“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Today marks one of my favorite shifts in “Expecting the Messiah” because we get to focus on the characters in the Christmas story, the specific people the Lord chose to carry out His redemption story. These people were ordinary. They weren’t perfect. They weren’t the expected choices for such tasks. But God chose them, and they offered their lives to Him! Let’s dive into their lives and see what we can learn!
Zechariah. What do we know about him? Luke 1 gives us a brief explanation:
- He was a priest (from the lineage of Aaron).
- His wife Elizabeth was also born from the priestly line.
- Zechariah was righteous before the Lord and walked blamelessly in all the statutes and commands of the Lord.
- Zechariah did not have any children because his wife was barren.
- Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense for a week.
- The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and revealed God’s plan to give Zechariah and Elizabeth a son – John, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. His son would be very special!
- Zechariah doubted and gave a few excuses as to why Elizabeth’s pregnancy would be impossible.
- Zechariah was reprimanded for his disbelief.
- God kept His promise, and baby John was born in Zechariah’s old age!
Well, that’s a really speedy overview of Zechariah’s life, but we can learn a few things from his part in the Christmas story – some things about the Lord and some things about humanity.
- WE CAN REMAIN FAITHFUL: I love how Luke explains the faithfulness of Zechariah and Elizabeth to the Lord – to His commands and statutes. They lived righteous lives because they loved the Lord. They lived lives that were faithful to the Lord even though, for years upon years, God did not answer their greatest desire in the way that they hoped. They longed for a child, but year after year, it seemed as though their prayers were unheard. However, this unmet longing didn’t cause bitterness. It didn’t cause Zechariah and Elizabeth to turn away from the Lord. They did not let their circumstances deter them from remaining faithful. Even in the face of deep heartache and shame over this unmet desire, they feared and served their God faithfully. Consider your own life. When the Lord does not answer your prayers and deepest desires in the way that your heart longs for them to be met, what is your response? Is it one of faithfulness? I’m convicted that too often, my response is of self-pity, worry, or bitterness, rather than trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and faithfulness no matter the outcome. Ask the Lord to give you the strength to remain faithful to Him, even in hard seasons of praying without seeing fruit.
- GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER THINGS THAT SEEM IMPOSSIBLE TO US: God is sovereign over all things. He is sovereign over Elizabeth’s barrenness. Her barren womb did not limit God! He is sovereign over the priestly lot that fell to Zechariah when he was appointed to serve in the temple. Zechariah’s lot was not really cast by chance! He is sovereign over Zechariah’s doubts regarding old age. Just look at Abraham and Sarah’s history…pregnant at 90 and 100! God is sovereign to make a healthy pregnancy possible even though they were old. He is sovereign over Zechariah’s consequence for his doubt. He is sovereign over the birth of a healthy baby boy. AND just as God was sovereign over every detail of Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s story (even though they may not have understood why He waited so long to open Elizabeth’s womb), HE is sovereign over every detail of your life, too! Whatever you are praying for and longing for, He sees you, hears you, and loves you. And if He has not answered your prayers in the way that you desire, then you can trust that He has a really good reason for answering differently. I pray that you will trust His sovereignty and be encouraged to persevere.
- DOUBTS, WORRIES, FEARS…OH MY: So, we can’t be too quick to turn our noses down on Zechariah’s doubtful response to Gabriel’s amazing news, because in all honesty, we may have given the same reaction that Zechariah did! Humanity is plagued by sin. We doubt God – His goodness, love, mercy, power, strength, sovereignty, wisdom, timing, greatness, methods, etc. We are fickle and finite and sinful. Even as people who know Jesus intimately, we still fall short of completely trusting the Lord in all things because we are quick to focus on what we can see and touch and hear, rather than WHO holds all things together by His very Word! It was easy for Zechariah to blurt out that his wife was too old! It was a fact! They had tried to have a baby for many, many years when they weren’t old, and now, the possibility was just laughable. In that moment, Zechariah took his eyes off of the Lord and placed them on human limitation – which caused his doubt. Yes, he was old; yes, Elizabeth was old; yes, they had tried and failed numerous times to get pregnant. Ok, but Zechariah, WHO is talking to you??? An angel of the Lord! Don’t you think Gabriel knows what he’s talking about?? But, as we said earlier, we understand all to easily where Zechariah was coming from in voicing his doubts because we do the same thing. Take a look at your own life. What are some areas that you are quick to doubt instead of trust? What prayers do you pray that you don’t really believe God can or will answer? What task has God called you to do that you deem impossible because you’re focusing on your own insufficiencies rather than the Lord’s power? Let’s accept the challenge to pray and keep our focus on the Lord, rather than on our ability to understand the situation or accomplish the task. When we focus on ourselves, we will respond just like Zechariah did. But when we focus on the Lord, we will be pushed further into trust and obedience as we see great things happen in the Lord!
Praise the Lord that He is sovereign over all things! Just as He was sovereign over Zechariah’s circumstances, He is sovereign over your life. He has a plan and a purpose, and in His timing, it will come to pass. Trust and wait in expectancy.
Praise the Lord that He chooses to use ordinary people (like Zechariah and like us!), and He gives us grace throughout the process because He knows we are imperfect and prone to wander and doubt.
Praise the Lord that He is bigger than our limitations, frailties, doubts, and fears! Despite Zechariah’s doubts, God still used him. And despite our doubts and shortcomings, the Lord still uses us!
Praise the Lord that only HE can give us the strength to remain faithful in hard seasons! Praise Him for the example of Zechariah’s righteous life (even during times when his prayers weren’t answered as he desired), and pray that his example may spur you on to faithfulness no matter the hardship or unanswered prayer.
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That plan began when He sent Jesus into the world that first Christmas to make a way for YOUR salvation. Praise Him this Christmas season because He looks on YOU with love, compassion, and mercy. He sees you and knows you and loves you tremendously! Merry Christmas!