Posted by: pmarkrobb | December 21, 2014

Advent 2014 :: week four

He would be one of the last of his kind … but how could he have possibly known it?  God would give him a son after years and years of longing and praying … but who could have ever expected it?  He would become a supporting character in the greatest story ever told … praise be to God for sending his Son to redeem us.

You could say redemption was the “family business” for this man born in the town of Hebron.  Zechariah’s line could be traced back to Aaron (the brother of Moses) who was Israel’s first High Priest.  I love how Russ Ramsey, the author of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative describes the priesthood…

There were men among the twelve tribes of Israel who must have possessed a mysterious aura in the imaginations of children – men who always smelled like smoke and iron and who were often spattered with blood.  When one of these men passed by on the street, the children stared as their parents explained that that man’s work was bloody because it was holy.  That man was a priest, and the scent of the blood he wore was the residue of the sacrifices he offered on behalf of the people.
(p.129)

The people of Israel only spoke the language of sacrifice when it came to the forgiveness of their sins.  The priest was an irreplaceable part of that process as God’s chosen intermediary between He and His people. The priest was the only one allowed to offer sacrifices to God, and Zechariah served God faithfully in that sacred role for a great many years.

At the time we meet Zechariah in the Advent narrative, he is about to perform the once-in-a-lifetime honor of burning incense to the Lord in temple in Jerusalem.  This is a BIG deal for a priest, but God had something BIGGER waiting for His servant Zechariah.  As he begins to burn the incense, scripture says a great crowd had gathered outside and was praying.  Into the stillness of the sacred ritual, an angel appears to the right of the incense altar and completely stuns Zechariah.

Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.
Luke 1:12 (NLT)

There are several accounts of people being visited by angels in the Bible, and every single one of them communicates the same reaction … GRIPPING FEAR!  Zechariah no sooner catches his breath when the angel begins to speak,

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13 (NLT)

“Heard my prayer?!” I can imagine Zechariah saying.  “Which prayer?”  Verse 13 continues…

Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.

Okay, this is crazy!  As one who was raised in the priestly tradition, Zechariah was assuredly well versed in the stories of old.  There was precedent for miraculous blessings of children late in life, but who would ever expect it would actually happen to them?!

You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.
Luke 1:14-17 (NLT)

Okay, a still small voice announcing the blessing of having a son with a wife who is barren would be miraculous enough, but this is epic!  An angel of God appearing to announce a son that will be filled with the very Spirit of God even before birth, and who will prepare God’s chosen people for the coming Messiah and turn the hearts of the rebellious toward God?  This is a mile and half further down the road past “pinch me!”

Standing in such a moment, I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions and thoughts coursing through the heart and mind of Zechariah.  As we can, and probably have been quick to, judge the words of Thomas in requesting proof from the crucified and risen Savior, we can be equally so of the next words to come from this stunned soon-to-be father.

How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.
Luke 1:18 (NLT)

He has to be thinking that he wants to believe it, right?!  He knows the story of Abraham and Sarai, of Isaac and Rebekah.  “God can do it, I know he can,” but, oh the many miles of roads and bridges between the mind and heart of man; between the knowledge quotient of knowing and the struggle and suffering required to truly “know.”

Zechariah receives a consequence from God for his moment of unbelief.  His sentence is silence.  From that moment until a moment of God’s choosing after John’s birth, Zechariah will speak no words.  Resonant with the truth that sometimes what looks like punishment to us is actually God’s mercy, grace and love on full display, I believe this season of silence in Zechariah’s life cultivated great good.  This is a man who may have defined his life by his role to intercede for everyone else, to be God’s instrument of working out forgiveness in the lives of His people.  But there is One coming who will change that dynamic forever; One who Zechariah’s own son will prepare the hearts of God’s people to accept.  So, here’s an interesting thought … instead of Zechariah’s son following in his footsteps, he will announce the footsteps of the One who will be the final fulfillment of the priesthood.  His son announces the Son who will eventually put him out of a job.  Zechariah is a man in transition late in life, and God has just gifted the next nine months as a time dedicated to reflection and contemplation, stillness, rest and preparation.  I can only imagine the richness of that time between Zechariah and his God.

There is so much of the story that I’ll end up leaving untold.  Things like, how frustrating it must have been for Zechariah not to be able to tell his angel story to Elizabeth; Elizabeth’s time with Mary (I told that story last year); the story of his son’s birth; Zechariah’s miraculous and stirring prophecy over John when God finally loosed his tongue.   I’d encourage you to spend some time with the story as only scripture can tell it, and then a bit more time pondering all these things in your heart.

So what about you?  Is there a sincere desire of your heart which has gone unanswered by God?  Has your own “barrenness” or His silence caused you to give up hoping?  Have your prayers died somewhere along the countless miles of roads and bridges between the mind and heart of man?

The story of the Nativity is rich and profound.  It is a story of God’s redemption and the humanity we share with the baby born in Bethlehem.  It is a story of Jesus: the final High Priest, the last pure and spotless Lamb whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of all sins for all time, the King of Kings, God with us.

O come let us adore Him…

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Responses

  1. Wow! Excellent!! Thank You, Father! Zechariah’s time of silence, our time of silence, is a very special place before You. Where what seems to be “punishment” takes on the clothing of goodness and blessing. You are always for us and working toward, providing for, our good – the great joy of knowing and enjoying You! Wow! Thank You! Might we, by grace – Your grace demonstrated through the giving of Your Son -see the unseen, hear the unspoken, speak when muted, and enjoy this new life that does not rely on the physical. Your revelation – communication – is unending and ever present before us. Might we take it in regardless of our physical capacities. 🙂 You are good! 🙂

    “Be still, and know that I am God.” ———- ” I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

    Thanks for sharing your God-given thoughts, brother. I have enjoyed starting my morning with them – you. 🙂


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