Zechariah And Elizabeth
Key Verse 1:6
“Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”
The Christmas story recorded by Luke is unique in that it tells of the annunciation of both births, that of John the Baptist as well as that of Jesus. Needless to say, it is a beautiful story of love and goodness and joy. It’s a story marked with sacrifices made and undeserved mercy given and peace bestowed on all who would look at it with the eyes of their hearts. Its a story that has been forever told for the last 2,000 some years. It’s the story of Jesus the Son of God, who came to this world not to condemn the world but to save it from sin. Luke begins the story with two old people, Zechariah and Elizabeth who were the parents of John the Baptist— the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus to reveal himself to the world. Let’s see what made them so special.
Look at verse 5a which begins like this: “In the time of Herod king of Judea…” The story takes place between the years 40 BC and 4 BC. That was the time when the infamous king Herod was king of Judea. They say it was one of the darkest times in human history. Herod was mentally unstable. A brutal man plagued with unreasonable fears and anxieties. Kings ought to be a shield of protection for their people, providing stability and peace when possible. But instead, Herod wasn’t that kind of king at all. He was an evil and insecure man at heart and during his reign people suffered more than one can imagine. He was a king whose reign brought so much darkness into the land that all hope was snuffed out from his people. And a people without hope or vision to brighten their days, are a most miserable king of people. During his reign no one dared dream of a better future, nor hope of a better tomorrow. While this evil man lived, no one was happy. They only struggled from day to day to survive. That was the picture of their physical lives. On the spiritual side, people’s days were as dark as ever. No one could joyfully search for God nor pursue a spiritual life. Their hearts were filled with despair and fatalism and that drove any sense of God from among them. No one could think of anything else except how to survive one more day. The words of verse 5a: “In the time of Herod,” meant times of darkness.
How hard it was to believe in God during such times. How hard it was to make time for Bible study and prayer— the essential ingredients to a healthy spiritual daily life. How hard it must have been to put one’s faith in God in times like these. It was easier to despair in oneself and to give up hope in God. But Luke tells a story that defied everything dark and hopeless in those times. He tells a story of a remnant who lived by faith. A remnant of people who though the whole nation chose to live in darkness, didn’t! A remnant still chose to live in the light of God. They were few, but they were faithful to God. In the thick darkness around them, they chose to hold on to faith. How could they do that? They simply loved God and trusted God even I their most dire situation. The nation may have been ruled by a dark and evil king. But they deeply believed that in reality, God is always sovereign over all things. Among this small remnant of faithful people were two old people called Zechariah and Elizabeth. And they were an aged couple.
Read verse 6. “Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” An amazing description of the couple. From the Bible’s perspective, an “upright” or a “righteous” person is a one whose faith is in God. An upright or righteous person also is one who lives by faith. In other words, Zachariah and Elizabeth lived by faith. To fully understand this we must consider what others were doing. While others lived in the insecurities and uncertainties of life, this family lived by faith in God. And Luke goes on to explain to us what marked their lives of faith. They “observed the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” They gave their hearts to the word of God— the Bible. They reflected on the word of God. And then they tried to live according to the teachings of the Bible. And the result was wondrous! Instead of worrying about their lives and future, they prayed and trusted God in all things.
Its hard to say much more about them because what we read in our key verse is the basic summary of their lives. This family simply observed the word of God; and they simply prayed. To the eyes of those who are always anxious about everything in this world, this aged couple’s lives surely appeared as boring. People must have thought that it was unreasonable for this couple to pursue God and godliness when hard times were forcing everyone to do everything possible to survive. Others may have seen them as a “strange” couple. But the truth is that God honored and blessed them because they kept their faith burning and expressed their faith through devotion to the word of God and to prayer. This kind of life— A life of faith, in devotion to the word of God — is precious to God. In difficult times, most people want to do something to solve their urgent life problems. Surely this family faced the same problems the rest of the society or neighbors were facing. But somehow their response to the hardships of life were different from all other people. They responded by trusting themselves to the word of God. They responded with faith rather than with anxiety. Truly their faith and devotion were inspiring. God wouldn’t ignore such simple faith and devotion.
But another thing that made this family special was the fact that they had a serious problem. Read verse 7. “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” They were childless. In that culture and generation to be childless was not a small problem. In fact childlessness was considered as one of life’s tragedies. In that day and age, their lives could have been meaningless and filled with sorrow. But it wasn’t. They had faith— the kind of faith that went beyond the tragedies of human circumstances— the kind of faith that went beyond human emotions. They had the kind of faith that was rooted in God’s grace and truth. And so they were neither bitter about their situation nor did they despair of it. Rather it seems that they were content in God’s sovereignty in over their lives.
And again, God does not overlook such faith. God knew and understood their struggles. God felt their pains. And somehow God allowed them to bear the pain of childlessness for many years. God in his wisdom had a specific purpose in this. Perhaps God in his wisdom also wanted their situation to become impossible as they aged so that when the impossible eventually happens then God alone would be glorified. But whatever God’s purpose was, it is clear that God in his wisdom was working slowly in their lives to do something great and wonderful. God was waiting to give them a son— John the Baptist— in their old age. When God was searching for a family who could raise John the Baptist. God chose this family, a poor and simple family of faith. They had prepared their hearts for God through devotion to the word of God when it was almost impossible to believe and to put one’s faith in God and to follow his words.
And now the time had finally come to bless them. Look at verses 8 and 9. Out of 10,000 priests, Zechariah was chosen to pray at the altar in the temple. It was an honor to be the chosen priest to pray on behalf of his people. Read verses 11 and 12. “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.” God had been silent for over 400 years. And now God had a message for his people— specifically to Zechariah and his family. Read verse 13. “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.’” The angel’s words give us a hint as to why Zechariah might have been so afraid. His prayer should be on the national level, and not on the personal level, at least not for this one life time occasion. But knowing this, Zechariah decided to slip in a personal prayer as well. And he prayed for a son!
Zechariah’s prayer happened to be a personal prayer at the wrong time. Yet there is something wonderful about this. Zechariah believed in prayer. He believed that God is the God who hears prayer. He prayed about a son even though it seemed impossible at his age to have a son. His prayer was determined. His prayer kept faith alive. His prayer kept hope alive. Zechariah was really a great man, not only because he overcame the dark times through faith and obedience to God, but he was great because he prayed. He was like our forefather Abraham who against all hope, prayed! And God answered his prayer.
God’s answer to Zechariah’s prayer was too good to be true. Like most of us, Zechariah had a hard time believing good news. And for a moment, it was hard to believe that finally his prayer was being answered. In that moment, Zechariah questioned God. Read verse 18. “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’” When his prayer was finally answered, Zechariah was suddenly struck with doubt. Why? Perhaps he stopped looking to God and took a look at himself. When he looked at himself, he could only see the human situation. He recognized that he was an old man. And he questioned God’s power. As a man of God, to consider his human situation even for a few moments, instead of considering the power of God, was a serious problem. And God, who loved Zechariah, needed to help him overcome his doubt.
Look at verses 19 and 20—How God decided to help him to go beyond doubt once for all. The angel Gabriel rebuked him; “’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.’” It seems that Zechariah needed to grow in his faith still. So God decided to discipline him to be silent for nine months. Nine months of silence would help him to meditate on the word of God and to consider that with God, nothing is impossible. Zechariah still needed to grow in faith.
Zechariah also needed some divine discipline in order to raise his future son as a servant of God and not as a spoiled brat. Read verses 15-17. John was going to be no ordinary child. His son, John’s mission was going to be too great, for he will prepare the hearts of God’s people to receive their savior, Jesus. This was no ordinary child, with no ordinary mission. So, without divine discipline, Zechariah would not be able to raise him up to serve God’s purpose and mission in his life. He needed to teach his son how to trust and obey God. He needed to teach him how to live by faith. For this reason, God gave Zachariah divine discipline.
Sometimes we wonder why God gives discipline. Some people think that their difficulties are unnecessary. Some think that there is no end to God’s discipline in their lives when their lives are not the way they would have it. But when we believe that God called us to serve his purpose that is all we need to believe. With this faith, it’s not hard to understand why God would have us grow even more in faith. From a human point of view, some may consider their lives dull and uneventful. For example, the life God called us to live in this generation isn’t much different from what he called generations before us to do—to devote to bible study and to prayer. God’s purpose does not change over the generations. It’s the same—that the Gospel of good news of Jesus reaches the whole world, and graciously even through us. And for this reason and others, God sees fit to give us discipline, to refine our faith and to deepen our devotion so that the work of God may be done in every one of us according to his good purpose.
Look at verses 21-25. After the incident in the temple, Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and for five months, remained in seclusion. After five long months of prayer and meditation on the word of God, Elizabeth had a confession to make. Read verse 25. “’ 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.’” Elizabeth said, “The Lord has done this for me…” She acknowledged God’s power that overcomes the world. She acknowledged the faith that goes beyond human possibilities and impossibilities—that goes beyond the human situation. She discovered the grace of God in her life and for her family. So she confessed: “The Lord has done this for me…” We too must come to make such a confession in our lives.
To meditate on the word of God and to pray, may not seem to be that significant in a selfish and self-absorbed world that does not recognize God, nor God’s work in its midst. But God is alive and he is still working out his plan of salvation. God still searches for Zechariahs and Elizabeth’s who devote their hearts to the word of God, and to prayer, that he might work through them to bring his gospel of salvation to the world. So, let us devote ourselves to a life of faith and prayer as they did. Let us devote ourselves to the word of God, as they did. And may God fulfill his purpose in and through us as he did through them. Amen