Hope Deferred Makes the Heart Sick – Luke 1:37

For no word from God will ever fail.”

I would like to look at the response of Gabriel to Mary as she asked how it could be that she a virgin could conceive a child: “For no word from God will ever fail.” Some Bibles translate these words “For nothing is impossible for God.” Not being a Greek scholar I am unable to argue which translation is more accurate, but either way I think both fit well into the general revelation we receive from Scripture. This morning, however, I want to look at the words, “For no word from God will ever fail.” This, of course is very similar to Isaiah 55 verses 10 to 11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I don’t know about you, but such a statement is often easier to say than to truly believe, and I think contextually, when we consider that the prophets had been prophesying for hundreds of years the coming of the Messiah and yet here were the people of Israel still under foreign domination with little evidence that such a prophecy would or could be fulfilled. In some senses Mary had the easy job. Gabriel appears to her and tells her that she will give birth to the Messiah and that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her etc. Everything takes place fairly quickly and it is soon evident that Mary despite her virginal state is pregnant with a child. It is always easier to hold on to and believe a word God has given you when it is quickly fulfilled. But what do we do when we are given a Word from God and years later there is still no evidence for its fulfillment.

Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

I think the writer of Proverbs 13:12 wasn’t far wrong when he stated that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Of course in chapter 2 verses 25 – 38 of Luke’s Gospel we also read of two quite odd characters, Simeon and Anna who also waited to see God’s word fulfilled.

Growth takes patience

Can you imagine what it would have been like for Simeon? He had been spoken to by God’s Holy Spirit and given the Word that he wouldn’t die before he saw God’s chosen Messiah. You can imagine as the years went by, his hair turns grey, his teeth start to fall out and arthritis sets in making it uncomfortable to even hang out in the Temple, let alone pray. There must have been times when Simeon thought to himself, “I must have misunderstood.” Or even, “God, have you been stringing me along on this one?” Like the great patriarch Abraham, Simeon, also may have thought to himself, maybe I need to help God along a little here. Abraham, as we know, had shacked up with Hagar one of Sarah’s maids and produced Ishmael. And no wonder. He had taken one look at Sarah’s obviously aging body. He was also aware of his own limitations and the fact that Viagra hadn’t yet been invented and he thought to himself. “God, I believe you, I really do, but surely this can’t happen without a little bit of help?”

I don’t know about you, but I have often felt this way about God’s Word. I remember a number of years ago God spoke to me very clearly and specifically about a number of things I would see happen along with my personal involvement with them. At the time when God was speaking his Words seemed so real and so imminent that I had little doubt I would see them fulfilled quickly. And yet as the years have rolled on, life has often been far more difficult and taken turns that I would never have expected, it has been easy to feel let down and disillusioned. In fact it probably would have been easier if God had not spoken. If you are given no hope then there is no chance of it being shattered.

One can’t but wonder at how Moses felt after murdering the Egyptian and then finding himself turned on by both his own people and the Egyptians. It was no wonder that he just turned tail and headed out into the wilderness. It is also no wonder that when God showed up in the burning bush that Moses really had lost all interest in being God’s man to save Israel. He had become a cynical and disillusioned man who doubted his abilities to even string a sentence together let alone face an Egyptian pharaoh demanding the release of Israel. And likewise it is not surprising that the enslaved Israelites after initially accepting Moses’ message of deliverance supported by some well timed miracles quickly lost hope when Pharaoh’s immediate response was to up their work loads. When for generations it seems that God hasn’t heard your cries for freedom, any word he may have spoken previously regarding guarantees of blessings and promised lands seems to hold little value.

And yet, despite the years and despite the times of disillusionment, the times when God’s absence seems more real than his presence, somehow I still find myself holding on to those Words God spoke to me so many years ago. l still believe that one day when God is ready and in his timing I will see his word fulfilled. I know now that one of the things that has changed for me is the belief that somehow it is about me or that I can make it happen. I have discovered that like Moses my efforts only lead to more pain and like Abraham that Ishmael’s are all too easy to produce. I now have little doubt that if things are left up to me then nothing significant is ever likely to eventuate. I am too unstable, too emotionally fragile, too half-hearted and so I could go on. I am just a frail human being and even my spiritual life flows out of that frailty. And yet, like Mary, I have somehow found favour with God and he has spoken to me and implanted something within me supernaturally by his Spirit. Like Mary, my only response can be to accept his Word and to simply allow it to grow within me. At times, like Mary I may ponder on it and treasure it, and indeed there have been many times in which I have found myself doing so. Like Mary, I have also found that God’s Word doesn’t always just lead to joy and hope and pleasant experiences, but often to misunderstanding, pain and a broken heart.

In sharing what I have I hope that there are others who are hearing what I am saying and who can relate to what I am sharing. I am fairly certain that I am not the only Christian that God speaks to and has spoken to.