But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”Luke 1:13
Zacharias’ couldn’t believe his ears when the lot was cast and it landed on him. As a priest, he had performed thousands of animal sacrifices, but he had never had the honor of offering incense in the Holy Place. Over 20,000 priests served at the temple, and most would never set foot inside. To have your name drawn was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Zacharias took a deep breath as he stepped inside the hallowed chamber.
The little flame he carried cast shadows around the room. To his right, he saw the table of showbread, to his left the golden lampstand, and in front of him was the altar of incense. He lit the sweet-smelling incense at the altar and bowed his head to pray. When he opened his eyes, he saw him out of the corner of his eye.
Standing in the shadows to his right, loomed the most majestic and terrifying being he’d ever seen.
The Longest Silent Treatment Ever
For 400 years, Israel had received no prophetic messages from the Lord, no miracles, and no angelic visitations. The last written words were from the prophet Malachi who foretold a preacher, like Elijah, would come and preach a message of repentance that would unite the hearts of young and old and point them back to God. But if the people did not repent, God would come with judgment. With those solemn words, the Old Testament closed, and Israel waited.
In the Holy Place that evening, the angel Gabriel broke the silence. The sight of him made Zacharias fear for his life. But the angel assured him to not be afraid and then delivered to him the most astounding news.
Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayers for a son would soon be answered. They would have a son, and he would be great in the sight of the Lord. This long-prayed-for child would be the forerunner to the Messiah, Malachi had foretold centuries before.
All of it…the news, the setting, and the messenger were too much for Zacharias. He, who had been so faithful to serve and wait on the Lord, had finally received the news he and his wife had longed for. But when his prayers were visibly answered, he refused to believe.
Seeing ≠ Believing
Zacharias and Elizabeth were too old to have a baby. So he asked Gabriel, “How could this be?” The angelic messenger responded, “I am Gabriel, and I stand in the presence of God.” In other words, is not the very sight of me enough for you to believe, Zacharias?
How often do we labor for something in prayer, asking God to act, proclaiming he is able, only to respond in disbelief when he answers? Is it because somewhere along the way, we’ve stopped praying with true belief and hope? Do we say the words, but not expect God to answer?
Perhaps that’s why Zacharias couldn’t believe the angelic message. He knew God could do it, but to protect his own heart had concluded long ago that he wouldn’t. Not even an angel sent from heaven could convince him otherwise.
The Dumbness of Disbelief
Gabriel made Zacharias mute because he refused to believe his words. For the next nine or ten months, Zacharias had a divine “time out.” His spiritual dumbness was punished with physical dumbness. And when you think about it, isn’t all unbelief dumb? When we refuse to believe what’s been clearly revealed by God’s word, we are saying to God, you’re not true, and I can’t trust you.
It’s easy to see the folly of asking an angel, “Are you sure you got your message straight?” But how often do we question God, or refuse to believe he will answer our prayers? This isn’t the prayer of “I believe, help my unbelief.” But rather the heart that says, I can’t or won’t believe.
In the coming months, Zacharias had plenty of opportunities to listen more, and talk way less. In his forced silence, he must’ve replayed this encounter over in his mind a million times and realized how foolish he had been to believe that anything was too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).
Obeying in the Waiting
Zacharias and Elizabeth were a godly couple. Their lives, service, and commitment to the keeping of the commandments were exemplary, even though they carried with them a deep sadness. Obviously, Zacharias didn’t believe perfectly, but he was faithful and obeyed what God had called him to do. Without knowing if their prayers would ever be answered, they continued to do what they knew to do.
Charles Spurgeon said, “You are meddling with Christ’s business, and neglecting your own when you fret about your lot and circumstances. You have been trying “providing” work and forgetting that it is yours to obey. Be wise and attend to the obeying, and let Christ manage the providing… Look at his heart of mercy; see if that can ever prove unkind! Look at his inscrutable wisdom; see if that will ever be at fault. Above all, look up to Jesus Christ your Intercessor, and ask yourself, while he pleads, can your Father deal ungraciously with you?”(Morning and Evening, December 19th).
Zacharias and Elizabeth couldn’t make God give them what they longed for, but they could choose to trust in the character and grace of God no matter what the outcome.
Don’t Be a Spiritual Dummy
It focuses on outcomes more than on obedience, and rejects the miraculous, in exchange for the mundane. Being a spiritual dummy is giving up on your prayers while there is still hope, or praying without faith.
Even though Zacharias initially responded in doubt, his “time out” helped him see things clearly. When his tongue was finally loosened, his lips overflowed with praise. He had been stricken dumb for a season, but now with his recovered speech, he used his words to bless God instead of cast doubt.
The fullness of time had finally arrived for Zacharias and Elizabeth. Their years of prayer were finally fulfilled with the birth of the most extraordinary baby. Even Zacharias’ divine chastisement, brought more glory to God, as people marveled at the miraculous birth of their baby. Their child was worth the wait, for he was to prepare the way for the Most High to bring salvation and forgiveness to all the world.
For decades, Zacharias and Elizabeth thought God had answered their prayers with a ‘no,’ when in fact it had only been a ‘not yet.’ Don’t be a spiritual dummy, keep praying, keep believing, and keep obeying! You never know what God may be doing with your yet-to-be-answered prayers.
Because He came,
Set the longings of your heart on Jesus this Advent Season! Color your way through the longing of every human heart as they welcomed the long-awaited Savior.
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