Luke 1:5-23 (ESV)
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.
Zechariah was a lot like many of us. He needed proof. He and his wife were well past the age of childbearing for normal people. But when an angel of God, standing next to the incense in the Temple of God tells you something, you best believe it. Gabriel does not mince words. Did God plan this? I think probably. He knew Zechariah, just as He knows us. I do not believe that Zechariah was without choice, he was probably just stunned, and like many of us, especially me, he probably spoke without really thinking it through. Sometimes I shoot my mouth off without thinking first.
So Gabriel announces the coming of John the Baptist, who will serve in the Spirit of Elijah as a precursor to his second cousin, Jesus! He will only be about six months older than Jesus, yet will serve as a Prophet, probably for quite some time before Jesus began His ministry. The only way we know this, is that John was very well known. He spent some time in the desert, ate locusts and wild honey, and wore a garment of camel hair. He was a Nazarite, so he could not eat or even touch anything unclean, or drink any alcohol.
What is the lesson for us from Zechariah? As Chris mentioned yesterday in his sermon (check youtube if you missed it), the Bereans were praised by Paul, because they searched the Scriptures to see if what he said aligned with the Word of God. I think that Zechariah had he just slowed down a bit, would have realized that an Angel speaking in front of the Ark of the Covenant, speaks God’s words. Yet, the Scriptures tell us that because the devil was once an angel of light, he can still pretend. So we need to know the Scriptures. We need to fact check whatever we think we know, to ensure the Scriptures support it. Paul says that even if an angel of God were to come with a different Gospel, let him be anathema... Anathema means condemned forever.
Now that I have wandered far off the Advent/Christmas theme, Let’s get back on track.
John the Baptist was born, just as the Angel Gabriel told Zechariah. He went before the Lord, “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.’’"
May the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love of Christmas be with you all, and may we all grow closer to God each day.
by Virgil Stripes
Photo: Scaled representation of what the Temple would have been like in Jesus' time.