A PRAYER ANSWERED
by Dale D. Meredith
February 4, 2018
University Baptist Church
790 Dodge Road
Getzville, NY 14068
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
5 During the time when Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife's name was Elizabeth; she also belonged to a priestly family. 6 They both lived good lives in God's sight and obeyed fully all the Lord's laws and commands. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth could not have any, and she and Zechariah were both very old.
8 One day Zechariah was doing his work as a priest in the Temple, taking his turn in the daily service. 9 According to the custom followed by the priests, he was chosen by lot to burn incense on the altar. So he went into the Temple of the Lord, 10 while the crowd of people outside prayed during the hour when the incense was burned. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar where the incense was burned. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was alarmed and felt afraid. 13 But the angel said to him, "Don't be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. You are to name him John. 14 How glad and happy you will be, and how happy many others will be when he is born! 15 He will be a great man in the Lord's sight. He must not drink any wine or strong drink. From his very birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, 16 and he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord, strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again; he will turn disobedient people back to the way of thinking of the righteous; he will get the Lord's people ready for him."
18 Zechariah said to the angel, "How shall I know if this is so? I am an old man, and my wife is old also."
19 "I am Gabriel," the angel answered. "I stand in the presence of God, who sent me to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 But you have not believed my message, which will come true at the right time. Because you have not believed, you will be unable to speak; you will remain silent until the day my promise to you comes true."
21 In the meantime the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he was spending such a long time in the Temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them, and so they knew that he had seen a vision in the Temple. Unable to say a word, he made signs to them with his hands.
23 When his period of service in the Temple was over, Zechariah went back home. 24 Some time later his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and did not leave the house for five months. 25 "Now at last the Lord has helped me," she said. "He has taken away my public disgrace!" (Luke 1:5-25)
57 The time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard how wonderfully good the Lord had been to her, and they all rejoiced with her.
59 When the baby was a week old, they came to circumcise him, and they were going to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But his mother said, "No!" His name is to be John."
61 They said to her, "But you don't have any relative with that name!" 62 Then they made signs to his father, asking him what name he would like the boy to have.
63 Zechariah asked for a writing pad and wrote, "His name is John." How surprised they all were! 64 At that moment Zechariah was able to speak again, and he started praising God. 65 The neighbors were all filled with fear, and the news about these things spread through all the hill country of Judea. 66 Everyone who heard of it thought about it and asked, "What is this child going to be?" For it was plain that the Lord's power was upon him.
67 John's father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he spoke God's message:
68 "Let us praise the Lord, the God of Israel! He has come to the help of his people and has set them free.
69 He has provided for us a mighty Savior, a descendant of his servant David.
70 He promised through his holy prophets long ago 71 that he would save us from our enemies, from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He said he would show mercy to our ancestors and remember his sacred covenant.
73-74 With a solemn oath to our ancestor Abraham he promised to rescue us from our enemies and allow us to serve him without fear,
75 so that we might be holy and righteous before him all the days of our life.
76 "You my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High God.
You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his road for him,
77 to tell his people that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.
78 Our God is merciful and tender. He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us 79 and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace."
80 The child grew and developed in body and spirit. He lived in the desert until the day when he appeared publicly to the people of Israel. (Luke 1:57-80)
ZECHARIAH’S POSITION (1:5-7, 23-25)
Zechariah was a member of the priestly order of the family of Abijah. He and his wife Elizabeth, who was also from a priestly family, represented the highest type of Old Testament religion. “They both lived good lives in God’s sight and obeyed all the Lord’s laws and commands.” They were both very old and had no children. This was considered a “public disgrace” (Luke 1:25). It was a social disgrace because they would have no children to support them when they became very old. Every couple hoped the Messiah would be one of their descendants. Therefore, to be childless was also a religious disgrace.
When Israel settled in Canaan, the Levites were allocated no land. Each of the twenty-four family groups were assigned a day each month to serve as priests at the Temple (1 Chronicles 24:5, 10). The assignment was made by drawing lots. Drawing lots is something like how the numbers are chosen in the lottery. Each priest was then assigned his particular duty for the day his family served at the Temple by drawing lots.
One day Zechariah was chosen to burn incense on the altar. Because there were so many priests this may have been his only opportunity all year to serve in the Temple. During the hour when he burned the incense, people waited outside praying for him. Priests usually came out of the holy place as soon as possible because they feared something bad would happen to them if they didn’t do their duty correctly (Leviticus 16:13). This time Zechariah would take longer than usual during his hour of service.
ZECHARIAH’S ENCOUNTER WITH GABRIEL (1:8-22)
Zechariah was carefully and correctly burning the incense when he saw the angel Gabriel standing by the altar where the incense was burning. Zechariah became alarmed because something unusual was happening. He feared he had done something wrong and was about to be punished.
Gabriel quickly reassured him that he shouldn’t be afraid. He had come to tell Zechariah that God would answer his prayer. He and Elizabeth would have a son named John. Gabriel stated that John would follow a rule of a Nazirite as described in Numbers 6:3, He “shall abstain from wine and beer. He shall not drink any kind of drink made from grapes or eat any grapes or raisins.” In Jeremiah 35 it is explained that for some wine was a symbol of Israel’s desertion of God. In the desert during the Exodus where there was no wine, Israel had been loyal to God. But in Canaan where they had wine Israel became unfaithful. The no wine life style was a prophetic protest against a sophisticated civilization which had forgotten God. John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth and would be dedicated to God and separated from everything else.
Gabriel went on to explain that John would call the people back to God. He would bring fathers and children together. He would turn disobedient people back to serving the Lord. He would get the people of Israel ready for the Lord’s coming as stated in Malachi 4:5-6 which says that before the Lord comes, “I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will bring fathers and children together again.”
Zechariah had prayed for years that he and Elizabeth would have a son. Yet when their prayer was not answered, they continued to be faithful and serve God. Now, his only response was “What proof do I have that this will happen now that we are too old to have children?” He was saying, “It is too late, God waited to long to answer.” This seems an echo for Genesis 18:12 where it is recorded that Sarah laughed when the Lord said she would have a son even though she was old. Then next year when she was 90 years old and Abraham was 100 years old they had a son Isaac. No matter how long you have been praying, no matter how impossible it may seem, the Lord can and may yet answer your prayer. Continue to be faithful and serve God. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed and waited years and now their son would be the one who prepared Israel for Jesus.
Because Zechariah refused to accept the announcement and asked for a sign Gabriel told him he would be unable to speak until the boy was born.
ZECHARIAH’S SON (1:57-66, 80)
When John was one week old, he was circumcised. Circumcision was the symbol of the Old Testament covenant relation with God. When circumcised John became a citizen of the nation of Israel and shared in important religious privileges. He would be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He would be the last of the old covenant and introduce Jesus who would bring the new covenant between God and man.
The tradition was to name the son after the father. However, Zechariah carried out the message from God and named the baby John. When he was faithful this time Zechariah could speak again. This caused the neighbors to be in awe, because they wondered what kind of child John would be. It was plain that he was not an ordinary boy. The Lord was upon him from the beginning. He grew and developed normally in body and spirit and lived in the desert until the day he appeared publicly to the people of Israel.
ZECHARIAH’S PROPHECY (1:67-79)
Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke God’s message. It began with praise of God for what He had done and had promised to the people of Israel. He drew upon the Psalms for the first part of his message. Many of his phrases are quotes from the Psalms.
He called for all Israel to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. God had helped His people and set them free from Egypt. He provided a mighty Savior who would be a descendant of David. He had used the prophets to promise to save us from our enemies and those who hate us. He had said he would show mercy to our ancestors and remember his sacred covenant. He remembered his promise to Abraham to rescue us from our enemies and serve him without fear so that we might be holy and righteous before him. Zechariah might have also said, “And God has remembered me and answered my prayers.” Zechariah was a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. However, he didn’t draw upon the sacrificial system to explain God’s love, mercy, and care for Israel. He told of God’s mercy and how they could be holy and righteous before the sacrificial system was ever established in the Temple. He told about how they were holy and righteous in God’s sight because of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
There was a time when people had their sins forgiven by God when they turned to him in faith and confessed. David (2 Samuel 12:13) had committed sins of adultery and murder and he was forgiven when he confessed. The Lord told Jeremiah (36:3) to write, “when … they turn from their evil ways. Then I will forgive their wickedness and their sins.” This idea of evangelical salvation had died out in Israel and had been replace with the idea of work-righteousness. That is, they thought they had to do something to be right with God. They thought they could only be considered right with God if they had given something to the priests, sacrificed something at the Temple, and kept certain laws and commands. They thought their salvation depended upon what they worked for or did.
Drawing upon words from Malachi (3:1), Isaiah (40:3, 9:2), and Psalm (107:10), Zechariah next prophesied John’s mission. John would be called a prophet of the Most High God. He would go ahead of the Lord to prepare his road for him and to tell the people that they would be saved by having their sins forgiven. Zechariah said our God is merciful and tender. John would call the people to return to the light of salvation that is available to all who live in the shadow of death. John would set the stage. John would prepare people to hear Jesus. Jesus who by his life, death, and resurrection would establish the new covenant that is available to all.
ZECHARIAH’S EXAMPLE FOR US
Some things we should remember from this account of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah may have been a minor priest in the Temple, but he was faithful to do what he was assigned to do by God. He and Elizabeth lived as close as they could to how God had instructed them. The kept God’s laws and commands. God wants us to be faithful even if we consider what we do as minor contributions. It does matter not whether we think it is important. If God asks us to do it, it is important. He considers faithfulness in small tasks important even if we make mistakes and don’t do them as well as others
Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for many years before their prayer was answered. Even when it seemed the prayer wouldn’t be answered they continued to obey and serve God. It had been so long that Zechariah thought God had forgotten it, and it was too late anyway. God never forgets. It is never too late for God to act. Nothing is too hard for God. We must continue to pray, be obedient, and believe God is working for our good, and at the appropriate time we will see what He is doing.
John came to call people to return to God and to introduce Jesus to the people as the Savior of the world. What a great assignment. He was not the Messiah, but he knew the Messiah, and introduced the Messiah to the world. That sounds like the same task God calls us to do. We should recognize that we aren’t the most important person in the world. We should each accept Jesus as our Savior. And then we should introduce Jesus to the people in our world. Whether we are the caregiver, or the one being cared for, whether teacher or student, whether employer or employee, whether preacher or listener, whether rich or poor we should find some way to introduce others to Jesus. He will do what we can’t do. He will forgive us of our sins and give us life: eternal life that begins now and never ends.