Step back in time for a minute with me and contemplate a woman named Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, cousin and forerunner of Jesus Christ.
An Unrecorded Longing
According to Luke 1:7, Elizabeth was barren, and she and her husband Zechariah were both “advanced in years.” Unlike the stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah in the Old Testament, Luke does not record Elizabeth’s longing for a child. We do not read of her prayers and her heartache. We simply see that she and Zechariah “were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)
But for an Israelite woman, being barren meant more than simply aching over empty arms, although that in itself is more than enough. Barrenness meant shame, for a good wife was expected to provide children for her husband. It meant a lack of security for the future, for, if her husband died, she would have no one to care for her. While Luke may have left out the emotional details Moses and Samuel gave us about Elizabeth’s Old Testament predecessors, it is not poor exegesis to assume that she shared their pain and longing.
Yet, this incredible woman remained faithful, righteous, and even blameless before the Lord. She wholeheartedly served the very God who allowed her to remain barren. I can only imagine the example Elizabeth set for many of the younger wives whose husbands served in the temple, probably even rejoicing with them each time they were blessed with children – while she remained barren.
Fast forward a bit.
Elizabeth’s husband has received an angelic visit. After finishing his time of service in the temple, he returns home mute. And some time after that, the unthinkable happens: Elizabeth discovers herself to be with child. A few months later, her distant relative Mary shows up at her house, and I can imagine that Elizabeth has to catch her breath a bit as the baby boy within her leaps in the presence of Mary – or, rather, in the presence of the fulfillment of the long-awaited coming of the Messiah!
An Uncompromised Belief
All of that is beautiful…and familiar. But, the end of Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary stands out particularly when we think of the grace and righteousness and, yes, faith and hope of this woman. Take a look one more time at what Elizabeth says to Mary:
“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45
If anyone’s belief in the promise of the Lord had ever been challenged, it had to have been Elizabeth’s. She had waited for so long, hoping for a son, yet coming to the point of believing that a son would never come. Unlike with Abraham and Sarah, there is no indication from Scripture that Zechariah and Elizabeth had any reason to believe (at least, before the angelic visit) that God would bless them with a child in their old age. But, they believed in God. They believed in the promises of God. They believed in the goodness of God. And they trusted that God’s plan for their lives would be perfect in its fulfillment, with or without a child. Even if the Lord had never granted her a son, Elizabeth would still have persisted in joyful faith.
The story of Elizabeth’s words to Mary tells much more than a simple encouragement. It is the story of a woman who grasped the depths of faith. She lived Hebrews 11:1 decades before it would be written.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Before Christ had even come, Elizabeth lived the truth that faith is hoping and resting in the outcome Christ has for us.
Even more beautiful is what this tells us of Elizabeth as a mother. Scripturally, we know nothing about John’s childhood or Elizabeth’s parenting. She could have spent the precious years of her son’s life fretting over not having a child sooner, when she was young and had energy. She could have mourned the reality that there were no older siblings for her John, leaving him with only elderly parents who would most likely die while he was still young.
But Luke 1:6 and 45 shows us a woman who would never mourn what God did not allow in the past. Instead, she would rejoice in the fulfillment of the Lord’s plan – and the role she, her husband, and their son were allowed to play in that fulfillment. She would trust that God’s timing and plan were absolutely perfect.
A Lasting Example
Faith like Elizabeth’s does not question the outcome, however unlikely. It does not mourn the past, however painful. Faith like Elizabeth’s rejoices in the faithfulness of the Lord, believes in a fulfillment before it is even seen, and remembers that God is sovereign over every detail of his plan. Faith like Elizabeth’s understands that we are here for the Lord’s glory and trusts completely in his ways and his timing.
Faith like Elizabeth’s “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
May our lives be lived like Elizabeth’s, full of faith, belief, and rest in the hope of Christ, no matter what challenges lie between us and the fulfillment God has promised.