Michael Ramsden – cynicism vs revelation

Luke 1.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23When his time of service was completed, he returned home.


26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”

38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.


8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Zechariah asks, ‘How will this be?” and gets struck mute. Mary asks and gets answers – because there are different ways to ask the question.

The hallmark of our culture is that we don’t know what the questions are, let alone the answers. Culture of confusion. There’s a difference between me saying, “Did you really say that?” For clarification, and “Did you really say that?” From doubt.

The angel is happy about the message, expects the recipient to be happy. Zechariah is rebuked because he has a question of disbelief as his only response. A question can be an argument – because its designed to shut you up. The problem then for Zechariah is that now he cannot speak.

Have you ever heard, ‘Give enough monkeys typewriters and you’ll end up with Shakespeare.

Comes from Anthony Flew – philosopher. Used to be the poster boy for atheists, used to debate against Christianity, saying that if you give enough time etc any miracle is explainable. Believe it or not, they did a research degree, where they put a computer in with monkeys, and they didn’t produce a single word! The chance of getting a one letter word with a space either side is 1 in 30,000.

The chances of getting ‘Shall I compare thee to a summers day’ would be 1 divided by 10to the power of 690.

If you took every particle in the whole universe and add them all up you’d only have 10 to the power of 80.

The idea that language makes sense and can get beauty from it without intelligence behind it is nonsense. Without God in the universe there is no hope for any meaning, none of it makes sense without God.

Michael spent a day with Anthony Flew once. He said his father had been a Methodist minister. He said ‘If there is a God, the only God there could possibly be would be Christian God.” But he said he was too old to come to Christ. Pray for him.

Misanthrophy = the opposite of philantrophy. The more TV you watch, the more cynical you become. If you withdraw from TV the symptoms are the same as if you take people off drugs.

$500 was offered in 1977 for 5 couples to give up TV for a month. They had to ask hundreds before they could get their 5. Their consumption of alcohol etc went off the charts. One woman said ‘It’s terrible, I had to talk to my husband.’

In a cynical culture we disbelieve everything, even the good.

Zechariah finds he can’t speak.

Later when the Spirit comes to him, he prophesies.

2 Kings 6.

24 Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. 25 There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels [a] of silver, and a quarter of a cab [b] of seed pods [c] for five shekels. [d]

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”
She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”


30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body. 31 He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!”

Interesting that the King was so cynical. Earlier when Naaman had come to him to be healed he took the most cynical position possible.

Those around him were even more cynical. Next chapter –

Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah [a] of flour will sell for a shekel [b] and two seahs [c] of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

2 The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” (He’s not saying, Wow! How can this happen – he’s arguing against it).
“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

Some people around us are leaning on us and trying to make us more cynical.

But a bunch of lepers found the truth, and a miracle makes it happen. And the captain sees it but is crushed in the rush for food. Because of unbelief and cynicism. When someone doesn’t want what you say to be true – that’s different to Mary’s response.

She asks, ‘How can this be?’ She is troubled, BUT the response is submission, discipleship.

He was invited to speak at the Oxford Union. They try to be rude to the invited speaker! He was asked to speak on ‘God and the tsunami.’ He said that he wasn’t at peace with the title, “God of love and world of suffering?’ And I will address that.

And a line kept coming in and out in the preparation. Should I say it or not? Is it appropriate. Eventually put it in –

Tried to explain that there’s a loving God who created the world and because of rebellion its now suffering. Then he said, “You may say BUT when you see what we’ve seen, doesn’t that make you doubt?” That’s a valid question. If I was to see things happen that Jesus said wouldn’t happen, then i would have cause to doubt. Jesus said in Luke 21, the nations will be appalled at the waves.’ Not just captains at sea- the nations.

Any questions? A long silence.

Someone stood up and said, “In light of this, what should our response be?”

He thought, Oh this must be a Christian asking a set up planted question. Talked about the cross, etc,. How we respond in faith.

Turned out he was actually a well known atheist. Later they had a conversation, ‘Why did you ask that question? You should have let a non Christian ask their question.”

‘I’m an atheist!”

People do need to be challenged in their unbelief. Zachariah was. So was the captain at the gate.

But there are some types of questions that it’s okay to ask.

He was in Hong Kong, prayed with a couple, told them at the end of Job he had asked all kinds of questions, and hadn’t sinned. Turned out they had just a cot death. There is an appropriate way to ask questions, and we can encourage people to ask. People bury them. Their theological questions shouldn’t be buried because one day it will undermine everything you stand on now and it will collapse.

Some questions people are asking and they are desperate for answers and we need to speak lovingly into them, and let them know it’s okay.

Eg.  Financial collapse. (Years before, he was offered £30,000 a day to work for the IMF. He knew he wasn’t called to do it). We are in a confused culture.

Some of the most insightful people on the planet are evangelists. Godly wisdom. Not from a university. Most university degrees, you learn information you will never need, then go and do something proper.

But godly wisdom is not like, “I learned that, so now I can forget it.”

Proverbs 4 – get wisdom – INSIGHT. Evangelists speak into hearts of people.

The prophetic voice is interpreting the times. It’s looking at what’s happening in the world and saying., “This is what’s happening and this is why…” So people can understand why this is the why it is, then pointing to God, the way out, back to him.

When revelation comes to the shepherds – they have no questions. We are scared. But they simply respond, “Let’s go and see.”

We must not feel embarrassed about revelation. Biblical, Hebraic concept =  faith is linked to truth and reality. In the West, after Spinoza – he asked questions and said, “That’s not really happening, but there is a truth in it.”

Kant then said, “Revelation and truth are two different things, revelation is just a feeling.”

But the biblical mindset is that revelation reveals truth as it really is. To separate truth n revelation is very different. Did it really happen? Revelation brings truth and reality.

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