Rarely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity all that it claims to be. More often than not it’s a sales gimmick; a manipulative tool of persuasion designed to prompt impulsive action. In Zacharias’ case, however, it was the real deal. He was living the dream. Only once in the lifetime of any priest were you able to enter the temple of the Lord to burn incense. Chosen by casting lots, this was Zacharias’ moment.
While Zacharias entered the temple, “. . . the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering (Luke 1:10).” This was a big deal and it was about to get even bigger.
“And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense (Luke 1:11).”
Basically, God’s messenger came to bring news of answered prayer – not for the people of God in general. No,this was a personal word for Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. You see, Elizabeth was barren, and evidently somewhere in the distant past this childless, young couple had asked God for a baby. Some time ago. Some long time ago. Back when it was a feasible request; possible and not ridiculous.
Note to self: when it comes to prayer, sometimes God says yes and sometimes God says no. Other times God says wait, which translated means yes but not yet. And, many times we don’t fully know which of these things God is really saying. On occasion, His yes answer comes in a way we never expected and at a time we couldn’t have imagined after we’re certain He must have said no.
I wonder if after the angel’s proclamation, “. . . your petition has been heard,” he paused long enough for Zacharias to ponder just which petition he was referring to? I mean, Zacharias is a priest. Surely he’d sent up plenty of petitions in his lifetime, and I’m guessing that if Zach had time to think about it, he would scroll through his mental Rolodex of requests in say, the last few days or few weeks maybe. I’m fairly certain that he could never have anticipated Gabriel’s appearance at all much less that the petition he referred to was the one where He and Liz had asked for a child.
Once the heavenly message is completely on the table, Zacharias develops a need to know. He wants to be sure. This is all highly unusual. And I don’t mean just the way the message was being delivered. The message itself was, well, almost unbelievable. After all, Elizabeth was barren back in her prime. Now . . . now she’s an old woman married to an old man. Biblically speaking, “They were both advanced in years (Luke 1:7b).”
Have you ever asked for something and gotten what you asked for, only to realize it isn’t what you really wanted? Welcome to Zacharias’ world. Once he finds the courage to say what he’s thinking, it pops out, “How shall I know this for certain?” (Luke 1:18). Guess what – he’s about to find out!
“And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be unable to speak until the day when these things take place . . .’ (Luke 1:19-10).” Well look on the bright side, Zach, at least you won’t be able to ask any more stupid questions.
So it was, that due to Zacharias’ root issue of unbelief (“. . . because you did not believe my words . . . “) his communication was reduced to hand signals and tablet talk. At the baby’s birth we’re told that Zach’s relatives and neighbors gathered around to inquire about the boy’s name. Hilariously, Scripture records that they, “. . . made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called (Luke 1:62).” He’s mute, folks, not deaf! He can hear you.
Anyway, everyone is pretty much astonished when Zacharias writes, “His name is John (Luke 1:63).” John? Not Z Jr.? That’s right. The angel said name him John and Zacharias had learned his lesson. Whatever the angel says, goes! He wasn’t about to question Gabriel again.
“And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God (Luke 1:64).” To be sure, this miracle wasn’t the result of Zach’s chicken scratch. Rather, his obedience ushered in the end of his “time out” and the beginning of fresh praise.
Second note to self: obedience to God matters! Always matters. Even when I don’t understand. Even if I don’t agree. It’s been said many times by many different individuals that, ” Obedience is God’s love language.” In that case, Lord, here’s a petition that I know you’ll answer with a yes and one that won’t take years for me to realize: please help me obey.
“Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” John H. Sammis, 1887