Pt. 18 – The Christmas Story (God is Faithful to Keep His Promises)

God is Faithful to Keep His Promises

The theme of God keeping His promises is interwoven throughout the entire Christmas Story.

The Lord was faithful to His words to Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elisabeth, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. God did for them exactly what He had said He would do.

There are 332 Messianic promises and implications in the Old Testament regarding Christ’s first coming. God fulfilled every single Messianic prophecy when Jesus came to earth—from His conception up until His resurrection and ascension into heaven.

For a complete list of every Messianic prophecy regarding Jesus’ first coming, I would highly recommend a book entitled Lamb of God: Yesterday, Today and Forever (Clarion Call Marketing, 2004) by Benny Hinn. Please go to his website at http://www.bennyhinn.org/ or http://www.amazon.com .

If God has spoken prophetic promises to you, or that of a loved one, just know that He will be faithful to fulfill those words in His due timing.

Numbers 23:19 (NIV) declares, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”

God has promised us many things in His Word. Also, many of us have received prophetic promises that were spoken over us. We want to receive our promise or healing. We know that God is able to do it, but for some reason or another, many are not completely ready to receive their promise or healing at this moment. We have to get to the place where we not only know that God is able to do it, but that He will do it.

In John 5:5-9, Jesus came by the pool of Bethesda and found a lame man who had suffered with an infirmity for 38 years. Jesus said to him, “Do you want to be made whole?”

Rather than the man instantly saying “yes”, he gave Jesus the reasons why he hadn’t been healed in the past. Plus, the man was stuck in the mode of blaming others for his condition. When the man decided to take responsibility for his own life and stop blaming others and making excuses, then he was able to receive his healing.

If prophetic words were spoken over you and it bore witness with your spirit and is in agreement with the Bible, then trust God to perform His Word.

May we prepare our hearts to receive all that God has for us. May we make whatever changes God tells us to make, so that we are ready to receive.

It is time to cross over into our promised land and receive what we have been believing God for. May we not let fear, doubt and other issues get in the way of receiving our promise.

Romans 4:17 says that God calls those things that are not as though they already were. That is what we need to do … begin calling those things in our lives that are non-existent as though they already were in existence. Then we will begin to see those things come into manifestation.

God wants to do something in our life that’s bigger than us. He wants us to believe for the impossible. He’s able to do miracles, even creative miracles.

Jeremiah 32:27 (KJV) says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for Me?” In verse 17 Jeremiah declares, “Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee.”

When Zerubbabel (mentioned in Haggai and Ezra) had faced opposition to restoring the temple in Jerusalem and work had been suspended for several years, the situation looked bleak. However, God spoke through the prophet saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a [level] plain” (Zechariah 4:6-7).

We can personalize this for our own lives. Replace the name Zerubbabel with your name or that of a loved one. Declare aloud, “The Word of the Lord comes to __________ saying, It’s not by your might, nor by your power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before __________ thou shalt become a leveled plain.”

Matthew 21:21 says that if we speak to our mountain and tell it to move out of our way, and do not doubt in our hearts, that it would obey us. What is the mountain (the obstacle or problem) in your life that stands in your way and tries to intimidate or taunt you? You have to speak to it, telling it to get out of your way.

Luke 3:5 speaks of Jesus, saying that He would cause every valley to be filled and exalted, every mountain to be made low, every crooked path to be made straight, and every rough way to be made smooth.

God wants us to keep our focus on Him, and see Him as powerful and mighty and awesome. Who else is like unto Him? Who else can do what only He can do? There is none like Him!

Hebrews 11:11 says that Sarah received the promise (giving birth to Isaac) because she considered Him faithful who had promised. Like Sarah, we need to believe that God is faithful to fulfill everything He said He would do even before we see it happen.

Mary said to Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to thy word”, and then she conceived. May we have the heart of Mary and say to the Lord when He speaks something to us, “Be it unto me according to Thy word.”

This is a season of leaving the wilderness and crossing over into our promised land. There are giants there—new challenges and new devils to contend with, but God will conquer every giant. Although the old can be miserable, it’s familiar. The new seems scary because it’s a place of the unknown.

God has a “promised land” for each of our lives (a place of blessings, joy, abundance and fulfilled dreams). The Lord will lead us there if we take His hand, and be willing to leave the past behind.

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Pt. 10 – The Christmas Story (“His Name is John”)

“His Name is John”

After Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, she hurriedly got ready and a few days later left Nazareth for the journey (approximately 115 miles) south to the highlands of Judea, to the town where Zacharias lived.

When she arrived, she entered the house and greeted Elisabeth. When Elisabeth heard Mary’s salutation, the baby leaped in Elisabeth’s womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Also, the baby John was filled with the Holy Spirit as Gabriel had said in Luke 1:15.

Elisabeth cried out with a loud voice and said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:42-45 NIV)

As the Christ (the Anointed One) in Mary’s womb—just His mere Presence—caused the baby in Elisabeth’s womb to leap for joy, this is a prophetic picture of how that when we are touched by the Lord’s Presence and Anointing in a powerful way, that the seed or dream in our spiritual womb leaps for joy.

After Elisabeth had said, “Blessed is she who believed, for there shall be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord”, Mary replied:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name.

“And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:46-55 NKJV).”

Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months until John was born, and then returned to her home in Nazareth.

When the time came for Elisabeth to give birth, she gave birth to a son just as the Lord had said. Her relatives and neighbors heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy towards her and they were rejoicing with her. They shared in her joy.

They used to feel sorry for Elisabeth, and some said unkind remarks about her. Yet now they were rejoicing with her. People can change like day and night. When you are down and out, some friends are nowhere to be found. But as soon as you become successful, they are your friend. Elisabeth showed them grace and put the past behind.

On the eighth day (as it was the Jewish custom to circumcise male babies at eight days old), the relatives and friends came for the circumcision ceremony. At the circumcision ceremony, the child was officially given his first name.

The relatives and neighbors all assumed the child would be named after his father Zacharias. But Elisabeth answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” So they asked the baby’s father. Zacharias motioned for them to bring him a writing tablet. (He still was mute after Gabriel’s departure a little over nine months prior.) Zacharias wrote on the tablet, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished and marveled (Luke 1:59-66).

Immediately when Zacharias wrote on the tablet, “His name is John”, his mouth was instantly opened and he could speak again. His tongue was loosed and he began to praise God. Fear (holy reverence) came upon those around him and news of what had happened spread throughout the hill country of Judea. All those who heard this pondered it in their hearts, asking “What is this child destined to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him (John).

Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy over his son John, saying:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David (as he said through His holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

“To show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham. To rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:68-80 NIV).

Then the child (John) grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Many of Jesus’ disciples were originally disciples of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is a prophetic picture of the Bride of Christ being a forerunner of Jesus’ second return, declaring to the world: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”, “Repent for the remission of sins”, “Be ready for Jesus’ appearance”, “Are your robes washed in the Blood of the Lamb?”, “Are you prepared and ready to meet the Bridegroom and enter into the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?”

The ministry of John the Baptist was also to “go before Him (Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the upright—in order to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17; Malachi 3:1, 4:5-6; Isaiah 40:3).

John was considered to be the greatest prophet who ever lived (Luke 7:28), second to Jesus. Jesus was more than a prophet—He is God made flesh.

Pt. 6 – The Christmas Story (He Shall Prepare the Way of the Lord)

He Shall Prepare the Way of the Lord

As Zacharias stood before the Altar burning incense and offering up to God prayers and worship, a throng of people were praying in the outer court.

Out of the corner of his eye and through the heavy smoke of Glory in the Holy Place, Zacharias suddenly noticed some movement to the right side of the Altar.  He was gripped with fear at the appearance of the angel of the Lord.

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:13-17, Malachi 4:5-6 NKJV).

The name John, in Hebrew origin, means “Yahweh has favored or Yahweh has graced”.

Zacharias replied, “By what shall I know and be sure of this?  (Zacharias was basically saying “What you say is impossible!”)  I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years!” (Luke 1:18 AMP)

Then the angel replied, “I am Gabriel!  I stand in the very presence of God and I have been sent to talk to you and to bring you this good news.  Now behold, you will be and will continue to be silent and not able to speak till the day when these things take place, because you have not believed what I told you; but my words are of a kind which will be fulfilled in the appointed and proper time” (Luke 1:19-20 AMP).  Then Gabriel departed from him.

Zacharias was made mute because of his unbelief and the Lord had to close his mouth so that he would not cancel out, with his own negative and doubt-filled words, what God wanted to do.

Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life are in the power of the tongue.  The words we speak contain creative power for good or bad.  We shall have what we continually say.

Sometimes God has to shut our mouths, so that when we are tempted to say something negative and doubtful concerning promises God has spoken to us, that we just cannot say it.

It is our tongue that gets us into the most trouble in life, and especially in relationships.  A tongue of continual complaining and unbelief can cancel out, or delay, many of the good things God wants to do in our lives.

Another reason Zacharias was struck mute is because he doubted Gabriel, thus doubting Yahweh too.  The word from the Lord was not delivered in person by a human being (as even the most seasoned of prophets only “see through a glass darkly” and may miss it at times).  Gabriel ministers in God’s very Throne Room, face to face with Yahweh.

There are ranks, or levels of authority, among the angelic hosts of Heaven.  Gabriel is one of the highest ranking chief archangels in Heaven who serves around God’s Throne taking his orders directly from the Most High God.  There is no possibility that he could have made a mistake in hearing from the Lord.

Zacharias had the faith to pray and believe for a child for many years.  However, hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12).  Too much time had gone by.  His heart became hardened and closed off to receiving.

He had lost all hope many years prior, and now he and Elisabeth were too old to have children.  He had come to a place of acceptance—that he and Elisabeth would never have a child.  Gabriel’s message stirred up old desires and hopes in Zacharias’ heart, and disappointments, which was painful, because he had already accepted the fact that it would never happen.

Zacharias is a prophetic picture to us.  When God first drops a promise in our heart, or gives us a prophetic word, we are filled with joy.  But after years of delay, hope deferred makes the heart sick.  The temptation is to give up and relinquish the word.

While many have strong faith to believe for a long time for their promise, due to delays, when the promise finally comes they think they have no strength to give birth to the promise.  Isaiah 66:9 (NKJV) says, “Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the Lord.  “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God.

Birthing prophetic promises is likened to giving birth in the natural.  When the time comes for the promises to be fulfilled, then the labor pains and travail begins.  Once the labor begins, the birthing is imminent.

Travail represents intercession.  When you intercede, it leads to desires and promises being birthed.  Often when a promise comes to pass, it first begins as a seed and then it grows until it is complete.  Therefore, when prophetic words come to pass, often it happens over a process in stages.

Often a prophetic word or promise fails to come to pass because of passivity.  I used to think that when a word was spoken that if it was truly God, that it would automatically come to pass.

However, I’ve been learning that we have a part to play in prophetic promises coming to pass in our lives.  We have to birth the promise in prayer, confess the promise and sow towards whatever it is that we are believing God for.

We have to learn to wait patiently on the Lord.  Hebrews 6:12 (NKJV) says, “That you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We have to cooperate with God by taking appropriate steps of action to bring the promise to pass.  James 2:20 says that faith without works is dead.

Zacharias was in the Holy Place much longer than usual.  The priests outside in the Outer Court waited a long time for Zacharias to come out and began to wonder why he was delayed.

Thoughts raced through their minds.  “Why is he taking so long?  Is everything okay?”  Finally, Zacharias walked out of the Holy Place and remained speechless, unable to talk.  Zacharias beckoned to them in gestures and then the priests realized that he must have seen a vision.

When the days of Zacharias’ service in the Temple were complete, he returned home.  Shortly thereafter, Elisabeth conceived just as God had said.

They kept the pregnancy quiet for five months before telling their relatives and neighbors the joyful news.  Then Elisabeth declared, “The Lord has done this for me!  In these days He has shown me His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (Luke 1:25 NIV).

Our God is a good and faithful God who fulfills His promises!

Pt. 5 – The Christmas Story (Zacharias and Elisabeth “Cursed”?)

Zacharias and Elisabeth “Cursed”?

The Hebrew meaning of Zacharias is “Jah has remembered”. (Strong’s Old Testament #2148 is the Hebrew origin of Strong’s Greek New Testament #2197.)

The Hebrew meaning of Elisabeth is “God of the oath”. (Strong’s Old Testament #472 is the Hebrew origin of Strong’s Greek New Testament #1665.)

Just imagine that Zacharias’ hands must have been shaking, his heart pounding and racing, and beads of sweat dripping from his forehead … because this mantle of responsibility weighed heavily upon his shoulders.

He was selected to stand before the Altar of Incense to burn the anointed incense—the ingredients being frankincense, stacte (myrrh), galbanum, and onycha (Exodus 30:34-35). Even if the incense was not handled properly or used for common purposes, a priest could be struck down dead because an anointing was in the incense.

When the incense touched the hot altar, the Holy Place was filled with the smoke and aroma. Zacharias trembled as he began to minister to Jehovah in worship. Would God accept his worship? He was chosen to carry the prayers of the people before God. Would Jehovah accept his intercession for the people as well as his own personal prayers? He felt inadequate. After all, why was he chosen for this responsibility when he was … cursed of God? Or so he thought.

Zacharias and Elisabeth were childless. They had prayed for many years for a child, but Elisabeth remained barren. Now they were both old and beyond childbearing age.

The Hebrew thinking was that a person was blessed and had the favor of God if they had children, and the more children the better, especially sons.

A person was thought to be cursed by God if they did not produce children.

In their cultural mindset, barrenness was a sign that you did not have God’s favor, that He was angry and displeased with you, that you had disappointed God in some way, that there was sin in your life—that for some reason you had done something wrong for God to curse you.

Elisabeth had the most difficult time in dealing with their “curse”. She was the target of the gossip, and was a victim of the taunting and reproach by the other village women.

Zacharias painfully remembered the many times he had tried to console his grieving wife. He had witnessed Elisabeth’s inner heartache as each of their relatives and neighbors gave birth to children and celebrated their birthdays. Zacharias and Elisabeth had become weary from their years of mourning. They had given up on the hope of ever having a child.

They were confused because of a contradiction existing in their lives. It’s recorded about them that both of them were righteous before God, kept all of the Lord’s commandments, and were blameless in the sight of God (Luke 1:6). Yet if that was true, then why were they cursed (or so their culture thought it was a curse) because Elisabeth continued to remain barren?

Why didn’t God answer their prayers and grant the desires of their hearts? Did He not promise in Psalms 37:4 that if they delighted themselves in the Lord that He would grant the desires of their hearts? What about the Scripture that says that no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalms 84:11)? This contradiction in their life made no sense to them and to those closest to them.

Sometimes we face contradictions in our lives as well. We love God and are doing our best to serve Him with our whole hearts, and yet why are certain circumstances out of alignment in our lives? Often it seems like nothing is happening even though many prayers have been lifted up.

For Zacharias and Elisabeth, it was not the end of the story yet.

Pt. 4 – The Christmas Story (Casting of Lots)

Casting of Lots

The custom during the time of Zacharias was that lots were cast to determine which priest would be chosen to burn incense in the Holy Place before the Lord.

The use of the lot was a common practice of the priests and Jewish leaders in ascertaining the will of Jehovah in various matters—spiritual, business and personal matters.

A lot could be a piece of wood, a pebble, a piece of pottery, etc. Whomever the lot fell on, that was an indication of who Jehovah selected, or the revealing of His will regarding a matter.

The last time it was recorded in the Bible that lots were cast to determine the will of God was in Acts 1:26 when the apostles appointed two candidates, Justus and Matthias, to take the place of Judas Iscariot.

After praying and asking the Lord to reveal which man He had chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, they cast lots and the lot fell upon Matthias. However, once the Holy Spirit was poured out to earth on the Day of Pentecost, the use of the lots were done away with because now everyone can be filled with the Holy Spirit and hear from the Lord for their own selves.

The lot happened to fall upon Zacharias. This indicated that Jehovah had sovereignly chosen him to minister in the Holy Place that day.

It was a once in a lifetime honor to be chosen to serve in the Holy Place, as there are said to have been twenty thousand priests in Christ’s time.

Before entering the Holy Place, Zacharias went through the normal rituals of purification—washing with water from the laver, being properly dressed in white linen, the blood of a sacrificial animal being sprinkled upon his body and clothing, as well as blood sprinkled on the articles they used (tongs, pots, pans, etc.). He was anointed with holy anointing oil. Bells and a rope were tied to his ankle, and he very reverently entered into the Holy Place.

The other priests must have been just as shocked and puzzled as Zacharias was that he was chosen by God to minister in the Holy Place. After all, wasn’t he … “cursed”? How could God be pleased with Zacharias?

The priests tied the bells and rope around his ankle extra tight because they didn’t know if he would survive in the Holy Place, since he was “cursed”.

He and Elisabeth had no children because she was barren, and now they were too old anyways to bear children. In that day, the mindset was that barrenness was considered to be a curse.

Pt. 2 – The Christmas Story (A Priest Named Zacharias)

A Priest Named Zacharias

The Christmas story begins with a priest named Zacharias.  He lived in a town in the hill country of Judea, which is located in the region within the vicinity of Jerusalem.  The specific town is not mentioned, but Smith’s Bible Dictionary says it was probably Hebron, the city of priests.

His wife’s name was Elisabeth, who was also a Levite and a descendant of Aaron, who is the father of the line of the Levitical priesthood.

The time in history took place during the reign of Herod, king of Judea, around 3 BC.

Zacharias was a member of the 8th division of the Temple priesthood, known as the division, or course, of Abijah.

Hundreds of years prior to the birth of Christ while David was king, David had divided the priesthood into 24 divisions or courses—each course serving in the Temple for one week twice a year (1 Chronicles 24).  In addition to serving their one week duty bi-annually, all 24 divisions were also required to serve during the three most holy feasts:

  1. Unleavened Bread which is in the month of Abib-Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew year, which is in March/April
  2. Pentecost (also known as Feast of Weeks) which is 50 days following Unleavened Bread in the month of Sivan, the third month of the Hebrew year, which is late May/early June
  3. Tabernacles (or Booths) and also known as Feast of Ingathering of the Harvest, which is held in the month of Ethanim-Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew year, which is September/October

Deuteronomy 16:16 (AMP) says:

Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

These three holy feasts are very significant in the birth of the early church.

The Feast of Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is actually one long feast (or two feasts back to back—Passover and then Unleavened Bread immediately following).  Jesus was crucified and rose again during the season of the feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Fifty days after the offering of the barley sheaf at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost and the early church was birthed (Acts 2).

The Feast of Tabernacles, or known as Booths, is the final feast of the Hebrew year.  It is held on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (5 days following the Day of Atonement, which is held on the 10th of Tishri).  This is the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, around September/October.

It is believed by Bible scholars that Jesus was born during this time of the year.  Many Bible theologians believe that when Jesus returns for the second time as Conquering King, marking the beginning of the Millennium, that it will be during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Zacharias’ division, and every other division, had just finished serving in March/April during Passover and Unleavened Bread.

The first “regular” assigned week for the course of Abijah happened to fall on the week prior to Pentecost at the end of May/early June.

After Zacharias served his first regular assigned week, he had to remain at the Temple for several extra days to carry out his priestly duties during the Feast of Pentecost (and the other 23 priestly divisions were required to come to Jerusalem during Pentecost to serve in the Temple).  Zacharias’ second “regular” week of service was scheduled several months later in the year.

It was approximately in the month of May or early June while Zacharias was ministering in the Holy Place in the Temple that the angel Gabriel appeared to him, announcing that he and Elisabeth would bear a son in their old age, and his name was to be John.

It was approximately the month of June, after Zacharias had fulfilled his duty of service in the Temple, when Elisabeth conceived.

She was in her 6th month of pregnancy (around December), which is the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.

Mary’s immaculate conception took place during the month of Kislev (December).

Jesus’ cousin John was born three months later in March (or Abib-Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew year).