BREAKING THE SILENCE
As we enter the new year let us commit to keeping Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. For some of us perhaps we have found ourselves straying away or wandering off without even realizing it. As the Scriptures remind us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The Bible here instructs us that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died of us” (Romans 5:8). And as sinners we became as sheep and wandered off each one to his own way. This, of course, is true but our wandering off is not isolated to the time before we knew Him, but is in fact a daily failure for many, if not most of us. As the song says that I once penned and presented at church:
“Good Shepherd lead me home, Good Shepherd show the way;
Good Shepherd may I never roam, too far from You this day.
Good Shepherd bar the door; Good Shepherd bar my heart.
Good Shepherd be my fenced-in-place,
Shepherd my wandering heart.” 1
Every day there is a pull to wander off. In our day-dreaming grazing we tend to stray farther and farther from His side. Perhaps the greener pastures lure us or the cares of this world intrude upon our peace in Him, but nevertheless we tend to drift away at times. This is, I believe, why God established the many Holy days, as reminders to Israel to “forget not the LORD your God” (Deut. 8:11). It seems we all need constant reminding to remember and think on the things of God. So, what better time than the start of a new year to endeavour to draw near and listen afresh. “Listen you say Robert? I don’t hear a thing. I can’t remember the last time I heard anything from God.” Is that you this day? You’re not alone in this; there are times each of us can identify with the “silence of God.” I’ve titled this message, “Breaking the Silence.” Has God become silent in your life? Is the silence deafening day after day? We have all been there, myself included. You are not alone in these “silent watches of the night.” 2 But understand that when the time does arrive – when the moment is perfect and God speaks, the silence will be shattered and new life will explode about us. Let me give you just one such moment from Scripture.
The Old Testament ends with the book of Malachi at or about 430 BC.
The speaking of God through His written word falls silent for over 400 years until His voice is again heard sometime just prior to the turning of the “calendar,” about 7 BC for Luke and 5-4 BC. for Matthew with their introduction of the New Testament. Mark and John begin writing in 26 AD.
God’s written instruction, teaching, encouragement, admonition, leading and guidance fall silent during some 400 years until, at His perfect timing, the silence is broken. The last chapters of the First Covenant stress some important details. One would suppose that if God was about to fall silent for a season, then what He would say last in his word would carry great import. Chapter three of Malachi deals with the promise of the Messiah and the one who would herald His coming.
Malachi 3:1 reads, “Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold he shall come says the LORD of hosts. But who may abide [endure] the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap:”
The messenger referred to here is none other than John the Baptist. We know this to be true because of the phrase associated with his ministry: “To prepare the way before me.” See Matthew 3:1-3. So, the Old Testament ends with the promise of the first coming of Messiah to be introduced by a specific messenger. (Once we get to Matthew 3 this messenger is identified as John the Baptist.)
But also, in the final chapter of Malachi before the LORD GOD falls silent is the prophecy and promise of the second coming of the Lord, described in Malachi chapter four as “For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble . . .” And “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”
The final written words of God before a four hundred period of silence concerns three major themes. First, the coming of Messiah preceded by a herald, John the Baptist, and the promise of salvation of Messiah. Secondly, the prophetic cry of the approaching “day of the LORD”, the second coming of the Lord to judge and rule. This coming too is preceded by a prophet-messenger, Elijah. And thirdly between these two prophetic events believers are encouraged to “test God” with respect to tithing in order to live under an open heaven and to have the devourer rebuked from their lives. I think we would all agree that the promises concerning the two comings of Messiah to be most significant and important for readers to hear before the word falls silent. But, between these two events a teaching on tithing would not be something readers would have thought as important. However, when one ponders this we see that this is the only area in God’s domain where He challenges us to test Him to see that He is faithful! This part of Malachi chapter three concerns the admonition to tithe and to “not rob God” but to test God to see that if one tithes, God will “Open the windows of heaven,” and “rebuke the devourer.” It became clear that through the ages of the church down to the very present, the practice of tithing is essential to one’s living under an open heaven and that those who faithfully practice this aspect of the Christian walk do see the devourer hindered in their lives. It seems to this writer that as God speaks concerning the coming One as Messiah and later as the reigning King of Kings, that God challenges the readers of His words to test His faithfulness and His truth. It is as if He gives us a type of “litmus test” – tithing – to establish within ourselves the truth of His word and thereby the truth concerning the coming of Messiah. More on this at some later time. For now let us return to the topic at hand.
There had been centuries of silence between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. To many, it seemed as if God had forgotten His promises to Israel. And do you know what ended that silence? It was not the birth of the Messiah but rather an event concerning a priest. 3
There came a man, not John the Baptist as yet, but another whose name was Zacharias [Zicharyan in Hebrew] whose name means God has remembered. There also came a woman named Elizabeth [Elishevah in Hebrew] whose name means the oath of God. They became one in marriage and grew old together. This man became a priest and worked faithfully at the temple. For years he and his wife prayed for a son but time passed and they entered old age together without their prayer being realized. Listen to the account in Luke 1.
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zachariah, of the “course” of Abia [Abijah]: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his “course” according to the custom of the priest’s office, his “lot” was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.”
Here we learn that Elizabeth and Zachariah had no children. It was probably a daily prayer of theirs that had yet to see fruition. And in spite of the fact that they had no son and were now far advanced in age, this did not stop them from walking and working out a faithful life in everything they did. Their life dream, their life prayer, remained unfulfilled and yet this did not take root in bitterness. This did not deflect them from their ministry. Their faith and service remained strong in spite of the struggles and disappointments of life.
Two words that I have placed within quotation marks in the above passage need explanation. At this time the priesthood was divided into 24 groups or “courses.” There were approximately 8 000 priests or about 300 in each of the 24 courses. Zachariah was of the 8th of the 24 courses assigned to the temple ministry. His course was of Abijah (1 Chron. 24:7-18). Each priest would be assigned to work in the temple twice a year for one week at a time. Out of Zachariah’s course of about 300, 56 priests were chosen by lot. Thus the meaning of the phrase “his lot was to burn incense . . .”
It was to Zachariah that the “Breaking of the Silence” occurred. After over 400 silent years the word of God was again spoken! Let’s pick up Luke 1 at verse 10.
“And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of the incense. And there appeared unto him [Zachariah] an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zachariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, ‘Fear not, Zachariah: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shall call his name John. And you shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.’”
An entire multitude of ordinary people were praying together as Zachariah burned the incense within the temple. The altar of incense was one of the God-ordained pieces of furniture within the temple holy place. It represented prayer unto the Lord. During this ‘prayer meeting’ an angel of the Lord appeared to Zachariah and broke the 400 year silence. And what were God’s first words after 400 years? “Fear not Zachariah, for thy prayer is heard.” God intervenes into the world of man by calling a man by name! He didn’t thunder from behind a curtain like the great and mighty Oz, no, He dispatched an angel and called a man by name. And he prefaced this with the words, “Fear not” for he knows how fearful we have become ever since we left the garden. The next words of God relayed by the angel are truly thrilling. “Your prayer is heard.” Amidst all the prayers of the great multitude of praying people it was the prayer of Zachariah and Elizabeth that is heard and answered. I’m not suggesting that all the other prayers were ignored, no, but this one specific prayer caused the silence to be broken. To this man, to this woman, both appointed from birth to bear the one who would introduce the Messiah to the world was the silence broken. How can I say that Elizabeth and Zachariah were appointed from birth? It’s in their names!
Recall that Zachariah means God has remembered and Elizabeth means the oath of God. And as these two faithful souls came together they became God has remembered the oath of God. Four hundred years after the promise of the coming Messiah and His forerunner we hear and read, God has remembered the oath of God. And these two dear souls will have a son, John the Baptist, whose actual Hebrew name is Yochanan. And what do you suppose his name means? The grace of God! God’s remembrance of His oath causes to be born the grace of God. And when Zicharyah gave praise to God, he would declare that God had performed the miracle “to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He sword to our father Abraham.” God has remembered His oath and as a result mankind will experience the grace of God.4
What about you? Are you experiencing a season of silence? Be certain, God will never keep silent forever. Do you desire to hear a fresh word from Him? Do what Elizabeth and Zachariah did. They continued in the last thing God gave them to do. They continued a labour of love in His service. They persevered in all they put their hands to even in the absence of answered prayer – even the most critical vital prayer of your life – they wavered not. God remembers! God remembers you! He knows and calls you by name! He has inscribed your name upon the palms of His hands!
“No matter how long it takes, whether centuries or moments, God will never forget His promise and never break His Word. And out of the broken, the barren, and the impossible, the grace of God will be born.” 5
1 R.T. Muir Shepherd My Wandering Heart
2 Fanny J. Crosby The Still Small Voice First line of song – “In the Silent watches of the night.” (1844-1915)
3 Jonathan Cahn The Book of Mysteries day 205 Breaking the Silence
Father God we thank you that you are indeed a God who hears and a God who speaks. We thank you for Your goodness. We honour Your word and are grateful for its impact on our lives. We thank you for the Word of Life and that He took on flesh and tabernacled among us. We thank you that in the fullness of time Christ came and died in our place that we may have new life and live in your presence. We acknowledge that the heavens declare your glory and that all of creation sings the song You have placed within each and every living creature. We marvel that You spoke all of its vast variety into existence and that even this very day You continue to speak to each of us. We understand and accept that at those times when You seem distant and silent, You are still there, watching over us as a mother hen hovers about her brood. You care for us with an everlasting love. Help us to pray as we should; to seek You early each morn. May our last thought of the day be about Your faithfulness and provision. During those times when You seem silent let us be all the more determined to stay close to your word. Let us be alert toward our brothers and sisters that we continue to offer up their names and their struggles into your loving care as sweet incense. May we model our lives as those of Elizabeth and Zachariah, who in spite of their unrealized prayer request laboured on. For we serve the High King of Glory! The One who calls us by name; the One who calls us friends. Give us new direction this new year both as a congregation at Ohsweken and as individuals as we ponder your will for us. Restore us to full health and keep our homes safe from all intrusions of the enemy. With hearts full of thanksgiving and mouths full of praise we offer up these prayers to You the God of Heaven and Earth, Our Creator Who is from everlasting to everlasting, the First and the Last, Who reminds us to “be still and know that I am God.” In the name of Jesus, that name that is above every name, Amen.
COMMUNION 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show that Lord’s death until he comes.”
“The LORD bless you and keep you: The LORD make his face shine upon you: and be gracious unto you: The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26) Amen.