by Frank Luke
FCF: We must be ready for that special moment God has planned for us.
When most people hear the title, they think of Esther, but Esther is not the only person placed on earth for a specific time. Another person was the father of John the Baptist. John had to be born at a specific time, so his father had to be prepared for that time.
Turn to Luke chapter 1. As you turn, let’s talk a bit about the Gospel of Luke. Luke was a ministerial companion of Paul, and the only gentile writer of Scripture. Luke gave us two books of the Bible, his Gospel and Acts. Acts was history of the early church, and if you read it closely, you can tell when Luke got saved. In Acts 16, Paul and company enter the city of Troas, but while there, Paul has the vision of the Macedonian man and Luke writes “we sought to go into Macedonia.” Acts and Luke account for the largest block of Scripture written by a single author.
But before Luke wrote Acts, he wrote an account of the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. We can see reading it that Luke became very familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. He uses the same words and phrases they do so that his readers will catch the fulfillment of prophecy.
The first prophecy he chooses to write about is the fulfillment of the Messiah’s forerunner coming. That was John the Baptist.
Luke 1:5-23 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 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. 20 “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” 21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But 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. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.
Usually, we spend time looking at the announcement of Gabriel to Mary that Jesus was coming and how Mary visited Elizabeth afterwards. Two women with miraculous children. Elizabeth beyond child-bearing age and Mary unmarried. He goes on to write about John’s birth, but I want us to look at the announcement of John’s birth.
Point 1: Zacharias the Man 5-7
Luke begins in a very formal and contemporary style, telling the reader why the book was written. Then it shifts, becoming very reminiscent of the Old Testament. You might imagine that you are suddenly reading Shakespeare. Luke does this to transport us into the Old Testament. He doesn’t spend time telling us what we should already be familiar with from the Old Testament. Instead, he expects us to know that Zacharias and Elizabeth are models of piety, awaiting the Messiah and faithful to Torah. Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, all of them are devoted to God await the promises God made their ancestors.
Luke starts at the Temple, during the reign of a bloodthirsty tyrant who killed all who were rumored to be a threat to his rule, the angel Gabriel appears to a priest serving in his rotation. Zacharias is a Levite priest of the division of Abijah. What is that? The descendants of Aaron were arranged in 24 divisions, and in the first century lived throughout Judea and Galilee. Most of the Abijahites lived in the far north part of the Land. They served in the Temple and courtyard twice a year for one week at a time. The Abijahites were the eighth and served the week after Pentecost and again in December. The change of divisions would occur at midday on the Sabbath. The outgoing shift would perform the morning sacrifice while the incoming would perform the evening.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were faithful followers of God. Luke says they were righteous and blameless. They observed the law as well as any human being could. They followed the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
While Luke doesn’t tell us Zacharias’ exact age, we know he was advanced in years and his wife was past child bearing. I imagine this would put him in his late 40s, because priests served from age 20 to 50, then they were to retire.
This reminds us of Genesis and how Sarah was barren into her old age. We might also remember Rachel, Jacob’s wife who waited so long for children. Children were a sign of God’s blessing, and not having children meant He had not blessed your marriage. When David’s wife Michal tried to humiliate him, she was cursed to have no children.
As a faithful couple, they had longed for years to have a child of their own! One to hold and cherish, to raise and teach. That child had not come. The Bible says they were advanced in years. We can only assume that Elizabeth had reached menopause. They knew what that meant. The hope of a child died within them.
I imagine the tears they shed when Elizabeth went beyond the age of child bearing. I imagine the disappointment they felt. Oh, the questions they must have asked of God and each other! What did I do wrong, Lord? Where did I fail you? But the time simply wasn’t right. John needed to be born just before the Messiah.
Point 2: Zacharias the Priest 8-17
Even though he was greatly disappointed with having no child, the priest Zacharias continued his duty at the Temple. His personal disappointment had no impact on his service to God! In his yearly rotation, he served faithfully, eagerly awaiting the times when he would be called upon for greater service. Like the others, he helped with the sacrifices and spoke to the adherents. Two weeks a year, he came with his rotation. During the feasts of Passover and Succoth, he came with all the priests to stand in the Temple for a week.
At the time of the daily incense burning (once in the morning, once in the evening), the priests would line up. Each hopeful that he would be chosen to offer the incense. With the number of priests available, he would likely only do it once in his life. The eligible priests would line up and a number would be drawn. The priests would count off and the priest of that number would make the offering and then never stand for the counting again unless all present had also offered.
Zacharias’ time in Luke 1 was likely the only time he was blessed to offer the incense. Priests waited their entire lives to be chosen by the lot. It was a sign of God’s blessing on them. I am sure that Zacharias prayed many times before he went in that this day he would receive the blessing.
Put yourself in Zacharias’ shoes and imagine hoping that this is the day you would be selected to serve by offering incense before the Lord. The makeup of the incense was kept a closely-guarded secret by the priests of the division of Avtinas, who twice a year made the incense for all the divisions to use. It was not permitted for any except a priest to make the incense, and it was said that when the Avtinas made the incense, it could be smelled as far across the Jordan river and the other side of the Dead Sea and the fortress Machaerus 28 miles from Jerusalem as the crow flies, where John the Baptist was held in prison for two years and executed.
Zacharias began the incense offering filled with joy at having been chosen by God to make the offering. But God had a greater surprise in store for the old priest. God sent an angel to deliver a special message.
Unfortunately, Zacharias was frightened by Gabriel’s appearance. I’m sure we would be, too. Every appearance of an angel to a man results in the man being afraid. Some angels are described with multiple wings and faces or many eyes. Some are described in battle armor, ready to fight for God. However Gabriel looks, it terrified Zacharias.
Gabriel tells him not to be afraid and that his prayer has been heard by God! Zacharias and Elizabeth will have a son! With more Old Testament imagery, Gabriel says that this son, John, is to be a Nazarene from birth and never drink alcohol or spirits. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.
Zacharias that his wife would bear the forerunner of the Messiah! The prophet who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah! Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets. The prophet who refused to bow to Ba’al and stood before King Ahab. The prophet who brought about a great revival of true worship in the kingdom! Zacharias’s son would serve God in that same manner!
At this point, Zacharias was floored! Not only a son but a prophet!
Point 3: Zacharias the Man (part 2) 18-23
Unfortunately, Zacharias did what so many of us in his shoes would do—he doubted. In the flesh, it’s easy to see why. He is old. Elizabeth is past the age to have children. Considering how young most people in Judea were when they had children, John’s first word to Zacharias was likely to be “grandpa!”
Just as the man asked, Gabriel gives Zacharias a sign—he will be mute until after the child is born. Specifically, Zacharias will be mute until the son is named John. Even after the birth, Zacharias will remain mute until the naming ceremony. Because it isn’t just the birth that the angel foretold but the name and occupation of the lad.
The people standing outside the Temple wonder what is taking Zacharias so long. The incense offering should have been concluded by now. Obviously, he went in alone. When he comes out unable to speak, they realize immediately that he had a vision in the Temple! I’m sure they pressed him with questions but he was unable to answer.
And at the end of his service in the Temple, Zacharias returned home to Elizabeth. Together, they would await the forerunner of the Messiah!
Have you given up on something important to you like Zacharias and Elizabeth had? The sorrow of seeing more years behind you than in front of you can be overwhelming at times. Remembering how you were once so young and full of dreams that never quite came true is a heavy cross to bear.
However, the important thing is to remember that God can still use you. That time of waiting may be just what God wants to shape you.
Please visit Frank Luke’s Blog where this sermon is also posted.
Featured Image: Zacharias in the Temple, Jan Lievens