A childless couple had a great burden to bear in biblical times. Even in today's society, there are stigmas attached to couples who cannot have children, but today's pressures cannot compare with the shame inflicted upon couples 2,000 years ago.
Such was the problem faced by Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their problem was magnified by the fact that Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth was also of the line of Aaron (v. 5). They were upright and blameless in the work of the Lord (v. 6). Thus, they were not expected to be cursed by God, and that is exactly what being childless was considered.
All of this is about to change. Zechariah is about to have an amazing encounter with an angel of the Lord. Promises will be made to him that will seem unbelievable. These promises form the basis of the lesson.
The first promise is remarkable enough on its own. Zechariah is promised a child. Verse 7 describes for us the significance of the promise. Zechariah and Elizabeth were both "well along in years." In short, they were too old to be having a baby. Yet the announcement has been made by an angel of the Lord. The promise to Zechariah is also greater and more specific than just that he will have a child. The promise is that the child will be born to him and to Elizabeth his aged wife. His child will be born through his beloved spouse, and not through anyone else. Most significantly, their child will be a son (v. 13). Any child would be a miracle, but the promise of a son must certainly have been beyond Zechariah's greatest expectations.
One cannot help comparing this event to God's revelation and promise to Abraham. God also promised Abraham his aged wife Sarah would have a son. Like Zechariah, Abraham found this promise to be less than immediately believable. The son born of such a miracle would be the foundation for a great and mighty work of God. These thoughts had to be racing through the mind of Zechariah the priest. The groundwork had been laid that his son would be special.
The second promise deals with how special his son will be. Verses 14-17 provide a description of the son. The characteristics mentioned in verses 14-16 would make any father proud. "Many will rejoice because of his birth." "He will be great in the sight of the Lord." "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." "Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God." These promises all point to the fact that Zechariah's son will be a great man.
Verse 17, however, must have stopped Zechariah cold. As a priest, there is no way he could have misunderstood the last words of this promise. The promise spoken by the angel is that his son will be the forerunner of the Messiah. Zechariah knew the words of the prophets concerning the events of the Messiah. He knew that a prophet would come in the power and spirit of Elijah to turn the hearts of the people and to prepare them for the coming of the Lord. Verse 17 is almost a direct quote of Malachi 4:5-6. Yes, Zechariah knows that one is coming to make a path for the Lord, and the angel has just told him that this prophet will be his son.
It is no wonder Zechariah has a difficult time believing such a message could be true. The significance of the prophecy is beyond our realm of understanding.
Verses 57-80 record the fulfillment of the angel's promise. Elizabeth gives birth to a son, John. Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, declares the promise made to him regarding his son. He gives the boy his mission (vv. 76-77) and proclaims the coming glory of the Lord. God has fulfilled his promise not only to him personally, but the promise made to all people of a coming Savior.
Part of this lesson deals with our own struggles to discover God's plan in our lives. Zechariah and Elizabeth must have questioned their place in God's design. While they obviously had been faithful and sincere, they must have wondered if they really mattered. Their lives seemed almost over and nothing significant had occurred in or through them. Zechariah had been a faithful priest, but what had come from that? Was this all there was for them?
Amazingly, God was not yet through with the two of them. He had great things planned for them that were beyond their ability to imagine. Sometimes God still works that way in our lives today. His plan is not readily apparent and may even seem delayed. But when his timing and his direction come together, incredible things can happen. Prophecy and scripture can be fulfilled, and the kingdom of God can appear, all through us. We should probably be speechless too.
Bible Study: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80
Public Domain Image • Zechariah and St. John, Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem
Image • St