Punished for Lack of Faith
The gospel writer Luke described Zacharias and Elizabeth as an elderly couple, “both advanced in years,” and without children. “Elizabeth was barren.” Zechariah was a priest who married a woman of priestly descent. “They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6).
Zacharias had the honor “to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (v. 9). “And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering” (v. 10).
It was a very special time for the elderly priest. He and his wife had prayed often and for many years for a son to carry on his family name, and to fill their lives with joy.
Imagine what it was like that day in the temple when “an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense” in the Holy Place (v. 11). “Fear gripped” Zacharias as he listened to the angel.
“Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you will give him the name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (vv. 13-14).
God answered the prayers of this righteous couple in a most impressive manner. But it was not only a message of importance exclusively for this humble couple; it was an important word for the people of Israel.
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God” (vv. 15-16, cf. v. 41). God has chosen this child for a special purpose. He will have a special anointing of the Holy Spirit “while yet in his mother’s womb,” and his message will be the instrument of God to bring a revival in the nation.
His presence will remind people of “the spirit and power of Elijah,” and his message will be used “to prepare a people” for the coming of the Lord (v. 17). This child to be born will prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.
God answers prayers! He does the impossible. He accomplishes His eternal purposes in the most astonishing manner. “And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant . . .” (v. 24). It was not a virgin birth, but a natural conception. Elizabeth became pregnant. How beautiful.
What was the reaction of the father to be when God’s messenger brought the good news? “How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v. 18).
It was enough that God said He was answering Zachariah’s prayers. Gabriel had just given Zachariah the evidence. God’s word is a good enough reason.
When the answer came Zachariah was astounded and filled with amazement. He was not expecting God to answer his prayers, because a secret unbelief lay hidden away in his heart. God is faithful, and His consistent faithfulness reveals our hollow and shallow faith. When the answer came, Zachariah could not believe it!
When God answers our prayers we often are astonished and filled with amazement. Like Zachariah, we have heard the promises and we have asked God in sincere prayer, and when God says yes we are surprised. We are not strangers to the blessings of God’s eternal and unchanging love. The angel said, “Your prayer has been heard.” God’s purposes are being fulfilled in you.
Zachariah wanted a sign. He wanted a fleece, and he got it! Gabriel was put out with Zachariah’s unbelief. “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things shall take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time” (v. 20).
Zachariah did not speak a word for nine months! What if God did the same thing to you and me in our unbelief? How long would we remain silent? Do we tempt God in a similar manner? What guarantees do we go asking for when God speaks? Do we go “looking for some minute circumstances to verify a magnificent promise”? Do we make our feelings a kind of test of our acceptance of God’s word? I will not believe unless I ____? What? Why should God tolerate our unbelief and chastise Zachariah? What has God done to chasten your unbelief? What if God said to you or me, “If that is the way you witness to My faithfulness, you shall never speak again”? God be merciful to your servant for we, too, are like Zachariah. Thank God, “If we believe not, yet He abides faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”
Zachariah could not bless the people who waited anxiously outside for the blessing. He could not speak a word. He could give no instruction, or a word of praise, or even tell them what God has said to him. He was a useless servant. He was as good as dead for nine months until his son John was born. He would would grow up to be “John The Baptizer.”
After John’s birth, God loosed his tongue, and he poured out praise to God and prophesied under the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 64-79). May the God of grace loosen our tongues as well.