Words of Faith 2-9-18
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly.  But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But 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.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,  for 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.  Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.  And 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."
 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
 The 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.  And 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."
 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When 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.
 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.  After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."
Luke begins telling us about Jesus with the story of John the Baptizer. All of the Gospels tell us that John the Baptizer came as a forerunner to Jesus, announcing Him and preparing the way. But Luke tells us of the unusual birth of John.
The whole story starts with an elderly couple and an angel encounter of third kind. The angel Gabriel came to visit an old priest named Zechariah who had come to serve in the Temple. The angel arrived to announce the answer to a prayer.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a very long time to be blessed with a baby. These old folks had been very faithful, but had also been very disappointed over the years. Something we might miss is that their hope and prayer was more than just the human desire to hold a baby in their arms. For most priestly Jewish families there was no belief in resurrection or eternal life. The only way to live on beyond this life was in good deeds, living according to the law, or through the reward of children. To be barren also implied that there was some sin was left un-atoned. So there was a certain disgrace that came with being barren.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed year after year for the blessing of children. Elizabeth very likely prayed at the tomb of Rachel near Bethlehem as Orthodox Jewish women still do today. But over the years, as their bodies had grown older and changed and wrinkles settled into their flesh, Zechariah and Elizabeth very likely had come to a place where they no longer expected an answer. They probably no longer even uttered the deepest prayer and longing of their hearts. Have you ever prayed for something so long that you finally just stopped praying for it? Perhaps you can identify with something of what they felt.
When Zechariah was called to serve in the Temple it was a once in a life time event. It was what he had trained to do all his life. Of the twenty four thousand trained priests he had been chosen for that day. He was to burn incense and say the special prayers of the day. Part of the expectation was that the "priest of the day" would come out and offer words of blessing and a message of the day to the people. Can imagine training your whole life to be a preacher and having only one day that you are finally allowed to preach!
Zechariah's day had finally arrived. He was very likely preoccupied with the words he would be saying in a few minutes to the waiting people. He may not have even thought about the prayer that had echoed in his heart for so long and then finally faded from a whisper into silence. But right in the midst of this religious ritual something happened. Zechariah saw an angel! Now Zechariah did not know what to expect on his special day of incense burning and preaching but he certainly had never heard of this! This was not part of the priest's training. He was afraid.
But even more startling than the appearance of this angel was the message: "God has heard your prayer".
What prayer? His response later tells us that Zechariah had not been praying this prayer at that time but in the past.
"God has heard your prayer about the baby. You are going to have a boy and name him John which means 'the Lord is Gracious'. You are to raise him according to a vow of holiness. He is going to be a joy and delight to you. He is going to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He is going to PREPARE the people for the coming of the Lord."
Wow. It should have been the greatest of news after all these years of prayer and disappointment. Zechariah might have been overjoyed. But instead he did not know how to take this at all. "I am an old man and my wife is no spring chicken either. Are you kidding?"
Now we learn here that it is generally not a good thing to question a message brought by an angel. And, by the way, this was not just any angel. "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. And 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." If you are going to offend an angel, perhaps an Archangel is a poor choice.
Not able to speak? It was an interesting consequence. Perhaps we can think of it not so much as a punishment but as a learning opportunity. A wonderful gift was announced, but a valuable moment was lost. This was the one day in his whole life that Zechariah was going to speak before the people in prayer. He had been dreaming of this day and the people were waiting. When Zechariah finally came out he could not say a word! All he could do was improvise some type of sign language. When the service was over he went home still unable to speak. He couldn't say a thing even to Elizabeth his wife about what happened.
But God had made one thing clear. If you can't get with my program it is better to be quiet, watch, and learn. For Zechariah it was now time to watch God at work and learn about His ways. As he watched in silence it was not long before Elizabeth came to him with great excitement. You are not going to believe this... I think I am pregnant! She knew just where this blessing came from. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people."
Wow. What a beginning to our story! But it raises a few questions?
Have you been waiting a long time for the Lord to hear your prayers? Don't give up. God does answer prayer. He is gracious and in His time, He answers prayer.
Have you wondered if God has a plan? Well He does! God has a bigger plan at work than we can ever see. He has something in mind even when we think he has forgotten, and even when we think such a blessing seems impossible.
This blessing of this birth was an answer to human prayer but it is also part of a huge plan that had been prayed for and longed for, for about seven centuries by all Jewish people! God was sending someone who, in the words of Isaiah, would make a straight path.
Zachariah and Elizabeth longed for a baby but all of Israel had longed for Messiah. John would make a straight path and prepare the way. Sometimes we miss the big picture. We see only our small part, our small inconvenience, our little perspective, and we miss the big scope of what God is seeking to do in this world through the coming of Messiah.
Father God, open my eyes to Your big plan. Give me a heart that is open to You and what You want to do in my life. Give me faith to trust You when Your choice is unusual or unexpected. Hear the prayers and deep longing of my heart. In Jesus' name.