How should we deal with the disappointments that life in a broken world inevitably brings? In the second week of our sermon series The Story, Timothy Ateek uses the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth to show us five truths about living in a world marked by the fall of man.
The Story: Your Next Chapter
Christmas Eve 2021
The Story: Restoration
The Story: Redemption
The Story: The Fall
The Story: Creation
How should we deal with the disappointments that life in a broken world inevitably brings? In the second week of our sermon series The Story, Timothy Ateek uses the account of Zechariah and Elizabeth to show us five truths about living in a world marked by the fall of man.
Timothy Ateek: I just came from College Station, and there we greet each other by saying, "Howdy," so I'm going to say, "Howdy," and if you feel comfortable, you just yell it back at me. Howdy!
Timothy: That's great. Very good. Some of y'all are like, "I already don't like him," so that's great. It is so good to be here at Watermark Community Church. My wife Kat and my three boys Noah, Andrew, and Jake… We are here because God has overwhelmingly made it clear that he wants us to leave College Station and be here. So, it's good to see you. I can't wait for what the Lord has in the coming days.
Kat and I got married 15 years ago, which means we started dating 16 years ago, which means I started trying to work it with her 17 years ago. This is going to be really hard to believe, but there was actually a time where Kat was not that into this. I know. I don't understand either. Seventeen years ago, I was talking to Kat on the phone, and somehow, I convinced her to watch a movie with me. It caught me so off guard I immediately got off the phone and started getting ready.
I didn't want to just look fine. I wanted to look fist-biting fine. You know, like, "Wow!" You might be thinking, "That's not possible for you," but if it was, I wanted to at least go for it. So, I'm getting ready, and I kid you not, as I'm getting ready, I began to go down that road. In my mind I'm like, "Oh my gosh! What if this actually turns into something real? What if I could, out of this, ask her on a real date? What if it is the Kathryn Robison? This is a huge deal."
So, I checked the mirror. My spike was spiky. I'm fighting off pitters. I am ready to go. I get in the car, and I'm making my way over to Kat's. On the way, I'm like, "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to call her, and I'm going to offer to pick up ice cream for her just so I can show her I'm super thoughtful. That's what she wants in a guy, so that'll work out well." So, I call her, and she informs me of two things. First, she doesn't want any ice cream. The second thing she informed me of was that she had invited her friend Katie to join us.
That began a night-long lesson that if you're in the friend zone, then you have to be extremely clear on your intentions to get out of that friend zone, because when I got to the apartment, a different guy called to actually ask her out, and she took the call in the other room. The good news is that after the call was over, we three girls were able to sit around and debrief it.
So, that night… Let me just tell you what happened. My dreams and reality went in two different directions, people. I dreamed of being her man. I ended up her gal pal. It can't get any more different than that. Dreams and reality went in two totally different directions, and there was definitely disappointment that evening.
I tell you that because there are times in life where our dreams and reality go in two different directions, and that disappointment doesn't just last for a night, but it can last for weeks, months, years, decades. Some of you would say it has been a decade of disappointment. This is just the way life is. Life can be such that dreams and reality go in two different directions. Maybe that feels like your reality in marriage. Your dreams for your marriage and your reality in marriage couldn't be farther apart.
Or when you think about your kids, your dream for your kids, your reality with your kids… It's just not what you had hoped. It's disappointing. Maybe you're single and you don't want to be. Maybe your family planning just hasn't gone as you would have hoped or prayed that it would have gone. Maybe you're lonely. Maybe a loved one is sick. Maybe you're sick. Maybe you can't put your finger on it. You just know you've been in an extended season of just not feeling yourself.
Life can be extremely disappointing. So, how do you deal with the disappointment when you navigate life in this fallen world? This is the second week in a series we are in, a four-week series walking through the story of Scripture. The story of Scripture goes through four movements. There's creation, and then there's the fall, which I'm going to talk about this morning. "Welcome to Watermark. Here. Why don't you teach on the fall." Thanks a lot, Blake. That was super kind.
It goes creation, fall, redemption, restoration. My friend John did an incredible job last week walking us through creation. If you look at creation, Genesis 1 and 2, you see God's people in God's place with God's purpose. There's shalom. Shalom isn't just the absence of conflict; it's the presence of flourishing. So, you see Adam and Eve, God's people, in God's place, flourishing in their God-given purpose.
Yet in the garden of Eden, they doubted. They questioned, and they believed a lie. What was that lie? "God is really not that good." When they ate the fruit, which was just their outward expression of their rebellious hearts in that moment, life in this world was fractured. That moment described in Genesis, chapter 3, is known as the fall of mankind, which is why we say in Christian circles that we live in a fallen world.
If you were to go read Genesis, chapter 3, you could actually find everything in this world that leads to our disappointment is found there…marital conflict, broken relationships. You see injustice and inequality and death and disease. All of those things can be traced back to Genesis, chapter 3. So, the question I want to make sure we're clear on this morning is…How do you deal with the disappointment you will face as you walk through life in this fallen world?
We're going to do it by looking at Luke, chapter 1. We're going to look at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth who had to navigate significant disappointment. As we look at their lives, they're going to give us a few keys to dealing with the disappointment that comes through life in a fallen world. If you have a Bible, please join me in Luke, chapter 1, this morning. I'm going to start in verse 5, but first, I want to give you the first key truth you need to know when dealing with disappointment.
It will find you, and it will let you know when it's there, because you'll feel it and experience it, and that's just the way it goes. Every single one of us experiences unavoidable pain in life. Bad things do happen to God's people, and if you don't believe me, all you have to do is look at the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Verse 5 gives us background. It says this: "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth." That's all we need to know to get a good snapshot on who Zechariah and Elizabeth were. This is a power couple, people.
Zechariah was a priest, which means he served God for a living. As a priest, he would have had to marry a virgin Israelite. Well, Zechariah didn't just choose any old virgin Israelite. He found Elizabeth. What the text just told us was that she was a descendant of Aaron. Who's Aaron? Well, Aaron goes all the way back to the book of Exodus. He was Moses' brother. He was the first high priest of the nation of Israel.
Here's what that means. If you don't know a lick about the Bible, let me just tell you what it means. It means Zechariah was a poster child for the "How did that guy get that girl?" foundation. That's what we're talking about here. I'm looking at some of you guys, and you're in that foundation, and you know exactly what I'm talking about. This is a power couple. Okay? Here's what we find out about them.
Verse 6: "And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord." These are godly people. They had Christian bumper stickers on the back of their donkey. When they were in college, they both dated Jesus for a season, just to make sure their hearts were right. These are people who never missed church. Even if they were out of town, they came back to town to be at church. Never skipped a quiet time.
These are the types of people we're talking about here, yet verse 7 lands us in their disappointment. Don't miss it. "But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years." You need to know, in this society, childlessness was considered a curse. A woman's value in society at this time was largely determined by her ability to have children. Not only that, but when people got old in age, their kids were responsible for them physically and financially.
So, here's what we're finding out about Zechariah and Elizabeth, these godly people. Most likely, they had been suffering under public shame for years, and there was no end in sight to that public shame, and the ends of their lives would be very troublesome physically and financially. This lands us in a really interesting point. It's a checkup on your theology, because if you're not careful, what you'll realize is that we want to mistake karma for Christianity. Karma is the idea that if you do good, good will come back around to you. If you do bad, you're going to get bad.
What we want to believe is that God is, in some way, some cosmic-sized vending machine. Like, if you get the combination of life just right, he's going to drop blessings down into your life. Well, look at Zechariah and Elizabeth. They got the combination right. Verse 5, a good heritage. Verse 6, good character. If God is a vending machine, then verse 7 should be chock full of God's blessing. In their lives at least, the vending machine of heaven got jammed.
Some of you are sitting here today, and you're like, "I get that." Maybe you're looking at God, and you're saying, "God, I've done everything you've asked me to do. I've done way more than he or she is doing, yet I look at their lives, and what they get is your blessing, and what I get is a life where my dreams and reality couldn't be farther apart."
Here's the thing. When you believe the lie that if you perform for God, he is required to provide for you, life will become disappointing, and when life becomes disappointing, God can become disappointing, and it can cause massive disruptions in your relationship with him. So, we just need to start here. When I say bad things happen to God's people, you might say, "Of course. Yeah, I get it." But let's just be clear. Is your belief in your life… Do they match?
If you're going to God like, "God, I've done everything you've asked, yet you're not giving me what I want," then there's an issue with your theology. I just want you to be clear on what Jesus himself tells us in John 16:33. I love that this verse is in the Bible. Jesus gathers his closest friends, and listen to what he tells them. I love the wording. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace."
We all want peace. Right? He says, "Here's how you have peace." You need to know this. "In this world you will have trouble." That's it. I don't know how Jesus could say it more clearly. It's like Jesus is like, "You know what? I'm God, so I always know exactly what to say, but I went ahead and stayed up all night just making sure I've gotten it right. Guys, all eyes on me. In this world you will have trouble." Yet sometimes we're like, "So, let me get this right. If I get the combination right, you're going to give me what I want." He's like, "No!" "In this world you will have trouble."
Here's the thing. Everything you experience when it comes to trials, because of what Jesus just told us… Your trials just confirm that Jesus was telling the truth and can be trusted; therefore, trials shouldn't shipwreck your faith, they should just confirm your faith, because you've put your trust in the one who told you that in this world you would have trouble.
In my personal experience… I'll just say, I'm in a season in life where I've never felt closer to the Lord, and in a season where I've never felt closer, life in different ways has been absolutely exhausting and discouraging. Isn't that interesting how that happens? I wonder if that's the same for you. You need to know: in this fallen world, expect pain.
Just to catch you up on what's going on contextually… There are about 18,000 to 20,000 priests in the nation of Israel at this time, and that's far too many priests for all of them to serve in the temple in Jerusalem, in God's house, so those 18,000 to 20,000 priests were divided up into 24 divisions, and each division served for one week twice a year, and then for special festivals, each division would serve for a week twice a year.
So, when we're reading right now, Zechariah's division is on duty in the temple. Once in the morning and once in the evening, a priest would be chosen to enter the Holy Place and burn incense and offer prayers, most likely for deliverance from oppression for the nation of Israel. To get chosen to serve as the priest who goes into the Holy Place to offer incense and to pray prayers, they would cast lots.
We don't have anything like casting lots in our society today. I will just equate it to rolling the dice. To get chosen for this role was like the pinnacle of your career, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many priests never got chosen for it. Zechariah shows up year after year, rolls the dice…nothing. Year after year, rolls the dice…nothing. This time, he rolls the dice and his number gets called. He enters the Holy Place.
As he is burning incense and offering prayers, look at what happens. Verse 10: "And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him." As Zechariah is praying, an angel shows up, standing at the right side of the altar, and that was a position of favor.
It's interesting, because as the angel shows up, he delivers some incredible news to Zechariah. We find it in verse 13. "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'" Most likely, Zechariah and Elizabeth stopped praying years ago for a child, because it's not scientifically possible at this point. They have aged out of having children.
When he shows up to pray that God would deliver the nation of Israel from oppression, an angel shows up, and he's like, "Hey, Zechariah. God has heard your prayer." Which prayer? All of them. "God has heard your prayer." Do you know what the angel is basically saying? He's saying, "Zechariah, God never forgot about you. There was never a moment where God did not see you and Elizabeth. You've never fallen off his radar. He has always seen you and known exactly what he is going to do in and through you. You are going to get your kid."
It shows us something extremely important. Just because you can't see God doing something doesn't mean God is not doing something. Don't let your limited perspective assume what a limitless God is doing, because God does some of his best work in the most disappointing times. If you don't believe me, just read the Bible. It is just one story, over and over, of disappointment.
You start out in the book of Genesis. Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery. He spends decades in prison, in the valley of life. What does God do? Makes him number two in Egypt and saves a bunch of people because of him. Imagine the disappointment sitting in prison, and then God shows up and moves.
I think about Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus dies. The text is clear that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, yet Jesus chose not to show up until four days after Lazarus died. When Jesus finally showed up, Martha was like, "Where were you?" The Bible gets us. It doesn't sugarcoat anything. Martha looks at Jesus and is basically like, "Where were you? If you had just come earlier, things would have been different." Yet in the midst of disappointment, what does Jesus do? He raises the dead. He does some of his best work in the most disappointing times.
Maybe we just need some clarity on God's activity. Here's what you need to know God is always doing behind the scenes. First, he hears. He hears you, so don't stop praying. He feels. In the story of Mary and Martha, you get the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept." Why? Because he feels for people's disappointment and pain.
Then he knows. He knows what he's going to do in and through your life. Remember, our God is a God who does the impossible, so do not be surprised if he shows up and does something you can't even imagine, because that is what he can do. At the same time, sometimes God's greatest work comes in the form of not stopping the storm but sustaining you through the storm.
Yesterday, I went for a walk. That's one of the best ways for me to connect with the Lord. I just go and walk and talk with the Lord. As I was walking and talking with him, I realized we're in a season that is exciting as we think about moving to Dallas, but we have to move. I don't know when the last time was you moved. It's not enjoyable. It's just not a thing, like, you're like, "Yes! We get to do this. We get to pack boxes and load a truck and sell a house."
It has just been one of those weeks, people. I'm just telling you. The day before we were listing our house, a guy came in and hacked up our wood floor. Totally massive swerve for us. It's one of those weeks where life has been exhausting. I got here and realized I forgot to pack underwear. I'm like, "Okay. Yeah, what else is going to go wrong this week, God? What else?" But it's not just this week. There have been various aspects of life that, over a season, have been exhausting.
As I walked and talked with the Lord yesterday… I'm going to geek out for a second and make a reference to LOTR (The Lord of the Rings for those who aren't tracking with me here). For some of you, this will be your best moment in church because I just referenced The Lord of the Rings. Some of you are going to tune me out because I just referenced The Lord of the Rings.
As I was walking and just thinking about the exhaustion I felt… There's this moment in The Return of the King where Mount Doom is falling apart. Frodo has just thrown the ring and destroyed it, and everything is falling apart. Frodo is collapsed on a rock, and an eagle comes and picks him up and carries him away. I know this sounds so trivial, but it was like God was reminding me of what Isaiah 40:31 says.
"…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." There's a reminder that even in the midst of exhaustion or disappointment, even if God doesn't show up and bring your dreams and reality back together, he might just pick you up and carry you. The peace you experience in that moment will be for your joy, even in the midst of pain.
You might not believe me, but you need to know God cares deeply about your joy. If you don't believe me, go and look at the Scriptures. I think about John 15:11. This isn't a verse specifically about pain, but Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." Jesus cares about us experiencing fullness of joy.
Romans 15:13. Paul says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." James 1:2-3 says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." Do you see it? There are all of these affirmations throughout Scripture that God cares deeply about our joy.
If you were to read the Bible, you would see that God cares a lot about two things: his glory and our joy. Those two things are never mutually exclusive. God's glory and our joy go hand in hand. God can be glorified and we can be filled with joy in the midst of disappointment. I think about when my wife and I experienced a miscarriage several years back. Just to be clear, I know there are much greater bouts with pain in this world than our miscarriage, but it doesn't negate the reality that that moment in that season was such a disappointing season for us.
We had gone through all of the motions of telling our kids and telling our friends, telling our boys they were going to have a younger brother. There was such great joy in that moment, and then we got the news that there was no longer a heartbeat. When I look back on that moment, it was so clear how much God cared about our joy. The morning we got that news, I wasn't even planning to be at the doctor's appointment. I usually didn't miss a sonogram, but this appointment was just for an extra measuring.
I had a breakfast that morning. I left breakfast, and I called Kat, thinking the appointment was over. I was just calling to check in to hear how the appointment went. Kat was like, "I'm actually still waiting to see the doctor." So I was like, "I'll just come join you and sit with you." It made me look like an incredible husband, because I was like, "I just want to be with you, baby, so I'll just come."
As I'm walking into the building, Kat calls me and is like, "Hey, the doctor just came in." So, I'm sprinting up the stairs, and I walk into the room just as the doctor delivers the news. It's as if God was saying, "You didn't even know where you needed to be this morning, but I did. You needed to be right there in that room with your wife so she didn't hear that news by herself."
Just that joy of knowing God saw me, he saw my wife, he saw what we needed in that moment, and then to feel the joy that comes from the body of Christ, God's people, gathering around us and praying for us and caring for us, and then to be at a worship service and to sense that the Lord was holding us…in the midst of tears in our eyes, just to sense God's presence…
David says in Psalm 16:11: "…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." It doesn't specify season of life. That can be in disappointment, and that can be in the best moments of life. I sensed God's presence. There was joy, even in the midst of disappointment.
I tell you that to say: don't believe the lie that joy is waiting for you when the valley ends, because there is joy waiting for you even in the valley. God will reveal himself to you, and he will allow you to experience him as a rock and a refuge and a shelter and the healer of the brokenhearted in ways you would never experience him if your dreams and reality were always in sync. Taste and see that the Lord is good now. Don't wait.
The nation of Israel has been in a 400-year period of silence. The period between the Old and the New Testament in your Bible is known as the intertestamental period, which was about 400 years of silence where the nation experienced no movement from God. God's Spirit, which would rest on someone, and that person would do something significant… They had seen none of it in 400 years. Then the angel shows up to Zechariah, and he's like, "Hey, your kid is going to be filled with the Spirit." He's saying, "God is going public again through your child."
Do you know what one of the last things was that the nation of Israel heard 400 years earlier? It comes at the end of book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 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." I hope you heard in there, "I'm going to send Elijah. He's going to turn the hearts back."
Listen to what Gabriel tells Zechariah. Verses 16 and 17: "And he [your son] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 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."
Here's what's amazing. Zechariah and Elizabeth's dreams culminated in having a child that would change their lives. Gabriel shows up, and he's like, "Hey, the culmination of your life is going to be having a child that changes many people's lives. You wanted a kid. You're going to get John the Baptist."
Do you know who John the Baptist is? He's the GOAT. You're like, "No, Jesus is the GOAT." I get it, but listen to what Jesus says about John the Baptist. Matthew 11:11: "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist." That was their kid. Do you know what this means? God's plan A for your life is better than your plan A for your life.
It makes me think about the movie The Truman Show. I want to show you the poster of The Truman Show. It's a mosaic, and the mosaic of The Truman Show poster is comprised of a bunch of scenes from the movie. In this mosaic, there are all of these tiny pixels, or squares, and some squares have scenes that are full of joy, and some scenes are full of sorrow.
Here's the reality. If you think about all of the different scenes of your life as a mosaic, you're trapped in one pixel. All you can see is the one box you're in right now, and if you make judgments on God's character or your joy based on the one box you're in, life can be extremely disappointing. The reality is God sees the entire mosaic of your life all at once.
I hope you don't miss what I'm about to say. If God gave you and me the opportunity to zoom out and see what he sees, we wouldn't change a thing. You wouldn't get in God's ear and be like, "Yeah, let's talk about when I was 26. It's not even necessary. Let's just remove that pixel. That was a waste of time, God." None of that. You wouldn't change a thing, because his plan A is better.
"And the angel answered him, ' [Hello, McFly] 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. 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.' And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.
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. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 'Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.'"
I love how this story ends. For years, Zechariah has been praying, "God, give us a kid. Give us a kid." An angel shows up and is like, "You're going to get your kid." He's like, "How can I be so sure?" He doubts. This is what got us into the mess in the first place all the way back in Genesis, chapter 3. What was it that led to the fall of mankind? Doubt. "Is God really good?"
Do you know why that's so important in this story? Because this, ultimately, isn't a story about Zechariah's faithfulness; it's a story about God's faithfulness. This, ultimately, isn't a story about Zechariah and Elizabeth; it's a story about God and his character. Thank goodness God is not on board with karma. Do you know how God defines good? Perfection. That's why Romans, chapter 3, says, "There is no one who does good, not even one."
So, this idea of "Do good, get good; do bad, get bad…" If God's definition of good is perfection…uh-oh. Thank goodness God isn't a cosmic-sized vending machine that expects us to get the combination right, because if there's some combination, you always have to take into account the ways we have lived contrary to God's ways. The reality is if God is going to drop anything down for us, what we deserve is wrath and punishment, not blessing.
This might be hard for you to hear, but living in disappointment, if you're looking at God, saying, "Why?" or "How could you?" maybe we just need to start with the realization that we don't deserve from God what we think we deserve from God, yet God in his kindness, instead of dropping down wrath, has dropped down his Son Jesus Christ when we didn't get the combination right. "For all have sinned and fall short of God's glory," yet he has dropped down his Son Jesus.
Jesus lived the life we could never live. He died the death each of us deserves to die. He was punished in our place. On the third day, he walked out of a tomb, conquering death. His resurrection was a declaration that his payment for our sin was acceptable to God. When you put your faith and trust in him, it means you've been brought into a right relationship with a God who, even in the deepest disappointment in life, will lead you and care for you and comfort you and cry with you, and he will lead you in the path of righteousness for his name's sake.
A day is coming, as we'll talk about in a couple of weeks, where Jesus Christ will make all things new and disappointment will be a faint memory. Our disappointment from the past will just be a reminder of how great God's grace is, now and forevermore. Do you know him? Do you know Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is the only one who has ever been truly good. Jesus Christ is the greatest demonstration in a fallen world that God is good and faithful to those who deserve nothing. When we could do nothing for God, Jesus Christ has done everything for us, making a way for us back to God and one day putting an end to all disappointment. Let's pray together.
Lord, you know who's in this room right now. You know the people who are just hanging by a thread right now. You know where dreams and reality are going in two different directions, yet I thank you, Jesus, that you came, that you left heaven and came to earth. You've dealt with all of our failures, and you've made a way for us. Because you, Jesus, have made us right with God, we can even say those words: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I'll fear no evil, for you are with me."
That's the beauty of knowing you, Jesus. Even in the most disappointing times, there is never one second we walk through the valley alone. A day is coming where you will make all things new. You are good. I pray that if there's anyone in this room right now who does not know you… Maybe they know about you, but they don't know you. I pray they would cry out to you and put their trust in you.
Then I pray for those who know you but are discouraged or disappointed. I pray that you would breathe hope into their lives right now, that they would leave today renewed with hope, that even though you might not stop the storm, you'll sustain them through the storm and you'll give them what they need today to make it. We love you. We trust you. You are a good King, Lord Jesus. Amen.