By Andrew E. Courtis
The people of God do fail and fall short of the glory of God. Though we desire to honour our Lord, we know too well the struggle on this side of glory. Scripture and personal experience provide us with many examples of faltering faith. But the good news for God’s people is that by God’s grace we are able to go from darkness to light, night to day, fear to faith, and trouble to triumph.
As we continue to work our way through the gospel account of Luke, we return to the events occurring in the life of Zechariah. Though he had faltered, he still proved to be faithful. In this passage, Zechariah goes from silence to singing.
1. ZECHARIAH’S SILENCE (1:57-63)
There had been 400 years of silence in the land of Israel. God had not sent any prophets. This silence was broken when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest. He had been chosen to perform some privileged duties in the temple. The angel announced to Zechariah that his barren wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son. They were to call his name John. Zechariah responded with unbelief and asked for a sign. Because of this, Zechariah was told that he would be unable to speak until these things are fulfilled. This was the discipline of grace. After he returned home his wife conceived and this was the delight of grace.
This disciplinary act of God was gracious. Zechariah’s time of silence provided him an opportunity to be still and silent, and know the greatness of God’s ways. Imagine nine months of reflection upon what God has done in is life. Sometimes we need to take time out of the business of life, pause, ponder and, praise God for who He is and what He has done. Zechariah was unable to speak for the duration of the pregnancy, but here in this passage we have some insight into what he saw during his silence after his son was born.
The Fulfillment of God’s Promise (1:57-58)
The time had come when Elizabeth gave birth to her child. This was a precious moment and I cannot begin to imagine the joy that Elizabeth experienced. She was barren for so many years, and then by God’s miraculous intervention, she was able to conceive and be with child. Luke records that “her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her” (1:58). It is a precious thing to rejoice with those who rejoice. It is an amazing occasion to see a little one come into the world. This is exactly what the Lord promised through the angel Gabriel (1:14). As Zechariah stood there and saw his newborn son, and then saw the smiles and joy on people’s faces, before his very eyes he experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise. What God says is true and what God promises will come to pass. When Israel entered the Promised Land and claimed what God had promised, we read,
“Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45)
What was said of God then continues to be true. The Scriptures tell us about us about three things God cannot do. “God cannot be temped with evil” (James 1:13); “God cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13); and “God cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Zechariah saw the fulfillment of God’s promises. The lesson here for us is to know and stand on the promises of God. The following words of the great hymn, Standing on the Promises are very true,
“Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God”
The Faithfulness of God’s Priest (1:59-63)
After the faithfulness of God’s promises, we now come to the faithfulness of God’s priest. Luke tells us “on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child” (1:59a). Every Jewish male was to be circumcised, and this was in accordance with the Law of God (Gen. 17:9-14; Lev. 12:3). The expectation of the gathered crowd was that they would name this child Zechariah after his father. But Elizabeth responded by saying, “No; he shall be called John” (1:60). It was not unusual for them to make this suggestion, but once the mother spoke that really should settle it. But the crowd continued, “None of your relatives is called by this name” (1:61). They tried to communicate with Zechariah by making hand gestures to see what he thinks (1:62). Zechariah “asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’” (1:63). This straightforward act revealed his faithfulness and full trust in the Lord. This writing tablet was probably well used, and was likely the way he and Elizabeth had been communicating the whole pregnancy. When his moment came, he was obedient to the Lord. Many times there will be all sorts of expectations placed on us. Not all of them are bad, but we must make our obedience to the Lord our priority, even when it means to go against tradition or the crowd.
2. ZECHARIAH’S SPEECH (1:64-66)
Following this act of faithfulness and faith in God, Zechariah’s silence turns into a song. Luke writes, “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” (1:64). I could imagine that after nine months of not speaking he would have a lot to say. There are many things he could have said, but what came first was praise to God. The blessing he offers up to the Lord is traditionally called The Benedictus, and it is recorded in 1:67-80. This reveals to us that what happened to Zechariah was that he has enlarged his view of God and now he responds with adoration and praise.
After he spoke, this had an effect on all the neighbors. Luke tells us that fear came upon them and people began to spread the news throughout the hill country of Judea (1:65). When people heard this they asked, “What then will this child be?” (1:66a). Obviously what had just happened here were not the usual happenings at a child’s circumcision and of his naming. This was asked because “the hand of the Lord was with him” (1:66b). So, what will become of this child? The angel Gabriel made it clear nine months earlier,
“he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and 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 make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (1:15-17).
This child came into the world with a mission. A mission that was determined by the sovereign will of God. He will prepare the way for the coming Messiah. When the Messiah comes, He will enter the scene as the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of sinners. The stage is being set. As we look back, we praise God for the fulfillment of His perfect plan.
Though Zechariah was a godly man, he faltered in his faith. By means of the discipline of grace, he was able to pause and ponder on God’s promises. This led to him responding with faithfulness and trust in God. He was ready and willing to be obedient to God. There is a practical example here for us. No matter what we have done, we are to take time to see the error of our way, repent and walk in obedience to our Lord.
But we are to remember, that in addition to the example of Zechariah, something far bigger happened in this passage. God’s promise came to pass. It was a promise that prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Let us be grateful to our Lord for His promises and the provision of salvation that is found in Christ alone.