Unity is important because Christianity is not meant to be done alone, but with the your immediate family, your church family and spiritual family of other believers worldwide. I believe this meeting in Luke 1, between a teenager and geriatric, is one of the most important in the Bible and teaches us a lot about unity.
1. Unity requires being humble in spirit (Luke 1:26-38)
With the Messiah in her belly, Mary could have behaved arrogantly and acted like she knew everything, but the she demonstrated her humble spirit in the way she followed the instructions of Gabriel to a T – carefully, diligently and quickly. Her statement of faith was also astounding; she barely knew what she was in for and yet she said to Gabriel, in effect, “Use me anyway you want, even in the lowliest manner because I believe in God!”
Elizabeth, however, who was also miraculously pregnant with one of the most important characters in Jewish history no less, was just as humble in spirit. I think it takes a ton of humility for a reputable old lady like Elizabeth to acknowledge a teenager without any reputation and that the baby in her to be greater than her own.
When we humble ourselves before each other and relate without needing to prove anything, there’s a sense of identity and camaraderie. Talking to each other about what Jesus is doing in our lives builds our faith and deepens our fellowship.
2. Unity requires making things happen (Luke 1:39-41)
Since Mary had no clue what Elizabeth had experienced, she took two steps of faith that day: to believe that she was going to be pregnant without sexual intercourse and that an old woman was six months pregnant. Her steps of faith (pun unintended) to travel around 160km from Nazareth in Galilee to Hebron in Judea shows us her willingness to make things happen. I wondered what she must have pondered over as she made that journey, since she couldn’t confirm that Elizabeth was pregnant until she saw her for herself.
Elizabeth had no idea that she was going to receive a visitor that day, or that the visitor was Mary, or that Mary would be pregnant with the Saviour of the world! So for Elizabeth to greet Mary so spontaneously, she must have received a revelation and acted upon it. With her act of faith, she brought the both revelations to a full circle. She went on, in effect, to repeat what Mary said to Gabriel, “You are blessed because you believed the Lord would do what He said.”
Mary greeted Elizabeth in faith and Elizabeth responded to Mary in faith. Extraordinary revelations require extraordinary faith and obedience, and produces extraordinary results.
3. Unity requires honouring others above yourself (Luke 1:42-45)
Elizabeth congratulated Mary (“God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed”), condescended herself before Mary (“Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?”), confirmed Mary’s encounter with Gabriel (“When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy”) and commended Mary (“You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said”). All that must have levelled up Mary’s faith!
Elizabeth could say all that Mary because six months ago, she did the same thing in faith. If we do not deserve the favour that God shows us, we shouldn’t envy those the Lord has given more favour. Moreover, those who have personally experienced God’s faithfulness would naturally encourage others to put their faith in God.
4. Unity requires hanging on until it comes to pass (Luke 1:56)
Mary didn’t leave after that encounter but stayed with Elizabeth for three months before she returned home. I think she wasn’t there just to help a relative through the crucial months of pregnancy but perhaps to see through God’s promises surrounding both of them. I’m not sure if she witnessed the birth of John the Baptist but I know she definitely saw enough to know that Elizabeth was ready to go into labour.
Being a part of Elizabeth’s life in the first three months of her own pregnancy must have given her courage when she eventually returned to Nazareth to ready herself for the next six months of a gossip-filled, doubt-inducing, fear-instilling and awe-inspiring pregnancy. She was probably visibly pregnant but she was definitely convinced, comforted and convicted of the miracle that was about to take place through her. Through Mary’s care-giving with Elizabeth, God must have done some faith-strengthening with Mary.
What does unity look like and what stops us?
Unity is when all of us worshipping God with abandon; so don’t worship Him with arrogance, thinking you know better. Unity is when all of us are acting out our faith with obedience; so don’t respond with indifference, waiting for someone else to do what God has called you to do. Unity is when all of us are serving each other with selflessness; so don’t let your ego get in the way, putting your needs first.
I believe that the sole purpose of these two unbelievable pregnancies is found in Luke 1:37. To prove that nothing is impossible with God and that no man should take the credit for a miracle of God. If a virgin like Mary and a geriatric like Elizabeth can give birth, then surely God can bring revival to R-AGE, for nothing will be impossible with God.
It’s a lofty dream but I know one day, by faith, it will come to pass. I believe with all my heart that when revival comes to R-AGE, it won’t be through a large corporate fire, but through the small fires that we fan daily. I believe it with all my heart and I will hang on to it until it comes to pass or until God tells me I won’t see it in my time as a youth pastor.
The Facebook with the Newbies sermon series comes to a close today with John the Baptist the Jesus Freak. I have bittersweet feelings about it; while I may enjoy the mental (and physical) break of not having to think about and prepare the sermon, I will miss not being able to preach to a youth crowd. My next preaching assignment would be at the Pre-Teens service on 8-9 May and the next time I will preach at R-AGE services would only be in July. (Actually, I might just have to preach four times in June though…)
While there are many ways to approach the study of John, I’ve decided to streamline our focus to just two of John’s main ministries – Repentance and Reflection. Here’s a summary of my main points.
John’s first ministry – Repentance
- In the Gospel of Matthew, the first recorded word of John (Matthew 3:2) and the first word in Jesus’ pulpit ministry (Matthew 4:17) was “Repent” – that’s “Metanoeo” in Greek. And it can simply be defined as a change of one’s mind or to change one’s ways with hatred of one’s past sins. Either way, it’s always for the better.
- Observe then, the two steps involved in repentance – renewing our minds and renewing our methods. Phrased alternatively, it is to transform the way we think (Romans 12:2) with the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) and to change the way we live so that we can show the fruit(s) of our repentance (Matthew 3:8).
- Repentance is not just responding emotionally or intellectually – that’s remorse. The fruit of repentance must observable and obvious. Thorough repentance is naturally proven by action, and in more than just one area of our lives.
- A great intention forever remains a great thought until it is followed-up with action; a repentance done in our heads and hearts must be followed-up with a repentance done with our hand and in our habits. Repentance should alter your direction, methods and perspective.
- God wants us to come to Him in repentance, but He calls us to Him by His grace. We can only repent if we ask God to help us, not by our effort. God’s grace operates this way – you don’t sort yourself out before you go to God, but you go to God to get sorted out.
- When we have a changed heart, a changed life will naturally follow. That is why God honors a changed heart and doesn’t despise a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17)!
John’s second ministry – Reflection
- John constantly pointed others back to Jesus – that’s what we are also called to do. John knew his divine mandate and mission in life (John 1:6-8) and it was seen in his every response and answer. His mission in life was to witness about Jesus.
- Imagine Jesus to be like the Sun and John to be like the moon. Without the sun as the source of light, we will never see the moon, because the moon can only be seen when it reflects the greater light of the sun.
- Witnesses can only testify what they saw and heard. Usually they have nothing to do with the victim or the accused, or even the actual event. Yet they are crucial to solving the case.
- Remember that we can do nothing to save our friends. The reason for evangelism should be birthed from a desire to want to tell others about the love of Christ that we have experienced. Turn up as a witness and bear the right witness for your case of Christianity.
- Thank the Lord for your salvation, as well as that of your family and friends; take care of the new converts; tell everyone else about Jesus.
- John knew the grand mission of his life – he was to be a mirror for Jesus Christ. Is Jesus in your reflection? As Christians, our mission is clearly stated (Matthew 28:19-20); Jesus gave us the The Great Commission, not the Great Suggestion.
- The way to repent and reflect is to depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit. For when breakthrough comes, the glory belongs to God alone. We face the daily battle to deny ourselves and to take on the suffering of Christ, for true life follows as a result (Luke 9:23-24).