Worship Over Worry
WORSHIP OVER WORRY
Good morning River City!
We are picking up our story from the book of Luke this morning in chapter 1, so you can turn there in your copy of scripture. If you’re new to the Bible, that’s about ¾ of the way through.
The main characters in Luke so far are an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah is one of 18000 Jewish priests who is qualified to serve at the temple. He and his wife are well beyond child-bearing years, and though she was never able to conceive a child, in what we look at last week an angel appeared to Zechariah in the temple and told him they would in fact be having a son.
Zechariah doubted that could happen since he was too old for that, and the angel said, okay – you don’t believe me? Here’s a sign that I’m serious about this; you will not be able to speak until the promise is fulfilled.
Now, I do want to clarify something I didn’t clarify last week, which hopefully goes without saying – If you have someone in your family, or you see someone at the mall or around town who is deaf or hard of hearing, or perhaps can’t speak, or has some other disability, that is not a sure sign that an angel appeared to them and they didn’t believe it. Don’t run over to them and say, “Dude, you didn’t listen to the angel did you?” Don’t do that.
Now, you’re probably not going to DO that to someone else, but I bet you’ve thought it for yourself. You’ve had something not happen like you hoped – didn’t get the job, you got a bad diagnosis from the doctor, you backed into a car and it cost you a lot of money, or whatever – and you’ve wondered if God is punishing you for something you did or didn’t do. Or maybe you got to work, and you wanted to pray for God’s help with something, and this thought comes to your mind – Why would he answer your prayers now since you haven’t read your Bible in over a week? Why should he listen to you after the way you treated your family or after what you watched on your phone?
And it’s easy for us to listen to that voice, right? Situations like this are fertile soil for doubt to grow. We start to doubt God’s presence, doubt his love for us, and we doubt that he could be good to someone like me and we start to think, “maybe I deserve the bad things that happen to me.”
But I think what we can learn from the scripture today is that those situations where doubt wants to grow are also the fertile soil for faith to grow. Faith is put into action when things have been silent for 400 years. Faith is put into action when your circumstances aren’t what you hoped, or they are going to be challenging.
So what does faith look like?
Is it Believing that if I do enough good things for God he will reward me with things I want? Ask Zechariah and Elizabeth how that goes. They were righteous their whole life, and got the child they wanted right as they crossed the finish line.
Believing that God only gives things to me that feel good, and never things that are painful? Ask Mary about that. She would soon have to tell her fiancé that she was pregnant and he knew there was no way it was his. She would have to tell her parents, her grandparents, her synagogue leaders, her friends – and the explanation, “well there was an angel in the room” probably didn’t go over too well.
Faith lives in the tension spots of life. So does doubt. They both grow in the same place – the soil of uncertainty, of difficulty, suffering or sorrow. But here’s the difference:
- Doubt has its roots in the bigness of the circumstances while Faith has its roots in the bigness of God’s abilities.
So let’s let that set the stage for where we’re headed.
Where we left things last week is that Elizabeth is just starting her third trimester, she’s 6 months along, even in her advanced age, and she’s been in hiding to this point.
Mary also had an angel visit, but it carried a lot more tension. While the exciting part was that she would carry the Messiah, the Son of God, the uncertain part was that she would first have to carry the shame of being a teenage mom, with people talking behind her back, calling her names, making assumptions about her character.
This moment is ripe for fear, anxiety, worry, and doubt.
You’ve no doubt had one of those crazy dreams from time to time where you wake up and hope it isn’t true, right? If you dream you house was on fire or something, you wake and quickly look around the room – oh, whew. I was dreaming.
Here's your sign
How is Mary to be sure she wasn’t just dreaming, or imagining the angel and his words – how will she know it’s true?
The angel told her: Here’s how you’ll know this is true: Your relative Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age. That’s your sign. So Mary takes off. She heads for Elizabeth’s house, which was about from here to Davenport. For a young girl that culturally would rarely have left her home, this was a pretty big deal.
If she gets there and Elizabeth doesn’t know what’s up, then Mary was dreaming. If she gets there and Elizabeth is showing and looking pregnant, then she knows it’s really happening – that she is going to give birth to the Son of God!
So she heads for Elizabeth’s house, and you know, maybe she’s been thinking this whole trip – “how am I going to explain to Elizabeth why I'm here?… that an angel showed up and I’m pregnant...” And culturally, the person of lesser social status would go to someone greater with a nice greeting, even a blessing; so maybe Mary is rehearsing what she’ll say to honor Elizabeth as her elder, as the wife of a priest, you know. Mary walks up to the house and calls out her welcome, and what Mary heard next would have blown her away.
Elizabeth starts shouting at her! Verse 41, Elizabeth is suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, and exclaimed with a loud cry…"Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed!  How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!"
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and, in what would probably have caught Mary off guard, Elizabeth takes the role of a servant, showing honor and blessing to her guest instead of receiving it for herself. “Who am I that you, the mother of the Lord, would visit me!?”
And here is John, still growing in Elizabeth’s womb, we know from back in verse 15 that John is already filled with the Holy Spirit, he’s going to prepare the way for Jesus, and before he’s even born he is already doing it. He’s already pointing the way to Jesus. John is filled with the Spirit – points to Jesus. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit – points to Jesus.
The role of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit's job is to make a big deal of Jesus. The Spirit has often been called the “shy” member of the Trinity, because you don’t see him making a big deal about himself. When he fills people like John and Elizabeth, they don’t even mention the Holy Spirit – they just start talking about Jesus.
When the Holy Spirit brings someone from death to life, he does it by opening their eyes to see Jesus. When he gives the Church spiritual gifts, whether it’s natural gifts, like teaching, evangelism, encouragement, Leadership, hospitality, etc, or if it’s supernatural gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, word of knowledge, faith, etc, he intends that whatever gift he gives will draw attention to Jesus – not to the gift itself, not to the person who has the gift, and not even to the Spirit who gave them. He always points to Jesus.
And right here is an example of one of those supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. Mary hasn't said anything except “hello” and Elizabeth is suddenly yelling loud enough for all the neighbors to hear that her Lord, the Messiah, is right here in front of her! She would have no way to know that. What she knows is that her baby is going crazy inside of her, and the Holy Spirit gave her understanding. “It’s because the Messiah is conceived inside your young relative standing at your door.”
The Holy Spirit points to Jesus.
Elizabeth starts her greeting with, “Blessed are you…and your child will be blessed.” Mary wasn’t dreaming. She will be the mother of Jesus. She has been given the gracious gift of raising the Son of God.
Do you think that would be a lot of pressure for a teenager? It’s tough enough for a teenager to be a mom when it’s not the Son of God – how much more when you know you’re raising THE LORD! She doesn’t come from a wealthy family; she doesn’t live in Jerusalem – she lives in a podunk rural town no one is moving to; and worst of all - when she leaves Elizabeth’s house, she’ll have to face the music back in small town Nazareth.
Fear or Faith?
Mary is the perfect candidate for fear. The perfect candidate for anxiety. The perfect candidate for doubt. The perfect candidate to look at her circumstances and conclude that God has given her too much to bear; that she doesn’t have what it takes.
But she’s also the perfect candidate for faith. She is also the perfect candidate to lean into what she knows to be true about God, and say “my circumstances don’t define me – God does.” And instead of bursting into worry, Mary bursts into worship:
 And Mary said: My soul praises the greatness of the Lord,  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,  because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy.  His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him.
Mary’s faith has two elements: A right view of self, and a right view of God.
- RIGHT VIEW OF SELF
- V47: Mary believed she needed a Savior. In fact, when Paul writes in Romans 3, that “no one is righteous, not even one. All have turned aside. No one does what is good. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory…” He’s talking about Mary too. Mary the mother of Jesus needed to be born again by faith in her own son’s life, death, and resurrection. If Mary knew that people today would pray to her and believe that she lived a sinless life, she would say that’s ridiculous.
- V48: Mary saw herself as God’s humble servant. She knows this gift she’s received of carrying the Son of God, of being the one to deliver him into the world, is not something she has earned or deserved. Faith recognizes that we are God’s servants and our responsibility is to listen to his voice, not the other way around.
- RIGHT VIEW OF GOD
- Mary believed God was powerful, holy, and merciful.
- V49: all-powerful (MIGHTY ONE has done great things) – Faith is anchored in God’s ability. verse 51: he has done a mighty deed with his arm, scattering the proud, toppling the mighty from their thrones. Mary is singing what the guys from River City who went to the men’s conference learned last weekend – that God is a warrior, fighting for the sake of those who fear him against the proud, the powerful, the oppressors. Mary believes God is here to wage war and he will take the side of the lowly.
- V49 absolutely holy The word holy means “separate” – in other words, God is not like us. While sin is part of our nature, God is separate from sin. He is not like us. His ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
- There is no sinister angle to what God does. He’s not “out to get you”; there is no karma in the kingdom of God, where you “get what you deserve.” That’s the beauty of Psalm 103:1
- He is perfectly pure in everything he does - 1 John 1:5 God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him.
- and he is merciful – He cares for the lowly, the hungry, the poor, the humble. GOD IS POWERFUL; HE IS HOLY; AND HE IS COMPASSIONATE.
- Mary believed God was powerful, holy, and merciful.
What if God is only powerful? We are in massive trouble. He could fly off the handle at any little thing, and we’ll be destroyed. People will get run over, trampled. He’ll accomplish his glory but with a trail of bodies in the path.
What if God is only holy? We’re in trouble again, because his holiness prevents him from interacting with us in anything other than judgment. Holy means separate, so he would have to separate himself from sinners. There would be no way for us to be made right with him.
What if God is only merciful? Then he could say he loves everyone but sadly there is nothing he can do about our sin or our circumstances; that in the end death or evil or Satan wins the day because God is not powerful enough to defeat them. But he loves you! It doesn't matter how much he loves us if he can’t do anything about our sin.(1)
Faith rightly believes that God is powerful enough to change our circumstances, that he has defeated sin and death in our world, and that he is compassionate.
Mercy for all generations
Mary rightly knows this mercy isn’t just for her, it’s for anyone who is faithful to acknowledge and revere the Lord, anyone who is lowly, anyone who is hungry for righteousness.
V54 That was God’s promise to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed through him – not just Jews. She rightly concludes that what is happening to her is not random. It’s not even about her or her story… It's about God and his story of redemption that he has been working on ever since the garden of Eden.
That is what anchors Mary’s faith, and it’s the same thing that will anchor ours. That is the truth that keeps her from worrying about what will happen to her back in Nazareth, and it’s the same truth that will keep you and I from worrying about what could happen today or tomorrow.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for a few more months, and then, armed with this faith that was rooted deeply in the character and nature of God, headed back to Nazareth to tell her parents, her fiancé, her friends that in fact she was pregnant with the Son of God.
Throughout the centuries and even to this day, that same kind of Holy Spirit-empowered faith helped Daniel walk into a den of lions; helped Shad, Mesh, Abed walk into a fiery furnace; that faith helped David go after a giant; it helped Esther walk into the king’s palace on behalf of her people; it has helped Christians throughout the centuries face persecution and torture and death; because it’s the same Holy Spirit empowered faith that enabled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to walk out to face the crowds that were coming to arrest him.
Jesus anchored himself fully in the plan of the Father. And instead of worrying about what would happen, he stood up, and walked out to the crowd where he would be beaten, mocked, whipped, and crucified for the salvation of many.
It’s what Zechariah sang about after John was born:
 Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited [That is he has shown his concern]and provided redemption for his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,  just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets in ancient times;  salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us.  He has dealt mercifully with our fathers and remembered his holy covenant-  the oath that he swore to our father Abraham. He has given us the privilege,  since we have been rescued from the hand of our enemies, to serve him without fear  in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days.
Jesus went to the cross, carrying the sin and shame that should have been on us, and this warrior God fought against and conquered evil by dying. But Jesus’ faith all along was in his powerful, holy, and merciful Father to raise him from death and once and for all, sin was defeated, death overcome, and the grave robbed of its power.
Because of Jesus, we have been rescued from our enemies, the enemies of sin and death and hell. Because of Jesus, we have been given the privilege of serving HIM! Do you see serving God as privilege? He wouldn’t have had to call any one of us to himself. Remember, none of us were righteous when he found us. None of us were doing good. None of us were seeking him. And yet, he has saved us from ourselves, from the punishment for sin, saved us into his family, where we can serve him WITHOUT FEAR!
Without fear of death, without fear of failing, without fear of missing something God has for us, without fear of what could happen if we obey what he says, without fear of what people will say about us or do to us if we go all in on Jesus.
This is Zechariah, a priest (one of 18000 who can stand before God’s presence) saying, BECAUSE OF THIS SALVATION THROUGH CHRIST, ALL OF US can serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness, in his presence, not once or twice a year, but ALL OF OF OUR DAYS!
Mary and Elizabeth got a sign that it was true – our sign is the empty tomb.
That’s where faith is anchored.
- Jason Blackley in a sermon called Mary's Song given November 15, 2018 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fEUiso0kFM), accessed September 24, 2021