I have sympathy for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Here is how we are introduced to them.
“During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they did not have a child because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.” (Luke 1:5-7 NET)
I don’t think we could find two better people than these. They were faithful to God, following all God’s commandments as perfectly as anyone could. The Holy Spirit recorded, through Luke, that “they were both righteous in the sight of God”. That is the highest praise anyone could have!
Yet I get the impression that they didn’t feel they had a fulfilled life – they were not able to have children and were now very old. There could no longer be the hope of their being able to have a child.
I know the joy that my three children have given me and now the joy of having grandchildren. This is something this righteous couple could not experience. Our hearts go out to them. No wonder Zechariah reacted as he did when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he was going to be a dad.
“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; you will name him John. Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth…’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.’” (Luke 1:13-18)
I think I would have asked the same question: how is this possible – how could they have a child in their old age? His question showed that he didn’t really believe Gabriel. As a result he was made mute, unable to speak, until he had a son. For the next nine months he could not say a word.
And it happened, just as he was told. After returning home “his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion” (Luke 1:24). We are not told why she secluded herself – perhaps it was to make sure she was pregnant before they announced it.
Nine months later Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy and there was great rejoicing. As he was a Jewish boy, he was circumcised on his eighth day of life. This seems to be the time sons were formally named as well. Zechariah still could not speak. Although Elizabeth kept telling them that he was to be called ‘John’ the consensus of those present was that he should be called after his father, as ‘John’ wasn’t a family name.
So they asked Zechariah. He wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” – and at that moment he was able to speak again. The first thing he did was to praise God. He was filled with God’s Holy Spirit and prophesied that God was now redeeming his people by raising up “a horn of salvation” from David’s lineage – an obvious reference to the Messiah. But it wasn’t his son who would be the Messiah although his son also had a role: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).
John grew up and became spiritually strong and lived in the wilderness until it was time for him to take centre stage.
Don’t we serve a wonderful God? At the right time he brought everything together to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, beginning with a baby born to an old couple. May we have the same trust in God that Zechariah expressed!
Photo of Judean wilderness by Jon Galloway, November 2019.
Readings for next week: Revelation 15-22; Luke 1