A Wonderful Life
Intro – A cartoon of Calvin and Hobbs shows Calvin, a mischievous little boy, saying, “Happiness isn’t good enough for me. I demand euphoria!” We’ve got a lot of people demanding euphoria these days – many spurred on by the false prophets of wealth and prosperity that flood our TV screens. Then we have the other side of the equation represented by a guy lying on a psychiatrist’s couch, looking very unhappy. The doc says to him, “Look, making you happy is out of the question, but I can give you a compelling narrative for your misery!” We want euphoria or a good excuse why not!
What is happiness? How about the movie “A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart that shows up each Christmas? If you’ve seen it, you know that the message is that a wonderful life consists of appreciating the things we have instead of longing for what we don’t have. Great film. Good message.
But I’d like to go a step beyond happy this morning to ask, how about a blessed life? Our passage has two blessed women – “blessed” is repeated three times. Interpretive principle – look for repeated words as a clue to the meaning of a passage. So what does it mean to be blessed? Often it is translated “happy.” That’s okay. But I’d suggest that “Happy is how you feel; blessed is how you are.” Happiness is outward. Blessedness is inward – deep inside. Can’t always be happy, but we can always be blessed. It describes a life that has been favored by God and recognizes and revels in that favor. That’s blessing. And this morning I’d like us to see 4 elements of blessing. What characterizes a blessed life?
I. Basks in Fellowship
Gabriel has just left Mary after turning her life upside down. Lu 1:39, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Unlike Zechariah, Mary asks for no sign – but God gives one. Lu 1: 36 says Elizabeth is miraculously with child in her old age. Implied is that Mary should pay a visit, and she quickly complies. This shows 2 things about Mary – she is quick to obey, and she seeks Godly fellowship to share the joy and challenges of her new situation as the unwed mother-to-be of Messiah.
Mary’s emotions must have been all over the place – reveling in the unprecedented honor of bearing the anointed One, but wondering how her pregnant status will play with her fiancé, family and community. She’s learning service comes with a price. So, she quickly seeks God’s solution – fellowship with other believers. There she found the affirmation, comfort, assurance, and help. Zechariah, still can’t speak, so Elizabeth greets her in Lu 1:42 “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Not everyone would see it that way. Even Joseph was initially going to divorce her until an angel assured him of Mary’s fidelity. But in Elizabeth and Zechariah she found comfort. She didn’t try to tough it out on her own.
This is exactly why God created the church. Christian living without fellowship is like your right arm saying to other body members – You guys go ahead. I’m going it alone. Crazy, right? But that’s a Christian operating in solitude. John Wesley said, “There’s nothing more unchristian than a solitary Christian.” [Repeat]. I know you don’t like everyone at church. I realize there are hypocrites among us. We’re not the coolest gang around, and we have as many flaws as the rest of the world – but we are united in this: Christ is our head. We have a common purpose, a common destiny, a common outlook and sooner or later you are going to discover that you need us, and we need you. Believers going it alone end up being lonely failures. Usually they just throw in the towel at some point. They check out.
Togetherness is God’s plan for His people. The early believers in Acts 2:42, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” That’s the bare minimum for Christian living, and fellowship is right in the middle of it. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” “Be together.” The teaching, love and empathy will keep you on track. Without fellowship you will compromise. We all need encouragement to hold the line! Paul needed it! Romans 1:11-12, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul needed them as much as they needed him. If Paul needed fellowship, think we might?
During World War II, the Japanese experimented to find how best to extract secrets. Know what they found? Solitary confinement! After a few days of solitary, most men would tell all. Similarly, believers who skip church are easy prey for temptation and abandonment of values. We are not meant to go it alone. Blessing is in being together. The blessed life is like a wheel with all kinds of activities around the perimeter – work, recreation, volunteering, clubs and so forth. But the hub – the thing that can’t be let go – the thing that makes it all function in a Godly manner is the fellowship of other believers. Without that, you forfeit much blessing God intends for you.
II. Based in the Lord
Every person here is blessed based on their proximity to Jesus. Mary is blessed. Why? Because she is carrying the Lord in her womb. She’s with child by now. We know because Elizabeth mentions the fruit of your womb!” No one was closer to Jesus than Mary – and her life was immeasurably blessed by her proximity to Jesus. Elizabeth is joyously blessed. Why? Lu 1:43, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Two things strike me about Elizabeth. Her humility. She’s had a miraculous conception herself. And, she is the older of the two. Yet, she joyously defers to Mary. Her humility is a wonderful blessing in itself, isn’t it? So, she’s blessed with humility, but second, we see her great joy at the presence of Jesus. Proximity to Him has marked her out for blessing.
How about John? This is remarkable. John is 6 months along at this point -- not independently conscious. But he is a prophet in-utero, and the Holy Spirit causes a reaction in him because Jesus is present. Like God’s words in Jer 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (think of how this speaks to abortion issue); I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” What a dramatic illustration of God’s power to direct a life. John, the forerunner, reacts to Christ’s pre-natal presence with his own pre-natal announcement by leaping in his mother’s womb. The point is, You can’t be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and not be blessed. But the opposite is also true – you can’t truly be blessed apart from the presence of Christ.
You say, “Well, okay, but Mary had a slight advantage. She was family!” True! But turn to Mark 3. Jesus has just appointed the 12 apostles. He returns home to Capernaum, having moved from Nazareth. But when he gets home He is mobbed. People are everywhere, and his family is beside themselves. A year ago he was running the family business as He had been doing for over a decade. This new Jesus is a debacle from their perspective. In fact, verse 20 of Mark 3 tells us that they were trying to extricate Him because they thought Him “out of his mind.” They are determined on an intervention!
Meanwhile He takes on the highly regarded Pharisees, up from Jerusalem to see what’s doing. This is the last straw. Mom and family come to get Him. Mark 3:32 "32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” [Now, watch this] 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Incredible! Thought you knew Jesus? Did you know He disavowed his own family – in favor of those who do the will of God? Do you see that? Why is it recorded? It gives us hope of blessing based on our proximity to the Lord. If you’re doing His will, you are family!
We can’t become Jesus’ parents. And we can’t be in His physical presence like Elizabeth and John. But we can be family. Our proximity can be as close as theirs. He claims as brothers and sisters all who do the will of God. Eph 1:5 affirms, “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” If you are in Christ, you are an adopted child of God. That makes Jesus your big brother. You say, That sounds too familiar! Really!? Turn to Heb 2:14, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
But there’s more. Heb 2:10 “For it was fitting that he (the Father), for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation (Jesus) perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies (Jesus) and those who are sanctified (believers) all have one source. That is why he (Jesus) is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Are you a believer? Then you’re family. Jesus is your older brother. In verse 13 He calls us “the children God has given me.” In verse 17 -- He was “made like his brothers in every respect.” And in Lu 1:18: “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Blessing is having Jesus as your big brother and ultimate helper. Apart from Him, the best you can hope for is what Heb 11:25 calls the “pleasure of sin for a season.” Fun for awhile, but just like deer season ends, sin season ends. Then you have to pay up. There is no blessed life apart from Him.
This is the point of that rather obscure account of Jacob wresting all night with a man in Genesis 32. He is returning home after years away, but fears brother Esau still wants to kill him for stealing the blessing. He sends a gift to Esau, separates his entourage hoping to escape with something if Esau attacks, and settles down for the night. He ends up wrestling all night with an angel, later revealed to be God. As dawn breaks in Gen 32:26 the stranger says, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You’d think he’d let the guy go, but no. He has seen how his opponent easily puts his hip out of joint by a mere touch; realizes that he has been going easy on him all night – knows now that it is God. And he now sees that all of his effort to get blessing – by cheating his brother to get his blind father’s favor, by acquiring wealth from Laban, by getting the girl of his dreams – he sees these all as inadequate. He sees that he can have blessing from God alone, and so he at long last clings to the one source of true blessing. God has been waiting for years to hear these words from Jacob – “I will not let you go, until you bless me.” Have you had that wrestling match with God? Are you clinging to Him today? Do you see that there is no wonderful life apart from Him? He’s wrestled sin down for you; He’s done all the work for you. All that remains is to say, “Yes, I want in. I claim God as my Father and Jesus as my brother based on his death and resurrection.” Proximity to Him makes a wonderful life, Beloved.
How do we get proximity? The Bible certainly does not leave us in the dark on that. Psa 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, not sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does He meditate day and night.” This isn’t rocket science, is it? How do we find the will of God – in the Word of God? How do we get close to Jesus? Through His Word. It all comes back to the Word, doesn’t it? A blessed life is saturated with the Word.
III. Blesses Others
To be blessed is to bring blessing. Lu 1:43, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth is blessed by the very presence of Mary with her – a blessing that extends three months. And, conversely, Elizabeth blesses Mary. Lu 1:42, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Because of the work of God in their lives, both these women are blessing carriers. Are you a blessing carrier?
Someone has observed that everyone can make others happy – some by arriving and some by leaving. So, which are you? Do you bring blessing by your presence or by your absence. In large measure that will define whether you are living a blessed life. Remember how Paul wrote from prison in Eph 6:21, “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.” What an example of blessed living. The guy in jail is the one doing the encouraging! A blessed life does that. A blessed life brings Christ. Do we bring Christ to others?
IV. Believes God’s Promises
If you don’t get anything else I say this morning, please get this. The key to this whole passage is in Lu 1:45 where Elizabeth says to Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” The key to a life of blessing? Believe what God says. Sounds easy. It’s not! Get the picture. Here stands Elizabeth, Mary on one side, Zechariah on the other – Zechariah, who can’t utter a word because he didn’t believe and Mary who is richly blessed because she did believe. The contrast could not have been greater, right? Zechariah, the elder, the spiritual representative, he of exemplary life – and yet when God told him the impossible, he could not buy it. Then Mary – too young and inexperienced not to believe! Sometimes age and experience work against us, don’t they? Sometimes we know too much for our own good. The wording in Lu 1: 45 makes clear Mary was blessed because she believed there would be a fulfillment of what God had said. When He said, You will bear a baby who will be Messiah despite the biological impossibility, Mary believed it. And there she stood before Elizabeth – the only virgin mother-to-be in the history world – proof positive of the value of believing God’s Word.
The life of blessing believes the promises of God. Most of us will say, “Well, I do. I believe the promises of God.” But we are way more like Zechariah than Mary. See, God tells us some impossible things too. And then He puts us to the test! And then we have to choose – believe or doubt! God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” then the doctor says, “It’s cancer.” It feels like He already flew the coop. Will we doubt – or will we hang on with both hands to the promise? What will you do?God promises in James 5:16, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” then our much-prayed for child goes astray. Will we doubt, or will we hang on with both hands? Easy to believe? No way. That’s why we miss blessing. Blessing comes with believing. That doesn’t mean immediate yes answers. It doesn’t mean that we get whatever we want; it means we get whatever He wants – and that’s much better. It means trusting God, not trusting the answer! That’s blessing. That’s the faith that unleashes His power.
Ever think how Joseph felt, sold into slavery at the age of 17 by his own brothers? Yet he kept his head high – did his job with diligence, worked himself into a favored position where he ran the household of a high official. Furthermore, although he was at an age where the hormones were raging, and the wife presented with an unbelievably attractive proposition, he rejected her – repeatedly – choosing to believe God instead of her beauty. That’s a blessed life, so what was the reward? The reward? She accused him of rape and got him thrown into the hellhole of an Egyptian prison. That is blessed?!? To be chained up with the perverts and scum of the earth in the equivalent of the black hole of Calcutta – all for believing God and doing the right thing? That’s blessing? Didn’t look like blessing!
But seen from enough distance, from God’s perspective, it was just one step to the #2 position if all of Egypt. More importantly, it was the step that led to the saving of his family and, get this, the salvation of the prophesied line of the Messiah. Most Bible commentators miss this. It wasn’t becoming #2 that was the blessing. Joseph was blessed in prison or he would never have become #2. He was a blessing carrier. He believed the promises. That’s what equipped him to gain the reward of becoming #2, not for itself, but as a the human means of enabling the promises by saving the Messianic lineage!
Let me make it really personal this morning. If Joseph’s brothers didn’t sell him into slavery, or if Joseph had become a despondent and moody slave, or if Joseph hadn’t chosen the promises of God over the pleasures of sin – then his brother Judah, through whom came the line of Christ, would have starved to death in Canaan. The promises of God would have gone up in smoke, and your salvation and mine would have disappeared in the satisfaction of Joseph’s lust. That’s how close it was! Is God great or what? God is great. You didn’t know you had so much at stake in Joseph’s faithfulness, did you? The life of blessing holds desperately to the promises of God, realizing that reward is coming. It may not be today; it may not be tomorrow; it may not be for years; it may not even be in this life; but it is coming; it is as sure as He is, and in that is great blessing. Are you holding on? Some of you have some deep water right now. Are you holding on?
Conclusion – Jonathan Edward was arguably the greatest preacher and theologian in American history. And yet there was a time when, over a controversy regarding who could participate in the Lord’s Supper – Edwards maintaining that it was for true, confessed believers – 230 members of his congregation voted for his dismissal; 29 voted for him to stay. How did he react? Listen to one eyewitness account. "I never saw Jonathan Edwards display the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week." [Listen to this phrase] "He appeared like a man of God whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies." Isn’t that the essence of blessing – to cling to the promises of God so absolutely nothing in this life, nothing in this world, nothing even in the realm of Satan can touch us? That’s a wonderful life, a blessed to life – to be living out of reach of all but the Father. And it’s available to all who will know and do His will. It’s a wonderful life. Let’s pray.