Bulletin :: December 2004

When the Miracle Happens
By  Paul Anderson

Few things are harder than just waiting. It had been twenty-four years of waiting after the Lord called Abraham to leave his home and family, but it had been many years before that as well. He and Sarah were on a journey of faith that had its ups and downs. Faith can get worn after waiting that long. Sarah had to contend with Hagar, her servant. Now God and two other visitors paid a visit to Abraham. After cooking up some barbequed beef, Abraham listened under the oak trees as God announced that He would be returning in the spring and that Sarah would have a son. Sarah was inside the tent eavesdropping, and the announcement struck her funny. Maybe she pictured a ninety-year-old mother strolling a baby down Main Street, and it got her going. Perhaps the laugh was cynical: “Yeah, right. A baby. How interesting!” The Lord didn’t appreciate the sarcasm of Sarah and said, “Why did Sarah laugh…Is anything too hard for the Lord?”(Gen.18:13). Sarah denied laughing, but God didn’t back down. His judgments are accurate.

Maybe Sarah didn’t know she was dealing with the Lord. He didn’t introduce Himself as the Almighty. Abraham and Sarah were entertaining heavenly guests unaware, and Sarah had been caught disbelieving God, who is not pleased when we choose to disregard Him. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Heb. 11:6). The time of waiting had apparently moved Sarah temporarily from faith to fate. Instead of saying, “God will…,” fate says, “Whatever.” She was no longer able to include God in the equation. In doing so, Sarah was reducing Him to human possibilities, not divine ones. Praise enlarges God in our eyes. A young girl, after hearing an even more impossible birth announcement, sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” Cynicism reduces God to our size, to the realm of possibilities, probabilities, likelihoods. Sarah’s lack of faith did not mean that she would not have the child, but that she was rebuked for her disbelief.

And “the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised” (Genesis 21:1). What God said, He did; what He promised, He provided. A divine opportunity was hiding behind a human impossibility. That is the way with faith. When the baby was born, everyone laughed, including God. And Abraham named his long-awaited child Isaac, meaning, “He will laugh.”

The New Testament story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is similar to that of Abraham and Sarah. Both women were old, and both were barren. Yet they were still hoping that God would hear their cry and grant them a child. Both men were spiritual leaders-Abraham, a great prince and Zechariah, a priest. In the case of Abraham, God had promised a child, while Zechariah had no such promise, but he was praying for one. Both had heavenly visitors announcing a birth nine months hence. God Himself appeared to Abraham, while Gabriel, a messenger from God, appeared to Zechariah. In both cases it was the father-to-be who first heard the announcement. In the first case, Sarah overheard from inside the tent. In the second, Zechariah was by himself in the temple, Elizabeth, miles away at home. Though Abraham had cross-currents of faith over a quarter of a century, he received the words of the Lord without disputing them. Sarah, however, laughed.

In the case of the priestly couple, it was the husband whose doubts were expressed, not with laughter but with questioning. He reasoned, “How shall I know this? I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). Not the right thing to say to the archangel. Zechariah was struck deaf and dumb. No discipline was given to the patriarchal couple. Both the Lord and the angel repeated the word. The Lord said a second time, “At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14). To Zechariah, Gabriel spoke a word of rebuke, but then followed it with a repeat of the promise, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20).

A good response by Zechariah would have been, “This is wonderful. Elizabeth and I have been praying for this to happen. God has heard our prayer, and at last we will be parents.” It would have made the pregnancy a time of rejoicing for both of them. He probably rehearsed his less than acceptable response a hundred times over the next nine months, which was a quiet time indeed for the couple. Elizabeth went into hiding for five months, and Zechariah took a silent retreat. Both women conceived and quietly carried their boys. God named Elizabeth’s child, while Abraham named his boy.

Both couples had known the pain of waiting. Exercising faith and seeing nothing materialize makes it hard to hold on. Faith carries its own kind of labor pains. The pain of waiting is usually a prelude to fulfillment-if we hold out. While we wait, God is at work. Faith doesn’t make the hard easy, but it does make the impossible possible.

Conceiving the Inconceivable
Five months after Elizabeth had conceived, God visited another woman in completely different circumstances. She was not “advanced in years”; she was a young teen. She had no husband like the other two women, nor had she waited in shameful barrenness. The same angel that had visited Zechariah now returned to the small country of Israel, but this time he was ninety miles north of the holy city where Zechariah had performed his priestly duties. He came to an obscure town called Nazareth. The visitor affirmed the girl in a way neither of the fathers-to-be was praised. The angel announced, as with the priest, the birth of a boy. The difference this time would be that the Holy Spirit, and not the husband, would be the means of conception. The angel told her the name and mission of the child. Sarah had laughed, Zechariah had questioned, but Mary said, “Let it be.” Sarah and Zechariah had years to their advantage-Mary had faith. Elizabeth said it right: “Blessed is she who believed….” What did she believe? “…that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45). Sarah was cynical, Zechariah was doubtful, but Mary was believing. Two things made Jesus marvel while on earth-great faith and the lack of it. Mary’s faith brought pleasure to God.

Sarah was rebuked, Zechariah was disciplined, and Mary was praised. The first two boys were delivered at home, but Mary’s baby was delivered a long way from home. She didn’t have well-known neighbors visiting like Elizabeth had, but she did have some shepherds come to admire the baby. All three boys were circumcised and named on the eighth day.

What Can You Believe God For Today?
What opportunity is masquerading behind an impossibility? Have you included God in the equation? Mary sorted out her job from God’s. Hers was to provide the body for the birth; God’s was to bring about a conception. Her assignment was little, while God did the impossible part. There is a human and divine side to miracles. Guess which part we play? Faith is our responsibility. We don’t do miracles, but we cooperate in them. Jesus wasn’t asking the disciples to work a miracle with the 5,000 hungry people, although that’s how they responded. They began to compute how many sandwiches they’d have to put together and decided it wouldn’t work. Jesus was testing them to see if they would look to their own resources or to God’s. Human impossibilities are often clues to a divine set-up. God is engineering a supernatural breakthrough, and He is looking for people so that heaven can shake hands with earth, so that our faith can join up with God’s faithfulness. Maybe something is being engineered in your life or your family’s life today. Unbelief is an insult to the Almighty, but faith moves His powerful hand. Will you choose to believe Him today? Faith says, “Let’s go for it!”

Jeremiah was faced with an impossibility. The Lord had told him to purchase property at the very time that siege mounts were being assembled to destroy Jerusalem. And yet the command to buy property was a sign that Israel would one day return to their land. The weeping prophet, in praise of the God who writes the future as if it were history, says, “Ah Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17). Jeremiah reasons that if He can speak the world into existence, He can bring His people back to their land. Then God replies to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (v.22). It is the same question He spoke a millennium before. Listen to what God Himself says. This is not Jeremiah expressing faith in God. That would be encouraging enough. But God is speaking. Let God Himself put faith in your heart as He put in Jeremiah, who was buying land that was about to be overrun by the Chaldeans. This is not a time to be interested in real estate. But for God, opportunities masquerade behind impossibilities.

When the disciples had questioned Jesus regarding the impossibility of salvation, He responded, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

The angel Gabriel, who told Zechariah, “I stand in the presence of God,” knew what the Lord was capable of. He knew that God had no limitations or boundaries to His omnipotence. So he encouraged Mary to believe, by first telling her of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, then adding “For nothing is impossible with God.” Those same words had been formed as a question by God Himself eighteen centuries before to Abraham as he was waiting for a breakthrough: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).

Could you say it right now into any impossibilities you are facing? Go ahead: “Nothing is impossible for you, God.” Now let your faith rise up within you. Stretch your hand toward heaven and align yourself with the faithfulness of the same God who came through for Abraham and Sarah, for Zechariah and Elizabeth, and for young Mary. Your faith pleases Him, and it releases Him to do the miraculous in your life.