Week 4 | Section 4
God’s promises and power goes beyond our human imagination and abilities. God has a way of interrupting our mundane lives to give us great purpose, a great hope, and great joy. In today’s passage Zechariah and Elizabeth are an older couple, but they are about to be surprised by joy. Believers today would be equally blessed if we have a similar expectation of divine assistance, being humble and faithful in prayer1 and the service of God.
Scripture: Luke 1:5-252
5 There was in the days3 of Herod,4 the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the priestly division of Abijah.5 He had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous6 before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren,7 and they both were well advanced in years. 8 Now while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his division,9 according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot8 was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.9 10 The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid,10 Zacharias, because your request11 has been heard,12¯13 and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.14 14 You will have joy and gladness; and many will rejoice at his birth.15 For he will be great15 in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine16 nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.17 16 He will turn many18 of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God. 17 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 prepare a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.20 Behold, you will be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things will happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” 21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marveled that he delayed in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple. He continued making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his service were fulfilled, he departed to his house. 24 After these days Elizabeth, his wife, conceived, and she hid herself five months, saying,25 “Thus has the Lord done to me in the days in which he looked at me, to take away my reproach19 among men.”20¯21¯22
- What prayers have you offered for years on end? Do you still have faith that they will be answered?
- How do we respond when God answers a long-standing prayer at a time we least expect it?
- Talk about the power of shame and significance23 among yourselves.
- Just for fun your group might enjoy these prayers based on the MBTI.
- Discuss together your methods, habits and experiences of prayer.
- Suggested reading: With Christ in the School of Prayer, by Andrew Murray, especially chapter 11.
- As the awaited messianic arrival looms in the Incarnation, Luke takes pains to show his readers that Jesus “didn’t just appear”, like some cosmic spontaneous space dust wave. He comes into a community, a family, and a prepared place in recorded history. Each event is part of the narrative foretold in the Old Testament. Together they form a body of evidence attesting to Jesus’ messianic ministry.
- See: A History of Jerusalem, Map of the Roman Empire, and The Herodian Dynasty
- This is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Antipas succeeded his father as Roman governor of Galilee and Perea (Matt. 14:1). Antipas was responsible for the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist (Luke 3:19, 20; Matt. 14:1–12). It was this same Herod of whom Jesus stood in silence.
- A list of priestly divisions can be found in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. Each division served from Sabbath to Sabbath, or eight days, with an overlap of the first and last day. To pin point a date to this event one has to examine 500 years of history – see New Testament Chronology.
- God looks at the heart though others often look at the outward actions and appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). Still they also observed all the Lord’s commandments, for those who love God obey God. This righteousness is not to say that they were without sin, but by the expression of their devotion and reverence they were upright. See: Deuteronomy 13:4; Micah 6:8; Romans 9:30-32; Isaiah 51:1; Gal 5:4; and John 14:15,21-24, 15:10; Philippians 3:7-11; 1 John 2:3, 5:3; 2; John 1:6.
- Despite her impeccable family background, Elizabeth was barren. In those days childlessness was not just a misfortune, it was a disgrace (see Genesis 16:4, 11; 29:32; 30:1, 1 Samuel 1:5-6, 11, 2:5, 7-8).
- The priests used to cast lots, so to determine which task they would have that day. According to Gill, there were four lots: the first lot was to cleanse the altar; the second lot was who should slay the sacrifice, sprinkle the blood, remove the ashes from the innermost altar, cleanse the candlestick, bring the parts of the sacrifice to the ascent of the altar; the third lot was, to raise the incense; and the fourth lot would bring up the parts from the ascent of the altar to the altar.
- It is important to note that there was no guarantee that Zechariah, going to Jerusalem along with his division of priests, was going to be chosen to go burn the incense in the presence of the Lord. He might have been hoping for such a duty, but the scripture does not tell us that he was told divinely/prophetically/ by word of knowledge that the lot would fall to him. Thus we as readers are only left to unfounded speculation that he would have anticipated his being chosen, any more than any other. Not setting up a straw man argument here with that observation, but here is an illustration of God’s intention and might to work out His own plan. The place of the father of John, the prophesied forerunner of the messiah, in the plan of God is precariously at the mercy of men casting lots! God does make things happen, though. Might we have such faith that God is working his purpose out! Still, except for a seemingly random method of choosing “who goes first”, casting lots was a method of divine discernment under the old covenant. Thankfully, with the sending of the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to be God’s omnipresence with us, the spiritual gifts that preclude such methods provide us with the mind of Christ always.
- there is a time for each of us in the plans of God. Being prepared, and ready, just to do what we otherwise would do anyway, has led the Creation changing moment of the incarnation. And now that we have seen that these two have had their part in that plan, we will move on to the preparatory ministry of John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the line of Ajijah.
- See Colossians 1:11-12 and Mt 21:22
- His prayer for a son had no doubt been offered again and again while he was young (probably not recently as he was now old). How long shall we tarry? Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately (yes, no, wait); but sometimes we don’t hear an answer and then what? We should continue to pray and in such find our faith and patience strengthened as we wait in assurance of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness.
- Why do prayers go unanswered? See also the commentary on “timing” for answered prayer and God’s plan in the verse 24 section below. Sometimes the answer to prayer is “wait”, even though we are not told why or for how long.
- In Hebrew, “Jochanan” means “gracious” (see disgrace: Luke 1:25) and his did grow strong in the grace (spirit) of God (Luke 1:80; section 8c).
- greatness in his role (Luke 1:65,66) yet through humility as he himself later testifies I am not worthy to untie your sandals. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27). See also: Prov 11:2: 13:18
- (see also Luke 7:33) Tradition and reason indicate that John was a Nazarites,² ³ (Numbers 6:3) The term Nazarite comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated.” The Nazarite is “holy unto the Lord”. The vow: ‘three things are forbidden a Nazarite, defilement, and shaving, and whatever proceeds from the vine, whether fruit, or the refuse of fruit; but strong drink made of dates, or dried figs, and such like, is free for a Nazarite; and the strong drink which is forbidden him in the law, is strong drink made of mixture of wine.”
- Gill writes: “like Jeremiah, he was sanctified, set apart, and ordained to be the prophet of the Highest, before he came out of his mother’s womb; and was then under such an influence of the Spirit of God, as to leap in it for joy, at the salutation of the mother of Christ to his, ( Luke 1:41 Luke 1:44 ) and very early appeared to have the extraordinary gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, qualifying him for his work.”
- As disciples we are all called and commanded be prayerful and diligent in the ministry of reconciliation.
- The rabbi thought that things such as ‘barrenness’ was the result of 1) one’s own sin; 2) sin of the parents passed onto the children; 3) possession of an evil spirit. (c.f John 9:2). It’s more likely however that Elizabeth was barren due to some infirmity or genetic issue (not sin as she was “upright”). The take away from this passage is that a feeling of disgrace (or in lesser degrees: shame, self-contempt, failure, defeat, uncertainty, self-pity, and discouragement) is a thing common to most every believer – yet these ought to be foreign to believer fully trusting in God. This is not to bring more (shame) condemnation on anyone but conviction that such feelings are an indication that we must look to the Word, the finished work of Christ and receive God’s grace in that situation – and reject disgrace – for that is not our condition. We are the redeemed. While it might be our sin of omission or commission, or the judgement and gossip of busybodies it is Satan who would like to make you think you are nothing, a repulsive thing to God, and unacceptable in his sight. These are not true – Jesus is the author and protector, your savior, advocate, friend – and Lord.
- Elizabeth’s response was wildly different that that of Sarah who laughed when God told her she was to give birth to Isaac.
- It would be negligible to overlook the question, or perhaps the seeming consequence noted carefully by Luke of Elizabeth’s condition of barrenness and then the conception of a baby, and thus healing. We’ve raised the matter of the stigma of barrenness already. This matter here raises the question of “timing” of conception — God’s timing, that is. That is not a matter of healing as much as it is of “now is good.” At the least we can say, that an obvious conclusion to the divine presentation to Zechariah in the temple, and then simply “going back home” to their married lives, should result in new life, as in conception.
- On the flip side, if folks are stuck on the idea of healing of barrenness, in concert with Luke’s willingness to give testimony through both men and women, consider a “healing” from a different way. Luke does give voice to “The Lord has done this for me” through Elizabeth, and she has more to say, too. But the difference between “for” me and “to” me allows the speculation that any healing done in the process of fertility could just have likely been the work of God’s healing grace in Zechariah, rather than in Elizabeth. Even more likely, since it was to Zechariah that God presented himself through the angel in the Temple. And it was Zechariah who had to face the consequences of his disbelief at the words of the angel. So while his mouth was now shut up by God (would that this happened more often) his ability to be the fertile agent for his wife now opens. Elizabeth’s barrenness could just as easily have been Zechariah’s “fault”. The consequences of one person’s “situation” have its effect in the lives of others. Elizabeth herself does not quibble with fault; she simply gives thanks to God that conception has taken place at all, and she is now set free from the unrighteous shaming placed on her unjustly by God’s People.
- Significance comes by this means:
1. We are a beloved child of God (proven by Jesus’ eternal sacrifice – John 316)
2. You have a purpose in God’s plan of things (Eph)
3. everything else in life has its purpose for being in #2. Don’t get hung up on what you have or don’t have; what you do or can’t do; etc.
Abundance and the secret of contentment is ours in our surrender #1, #2 and delight in the sacrament of the present moment.