Elizabeth: Filled and Favored

During this season I am writing about some of the women of the Christmas story. Elizabeth is remembered as a woman of faith who inspired Mary  and influenced John the Baptist. She was a recipient of God’s grace, and an example of faithful discipleship, and an important witness to the truth.

Luke chapter one mentions Elizabeth at least ten times. She is described as a devout woman living with her husband Zechariah, a priest in Judea. Like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, she was supernaturally destined to become a mother in her old age. Her child would be John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus.

Her world (Luke 1:5-6)

If you sometimes feel that your world is unfriendly to your faith, you have Elizabeth as a kindred spirit. Her world was dominated by rulers and religious leaders who were morally corrupt. King Herod had a reputation for serial adultery and for unspeakable cruelty. He is the ruler who ordered the murder of the male babies around Bethlehem when he learned of the birth of Jesus, the king of the Jews. The religious establishment in Jerusalem was controlled by high priests who were known for political intrigue, spiritual pride, and hypocrisy.

In contrast, Elizabeth and her husband lived lives of quiet devotion and faithfulness to God. They were childless, and this fact added a feeling of shame inflicted by their world (vv. 7, 25). But they did not allow this personal disappointment to make them bitter toward God. It did not stop them from praying, worshipping, or serving him.

Her womanhood (Luke 1:8-17)

When her husband Zechariah was to take his turn to serve as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, it was at an appointed time in redemptive history. He and Elizabeth would be participants in a cosmic drama. Messiah was coming! God was moving!

The Lord’s angel appeared to Zechariah as he performed his priestly duties. “Your prayers have been heard,” he said. What prayers? we wonder. Were they the prayers he and Elizabeth had prayed many years before for a child? Were they the prayers he now led for the advent of Messiah, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for deliverance for Israel?

The angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would become a mother. He named her. He stated her destiny in God’s plan. She would fulfill the last prophecy in the Old Testament, the one about the appearance of the forerunner of Messiah (v. 17, Malachi 4:6, 3:1). That prophecy would be fulfilled in her womb. Her son would be “great in the eyes of the Lord.” He would minister in the spirit and power of Elijah and prepare the way for the Lord.

Luke tells us that Zechariah had doubts about all this at first. As a result, he was struck dumb and was unable to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (v. 20). In contrast, Elizabeth believed. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said (v. 25). Her faith shines brightly.

As a mother in Israel, she influenced her son to become the man God wanted him to be. There is a vivid description in these verses of the kind of man John would become. Where did John get his deep conviction, his boldness, his dedication, and his humility? Surely his first teacher, his mother, had something to do with his spiritual formation.

Though she lived in obscurity, her son would turn the hearts of many to the Lord their God (v. 16). It says something great about this woman that she would be a guiding influence in the life of one who would be called the greatest of all the prophets. It has been said that John prepared the way for Jesus; Elizabeth prepared the way for John!

Her witness (Luke 1:39-45)

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Elizabeth got a visit from a younger relative from up north, in Galilee. Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary approached (vv. 41-42). She uttered a magnificent song of praise, the words of which are repeated every day all over the world: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear” (v. 42).

Not only did she honor Mary, but she also honored Mary’s Son (v.43). She recognized who Mary’s child would be, the divine Lord, the Son of the Most High (v. 35) who will reign as king forever. This incarnate Son she calls “my Lord,” as an expression of her personal faith.

Applying the word

Several points of application stand out in this story. Zechariah and Elizabeth were saddened and disappointed that they had been childless for so many years. What are we to do with our disappointments? Rather than become bitter, we may learn to respond as they did, with quiet faithfulness and persistent prayer.

Elizabeth illustrates the power of influence. Think of her influence on her son John. Perhaps he was great in the sight of the Lord because his mother instilled qualities that made him great. Think of her influence on Mary. Did the three months Mary spent with her help the mother of our Lord grow into a fuller appreciation for what God was doing in her, for her, and through her?

It is likely that Elizabeth was the first person in history (other than Mary herself) to accept by faith the theologically important doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ!

She expressed her faith in the incarnate Lord in Mary’s womb. “Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (v. 43). Her faith was focused on what God was doing though the living baby in the womb of the virgin mother. He is the Lord from heaven. Mary believed (v. 45). Elizabeth believed (v.25). Do you believe?

Pastor Randy Faulkner