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When God Broke His Silence

by Dennis Pollock

Christians are divided over the idea that God talks to people today. Nearly all will admit that He used to talk to men and women in the Bible days. After all, in the lives of nearly every major Bible character we read accounts of God speaking to them, and we frequently find the phrase: “The Lord said to…” But that was then and this is now, and many people, even devout Christians have decided that God no longer speaks to His children in any direct fashion. In one psychology class I took years ago, the professor stated that one of the sure marks of a mentally ill person is the certainty that God has spoken to them. I remember thinking, “If that were true, then nearly everybody in the Bible was mentally ill – from Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus.

I have never been of the opinion that once those early apostles died, the Holy Spirit went into retirement and God stopped talking, stopped doing miracles, and all supernatural work of the Holy Spirit came to a screeching halt. In my own life I have had times, not a lot but a few, where I was led through dreams, impressions, and circumstances to make decisions I would not otherwise have made. These forms of the leading of the Holy Spirit have brought me to where I am today, and without them I could not have accomplished nearly as much as I have.

But I also understand that there are periods of our lives during which God can and does go into a “silent mode” when He says nothing, gives us no strong impressions, and essentially insists that we must live and walk by faith. He does this with individuals and He does it with nations. After the life and death of the prophet Malachi, He did this with His people, the Jews. If you know your Bible well, you will know that Malachi’s little four-chapter book makes up the last book of the Old Testament. As we read our Bibles, after Malachi we move immediately to Matthew, usually prefaced by a page informing us that we are now reading the New Testament.

The Prophets

Throughout the history of the Jews and that time period which comprises what we Christians call “The Old Testament,” God often spoke through men who were known as prophets. These men tended to be tough-minded reformers, men who proclaimed loudly and boldly that Israel had lost its way and needed to turn back to God. But their preaching was not all negative. They also prophesied of a glorious future for God’s people. They declared there was a day coming when “the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and … exalted above the hills and peoples shall flow to it…” (Micah 4:1). They held wonderful visions of a glorious future for Israel before their generations, encouraging the Israelites to live righteously, show mercy to the poor and needy, and cling to the God of Israel alone.

Throughout the years of the Old Testament there were many such men: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel… The list of prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord is a very long one. They were usually not especially appreciated in their day, but after they were gone, their writings were preserved, and today their God-inspired words make up a huge section of the Old Testament Scriptures. As mentioned, Malachi is the very last of these men. He rebuked the Israelites for offering disfigured animals as sacrifices, he rebuked the men for their quick and easy divorces of their wives, and he rebuked the priests for corruption and unfaithfulness. At the end of his writings he declared that Elijah would come just before the “Day of the Lord.”

God Stops Talking

But after Malachi, we find a great prophetic silence which settled over all of Israel. No more prophets arose which the people found worthy to honor their memory by preserving their writings. Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century passed with no major prophetic activity. It seemed as though God went silent and had nothing more to say to His people.

Generation after generation were born, lived out their lives, and died, and God said nothing. Had He decided never to talk to His people again? Had the Israelites so offended Him that He was unwilling to say anything further? Had He perhaps rejected them as unworthy of His voice? During those long, silent centuries, the only access to a prophet available to Israel was to read the writings of the prophets of generations long past. There was no fresh word, no indication that God was even noticing His people. God had gone silent and darkness seemed to envelop Israel.

Breaking His Silence

Finally, after 400 long years of quiet, God broke His silence. It began with an elderly priest by the name of Zacharias. The Bible says he was not just advanced in years, but he was “well advanced in years.” He was an old guy. But he (and his wife) were, according to the inspired Scriptures, “righteous before the Lord, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). As he was alone in the temple lighting the incense, an angel appeared to him, and promised that he and his elderly wife would have a son who would be a mighty prophet in the eyes of the Lord. It was a little too much for Zacharias to believe, and his doubt seemed to anger the angel (Gabriel). The old man ended up losing his voice until the baby was born as a punishment for his unbelief.

God, who had been so quiet for so long, had finally begun to speak again. He was declaring that great things were coming to Israel. It turned out, He hadn’t been giving Israel the silent treatment. He simply didn’t have anything further to say for those 400 years. After Malachi’s prophesying, He had said all that needed to be said. Now all that remained was the passing of time.

In about six months Gabriel was sent on another mission, this one to a young Jewish girl named Mary. This godly young lady had been minding her own business, dreaming dreams that all young women dream, but showing a keen and unusual interest in the Scriptures and in the God of Israel. Suddenly the same angel who had appeared to Zacharias showed up in Mary’s house. She was given an incredible message: she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to a Son who would “reign over the house of Jacob forever.” Although she first questioned how it could be that a virgin would give birth to a child, once assured that God would do this by His Spirit, she quietly accepted the truth of the angel’s proclamation, and declared, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”

God had begun to speak, and He was just getting started. When pregnant Mary visited pregnant Elizabeth, Zacharias’ wife, Elizabeth was given the revelation that Mary, her cousin, was carrying the Messiah. She cried out, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Mary was instantly filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. And when Joseph learned that his betrothed wife was pregnant, and therefore planned to quietly divorce her, he received an angelic visitation in a dream and was told:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-21).

Like popcorn kernels popping one after another, visions and revelations were being given to key (and sometimes not so key) individuals that the time was fulfilled, and God’s promised Messiah was on His way. When Jesus was born in a stable, another angel appeared to some nearby shepherds who were watching their flocks at night. The angel got straight to the point:

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 10-11).

Simeon, Anna, and the Magi

The God who had cloaked Himself with secrecy and quiet was now speaking – a lot! In fact He seemed almost chatty, all of a sudden. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to God, they ran into an old man named Simeon, whom the Bible describes as “just and devout.” The godly old man, upon seeing the baby, had to hold him in his arms, and prophetically declared:

Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

The Bible says that Simeon had come into the temple “by the Spirit,” and that God had promised this man that he would not die until he saw the Messiah with his own eyes. And God, always true to His word, made sure that His servant was in the right place at the right time when Joseph and young Mary brought little Jesus into the temple. Simeon was hardly finished prophesying when an elderly prophetess named Anna came along and recognized the little baby as Israel’s Messiah. Luke reports that: “She gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

The mysterious Magi, the wise men, also somehow received a revelation that a great King had been born and began making their way toward the land of Israel to see this cosmic phenomenon. It would seem that God was doing so much talking in those days that even non-Jewish astrologers were somehow hearing Him. Why this sudden loquaciousness? Our loving Creator was determined to proclaim through a multiplicity of witnesses that the time of His favor had come, and at the heart of that divine favor was His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Person of Jesus and the message of Jesus was too important for God to keep silent about it. The whole world must know and hear that God so loved the world that He had sent His only begotten Son.

God’s Greatest Word

But God’s greatest and purest speech was heard when the baby Jesus grew up and began His brief, three-year ministry in little Israel. When Jesus, the Man, opened His mouth and began to teach, the multitudes marveled, for “no man ever spoke like this Man.” Jesus’ sermons, parables, warnings, and encouragements about the goodness of the Heavenly Father were, in truth, the voice of God to our sin-numbed world. Finally, the mystery of who God was and what He expected was over. God was revealed in the words and instructions of this thirty-year-old Jewish Teacher.

But the people not only learned of God through Jesus’ words; they also saw God in action through Jesus’ miracles. When the blind were healed, when the dead were raised, when the lame jumped for joy, God was not just speaking; He was shouting. He was using “signs and wonders” to tell the men and women of that generation and of every generation since then, “This is My beloved Son - hear Him!”

God had broken His silence and He would never be silent again. In every generation He has anointed men and women to preach Jesus, to teach about Jesus, to write about Jesus, to sing about Jesus, and to instruct the children about Jesus. Today God still speaks about Jesus, but He mostly speaks through His people. We must open our mouths and declare that Jesus Christ is God’s only means of salvation. There is no other way to God but through Him.

After Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose again the third day, and ascended up to heaven, several men began to write His story. Their names were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They compiled the greatest record of the greatest Life our world has ever seen. In these four accounts, which we call gospels, we learn all we need to know about God. We hear the words and voice of God and we discover the nature of our great, loving Creator. Read these accounts frequently, soak your mind and spirit in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. You will surely hear God speak to you.

 

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