Love Series | Elizabeth (Part Four)

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.

(Luke 1:13 KJV)


A couple weeks ago, the Samaritan woman’s story in Part 2 of the Love Series emphasized that love modeled after Christ breaks barriers.

Society sets up expectations of what success is, what love is, what fulfillment is in ways that are deceitful, fruitless, and contrary to what God defines them as. When we turn to the Bible, we learn that there is no fear in God’s love (1 John 4:18), there is no condemnation (1 John 4:9-11), there are no limits (Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 86:15). When we practice a barrier-breaking, countercultural, and selfless love, we set ourselves and others free.

For the last part in the Love Series, we look at Elizabeth, a woman who loved God in a limitless way–and how He blessed her in a way that surpassed human expectations.

INTRODUCING ELIZABETH

(Reference: Luke 1:5-25)

Elizabeth was the wife of Zacharias, a priest in a temple in Jerusalem (v. 5, 8-9). Right away, she seems to be in a desolate circumstance. Elizabeth couldn’t conceive, and perhaps others looked down on her and her husband because they were old had no children. Elizabeth herself probably felt burdened because she was considered “barren.”

Nevertheless, God moved in this hopeless situation.

And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 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 (Luke 1:11-13).

An angel approached Zacharias during his usual service in the temple, giving a special message from the Lord–that his wife would conceive a son. Zacharias first responded in fear when he saw the angel, then with doubt. After so many years of being childless, such a message was hard to believe.

And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 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 (Luke 1:18-19).

Nevertheless, the angel, Gabriel, assured him that this was something from God. It was Zacharias’ own answered prayer (v. 13)–and it would come to pass. Despite Zacharias’ initial unbelief, Elizabeth became pregnant.

The Effects of God’s Love: Hopelessness to Favor

And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men (Luke 1:24-25).

God restored Elizabeth, giving her a new beginning. Beyond this miracle, there was something even greater to come–He was about to restore humanity through the birth of Jesus. Just as God brought Elizabeth from sadness to joy, He was about to do the exact same for humanity through a Savior.

Elizabeth had special favor from God. Luke 1:41 tells us that she was filled with the Holy Ghost–and she was the first in the book of Luke to experience this: And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

Because of the presence of the Holy Ghost, Elizabeth and even her unborn son–who stirred in her womb–were the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, while He was still in Mary’s womb.

God brought Elizabeth amazing restoration, and this remarkable moment was one of the many blessings of this restoration. God’s gracious love allowed Elizabeth to go from childlessness to fertility, the impossible to the possible. He is faithful to fulfill promises. Even this moment of recognizing the Messiah was a reminder of that He was about to fulfill another promise, the coming of the Savior who would restore His people.

Another blessing was the child God had blessed Elizabeth and Zacharias with. Their son, John, would become John the Baptist–a forerunner of Jesus. John had a tremendous purpose for the Lord, as He helped prepare people for the coming of the Messiah, encouraging them to turn away from sin and be baptized as a showing of their repentance and new life. So, not only was this child a blessing to the couple, but he would grow up to have a tremendous ministry that would lead many to Christ.

Gabriel gave a special prophesy about John the Baptist.

And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 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. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God (Luke 1:14-16).

Before John was born, Elizabeth and Zacharias were given assurance that this birth would bring great joy–which it did. That John would be filled with the Holy Ghost even in Elizabeth’s womb–which he was. And that many would turn to Christ because of this birth–which they did.

See how God is faithful?

Gabriel also tells Zacharias that he would become mute until everything God had promised concerning the birth of John came to pass. This might seem like a strange promise–but I believe it showed even more that God was working. Even as Zacharias was in the temple with the angel, people outside were aware that something was happening:

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 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. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house (Luke 1:21-23).

There were others who were about to witness God’s glory. Now that Zacharias was mute, it could not be ignored that something supernatural, God Himself, was at work. And of course, just as He promised, after Elizabeth gave birth, Zacharias regained his speech.

The First Step: Elizabeth’s Love for God

Now that we’ve looked more into this miracle, let’s look back at Elizabeth. She and Zacharias both had a love for God. It wasn’t a love that was simply lip-service but a love that matched with actions. We see this first by Zacharias’ diligence in his service for the Lord in the temple. This true sacrificial love for God is why they are described as righteous before Him (v. 6).

The fact that the angel Gabriel approached Zacharias and Elizabeth to conceive John the Baptist is also telling of their character. They had to be righteous before God in order to raise such a man who would do wonders for His kingdom! That’s huge to keep in mind. Though there was initial doubt, Elizabeth believed (v. 45). She believed God, and she was used by Him.

Gabriel is the same angel who visited Mary and Joseph regarding the birth of Jesus (v. 35). In verse 36, He even uses Elizabeth’s restoration as an example to comfort Mary: And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. Elizabeth was unlikely to become pregnant, but her testimony showed that God could not be limited–and so, Mary could trust Him.

For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).

I love that both Zacharias and Elizabeth both were God-honoring. They were both Christ-minded. The couple was present before the birth of Jesus and were used as a team during this time to prepare others for His coming (just as their own son, John, would do in the future!) Elizabeth was used as a testimony for Mary, and similarly, Zacharias was used to prophesy about Jesus, who Mary would birth. Just as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, so was Zacharias (v. 67). We see this prophecy in verses 67-80, where Zacharias spoke of the restoration Jesus will bring to all people.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; (Luke 1:68-71).

“WHAT ABOUT ME?”

Elizabeth’s love for God is not only boundary-breaking but bridge-forming. Her obedience and trust in Him built bridges that allowed others around her to be blessed–her husband, her cousin, Mary, and Joseph, her son, John the Baptist, and those who were brought to Christ as a result. Also, Elizabeth’s love for God broke the boundaries built by the world who would have said that none of these things were possible–starting from Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy at an old age.

Does our love for God break boundaries of doubt and form bridges of restoration?–Or does it fall short? Is our love for God a limited love based on what’s going on in our lives? Do we only trust Him when we see things are working out?–Or do we trust Him when there seems to be no answer–or when things don’t go our way at all?

Funny enough, our love for God will reflect in our love for others. You limit a limitless God, you’ll find that you’ll definitely limit a limited human.

The restoration God gave to Elizabeth and so many others in this story–and the stories of the other women we’ve explored in the Love Series is available for us today.

God knows our flaws, our strongholds, and He still promises His presence. Instead of leaving us, He gave his Son so we could have eternal life and freedom on earth as His children. He continues to give blessings today even when we don’t deserve it.

Elizabeth’s story shows the limitlessness of our Savior’s love. The nature of His love is a model for how we should love Him. It’s an agape love–a sacrificial, unconditional, no-strings-attached, nothing’s-in-it-for-me kind of love.


And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

(Luke 1:45 KJV)

Love Series | Anna (Part Three)

And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

(Luke 2:38 KJV)


Would you still love God if you lost everything?

Anna, a widow in the New Testament, reminds us of Who our first love is. If we have more concern for human relationships than our relationship with God, we can experience major consequences.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).

Whoa. Whoa. Is Jesus calling us to hate others?

Absolutely not. Based on the commandment He deems the second most important–to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)–He definitely isn’t calling us to hate others. Based on the Word, we know that God loves and cherishes community, unity, and relationships.

Now why does Jesus use the word “hate” here? He’s giving us a comparison. That is, we are commanded to love God in a way that is immeasurable in comparison to our love for others. This makes sense that He would tells us this, looking back at our first commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).

It’s okay to cherish relationships. They are blessings in our lives, and God is gracious to provide them. They are additions. But if we are to truly cherish and care for the things God has given to us, we need to have a strong foundation in Him. Following God shapes our minds and hearts in a way that allows us to love others as we ought to.

Anna is a remarkable woman in the Bible who, honestly, lost everything. Yet, based on her life, it’s evident that she understood this concept of loving God. Despite the tragedies she faced, Anna’s love for Him brought fulfillment not only to her but to others, and the Lord didn’t let this go without a special blessing.

INTRODUCING ANNA

(Reference: Luke 2:36-38)

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38 KJV).

Anna only appears in these three verses in Luke, but we can learn so much from her and about her in this moment.

First and foremost, we learn that Anna is a woman of God based on her descriptions.

Prophetess (Luke 2:36)

This doesn’t mean that she dabbled in a form of fortune-telling or foreseeing the future. A prophet was a person who spoke the Word of God (meaning prophetess was a woman who spoke the Word of God). From this, we know right away that she was known for proclaiming God’s Word to others. Perhaps she was considered a teacher or encourager in the temple to other women.

Of the Tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36)

This tribe was an example of God’s grace. In the Old Testament, when Israel had split into “Israel,” the apostate northern kingdom, and “Judah,” the southern kingdom, both nations were consumed by idolatry and corruption. Later, the Assyrians conquered Israel and took many as captives. The tribe of Asher (descended from Asher, son of Jacob) was the remnant who escaped this, having either migrated before the conquest or were part of the few exiles who returned from captivity. So, Anna had a great heritage stemming from the tribe of Asher, who served a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of chaos.

Now, I’m going to skip forward slightly. In addition to being a prophetess and of the tribe of Asher, Anna could be found serving God.

And she . . . which departed not from the temple, served God with fastings and prayers night and day (Luke 2:37).

Anna took her relationship with the Lord seriously. She stayed in the temple. We’re not given further information about this, but perhaps she was given accommodations to live there–especially since she was pursuing a purpose, as she was serving God and proclaiming His Word.

An important detail is that she had made a routine of fasting and praying 24/7. Can you imagine the beauty of such a close relationship with God? She knew that loving the Lord was a choice and had to be followed with actions. Anna made it a habit to seek Him diligently.

Now, let’s look earlier in the passage:

she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years (Luke 2:37).

Anna lived a life of tragedy and devastation–and still, she had dedicated her life to pleasing God. She was now of old age, but she had been married young–only for seven years–then her husband passed away. She’s not noted to have children, and now she had been widowed for 84 years!

Also, being a widow in this society was not easy whatsoever. Marriage was necessary for survival and security for a woman during these times. Without a husband or sons, a widow would more than likely live a life of poverty. There were very limited opportunities for such a woman. So, we know that Anna had to live a simple life, without excess. To emphasize the hardship and poverty a widow–especially older ones–faced, Paul even acknowledged the burden by encouraging widows to remarry while they were young:

So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need (1 Timothy 5:14-16).

Understanding this context, Anna’s circumstances seemed to guarantee a life of suffering and loneliness. Nevertheless, as we’ve read previously, her life was anything but that.

Anna was honoring the Lord. She had no distractions, no longer any relationships or material possessions to sacrifice, but she was literally sacrificing all of her time and even her nourishment through prayer and fasting to the Lord. And she was being taken care of. The Lord provided her a place in the temple, she had contact with others who she probably discipled, and she had a deep relationship with God. She was being nourished by God Himself–and then, she had an encounter with Jesus that few others experienced.

A Love that Bears Fruit

This closeness to the Lord bore amazing blessings.

And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

This type of intimacy with Christ is so special because we are able to know God, to know His voice, His mind. Anna herself had this intimacy with Him, as she recognized her Lord–because she knew His characteristics so well. Through her time spent with Him, she had a heart that was prepared to meet her Messiah. She was probably praying about uniting with Him, and her prayers had been answered. In fact, she was one of the first people to see Jesus when He was born.

The very instant when Anna is introduced in Luke 2 is when Christ was born and Simeon had spoken a prophecy about the infant Jesus:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

When Simeon spoke of Christ, Anna knew it was Him–the Messiah she had been waiting for–and she instantly went to meet Him and became a witness of His birth.

It’s interesting that there are accounts of people in the Bible who did not recognize Jesus. For instance, remember the Samaritan woman from Part 2? At first, she had no idea she was talking to Jesus, even though He knew everything about her and made that known, showcasing a knowledge–and compassion–only the Savior had. Though there were rumors of His coming, people perhaps expected Him to come in some sort of spectacle, if He was truly the Son of God. However, instead Jesus lived humbly and was even born into the world in a lowly way–in a stable.

I believe that Anna’s opportunity to come in and see her Savior was one example of how God honored her faithfulness and love for Him. Though she lived a simple life and had experienced great loss, she had unspeakable joy and security because she knew her Lord–a type of joy she had to share with others.

Just seeing Jesus once–and as an infant–was enough for Anna to speak about Him to those who were also seeking Him (Luke 2:38). Again, she displays a gift of discernment that was born through her time with the Lord. Just as she recognized Christ, she recognized others who desired redemption through Him and spoke directly to these people. One woman’s faith and diligence impacted many lives. Yet, we often we feel need to see God manifest Himself several times before we obey Him.

Lastly, I love that Anna met Jesus in the midst of her daily routine of serving Him. She had no time to make herself look “good” or suddenly become right before Him. Her love for God was evident and her heart was already in the right place. She was eternity-minded, with her Savior as her main preoccupation. This is a sincere passion for the Lord that one cannot fake–especially not before Him.

What would Jesus find you doing if He was ready to “meet” you? Would you be ready?

“WHAT ABOUT ME?”

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Imagine that kind of love!

Focusing on romantic love, let’s think back on Anna’s life. A life that honored God, despite tragedies, particularly her loss of a husband at a young age, then being single for pretty much the rest of her life–not even having any kids of her own to keep her company. This would be a nightmare for most people. Many do desire marriage, and that’s perfectly fine. Marriage is created by God, so it’s a God-given desire and blessing. However, the issue is when a desire becomes an idol, a seeking-after-fulfillment kind of thing.

Anna’s story is a reminder of the realities of life. Anything can happen. Even the worst things. Not everything goes according to plan. In fact, things often don’t. If we hold onto people and things so tightly, our world would shatter in a way that seems irreparable if we lose them. Why would this happen? Because we were putting these things or people in a position that only God can fill. He’s the One who is eternal and without fault. So, while people naturally come with their own ups-and-downs, misunderstandings, and hurts, God is stable.

When we realize that others in our lives aren’t God, we are in the best position to love them. We will not expect things that people cannot give, and when there are slip-ups, we have a Christ-centered perspective on how to handle them. That’s why we are called to love God more than anything else. God knows how much we need Him, as He can truly fill our longings. When we love Him above all else, we are able to pour out a selfless love to others that has pure intentions–as opposed to a  fragile “love” that only seeks for its own and is easily shaken up or disappears in conflict.

I urge you to put God first. He will give you the eyes and ability to love others in many different scenarios as He has loved us.

He will take care of you.


But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

(Matthew 6:33 KJV)