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TEXT: Luke 1:5-45

SUBJECT: Women of the New Testament: Elisabeth

With God's blessing, I will begin this evening, a series on "The Women of the New Testament". The reasons for doing so are these:

1.Women occupy an important place in the New Testament, especially in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

2.Modern girls and women need godly role models; none are better than Elisabeth and Mary, Lois and Eunice, Phoebe and others.

3.We ought to admire the grace of God wherever it is found.

We ought to take these ancient females seriously, because some of them enjoyed unique privileges. It was a woman, for example, who first confessed our Savior's advent. Another was the first to announce His resurrection. It was women who cared for the Lord's material needs. Women were at Pentecost. Women did honorable work in the church. A woman taught a great preacher "the way of the Lord more perfectly". And women impressed on young Timothy a thorough knowledge of the Bible.

How impoverished the early church would have been without their noble service. How much we need to admire them and help our wives and daughters to be like them!

The first woman mentioned in the New Testament, oddly enough, is not Mary; but her older cousin, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth was of "the daughters of Aaron", and thus enjoyed a privileged upbringing. The priestly caste was called "Sadducee" and was marked for its wealth, power, and infidelity. Its leading men were the infamous Annas and Caiaphas.

But grace preserved Elisabeth from her ungodly heritage, and made her a woman of excellence. From an early age, it seems, she was "righteous" and "walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD blameless". About her earlier years, all we can say with certainty, is this: she was attracted to the right kind of man.

As an aristocrat, she might have married well, perhaps into Judea's leading family. But she chose a man whose only resources were spiritual, Zacharias. Now, this man was also a priest. But of an inferior sort, "of the division of Abijah". Thus, Elisabeth lowered her social standing considerably by wedding Zacharias.

This was the first mark of grace in her life: an interest in men that went beyond the superficial: good looks, money, or social status. She wanted, above everything else, a godly husband. And so she looked in the right places, not among the blue-blooded, but godless, Sadducees; but among the lowly sons of Abijah, the men who counted "godliness with contentment as great gain".

This is something you girls ought to think seriously about. Look for character in a young man. Look for maturity. Look especially for his commitment to Christ. These things are of more value than every other personal asset combined. And you don't have to wait till the boy is grown before you can begin seeing his true character. "Even a child is known by his doings; whether his work and whether it is right" (Proverbs 20:11).

Don't become interested in the other kind of young men. And especially, don't fancy yourself able to change him. You cannot! I can offer a long list of women who have tried--and failed!

Next, we learn something about Elisabeth's marriage. She and her husband were godly, and so you'd think they "lived happily ever after". But they didn't. Their family life was anything but ideal. They had no children. And this was a bitter pill to swallow.

For the family name would be blotted out. And this was a dreadful prospect, especially for the man. But the woman suffered, if anything, more. Barrenness was considered a curse. The poor woman's neighbors no doubt held her in contempt. And perhaps even she wondered why the LORD had treated her so shabbily. And so Elisabeth's marriage was far from perfect.

Yet notice how she bore up under the pressure. Negatively, there is no trace of resentment. Unlike Job's wife, she didn't charge God with foolishness. Nor did she "take it out on her husband", as Rachel had centuries before.

Positively, she was content with an imperfect marriage. Although godly herself, Elisabeth had faults too, as did her husband. Moreover, this marriage was lived in a world subject to the curse, and thus attended by more than a little sorrow. Their life together was also disrupted by Satanic influence. For the devil enjoys nothing more than "sowing discord" within families. And finally, of course, her marriage was guided by an unsearchable Providence.

Elisabeth accepted this. And it greatly contributed to her sanctification and happiness.

Perfectionism (an unwillingness to be happy till every last detail of married life is resolved) is one of the biggest problems that some couples face. There is no rest till everything is "just so". And therefore, there is no rest at all. For, the holiest people are still sinners. And the happiest marriage is lived in a fallen world. Thus, the words of Paul apply not only to the church, but to the family as well, "Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace...till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ".

Note, thirdly, Elisabeth's standing with the LORD. She was an excellent wife, no question about that. But she was more than that. Her godliness went beyond obeying her husband and keeping her mouth shut at synagogue. She was a saint, a woman deeply, and personally, devoted to God.

This devotion was seen, firstly, in her extensive and accurate knowledge of Scripture. It says that she and her husband "walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the LORD". These "commandments and ordinances" probably refer to the 613 precepts found in the Law of Moses. And they are--to say the least--numerous, intricate, and sometimes dull or confusing. Yet she had clearly mastered them. Thus, Elisabeth must have read God's word avidly, and like her younger cousin, "pondered these things in her heart".

Her devotion was also seen in a strict and unyielding conscience. Elisabeth and Zacharias, after all, not only "knew" the will of God, "but walked in all of His commandments and ordinances blamelessly". This means that they not only kept the law outwardly, but internalized it as well. They brought--not just their bodies--but their minds and emotions under the authority of God. And that requires--above everything else--something we so often lack: conscience.

Her devotion to God is seen by her faith in His Word. Here she was better than her husband. For although Zacharias knew God's word--and kept it--he sometimes didn't really believe it. Thus the angel strikes him dumb for his unbelief. But no such doubt appears in his good wife. Although long married and way past the age of child bearing, she hopes in the promise of God and eagerly anticipates the birth of a son, who would usher in her Savior.

Finally, we see Elisabeth's devotion to Christ. Whether she ever laid eyes on the Lord, we can't say--although it is highly doubtful. Yet she was honored with being the first human to confess His coming.

Near the end of her pregnancy, Elisabeth received a young kinswoman, Mary, also carrying a child. Upon entering her house, the unborn John leaped in his mother's womb and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She began by humbling herself before her esteemed guest: "By why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Note: no pride, no envy. Only wonder at the Miraculous Child!

But then she goes on the laud the "fruit of Mary's womb". And how happy she is, for in her young cousin's womb, is the "Fulfilment of those things which were told her of the LORD".

Look at the marvelous effect of Elisabeth's early confession. It stirred up the poetry latent in Mary's heart, as the younger woman bursts into the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Finally, we see Elisabeth's reward:

Personally, she received the son she had so longed for. And he was no disappointment to his aged mother. By God's grace, he went on to become "a prophet, and more than a prophet, `the voice of one crying in the wilderness'".

But more importantly, she was privileged with meeting the Savior Himself, and receiving the benefits He purchased for her.

And so, Elisabeth became an example of the Proverb: "The desire of the righteous shall be granted". From this holy woman, God "withheld no good thing". She received, in this life, grace; and in the life to come, glory.

And so shall everyone else who, by God's grace, follows her example. May He grant us such a favor, for Christ's sake. Amen.

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