Open our Bible Study with Prayer
Dear Heavenly Father, we begin today by giving You thanks. Your love endures forever, it never fails. We thank You for breaking Your silence and revealing Yourself to us through the gift of Your Son and Your word. Speak your words of love and compassion to us and give us ears to hear what you are saying. Prepare our hearts to receive your love and to pour out that love to others.
We ask this In Jesus’ name. Amen
Last month I asked "What defines a family? Is it love or blood?" Ruth and Naomi were an example of how you can have a strong family connection without having a blood connection. They truly were Mother and daughter. Ruth proved her loyalty, as only a genuine daughter would when she refused to leave Naomi's side. And Naomi shared her motherly wisdom with Ruth, instructing her in the correct ways to become a godly woman. Both women are a wonderful representation of the God-given roles of mothers and daughters. Today our study is about Elizabeth and Mary. Once again, we see how a spiritual connection can bond two women. Cousins not mother and daughter, joined by shared blood but also by the shared experience of the supernatural spirit of God. We know Elizabeth and her husband had been praying for a child for years, but God had been silent. The people of God had been praying for a savior for 400 years, but God had been silent. Unexpectedly, God's breaks His silence and bestows on these women the wondrous gift of being a part of God's plan for redemption. The time has come for God to not only break His silence, but to break down the barrier between Heaven and Earth. There will be no need for the priests like Zechariah to speak for us with the Lord, because He is coming to speak for Himself. Shannon Bream's 5 questions will take us on a journey where we can look at how our stories compare to Elizabeth and Mary's, and see when God has been silent with us, and when He has broken His silence.
Elizabeth and Mary
Read Luke 1:12-20
Elizabeth and Mary's story begins with poor old Zechariah. Can you imagine being in his place? Standing in the presence of an angel, a messenger of God. I don't think Gabriel would have needed to strike me silent; I think I would have been too frightened to say a word. Do you think it was just a coincidence that Zechariah's punishment for his doubts was silence? I don't. It could have been anything, but the messenger who speaks took away the one thing a proud father would want. To be the one to herald the good news of his coming child. But now, because of his lack of faith, he will have to wait to share the full details of his experience. He will need to keep his peace, so to say, and only have the connection with his wife to interpret his thoughts. This brings us to Elizabeth's story, where Shannon's first question to us is:
1. What do we know about the kind of woman Elizabeth was? Do you think she had given up on motherhood as part of her story? How does her story highlight the purpose in the period of waiting God sometimes asks us to walk through in order to fulfill His greater plans?
Read: 1 Timothy 3:4-11, Psalm 62:1, Psalm 27:14
As we read in 1 Timothy, Zechariah had to be a certain type of man and from a certain family lineage to preside in the temple. We may not know much about Elizabeth, but we can assume that she was an upright, godly woman befitting her status, and apparently it wasn't just for show, because our Lord took notice of her. It would be quite a responsibility to raise John into the one who would call a waiting people to God, and usher in Jesus' ministry. I don't think God would pick just any mother for that job. Through all of this waiting, she was praying and wondering if God had heard her. Waiting is hard. Last week, we were all waiting to see what the storm would do to us. The days before the storm, we were preparing and praying, and that was more difficult than the actual hurricane was for us, thanks be to God for our protection. Elizabeth was going on with her ordinary life, all the while praying for God to intervene and give her a child. After it took so long for hurricane Ian to arrive, we were all over worrying about it, and an air of normalcy took over. I think Elizabeth was on the routine side of life by the time God sent His message. For me, I feel Elizabeth's story is a lesson on God's timing not being the same as ours, and how we can learn to build our patience. We live in a fast-paced world of hurry up. Hurry up, drive-thru dinner, hurry up news, hurry up Facebook, and twitter friendships. All of this rushing makes us feel like God is taking His good old time answering our prayers. When I was young, my mother would make homemade cakes. To me, they always seemed to take hours to make. I would ask her why they had to take so long? She reminded me that anything of value always takes longer. She could have thrown the ingredients together willy nelly, but what good is a cake that tastes terrible? Would we really want a God who just throws things together to see what they make?
2. Why do you think Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth's pregnancy?
Read: Luke 1:36-37, Joshua 1:9, Proverbs 29:25
Alone is how I see Mary. Alone in the presence of a holy angel, a young girl, not married and told that she was going to be a mother, and not just any baby, but the baby of God. What courage she had! She didn't say to Gabriel my people will disown me, including my fiancé, the others will stone me. Instead, she said, "Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) I think Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth so she would have someone who would understand when no one else would. God knew right from the beginning that it isn't good for us to go through things alone. There is no mention of Mary's mother, or her in-laws, for that matter, so who would help Mary? God's plans for us are the best, even when they don't seem like it at the time. Mary's mother may have already passed, or maybe she did reject her when it came out that she was pregnant, but God gave her a surrogate mother who would believe and support her. A mother who would help Mary remember that "with God, nothing will be impossible." (Luke 1:37) When we face troubles, we need to lean on these words.
3. How were Elizabeth and Mary perfectly equipped to encourage each other through extraordinary times? How can we point each other to deeper faith in God in the face of our own fears and questions?
Read: Ephesians 2:10, Romans 15:4, Colossians 3:12
What joy must have shown on Elizabeth and Mary's faces when they shared their news with each other! Both of them were God's chosen ones. Just as our Bible verse said, they had compassionate hearts, were full of kindness, humble, and acted in meekness. They both were equipped for the work God had planned for them. They were women of faith, and they praised God in good times and bad. Sometimes we may not feel that life is very praiseworthy. But in spite of it all, we need to help each other be more like them, helping with encouragement, and love. Joining together to give praises to the Lord. I know it can be difficult, but when times are tough, that is the most important time to stop and give our Lord the praise He deserves. Developing a habit of praising and expressing gratitude towards God is a purposeful act. Having a life filled with gratitude, along with a thankful heart, can change everything. When we verbalize what is right in life, the gloom and troubles of this world seem to fade. Psalm 146:2 says, "I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live." It is hard to be angry or worried if you are singing praises. Let's strive to be thankful for something every day. Not just occasionally or at Thanksgiving, but every day. You don't have to over think this, there is no pop quiz. Be thankful for a beautiful evening or for the rain. Be thankful for your family and friends. Avoid complaining or talking about all that you wish was different. Look for God and find Him in the small things around you each day.
4. Has someone in your life recognized and encouraged your faith walk as Elizabeth did for Mary? What did that mean for you? Have you done that for someone else?
Read: 2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:1, Romans 15:13
When I was a young girl, I shared my anger with God about my birth defect with my aunt; she told me the story of when the Disciples asked Jesus about why a man had been born blind. (John 9:1-3) I had always wondered why God had singled me out for this curse. She was the first person to tell me that it was a blessing, that I had brought peace and togetherness to my family, because I had become their center of purpose. She went on to say that she believed God had great plans for my life. Although, it took a while longer for me to begin to accept her words, they stuck with me and encouraged me through some very hard times. When I feel my faith waver, I remember that conversation and thank God for sending her motherly counsel. I love the quote from Charles Stanley, “Often times God demonstrates His faithfulness in adversity by providing for us what we need to survive. He does not change our painful circumstances. He sustains us through them.” She couldn’t change my circumstances or take away my frustration and pain, but she did help me to live with them. I have shared that story with many little girls that I have mentored, and I hope that it helped them the way my aunt helped me. Please think of a time when someone did that for you and share it with the group.
5. Have you seen the fruit of the seeds a spiritual mother planted in your life? What about in someone you invested in? How can we find spiritual mothers and daughters around us, and what's the eternal impact of investing in those relationships?
Read: Isaiah 66:13, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Galatians 6:9
Do you understand what it means to sow spiritual seeds? The Bible often uses metaphors for conveying wisdom and truth. One example of this is "sowing seeds" of love and righteousness that will blossom into beautiful things later in life. Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower, where He used the comparison of the farmer throwing out his seeds into different types of soil. The seed that the Sower was planting in the story represents the teachings of God's Word. Our heart represents the soil where the Sower planted the seeds. If our heart is hard and filled with anger and bitterness, the teaching falls on hard ground and never grows, just like the seed that fell on the hard ground. Sometimes we hear the Word, and we get excited about it, but then our excitement fades away because our understanding is too shallow. That's the way it was with the seed that fell on the rocky soil. Sill other times, we hear the Word, and we believe what it says, but we want to keep on doing the same sinful things we have been doing. That is like planting the seed in with a bunch of weeds. I'm sure you can guess what happens. The weeds soon take over! The last seed is the best, it fell on the good ground. The seed that Jesus plants in your heart will grow. Your life will produce good fruit, just like Jesus intended. This reminds us to think beyond the present to the future and how our actions and choices will affect tomorrow and beyond. When we share God's word with others, we are helping them to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God's love. God’s silence was broken so that we could share it with the world. We need to be on the lookout for people who we can invest in. Can you think of a place where you would find these women? Please share your thoughts with the group.