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  • Writer's pictureLaura Neal & Debbie Barcus

December 4th, 2022: Zacharias Hears from God- Luke 1: 8-20

Four hundred years had passed from when God fell silent in the scripture at the close of the book of Malachi. During the lifetime of the last Old Testament prophet, the temple had been rebuilt by the exiled Jews who returned from captivity in Babylon. Afterward, Alexander the Great conquered most of the ancient world. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided between his four Generals. Two of his generals are significant for our study of Luke chapter one. Ptolemy ruled Egypt, and Seleucus ruled over Syria. As it happened, Israel was positioned between these two rulers, who were often at war with each other, and Israel was caught in the middle.

The Egyptians were tolerant of the religious practices of Israel and even went so far as to help translate their holy writings into the Septuagint, or the Greek Old Testament. On the other hand, the Seleucid rulers were not tolerant at all. In 175 BC, the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes- who chose this name because he thought of himself as god in the flesh, began a harsh and unmerciful persecution of the Jews. He outlawed their religious practices and the practice of food laws. Antiochus is best known for his desecration of the Holy of Holies in the temple when he sacrificed a pig to Zeus there in 167 BC. Thus began the uprising of the Maccabeus family - also known as the Hasmoneans. These priestly descendants of Aaron began a revolt that succeeded. There was a rededication of the temple and the story of Hannakah, and the claim by the Jews that God performed a miracle that saved the Jews in Jerusalem. In freeing the nation of Israel from the Seleucides, Judas Maccabeus received help from a then-fledgling power, Rome. Eventually, Rome also turned against the Jews and overthrew the rule of the Maccabeus (Hasmonean) family in 63 BC. The nation was then occupied by Rome, and that is where Chapter one begins.

During this 400-year period, much is recorded in history, but no new prophets arose, new scripture was given, and God didn’t reveal anything to His people. It was a time of waiting, and for those who believed the prophecies and Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekial, a time full of expectation.

“ Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”{Malachi 4: 5-6).

And then he came.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. (Luke 1:8)

The parents of John the Baptist were Zacharias and Elizabeth. Both are descendants of Aaron from the tribe of Levi, without children, and well past the age of childbearing. Zacharias’ name means “God Remembers,” and his job at the temple is to offer incense. It is his turn to burn the incense each morning and at twilight, the same as it had been instructed by God through Moses. After 400 years of divine silence, many in Israel had forgotten about God, but God remembered them.

And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations. Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. (Exodus 30:7-9).

The fire for this offering always came from the Altar of burnt offerings.

And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: (Leviticus 16: 12-13).

The mercy seat represents the ministry of Christ. He receives the prayers of His people, and he answers them. The incense burning represented the prayers of the saints. We devalue prayer in modern society, we relegate it to religious discipline that is ineffective or equal in value to thinking positive thoughts. For the believer, prayer is far more important, and to God, it is treated very seriously. Christ is our advocate with the father. Our prayers are accepted because they reach Christ. When our prayers rise as a sweet-smelling offering to God, it is because a sacrifice has been made that has removed the separation between sinful man and our perfect God. The sacrifice of lambs in the Old Testament was a prophetic picture of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Restoration has occurred, the relationship is restored. It is world-altering when we pray through Christ and in the Spirit. Pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:17) .

And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

The worship for the day begins with the priest offering incense. In a sense, he calls the Levites and the congregation together to start the sacrifices. If we picture the setup of the temple, on Zacharias’ right would have been the table of shewbread, and on his left would be the golden lampstand. As he prays, the congregation is also praying. I can only imagine how it felt to look into the face of this angel. I am sure it was not the cute little cherub of modern interpretation that caused him to be overcome with fear. It is as if the messenger of God is saying, “You called, and Heaven has answered.”

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

There is no way to know what Zacharias actually was praying at that moment. However, I am guessing that since the angel starts off with your wife will bear a son, that maybe he was still praying for a child. He might also have been praying for the messiah to come, for forgiveness for Israel, who are once again captives, or maybe he prayed without thinking as we often do, by habit, forgetting that a real God is answering. Regardless of the quality of his prayers, it is God who has decided to deliver the answer. What he hears is Elizabeth will have a baby, and you are to call his name John. And just like that, God, unaltered by time, is intervening in the lives of his people. There will be gladness and rejoicing at John’s birth. He will be dedicated to God and serve to introduce the Savior of the World.

He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while he is in his mother’s womb. This is one of many times we are told that unborn babies are purposefully created and are known by their creators. John’s ministry is to wake up God’s people out of their spiritual coma. He will turn the children back to their Lord. He will operate in the power of Elijah to prepare a people for the Lord. The best witness to the importance of the work given to John is Jesus himself.

Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:11-15)

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

Reasonable. Zacharias is saying, “prove it to me.” When it comes to faith in what the world of God says, this is the natural reaction of man today. If there’s a God, they reason, He should prove himself to me. Zacharias, in the temple, performing priestly duties to a God he has dedicated his life to serve, should not be reacting as a natural man. He knows the word of God, he could teach the miracles done among his people. His job was to obey God on behalf of his people and to join their prayers and offerings to a real God who would hear them. Everything priests did in the temple foreshadowed what Jesus would do on the earth. And yet… “whereby shall I know this?” Zacharias did not believe that the word of God was able to overcome the barrenness of his wife’s womb, or the age and decay of his body. I wonder what Zacharias thought of God’s character. What kind of God had he been serving that this miracle seemed impossible for Him to perform?

And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Gabriel had been in the presence of God. Gabriel was a familiar name to a priest in Israel.

And I heard a man's voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. (Daniel 8:16) Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. (Daniel 9:21)

Of course, Zacharias knew the book of Daniel. As his mind began to open, his memory began to clear that these glad tidings were about far more than just his son. There are consequences to doubting God. He would not be able to speak until the day John was born. The Messiah is coming, and John will have the honor to go before him to get God’s people ready. He will operate in the spirit and power of Elijah. As the truth dawns on Zacharias, He is unable to share this glorious news with anyone. When the time is right, Gabriel says, this will happen; and it did. For now, we will stop here and pick up next week when Zachariah regains his ability to speak. Keep in mind that priests were to speak as oracles of God. When Zacharias disbelieved God, he lost the ability to speak completely. The priests at the coming of Christ had compromised the word of God and had added and taken away from it, thereby losing their ability to speak with any authority to the people.

I want you to take note that Zacharias’ silence speaks volumes. Everyone is now concerned about what has happened to the old priest. The silence of God for 400 years spoke powerfully of the separation that sin had caused. The first step to salvation is to recognize your desperate need. I remember how it felt to be outside of the right relationship with God. To try and make sense of the world without the reassurance of his word and without the presence of his Spirit. It is the fear of eternal separation in Hell that compelled me to receive the message of the gospel. Even God’s silence in your life is a gift of grace, it will cause you to seek Him, and when He is sought, He is always found.

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Thank you for studying with us! God bless!



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