Listen (12/10/17)

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How do you respond when God asks you to step out in great faith and do something that could change the course of your life?

Last week, we looked at Luke 1:5-25. In this passage, the angel Gabriel appeared to the priest Zechariah as he was serving God in the temple at Jerusalem. Gabriel said his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child who would grow up to announce the arrival of the Messiah.

Zechariah responded by asking, “How can this be since she is old?” Gabriel then rendered Zechariah unable to speak until his son was born.

Within a short period of time, God asked Mary to do something that would change her life. Luke 1:26-38 gives us the details of how it happened. 26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

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[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”

One of the first things we notice is Gabriel responded quite different to Zechariah than he did Mary when they asked basically the same question, “How can this be?” Gabriel made Zechariah mute but he answered Mary’s questions and encouraged her. Why were they treated so different?

There were some major differences between them. Zechariah was an old, educated, seasoned priest who was a mediator between God and humans. He had a history of serving God. Mary was a young, uneducated girl who was no one of importance in her society. Her path wasn’t to serve God as a priest. She wasn’t even eligible to do this since she was female.

A close reading of Luke 1 shows there was also a difference between the way they asked the question. Zechariah wanted proof. Due to his background, he should have known better than to have this attitude. Mary wasn’t seeking proof. She wanted information. How is it possible for a virgin to give birth? These differences are why Gabriel didn’t treat them the same.

God isn’t a distant God. He created us in his image and he interacts with us. From the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, he’s been working through the human race. In Luke 1, he was doing something new by sending the Messiah. But he couldn’t do it alone. He still needed human participation to accomplish his work.

The Messiah had to be human if he was going to redeem humans. This meant he needed a human mother. God asked Mary to do this job and had Gabriel tell her how it was possible. The Holy Spirit plus the power of God plus Mary would produce the long-awaited Savior.

God works in us today. The Holy Spirit plus the power of God plus you and I means we can be productive for God. For instance, think about a glove. By itself, a glove can do nothing of importance. It can’t move or pick-up anything. It only does these things when a hand goes inside of it. The hand is what directs the movement of the glove and allows it to do the things it was created to do.

We’re the same way. It isn’t until the Holy Spirit and the power of God comes into us that we move the way God wants us to move or produce anything for his kingdom.

Sometimes we fight against God when he tries to direct us. Humans are creatures of comfort and habit. When we find something that works for us, we like to keep doing it the same way. The problem is our comfortable habits are usually in opposition to what God wants to do in us.

For example, eating right, exercising and lifting weights makes our bodies healthier. Being healthy is a good thing. We all want our bodies to operate at peak performance. Even though we know this, most people struggle to live this type of lifestyle. Healthy diets don’t contain enough fat and sugar to suit our taste buds. Exercising and lifting weights requires a lot of effort. Sometimes it makes our bodies ache.

It’s much tastier to have a meal of Christmas cookies and cake followed by a nap on the couch. This is comfortable to the body. Unfortunately, this type of lifestyle ultimately makes the body weak and unhealthy.

Our spiritual health requires the same type of effort. We need to be people of prayer, Bible study, discipleship and service if we want to be spiritually healthy. It’s easy to find excuses about why we can’t do these things because we want to do what we want to do. Ignoring God’s will for our spiritual health makes us spiritually weak. This makes it much harder to hear God’s voice when he speaks to us.

Perhaps we need to change directions for a moment and look at the main ways God speaks to us. He usually doesn’t send Gabriel to do it, although that would be a cool thing to see.

The first way God speaks is through the words in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This is why reading the Bible is so important to us. How can God use it to do these things if we never bother to open it? The goal isn’t to see how fast we can read three chapters. The words of God need to become part of our very being. Perhaps we spend a whole week on one passage of scripture. Blasting through it without comprehending what it says is only a waste of time.

God also talks to us through the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:2 says, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” This happens through thoughts that keep coming back into our minds. Sometimes our whole being senses something and we “just know” it’s from God. The Holy Spirit speaks to us when we read the Bible. We much never forget that he will never tell us to do anything which is in opposition to the teachings found in God’s Word.

God also speaks through other people. In Jonah 1:1-2, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” God sends people to challenge, teach and encourage us.

God also gets our attention through life’s circumstances.  The writer of Psalm 119:71 said, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The hard truth is God allows the problems we face in everyday life to direct us and to teach us.

We only hear what God is saying to us when our spirit is open to hearing him when he speaks. If we’re consumed with living for ourselves instead of for God, we’ll tune his voice out.

Listening to God and obeying him doesn’t mean life will be easy. Saying “yes” to God usually makes things more difficult. What happened to Mary after she said “yes” to Gabriel? She was judged for giving birth to a son that wasn’t fathered by her husband. Her family fled to Egypt and became refugees (Matt. 2:13). She had to live with the fact Jesus wasn’t a normal son (Luke 2:41-52). Worst of all, she watched him die a horrible death so he could redeem creation (Matt. 27:32-45).

Yet, because she was willing to listen to God and be obedient, creation received salvation. Two thousand years later, you and I are enjoying the benefits of her faithfulness and courage.

Saying “yes” to God might send great challenges our way too. It also means God will use us to glorify himself and to help others. Two thousand years from now, people might be rejoicing because of our faithfulness today.

God chooses to use us. His kingdom can’t unfold unless people like you and I listen for his voice and then do what he says. When God speaks to you and asks you to do something, how do you respond? With unbelief and doubt like Zachariah…or with faith and excitement like Mary?