Every gospel writer begins the story of Jesus in a different place. Luke does not start his account of the life of Jesus with his birth or the beginning of his public ministry. Luke begins his record with the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. Luke is a very detailed writer and calls our attention to the fact that these days are in the time of Herod, King of Judea. He was ruthless, powerful and paranoid. He murdered members of his family, and he was the one responsible for the slaughter of the children at the announcement of the birth of Jesus. This period in the history of Israel was not marked by repentance or religious zeal. There had been no word from God through a prophet in four hundred years. Malachi finished his ministry and then God was silent, which will prove significant to the context. The people still celebrated annual festivals and observed many religious traditions. But after 400 years of waiting, the culture became more and more secular. Luke presents Zechariah, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth who were righteous before God.
The name Zechariah means, ‘The Lord remembers.' Elizabeth’s name means, ‘My God is an oath.' Their union pointed to the truth that God remembers his promise. They loved and trusted God in spite of the fact that they had no children. They must have prayed to that end, but because of their age they had probably abandoned any hope of children. A tremendous day came for Zechariah as he served in the temple. Serving in the temple might have only taken place once in a lifetime. Zechariah was going to enter the Holy Place to offer prayers for the nation. People were gathered outside to see if there was any word from God. Zechariah was confronted by something he had only heard about as an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Zechariah was terrified in spite of the fact the angel told him not to be afraid and that his prayer had been heard probably concerning the redemption of Israel and the Messiah. He and his wife would have a child that would have a special commission from the Lord, and he would turn many to the Lord their God. This announcement connects the last promise of the Old Testament with the first promise of the New. Zechariah and his wife would be the parents of the prophet who would announce the Messiah and prepare the way for him. This word is too much for him to grasp and he questions how he will know. The angel replies that he is Gabriel, and he has come from God with his authority to make this announcement. Zechariah was told that he would be silent until these things took place. When Zechariah came out, he could not speak. They reasoned that he had seen something in the temple, but all he could do was make "signs." After he had completed his ministry in the temple, he went home. Imagine the frustration of not being able to articulate what had taken place, he could only communicate to Elizabeth with signs and gestures. Elizabeth conceived just as Gabriel had said but she kept the matter hidden for a time.
Elizabeth gives birth to her son and all the relatives gather. When it was time to name the boy, the crowd thought he should be named after his father, Zechariah. Elizabeth interrupted and proclaimed that his name was to be John. The group was surprised and questioned the name since it was not a family name. Zechariah confirms the name in writing. Zechariah had already been reprimanded for his lack of faith, and now God puts him to the test again. Suddenly, Zechariah could speak again because he showed his submission to God's word. These events produced a sense of wonder, and the people wondered what the child would be for God was with him. Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied before those present. Themes of redemption, covenant and mercy emerge from the lips of one who has seen, heard, and witnessed God's giving this blessed son. Zechariah, by the Spirit, understands God is not only faithful, but is visiting his people his people. God himself has come here. Luke then tells us that John grew and became strong in spirit, spending his days in the wilderness until his public appearance.
Things To Consider:
- Why do you think angels were used on multiple occasions to announce God's visiting his people?
- What does the testimony about Zechariah and Elizabeth's life tell us about their fitness for this commission?
- What does a faithful couple without children bring to mind?
- Why does God rebuke Zechariah's doubt?
- Where is your doubt in God's providence?
- What effect would being unable to speak for several months have on you?
- How do you think Zechariah was different after his voice returned?
- Consider your words. Do you need to repent of some words? Do you need to spend your words differently?