Here is Zechariah – going along, doing his job and then he has a surprise visitor.
Let’s stop here for just a moment. Have you ever wondered why Luke would start the story of the birth of Christ by talking about an old married couple? How do they fit into this story of wonder, pain, hope, and truth? Yesterday, we saw how the story of our lives is not like a simple story book that we read to children with a typical plot. Instead, imagine that you are walking down the street, for every person you meet, talk to, interact with – you are connected with by a piece of thread. One of your hands is holding the thread end connected to you, the other to the other person. In even a short time, imagine how incredibly complex the pattern would be – like the most intricate lace. Out of times past, you have been handed the thread and invited to be part of this truth. Now, with thread in hand – let’s keep journeying.
We left Zechariah yesterday worshipping in the temple as others gathered outside worshiping and praying. Before entering the inner sanctuary, Zechariah took time to prepare himself to enter THE holy place in the temple. This place, the very holiest spot in the temple was only entered into by a priest at certain times and after following strict rules for preparation and cleansing. A curtain separated the most holy part of the temple from the other parts, as this was thought to be the part where God lived. This inner sanctuary was a spot that was went into with great conscious decision and preparedness, a serious expression of worship. So, there is Zechariah. He has taken time to prepare himself, washing himself, putting on special clothes, and preparing to make atonement for the people’s sins. The purpose of the priest going in was to in essence pay for, pray for forgiveness for the people who had sinned. Atonement is to compensate or to make amends or reparation. Zechariah would have approached the curtain and slipped inside.
I don’t know if he had ever been in the inner sanctuary before, did Zechariah know what to expect? Fingering the curtains, Zechariah moved into the room, past the curtains to keep the space separate. The place was too holy, too precious to be viewed by the sinful or on a casual daily basis. I wonder how the room looked as Zechariah’s feet walked in to this holy place, what a humbling task to go and try and atone for a people, his people. I wonder if he thought of specific people, maybe people whose sin had affected him personally or those he cared about.
Zechariah prayed and then – there was a surprise. An angel came, an angel! Of course Zechariah was afraid. Who wouldn’t be? I think that angels might be used to that reaction when appearing in the reflection of God’s light because they often start by saying – Do not be afraid. This particular angel, Gabriel, called Zechariah by name and telling him to not be afraid. Gabriel came to deliver news, Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was going to have son! Going on, the angel went on to tell Zechariah, “and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord,” (Luke 1: 14-15).
I can imagine that this is just too much to take in for Zechariah. First, he is in this very special place and then an angel appears, and by the way – you are going to become a dad! Then, there is even more, this son of Zechariah, John will bring many of the people of Israel, “back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord," (Luke 1:16-17). Head spinning, figuratively and perhaps even physically, Zechariah asks a question – How? Remember, he’s and older man and Elizabeth is past the age where she can have children.Let me jump in for just a minute and say first of all that God is big enough for all of our questions. I love that! I love that no matter what questions I have, God is big enough for each and every one of them. Now, God’s response may not be a three point outline in how and why something is or isn’t. At least for me, the answer is rarely that clear. Now, Zechariah questions Gabriel the angel. Responding with authority, Gabriel gives a rebuke that was fairly mild, though I imagine it felt severe at the time. Gabriel told Zechariah that because he did not believe what he was told, he would be “silent and not able to speak until the baby is born,” (Luke 1: 18-20).
Imagine coming out of the holy place, literally struck dumb by God’s angel, given a beautiful promise of a son.
I read about Zechariah and I wonder if I am approaching God, aware of His holiness. Do I take God for granted or do I pause to recognize His holy sovereignty? Sometimes, many times, I approach my God much too casually. I must remember that He is the supreme creator of the universe. Zechariah had a heart that was humbled to go into this special spot, approaching God with conscious decision. That requires not only a realization of the holiness of God, but also requires self-discipline. We are told that the word of God is nourishment for us, nourishment that never turns bad, never grows stale, never is something we outgrow. Yet, to utilize this we have to be in the Word and that requires both effort and disciplining our time. The amazing thing is that as you learn more of God’s word, the more you can learn how to listen for God’s voice and recognizing it with more clarity. Zechariah had his voice taken away from him. I’m going into that more tomorrow (would hate to spoil the surprise).