Hope in the Waiting
This is the next sermon in our current series, “Do You See What I See”
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So, many of us know about famous bible characters like Noah, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Abraham, Daniel, and Esther. And if you’ve read my sermons for a while you’ll likely also know about some of the more obscure characters like Shamgar and Obed-Edom. But now I want to talk about two Bible characters – one who was famous and one who was obscure – and go deep with their story. I’m talking about Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Scripture says that Zechariah was a descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and that he was a priest who served during the reign of Herod. Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron, and the Bible says that they were godly, devout, and righteous in the sight of God. Both of them were from Godly families. Elizabeth was the daughter of priest, so she was a “PK,” a pastor’s kid. Their heritage and legacy was obedience to God and trust in Him and His promises.
When the bible begins their story, they are both old and childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, although they had prayed for children. At that point in history you got married, and you had a baby very soon after that. They took God at His word when he said to “be fruitful and multiply”.
It was a noble responsibility to have children, especially for a priest. And they watched as the people around them had children and established households and continued legacies…So, for Elizabeth and Zechariah to be in their old age and be childless must have been incredibly difficult. Most people feel defined by what they have, but Elizabeth and Zachariah probably felt defined by what they didn’t have. Have you perhaps felt that way before?
Many of you have been in a season of waiting or you are in one right now. The reality though, is that even though the waiting may be hard, it never leads to disappointment. And the truth of that statement rests entirely on what we think we are waiting for. In other words, the question isn’t simply what am I waiting for, but what am I hoping in? Waiting and hope are intimately tied together. Waiting and hoping are wound together like the strands of a rope. Waiting, by definition, has something desired at the end of the wait. We are waiting or hoping for the right job. We are waiting or hoping for a good report, relief, or a child. But what if those things aren’t given – at least in or timeframe? God never promises that our seasons of waiting will end by receiving exactly what we want or when we want it. So, what do we do in the meantime and what does “obedience in the wait” look like?
Let me ask you something that maybe you can identify with. Isn’t the wait sometimes made harder by the people who seem to be experts on the thing that you’re waiting for. No matter what, that always seems to happen there’s always that one person who has that one fix to what you’re waiting for. “Wait no more, I am here to tell you exactly what to do in order to get what you need and only I have the secret because I am the expert.”
“So say you’re waiting on a job..Have you tried that website that literally everyone in the world knows about?”
“Yes, 15 times. Thanks for the advice.”
“Oh, you’re waiting for your wayward child to come home? Have you tried praying?”
“Oh, no, that never occurred to me. Thank you.”
“Oh, you’re waiting for a baby. Have you tried not worrying? It ALWAYS happens when you stop worrying. It’s just your stress.”
So, if you want to be helpful, above all, STOP TALKING.
Sometimes the waiting can be made harder by people who aren’t joining in the waiting with you but just observing your waiting. It makes me want to just say, “I’m just gonna be over here waiting by myself. See ya.”
I’m not saying advice and counsel is evil. I’m just saying as an encouragement if you have a friend who is in the middle of waiting they probably don’t need your advice as much as they just need your presence. They probably don’t need you to push them further along, they likely just need you to hold them close. I can imagine that’s what Elizabeth and Zechariah needed. And don’t think that this is just about Elizabeth.
It says in scripture that they lived in the hill country and this isn’t in the bible but I have to believe that the reason they moved into the hills was to get away and escape the comments and the looks and the advice.
At that time barrenness, the inability to have a child, was by some considered divine disfavor, that you were somewhere disgraced or being punished for sin in your life but we know that is not true because the bible says that Elizabeth was devout and righteous in the eyes of God. And most people also believed that it was also legal grounds for divorce for a priest.
And I can just imagine the people around Zechariah telling him to leave Elizabeth. People who come as friends, but speak out of the mouth of self-pity, and resentment…whispering lies into his ears.
But what I love about Zechariah is that he did not see Elizabeth’s barrenness as an invitation to abandon her. He saw it as an opportunity to trust that God’s promises do not change and that what looked like a contradiction to those promises were an opportunity put his faith in his Father and lean in to his marriage.
How do I know this? Because the bible tells me so.
In Luke 1:11-13
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.
Men in the room, can I encourage you for one second? What if the thing your family is waiting on is just waiting on your prayer? Because that is what was true for Zechariah. In this situation God did not come to her, he came to her husband and said, “your prayer has been heard.”
Zechariah did not see their difficult situation as an opportunity to get out of the marriage but as an opportunity to commit to prayer and to commit to praying for his wife. I believe there are men in this room who are meant to be prayer warriors and not just for their families but for this church.
And maybe the thing that God is getting you to see is that today, if an angel were to show up in your car, on the way home or in your house or your backyard, and appear to you…right after you peed yourself…if that angel said, “Your prayer has been heard”…what would come after that sentence. Would it be anything?
Our prayer is powerful. And so often we forget that. We will only remember the power of our prayers when we stop clinging to the problems and to our confusion and questions and start clinging to the One who can give us the answers. And we see that proved true for Elizabeth and Zechariah. We see the fruit of their prayer and commitment to the Lord and to each other play out in their day-to-day lives.
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 favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” And that’s it. Their wait was over. Their faith resulted in prayer and commitment which God heard and answered so they would have their happy ending.
Woohoo! Roll the credits! Some of you are genuinely happy for them. And some of you comment with some sarcasm, “Well, isn’t that just great for them.” Am I right? Some of you are annoyed at the fulfillment of their promise because you’re not there yet. “That’s great for you, but I’m still waiting here. And I haven’t given up praying. I haven’t given up asking, but that question still remains in the back of my mind, ‘God, do you see what I see’ because I don’t yet have my happy ending.” So what should I do with this story.”
And that is why the Bible is so good because their story doesn’t end there either…and what I want to point you to is the whole point of the Christmas season. What we’re about to see is the first appearance of Jesus Christ on earth in utero with the most famous mom in the world and her interaction with Elizabeth.
Every time I read this, it literally gets me excited because of how awesome this is. And you guys have seen me when I “get going”…right? It’s sort of an awkward combo of white girl praise-dancing mixed with mom shoulders…I’m going to try to keep that under control right now, but when the truth hits you there is nothing you can do but rejoice. So, I hope that the Holy Spirit reveals this to you like he did to me. Let’s read this together.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
I want to unpack this for you. Elizabeth was the daughter of a Priest, right? She was a PK. So, her whole life would have been filled with stories and truths of God and the coming of a Messiah. Her whole life everyone around her would have been praying for the Messiah to come and encouraging her to pray for the Messiah to come and she would have been encouraging others to pray that same thing. Thousands of years, from Genesis to Malakai, it says “a savior is coming, the Messiah is coming, He is on the way…”
And here she is, advanced in years, a baby in her womb who, as if he knows the promises of scripture, jumps inside her stomach like, “MOM! Its him! I know you’ve been waiting and begging for a baby but I’m not even the one we’ve all been waiting for.”
“All of time and creation from the fall in the garden through every moment since has been pointing to this moment here, and mom I can’t even believe it, he’s here! Do you see what I see?!”
And I love how little leaping John keeps this posture his entire life. We see that he continues to point to Jesus as he grows up, because little baby John in Elizabeth’s stomach grows up to be John the Baptist. From womb to wilderness John was pointing to the promise of Jesus.
Look at this:
John 1:29-30 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” What he is saying is the man for whom I am preparing the way has already surpassed me because he has been and will be from eternity to eternity.
Even from the time John was in the womb he has been telling us “what you’re waiting for isn’t the promise, but rather the pathway to the promise.” Is this still not the lesson we are trying to learn even today? Do you ever wonder why life sometimes feels like just one big long wait? …we’re waiting for the spouse, then we get the spouse and we’re waiting for the kids, then we get the kids and we’re waiting for some quiet.
We finally graduate. First, we’re waiting for the job, then we’re waiting for the raise, then we’re waiting to retire…
We’re waiting for the healing, and it doesn’t come, or if it does come we’re waiting for an explanation…
We’re waiting for peace, we’re waiting for answers, we’re waiting for time to pass to lessen our grief…
If it feels like life is just one big wait, it’s because that’s exactly what life is. But it’s not a wait for what you think you’re waiting for. Like Elizabeth, for all those years, what she was truly waiting for was the appearance of Christ. All we are waiting for is the appearance of Christ…once again. Think about it. That’s why life feels like one big wait because we are waiting to see Jesus again. The book of Romans says that all of creation is groaning, waiting for the return of Christ.
So often our waiting sounds like, “Ughh, when in this going to be overrrr?”
“God how long is this going to take?” We reach out to each other and ask for prayer, we lean on each other when we can’t see the end of this season.
But those prayers, these moments together as a church are vital. It is WHY we have church. As it says in Hebrews 10, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…and all the more as you see — the — Day — approaching.”
What day are they talking about? What day is approaching? What day are we waiting for? The day that our waiting will be over will be the day that the clouds finally part, the trumpet finally blasts, Jesus finally descends, and then whatever you’re waiting for will be standing next to you, leaping for joy in the presence of the One you’ve actually been waiting for.
What you’re waiting for isn’t the promise, but rather the pathway to the promise. And I can begin to live that way today because Jesus said, “Hey, take heart. For I am coming again. And what you’re waiting for will not be in vain because in 2 Corinthians it says that every single one of God’s promises finds its ‘yes’ in Me.”
1 Peter says to set your hope fully on the grace that will be given to you upon the appearance of Christ. And listen, I know that so much of our waiting involves pain and I’m not diminishing that pain, I’m just saying that even your pain is a pathway to a deeper longing of what we all really need, what we all really want to see…
the return of Christ, the presence of Jesus. For the one who is coming is greater than everything you’re waiting for and when he finally returns, all of your waiting will not be in vain. I know that there is going to be hatred towards this message because the 2016 version of Jen would want to punch 2019 Jen in the face.
During that season of my life I struggled to accept that anyone who would have pointed me in this direction would be able to actually understand the pain of what I was going through. In 2016 I was in what I call my tunnel season…as in, no light at the end of the… It is easiest to wait when you know how long the wait is going to be, but it is much harder when that tunnel seems to stretch on forever and the wait could be over tomorrow, or it could be over next year, or 20 years from now, or…never.
Among some other circumstances, I had also lost my voice. Totally gone. For months. I spent months leading Grace Chapel’s worship with my hands, and there were some Sundays that – I’ll be honest – I really struggled. I desperately wanted the church to see God. There was one Sunday when I left the stage thinking “why do I care so much if they see God, when I feel like God doesn’t even see me?” My silence made me feel invisible. There even was a moment when I just broke and it made me doubt my entire life’s calling.
All the lies that are usually kept out of my mind by these holy barricades that I put up to protect myself just flooded in all at once. Plus, when you’re silenced you’re always listening. And when that quiet lasts longer than normal you become hyper aware of what you’re listening to. And at that moment I could only hear the lies.
I think most people have been at a place in their lives when they get so heart-broken that they stop caring. You have the attitude that “that’s right people, look at me, I don’t care. I am mad because God is not doing what I want him to do fast enough.” “I am mad because he has not fulfilled my timeline, which means that he has not fulfilled his promises to me.
Whoa….When I say it out-loud like that it sounds immature or indignant.. I did not suggest that never anything that you would say. But it doesn’t sound so wrong in your head. When you invite resentment and self-pity over for coffee and ask them what they think it doesn’t sound so wrong.
“He promised you all these things, and then he just left you here. With what? He doesn’t even care what happens to you. He doesn’t even know what’s going on with you. You think you’re so much better off trusting him, well where has that gotten you? Hmm? You probably did this to yourself.”
Sound familiar? It’s far too easy to view God’s character through the lens of our situation, instead of the other way around.
So, in this situation I have a decision to make. Either I say my situation is awful, so that God must be withholding, unloving, unfaithful, and invisible…
Or I flip that on its head and say what I know to be true – that God is faithful, loving, present, just, patient – SO my situation is under control because even if I never get my voice back he has never changed so I can still praise. If the rocks can cry out so can I. I can start walking with God, a direction that requires faith, surrender, and obedience…or to hang back with the lies.
This room is full of hearts that are waiting. But listen to what the Psalmist says in Psalm 130:5-6 “I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more that the watchmen for the morning.”
He was comparing waiting expectantly on the Lord to the night guards of the city who watched the passage of time in anticipation of the coming dawn when they would be released from duty. The coming of the dawn was certain, but not without the passage of time.
Waiting means confident expectation. It’s an expectation based on knowledge and trust. I want to take a moment with me to let God stomp out the lies and tell you truth. Right now, tell resentment and bitterness and pride and self-pity to go back to hell where they belong and listen to what God has to say…
I see you crying, begging, and tired but I am doing something new in you. I will not give gifts that might destroy our relationship, only ones that will strengthen it.
I don’t even want to tell you that what you desire is coming because then that will be what your heart desires most. Instead, I want to tell you that I love you. I can be trusted. Walk with me, trust me because I do have good plans for you. But don’t pursue good plans more than you pursue me as a good God, a good father.
My plans and what I can do are secondary to the promise of who I am. I know that you are tired, weak, and feel second-best. I know that you feel isolated, angry, and misunderstood. I know this because I know you. I know you because I am close to you. I am there but believe me when I say your waiting is not in vain. I want to give it you at the right time
Trust me from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. (Prov. 3:5 MSG)
You can sit in a fake reality of waiting forever or you can walk in the reality of waiting right now. Don’t let this season of waiting create in you a spirit of restlessness, full of anxiety, frustration, fear. I am not holding out, I am setting up.No matter what you are waiting for, no matter what the apparent contradiction of his promise looks like, know that He is not holding out on you, he is setting up for you. But bear in mind that our waiting does not always end with the thing we are waiting for. Which means that our hope can’t be anchored in the thing we’re waiting for. Our hope has to be anchored in something far greater—the promises and character of God.
The fact that Jesus Christ was sent to earth in a manger is proof that God will not hold out on us and that He will fulfill His greatest promises to us. So, what are you waiting for? If you are going to trust our Good Father more than his good plans, then what are waiting for?
“What is it going to take to get you to realize that I am what you are waiting for.”
“What are you waiting for?”
God, I’m waiting for…my child to come back home…
…for my spouse to see you and know that you are God
…for our relationship to be healed
…for my body to be healed
…for my heart to be healed
…for trauma to stop dictating my thoughts and actions
…for a job to provide for myself and my family
…for a spouse
…for a child
For answers, remember that God is not holding out on you as much as he is setting up for you. But for me I know that the wait is made so much easier by letting people come alongside me and wait with me. It is almost impossible to wait well, alone. People coming around you, praying over you, create powerful moments of fellowship that we only experience thru the Holy Spirit.
I get to lead worship at Grace Chapel, but I want you to know that it is worship that has made waiting bearable for me so often…There have been moments in my life when I was in the darkest place and I can still lift my hands and say, “You’re never going to let me down.”
No matter how many years pass, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much the world is trying to talk me out of following you, Jesus, I sing, “You’re never going let me down.”
Not when I can see the promise, but when I trust that you are leading me towards the promise. When everything that I am waiting for is pointing me back to the promise that Jesus was here and forward to the promise that he is coming again, I sing, “You’re never going to let me down.”
We serve a good God, so no matter what you are waiting for or how long you’ve been waiting, the things you don’t have to wait to do today are:
- Ask for help.
We are a family, so when you worship with us you are home. We worship as a family, we ask for help as a family and we are in the wait together. Amen?