In the summer of 2008, God did a mighty work in my heart. He took a "good girl" who'd been raised in a godly home with true Christian parents, who'd been a member of a good church since childhood, and who'd completely put all her hope and trust in her own "goodness" and "showed strength with His arm,...scattered the proud in the imagination of (my) heart...exalted the lowly...filled the hungry with good things...helped His servant In remembrance of His mercy" (Luke 1:51--55). I never cease to be amazed that a mighty and holy God chose me before time to love and save, but He did, and my life will never be the same as before, thank God!
A couple of years later, I realized that though I'd "read through" the Bible a couple of times as a child, I'd never done it as His child, and there were many books in His word that I was completely unfamiliar with. So, I decided to read through it again, this time actually caring about what I read. I chose to follow a chronological plan, as I didn't really have much concept of the timeline of the Old Testament; it was a one-year plan. Well, this past December marked two years of following this plan, and I just this morning began the New Testament. This is due, in part, to the fact that though He has saved me and called me with a holy calling, my sinfulness and laziness is still warring in my body against my spirit, and I've not been as faithful to get up in the mornings and have a QT as I should have been. It is also due in part to the fact that sometimes you just need to take a break from Jeremiah or Ezekiel and read the Psalms or the Gospel a bit, or the fact that you feel the need to be reminded of the teaching on practical Christian living in Galatians. At any rate, I broke open the New Testament this morning with Luke chapter 1, and was...well, a bit surprised at what I found there.
We never THINK we're reading the Bible casually and carelessly. It just kindof happens. We read (or this is true of me, at least), sometimes a whole chapter or more and then realize we don't know what we just read. Or, more often for me, I read something with which I'm extremely familiar and just let my eyes go over the words because I already know the story, and don't realize the Gripping Reality of what's going on - that Moses was a real man who really lost his temper with a stubborn people, or that David really was a typical young boy who liked to shoot his slingshot to pass the hours of watching sheep, or that Hosea was a real man who lived through a truly awful marriage in order to honor his God. I lose sight, sometimes, of the fact that these are not stories, but that they are historical accounts of real people that God used to reveal Himself to us.
And then some days, I read a story I could almost quote in my sleep and God allows the words to practically jump off the page with stark Reality that is quite wonderful. This happened this morning.
The story of Jesus - the story of God's greatest manifestation of Himself and His wonderful Love to a wretched people - the story of our salvation - begins with an old, childless man who had loved and served his God with his wife for many years going into the temple to worship God and offer up to Him sweet incense. Zacharias felt that morning, I'm sure, the same as he'd felt many mornings before - there was nothing special about entering the temple that morning....until the archangel Gabriel appeared before him.
Now, we must not think of this as the Blue Fairy appearing to Pinocchio or the Good Witch of the North coming in a pink bubble to Dorothy. What must it have been like to suddenly see an Angel of the Lord appearing just in front of you? It was an awesome and terrifying thing to behold. Fear fell upon Zacharias.
My Daddy used to shake his head at the "preacher" who (I think) he heard on the radio telling about one morning when he was shaving Jesus appeared to him: the man said, "I kept shaving, and there was Jesus, and we stood there and talked while I shaved." Daddy said, "If Jesus appeared to you, you WOULDN'T keep shaving. Every time even an angel appeared in the Bible, people were afraid and usually fell face-first in the dirt." Daddy didn't have a lot of time for this type thinking.
Do you supposed that when Zacharias didn't fully trust the words of the angel, Gabriel softly and casually replied, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings," or do you think he probably thundered it darkly? For Zacharias to doubt Gabriel was for him to doubt the word of Him who sent Gabriel, and I doubt that was a thing Gabriel would have taken lightly. At any rate, this was a frightening, REAL happening - so real that Zacharias could not speak when he came out.
What about Mary? Do you read over the passage where Gabriel was sent to her and she was told she would be the mother of the Son of God and not be gripped with the reality of what this meant to her? A young girl - a virgin - to have her life turned upside down and her reputation ruined; for who would believe the Holy Spirit had planted a baby inside her Who's father was God Himself? Do you think her parents believed her? Her best friend? Her neighbors? Perhaps, some of them. Her fiancé didn't until God spoke to him about it. Would you have believed her? Would you have shunned her? Would you have talked about her behind her back? Do you not think she realized how she would be treated in those first moments after Gabriel told her what great thing God was going to do in her? And what was her response? "Oh, God, please not that! It's too hard! If you're going to put a baby inside me, PLEASE go tell all my family and friends what you've done so they'll be nice to me!"...no. This is young Mary's response: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." Trust. Willingness. What is my response when God requires of me MUCH less than He required of Mary? I'm afraid too often it is not immediate trust and willingness.
Is it Grippingly Real to you that as soon as Mary walked into Elizabeth's house, and unborn John leapt for joy in his mother's womb? Do you read over that and take it for granted because it's so familiar? It's AMAZING. Perhaps even more amazing than the appearance of an angel - an unborn baby having the spiritual awareness of the Presence of God in the form of another unborn baby near him? Incomprehensible. But it was REAL. It HAPPENED. It's not just a story to read at Christmas - ALL THESE THINGS REALLY HAPPENED TO REAL PEOPLE!!! And through it all, most amazing yet, God revealed Himself to humanity! He worked the salvation of a People whom He had chosen before the foundation of the world through these "stories". They are the manuscripts of our Hope; the words of our Comfort; the story of our Salvation.
When we read them, let us not skim over them with a familiar acceptance - let us be GRIPPED with their stunning reality. Let it sink in what they meant to the people who lived through them, and what they mean today to us. May they jolt our system into Love for our Father, Willingness to turn to Him for all we need, Enthusiasm to obey His every command and request of us. May they give us the fuel for living THIS day to His glory - every single day of our lives.