03 Dec Snapshots Of Christmas: Zechariah & Elizabeth
Snapshots of Christmas…truths we learn from the characters in the story.
Meaning of the word: Chris-Mass, The celebration of Christ.
Luke 1v5-17; 23-24; 26-37
It all begins with a Jewish priest, Zechariah, who lived when Herod was king of Judea. Zechariah was a member of priestly order of Abidjan. His wife, Elizabeth was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren and now they were both very old.
One day, Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lord’s presence. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
Of the line of Aaron:
In every civilization there is a sense of class consciousness. In Jewish culture, the priestly lines were the aristocracy of the day. This would have placed these two in the upper portions of society. This upperclass was generally considered to be pious, arrogant, and unconcerned for others. They generally lived in secluded, protected portions of the city, and were often treated like royalty.
Righteous & blameless
There is a double statement in this verse. It is unusual and significant. These two were righteous in the way they lived, carefully obeying all the commands of the Scriptures. This was not abnormal for this order of people. There were many devout families in the priestly order. They were, after all, priests.
The significance comes in the phrase, “in God’s eyes.” The original term, “in the sight of God,” means, “opposite of or across from.” The idea is relational. It is the example of a person close enough in proximity to another to have their life in view.
These were not pious people. These were authentically godly people.
because Elizabeth was barren…
The stigma on Barrenness is difficult for our culture to identify with. In this culture, the commonly held perspective was that barrenness was a direct response of the negative favor of God. It was understood to be punishment on hidden sin. There are several stories and pictures in the Old Testament to support this reality.
For a woman, barrenness was terrifying. It was legal grounds for divorce, to be unable to produce an heir for her husband. In this situation, Zechariah would have been legally right to divorce her and move on.
Compounding this fear would be the natural sorrow of watching the other mother’s with children and feeling the incredible lack of a child.
As was the custom…
There were 20000 priest in the city at this time. There were so many, in fact, that each priest, in their lifetime was only allowed to serve one time, if at all. So this was his once. Zechariah was selected for this by a simple game of chance.
A great crowd…
The custom would be for the priest to come out and declare a spoken blessing over the crowd that would gather for this daily ceremony. The people are a signal to us that there was a group in this day who were turning their hearts towards God in hope of His intervention.
Why would that be odd? This is the season of time we refer to as the, “silent years.” 400 years, God has been silent in the Earth. He has not uttered His voice for 400 years. Many would have forgotten in a God that speaks, yet here we see a crowd of people praying and believing for something…
Zechariah was in the sanctuary when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son!
And you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or hard liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God.
He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will change disobedient minds to accept godly wisdom.”
“God has heard your prayer”
At first read, this does not catch us as odd or interesting. However, consider the statement, “Your prayers.” Culturally, the barrenness Elizabeth had wasn’t Zechariah’s problem. This tells us the heart in this man, who being justified to get rid of her, being legally right to separate himself from the problem, instead, decides to embrace this difficulty as his own and take it to the Lord.
There is an interesting note about the this statement by the angel as it does not necessarily mean this prayer was recent. In fact, it is a word that simply means, “at one point you prayed, and it has been heard.”
For me, that simple truth even strengthens the incredible gentleness of God towards our prayers.
He stayed at the Temple until his term of service was over, and then he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to bless you! You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to are him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age!
People used to say she was barren, but she’s already in her sixth month. For, nothing is impossible with God.
I want to spend the next few moments and zero in on these two characters, Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Their Names have meaning:
Zechariah is identified by a name that means, “God remembers.” Yet, up until this moment, in his old age, that is not his journey.
Elizabeth is identified by a name that means, “God keeps his oath,” yet, up until this moment, in her old age, she was unfruitful.
So, here in this story we have two people, who the Lord has declared his promise to, but yet, they live most of their lives not seeing it come to reality.
In fact, within this narrative, it would appear, that in the natural they have reconciled that it may never happen: v13, the Greek verb for, “your prayer,” allows for the possibility of this to mean, not only a prayer have prayed or once prayed, but “a prayer you no longer pray.”
They had believed for something. They had cried out for it. But time, life, and reality had set in.
For their situation, there was no possibility of it coming about. It was out of the realm of possibility.
But that is not how the story ends. It ends with this incredible statement the angel makes about Elizabeth,
“For nothing is impossible with God.”
This is the beginning of the Christmas story. It begins with God stepping in and meeting an impossibility.
My question for us is simple as we study these two people who lived with this heart cry before God that had moved into a realm of impossibility (age), where it seemed like their cry would never be met… What principles can we learn from their lives that would teach us how to face our own impossibility?
What does it look like to trust God with your impossibility?
- Pray. He listens to what His kids ask.
This seems simple, but it is the first principle in facing difficult and impossible situations.
Zechariah had chosen to take his sorrow, his impossibility to God. Elizabeth had chosen to take this heart desire to God.
Revelation 5v8 – Your prayers matter. Every one of them is kept in heaven. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
Failure to pray is to doubt the character of the Father and to doubt our identity as His child.
Trust him with your words.
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know this will happen? I am an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
In this moment, Zechariah is challenging the angel with a question of, “really?” This is impossible. In essence he isasking for proof.
Proof is needed when we don’t trust the character of who is speaking.
This doubt, or critical response, had tough implications. Zechariah was muted…literally made so he could not speak until the baby was born.
When we complain, it arobs the Father of our trust in His goodness.
All through the Scriptures we see different people miss their moment by complaint and murmur.
My lack of understanding His ways and methods doesn’t give me the right to complain about His leadership in my life.
I can’t trust His leadership and criticize it. The two do not go together. (life principle…not just about this!)
Elizabeth…the one who is personally, most significantly bearing the shame of barrenness has a very different response, dare I say the right response: v25, “how kind the Lord is.”
I will always have a choice in the midst of facing impossibility: Do I trust and praise His character, or do I doubt and criticize what I see.
Luke 1v8-9; 11 – One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lord’s presence.
Zechariah exhibits something that would be easy to overlook. Faithfulness.
He did not allow his sadness and heartache to inform his faithfulness.
Consider this from the point of contact with the Angel? Had Zechariah allowed a bitterness of soul to invade his heart, because of unanswered prayer, he would have missed his moment.
While your sadness and heartache over your lack doesn’t offend God, neither does it justify leaving His faithfulness to His principles and His calling on your life.
Be faithful to what He has given you.
Stay the course of what He has given you to do.
Refuse to short circuit the process of faithfulness.
There is supernatural power in faithfulness…it sets you up for Encounter.
If we look at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives, we understand that God’s faithfulness is defined by God’s timing, not ours. He is never late, even if it looks beyond possibility.
When I stay faithful to His calling and purposes in my life, I am positioning my heart to trust Him with my impossibility.
- Can we consider that what we see as an impossibility is a miraculous plan waiting to unfold?
- Can we consider that if nothing is impossible with God, then we don’t face impossibilities?