There was an old priest named Zacharias, whose name means “The Lord Remembers.” Since the law of Moses insisted that a priest marry only a woman of highest reputation, Zacharias had chosen the daughter of another priest to be his wife. Not only was she a descendant of Aaron, but she bore the name of Aaron’s own wife, Elisheba or Elizabeth, which means “The Oath of God.”
They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). The lives of both Zacharias and Elizabeth were pleasing to God. They submitted to the will of God and obeyed the Word of God. And they did it “In the sight of God,” that is, private devotion not showing offs.
They were humble, didn’t even care about the status that went with the priesthood. They lived in an obscure village in the mountain region south of Jerusalem rather than, as the other priests, in the elite section of the city, or in Jericho, the luxurious city of the palms.
Their piety was not outwardly; it was a heart-felt relationship with the Lord. They cared more about what God thought of them than what people thought.
But Zacharias and Elizabeth had a problem, while many of our problems stem from sins, God does allow some to invade our lives to help us learn & grow.
Zacharias and Elizabeth had a problem like that, and it was a big concern.
“And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years” (Luke 1:7).
In those days’ there was a stigma was attached to being childless, Jewish Rabbis at the time insisted that it was evidence of divine disfavour.
While Zacharias and Elizabeth may have been righteous before God, some of their friends suspected them of serious, secret sin and there was no way to change their opinions.
The phrase “advanced in years” meant at least sixty years of age, well beyond the time of childbearing. It was a hopeless situation.
Zacharias could have exonerated himself by divorcing Elizabeth. In their society, barrenness was a commonly accepted grounds for divorce.
Zacharias could have divorced Elizabeth, married a younger woman, had children by his new wife, and evaded the curse. This was the route other men would have taken.
But not Zacharias, instead he prayed (Luke 1:13). He was also a man of the Word of God meaning he read scriptures.
Zacharias committed his problem to God, he simply kept on with his priestly duties as God had given him. He never stopped praying, even though his situation looked hopeless and neither should we when faced with the impossible. Our God is the God of the impossible!
He delights in doing impossible things for us as He knows we will give Him the glory.
The day began with great excitement for Zacharias. “Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:8, 9).
It was his turn to minister before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, possibly for the first time in his priestly service. The priests had been divided into twenty-four groups by King David, each selected group would be called to minister in the Temple, on only two occasions during the entire year, each occasion lasting for one week with nearly a thousand priests in each group, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But this was Zacharias’ day, first he chose two special friends to assist him. One would reverently remove the ashes from the previous evening’s sacrifice.
Then the second would enter worshipfully and place new burning coals on the altar. Finally, Zacharias would enter the Holy Place alone, bearing the golden censer, and at the given signal, he would spread the incense over the coals.
As the incense burned and a cloud of fragrance arose from the altar, the prayer of the worshipers outside, would rise into the presence of God ( Luke 1:10
When the ritual finished and it was time to leave the Holy Place, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing to the right of the altar of incense.
But immediately the angel spoke: “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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:13, 14).
God can do impossible things, and that is exactly what he promised to do for Zacharias and Elizabeth. But their child was not to be just, any ordinary child.
He would be the forerunner of the Messiah predicted by the Prophet Malachi (Luke 1:15-17; cf. Mal. 3:1; 4:5, 6).
All this was too much for Zacharias to grasp. He had been praying for a son, but admittedly, his faith had been weakening, he blurted out,
“How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18).
Zacharias was a man of God, but he was a man, and he had human weaknesses.
God’s Word excites faith as we meditate on it and its application to our lives. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
Zacharias knew the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew how God had given a son to Sarah in her old age.
But God did something very gracious for Zacharias to help him believe. He gave him a sign.
“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 shall be fulfilled in their proper time” (Luke 1:20). It was not very pleasant for him to lose his voice, and his hearing, as we later learn (Luke 1:62).
When Zacharias emerged from that Holy Place he was a different man. He had long been a godly man, his encounter with the angel Gabriel left him with a new awareness of God’s greatness, a new sense of his own unworthiness, and a strong faith.
“And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months” (Luke 1:24). That conception was a miracle. Impossible things do happen!
And Our God is the same today as he always was (Mal. 3:6).
He can solve our problems, and He put this story in His Word to prove it and to strengthen our faith.
Knowledge of this miracle stimulated the Virgin Mary’s faith. God told her she would conceive a son without ever having relations with a man. That was rather hard to believe. But listen to the angel’s reassuring message to her: “<em>And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God!” (</em><em>Luke 1:36, 37</em><em>). And, Mary responded, “Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word</em>” (Luke 1:38).
Some will invariably shout, “But you don’t understand, My situation is impossible.” “My husband will never change.” My wife will never learn.” “We’ll never get out of debt.” “I’ll never be well again”, “This job will never improve.” Listen to God’s Word again: “<u>For with God <em>nothing </em>shall be impossible</u>.” Believe that. Obey him.
The next major event was <em>their visit from Mary, </em>Elizabeth’s young cousin from Nazareth, we gain a little deeper insight into Elizabeth’s character. <em>It was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, and no sooner had Mary greeted her than her unborn baby leaped within her as if prompted by the Holy Spirit to salute the Son of God</em>. Then, illuminated by that same Holy Spirit, she uttered these amazing words:
“<em>Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?</em>” (Luke 1:42, 43).
Her words reveal that she understood who Mary’s child was,
She calls Mary “<u>The mother of my Lord</u>.” “My Lord” was a messianic title taken out of Psalm 110:1: “
She acknowledged by divine revelation that Mary would give birth to the Messiah, the Son of God, her attitude toward Mary. While she knew that she herself had been honoured by God, she realized that Mary had been more honoured than any woman on earth.
She did not even feel worthy of Mary’s visit, she was so humble, she was older than Mary and had every right to ask, “<em>Lord, why didn’t you choose me?</em>” there was not one trace of jealously or self-seeking in her spirit.
Jealousy is a destructive emotion, it eats at our own souls, creates a hostile atmosphere in our homes, and ruins our relationships with our friends. But there is no jealousy in the life of one whose trust and hope are in God, as with Elizabeth.
The last thing we notice in the lives of Zacharias and Elizabeth is <em>their miracle son.</em>
Their excitement mounted daily, until “<em>the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son</em>” (Luke 1:57).
It was the custom for relatives and neighbours to gather and rejoice with them over the event, and on the eighth day, at the child’s circumcision ceremony, they tried to call him Zacharias after his father.
But Elizabeth protested, “<em>No indeed; but he shall be called John</em>” (Luke 1:60). Why John? This was unheard of. Nobody in either of their families had ever been called John. Maybe this was just Elizabeth’s folly.
They had better ask Zacharias. “<em>And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, ‘His name is John</em>.’ And they were all astonished. And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God” (Luke 1:62-64).
<u>John means “The Lord is gracious.”</u> And how very gracious He had been to them. They merely asked for a son to carry on the family name and priesthood. <u>God gave them the forerunner of the Messiah</u>, a child upon whom the hand of God was evident from his earliest days, a man whom Jesus Christ would call the greatest among men (Matt. 11:11).
God does not always <u>give according to our asking</u>, and certainly not according to our deserving. He gives according to the riches of His grace. He does “<em>exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think</em>” (Eph. 3:20). And He loves to do that for people who trust Him and obey Him, even in impossible situations.
The greatness of God’s grace inspired Zacharias to utter a magnificent song of praise to God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and said,
“<em>Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father</em>” (Luke 1:68-73).
That oath which God swore to Abraham is a reference to the Abrahamic Covenant in which God promised to bless the descendants of Abraham and make them a blessing to the whole earth. Many Jews were beginning to think God had forgotten His promise, that their national situation was hopeless.
But Zacharias and Elizabeth never thought so. Together their names were a constant reminder that “<em>Jehovah remembers his oath</em>.” And their miraculous experience proved it to be true.
Zacharias and Elizabeth are not mentioned again after the birth of John, they have left us a lovely legacy of faith in the promises of God, <u>The God of the impossible</u>.