12-13-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
[Sorry, but the audio for this message was lost. The written notes are all we have to offer.]

Let’s try a little game. Tell me which of these sayings comes from the Bible and which doesn’t… 

  1. “It’s always darkest just before the dawn.”
  2. “Let light shine out of darkness.” (2 Cor 4:6, NIV)
  3. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
  4. “Light of the world you stepped down into darkness.” [Michael W. Smith, Debbie Smith, Paul Baloche]
  5. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:5, GNT)
  6. “Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.” (John 12:35, NIV)
  7. “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.”
  8. “Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.”
  9. “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
  10. “Light and darkness cannot share the same room.” (2 Cor 6:14, ERV)
  11. “I will love the light for it shows me the way; yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” [Og Mandino]
  12. “The desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near.” (Job 17:11-12, NIV)
  13. “If the only light you have is really darkness, you have the worst kind of darkness.” (Matt 6:23, ERV)
  14. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:2, NIV)

Pay close attention to that last one! More than 700 years before Jesus Christ was born, God gave prophetic revelation to Isaiah, words that described in detail the coming of the Messiah. For instance…

  • He spoke of his birth to a virgin (7:14).
  • Of a child who would be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (9:6).
  • Of how he would reign on David’s throne forever (9:7).
  • Of his suffering (52:14; 53:3-4).
  • Of how he would take the punishment for our sins so we could have peace with God (53:5-6).
  • Of how he would be slaughtered like a sacrificial lamb (53:7).
  • Of his resurrection—how after suffering he would see the light of life (53:11).

One of the great images of the Messiah that God reveal to Isaiah was this picture of light coming into a dark world — the light of salvation for all human kind: “The people walking in darkness [those unable to find their way, those who are lost in sin, those who have no hope…those people] have seen a great light…”

It’s a picture of promise! It’s a message of hope! It tells us that no matter how dark and bleak our lives might be, God has an answer for us. No matter how hopeless we might feel, God gives us hope for something better.

God’s answer for people living in deep darkness is Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world.

This picture of hope and light in dark times was seen repeatedly throughout history. It’s a picture of God’s promises bringing hope to the hopeless.

We see that hope expressed in other ways as well—for instance, we see it in the story of hope coming to a woman who had no hope of ever becoming a mother.

She’d been married for years and never had any children. She’d wanted to get pregnant right from the start, but in all that time nothing had happened. So who would think that anything would change? That anything could change? She seemed destined to be childless.

Her husband loved her and tried to reassure her it was okay, it didn’t matter to him if she didn’t have any kids.“Come on, Hannah,” he’d say. “Let it go! You’ve got me, your loving husband. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that better than having ten kids?”

But it wasn’t enough—not for Hannah. Men can be so frustrating! He wasn’t concerned about not having kids—but maybe that was because he already had kids by another woman.

In fact, that made her situation worse, because she knew the other woman. And the other woman taunted her and ridiculed her for being “less of a woman” than she was.

Infertility is a cruel fate. It’s not just the pain of an unfulfilled desire to have children, but it’s the subtle feelings of inadequacy when you can’t. Infertility hurts enough. But when others keep reminding you of it, it hurts even more.

Hannah lived in ancient times when infertility robbed a woman of her primary purpose and self-worth. Back then women didn’t have multiple options available to them as they do today—like looking for fulfillment in careers outside the home or seeking medical help—hormone treatments, in vitro fertilization, surrogates—or (when all else fails) the adoption option.

Such things were not available back then. Back then, when a woman had her heart set on having a child—on being a mother, infertility would leave her feeling empty. Barren. Unfulfilled.

But there is always hope! Because it’s in barren, empty places that God’s promise of fulfillment brings an even bigger miracle! God has a special place in his heart for people who come to him in emptiness and need.

The miracle Hannah experienced became a biblical image of God’s blessing that can come in the midst of great need and desperation. The “childless woman” symbolized many kinds of emptiness and need that God filled.

That’s been our theme for this month as we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus…babies who were born as the result of a miracle, babies of promise who arrived in hopeless situations. But whether it’s a grieving, barren woman like Hannah, or a nation going through dark and hopeless times, or a desperate world lost in sin and needing the light of salvation… God has a special place in his heart for people who come to him in emptiness and need.

Psalm 113 speaks of many kinds of blessings (for example, lifting up the poor). The psalm ends with this picture: “[God] gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother” (113:9, NLT).

The prophet Isaiah compared Jerusalem to a childless woman, and promised something better: “Sing, O childless woman, you who have never given birth! Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem, you who have never been in labor. For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband…” (54:1).

Jerusalem’s desperate spiritual need is pictured as a woman who longs to have children. Around 80 years later, the apostle Paul quoted Isaiah (Gal 4:27-28) to describe what’s in store for those who trust in Jesus—those who are called “children of the promise…just like Isaac.”

When a woman is pregnant, we say she is “expecting.” She’s expecting a child will be born. But “expecting” is also a good word to describe what we should be, as followers of Jesus. We are expecting God to do something; we expect him to fulfill his promises; we expect better things to come; we expect a change in circumstances and lives. We should be “expecting,” even if right now things seem empty and barren.

“Expecting” can be more than just a figure of speech: God’s promises often come through a literal birth of a baby—so last week, Fred talked about Isaac, the “child of promise.” This week we look at the birth of Hannah’s baby—Samuel. He grew up to be a prophet—and literally changed the spiritual landscape of the nation.

Before Samuel arrived, it was a very dark time for the nation. People had drifted from their spiritual moorings. Oh, they still went through the motions of religious ceremony and customs, but their rituals were riddled with apathy and tradition. Even worse, the priests who led their religious ceremonies were motivated by sin, lust, and corruption.

The Bible says they were “scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests” (1 Sam 2:12-13, NLT). They used threats and intimidation to force people to give them the best meat from the sacrifices; they treated “the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (2:17, NLT). They even seduced and slept with the young women who assisted at the entrance to the Lord’s house (2:22).

It was a very dark time for the nation of Israel. In 1 Sam 3:1—the NIV says: …In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. What with spiritual “leadership” they had, it’s not too surprising.

“Visions” is the Heb. chazon [2377] → also in Prov 29:18 (revelation, word from God). Without a vision the people run wild; they are unrestrained and uncontrolled—like these priests!

It’s amazing that it was during this dark and barren time—when visions from the Lord were quite uncommon—that Hannah had the faith to dare ask God to remove her disgrace of being childless. She had faith that he could change her “barren” condition.

In dark days God gave a glimmer of hope to Hannah. And through her faith in dark times, her son was born and grew until he began to hear from God. He began to hear prophetic messages and began to see visions when no on else did. (Remember the story of God speaking to him as a boy? 1 Sam 3)

This is the story of hope. This is what it means to be expecting. If you’re going through a dark time… If your life feels spiritually empty… If your life is “barren”—with no harvest and no fruit…you can do what Hannah did.

  1. Begin with faith. In a time when a word from the Lord was rare, Hannah cried out to God. She made a deal with God and asked for a son.

Others may be apathetic and going through the motions, but you can still have faith. Others may be trapped in sin and corruption, but you can still believe. If you have faith, you can dare ask God for something special…even in dark times.

Hannah had faith. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…” (1 Sam 1:10-11)

If you believe God is able…that he is willing to do something outrageous… If you can trust God for a promise yet to come… then something good will happen — in your life, in your family, in your relationships.

  1. Maintain by faith. When a seed of promise is planted in your heart, the answer may not come all at once… You need to maintain your faith. You need to persevere. You need to continue believing.

So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant… (1 Sam 1:20)

“In the course of time…” It may take a while for the promise to develop to full term. Hope may grow slowly…but it does grow. Meanwhile, you’ll need to wait on the Lord, expecting him to finish his work…

How many don’t receive the promise God has for them simply because they did not maintain their faith in the course of time?

Even before she became pregnant, hope had to grow within Hannah! Before she could conceive a child, she needed to conceive hope. Before she could receive the promise, she needed to believe in it. First you need to believethen you need to conceiveso you can receiveso in the end you can achieve what you promised God…

After Hannah conceived a baby began to grow within, but hope also continued to grow within her. For nine months, as her baby developed within her womb, her expectations for God’s promise also developed. Before she had been barren and empty; now she became full and pregnant.

You need to maintain your faith! No matter how long it takes. The change in your situation (or in you!) may take some time. It took nine months before the baby came. In time God’s promise will be birthed.

In the animal kingdom, cows have to wait about 10 months to give birth—horses 11 to 12, camels 13 to 14, giraffes up to 15 months, sperm whales 14 to 16 months, black rhinos 15 to 17, killer whales 17 to 18 months, African elephant 22 to 23 months, and frilled sharks 3–5 years!

In the spiritual realm the change could come in nine seconds—or nine years. But IF the promise is conceived by God, it will be birthed by God.

It’s the law of the harvest. Plant seeds of faith, and you’ll receive a harvest. Jesus said the seed planted in the soil of our hearts will produce a crop, yielding 100, 60, or 30 times what you planted. (Matt 13:23)

  1. Deliver through faith.

[Hannah]…gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” (1 Sam 1:20) Why did she name him Samuel? Because his name was an expression of her faith in God.

She named him “Samuel” because she asked the Lord for him. She saw his birth as the fullment of the promise. His birth came because of faith. Samuel (Hebrew: Shemuel = “name of God”). Everytime she picked up her little baby and whispered his name in his ear, she was thanking God for his gift to her: “My dear little ‘name of God.’ Everytime she nursed him at her breast, she would speak the name of God.

The promised was begun by faith… maintained by faith… delivered by faith in God.

  1. Give in faith.

The child that was promised to Hannah—God’s gift to her—became the gift which she gave back to God.

24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” (1 Sam 1:24-28)

That must have been extremely difficult for Hannah—to give up her young son. But she was able to do a very difficult thing because she did it by faith. When God blesses us, we can give by faith!

It took faith for Hannah to leave her son. It took even more faith to leave her son with Eli, the high priest, and his family, considering the corruption of his sons, the priests in that dark time.

But Hannah had faith to give her son back to God. Faith enabled her to give. And so it should be with us! We should be giving people. Generous. When God fills your empty places, he wants you to pour your blessings out into the empty lives around you… When God shines light into your darkness, he wants you to be the light of the world and shine into the dark lives around you…

Remember: you are blessed in order to be a blessing!

  1. Grow in faith.

It was AFTER Hannah left her son at the house of the Lord in Shiloh, that she sang a prayer of praise:

1 …My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. 2 “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God… 5 … She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. (1 Sam 2:1-2,5)

Hannah’s faith continued to grow. She continued to trust in God. She was no longer barren and went on to have 5 more children (1 Sam 2:21). Every year she demonstrated her faith as she went back to the house of the Lord in Shiloh and visited her son, Samuel. Every year she took him a little robe to wear. Every year her faith grew.

Begin with faith. Maintain by faith. Deliver through faith. Give in faith. Grow in faith. Let’s see God’s word come true in our lives. Let’s look for a harvest of faith. Let’s push back the darkness with the light of his love.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isa 9:2, NIV) [Note that this verse is quoted by in Matthew 4:16 because it was fulfilled in the ministry and message of Jesus Christ.]

A Baby Changes Everything