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Godly Elizabeth: The Mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:1-80)

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Elizabeth: A Godly Mother

From the book entitled: Anecdotes and Illustrations of D.L. Moody we get this true

story. The author writes:

Dwight L Moody used to tell the story of a man who came to him and said, “When the Mexican war began I wanted to enlist. My mother, seeing I was resolved, said if I became a Christian I might go. She pleaded and prayed that I might become a Christian, but I wouldn’t. I said when the war was over I would become a Christian, but not till then.

“All her pleading was in vain, and at last, when I was going away, she took out a watch and said: My son, your father left this to me when he died. Take it, and I want you to remember that every day at 12 o’clock your mother will be praying for you. Then she gave me her Bible, and marked out passages, and put a few different references in the fly-leaf. I took the watch and the Bible just because my mother gave them. I never intended to read the Bible.

“I went off to Mexico, and one day while on a long, weary march, I took out my watch, and it was 12 o’clock. I had been gone four months, but I remembered that my mother at that hour was praying for me. Something prompted me to ask the officer to relieve me for a little while, and I stepped behind a tree away out on those plains of Mexico, and cried to the God of my mother to save me.”

God saved him, and after the Mexican war was ended, he said, “I have enlisted again to see if I can do any good for my Master’s cause.”

Such is the power and influence of a godly, praying mother in a person's life.

The Bible has many examples of this kind of mother throughout its pages. None of them were perfect. They all had flaws and sins just like the rest of us. However, if we read their stories carefully, we can learn a lot about living a successful Christian life from their examples.

One of those godly examples is Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. Her story can be found in Luke 1:1-80.

Let's take a look at what Scripture has to say about Elizabeth and and her life in order to glean from it what it has to teach us today.

I. Who Was Elizabeth?

Let us begin by giving a short Introduction to the life of this beautiful biblical mother, Elizabeth.

The Scriptures tell us that she was the older cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, And it says that she came from a priestly family. It lets us know that she was "of the daughters of Aaron." (1:5). And she was also married to a priest named Zacharias.

The Bible explains to us that both Zacharias and Elizabeth were "righteous in God's sight, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord." (6).

And by the time we are introduced to this lovely couple they were both "advanced in years." And sadly, Elizabeth was barren. She had been unable to conceive a child and now that she was older, she probably had given up on all hope of that ever happening.

And yet this isn't the end of this righteous woman's story. For all of those who think that life has passed them by and that God will never use you, Elizabeth is an inspiration. Because her greatest years were still ahead of her. She was about to make history in God's hall of fame by having a son who would proclaim the coming of the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is why none of us, as long as we have breath in our bodies, should think that the Lord is through with us. We must never feel useless and unimportant. God has a plan for each of us that only He completely understands. And He will accomplish it. He who works through the barren womb will certainly bring about His work in and through us.

Now, before we continue, let's try to understand a little more of what Elizabeth was going through by being an older woman in the Ancient Near East who had never had a child. And then we can see the great faith she must have had to continue to trust God despite the circumstances.

II. ELizabeth's Great Faith Through Barrenness

Only those who have been through the pain of trying and not being able to conceive a child have any idea of what this righteous woman had gone through.

Today, in the 21st century, studies suggest that after 1 year of having unprotected sex, 12% to 15% of couples are unable to conceive, and after 2 years, 10% of couples still have not had a live-born baby. To compare this to what is the norm, in couples younger than age 30 who are generally healthy, 40% to 60% are able to conceive in the first 3 months of trying.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 percent of married women between the ages of 15 to 44 in the United States are infertile. Approximately 7.4 million U.S. women in this age group have used infertility services.

And it truly is hard for those who have never had this trouble to understand the stigma that women, and men as well, feel who cannot have a baby no matter how hard they try. Further, most will never know the ache in a person's heart that often occurs when they cannot fill the void which comes from not fulfilling the natural desire to have a child of their own.

Just to give an example, here is an excerpt from a blog of a woman in her fifties who has never been able to conceive children. Her name is Alisoun MacKenzie. She writes:

"The yearning to have children isn’t something you can turn on or off. Today and throughout history, there are many women who are living with this unmet natural craving, the untamed life force within that calls for us to reproduce and nurture our young. This natural hormonal feminine energy is passed down through our DNA. It is hard to escape from unless you’ve never felt the urge.

Women who are involuntarily childless are often quietly nursing a wounded heart, doubting their worthiness and questioning the meaning of life. They are constantly also trying to brush off insensitive expectations, prejudices, and comments made by those around them.

Modern society has yet to break free from prejudices against childless women. Pregnancies and births are celebrated. But there is no societal norm for acknowledging the invisible pain of those struggling to conceive or those who are not in a position to have children.

Thankfully I’ve now got to a place where I feel a deep sense of meaning and contentment in my life, without children. Yes, I still feel a sadness in my heart but far less so than I did when I was younger. My quest for motherhood, and subsequently letting go of this dream has been a long and often painful journey."

Now let's go back 2000 years to the time of Elizabeth. She was not only confronting what Allisoun MacKensie was going through, but she was also undergoing the added stigma of being barren in the Ancient Near East.

In those days the people didn't think much about the fact that there could be anything wrong with the man and his ability to sire children. It was largely seen as a female problem. In the Bible there are no stories that focus on an infertile man, for example.

During this time being infertile was something that gave those experiencing it shame. Here is what The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has to say about it:

"In Israel, and among oriental peoples generally, barrenness was a woman's and a family's greatest misfortune. The highest sanctions of religion and patriotism blessed the fruitful woman, because children were necessary for the perpetuation of the tribe and its religion. It is significant that the mothers of the Hebrew race, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel, were by nature sterile, and therefore God's special intervention shows His particular favor to Israel. Fruitfulness was God's special blessing to His people (Ex 23:26; Dt 7:14; Ps 113:9). A complete family is an emblem of beauty (Song 4:2; 6:6)"

But despite the shame and humiliation that Elizabeth must have felt, there is no record that her faith in God waivered. She continued to worship and serve Him along with her husband Zacharias.

III. Elizabeth's Great Faith in God's Promise

And not only did her faith not waiver through barrenness, it also continued when her husband was given the promise that she would conceive a son in her old age.

We find in Luke 1:8-23 that while Zacharias was performing his priestly duties in the temple, the angel Gabriel came to him and announced that he and his wife would have a special son that was to be the forerunner of the Christ. He was given specific instructions concerning him and was to call the baby's name John.

Zacharias' faith did waiver a bit because he couldn't believe that he, an old man, and his wife being barren and old as well, could ever have a baby. Gabriel said that, because of his lack of faith, he would be unable to speak until the baby arrived.

And sure enough, we learn in verses 24 and 25 that Elizabeth indeed conceived a baby. The Scriptures say that she 'kept herself in seclusion for five months afterward. John MacArthur tells us in his study Bible that this was probably an act of deep devotion out of deep gratitude to the Lord.

And here is how she responded to the news:

"This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

Elizabeth's great faith in God's promise to her and to Zacharias was rewarded at John's birth, as we will see later. However, first let us look at this mother's faith in another way.

IV. Elizabeth's Great Faith in the Christ

As we move forward in the story we see Elizabeth having faith in the Christ who was to come. In Luke 1:26-36 the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she would have a son and shall call His name Jesus. And within that narrative the angel Gabriel says this to Mary:

"And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:36-37).

We read in Luke 1:39-56 that Mary later visits her cousin. It is then that Elizabeth becomes a part of John's first announcement of the Christ while still in his mother's uterus. It happened when the baby John leaped in his mother's womb after Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting.

Then Elizabeth becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and says:

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?" For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." (42-45)

So we see that, Elizabeth became her baby's spokesperson through this prophecy announcing the coming of Jesus.

V. Elizabeth's Great Faith Fulfilled

Now we come to the moment that we have been waiting for in the story of this wonderful woman of God. It is the moment that she herself had been waiting for all of her adult life. Elizabeth's great faith in God's promise to her and to Zacharias was rewarded with the child who would play a pivotal part in the history of the world by telling others that the Christ was coming, and later, that He had arrived. After Mary's song in verses 46-56 we get the final time Elizabeth is mentioned in Scripture.

In verses 57-66 she gives birth to John. Her neighbors and relatives heard of this and rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day, the day of John's circumcision, some people wanted to call him Zacharias, after his father. But Mary insisted that they give him the name told to Zacharias by the angel Gabriel.

Knowing that there was no one in her family called by that name, the people wondered why she wanted to call him that. And they asked Zacharias about it. Zacharias asked for a tablet to communicate with them. And he wrote on it:

"His name is John!" (63).

It was only then that the Lord restored his voice. And he began to praise God and later prophecy about his son's future ministry. (64-80).

His faith had waivered for a while, but Elizabeth's faith had remained strong.

Conclusion

I'd like to start to bring this study to a conclusion with two quotes from the 16th President of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln. He famously said that

"All that I am or hope ever to be, I owe to my godly mother."

He also was quoted as saying:

"No man is poor who has a godly mother."

If that is true, and I believe that it is, then John the Baptist was among the richest people who have ever lived. Not rich financially, but rich spiritually. He grew up to love God and fulfill his mission to preach about the Christ who had come.

For those of us who have had godly mothers, praise the Lord for them and never take them for granted. They are among the precious resources that the Lord has given to us to make us who we are and to show us how to bring glory to the God of the universe.

But if you didn't have a godly mother as a child and you are a woman, then you still can be one, not only to your children but as a role model to all the children that God has placed in your life.

If you are a man, then by all means look to those models of godly character that are in your life and seek to emulate them. Models, like Elizabeth, who aren't perfect but consistently display faith in all of their lives.

We set aside one day a year to honor mother's in the United States. But that honor should continue the rest of the year. For as the writer of Proverbs 31 has told us:

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates." (31:31).

So let us continually honor and praise all of the godly mothers in our lives. For they truly deserve it.

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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