Lessons from the Nativity: 3: Too old for God?
Luke 1:18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Zechariah stands out as a man in the Bible who dared to doubt. We normally think of Thomas in this context but Zechariah’s response to the angel provides a physical rebuke that shows it was not getting heavenly approval.
As a slight aside (but only slight) I note there is a practice in Christian circles that accompanies the supposedly transparent honesty that faces our failures and our foibles and exalts grace, and goes on to make excuses. It is good that we are honest about our frailty and recognise that our salvation is all of grace, but the Bible does not leave is big loopholes through which we may squeeze to avoid God’s chastising. I have observed before that there appear a number of times when Jesus chides his disciples for their lack of faith. He doesn’t just say, “It’s all right chaps, I understand,” but instead says, “I expect more of you and am disappointed by your lack of faith.”
Check it out: “O you of little faith,” (Mt 6:30 to the crowd), “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt 8:26 of the fearful disciples), “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31 of Peter on the water), “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?” (Mt 16:8 of the disciples) In each of these cases he clearly expected more of them.
I also associate this same sort of thinking with those who are profusely apologetic about something, but carry on doing it. I watch someone who is always late to the prayer meeting and who is profusely apologetic – but keeps on being late. I watch the preacher who goes on and on and then apologizes for going on so long, but keeps on doing it despite the general agreement for preaching of a certain duration. Some of us seem to think if we keep on saying sorry that will be all right. It isn’t, it is meaningless. We make excuses for ourselves and then think, “Well, the Lord understands.” Well yes He does – He sees you are lazy or indifferent or whatever else may be at the root of your ongoing failure. Yes, let’s recognize it for what it is – failure, sin!
As we noted previously Zechariah is probably in a ‘settled’ mode of thinking where he expects no change, but now the change has happened and he’s been chosen to light the candles and as he does so an angel appears to him. Well if those two things weren’t earth shattering enough, the angel starts talking about Elizabeth conceiving and having a baby in her old age. Now I don’t know what form this angel took but we should probably assume that he was clearly an angel and not merely someone who has sneaked into the Temple – and that Zechariah realises he is an angel. Now angels come from God so this is the equivalent of God speaking to him. Now if you think I am over-emphasizing this and being too hard on Zechariah just consider Moses in Ex 3 & 4. It would appear that it is not an unusual thing to argue with God and He responds according the nature of the event. For Zechariah it means he is going to be dumb for the next nine months.
But note his excuse: “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” I am now what a hundred years ago would be called ‘an old man’, so I can empathize with this situation in some measure but what Zechariah is saying is, neither of us are up to this any longer, we can’t do that. It is a common attitude among many who are getting on in years (let alone those in passive or settled mode who are younger!). We were having a corporate pray-over-people time in our morning service fairly recently and I was directing people where to go and pray and who to pray over and one person wanting prayer only had one person standing with them so I turned to one of our elderly ladies still sitting and asked her to go over and pray with that other person. At the end of the meeting she came over and thanked me profusely for involving her and that set me thinking. She was the widow of a prominent church elder in the past but had obviously got into a place where she no longer expected to be included in ministry. Why????
One of my favourite sets of verses (for fairly obvious reasons) is at the end of Psa 92: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) We who are Christians are ‘the righteous’, made so by Jesus, and so with him leading, inspiring, guiding, teaching and equipping us, we will flourish, we will grow, we will still bear fruit in old age, testifying to the unchanging grace and goodness of God that still flows in and through us. If you are a young person, your turn will come in the next study; please be patient. However, for those of us in older age, please be challenged, be stirred as I tell you of my recent testimony.
For the last six months or so I have been leading a Sunday evening prayer meeting where the majority of the people are over sixty, some over seventy and even a number over eighty. Nothing unusual about that, but I only agreed to lead this prayer meeting if I could teach on learning to listen to God and minister to one another, particularly through gifts of revelation. One evening a while back I felt the Lord prompt me to point across the group to one of the elderly but sprightly ladies and say, “Would you like the gift of prophecy?” She looked confused and spluttered a ‘no’, and so I simply passed on to the next thing. She missed seeing me at the end of the meeting but next Sunday morning came and waylaid me and (don’t laugh) said, “I’m ever so sorry but last Sunday evening I didn’t have my hearing aid in and so didn’t properly hear you, but yes, please I would really love to be able to prophesy. I prayed over her and then found someone who needed prayer ministry and got her to pray over this person and she heard the Lord and brought what He has to say, simply and beautifully. Oh, by the way she’s eighty four. Please never say, “I’m too old” when the Lord stretches out to you. You may be old but we’ll see an elderly couple in a later meditation who were still going strong in their old age and ended up blessing the Son of God himself. How wonderful. So yes, you can bless the Lord when you just say, “Yes Lord, what’s next.”