Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: Luke 1:5-25; Date: 1 January 2012
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Keys Against Silence
In the Bible, the opening stories about John the Baptist and Jesus are full of wonder. God set up the future – as he is setting up 2012 for us – but he was doing it in partnership with people. This may be hard to believe: No matter how big his plans are, God will not proceed without us. He is bestowing honour on us – (and privilege) – and responsibility by making us his co-labourers. Do you want 2012 to be a good year? Then, listen.
Luke 1:5-25: In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; 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. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 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. 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.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
This is a good encounter. God reveals himself to be good – beyond expectations – beyond human achievement. God would make Zechariah his partner but he would remain the senior partner for an assured outcome. We will enjoy what God is teaching us in this Bible reading.
Zechariah was a man of faith and faithful. He was introduced with these words: “ ... righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Then, Zechariah was a priest – leading the worship of God’s people. At the time of our Bible reading, he was the one man who was allowed in the inner sanctum of God’s temple in Jerusalem. He was offering incense – which represented the prayer of God’s people (Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; 8:3-5) – and – while he was busy with the prayer incense – all of the people remained close and were praying outside. Then, an angel appeared to him with a wonderful announcement – Luke 1:13-17: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; 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. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The angel said to Zechariah: “Your prayer has been heard.” What prayer? At the time, he was offering incense on the altar of incense – which was a once-in-a-lifetime act of prayer – (due to the high number of priests, any priest would do it only once in his life) – in the most important church (the temple of Jerusalem) – in the holy place – enjoying the highest profile – while all the people kept praying outside. Did the angel come to commend him for his superb service as a priest on that day? No! Zechariah’s righteousness and blameless conduct did not go unnoticed and the temple worship was important but – to highlight his goodness – to get all of us away from performance orientation – God chose to answer another prayer – one of low profile, (in fact) long forgotten, a prayer of private pain. (This prayer had been just between him and God.) The angel talked to Zechariah about a son – born to him and his wife – in old age. God – finally – would replace the pain of barrenness with the joy of a child.
Wow. What are we learning here? For so many years – it seemed that God had not listened to Zechariah’s prayers about a son. There had been no response to his pleading – no response to the anguish of his wife – no response to the many attempts of falling pregnant. Yet, God was not uncaring. In his wisdom, the answer came late when Zechariah no longer expected an answer.
Therefore – when God delays the answer to your prayers, do not jump to conclusions. Do not grow bitter. Do not turn your back on God. Do not think that God doesn’t care about you and your personal wants and needs. It’s not always about the church. It’s not always about the nation. You – by yourself – are important to God – what you eat and the clothes you wear and the person you marry and whether you have a child or not. As we will see – Zechariah was confused by the angel – he was not always mature in everything – but – (at his deepest core) – he had remained righteous – blameless before God – which included a soft heart toward God – ongoing devotion and trust.
Be the same. Do not grow bitter. You may give up praying for a particular outcome – as Zechariah had stopped praying for a child – (he and his wife had become old praying the same unanswered prayer) – but know that God has heard your prayer – even the ones that are not prayed in the Holy Place of the temple but in the privacy of your own home – away from everyone. God loves you very much and you can trust him that he is and remains good to you – at all times.
If God had answered Zechariah’s prayer which he prayed at the altar of incense in the temple – the high-profile prayer of a priest functioning in his office – wearing special robes – with people waiting and praying outside – in awe of the service that Zechariah was rendering – then there could have easily been a misunderstanding. Everyone – including us here today – would reason that prayers only get answered when we perform them in the best religious setting available – in the midst of the greatest intensity of public worship. This is not the case. God answered Zechariah’s private prayer – an old prayer – which was not even dignified at times. There was despair and groaning and a struggle to keep on praying with faith and expectation. Yet, this was the prayer that God answered because he is good and what causes him to meet our prayer requests is his goodness – not our performance.
Yes – God responds to faith and passion and righteousness but – most of all – and this is the foundation for everything – (without this foundation there would be no faith, passion and righteousness because these are gifts from God) – God grants us the privilege of prayer because – in his goodness – he has made peace with us through the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed for us – for the forgiveness of our sins.
Hebrews 10:19-22: Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us on the cross [original: through the curtain, that is, his body,] and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
We enter the place of intimacy with God – the Most Holy Place of communion with God – by the blood of Jesus and not by our performance. Apart from his blood, there is no assurance in prayer – in drawing near to him – because our own performance will always be lacking in the sight of God.
Romans 3:22-25a: This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith ...
Everything is based on God’s goodness; therefore God had no problem answering Zechariah’s private prayer which he prayed at home and not in the temple. Trust God with your prayers. In 2012, start praying again – with new confidence and joy.
Another observation – and this one encourages me greatly. Zechariah was a priest with national duties – as we are called to rise up and pray for our city and nation – but – to be honest – (and this is also my own experience) – the down-to-earth personal prayers for our personal needs are often the ones that we pray most fervently and most persistently. Sickness in the family, a new job, money problems, trouble with a spouse or child, tensions among friends, a broken-down car – these are the prayer requests that often make it to the top of the list because these needs are closest to home and we are caught up in them. It would be nice to be more mature and consistently bear a prayer burden for bigger issues but we are not there yet – (at least most of us). Even at the Prayer Watch on Friday nights – we pray more for our own needs here at Living Grace than the national agenda and nations.
Zechariah seemed to have been the same. However, God was still able to work with him. God simply took his private prayer for personal needs and made the answer to his prayer the occasion for a national breakthrough – not only one for Zechariah. Zechariah would receive a son and this child would bring him joy and delight – (God was not overlooking or minimizing his needs and personal request) – but the son would also bring rejoicing to many others – the entire nation. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit (even before his birth) and bring back many people to the Lord their God, thus making ready a people for the coming of Jesus Christ.
God can work with our personal prayers – our small prayers – our small visions – and make them bigger – beyond our expectations – beyond our wildest dreams – because he is good.
When you read the opening two chapters of Luke – the Bible book of Luke – you learn about the conception and birth of both – John the Baptist and Jesus – and – on reflection – picking up on some common features in the two accounts – you also learn how God – in general – is operating on earth – even in 2012. This is exciting. I come back to something that I said in the beginning: God is working in partnership with people. He is making you his co-labourer – (if you are only willing).
God’s intention from the beginning was that his people would be for him a kingdom of priests:
Exodus 19:6: “you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation ... ”
1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Revelation 1:6: “ . has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father ... ”
Revelation 5:9-10: “ ... you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Our calling – (and this includes everyone sitting here) – is to be priests who – in God – have royal authority – the authority of kings. As the last reference said (Revelation 5:9-10) – we are to reign on earth. How? First of all, this involves prayer and this is precisely what the priest Zechariah did in the temple. He prayed in the Holy Place of the temple – while all the other people were waiting for him and praying outside. Zechariah still belonged to the era before Jesus was born but today – ever since Jesus came – the prayer of God’s people has a different kind of order. Now we are all priests in the sense that all of us can enter into the Holy Place of deep intimacy and privilege with God and none of us has to wait outside. On account of Jesus’ death and resurrection – on account of our perfect cleansing from sin through his sacrifice on a cross – we can all draw near to God in prayer – confident of our high calling as his priests – a kingdom of priests.
Cf. Luke 23:44-46: It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
From what we have learned so far – God used the prayer of Zechariah – as imperfect as it may have been – (and all the other prayers of a praying people) – to bring forth the birth of John the Baptist – the forerunner of Jesus. As people prayed, God responded. The same was true for the birth of Jesus himself. Not even Jesus’ birth happened without co-labouring with God in prayer – for years:
Luke 2:25-38: Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Simeon prayed for the “consolation of Israel” until he was an old man but then he saw the baby Jesus. Anna – likewise – had prayed until she was very old – eighty-four in a time before modern medicine. Anna – in fact – never left the temple, worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. As she kept praying – she was a most powerful co-labourer with God which resulted in God responding with the birth of Jesus – the Saviour.
This is what it means to be a “kingdom of priests”. Today there is not only Zechariah, Simeon and Anna – special people – but the entire church – all of God’s people – that have the high calling of co-labouring with God in prayer. And I like how encouraging the Bible is. Anna’s dedication can be a little intimidating – decades in the temple – devoted to constant prayer – fasting all of the time. Yet, Zechariah is more accessible. He was in the Holy Place only once and his prayer that was noticed was the one about having a child. God can work with anything but he wants us to pray.
This is the first key aspect of being a “kingdom of priests” – pray and bring forth the purposes of God in prayer – but there is another aspect which plays an important role in both – the birth and beginning of John the Baptist and Jesus. What else was Zechariah’s job besides praying in the temple? I give you a clue. When Zechariah disbelieved the angel, he was silenced by the angel – Luke 1:20: “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.” Why did the angel take away Zechariah’s power of speech? I am very excited about this because there is more here than meets the eye. The muteness of Zechariah had to do with more than some kind of temporary punishment. This only came to me a few weeks ago.
I let you contemplate the question for a few moments while I make a few more encouraging observations. Zechariah is our kind of priest. He was righteous and blameless but also blundering in so many ways. Think about it. He goes to the temple to meet God. He made special preparations to go into the Holy Place – ritual washings beforehand – acceptable clothing – a dedicated journey from his home in the hill country (Luke 1:39) to Jerusalem. He knew that when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies – of the temple – once a year – only a few steps from the place where he would serve God – he had a rope tied around his ankle because there was always the risk that he might not survive the holy presence of God and the rope would be the only means to retrieve his body. Zechariah knew where he was going and he prepared himself but then was not ready for the angel or his message.
Likewise – we have come to church this morning – a place of worship and meeting God – we have prepared ourselves – but how many of us would be ready for God to move and have an angel come with a message? This was the reaction of Zechariah: “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”
While we can probably understand the shock of seeing an angel of Gabriel’s stature – a glorious creature who is used to standing in the presence of God – we may struggle more with his unbelief.
The other day I watched again Shawn Bolz on God TV (Bethel’s Open Heaven Conference 2010) and listened to one of his testimonies. He was playing a violent video game. He was about six hours into playing when suddenly an angel – in physical form – appeared in his room. He let his fighting man die on the computer screen and looked at the angel. He appeared to be Asian and introduced himself as coming from Korea. Then, the angel proceeded to explain to him what had happened in that nation over the last 50-60 years. Korea had started as a third world nation but then Christians took a hold of the country and now the nation is a leader in technology – computers, agriculture, water agriculture, technologies for sustainable food. The angel explained how God wanted to work through a particular president and was sending Shawn Bolz – a young man – playing a violent computer game – to help him in the upcoming election. It was March and the angel said that Shawn would go to Korea in April. This is what happened and there were specific words for the man in question. (He needed seven brains but he thought that he had only one. Unification between South and North Korea was on God’s agenda. America remained important. There were scandals and he was to pre-empt bad press by admitting to his wrong-doings. This was against Korean culture but necessary. He was to repent to his nation.) Shawn Bolz ended up going to Korea a number of times and even spoke on national television about the man who –in time – was elected to be president. Then, God even used Shawn Bolz to arrange a meeting between this man and George Bush.
Amazing – totally unexpected – begun in the wrong setting of a violent video game – therefore, I would understand any slowness to react and believe God in this context but Zechariah’s experience was different. He should have been prepared for the angel and his message – especially because he knew the message from birth. Any one of God’s people knew the miracle of a barren woman giving birth after the child-bearing years. The story was in the Bible – as prominent as can be. God had promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky – through him all the nations would be blessed – but his wife failed to conceive. Yet – in the end – the miracle happened and Abraham became the ancestor of God’s people – the Jews – and Jesus – through whom we are now all blessed.
Romans 4:16-25: Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
[Cf. Genesis 25 and Rebekah; Genesis 30 and Rachel; Judges 13 and Samson’s mother; 1 Samuel 1 and Hannah.]
In this respect – disbelieving the angel despite a familiar message – Zechariah was not any different from us modern church people who also uphold the Bible but then – many a time – struggle with God repeating some of the same miracles and supernatural work in our own lives. (E.g.: healings, prophetic evangelism, financial provision, encounters with the holiness and power of God, etc.) I find this encouraging. Zechariah’s failings did not disqualify him but served to demonstrate the goodness of God. He will also work with us and through us.
Now – coming back to the question from before – why did the angel silence him? Why did the angel take away Zechariah’s power of speech? Because words of unbelief are highly dangerous – especially when they are spoken in the presence of God. We are a kingdom of priests and this is what Jesus said about our royal power:
Matthew 16:19: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”
The keys to the kingdom of heaven are ours. We determine – co-labour with God – what is going to open and what is going to remain shut in the work of God here on earth. God is taking the initiative. First, there is a binding and loosing in heaven – in the spiritual realm – but then we have the keys to manifest these spiritual advancements here on earth. I rephrase the Bible verse to make this absolutely clear:
Matthew 16:19: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever will have been bound in heaven you bind on earth, and whatever will have been loosed in heaven you loose on earth.”
[Cf. Matthew 18:18-19; John 20:21-23: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”]
God sent the angel Gabriel to communicate what has been bound and loosed in heaven. The time was now right for John to be born – who would be the forerunner of the Jesus – the Saviour. Zechariah’s job – as a royal priest – was now to process the information and exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven by binding and loosing these same realities here on earth.
How was he going to do that? How can we use the keys of God’s kingdom? What are the keys? Words. There is nothing more powerful than the words which we speak in the presence of God – as the Spirit of God is upon us. We bind and loose on earth – according to what has been bound and loosed in heaven – by speaking out on earth what God has prepared in heaven. Jesus explained this principle which operated also in his own life here on earth:
John 5:17-21: “ … My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working … the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does … ”
God the Father showed Jesus everything that he was doing – he showed him whatever he was binding and loosing in heaven – so that Jesus could join in with him and do his bit here on earth – that is: speak with authority, bind and loose with his words – preach the word, speak the healing word, still storms with his word:
John 6:63: “ … The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
You may also consider the following references:
This principle was already operational before Jesus came – Amos 3:7: “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” See also Ezekiel 37:1-10.
Jeremiah 1:9-10: “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’” Cf. Isaiah 6:5-13.
Revelations 19:11-16: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True … on his head are many crowns … his name is the Word of God … Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations … On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Ephesians 6:17: “ … the sword of the Spirit . is the word of God.”
James 1:18: “God chose to give us birth through the word of truth … ”
Understanding now how the keys of the kingdom work – we also understand why Zechariah had to be silenced in the temple. He should have processed the information that was given by the angel and prophesied according to this information, thereby manifesting God’s intentions here on earth. He was to co-labour with God, name his son John and declare the future of his son with power.
However – when he was babbling words of unbelief – he had to be silenced because his words were becoming dangerous – misusing and abusing the keys to the kingdom. This is a most important insight and many people and churches are suffering from not recognizing the danger. You can be a Christian – you can be righteous like Zechariah – you can even pray in the temple – but – at the same time – unless you are silenced – you can be the greatest danger to the future of God’s kingdom here on earth because your words of unbelief can undo God’s good intentions. Your words of criticism and discomfort can curse the good plans of God. [See also the sermon “Is Witchcraft” at www.LivingGraceToowoomba.org/2010/2010IsWitchcraftEdgarMayer.htm.]
Yet, God is good. He sidelined Zechariah for a season but then gave him a second chance. As he named his newborn son John, his mouth was opened and he began exercising the keys to the kingdom – finally speaking and prophesying according to the information that he had received:
Luke 1:64: “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”
Luke 1:67-79: “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them ...And 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 through the forgiveness of their sins, 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.’”
I may add that the keys of God’s kingdom were likewise exercised at Jesus’ birth:
Elizabeth – Luke 1:42-43: “In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? ... ’”
Mary – Luke 1:46-55:
“And Mary said:
My soul glorifies the Lord ... He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble ... He has helped his servant Israel, remembering
to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Zechariah – Luke 1:67-75: “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
The shepherds – Luke 2:17: “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.”
Simeon – Luke 2:28-35: “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”
Anna – Luke 2:38: “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”
This may feel like prophetic overload but it simply underlines the importance of the keys to the kingdom and our role in co-labouring with God. Whatever has been bound in heaven we bind on earth, and whatever has been loosed in heaven we loose on earth. The good news is that Zechariah wasn’t the most practised co-labourer but God worked with him and he ended up enjoying the birth of his son John. In 2012, you will end up enjoying what God has planned for you.
I summarize some of the points that I have made:
1) No matter how big his plans are, God will not proceed without us.
2) God chose to answer Zechariah’s private prayer rather than the high-profile prayer in the temple to highlight his goodness and get us away from performance orientation.
3) Zechariah had grown old and had stopped praying for a child but he had not become bitter towards God. We can trust God at all times.
4) God is granting us the privilege of prayer because he has made peace with us through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, our prayers are based on his goodness and his gift of salvation – not our own performance and worthiness.
5) God can work with us even when personal needs absorb most of our prayer time. God simply took Zechariah’s private prayer for a child and made the answer to his prayer the occasion for a national breakthrough.
6) God had a national agenda but also cared about the joy that a son would bring to his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
7) As a kingdom of priests, we co-labour with God in prayer and prophetic declarations. The birth of both – John and Jesus – was preceded by prayer and followed by prophetic confirmations of their calling.
8) Zechariah was startled by the angel even though he was meeting with God in the temple. Then, Zechariah disbelieved the message even though the miracle of a barren woman giving birth after the child-bearing years was prominent in the Bible. We learn to expect more from God and confirm the Bible.
9) The angel took away Zechariah’s power of speech because words of unbelief – (especially as they were spoken in the Holy Place of intimacy with God) – threatened to undo God’s plans.
10) We co-labour with God. First, there is a binding and loosing in heaven – in the spiritual realm – but then we have the keys to manifest these spiritual advancements here on earth. Jesus said: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever will have been bound in heaven you bind on earth, and whatever will have been loosed in heaven you loose on earth” (Matthew 16:19). We do the binding and loosing with our words.
God has already spoken to us about 2012 (and beyond) through prophetic words among us, the brothers from the Solomon Islands who visited us a few weeks ago and Suzette Hattingh. We know that God has plans for this church but this morning we want to prepare even more for 2012. What is God saying about your own personal needs – whatever seems to get the top of your prayer agenda? Be prepared to hear from him and believe him when he speaks because you are to co-labour with him – praying and then exercising the keys of the kingdom by declaring his word that you have heard – (that is prophesying) – here on earth. You may not feel adequate to the task but neither was Zechariah. Yet, God can work with you and he will. Trust him. Pray and prophesy. You are a kingdom of priests. Amen.