I am guessing I am not alone in having melancholy experiences where, perhaps in a moment of solitude, we take stock of our lives and wonder what unique significance they have had … what have we truly accomplished, etc. Likely we think this way more and more in the waning years. For me, I have at times bounced back and forth between feelings of the great blessing of having served in the church of Christ as a pastor, yet honestly, pastors are a dime a dozen. I have had the privilege of serving in some very interesting congregations that are larger than what most of my brethren have had, yet a voice tells me I should have done more to make them bigger and better.
I suspect the character of our focus today had some of the same melancholy moments. Zechariah has shown up for work for a lot of years as a priest in Israel. There was a privilege and blessing in doing that work, yet it was also a truth that priests were a dime a dozen. Divided into 24 divisions, his group – called the “priestly division of Abijah” – would serve in the temple one week at a time, twice a year.
And unlike the Lead Pastor at TSF who has five sons, Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth carried the sadness of childlessness … now into their elderly years. Though this did not deter them from faithfulness as “righteous in the sight of God,” it represented years of unanswered prayers and “disgrace” in the eyes of the populace of that time.
Finally, something big happens in the life of Zechariah! He wins the priestly lottery! Exactly! His number is pulled to have the honor of representing the prayers of the nation one day in the temple by taking the incense into the holy place. There were so many priests that not every last one of them would at some point in life have this honor. This would be the only time in Zechariah’s life that he would do this duty. As I liked to say as final words to my cross country teams when standing on the starting line at the state championships, “No pressure; just don’t mess up!” A host of assembled worshippers were praying just outside, awaiting his reappearance.
But what’s this? An angel is there with a strange message … of a baby to be born who would fulfill prophecies from Malachi about a person who would be a forerunner of the Messiah. This cryptic fellow would be sort of like Elijah; he would be one to bring many people back to God. We will know him as John the Baptist.
In the model of Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah has the natural child-bearing doubts associated with advanced age. The angel gives him a divine smack-down for that moment of disbelief, rendering him unable to talk for the period of the pregnancy. But it is clear to all that something of great significance has happened. Something extraordinary is piercing the routine of the mundane.
Luke writes of this (applicational thoughts to follow) …
Luke 1:5 – In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Some of the greatest characters in Scripture had lives that were 99 and 44/100ths percent routine. God used an ordinary priest in Israel – one of thousands of such men – to father a child who Jesus would speak of as “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matt. 11:11)
But note that it was before any of this happened that the inspired Scriptures say of Zechariah and Elizabeth that they both “were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” Greatness is not measured so much as the product of great efforts and accomplishments as much as it is the result of great faithfulness in the mundane routines of life. So do not weary of faithful duty and obedience day by day. We never know when something very small may be used of God to become something very big.