Brooklands Gospel Centre

Dundonald, Northern Ireland

Worthy is the LAMB that was slain

Revelation 5:12

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Zacharias and Elizabeth

“And the angel said to him, Do not be afraid Zacharias for your prayer is heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth”  Luke 7:13-14

On the human level the situation that had been developing in this home over many years is not an isolated one. Many families have been longing for children without success as the time of child bearing passed. Biblically we can recall two similar cases; Abram and Sarai, Elkana and Hanna. But in both families as with Zacharias and Elizabeth divine intervention enabled the impossible to happen, resulting in the births of Isaac, Samuel and John!  The signification of this is foundational. Three homes that not only reverberated with joy and gladness, but the fruit of the womb produced men who would perform specific roles in fulfilling God’s plans and purposes for the ultimate salvation, not only for the nation of Israel, but for the world.

We are introduced to Zacharias (the Lord remembers) and Elizabeth (oath of God) against the background of Zacharias priestly service in the temple. The narrative records that he was “of the house of Abijah” mentioned as one of the priests who returned with Zerubbabel to Jerusalem from captivity. (Nehemiah 12:17). Of Elizabeth it is recorded that she was a “wife of the daughters of the house of Aaron.” This in New Testament language was an equal yoke.

John MacArthur, records in his Commentary, “…his lot fell to burn incense... A high honour (Exodus 30:7 and 2 Chronicles 29:11) because of the large number of priests, most would never be chosen for such activity, and no one was permitted to serve in this capacity twice. Zacharias, no doubt, regarded this as a supreme moment in a lifetime of priestly service… The lone priest offered the incense morning and evening while the rest of the priests and worshippers   stood outside the holy place in prayer (Luke 19).

In Luke 1:18, at first when the angel appears to Zacharias he was terrified, such an appearance would have been unknown to priests. The angel tells him “Do not be afraid” and announces that his wife would bear a son and his name would be John. “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” The home that for years had been filled with a sad emptiness would be radically changed! The angel then outlined in detail what kind of man this son would be and the unique roll he would fulfil, summarised   “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb ...He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” It is interesting to note that the next reference by Luke to “joy” is in chapter 2:10. The angel said to the shepherds, “behold I bring you good  tidings of great joy which shall be to all people .For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord”.  The joy in one home is now going to extend to another. This time, however, the birth place is a stable! Yet despite such a wonderful character reference given by the angel and the promise of a joyous future, Zacharias expresses doubt and disbelief that such a thing could be possible.   For an ordinary man to doubt an angel is understandable but for an honoured priest to do so was serious. The angel responds, “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God; and was sent to speak unto you, and to bring you these glad tidings.”  This latter is the word ‘gospel’, thus the message was one initiating salvation. The Messiah, Saviour, who would “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) was on His way! This child would be His forerunner. The apostle John in his Gospel (ch.1:6-12) tells us, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that although him might believe.”

When it comes to the gospel, the good news of salvation, there can be, must be NO unbelief! Consequently, Zacharias’ disbelief was immediately and unambiguously followed by another announcement, “you will be mute and not able to speak until these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time.”  However, humanity being what it is, we can pray without really believing.  Zacharias might have reasoned, if Elizabeth is barren, what is the point of praying? Added to this there was the stigma of childlessness as we shall see.  Meditating on the angel’s message we should note the word “until.”  With our God there is always an “UNTIL”. His certain purposes will be fulfilled.    

Zacharias’ delay in emerging from the temple caused no little concern “And the people waited for Zacharias marvelled that he tarried in the temple.” (Ch. 1:21)  It is not difficult imagine the concerned whisperings that would intensify as time passed, what could be wrong?   When finally he did emerge   he could not speak and endeavoured to communicate to them by hand signs, “they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple,” His speechless communications somehow must have indicated the main content of the message and the reason for the delay. We are not told the length of time “the days of his ministrations” in the temple lasted but when completed he returned to his home. We learn later that his house “was in the hill country, a city of Judah“ (Ch. 1:39).

A curtain is pulled across the succeeding months. The scripture simply tells us that “Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived and she hid herself five months, saying, thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Obviously as year had followed year and the situation became more hopeless Elizabeth would wonder why she was unable to produce a child and the reproach that would bring.  Back in Genesis 30:23 it is said of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, “and she conceived and bare a son: and said, God has taken away my reproach.” We have also only to read the turmoil of soul Hannah experienced as she was taunted by Peninnah, her rival, due to childlessness (1 Samuel 1:5-10).

Now the angel’s prophecy is as he said. The miracle had taken place. Elizabeth was with child, sadness had turned in to joyful expectation. The next reference we have to Elizabeth is the close association she has with Mary, now the expectant mother of the Messiah. The angel addresses Mary, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her who is called barren. For with God nothing is impossible” (vv36-37). This news must have come as a shock to Mary, knowing Elizabeth’s advanced age. She herself no doubt endeavouring to take in the implications of her own miraculous pregnancy decides to travel south from the Galilee to Judea and visit her. On arrival we are told that when Elizabeth “heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leapt in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Thus controlled her mind is taken from her own glad situation to an even greater joy; she was looking into the face not only of another expectant mother, but “the mother of my Lord!” The promise of the long expected Messiah would soon be fulfilled. It is no wonder that Elizabeth was totally overcome and raising her voice she authenticated that the babe in Mary’s womb was “my Lord,” because the child’s behaviour in her own womb had supernaturally confirmed this.  Furthermore, she expresses surprise that Mary was visiting her and not the reverse!  The visit lasted about three months.  What a precious time for both of these privileged woman that must have been. But like so much in Scripture human curiosity is not rewarded.

Elizabeth’s time was fulfilled for the birth of her son. Her neighbours and relatives joined in the celebrations of the birth and eight days later the requirements of the law were enacted. Two things happened; the child was circumcised and given a name. The former was physical evidence of God’s covenant made with Abraham (Genesis 17:8-12). As for the name, tradition demanded that the first born, if a son, would take the father’s name. In this case, human protocol was set aside and Elizabeth announced his name would be John! What a surprise. The gathered company remonstrated. There were no John’s in the family!  Zacharias, his father standing there, still unable to speak, is called upon to comment on his wife’s pronouncement.  To their amazement he confirmed in writing, “His name is John... Immediately is mouth was opened and his tongue loosed and he spoke praising God”.

We need now to note Zacharias first words. They were not about what happened in the temple when he came out dumb so many months previous, nor about the circumstances surrounding the birth of his son, or his name. Humanly speaking the concentration of his devotions and joy should have been centred on his newly born. But no! They were about redemption for his people and salvation for the house of David! So he bursts forth, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel. For He has visited and redeemed his people… And to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham… that we might serve him in holiness and righteousness” (vv 68-75). Zacharias uses the past tense when speaking of the “visitation” as prophetically he sees it all already accomplished. It is only after he concludes this hymn of thanksgiving and praise that he turns his attention to the infant. Beginning with “And you child will be called the prophet of the highest, and concluding, “To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. And to guide our feet into the way of peace” (vv76-79)

What a remarkable conclusion to a lifetime of expectation. The outcome surely was this special family’s ultimate joy!


April 2012

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