Summary: The prayer that changed the world.
‘TWAS THE PRAYER BEFORE CHRISTMAS
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, who stands 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.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Your prayer has been heard. Whatever else may be said of the father of the Baptist, this godly priest received God’s commendation as a man of prayer. We would do well to emulate his example. Permit me to introduce you to Zechariah. Father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, together with his wife, is commended as righteous before God. This godly couple is denoted as walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Zechariah and Elizabeth pleased God because they had a heart to obey God.
Another important piece of information that Doctor Luke provides readers is that the couple was childless; Elizabeth was barren. Today, we think it is odd that a couple should have a sense of emptiness without children. We consider it strange that a family (and women in particular) would consider themselves unfulfilled without children.
Modern couples seek fulfilment through education, through social advancement, or through financial security. A society that is focused on self-gratification and focused on self-fulfilment likely cannot understand the grief that attended the barren womb in an earlier day. That children are recognised as a reward from the Lord and that the blessed man has his quiver full of children [cf. PSALM 127:3-5] continues to be cause for consternation until an individual is submitted to Christ and thus reflects the mind of God.
The final piece of information necessary for understanding the message is that Zechariah was a descendant of Aaron. As a descendant of Aaron, the old man was both privileged and responsible to serve in the Temple. However, because of the multiplication of priests at this late date in the history of Israel, those ministering before the Lord were chosen by lot. This one time would almost certainly be the only time Zechariah would ever minister in the Temple. It was a though the servant of God prepared for a lifetime to ensure that the one time of service was perfect before God.