Saturday, October 17, 2009

10/17- Unbelief in the Midst of Faith Lk. 1:18-20

[Zechariah and Gabriel]
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Luke 1:18-20
18 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." 19 The angel said to him, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time."

Calvin abridged: This is about the doubt of Zechariah, and the punishment the Lord inflicted on him for his unbelief. He had prayed that he might have children, and now that it is promised, he distrusts as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith. It might, at first brush appear harsh that God is so offended by his reply. He brings forth his old age as an objection- which Abraham did too (and yet he was commended Rom. 4:19). Mary made a similar objection at her annunciation (“How can this be since I am a virgin?”). But the angel passed over her objection. If words are the only factor, then it might be unfair. But God looks at the action and the heart. Unquestionably, the Lord saw something in Zechariah worse than his words may bear, since God looks at the heart (Heb. 4:13). God distinguished between Sarah’s laugh and Abraham’s question (Gen. 18:12; 17:17) though one apparently doesn’t differ from the other.
We don’t have a right to lay down a law to God which keeps him from the freedom to punish a fault or pardon another. We ought not to hold that God will do no more than what is probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses and confined to an earthly perspective. Zechariah clearly believed he heard the voice of God, but then refused to believe what God said would really happen. Yet Zechariah did not give up on his faith. We need to understand that when God brings us into his favor, he give us many special promises,-- that he will feed us, will deliver us form dangers, will vindicate our reputation, will protect our life; --and so there is a special faith which answers to each promise- and some may waver to these promises. Let us be aware that those who are weak in one area or on an occasion do not entirely depart or fall from the faith, and though the branches may fall in a storm, the root stands firm. We all should keep watch- if someone so eminently holy, who had maintained a strict watchfulness over himself was overtaken by such evil snares. 19- “I am Gabriel”- The angel was indicating that the truth of what he was saying was not based on him , but on God- who sent him with this message. Gabriel was an ambassador from God who gave the promise. Jesus said, “He who despises you despises me; and he that despises me despises the one who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). There is a sense in which those who preach the gospel are not to be despised lest God is despised. Hebrews indicates that the gospel message delivered by people is more significant than the law delivered by angels (Heb. 2:2; 10:29). The obedience of faith is of higher value than all sacrifices, and we should render such obedience to God. 20- “and now you will be silent”- This is appropriate in that faith needs silence to lend an ear to the Word of God. Afterwards we may respond with an amen. God softens his punishment by limiting it to ten months, and still fulfilling his promise. So God deals with us- when our faith is weak, his benefits still flow to us. Sometimes God even grants unbelievers promises, even though they lack faith (eg. Ahaz Isa. 7:12). So Zechariah was chastened and at the same time pardoned.

Thoughts: No one has perfect faith on this side of heaven. Zechariah believed in God and was a holy man. He prayed, but did not believe God would really answer his prayer. Zechariah was confronted with a powerful angel and still did not believe in God’s power to grant him a son in old age. Many say, “If I could only have some sign, I would believe more.” Zechariah had a sign in the form of a powerful angel and still did not believe. God shows that He is not pleased with Zechariah’s unbelief in His power and ability, by making him mute, but he still kept his promise. How many today pray but do not believe in the power of God to answer our prayers. God is still the Creator and sustainer of all things. God sees things the doctors do not. God understands the heavens better than the smartest astronomer. God is able to do more than we think is probable. By restricting God’s power, we are limiting our own faith. In our day, the church has such weak belief. God has muted our influence on society, and the Church’s voice today. Yet God’s purposes will be achieved.

Prayer: Lord, we believe, help our unbelief. Gives us not only eyes to see you, but hearts to believe you.

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