Scripture: In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Luke 1:5-25 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, approximately 30% of Luke’s Gospel is unique—most of which covers Jesus’ birth, travelogue, and resurrection appearances. Luke’s target audience is one person, the “most excellent Theophilus, and Luke’s purpose is to instill confidence regarding all instruction given to Theophilus. So he follows the classical Greco-Roman writing style of his day, where notable authors introduced their work with assurances of accuracy. That said, while he directs it to Theophilus (which means “friend of God” or “beloved by God”), the name likely is a circumlocution directed to all who profess to be followers of Christ and thus friends of God and beloved by him.
Today’s reading is longer than usual but necessary since the narrative is one story: the foretelling of John the Baptist’s birth. Highlighting the key points, Zechariah and Elizabeth were godly Israelites, advanced in years, and childless. Following a customary practice of casting lots, Zechariah (a priest) entered the temple to burn incense at the altar. Much to his surprise, an angel appeared and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son to be named John. The Holy Spirit will dwell in him, so he must not drink fermented beverages that would cloud his judgment. And their son will prepare the way for the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, calling Israel to repentance.
Zechariah then questions the angel about the feasibility of his prophecy given their advanced age and asks for a sign: “How shall I know this?” (v.18) The angel, perhaps offended, announces he is Gabriel, whom God sent to proclaim this good news. And since Zechariah asked for a sign, his request is granted: he’s muted until John is born. So when Zechariah leaves the temple to greet those waiting for him, they realize he saw a vision when unable to speak. So he communicates through signs until after Elizabeth gives birth. And Elizabeth thanks God for removing the shame of her barren womb.
Takeaway: The foretelling of John the Baptist’s birth conveys three main ideas that will carry forward to their fulfillment in Luke’s Gospel:
- God is sovereign over humanity and desires to restore his relationship with us.
- God will initiate his salvation plan beginning with the birth of a boy who will walk in the spirit of Elijah, mature in wisdom and stature, and prepare the way of the Lord.
- God will take away the shame of his righteous ones, as symbolized by blessing Zechariah and Elizabeth with a child who will be the greatest among those preceding the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth (see Matthew 11:11).
Meanwhile, leading up to this monumental moment in history, Zechariah and Elizabeth present to Luke’s audience a godly example of living in the present in anticipation of a better future. They press on with duties and responsibilities before them, trusting in God’s goodness. Albeit, Zechariah waffles in his faith and asks for a sign when confronted with a revelation that seems biologically impossible. But he’s in good company with Abram and Sarai, who expressed their doubts and took matters into their own hands (see Genesis 15-18). Indeed, this New Covenant finds it seminal in the Abrahamic Covenant and soon fruition in preparing for and completing Jesus’ mission.
That said, Zechariah provides a cautionary story of the importance of walking by faith—not demanding signs before taking the next step. Here, also, we learn there are consequences when we doubt. For Zechariah, he would remain speechless until the fulfillment of John’s birth. For Abram and Sarai, their hasty interventions would stir strife between Saria’s maidservant Hagar and her surrogate child, Ishmael, that would linger to this day with their ancestral lines. Still, God’s grace abounds. His covenantal plan would prevail over the sinful missteps of his chosen ones, and it still does for us.
So what’s our takeaway? Walk by faith, not by sight. And when we do, our gracious Lord will provide signs as we need them—not when we demand them. And when we misstep, his grace will abound as we exhibit faith in our Lord’s goodness by humbling our hearts and repenting. For sincere contrition is our means of finding our voice to proclaim the Good News to a world that desperately needs some.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for those who have gone before us, from Abraham to John the Baptist, to prepare the way of your Son. And we thank you for their faithful parents who did their part. So would you please help us to do ours and walk by faith and repentance, finding our voice to share the good news to a world that desperately needs it? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling