. Now, back to Zechariah, his punishment of not being able to speak because he didn’t believe the angel kind of puzzles me. It seemed like a simple question, but why do you think he was being disciplined in this way? Because it sounded like a discipline.
It did, doesn’t it? I don’t know. I wonder if, because what was coming up would require so much faith, you know, having a son so much older and raising the man to make the way for the Lord, like that’s a big thing. Maybe it was a lesson in how important this was? So not to doubt or question, or maybe it was his heart that wasn’t in the right place to receive this miracle. And God wanted him to have time to ponder it before he spoke out of a heart of disbelief.
that’s true! But whatever the reason, Zechariah gets a long and quiet time to ponder the miracle God gave him and the stunning meeting he had with Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God. His faith must have grown by leaps and bounds and his humility right along with it. Right? I get to read the part where we see what the discipline of silence yields for Zechariah and you know what? Silence is good. And too often we fill our lives with noise, noise, noise all the time. We are not quiet when we need to be. I can remember when we first got married, I came from a noisy household. Four kids. Talked over each other all the time. Right? Ray, not so much. I’m also a morning person. Ray, definitely not so much. So I’d wake up in the morning and want to talk to him right away with all my words. And Ray would be like, please don’t talk to me. And so we’ve established in our home, sort of an hour of silence in the morning. (Nicole: oh, nice!) So I bring him his coffee. We’re quiet. We do our quiet times. And even when company comes, we say: “we have a silent hour in the morning”. Isn’t that cool?
That’s wonderful! I’m going to try that with Clara. We’ll see if that works. She may not respect that hour of quiet. She wakes up like you. (Laughing)
She wakes up like me, and you’re like: Wow. I haven’t had coffee yet, please stop. And we do this in Sweet Selah too. Whenever I do a retreat, I’m always saying we’re going to have a discipline of silence an hour to be still. Because when we’re still God who speaks in a whisper sometimes can be heard. And Zechariah had nine full months of quiet. And through that, I think he was, you’re right, I think he was more capable. Anyways, I’m going to read verses 57 to 66. We’re skipping over Jesus’s mother Mary’s visit Elizabeth while Elizabeth was still pregnant. We’re going to look at that later.
So Verse 57: When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.
Isn’t that cool? It just makes me realize everybody was watching John from birth. So when he did prepare the way of the Lord, they’re like, oh, this is why he came. You know? Cause, they were famous!
oh right! They were like, what will this child turn out to be?
I know! I never saw that before. That’s so cool.
That is neat.
I also love that the very first words that come out of Zechariah’s mouth when he could speak again were praise.
I know, not like, *Woosh* I can speak
I know it!
No, I think he definitely learned from that period of silence to give glory to God for his son. And we kind of see why the whole neighborhood heard of this news and I think it kind of made it more significant or out of the ordinary for a father not to speak then suddenly to speak. So maybe that helped turn eyes onto little John to watch him.
Yeah, but he was kind of famous from birth. So that was kind of cool!
I love that both Elizabeth and Zechariah held out for that name, John, that the angel had given them. They dared to be different. They said, we’re not going to follow tradition. They named their baby something outside the ordinary. So what are some other ways this quiet couple were different from their culture, Nicole?
Well, like you just mentioned, the name thing was a big deal, Sharon. It was custom to name their children after a male relative. So even if that was shocking to everyone else, they didn’t worry about that. They obeyed God’s command to name him, John. And then they obeyed the command to circumcise him on the eighth day. So they were being faithful to their Jewish religion, despite being in a defeated country. Also faithful, despite feeling that God has seemed to ignore their prayers for a child for so long. (Sharon: Right, right) And also just being a priest Zachariah apart a bit. But despite everything they were faithful and being faithful is actually daring to be different.
It is! it is. Consistent faithfulness is … strange.
I love this couple’s faithfulness, no matter what, just simply living out their lives in obedience to the Lord, even when things didn’t go their way. I’ve got to remember that when things don’t go my way.
They’re great examples.
Yes, indeed. Well, let’s finish this wonderful story by reading back and forth this time first Elisabeth’s praises because they’re full of praise when Mary arrives and then John’s still in her womb leaping for joy. So even unborn, John gets on the praise wagon.
I love that part. That’s so cool.
And then Zechariah praises in his poetic prophecy. This man left all cynicism behind declared God’s truths. Boldly. May we be so bold in our own faith? Huh? Nicole, why don’t you start with verse 39 of Luke chapter one.
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town
where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.
At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.
Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?
When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.
You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.
And now we’re going to skip to verse 67. Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David
just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant
the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.
“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.
Oh, Zechariah, isn’t it just beautiful. The joy that’s just oozing out of this man at this point.
I love when he talks about his little son; “you, my little son,” that’s so precious.
Isn’t it? They loved him. They did.
They were prepared to be the parents of John because they endured years living kind of in obscurity in a hard place, without a baby of their own, still doing it all right. And not getting the child they wanted. And yet all of that was part of God’s plan so that when John was born, he’d be seen as unique. And so that they, in their old age, after having been faithful and daring to be different and not whine and complain, would be more capable of raising John the way he needed to be raised. It’s amazing!
And I wonder if, I don’t know how long they lived through John’s adult years, but his adult life was also filled with strife and imprisonment and eventually beheading. So for them to have to live through their son’s rather bizarre grown-up life. In the desert with locusts, it must have been difficult for them even as he was grown up. If they were still around. So Learning to be faithful and waiting for him and leaning on God probably carried them through his later years as well.
Yes it did. And also they’re daring to be different ends up with John daring to be different as well. John was really different, that’s a whole other story (Laughing). So one of our life lessons here to live faithfully in a fearful world is simply to be faithful doing the dailies, right. Just do the daily stuff. And then who knows God might swoop down and give us a surprise baby in our sixties. (Laughing) Oh my word wouldn’t that be strange! Or something else. But you know, God’s never done with us. And I love that in my sixties, myself, knowing that he might still have a few adventures left for me. Well let’s pray: Father God, I thank you so, so much for this story of a quiet couple who faithfully followed you in hard times. We are so, so grateful. Lord help us in these fear-filled times to be faithful followers of you no matter what. In Jesus name, Amen.
Amen. Thanks for listening friends. Let’s dare to be different and live faithful lives no matter how fearful the world around us looks. Do come back next week for Episode 63 in our Faithful Living In A Fear-Filled World series, we’ve called it, Dare To Obey – Joseph’s Story.
We are so glad you stopped for a while with us. This Sweet Selah Moments podcast is a co-operative production of Word Radio and Sweet Selah Ministries. More information about this podcast can be found at sweetselah.org. Thank you for joining us.
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