Zacharias and Elisabeth had been praying for a child for a long time. They had, most likely, given up hope that God would answer their prayer in the affirmative when Zacharias encountered an angel. He was in Jerusalem, performing his duties as a priest on a routine rotation when the angel Gabriel appeared to him on the right side of the altar of incense. The angel’s position alone should have alerted Zacharias to the fact that he brought glad tidings but there was something about an angel standing in front of him that caused all rational thought to flee.
The Bible tells us that Zacharias and Elisabeth were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Firstly Zacharias and Elisabeth weren’t just good people, they were, more importantly, Godly people. Secondly their godliness didn’t exempt them from experiencing disappointment and trial. Sometimes God allows his faithful people to go through difficulties but, as was the case with Zacharias and Elisabeth, He is able and willing to deliver them in their hour of need.
When Zacharias spotted the angel he was terror stricken. “Do not be afraid Zacharias” the angel said “for your prayer is heard”. What an amazing reassurance. When you feel like your prayers are rising no higher than the ceiling over your head, remember the words of the angel to Zacharias; your prayer is heard. God hears and He answers. Maybe His answers don’t always fit into our preferred timeline for events. Maybe he doesn’t always give us what we want. But we can rest assured that He will always give us what we need, when we need it, for the glory of His name and the blessing of others.
God answers prayer. If you remember nothing else, remember that.
The angel went on to tell Zacharias that his wife Elisabeth would have a son and he told him what to name the child. Perhaps the most heartening part of the message was that this longed for son would be the forerunner of the Messiah. He would be the great prophet who would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Zacharias’ reaction was anticlimactic. He gaped, he waffled and finally he said “How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is well advanced in years” Zacharias couldn’t bring himself to believe God’s word and for this he was rebuked.
“And the angel answered and said to him, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time”
Zecharias was disciplined for his unbelief. Regardless of his faithfulness and fidelity to God, it seems as though he had resigned himself to his circumstances. He obviously knew the story of Abraham and Sarah, yet he couldn’t quite believe that God would do something similar for him.
Sometimes it's easier to resign ourselves to the trials we face than to believe that God is able and willing to deliver us from them.
Zacharias and Elisabeth had their miracle baby and they named him just as the angel had commanded them to. His name was John and God used him to bring about spiritual revival in Israel.
In many ways John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. His preaching sliced through the layers of spiritual pride and hypocrisy that plagued Israel, forcing his listeners to confront what it truly meant to call themselves God’s chosen people.
John was a simple man. He lived in the desert, ate a pared down diet and didn’t bother with the trappings of wealth or affluence. He was unapologetically blunt when it came to calling out sin, even in those who occupied positions of wealth and power.
His outspoken denunciation of Herod’s adulterous lifestyle is what led to his death at the hands of Herod’s wife. While John was in prison waiting to die he succumbed to a rare, uncharacteristic moment of doubt. He wondered if his life's work had been in vain. If Jesus really was the one he had been preaching about.
In response to the queries John sent through his disciples, Jesus simply told them to watch the work he was doing among the people and then go and report what they had seen to John. This witness was enough to encourage John’s flagging faith.
John died alone and friendless at the hands of a wicked woman. He didn’t deserve to die but God saw fit to put him to sleep because His work was done. What he had to look forward to was far better than what he would leave behind.
Jesus paid a fitting and powerful tribute to John with these words “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (John 7:28)
John’s life and legacy were bound up in his unequivocal surrender to God’s purpose for his life. He accomplished his mission without flinching. When he died, he looked forward to what waited before him; a crown of life that no man could take away.