The Silence if Broken (2): Flawed But Fruitful
Intro -- One the second day of their honeymoon, Eric takes Louise’s hand and says, “Now that we’re married, Dear, I hope that you won’t mind if I mention a couple little defects that I have noticed about you.” Louise replies, “Not at all. It was those little defects that kept me from getting a better husband.” Well, we’re all defective in some way, aren’t we? But Zechariah, whom God used to break His 400 year silence in Israel, show God uses flawed people. Even as His perfecting work continues, we can be useful. It is critical that we get it through our minds that God can and does use flawed people. WE don’t want to be any more defective than necessary! But God uses defects – let’s all of us in!
Last week we saw that Zechariah was forgettable (the world’s perspective); faithful; fearful but favored. And there is more today that will encourage us that God never calls someone to faith in Christ without having a place for them to serve. One without the other is unknown in Scripture. Drawbacks to service are in our minds, not His. Zechariah illustrates this further.
V. He was Fruitful
Zechariah’s life is about to become especially fruitful through his son, John. We will look at him as a pattern for fruitfulness. But we must first note that every true believer will bear fruit. Every one. Look at John 15. Verse 1: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Many think this describes two kinds of Christians – fruitful and fruitless! But that is not true. First, why would Christ only prune the fruit-bearers? Surely, if all were Christians, he would prune all, especially non-producers. Further, note the fate of the fruitless branches in verse 6 “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” That cannot be the fate of a true believer. That is someone who looked like a true branch, who did Christian things. But they never owned Christ as Lord. They weren’t real, so they are separated from God’s presence. True believers bear fruit, so let’s ask, what fruit is there in my life?
Like the fruit of the Spirit listed in Gal 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, etc. Do those things characterize our lives? But we must also ask, does my life point to Christ? Above all, that distinguishes believers from pretenders. John models a fruitful life in 4 ways to measure ourselves against.
A. A Fruitful Life is Spirit-Filled
Verse 15: “for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” John the Baptizer is unique from the start. He is a miraculous gift of God for his family and for the nation; he exemplifies greatness in a way we will not experience. One sign of this is that he will not drink wine of strong drink. This was one discipline of the OT Nazirites who were especially dedicated to God. This does not mean the Bible teaches total abstinence from alcohol. Wine, in greatly watered down form, was commonly drunk in a culture where water purity was an issue. But the Bible unquestionably teaches moderation and self-control. Drinking to get a buzz on, let alone to get drunk, is looking for joy in the wrong place.
Alcohol controls – and in that sense, it preempts a far more attractive alternative – to yield control to the third member of the Godhead -- the Holy Spirit. The two contrasted here. V 15: “And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” God is urging – let me gladden your heart – control and empower you. Be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, not by the fruit of the vine. John is unique in being Spirit-filled from his mother’s womb. But he is not unique in the experience of Spirit-filling. That is the expectation of every believer. And it is required to produce fruit.
According to I Cor 12:13, every believer is baptized into the Holy Spirit. Every believer has all of the Holy Spirit that he can ever get – just like John. But Paul urges something else in Eph 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Be controlled by God’s Spirit, commands Paul. Let Him set your heart on fire. Immerse yourself in Him. He’s 100% available to you; how much of you does He have? You can’t bear fruit without Him. I can prepare a sermon, but it is fruitless unless I am empowered by the Spirit. The same is true for every action and attitude in our life! Every comment we make at work, every action at home, every decision we take and every attitude we exhibit – every single one, is controlled by the Spirit, or it is controlled by me. His fruit; or my failure! Fruitful lives are Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled lives.
B. A Fruitful Life is Christ-Centered
John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” The Holy Spirit came selectively upon people during OT times. But now – He is constant! Jesus has come – and gone. But God is not gone. He indwells every single believer. And His major role? V. 26: He will “bear witness about me” -- about Christ. The Holy Spirit has a mission to point to Christ. Thus, Spirit-filled people point to Christ. Notice Luke 1:15, “for he will be great before the Lord.” Great where? Before the Lord. John does not live for himself, nor the expectations of his parents or friends or fellow-workers or peers. He lives before the Lord (Jesus Christ) because the Holy Spirit within Him will have it no other way. And notice verse 16: “16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” That’s a life focused like a laser on Christ.
Fruitful, Spirit-filled lives submit every action and decision to Jesus Christ. Some of you may remember Redd, Harper, an old Hollywood cowboy actor who met Christ during the Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles in 1949. Redd’s commitment was total. He gave up his Hollywood career, acted in some early Billy Graham films, and became a traveling evangelist. He came to Hutchinson, Kansas to speak at a Youth for Christ meeting one time, and ended up staying overnight at our home. I saw Christ in a new way through him. Christ-centered – didn’t even begin to describe Redd Harper. He would open the screen door, sweep his arm ahead of him and say, “You first, Lord.” His prayer before meals was intent, reverential, bold and heartfelt. But more impressive was the way he would occasionally talk to the Lord while he was just walking along, practicing a song or some other mundane activity. His was a Spirit-filled life that pointed to the Savior in a persistent, genuine and inspiring way. How well do you know Jesus? Does your life point to Him? Is He on the agenda? Jesus says in Matt 10:32-33, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33) but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Are we living fruitful, Christ-centered lives? How is it with us? Will He acknowledge us to the Father?
C. A Fruitful Life is Wholly Transformed
Verse 16: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Fruitful lives are transformed lives. You can’t have Christ and live like you did before. That’s why he says John’s message will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God – right relationship vertically with the Father. Furthermore, it will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just – renewed horizontal relationships alienated by sin. The message of the gospel transforms. Have you been changed by Jesus?
Note that John the Baptist, as the forerunner of Christ, will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah. Interesting comment! Elijah’s ministry was attended by impressive miracles, John’s ministry is attended by no miracles at all – a big fat zero. And yet, he went in the spirit and power of Elijah. That should tell us something, Beloved. Transformed lives are far greater miracles than physical healings or even someone being raised from the dead. God’s power is most on display in a changed life. Jesus changes things.
Luis Palau was preaching in Peru a few years ago. A terrorist named Rosario, expert in martial arts, killer of 12 policemen, hated the gospel. She went to the stadium one night intent on killing Palau. But as she moved toward him, she had to listen about hell and accountability. She came under conviction, gave her life to Christ and was transformed. By the time Palau met her 10 years later she had helped found 5 churches and an orphanage and was a vibrant witness for Christ. Few transformations are as dramatic as hers, but when Jesus comes in, change happens. Definite change that is the fruit.
D. A Fruitful Life is Results-Neutral
Fruit is about faithfulness, not results. We don’t change hearts; we point to the One who does. Just like John. Malachi 4:5-6 -- God’s last words before 400 years of silence: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” So, was John Elijah?
Jesus answers in Matt 11:14, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” There is an interesting statement, isn’t it? Yes, John is Elijah if you are willing to accept his message of repentance. But, then comes Matt 17. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with Him to a mountaintop where they see Him in all His glory speaking with Moses and Elijah right in front of their eyes! The transfiguration. Incredible! Then v. 9: “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” This is prophecy of a different sort. John would have been the Elijah prophesied in Malachi – but in rejecting Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness as the core of the kingdom, Israel also rejected John as forerunner. For that generation, it was over. Individual people were saved, but the nation had rejected Messiah. John was faithful, but the mission was foiled by unbelief!
But, of course, God was not foiled. Christ is coming again. In Zecharaiah 12:10 God says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” Results are God’s domain. He brings them in His time. We need not despair at unbelief. It is in God's hands. Our fruit is faithfulness; He brings results. Apparent failure is only part of His bigger plan, so be faithful.
VI. He was Flawed
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.” It’s the best day of Zechariah’s life – chosen to offer incense. He could have lived on that alone! But there is more. He will bless all Israel by becoming the father he always wanted to be. He should have been overjoyed. But he was not. He got focused on impossible circumstances and he sank fast. He said, “I need a sign. How can I know?”
Zechariah is not the first person in the Bible to ask for a sign. Abraham asked for a sign when God promised him a child. God gave him a wonderful reassurance you can read about in Genesis 15. Zechariah got deaf and dumb. Why? Why such a harsh sign? Very simple. Abe asked a confirming sign out of a heart of belief (Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness”). But Zechariah asked out of a heart of unbelief. You can’t see it in the English, but in the original, when he says, “I am an old man,” “I” is emphatic. Abraham was saying, “Lord, You are capable, please confirm this plan.” Zechariah is saying, “Lord, I am not capable. And neither, by the way, is my wife.” Major mistake. He thought it was about him. But it never was about him which Gabriel makes very clear.
Look at verse 18. Zechariah says, ““How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. (You can almost see him thrust out his chest, can’t you? So you are an old man. So what? It’s not about you. You may be an old man, but I – once again in emphatic position, countering Zechariah’s “I” – I am Gabriel, and) I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.” He’s saying, “I bring you good news and you turn it into bad news. You forget who you are talking to.”
And, indeed, he had. He was stuck on what he could not do rather than on what God was going to do. But the name Gabriel jerked him back to reality. You may be old, but I am Gabriel. Gabriel spoke his name purposely. Guess where and when he was last seen? It was 600 years before speaking with the prophet Daniel, delivering a prophecy recorded in Daniel 9 (Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy) that predicted “an anointed one” (Meshiach) Messiah would appear 483 years after a command to rebuild the temple which happened in 445 BC. Taking into account calendar changes and the general OT pattern of rounding off years to 360 days, that time was rapidly approaching. And here is Gabriel essentially announcing – The time has come. And you’re front and center. Wow! But all Zechariah can see is his old age. He couldn’t believe because he was looking for solutions in the wrong place. He had the same flaw we have – a tendency to think that God is limited by our limitations. He most emphatically is not.
Now, I love that Zechariah’s flaw did not stop God – not one little bit. Zechariah suffered for his unbelief. God disciplined him because He loved him. The discipline was appropriate. Zechariah’s great news could not be shared in unbelief, so his mouth was closed until his son was born. But his heart was toward God. And God used this flawed man. Aren’t you glad God uses flawed, sometimes faithless nobodies? That let’s us all in.
J. Vernon McGee tells how he knew God had called him to preach, but he could not believe initially God would not provide for him as he did for others. He felt unworthy. He was the unhappiest person at his college graduation. His roommate asked, “What in the world – did somebody die?” McGee replied, “Might as well have. God had called me to the ministry. But I’m through college, the Depression has hit, and I do not have a job this summer nor even a dime to go to seminary next year.” But he goes on, “Without going into details, let me just say that when I went to bed that night, I had checks that totaled $750 which had come from people whom I never dreamed would be interested in seeing me go to seminary. And $750 the year the Depression hit, brother, was a whole lot of money! I thought He was going to drop me. He did, but he did not let me fall.” Beloved, when God calls us – it’s not an issue of our lacks or flaws. It’s a matter of His provision. We just need our eyes on Him – like Peter on the water.
VII. He was Furbished
This is wonderful. V. 23: “And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” The Bible is pointedly lovely here. When Zechariah’s week of service was over he went home. He went home and then Elizabeth conceived. God restored and renewed and refurbished what had been diminished by age and decay and decrepitude. Why is this so wonderful? Well, it was certainly wonderful for Zechariah and Elizabeth.
But more is involved here that a personal favor. Much more. Their union is going to produce a son who is going to announce the Messiah. And the Messiah, the Christ, is going to fulfill the promise that has been hanging out there since the Garden of Eden – the promise that in response to man’s sin which brought alienation, corruption, decay and death – redemption is coming through the seed of the woman. Life is coming through death. Resurrection is coming through faith. And this Messiah, by His life, death and resurrection is going to set in motion the redemptive process that will reverse everything. It will be available to all who will place their complete faith and trust in Him. Believers become new creations internally and will one day inhabit a restored, redeemed, renewed earth where decay and death will themselves die – where eternal life will reign forever. It is all coming. And the preview? The restoration of the reproductive process in this aged, forgettable, fearful, faithless yet faithful old couple. It is a beautiful, lovely illustration of what is coming.
It is all of God – and yet flawed but faithful people are part of the plan! Are you in? Don’t you want to be used by God to help restore all things to His glory? Count me in, flawed though I am – and I hope you too. Let’s pray.