His People: Zacharias

*I like the spelling of Zacharias opposed to Zechariah. I will be using Zacharias when talking about Elizabeth’s husband in this post.*

I often get swept up in tradition, duty, and service to God. Each of these is good, even noble. Yet, I scarcely expect God to show up, to do something that brings me to my knees; an encounter that shapes my thoughts on being faithful to God, to His faithfulness to me. I unequivocally believe that obedience to God is how we heed to His love in our lives. But obedience isn’t a duty. It is a lifestyle. It is, as my sister says, “breathing in Jesus and breathing out peace”. It leads to a holy ground encounter with God. It shifts our focus from what we can do for God, to worshipping God for who He is. This is what Zacharias learns when the presence of God shows up…

I picture Zacharias and Elizabeth as grandparent figures to their community. Even though, at the time we first meet them they have no children of their own, I envision them being a faithful and loving couple that shepherd the flock around them, particularly the children. After all, Mary chose this couple to be the first people she shared her pregnancy with, above her parents or Joseph. This speaks volumes to the people they were. This will also be particularly poignant for John “preparing the way of the Lord”.

Here is what the Holy Scriptures says about Zacharias and his wife:

“They were good and just people in God’s sight, walking with integrity in the Lord’s ways and laws. Yet they had this sadness. Due to Elizabeth’s infertility, they were childless, and at this time, they were both quite old – well past normal childbearing years.” – Luke 1: 6-7 (The Voice)

Next week we will learn more about Elizabeth’s barren journey born on the shoulders of God’s promises and the hope of His goodness. But, understand, in Biblical times, that this would be dyer. Children, a boy in particular, were a sign of God’s favor. Zacharias was a priest from the division of Abijah. Not having an heir to carry on this legacy had to be a difficult thing.

Zacharias was faithful to the Lord. He pleased the Lord. Yet, he still wanted. He desired more. Perhaps he had mourned a child and had moved past believing God would provide Him an heir. This is presumption only, but I am of the opinion that He was okay with the lot God had given him. He loved God and he loved Elizabeth. A miracle was just outside Zacharias’s peripheral vision. He couldn’t quite see it. While I am certain he prayed for an heir, I don’t think he ever envisioned God working such miracle in his own life.

He was getting ready to see the awesome scope of what God could do with faithfulness. He was stepping into a space where His faith would be tested. Our Lord was getting ready to take Zacharias outside his comfort zone.

“One day Zacharias was chosen to perform his priestly duties in God’s presence, according to the temple’s normal schedule and routine. He had been selected from all the priests by the customary procedure of casting lots for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter the sacred precincts of the temple. There he burned sweet incense, while outside a large crowd prayed.” – Luke 1: 8-10 (The Voice)

What an honor for Zacharias to be chosen from all other priests to perform these priestly duties. He went in service of God and His people.  He came out having an encounter with God Most High. Isn’t it just like God to flip the script and shape one’s heart to receive His miracle?

I can only imagine the experience Zacharias had when Gabriel met him in the temple.

“God swept away the cloud of incense & made his presence known by the way of an angel.” (P. 13, Higgs, Women of Christmas)

Oh how duty bound we are to God. We go to church three times a week, volunteer our services, give freely to charity, and read our Bible on a daily basis. And, how often do we actually expect God to show up? Really show up? Brother Jesse often speaks of God having the right to come and interrupt our plans. God, in this moment, is going to give Zacharias a “faith-filled heart”. It will no longer be about what he can do for God, but what God has done for him.

Listen to the declaration of who John will be (as Zacharias and Elizabeth prayed for a child how could they have possibly predicted who that child would be? He was more than they could ever hope for?):

“Zacharias, your prayers have been heard. Your wife is going to have a son, and you will name him John. He will bring you great joy and happiness – and many will share your joy at John’s birth. This son of yours will be a great man in God’s sight. He will not drink alcohol in any form; instead of alcoholic sprits, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is in his mother’s womb. Here is his mission: he will turn many of the children of Israel around to follow the path to the Lord their God. Do you remember the prophecy about someone to come in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; someone who will turn the hearts of the disobedient to the mind-set of the just and good? Your son is the one who will fulfill this prophecy: he will be the Lord’s forerunner, the one who will prepare the people and make them ready for God.” – Luke 1: 13b – 17 (The Voice)

Wow! I am sure Zacharias was expecting a spiritual experience derived from ritual and duty. Yet, I doubt he expected to have and encounter with the “strength of God”, which is what Gabriel’s name means. A holy ground life changing encounter with the Most High God will manifest itself in a way that others will see. Zacharias’s voice was stripped from him until the birth of John because he doubted. Yet, doubt does not take away the blessing of God. In fact, Zacharias lack of voice let the people who were outside praying know that he had an encounter, had seen a vision. This seemingly crippling hindrance became a way for the blessing to take shape and bloom.

How contemplative Zacharias must have been during this time as he watched Elizabeth grow to fullness in her pregnancy? The quiet, many believe he was not only stripped of speech but also hearing, became a space to reflect. By the end of the internment, Zacharias is well aware of the complete surrender to faith. God’s faithfulness leads him to worship.

It was at the circumcision and naming of his son that God restores Zacharias’s voice. And, he uses it to worship:

“May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed! For God’s intervention has begun, and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God. And the Lord has raised up a powerful sign of liberation for us among the descendants of God’s servant, King David. As was prophesied through the mouths of His holy prophets in ancient times: God will liberate us from our enemies and from the hand of our oppressors!

 God will show mercy promised to our ancestors, upholding the abiding covenant He made with them, remembering the original vow He swore to Abraham, from whom we are all descended. God will rescue us from the grasp of our enemies so that we may serve Him without fear all our days in holiness and justice, in the presence of the Lord.

 And you, my son, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will be the one to prepare the way of the Lord so that the Lord’s people will receive knowledge of their freedom through the forgiveness of their sins.

All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God. A new day is dawning: the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness, and those who huddle in night, those who sit in the shadow of death, will be able to rise and walk in the light, guided in the pathway of peace.” – Luke 1: 68-79 (The Voice)

Next week we will spend some time with Elizabeth and how she held onto hope in the midst of sorrow...


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