Words and the way we speak them, matter.
“If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” POW! What a punch in the gut, I don’t care who you are. It is one thing to feel like I, myself could have done more but to have such a weighty and harsh accusation leveled is painful. The tone in which a thing is said, matters. Out of our heart our mouth speaks, so how we say a thing is a waving flag letting others know, “This is what I really think in my heart.”
The Bible is good at giving us life examples of how the same response can have very different results. For instance, right off the bat as the New Testament opens two people are visited by an angel to let them know they would have a son under impossible conditions. What good news! A baby! First a priest named Zacharias is doing his job attending to priestly duties when an angel appears to tell him his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son. Now we know that this was an elderly couple: in fact, we’re told they were ‘well advanced in years.’ That could mean almost anything in days when people lived a long time! Added to that is the fact that Elizabeth was barren. At least she had been until that moment when the angel spoke. Things happen when angels talk to you.
Now not only was Zach old, he was caught very off guard by this announcement. His response to the angel was, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Seems reasonable to me but something about it smacked of doubt and unbelief and at the angel’s word Zach became mute and not able to speak for at least the next nine months, “because you did not believe my words.” Doubt and unbelief are a bit more challenging to spread around when one can’t speak and there’s no internet or texting.
Luke also tells us that an angel visited a young woman named Mary, who was a virgin. We aren’t told what she was doing that day but it is reasonable to expect she, too, was going about her everyday life. Mary was troubled at the unexpected announcement that she was graced and favored by God. The angel went on to tell her she, too, would have son but not after she and Joseph married: she would become pregnant before she ever knew a man sexually as Holy Spirit would hover over her womb and impregnate her with the very Son of God. It is impossible to imagine how it would feel go be given this incredible announcement even with time to prepare, let alone without warning! You know Mary’s response: Initially she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man”. Once the angel told her it would be a miracle her response was: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She and Zacharias both asked the same basic question, “How can this be?”, but whereas his doubt caused him to lose his voice, Mary ran off to tell Elizabeth. How grateful Elizabeth must have been for someone – a relative – who was also having angelic visits and miraculous conception and could talk about it!
Another example is Mary and Martha. As we looked at last week, the M&M sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Would Jesus please come? They’d seen him heal the sick and heard so many testimonies, they had no doubt of His ability to make their brother well. You know the story, Jesus took His time and while He lingered, Lazarus died. Not only did the sisters love him but their brother would have been their protection, provision, covering, more. Now those things were all gone. What difficult news, a death.
When they heard Jesus was coming into town, both sisters ran to meet Him. Martha was first and in her own inimitable way said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again” to which she replied yes, she knew he would rise again at the resurrection of the dead. Jesus then let her know that HE, Jesus, IS the resurrection. That whoever lives and believes in Him would never die. Did she believe? I can almost hear the impatience in her voice as she says she believes He is the Christ, the Son of God. She did not say she believed a person would never die. After all, her brother who loved and believed the same about Jesus was now in His grave. She had no grid for a physical resurrection let alone eternal life even though Jesus Himself just gave her a teaching on it. Later when they go to the tomb she argues with Jesus about opening the tomb. It’s almost like she’s saying, DO SOMETHING! No, not that, DO SOMETHING ELSE!
In contrast, when Mary came out to meet Jesus we read she fell down at His feet, the posture to which she was accustomed. To sit at a rabbi’s feet was to take the position of humility, of learning. Her words to Him were the same as Martha’s but I suspect they were said in a different tone, from a different heart position: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Part of the reason I believe her tone and demeanor was different is because when Jesus heard her He did not teach her, He wept with her.
We live in days of vast opportunity and much confusion and change. While we may or may not be visited by an angel bringing us a message, there are plenty of chances for us to be shocked and surprised at what comes our way. Each of us can identify with at least one of these Bible characters to some degree though our circumstances are unique. Proverbs 4:23 (CJB)instructs us “above everything else, guard your heart for it is the source of life’s consequences.” This week, take time to ask Holy Spirit to search your heart to determine how much of it is filled with doubt and how much, faith. Be sure faith is the dominant posture: you can do this through worship, praise, reading the Word, prayer, sharing with a trusted friend who knows Jesus well. It is important – no, it is vital – that our hearts be fully His so we respond to both difficult and good news with words of life. Words that help us Love Ourselves and thereby, Others, to Life. The world is waiting.