Sunday, December 11, 2016

Walking the Road to Bethlehem: Mary is encouraged by Elizabeth

"The Visitation"

We are now in the 3rd week of advent. Time flies doesn’t it? We’re walking our way from the first news of the coming messiah given to Mary. We discovered how Mary must’ve felt overwhelmed by this incredible revelation. Last week we learned about Joseph and how he must’ve felt and reacted to the news that his betrothed fiancé was pregnant. This week we’ll be looking at Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, who being 88 years old is told that she will be the mother of John the Baptist.

All of this took place at about 35 to 40 B.C. Augustus was Caesar of the ancient Roman empire at this time in history. Following Augustus, would be Tiberius. And we’ll see later that Augustus would order a census taken of the Roman empire, which would include Israel. Do you see how the biblical accounts read like history? Luke chapter 1 begins as if it were depicting historical events. Why? Because it is. Was there ever an Augustus Caesar of the Roman empire? Skeptics would probably throw up their hands and say “how can we know that there was ever an emperor Augustus?”

Well, here’s a picture of a large statue of Caesar Augustus, which was recovered by divers in the Aegean sea. This is called archaeological evidence for the biblical documents. In fact one study of busts and statues of Augustus in world museums lists over 120 examples.

One could say, fair enough, there was an Augustus who was emperor of Rome, but what about Jesus? How do we know he really existed?

Well, thankfully we have historians who throughout the ages have recorded world events. One of the most trusted historians of all ages of history is none other than Cornelius Tacitus. This is like the Albert Einstein of history. Anyone who knows history, knows Tacitus. And Tacitus, a trusted historian, recorded information about Jesus. In 112 AD Tacitus wrote regarding the reign of Nero, and Nero’s response to the great fire of Rome, these words, and I quote:

“…Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus...”

All of this to indicate to all of us, as the body of Christ, that despite all the hot air produced by skeptics and television personalities, we can trust the biblical documents and the accounts of the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. All of this squares together our perception, when we open up our Bible to Luke Chapter 1. When we start reading down the page we must, must remember that we’re reading accurate history, not fables or myths. These things, really happened.

So Mary this 16 year old peasant girl has been given news of great tidings that will change her life forever. It’s interesting that shortly after Mary learns that she will give birth to Jesus, the son of God, she decides to make an eighty+ mile journey to Enin Karem to visit her 88 year old cousin Elizabeth.

It’s 80 miles as the crow flies. But to make the journey means crossing several mountain stretches. It’s a dangerous journey, but she decides that she must make it. She arrives to see Elizabeth and spends over 3 months with her. That is an exceedingly long sleep over. But most definitely a valuable get together.

Mary and Elizabeth don’t know it at that time, but God is literally going to change the world through the two children growing in their bellies. Isn’t that an amazing honor that women have, to raise up such great people of faith? I think of Susanna Welsey the mother of Methodism. She trained up John and Charles, just as a mother, but she was utterly dedicated to her calling to be a great mother. She meticulously raised John and Charles to be men of God. And through her ministry to them, and their ministry to the world, millions of souls came into contact with Jesus Christ.

In the same way Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Does anyone here think John the Baptist is awesome? Very early on in my Christian life I thought John the Baptist was really, really cool. He lives in the wilderness, he’s an outcast, eating wild honey, crazy hair, eating bugs, preaching the word, rallying the people, the grassroots, to be prepared to welcome and embrace the coming of Jesus. John the Baptist is like the rebel truth speaker. He’s the proclaimer of the coming of the messiah. He’s the prophet, proclaiming the coming Christ. And then we have Jesus, God come to Earth. He’s the savior, the king, our God, the maker of the universe, and the designer of the human soul. He’s goodness, love, holiness, purity, tenderness, friendship, and mystery before our very eyes. And it all started with Mary, and Elizabeth. Two mothers.

They both needed each other at this moment in their lives. They were about to literally give birth to two people who would transform the world for generations to come. Everything would change.

What do you do when something really crazy is happening in your life? I know that for me, I seek out a close friend and confidont to share with them what I’m going through. We all need encouragement in our lives. That’s why this message fits so well for this moment in time.

It’s Christmas time, we’re rushing here and there trying to get everything taken care of. Right? We do that a lot in society, run like mad trying to get everything done. Marking off the “to do list” check by check.

One of the best things I can do to try to slow down and regain some composure and sanity in my life, is to spend time with family. That’s why right after Christmas I go and spend a week with family. It’s very important. Something about family can really help straighten out the priorities in our lives.

Mary understood that when she made the 9 day journey to Elizabeth’s home. Luke chapter 1, verses 39-45 says: “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!”

Elizabeth was an instant encouragement to Mary. Mary didn’t understand what was happening in her life. She knew the Lord was with her, and she knew her son would be the savior of the world. But she was probably wondering, is anyone else going to believe this? It must’ve been a great relief when Elizabeth her dear friend believed her, encouraged her, and invoked the name of the Lord.

Let me encourage you today: God is at work in your life today. I hope you’ll stay positive today. I want to encourage you to stand firm in your faith. Jesus Christ is on the throne. He is the King of Kings, and everyday you live for him means eternal treasures waiting for you in heaven. Just like Mary, we intellectually understand the promises of God. But she may not be feeling it. She may be feeling uncertain. She may be feeling overwhelmed, like ‘Lord how am I ever going to handle what’s happening in my life?’ I feel that way about where I’m at sometimes, Lord I can’t handle this, it’s all too much.

But recently God has challenged me in my devotional life. And one night I felt like He was saying to me, Justin, if you remained always the way you are today it would be too much for you, but I want you to trust me, that I will craft and shape you into a man who is able to joyfully complete the calling I’ve placed on your heart. Essentially God was telling me to trust in his future grace. Mary received that kind of encouragement through Elizabeth, who affirmed to her that she had been correct to believe the Lord, that she would truly give birth to Jesus. She went to Elizabeth to receive not necessarily a gift from Elizabeth, though it was transmitted through Elizabeth, really what Mary found when she went to Elizabeth was another blessing from God. First she received the blessing of bearing the son of God, second, she received encouragement from God, through her friend along the way. God gives us a calling, each of us, yet he also gives us encouragement along the way.

Final point, I’d like to challenge you: How can you be an encouragement this Christmas season? You’ve just been encouraged, to trust in God’s future grace: How can you pass on that message this Christmas season? Maybe it’s reaching out to an old friend and reconnecting. Maybe it’s mentoring a younger individual who needs your support. Maybe it’s reaching out to a stranger who needs your help. And maybe, if your in a hard time in your life, maybe it’s reaching out to family or friends, making a pilgrimage to an old friend and asking them, “How can I understand what’s happening in my life? Help me process this and get through it.”

Then, when you and I have given encouragement and received encouragement, we can burst forth with the joy of the Spirit and proclaim as Mary did: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.”

Rembrandt, The Visitation

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