Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were what we in the southern United States refer to as "good people." They were "righteous" in God's sight and "blameless" in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. Stated in words we use today, they were people who did what they understood to be right. The word translated "blameless" did not mean "without mistake" or "perfect" as it often means today, but it meant people of integrity who were conscientious in obeying God's will.
These were devoutly religious people. They both were descendants of Aaron. Zacharias had the privilege of being a part of Jewish temple worship. (Because there were so many priests, the privilege of serving in the Jerusalem temple was an infrequent occurrence for most priests. An opportunity to perform a part of the temple duties might occur only once in a lifetime. Such temporary duties lasted for only a designated period of time.)
Zacharias and Elizabeth had a personal problem. They were childless. The continuation of their personal family would not occur. They were elderly. Age made it impossible for Elizabeth to get pregnant and have a child. Yet, (though this was a much more important consideration then than it is to many in our society today) there is no indication in our text that either Zacharias or Elizabeth were bitter about their situation. Evidently they accepted their situation without complaint against God.
Zacharias' temple duty was to offer incense. The procedure for offering incense took an understood amount of time. It was customary for Jewish people to be assembled in one or more of the temple courtyards during the procedure. It was a time of prayer. The offering of incense was taking noticeably longer than it usually took. His delay caused the people to be both concerned and curious (verse 21).
Why the delay? An angel appeared to Zacharias with an incredible message from God. The incident shook Zacharias up (as it would us) because the incident was totally unanticipated. The message to Zacharias was beyond his personal belief. Zacharias' lack of confidence in God's message necessitated a conversation with the angel. The sign was primarily to convince Zacharias of the trustworthiness of the message. If Elizabeth was not yet pregnant (as verse 24 indicates; remember Sarah in Genesis 17:21?) or in the early stages of pregnancy, Zacharias would not speak for the better part of a year.
What was God's message delivered to Zacharias by the angel Gabriel? (1) Zacharias was not to be afraid of Gabriel. (2) Your petition has been heard by God (what petition had Zacharias asked for?) (3) Your wife, Elizabeth, will have a son. (3) You are to name your son John. (4) That son will fulfill an intention of God He declared long ago.
Zacharias' reaction to the message was disbelief. As we would say, "That is impossible! Give me a reason to believe what you said will happen. Do you not understand that Elizabeth and I are too old to have children?"
Gabriel gave Zacharias reason to have confidence in God's message. Zacharias would not speak until John was born. Note in verses 19, 20: (1) this angel had a name, (2) this angel had power, (3) yet, he is just God's messenger, and (4) he only delivers God's messages.
Before you are tempted to criticize Zacharias for his initial lack of confidence, note several things. (1) Zacharias had never seen an angel before, just like you. He, too, likely believed angels existed and were used by God as messengers. There is an enormous difference in believing angels exist and seeing an angel with a name standing by a literal altar. (2) Zacharias had never received a personal message from God before. He, too, believed God existed, had messages to deliver, and was capable of sending His messages to people. However, there is an enormous difference between believing God exists and has something to say, and receiving a personal message from God. (3) There is an enormous difference between believing God can work through people of age and believing God can work through you. (4) There is an enormous difference between believing God has purposes that will happen in the future and believing God will begin accomplishing one of His purposes through you. Is it possible, if you were in Zacharias' place, you also would have been doubtful?
Consider the son Gabriel promised Zacharias that God would give him. (1) He would be a source of joy and gladness (to some!). (2) God would consider him great. (3) He would be dedicated to God from birth. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born. (4) There is the definite indication that he would be the focal point of a national repentance movement. (5) He would prepare people to receive the Lord (whatever that meant). Would that appeal to you as your only child born to you late in life? Would you rejoice because God was achieving His purpose through you and your son?
It is too easy to doubt God when God plans to make specific use of us to achieve His purpose. It is hard to trust God when His actions lie outside our experiences and expectations. We much prefer, even as righteous people who seek to obey God's will, for God to work within our experiences and expectations. It is difficult to be confident that God finds our age and situation no obstacle to His use of us. Serving God is not just for young people.
For Thought and Discussion
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 1
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