June 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
By Wyatt Graham
“Mary and Zechariah share much on common in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Both are visited by the angel Gabriel. Both receive blessed news from him. Both learn they will have a child through miraculous or out of the ordinary means—Zechariah and Elizabeth are greatly advanced in years (1:7, 18) as the narrative constantly reminds us, while Mary is a virgin as the narrative also reminds us. Both children fulfill a significant Old Testament prophecy (John = Elijah and Jesus = Davidic Messiah). Both question God’s message from Gabriel.
At this point, a chasm of difference arises. One the one hand, because of Zechariah questions how he can have a child, he is silenced until God fulfills his word. On the other hand, when Mary questions how she can have a child, she is re-assured that God will work through his Spirit to make it happen.
What’s the deal? Is God arbitrary in how he treats his people? Not at all. Listen to these questions:
After Gabriel told him his wife would bear a son named John who will come in the spirit and the power of Elijah, Zechariah said, “ “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Lk 1:18). Now, this is a rather odd response for a number of reasons. First, Zechariah was a man of God (1:6). Second, he was burning incense in the temple of the Lord alone, probably near the holy of holies (1:9). This is a significant role as he was close to God. Third, a divine and famous messenger from God is speaking to him (1:11, 19). For all these reasons, one would think Zechariah would immediately believe on account of the miraculous nature of the events transpiring.
Not only that, but if he (and his wife) was “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (1:6), then he would know that Sarah was barren and her body was old when she gave birth to Isaac. He would have known that Isaac’s wife Rachel was barren but God blessed her with a child. He would have known that Hannah was barren until God opened her womb and she bore Samuel. In truth, the theme of Miraculous pregnancies or of God opening the womb of the extremely old or of the extremely barren in order to bring about a child of promise was prevalent in the Old Testament. How could Zechariah miss this?
In my opinion, I don’t think Zechariah missed either the miraculous nature of the events around him or the Old Testament examples of miraculous births. It was simply a case of unbelief. Gabriel declares that Zechariah will be unable to speak, “because you did not believe my words” (1:19).
So what about Mary? Gabriel visits her in another unlikely manner, revealing an even greater fulfillment through her seed—the divine, spirit filled Son of God who will fulfill all the Davidic promises and redeem Israel will come through her! Like Zechariah, she also questions God’s messenger and says, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). The big difference here is that her question is not one of unbelief but of misunderstanding. She does not understand how she should obey orbelieve this message from God.
She might not understand how this will happen, since she is only betrothed and not married to Joseph, the descendent of David (1:27). If her child is a son of David, would she need to have him through Joseph a descendent of David? But what did the angel mean, then, when he said, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son” (1:31)? For these reasons, Mary asks in order to clarify or to better understand how she should believe. Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (1:35).
In this way, both Zechariah and Mary question God. While one questions God in unbelief, the other questions God to believe.
HOW TO QUESTION GOD
Belief seeks understanding when it turns to God in ignorance or misunderstanding. On the other hand, unbelief asserts that something is impossible and turns to God only in skepticism. It is right to question God when you do not understand something; but it is wrong to question that God will do what he says. He is faithful to do what he has promised. You may not know how this will happen but be assured that it will happen. Seek understanding and do not think you understand what is and what is not impossible with God.
Ask in order to understand–not because you already do understand.”
-Wyatt Graham, http://thecripplegate.com/how-to-question-god/
May 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A dark room that reeks of the musty smell that accompanies rot. Alone here, your mind wanders nowhere yet everywhere at the same time. A feeling of dread, loneliness or something wriggles through your bones. A sucking feeling in your gut tips you off that you are hungry but you are not sure. It might just be anxiety. All of this happened because of a keen experience of separation from God. A sort of spiritual anxiety. The Puritans described this feeling with the phrase, “the dark night of the soul.” They knew well about the malady of spiritual depression.
Spiritual stagnation is a problem that will bombard everyone at one point or another. Depression, fears and anxiety gush out, because we feel “separated” from God, from grace. We feel alone, sinful, dirty and unloved—or perhaps unloving.
Part of reason spiritual depression occurs, I am convinced, is because we have a wrong view of Biblical Change. We go to God and ask for ways to overcome our problems, our worries. We look to ourselves and our problems and then to God’s word for helps to our problems. Being lost in our issues, we seek help from God.
Not to throw out the baby with the bath water, one should admit a mixture of good and bad rises in this recipe. The good comes when we seek God in our distress. The bad comes about when we try to find the right “trick” to overcome spiritual depression. These tricks are sometimes hidden under the guise of “practicality” or “practical helps” in Scripture.
Sometimes, however, reading the Bible in order to attain “practical” helps or seeking only what is “practical” (a very popular word these days) becomes an Achilles heal for spiritual athletes. That which promises hope results in further disappointment. These aids crush the runner’s sternum causing a desperate gasps for air instead of the promised jolt of energy so-called practicality promises.
Please do not misunderstood what is being said. The Bible speaks in many practical ways. When it speaks in this way, a believer should take this practical help.
Here is what I mean. While it may be appropriate in some places to find wisdom for life (cf. Proverbs) and many moral lessons might be learned from Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 10:6, 11), this really is not the primary way in which we grow into the image of Christ. This is not the way that God typically pulls us up from mire and washes us clean as he ushers us into spiritual contentment.
Growth in grace and feelings of intimacy with God come about by beholding the glory of God as one sees Christ in the word through the Spirit. The following three propositions aim to show how believers both grow in godliness and feel secure in God’s grace.
First, people change by beholding God’s glory. Today, the reason Israel remains without internal transformation is because they read God’s word with a veil over their eyes (2 Cor 3:14). For believers, however, Paul writes that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). In other words, it is through “beholding the glory of the lord” that believers are “transformed” from glory to glory. Glory changes people.
Second, beholding God’s glory means to behold Christ who fully reveals God. Paul continues to explain in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In short, God’s glory shines from the face of Christ. This is because Jesus revealed God in his incarnation (cf. John 1:14, 18).
Third, to change by beholding God’s glory through Christ means one must be entranced by the word of God. Since Christ has ascended to heaven, the way to see glory shining from his face is through his word. Thus, Hebrews 1:2–3a says, “but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” The radiance of God’s glory spoke to us in these last days. And this radiance is Jesus Christ whose words must dwell in our hearts (cf. Col 3:16). The way to access God’s glory is to meet Christ through his word, the Scripture, as the Spirit unites us to the Son through our meditation on it (cf. John 16:13–14).
What this means “practically” is that we must study God’s word to see what it says apart from seeking the so-called “practical” lessons. This does not mean we should not learn practical lessons. Surely we should. It simply means we read Scripture to see the glory of God in the face of Christ primarily. This may be the primary way you overcome your spiritual slump. It is through moving away from the grocery list of do’s and do not’s and moving toward a deep understanding of God’s word.
The direction I want to push this is into studying the Old Testament. Since Jesus fulfills the entire Old Testament (Matt 5:17–20), an oft-neglected way to observe God’s glorious plan of redemption and thus behold the Glory of God is by reading the Old Testament. It is here that the unfolding plan of God may be understood; by understanding God’s Scripture, one better comprehends the meaning of Christ’s work. In this way, Christ’s face shines on us through the Old Testament.
It is a sad occurrence that so many Christians read only the New Testament when God’s glorious plan of redemption that finds fulfillment in Christ is dramatically observed in the Old Testament.
To put it simply, stop reading Scripture to solve your problems and start reading Scripture to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ; and as you understand Scripture through the Spirit, you will begin to grow out of your problems. You will transform from level of glory to another and regain that containment and feeling of security Christians are promised in the Lord. And for me, reading especially the Old Testament helps to grow spiritually.
-Wyatt Graham, http://thecripplegate.com/overcoming-spiritual-stagnation/