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5. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
8. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,
9. According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
18. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
19. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.
20. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
21. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried so long in the temple.
22. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.
23. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.
24. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,
25. Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
I want to talk to you tonight about “The Grace of God.” I want to talk to you about how God breaks in upon human beings with His marvelous grace when He gets ready to demonstrate His power in a miraculous way in behalf of people in this world. The very name ‘John’ itself means ‘the grace of God.’ I don’t know how many people we’ve got in the house tonight named John, but that’s what your name means if your name is John. John means ‘the grace of God.’
In looking at the Scripture, almost every time God gets ready to do something spectacular, He puts a little baby in the arms of some mother and sometimes it’s against nature; sometimes it has to be miraculous in the way the child is born, as it is in the case of John and also in the case of the virgin birth of Jesus. But, God looks down upon situations and begins great moves of His grace just in a simple down-to-earth kind of way; nothing absolutely spectacular to most people of the world. But He does something in such a quiet, easy way that most people are not aware of it at all. God does not necessarily have to announce worldwide what is taking place when He gets ready to move by His marvelous grace. And that’s what I want to talk about tonight because the story of the birth of John the Baptist shows us some wonderful, special provisions of God’s grace that He has made for us. I want us to look at that today because as we look at this story I think that we can be assured in our own hearts that the grace of God still is active and provides God’s wondrous love into our own hearts and lives.
First of all, I want you to see that the grace of God comes to very ordinary people. It came, first of all, to Zacharias, a priest, a run-of-the-mill kind of priest, so to speak. He was not the high priest. He was not a ruling priest. He was not some great influential priest, nor some great leader. But he was just of the line of priesthood and once in his lifetime, he would have the opportunity to go into the temple and offer incense before God and prayers for one month’s time. And that would be the extent of his ministry. He would do other things like prayer and live his life in a very quiet and private way. But the one time when he was able to come into the temple of God and serve for a certain number of days, it was at that precise moment that God decided to work through this man. So, here is an ordinary priest. Nobody really spectacular, but while he goes about his duties in the temple, the angel Gabriel comes to him. And the Bible says that, of course, when he saw him, he was troubled and fear fell upon him.
I think almost anybody who honors God and fears God, when they see a tremendous manifestation of God’s presence, they are overwhelmed with the fear of God. I think in these days we need some visitations from God on high. In such a way that would cause people’s hearts to be troubled in the presence of God, and that the fear of God would fall upon them and they would take seriously what God is doing in this world and what He is saying to this world and the very actions of His glorious power that is at work in this world. If there is anything that we need in this country and indeed, around the world, it is a revival of Godly reverence and Godly fear, where, when we come into His presence we come with reverence and in humility and in the fear of God.
The Bible described Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, as being righteous people and walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. I’m saying to you tonight that the grace and power and miraculous revelation of God’s love and grace come to people who in their daily lives remain faithful and just go about their business living for God, praying, honoring God and worshipping Him. There’s a whole lot to be said about faithfulness and ‘stickability’. A lot to be said about people who make no big pretense of their religion, but they walk with God in righteousness and keep in harmony with the Word of God and are led by the Spirit. There’s a lot to be said about that kind of day-by-day experience of faith in God.
And so the grace of God came to them in a special way. Elisabeth’s name means ‘the oath of God,’ which is to say that God had made promises. He had given prophecies. He had sworn, so to speak, with an oath of what He would do for this world. And now then, He is about to keep that promise that He has made and He comes to verify His promise through Zacharias and Elisabeth. Because even though they were aged by now, God was going to come in a miraculous way. And that leads me to say that the grace of God is miraculous. It is the unmerited favor and presence and power and provision of God that comes to us and helps us to see the handiwork of God far beyond our ability to even comprehend.
If we could all testify tonight, I think everyone in this house could say ‘There have been times I prayed and God answered my prayer so quickly until I was shocked. He did it with such power and such perfectness and so complete and He did it so wonderfully.’ Haven’t you been surprised like that sometime in your life at the way that the grace of God swept down in your life and touched your life and God just simply came into a very bad situation and brought His mighty power to bear upon it?
Which leads me to the next point I want to talk about in this story tonight, and that is the grace of God comes in unusual circumstances. Sometimes we think that we can program the calendar and God will work when we get ready. But sometimes, God just goes at His own pace, at His own time, on His own schedule, He doesn’t seem to confer with us as to whether it’s going to be alright or not. And all of a sudden, He breaks upon us with His glorious power and reveals Himself and reveals His love and brings His wonderful grace to bear upon us.
In Israel at this time was governed by a degenerated king. The temple situation was desecrated. The priesthood itself, for the most part, was degraded. It was the worst of times. And yet, the Bible describes it “in the fullness of time.” Now, I don’t quite understand why God works in certain ways that He does, especially ‘when’. I don’t quite understand his calendar. But, I don’t have to understand it, because He just works in His own will and His own time and His own way, and when sin did abound, that’s when grace did much more abound and that continues to be a divine law of God. That when circumstances are at their worst, God can break in with His grace and set things straight. When there’s trouble in your life and it comes at its worst, that’s when the grace of God can break in upon you with God’s provisions of power and deliverance. When there’s sorrow, when there’s trouble in the church, and when there’s confusion, that’s when just one great shower of God’s grace breaking in on the people can bring healing and deliverance and set people free and set everything in order. He has the power. His grace is sufficient for every need. Even when you pray for God to take things away from you so that you don’t have to suffer like Paul of old, He says ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ Because you see, what happens with this unmerited favor, this divine presence and power working through us in times of weakness and trouble lets us know how great He really is and the fact that God gets all the glory. Amen.
We, as human beings, we have this problem that we would like very much to get the credit. We would like very much for people to get healed when we’re having a great outpouring of the Spirit and it all happens right here in front of the pulpit, sort of in the limelight, we would like to advertise that and say ‘Oh, this is the church where the glory of God comes down and falls.’ We’re sort of like that. But sometimes God just waits and puts us off and then He comes in in his own way and He does some marvelous things. I am here to tell you that the grace of God will be revealed in your life in unusual circumstances when you least expect God to manifest Himself in a powerful way. That may be the time when He visits you. Hallelujah!
You talk to Zacharias and Elisabeth and they would say ‘Too late! God can’t work through us.’ Elisabeth has spent all of her married life of many years in shame and reproach because she has been barren and could have no child and she could say ‘It’s too late.’ But it’s not too late when the angel Gabriel comes and starts talking to you!
Unusual circumstances? Yes. The voice of the prophets had been silent for 400 years. No outstanding visitation from God. Religiously, historically, every way you could think, it was probably the worst time in this world for God to start something new. Strangely enough, Gabriel began at the same place where Malachi, the last prophet, left off. Four hundred years have gone by, but he is quoting from Malachi 4: 5-6 which says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Those words in the closing part of the prophecy of Malachi is where Gabriel takes up as he begins to say that this son that is coming, he is going to be great in the sight of the Lord. And he begins with that very prophecy of Zachariah.
And I’d like to say to you that when the grace of God comes and breaks in upon us, upon your life wherever you are tonight, it always comes with glad tidings. It comes with good news. I’ll be honest with you, with the events of our times like they are now, and you get to looking at it so much, after awhile you get so loaded down til you have to just turn away from it and go and get your eyes on God and here again, the good news from God and that God is still on the throne. Or else you would just be overwhelmed and overcome with fears of what may take place. But when God steps in, when He breaks in, He comes with good news. And the first thing He said to Zacharias was, ‘Your prayer has been answered.’
Now, prayer itself is an instrument of God’s grace. Prayer is a creation of God so that He can help us to come to the place that He can give us what He wants to give us in the first place! Prayer is not a means whereby you necessarily get what you want from God. No! You turn it around. Prayer is a means by which God gets to give to us what He wants us to have! And He thought a lot about it and He was really concerned about it because He said to Zacharias the first thing, ‘Your prayers have been answered.’
I want to urge you tonight if there is some struggle, if there is some challenge, if there is some problem, just keep on praying. Keep on believing God. Because when praise breaks in, that’s the first thing God will say is ‘Your prayers have been answered.’ Don’t give up. Hold on to God in faith. Keep praying. Keep holding on. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The next piece of good news was, He said ‘Your wife, Elisabeth, shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.’ Oh! What news! Zacharias and Elisabeth are going to have a son whose name means ‘grace of God.’ It’s going to be the demonstration of God’s grace every time they call that boy’s name, it is a reminder to Zacharias. And it is a reminder to Elisabeth that the oath of God has been fulfilled, the promise has been made and that God is breaking in upon their world with His marvelous grace. People often did that in Bible times, they names their children names that were so symbolic of who God was and what He did and what He was doing in this world. This is one of those outstanding cases.
Well, Zacharias is shocked! This is the most incredible news he’s ever heard. It is good news, yes! But it is unbelievable, incredible. Let me ask you…to put you on the spot a little bit right now. How many of you have had experiences where you were absolutely surprised and shocked at the greatness of what God was doing in your life? Unexpected! Lift your hand and testify! Oh, hallelujah! Hallelujah! I remember one time having a problem in a church and I went to God and I talked to Him. I mean I got down to business talking to Him. I said, “Now, God, if what this man is doing is right, You’ve got to change me because this is killing me. And if it’s not, Lord, would you just move him out?” Now, I think that’s the only person I ever really prayed out of a church, but that Sunday morning, he came all ‘blowed up’. I got and started to preach just as if he was not there. I didn’t take my text on him. But when I started reading the Scripture, he got up and walked out and never came back. And I just rejoiced in God. I tell you, I went home and I said, “Man, that’s the quickest I’ve ever seen a prayer answered. I’m surprised. Because I’d had a whole pew full of Baptist people seeking the baptism of the Holy Ghost and he had acted up in such a way to them that they said, ‘Well now, if that’s Pentecost, we don’t want it.’ It was just grieving the Holy Spirit, things that he was doing; so abrasive and overbearing and the lack of wisdom and pretending to be so super-duper religious. Yes, I want to tell you that God can shock you and do the incredible and come to you in circumstances that are unbelievable and yet, His presence and power is able to absolutely be in control of everything.
Sure as Zacharias backed away and said ‘How in the world can I know this?’ About that time, the angel started talking pretty straight to him and said, ‘I’m Gabriel. Now if you don’t know anything about angels, well it’s about time you met one. Because I’m the one that stands in the presence of God. And I’ve just come straight out of the presence of God to bring you His message. And I’m sent to speak unto thee and to show thee these glad tidings. Not only that, but you’re going to be dumb, not able to speak until the day these things be performed because thou believest not.’ Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Zacharias waited a good while and when he finally came out, he couldn’t talk. He couldn’t speak. He had to motion to them and they decided that he has been in the presence of God and he has seen a vision and God has spoken to him and he couldn’t speak. Now I don’t know if I’ve ever prayed to have an experience like that. I’ve always prayed ‘Oh Lord, give us strength to really preach. Help us to speak.’ It might do a lot of us preachers good if the Lord would touch us where we couldn’t speak for quite a while. I’ve been about 3 weeks that I couldn’t speak and that may have done me some good. It may have done you a whole lot of good!
But the point is, sometimes it seems that we get in such a routine, that we are so shocked and surprised at the incredible presence of God and the message of God that it is hard for us to receive it and believe it. The Bible is filled with stories of people who just couldn’t believe the good news that had heard. Like the famine in Samaria in the Old Testament and one fellow said ‘If God was to open up windows from heaven, well you might see grain aplenty and meal aplenty and enough for everybody.’ And that same fellow who was so doubtful, he just got run over. I would pray that somehow in this special time, that our hearts would be so open and so kindled to the supernatural power of His glory that we could believe God for whatever He wanted to do in our lives. That we would not be surprised at whatever He does because this angel said, ‘This son that you are going to have, he is going to be unusual. Why, he will be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb.’ And we’re told later on that this babe leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when he was about six months old. I don’t know what these people do that argue so much for abortion, to think about a child, a baby full of the Holy Spirit, that leaps for joy before it is born, and to think about snuffing that life out. Amen?
The grace of God comes in to ordinary people in their ordinary lives, while they live for God and walk with Him. It comes in unusual circumstances when times sometimes are at their worst to show God’s love and His power and so that He gets the glory. It always comes bringing good news and encouragement and help. When Jesus, when the Lord Himself, gets ready to visit the world with His grace, He does it through the child, John the Baptist, and then later through His Son, Jesus Christ. Oh, the seed of God’s grace is continually sown in the lives of people who believe God’s Word.
I want us to pray together and here’s the way I feel burdened in my heart. If you are faced with unusual circumstances, that would just take a miracle from God and a visitation from God, real enlightenment from God to help you understand, then I want you to pray for God to just break in upon you and let you reach out in faith to receive His abundant, marvelous amazing grace.
“Our Father, in Jesus Name, we lift our hearts to you now. We thank you for the many manifestations of Your gracious love and mercy upon us and we rejoice in Your great love tonight. May Thy Spirit be poured out from on High. May Thy Word quicken our hearts and people who are struggling, help them to lean heavily upon the strong arms of God, relying upon Your glorious grace. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise Your matchless Name. Praise the Name of Jesus. May the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen”
Dr. May expounds upon the Grace of God and how it comes to ordinary people in unusual circumstances
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