The angel Gabriel showed Zechariah the priest ‘how NOT to stop his miracle’ in a very dramatic way, but first let’s look at some background…
When we know that God has spoken into our lives, whether by scripture, the ‘still small voice’ or a great neon sign on the wall, the toughest part is often in the timing of that promise. As the years roll by we may well begin to wonder, “When is it going to happen Lord? – “Perhaps I heard wrong”, or even, “This isn’t for me after all.”
If there’s one thing the stories of the Bible tell us it’s that God isn’t in a hurry, and He often plays the long game (from our point of view). In the scriptures people can get appointed for ministry in their old age, prophecies are packaged up in years, if not ages, and God often talks in terms of bringing his purposes about in generations rather than in an instant. Things can happen very quickly and dramatically once they arrive – they just take a long time coming!
Let’s be honest, often we can get a little tired waiting for those promises of God to happen. If we are ‘blessed’ with encouraging people around us this can be especially challenging. We can end up thinking, “The next person to tell me ‘my breakthrough is coming’ is going to get a punch on the nose!” Ever felt like that?
Doing all the right things
Luke chapter one tells us that Zechariah was a priest called to serve in the temple at Jerusalem. Both he and his wife Elizabeth were good, godly people:
“Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Luke 1:6 NIV
It is honour indeed to have this accolade recorded in the Bible. Being a good Hebrew priest was a lifetime of discipline, ritual, study and dedication to the scriptures. It was a life completely consumed with observation of laws; personal, social, and temple laws – twenty four hours a day, seven days a week three hundred and sixty five days a year.
However, Luke also says:
“But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.” Luke 1:7 NIV
So there is a contradiction here. Zechariah knows that the scriptures teach that children are a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5). They have no doubt prayed much of their lives for this blessing and may have even received personal signs and promises confirming so. However, ‘they were both very old’, and no doubt ‘expectation fatigue’ had set in and I suspect a certain acceptance that ‘it was never going to happen’.
There are times in our lives too that fit that description (literally or figuratively ‘waiting for the birth’). But, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth, after hope has all but gone, that is often when God shows himself to be faithful and strong – a God of miracles and not relying on natural logic or reason.
An Angelic Visitation
It just so happened on this occasion that Zechariah:
“was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” Luke 1:9 NIV
And as the beautifully perfumed smoke begins to fill his senses the Arch Angel Gabriel appears before him – much to Zechariah’s shock and surprise:
”When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 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 call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Luke 1:12-15 NIV
Of all the angelic assignments this must rank as one of the most exciting; manifesting to righteous people and announcing the arrival of answered prayer and the fulfilment of Gods promises. The angels words are comforting and clear; they tell of a son and his name, of joy and delight and of greatness in Gods sight. But Zechariahs response is less than encouraging…
“Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”” Luke 1:18 NIV
Just think about this for a minute. Remember – he is a priest “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” He knows the scriptures (many of them off by heart), most of them about the God of miracles, and he is face to face with an archangel! He is a descendant of Abraham, the original ‘old age miracle child’ man!
And yet there is a personal disconnect and disbelief. Something had robbed Zechariah of expecting the reality of that divine power for himself. Perhaps like many believers he was ready to believe the God of miracles in the Bible but had given up on that ever being a reality ‘in these modern times’. Or was it that he was so unaccustomed to the supernatural that he simply couldn’t process what was happening; his flesh had no grid for this sudden divine invasion of his ordered world.