Zechariah’s Big Day

Today’s Reading: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. – Luke 1:5-9

What a privilege – what a big day for Zechariah!!! There were 24 orders of priests (1 Chronicles 24) and then a large number of priests in each order. On this day, his order was on duty and they cast lots to see who would have the honor of entering the sanctuary of the Lord and burning incense. It was possible that a priest may never be chosen or that this would be a once a lifetime opportunity for a priest. Today, the lot fell to Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” – Luke 1:11-20

Have you ever argued with God? Have you ever asked God for something but, when He gave it to you, you chose to ask more questions instead of going first to praise and thanksgiving? Have you ever heard God’s promise but lacked the faith to believe that He was really speaking to you or that He was really saying what you have been waiting to hear?

When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” – Luke 1:23-25

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. And when her neighbors and relatives heard the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her.

When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!”

“What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. – Luke 1:57-64

For Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy, up until their baby was eight days old, Zechariah was unable to speak. I wonder how often God considers silencing us? A precious friend reminded me one day that sometimes God asks us to be silent – but why? Perhaps God wants us to spend more time listening for His voice and less time making our own noise, which crowds out His gentle whispers. Perhaps God desires for us to hear His words without comment, without sarcasm, without questions, without cynicism or doubt.

What came of Zechariah’s period of silence? It seems like a new wisdom and understanding were his after this time of quiet. Zechariah had more than nine months to think and consider what God was telling him through the angel Gabriel. Just as his son was born filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah was then filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophecy. His time of silence was a great time for him to empty himself of all that was Zechariah so that he could be filled with all that was God. The result…these powerful words:

“Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.
He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant – the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.

“And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins.
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”
– Luke 1:68-79

I love the picture of Zechariah smiling down at his newborn son and speaking those tender words of purpose. Today could get pretty hectic, busy, chaotic and loud for us. Let’s refuse to make so much noise that we cannot hear God’s still small voice speaking of His purpose for our day. Let’s bow quietly before Him and pray for a new wisdom and understanding, a new and fresh in-filling of the Spirit. Then, when we hear from Him, let’s choose to remain quiet and ponder His words, allowing Him to guide us down the path of peace.