As we move toward Christmas, a season that brings people together, particularly families, we are now struggling with the idea of the possibility of restrictions on getting together. What if we find ourselves without extended family around us? How can we find solace, hope and strength?
It is interesting that during the first Advent or coming of Jesus to earth, it was a time filled with despair, loneliness and powerlessness. In many ways it was a time of distress such as we are now experiencing. To the Jewish people in that hour it seemed that God had abandoned them. They were under the oppression of Rome and to make matters worse, the prophetic voice had been silent for 400 years. The promises of the coming Messiah and restoration of the nation seemed remote. Yet, it was in a time of despair that Jesus came. As we look at this amazing account, Jesus’ coming seems so ordinary. It certainly was uneventful and obscure to the majority of the people living at that time. Jesus was born to a young woman engaged to a descendant of King David. A government decree had forced them to travel away from their immediate family to the village of Bethlehem. It was while there that Mary gave birth to Jesus, alone with only Joseph to see her through the delivery. It is in moments such as these, where we struggle and difficulty fills the narrative, that God’s workings often baffle us, especially when we are experiencing a moment of aloneness in our own lives. We question how any good thing can come from this kind of struggle. However, God comes to us in the times of our greatest need, and in ways that seem obscure so that we can often miss what He is doing. Let me remind us that we should not despise the day of small things or insignificant beginnings because we never know ultimately what God is doing. Such was the case in the rebuilding of the second temple after the exile in which some might have remember the splendor of Solomon’s temple. “Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:10).”
Turning to the events surrounding Jesus’ first coming, we rediscover something of the value of what is truly important in our lives, and that is the people God brings into our lives. In Luke’s account of the gospel, it is intertwined with the story of two couples experiencing God’s gift of children. It’s the story of two significant and miraculous births and the challenges they presented to these two couples. Luke’s desire and determination to draw up an account of Jesus Christ initially comes from a mother’s insight. The most probable person to recount to Luke early narratives of the life of Jesus is his mother, Mary. “It has been truly said that mothers are the natural historians of their children’s early days – never tired of observing them…”[i] Mothers never get tired of telling those who will listen some significant story of their child’s development. That’s what we discover turning to Luke’s gospel, chapter 1. Mary relates the story with another inspiring event that encouraged and sustained her as she was about to embark on a path that would certainly be deeply misunderstood. The story goes back to some near relatives named Elizabeth and Zechariah. What strikes us as we look at this chapter is the type of homes these two boys were raised in.
God chose godly parents to provide godly homes for these children to be nurtured in. These good beginnings were essential for the challenging ministry and their eventual deaths in obedience to God’s purposes for their lives. Drs. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy in their book: “Why You Do the Things You Do,” point out about that people who are nurtured in healthy homes are able to better handle great challenges in their lives.
Secure people feel totally responsible for who they are, for their decisions, and for their lives. Of course, they can’t keep bad situations from occurring – illness, the loss of loved ones, and so forth – but they can determine how they react to these events, and they take full responsibility for those reactions.[ii]
Unfortunately, not all people have the privilege of growing up in a healthy, godly home, but one thing that happens when we come to Christ, is that He adopts us into His family, and begins to bring about healing into our broken, fragmented souls. We cannot undo the past, but to remain angry at our parents or at God for our upbringing won’t heal us. We need to forgive and move forward and allow God to make us into a secure and godly person. If you did not grow up in a loving, godly home it will require a little more diligence to create one, since it was never modeled. It will take a conscious effort to do things differently than what was done on our behalf. God is interested that as Christian parents we would create godly homes in order for our children to have that incredible benefit and privilege. Not all the homes portrayed in the Bible were healthy, or even godly, but here in Luke 1 we discover two godly homes. Part of what made John the man he became was the nurture and instruction he received from his home. What was John’s home life like? What really makes up a godly home?
There are some incredible things we can learn from John’s parents. Luke reveals three elements about creating a godly legacy, which begins in our homes. When we think of legacies we immediately think about what we are passing on, but it takes the right kind of life to pass on something of enduring value. So how can we develop a living legacy? There are three crucial elements in creating a living legacy.
A LIVING LEGACY IS DETERMINED BY THE CHARACTER OF THE PERSON
Parents set the tone of a home. Parents give the home its structure and values by their attitudes and actions. Luke describes both Elizabeth and Zechariah as a godly couple. Let me make a little caveat here: this doesn’t just apply to people who have biological children. We are all called to make disciples which in essence is a calling to nurture people like they are our children. Regardless of the age of a person we can become living examples and mentors for others. What kind of an example are we modeling for them? We leave a legacy by the kind of life we live.
A. We can only produce what we are.
I would not suggest that godly people don’t have children who rebel, for even God, our Father, had that experience in the garden of Eden, and he was the perfect parent. What I am suggesting is that if we are not godly, it will be difficult for our children to learn godliness from us. Children mimic their parents.
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School (2005) set up a pretend grocery store in order to learn more about how children view alcohol and other restricted products. They sent 120 kids, ages 2 to 6, through the aisles and instructed them to get ready for a grown-up party where Ken and Barbie would be the hosts.
According to the results, 28 percent of the children purchased cigarettes. Girls and boys whose parents smoked were nearly four times as likely to buy cigarettes. Beer or wine was purchased by 61 percent of the children. Children whose dads and moms drank at least one time a month were three times more likely to purchase alcohol. Kids who watched PG-13 and R-rated movies regularly ‘were five times more likely to buy alcohol than kids limited to children’s programming.’
Craig Anderson, a researcher from Iowa State University, said: ‘Kids are basically little learning machines. Whatever the content is in front of them, they’re going to pick it up.[iii]
That is why it is so important to be the right kind of person.
B. We need to be a godly example for others.
Notice the description of the kind of people Zechariah and Elizabeth were: “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and regulations blamelessly (Luke 1:6).”
F. B. Meyer in his book about John, the Baptist, states concerning his parents:
The phrases are evidently selected with care. Many are righteous before men; but they were righteous before God. Their daily life and walk were regulated by a careful observance of the ordinances of the ceremonial and the commandments of the moral law. It is evident, from the apt and plentiful quotations from the Scripture with which the song of Zacharias is replete, that the Scriptures were deeply pondered and reverenced in that highland home; and we have the angel’s testimony to the prayers that ascended day and night. In all these things they were blameless-not faultless, as judged by God’s infinite standard…, but blameless-because they lived up to the fullest limit of their knowledge of the will of God.[iv]
What does it mean to be blameless? It means to live without guilt, it speaks of innocent behavior. Another way to describe a blameless life is a person who lives with moral ethics. It is reflected in their good behavior. We are speaking of someone with moral integrity. A blameless person is the one who takes the high road. It doesn’t mean that blameless people never sin. But what it means is that sin is not the essence of their lives. A self-centered, sin-filled life is not what the blameless person is about. They are living to please an audience of one, namely God.
A LIVING LEGACY IS DETERMINED BY OUR RESPONSE TO CRISIS
In other words, how do we handle life’s challenges, crisis and conflicts? Do they define us or refine us? Do we handle things like those who don’t know the Lord? Are we being transformed by God’s word? How we respond to problems is the real test of character.
Clinton and Sibcy suggest that secure and healthy people handle difficulties in the right way. This is how mature believers will handle things.
When beset by problems not of their making, they usually assess the situation honestly and relatively dispassionately, and then set about to change their circumstances. They engage in active problem solving, and when at first they don’t succeed, they keep trying to solve the problem longer than insecure people do. If they decide they can’t improve things, they decide to cope. Generally, secure people concern themselves with how they interpret their suffering: they find meaning in their pain.[v]
A. What is God teaching me in my crisis?
Think about that last statement: ‘they find meaning in their pain.’ What is God trying to teach me? What can I learn from this experience? How can I help others from my painful experiences? Now listen to the apostle Paul during some of the most trying times in his life. He opens his heart to the believers at Corinth. He begins by praising God because of who God is and what He does in our trying times.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation, if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.
Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.[vi]
Here is where a proper understanding of God is critical. Notice that the apostle Paul knew that God has, can and will deliver; but also points out that we need to come to the end of our self-sufficiency and reliance and depend entirely upon God. We can also see the need for helping each other particularly in the realm of prayer. In this time of crisis the greatest response we can have is to prayer for one another.
B. Dealing with life’s disappointments.
Here in Luke 1, we find Elizabeth had dealt with a significant disappointment in her life. She could not have children. The fact that Luke had mentioned she and Zechariah’s blameless character removed any hint that their childless state was due to any sin on their part. How often we judge things solely from an outward, external perspective. Many times what appears to be a great difficulty is in reality an opportunity for God’s greater purposes to be revealed. “But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old (Luke 1:7).” We know from the biblical text that this was a source of a great deal of sorrow and anguish for both Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for years, and then finally in their old age had surrendered that desire to God. Yet, God’s timetable to answer prayer is certainly not ours. One amazing concept is that prayers never die. “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 (Luke 1:13).” The name John speaks of God’s favor. God was showing this elderly couple favor but in so doing, God was also showing favor to the nation of Israel. Sometime later upon returning home from his time of service at the Temple, the Bible informs us of Elizabeth’s surprise and delight at being with child.
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.’[vii]
Obviously from the text we find that there was tremendous cultural pressure to have children. It was considered a disgrace and so Elizabeth had struggled with living with this pain in her soul. Sometimes we wonder why God does act in certain ways that we desire, especially to alleviate the suffering we may be experiencing? Why does He allow us to suffer various things? Suffering will either lead us to anger and bitterness, or it will train us and strengthen us. It’s a tool that can also create greater empathy toward others. What makes the difference between becoming hardened and bitter and loving, forgiving and compassionate? Simply put it is the work of grace in our soul. Will we rely upon God and trust him, thereby learning from our difficult experiences or will we just keep complaining and living in anger? That’s what I mean when I say that crisis is either defining or refining us. The outward pressures either shape us or they refine us and help shape us more into the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-29).
A LIVING LEGACY IS DETERMINED BY OUR CONCERNS
What are our children or the people we are mentoring/disciplining observing about what we make as a priority in our lives? Are we concerned primarily about ourselves or others? Is our focus upward and outward, or are we absorbed by an inward self-focus that is shaped by outward pressures? Who are we trying to please? Ourselves, others or God?
A. Our difficult experiences can be a source of blessing to others.
Now in her older years, as she had faithfully served God and had suffered from her condition in life, Elizabeth was about to share her understanding of what life lived in reproach was like to a young relative that would be greatly misunderstood and falsely accused of violating God’s moral code. Elizabeth was able to take her crisis and minister from her experiences. She was able to rejoice in Mary’s unique calling. Elizabeth understood what it meant to walk in shame and reproach. The same angel that appeared to Zechariah appears to Mary and reveals that she is the chosen maiden to bear God’s son. To strengthen her faith, and find comfort, the angel also revealed that Elizabeth was also about to have a miracle birth.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.[viii]
What God promises, He is able to perform. We can take comfort and hope from God’s word in life’s most distressing situations. Rather than focus on the problems that we are experiencing; we need to focus our attention on God’s word. It is there that peace and rest for our souls will be found. It is in embracing God’s word that we will be sustained and strengthened during this present time of testing.
Here we find Elizabeth encouraging Mary the mother of Jesus. When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home, she finds a place of refuge and understanding. Here is a place of safety from all the criticism that would come to Mary. God’s Spirit came upon Elizabeth and she prophesied that what was happening to Mary was truly a Divine act of grace.
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?[ix]
Elizabeth had a Divine revelation of the nature of Mary’s condition and uniqueness of the child that Mary was carrying. She received a divine impartation and knowledge that this child of Mary’s was the Messiah.
B. Joy often follows times of sorrow in our lives.
God would give Elizabeth an opportunity to nurture a child, who in turn would become a great prophet of God. God did a miracle in her and eventually through her. As John grew up, I’m sure his mother and father communicated his miraculous birth, as well as his mission in life. He was well schooled by his godly parents as to His Divine purpose.
God is interested in people. He is desirous that we would develop healthy, godly lives. While we are living a legacy, we impart one. In the book of Malachi we see God’s desire for a godliness.
Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard yourself, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.[x]
Godly lives create godly homes and godly relationships with others. This can only happen if we allow God to form His character in our lives. One of these elements is healthy responses toward crisis, and a deep concern for others. Who are we imparting our life into? As we reflect upon this concept of living a legacy, a number of things can be reflected and acted upon in our lives to become more intentional in becoming a living legacy.
1. What character deficiencies do we need God’s help in overcoming in order to create a godly life and godly relationships with others?
2. How has crisis and difficulty in the past shaped our lives, rather than refined us? How are we going to handle our present crisis? God’s way or our way?
3. What promises do we need to stand upon in God’s word in order for us to be transformed rather than conformed by our present challenges and difficulties?
4. Who are the people we are presently concerned about and what are we doing to demonstrate that concern?
The influence of a godly life can be seen in the blessings that come into our lives from children, friends, and the people that we are mentoring. One of the young boys in our church was gripped by this insight for his own life while he was singing the song: ‘the Blessings.’ This is roughly what he communicated to our children’s pastor:
It really just makes you think, what I do will influence my kids, and their kids and so it’s really important that I’m a Christian and what I say, because if I’m not a Christian, then it means these people will not be Christians. I had never thought of that before. If you become a Christian, thousands of generations to come can become Christians.
Al Sanders who wrote “Crisis in Morality” shares an example of the incredible difference between a godly person and home and one that wasn’t:
Max Jukes was an atheist who lived an ungodly life. He married a girl like himself and from their union there were 310 who died as paupers, 150 were criminals, 7 were murderers, 100 were drunkards, and more than half of the women were prostitutes. His 540 descendants cost the State one and a quarter million dollars.
In contrast, the descendants from the union between Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah, who were deeply devout and godly people was entirely different. Upon investigating their 1,394 known descendants it was discovered that 13 became college presidents, 65 were college professors, 3 were United States senators, 30 were judges, 100 were lawyers, 60 were physicians, 75 were army and navy officers, 100 were preachers and missionaries, 60 were authors of prominence, one a vice-president of the United States, 80 became public officials in other capacities, 295 were college graduates, among whom were governors of states and ministers to foreign countries. His descendants did not cost the state a single penny.[xi]
“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot (Proverbs 10:7).”[xii]
[i] F. B. Meyer, John The Baptist, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 17.
[ii] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Why You Do The Things You Do, (Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2006), 87.
[iii] Alcohol, Bar “Little Pitchers Have Big Ears,” The Week (11-04-05), 26.
[iv] F. B. Meyer, John The Baptist, 22-23.
[v] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Why You Do The Things You Do, 63.
[vi] 2 Corinthians 1:3-4-5, 6, 8b-11, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[vii] Luke 1:23-25.
[viii] Luke 1:36-37.
[ix] Luke 1:41-43.
[x] Malachi 2:15.
[xi] Al Sanders, “Crisis in Morality” as quoted by Leonard Ravenhill, Sodom Had No Bible, (Minneapolis, Mn: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1971), 155 [paraphrased].
[xii] Proverbs 10:7, The New International Version of the Bible, 1984.