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Impossible Mercy

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Intro: Introduce the series - Why “Impossible”?
We are beginning our Christmas series this morning and I am excited for two reasons, first I love Christmas because this is Christ’s season! The second reason I am excited is this: we are a people who are quick to label things as “impossible,” but to God all things are possible and I hope to convince you of this through this Biblical, Christmas study over the course of this month!
God loves doing mind blowing things/impossible things. Paul’s sermon in Athens described how the one true God did impossible things. God made the world. He gave life and breath and everything for humanity to exist. God established times for the nations to rise and fall and for each person to live and die. God loves doing mind blowing things because those things point hopelessly lost people to a relationship with Him. Those impossible things continually draw His flawed people, the church, into the shelter of His wings.
(SLIDE: Horse Blinders)
Why did I choose the word, “impossible” for this series? I chose “impossible” because sin significantly effects our eyesight.
Have you ever seen a horse wearing blinders? Horses have a big field of view, but that can be a problem when pulling a buggy down a busy street or when racing. Blinders prevent a horse from seeing what is behind them and beside them. Blinders prevent them from being distracted or spooked by limiting their vision.
Sin functions exactly like blinders. Sin prevents us from seeing what is (gesture to the side and behind) “out here.” Sin causes us to only focus on the things we can see and feel and touch right in front of us. In fact, we are so used to sin’s blinders, over time, we come to believe anything outside our narrow field of vision cannot exist and cannot be done.
As Hebrews 11:1–2 says… “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” God doesn’t just operate (gesture in front of me) “here” but also (gesture to the sides and back) here and here.
The Christmas season is often described as being “magical.” Why? because Christmas reminds us that whatever is impossible for us is easily possible for God. I hope that we all will remember to take sin’s blinders off. I want us to worship God with much awe and wonder this season! God did many “impossible” things surrounding Jesus’ birth and God continues to do many impossible things for us and through us today.
In the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, we discover, not one, but two impossible conceptions! I invite you to open your copy of Scriptures to Luke 1 and to follow along there as we are introduced to the recipients of God’s impossible mercy in Luke 1:5-7. God demonstrated incredible, undeserved mercy by making a conception possible. Luke 1:5...

Merciful Conception

Luke 1:5–6 (ESV)
5 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. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
When Luke introduced Zechariah and Elizabeth, the first thing he wanted us to know was that...
Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous people. (vv5-6)
I love this because Luke didn’t simply describe them as righteous and move on, but he also defined what righteousness is so that you and I can do what they did! Righteousness is walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statues of the Lord. Zechariah and Elizabeth faithfully kept the OT law by offering sacrifices, keeping the special feasts, and loving God all above everything else. They had a deep relationship with God and which fueled a passion for obeying God and allowing His’ commandments to deeply transform their lives!
Their righteousness seems to be THE qualification that stood out on their resume. Why? (PAUSE) Because God loves gifting His abundant mercies on all who fear Him and keep His commandments. Please catch this next thought.... even though Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, they still did not deserve God’s mercy.
(PAUSE)
Mercy is when God gives a gift when it is least deserved. That is what makes mercy seem impossible to us… we know we haven’t been acting righteously. Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been acting righteously in all areas of their lives....
Zechariah & Elizabeth had problems.
Luke 1:7 informs us...
They were barren. (vv 7, 18)
“7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”
They had a fertility problem and they had an age problem. The angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah and told him they would Zechariah stated these problems in verse 18...
Luke 1:18 ESV
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Guys, you can get a clue here how to talk about your wife’s age from Zechariah. He called himself old, but his wife was only “advanced in years!” Guys, there is wisdom here! (PAUSE)
In the Old Testament days barrenness was considered to be a curse from God. Why? because God himself commanded a husband and wife to have children and “fill the earth.” So Zechariah and Elizabeth had age and barrenness against them. It was physically impossible for them to have children.
Barrenness was a physical problem, though I dare label it as such. To some barrenness is a problem, but how dare we call something “a problem” that God had ordained. I know I just told you that conception is merciful, but I certainly don’t want you believing barrenness is a curse.
God does exactly what he must to move us His direction. (vv63-65)
Has anyone experienced an unexpected pregnancy? We have. Sometimes God uses pregnancy to move people a direction they would not go otherwise. God also uses barrenness to move people a direction they would not go otherwise. Let me tell you how God used barrenness to move our friends in a certain direction.
Samuel and Bekah had been married for a few years, but they were unable to have children. God had given them a deep love for children and and children’s ministry, but because they were barren, they searched for a place they could invest in children’s lives. It was at this point in their life when they joined our team at Baptist Children’s Home.
It was only after they were exactly where they needed to be that God allowed them to become pregnant not only once, but twice! Both Samuel and Bekah have stated they never would have become houseparents if they had their own children first. God knew this and used what they labelled a “problem” to really be a blessing.
I have another good friend, Scott, who is a wonderful ambassador for Jesus. Scott and his wife have no children, and are too old to have children, but God used their barrenness to significantly impact children around the globe. (SLOWLY...) Barrenness is just as merciful as conception is.
It seems from the text that Zechariah and his wife viewed barrenness as a problem because it caused a spiritual problem....
They were lacking joy. (vv14, 57-58)
Their physical condition (Gesture - blinders) blinded them to the possibility that barrenness would be a significant blessing. In my experience, there is a sadness and lack of joy that surrounds barren couples. They often speak of their strong desire to have their own children to love and to shower all kinds of good and perfect gifts upon. Barrenness often causes spiritual problems. Please follow along in Luke 1:8-17
Luke 1:8–17 (ESV)
8 Now while (Zechariah) was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness...
Let me ask this… Why did the angel state this couple would have joy? Because they had for so long prayed for a child. Because after prayers going unanswered for so long, they had allowed Satan to steal their joy.
14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.”
Let’s skip ahead to verses 57-58...
Luke 1:57–58 (ESV)
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
Their barrenness caused their neighbors, community, and country to KNOW God is the God of impossible situations. Only God could cause an old couple to conceive a child. Only God could show mercy to a couple who allowed sin to creep into their otherwise righteous lives. Only God could send an angel to deliver a spectacular message. God loves demonstrating “impossible” mercy, but Zechariah was still blinded by sin. He...
Zechariah did not trust God. (vv19-20)
Lets reading beginning in verse 8...
Luke 1:8–18 (ESV)
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 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.” 18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
How much “impossible” did Zechariah need to experience before he took the blinders off? He was face to face with angel! How impossible was that! He didn’t get it… impossible angel who, by the way, intended to bless him and NOT curse him, impossible pregnancy, by the way what are prayers for?… prayers are for God to do the impossible because we cannot do ______ on our own. So impossible angel, impossible message, impossible pregnancy, impossible timing. Did he really think his lot was drawn by chance?
Proverbs 16:33 ESV
33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Imagine this.... the blinders were super glued to his head! They were securely fastened to his head. He could not take the blinders off! Gabriel’s rebuke in the next verse booms with authority, verse 19...
Luke 1:19–20 (ESV)
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. 20 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.”
Zechariah didn’t believe in impossible things, so he got an impossible consequence, albeit a merciful one
(go right into next verse)

Merciful Consequence

21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 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. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
God shows great mercy on His people who desperately want to love Him, but who still wrestle with doubt like Zechariah and discouragement, like Elizabeth. God’s intervention here is a powerful reminder of this.
(PAUSE)
God is merciful when He blesses us, but He is also merciful when He delivers consequences. When Zechariah came out of the temple, “he was unable to speak to them” for 9 months. This was a merciful consequence! Why?
(It) The consequence prevented more sin (from coming out of Zechariah’s mouth.) (vv19-20, Pr 141:3)
(REPEAT)
One of my responsibilities as a parent is to assign consequences which will hopefully stop sin. One consequence I use is to have a child to put a hand over their mouth. (Hand over mouth gesture) It is a gentle consequence, but it a reminder for them to stop sin from continually out of their lips. When they do that, their hand is becomes a gate like the Psalmist described in...
Psalm 141:3 ESV
3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
This week, Hannah has been really struggling with her words. She has been really unkind to people. One time, when her words were really hurtful, I asked her, “Hannah, would you ever punch me or mom, or your your siblings in the face?” She gave me a horrified look and responded, “No!” So I said, when you are saying unkind words to us, it is just like you are punching us in the face with your words over and over again. Please stop punching us in the face with your words. It hurts! She responded with a teary eyed, “Ok daddy” and gave me a big hug.
Zechariah’s consequence, muteness, stopped him from punching God in the face.
(PAUSE) The consequence was merciful because it was...
The consequence was short-lived. (v20)
(REPEAT)
Muteness was not an eternal consequence, though for some of you, nine months of silence would indeed seem like an eternity! In verse 20, the angel said the consequence would be lifted after his son was born. Even in judgement, God was merciful.
We find one other reason this was a merciful consequence...
The consequence caused Zechariah to repent. (v64)
(REPEAT)
Let’s skip ahead to verse 57 again...
Luke 1:57–66 (ESV) Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
Does the passage state, “and Zechariah repented”? No, but it does inform us that his friends and neighbors exerted more than a moderate amount of pressure to follow the traditional naming pattern. Zechariah, who argued with God nine months earlier, finally obeyed God.
What is repentance? Turning 180 degrees. Turning from disobedience to obedience. Check out verse 63 and 64. Immediately after Zechariah obeyed God by naming the baby John, he regained his speech. The first words out of His mouth were blessings to God. Blessings springing from our lips is undeniable proof of repentance.
Check out the neighbors’ response… fear came suddenly upon all them. They had witnessed God do impossible things…
(gasp) a well-renowned, highly ranked religious leader broke Jewish custom! How impossible, how scandalous!
In all seriousness though, God loosed a mute tongue.
The neighbors firmly believed God remarkably intervened. God was at work among them doing mighty, humanly impossible things. I love verse 66. “and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.”
Humor me, and glance ahead in Luke 2:19. After the shepherds worshipped the newly born Jesus re read in, Luke 2:19 that..
Luke 2:19 (ESV)
19 Mary treasured (stored) up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
God’s great mercy poured out on Elizabeth and Zechariah caused their neighbors, community, and country to remove sin’s blinders and eagerly wait for John’s ministry to begin! That is the purpose of God’s mercy!
God is the God of impossible situations! Redeeming the impossible is what He does. In Luke 1, God was not constrained by the laws which He designed the world to operate under. In all these things, God acted outside of natural law, in great and mighty ways. God determined Zechariah and Elizabeth would not feel the full effect of sin’s consequences. They would not feel the full effect of infertility, doubt, or discouragement. That is God’s mercy.
Because of sin, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the great storehouses of mercy God owns.
Some of you know just how much stuff we needed move out of our house in order to move in. I’m not complaining about this, this isn’t even a negative thing... I agreed to doing that in the contract. But, there were times in the moving process when I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that filled each room.
Then, as I was studying this week, I imagined all that stuff as representing God’s abundant mercy. God’s mercy is even more overwhelming than all that stuff on my move in day. God’s great mercy is so abundant that we can’t even move about our home because his mercies are piled up in overwhelming, heaping mounds, waiting to be poured out on His children, broken as we are.
Please turn to Lamentations 3:21-24. I really want you to see this verse for yourselves. The author of Lamentations, possibly Jeremiah, declared in...
Lamentations 3:21–24 (ESV)
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies
check this out!… His mercies...
never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(don’t read the heading ----->>>

How Can God’s Mercy Make a Difference in my Life?

God’s abundant mercies are significant and life altering. Perhaps you have already been thinking what this means for your life this week. As we close, allow me to suggest three ways God’s impossible mercy can make a difference in our lives this season...
God mercifully gives us the desires of our hearts. (Lk 1:13, Ps 37:3-4)
Thinking about barrenness in Scripture, I can only remember God opening barren wombs for righteous people, people described by Lamentations 3:24.
Abraham and Sarah were barren and in their very old age, God caused them to give birth to a great nation!
Hannah could not have children. She cried out to the Lord and he opened her womb.
Job lost 10 children when God allowed him to be tested. He was a very righteous man and after the trials, God allowed him to have 10 more children. If one does the math, it is quite possible Job and his wife were very old people.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, praying people and God gave them a son, the desire of their hearts. Other times, God removes our desires because they don’t match His. Do I want what God wants? Do my desires align with His desires? When they do, Psalm 37:3–4 applies.
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Zechariah and Elizabeth delighted in the Lord!
How else might God’s mercy make a difference in my life?
God mercifully gives us strength when the odds are against us! (Lk 1:7,59; Ps 17, 27:1)
The odds were against Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were old, they struggled with sin, their neighbors strongly disagreed with their decision to name the baby. Many times in life, we are encircled by our enemies. They camp round about us waiting for the proper time to destroy us. I am reminded of David’s words in...
Psalm 17 (ESV)
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, 9 from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. 10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. 11 They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. 12 He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush. 13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, 14 from men by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. 15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.
When life doesn’t go your way, fix your eyes on Jesus! When the lions get the scent of blood and stare you in the eye and get in the pouncing position, fix your eyes on Jesus.
Psalm 27:1 ESV
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Pause
I see one other way God’s mercy can make a difference in my life. For me, this is the one that really stood out. This is the one I couldn’t wait to share with you! How often do we sin with our lips? How often do angry words escape before we can tame them? How often do we speak an impatient word with someone? How many swear words spring into our minds or escape through our lips? How often do we take opportunity to publicly deny Christ?
God mercifully allows us to praise him! (Lk 1:64-79)
We are so unclean in hearts and thoughts, and lips. We who are so unclean that we should be living in leper’s colonies so far away from people that we won’t infect others with our unclean lips. Yet, God mercifully takes our impure words, sterilizes them and causes new words, words of eternal value to burst forth out of our lips. There is no gate and no hand, there is nothing that can stop the powerful praise that bursts forth out of God’s people!
It doesn’t matter who is around us. We must loudly declare all that God has done for us just as Zechariah did in verses 64-79. When we declare God’s mercies our neighbors, community, and country will have no response but fear and awe at God’s impossible mercy.

Pray with me...

“Blessed be the Lord God for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. Blessed be you, God, who spoke through the mouths his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Blessed be you, God, who shows us abundant mercy just as you promised to do.
We pray that today, this week, this month, that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve you without fear. That we might live in holiness and righteousness before you all our days. We crave your tender mercies to be poured out on us from sunrise to sunset.
Cause us, you undeserving children to boldly declare your mercies so that our neighbors, community, and country might know the comfort of your peace.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”
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