As I continue through Luke, I come upon the narratives of the foretelling of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. And as I reflect upon the people in these accounts, my mind recalls Woodrow and Belle Mercer. Woodrow is a farmer from Jigger, Louisiana and Belle is his lovely bride for over 60 years. They are “salt of the earth” kind of people who have worked hard to provide for their children but also to please their God. Though not sinless, they are people who seek to faithfully serve the Lord.
When I think of Woodrow and Belle, they’re who I think of when I read about Zechariah and Elizabeth. We find God using simple, humble people to bring about fulfillment of His great scheme of redemption. These are the people, simple and humble, that will bring into this world the forerunner for the Messiah. Luke specifically picks up on this and is sure to point this out to his reader. God is using those people that are just doing the best they can to please God. The text says that “both of them were upright (that is their trust was in the Lord) in the sight of God, observing (from the heart) all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly” (v.6). These were people who, though not sinless, served God faithfully.
They have an announcement made to them. As Zechariah is serving as a priest before God, he is chosen by lot to burn incense according to custom. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity…literally. A priest, if chosen by lot keep in mind, could only perform this duty one time in his entire lifetime. So to be chosen to serve in this capacity was an awesome responsibility which some priests never were privileged to perform. As Zechariah is performing his priestly function, he is interrupted by an angelic visitor. The text says that Zechariah was “startled” and “gripped with fear.” But Gabriel, the angel, says “Do not fear” (a theme rampant in Luke) and announces a message of good news: Zechariah, an old man (v.18a), and his wife Elizabeth, who is well along in years (v.18b), will have a child.
Notice what Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, will do in verses 14-17: he will be a joy and delight to Zechariah, many will rejoice because of his brith, and he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Then we find a restriction for John: never to take wine or other strong drink (fermented, NIV). Following this, we have the power behind John’s message which is the Holy Spirit. Empowered, he will bring back many of Israel back to the Lord and go before the Lord (preparing the way) in the spirit and power of Elijah (that is the attitude and Holy Spirit behind him). He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – all this to prepare the people for the Lord’s arrival. What a fantastic mission that is placed upon John!
Zechariah cannot believe this – literally. His question is a throwback to the question of Abraham centuries before (Gen 15.8). He doubts and because of his unbelief, Gabriel punishes him by striking him mute. Gabriel (whose name means “man of God”) is a dignitary from the divine realm. He stands in the presence of God and is a messanger of glad tidings. He has authroity Zechariah does not recognize and therefore causes Zechariah to become mute. Zechariah demonstratres the attitude of unbelief. On the other hand, his wife realizes the blessing God has bestowed upon her and demonstrates an attitude of gratitude (v.25). She understood who was in control and acknowledged the blessing of God in her life.
What about these people who are in these first few verses (v.10, 21, 22)? Who are they and why are they there? Simply, they are Jews, assembled together to worship as the text indicates. What are they praying for? I think it is fair to say they may have been praying for the coming Messiah, praying for the Lord to send the promised. They were Jews who probably knew the Scriptures and the promises of the Messiah. So they prayed for his coming. As Zechariah is held up in the temple they begin to ask about what is taking Zechariah so long. And when he emerges, they gather he has seen a vision but are not aware that he is the one who will usher in the forerunner for the Messiah they have waited so long for.
I believe we learn from this account about a God who is there, always in the midst of things. He is watching his people, constantly aware of their of their prayers, he hears our prayers (v.13) and petitions and will answer them in accordance with his time frame. Also we learn about a God who uses the simple things, the humble people wh are seeking to do the will of God, trusting in Him and obeying His word from the heart. Finally, we see a God who can perform the impossible. Be a barren woman becoming a pregnant or a barren ministry producing fruit, God is the one who performs the impossible and he is willing and able to do these things through the simple and humble people. These are the tools He seeks to use whether it be in bringing His Son to earth or in bringing a lost person to repentance.