Summary: The story of Zechariah & Elizabeth believing in God for a child
Luke 1.5-25 The Characters of Christmas: Zechariah
1. The story of God’s intersection with humanity is a unique one. And the truth is that anytime God and humans come together, you know, something interesting is about to happen, something extraordinary is about to take place. That was true of all of the characters of Christmas that we are going to talk about through this series. They all had encounters with God that were out of the ordinary. That drastically changed their lives.
2. And the first of these characters is a man named Zechariah. Listen to Luke’s account found in Luke 1.5-25 [read text]. Now Luke is writing his record to a certain Theophilus. Among scholars and historians, there is a rather heated debate about his identity, especially whether Theophilus was indeed his name, or simply a title since the word Theophilus means in Greek, “friend of God”. It would appear, while the identity of Theophilus is unknown that his nationality is more known. Theophilus would appear to be Jewish as Luke writes to him, the language Luke uses is not explained. He writes to a friend who seems to understand the significance of certain events without the need of having them explained to him. Such as when Luke is telling Theophilus a little of the background of Zechariah and Elizabeth. For instance, he notes that Zechariah is a priest from the division of Abijah and Elizabeth is also of the lineage of Aaron. In 1 Chronicles 24, we find a record of the divisions of priests all coming from Aaron being made. So the first thing we know of Zechariah is that he is a priest. We might equate this today with a pastor or minister, of course, Jews, even modern Jews would be troubled by this equation. But there was an aspect of ministry that took place. Zechariah’s work was to stand before God on behalf of the people. He said prayers and interceded for the people. He taught them about the law and how to obey it. He taught the people about God and how to listen to His voice.
3. And working beside him is Elizabeth. She too comes from a priestly family which means that she understands the demands made on her husband. She knows the reasons he does what he does and she knows how ministry works. She understands the tasks and the obligations, and she supports him in his work.
4. And the scripture tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful to the law of the covenant. Again, because Theophilus is a Jew, this does not have to be explained to him. He gets it. He understands that they were faithful to the law, to the prophets, that they did what a good priestly Jewish couple did. They were blameless, Luke says, meaning that there was no fault in them. There was a perfect obedience to the law in this couple.
5. Yet Luke also writes to Theophilus and says, “But they had no children.” And this too doesn’t have to be explained to Theophilus but you and I may need an explanation on why this statement was included. You see, in the Jewish mind, if a woman was unable to bear children, she was seen as punished by God. Because it was a patriarchal society, the thought that the problem might be with the man was never a question. The inability to bear children was always the fault of the woman and was seen as a type of punishment from God. There must have been something she did for God to be upset that she’s not able to have children. Elizabeth was considered by the average Jew of her day, childless because God was angry with her.
6. So everything about Zechariah and Elizabeth is good, except for this one thing. That God has seen fit to keep her from having children. And for her, this is an incredible painful situation. She wishes it were not so. If only she could have a child. And no doubt, both Zechariah and Elizabeth have prayed and prayed, have faithfully served God and wondered why. Why can’t we have children like everybody else?
7. And it becomes time for the priests of the division of Abijah to serve in the temple. And as usually, they throw lots to see which priest should enter the holy of holies, and the lot falls to Zechariah. In other words, they determined the will of God to be Zechariah to serve as the priest and enter this most holy place.
8. And it is while he is there that he has an encounter with God and God through an angel says, “Hey, you know that prayer you’ve been praying. The one about a kid. Well, I’m going to grant it. And this kid is going to be a joy to you and a blessing to the nation. He is going to lead many of my people back to me. Oh, and name him John.” Now I know God doesn’t really talk like that. But honestly, he probably spoke in Hebrew and I don’t speak Hebrew fluently. God spoke to Zechariah in a way that there was no doubt who was doing the speaking.