In the sermon for this week we examined how we are to respond to the word of God by looking at Zechariah’s response to God’s message for him, found in Luke 1.5-25. In sum, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and announces that he will be having a son – fulfilling his prayer of many years – and that this son will be great in the eyes of the Lord, and that God will use him as an instrumental part of his plan of redemption for the whole world by having him prepare the hearts of the people for God’s Messiah. Zechariah’s response to this wonderful news was: “Prove it to me.” Listen to this week’s sermon here to find out why this was the wrong response.
In effect, Zechariah was telling God that the evidence he had already provided wasn’t good enough, and that he needed more. Skeptics of Christianity fall into this trap all the time, as they reject the evidence of God’s word and demand some kind of miraculous display before they will espouse belief. People often will say they would believe if God would appear to them and show himself, implying that the first time God did this through Christ wasn’t good enough. God must do more in order for me to believe, in order for me to obey. The problem is, how much proof will be enough?
Sometimes Bible-believing Christians fall into this trap as well. They know what God’s word says; they know the commands and instructions; they know what they must do to be obedient; but instead of following through and acting on what they know, they demand more proof. In my experience, Christians often mask this unbelief as “waiting for the Spirit’s leading.” Rather than simply obeying what they read in the Bible! Many Christians are waiting for a spiritual nudge, or divinely ordered “right” circumstances, or a sense of peace before they will move forward in obedience. To me, this is the same as demanding more evidence – more proof – that God actually means what he says.
Think of it like this: God supplied proof to Zechariah that his word was true, in that he sent an angel to deliver the message. What could be better proof than receiving the word of God directly from the mouth of an angel? But this wasn’t enough for Zechariah, so he asked God to prove it again. Similarly, God has supplied Christians with proof that he has spoken: the Bible. This should be all the evidence we need to motivate our obedience to his word. But instead of acting on what the word says, we look for more proof that the word is true; we wait on the Spirit to give us that special sense of direction or contentment then we will obey what the Bible already says to do. God has already told us what to do. If we wait for the Spirit to confirm what he has said through a special feeling, isn’t that the same as asking God for more proof?
For instance, I have talked to many, many people who have a desire to share their faith with others, and who readily affirm that God has commanded them to do so in his word, and they have a sincere desire to be obedient to that command. But at the same time, these people also feel that they need to wait for the Spirit to lead them into the conversation, or the “right time,” or to create the exact right circumstances for this faith-sharing encounter with their friend to take place. Regardless of the reality that interpreting signs and feelings from the Spirit is a completely subjective matter that is open to wide interpretation, I think this misses the point of trusting God at his word.
God has told us what to do in the Bible, and we should be about the business of doing it. Don’t be like Zechariah – don’t ask for more proof of what God has already told you in his word. To do so would be to falter in unbelief, like Zechariah. Instead, take God at his word, and just do something.
There’s another important lesson that we learn from the story of Zechariah. When Zechariah asks for more evidence that God’s word is true, God grants it to him. After Zechariah asks Gabriel for more proof, he’s struck mute, and stays that way for close to a year. Do you think that extra measure of proof convinced him that God’s word was true? I bet it did. So maybe the extra measure of evidence you’re looking for won’t be very comfortable. It’s always better to believe God at his word – the first time – and then to move forward and get busy with the work of obedience.