THE ANNOUNCEMENT TO ZACHARIAS

LUKE 1:5-25

But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. (Galatians 4:4).

For the last 400 years there has been no word from God. The prophet Malachi was the last voice to speak the Word of the Lord to Israel. Since that time, God has been silent. There have been a period of waiting. Four hundred years have passed. It seems as though God is waiting for an appointed time before He will begin His program.

As we begin this chapter, we will see God breaking this 400 years of silence as He begins a new program in His dealings with His people. The years of waiting are over. The appointed time is at hand.

As we begin with the first two chapters of Lukeís account, we will be impressed by the Jewish flavor of its style and structure. The literary Greek that Luke normally uses almost seems to disappear. In its place is the most Hebrew-sounding passage in all of Lukeís writings. For this reason, many Bible scholars have suggested that Luke was using written documents as his primary source for these two chapters.

Luke will record four songs in these two chapters.

a. Maryís Song (1:46-55).

b. Zachariasís Song (1:68-79).

c. The Song of the Angels (2:14).

d. Simeonís Song (2:29-32).

No other gospel account records these four songs. They are exclusive to Luke.

 

ZACHARIAS AND ELIZABETH

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7).

Luke begins his narrative with a historical note. This will be a common feature of Luke. He begins by noting that these events took place in the days of Herod.

  1. The Political Setting: In the days of Herod (1:5).
  2. This is Herod the Great. He had served Rome as the governor of Galilee when he was still a young man. When his father died, the Jews had revolted and Herod had to flee for his life. He escaped to Rome where he was befriended by Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). Under his sponsorship, Herod was appointed to be King of Judea by the Roman Senate. He returned to Israel at the head of a Roman legion and ruthlessly put down the rebellion. To secure his position on the throne of Judea, he had married Mariamne, the last of the Hasmonean Dynasty. During his reign, he began a great building program throughout his kingdom. He expanded the Temple area with a construction program that began in 20 B.C. and was still going on in the days of Jesus (John 2:20).

    Herod proved to be a troubled man. He murdered his wife in a fit of rage. He later murdered two of his sons. It was this act that brought about the comment by Octavius:

    It is better to he Herodís hus [pig]

    than to be Herodís huios [son].

    Herod would not kill a pig and eat it because he followed the Jewish dietary laws, but he had killed his own sons. Before his death, he would murder every young child in Bethlehem.

    The fact that our story begins in the days of Herod tells us something. There was a degenerate king upon the throne of Judea. Thus, there was a POLITICAL need for the Messiah to come.

  3. The Religious Setting: There was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah (1:5).
  4. This man was a priest of the division of Abijah. During the reign of King David, the priests had been organized into 24 divisions (1 Chronicles 24:1-6). Each of these divisions would take turns serving within the temple. The eighth division was the Course of Abijah.

    Zacharias was a priest. But he was not the high priest. The high priest was Mattathias, son of Theophilus. He had been appointed as high priest by Herod the Great. The high priest was Herodís man.

    Do you see what this means? There was a degenerate high priest in the temple of Jerusalem. Thus. there was a SPIRITUAL need for the Messiah to come.

  5. The Family Setting: A certain priest named Zacharias... and her name was Elizabeth (1:5).

To be a priest was considered to be a great honor. However, to be a priest and to be married to the daughter of a priest was considered a double honor.

When you place these two names together, you begin to see the truth that "God remembers His promise." What would this promise refer to? It is the promise of a Forerunner to go before the Messiah. In the very last prophecy of the very last book of the Old Testament, God gave this promise:

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6).

This was the last promise that God had given. The last time that God had spoken to man, He had spoken these words. There are the promise of a prophet. He would have a special ministry. He would turn the hearts of the people to God.

However, Elizabeth and Zacharias had a problem. They had no child (1:7). And, to make matters worse, they had no prospects of having a child.

Elizabeth was barren. They were both advanced in years. The use of the perfect tense indicates that they had been advanced in years some time ago with the result that now they were VERY advanced in years.

What is wrong with being barren? In these days of birth control and abortion, it may be difficult to identify with their problem. The Jews thought of barrenness as a sign of Godís disfavor. Fertility was one of the blessings that God had promised as a result of obedience.

You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall be no male or female barren among you or your cattle. (Deuteronomy 7:14).

Zacharias and Elizabeth appear to be in a hopeless situation. There is a principle here. It is that God often places us into a hopeless situation so that we will turn to Him. You see, faith is dependence on God. And that God-dependence only begins when self-dependence ends.

God is the master of the impossible situation. And when you throw up your hand and say, "I canít do it!" that is when He steps in and says, "I can"

 

THE OFFERING OF INCENSE

Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. (Luke 1:8-10).

As we have mentioned previously, the entire priesthood was divided into 24 courses (1 Chronicles 24:1-6; 2 Chronicles 24:10). There were about 1000 priests in each course. Each course would he assigned to minister in the temple for one week every six months. After the week was over, another course would come in for its week of ministrations. It was during Zachariasís week of ministrations that this account begins.

He was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense (1:9). Each morning during this week, lots were drawn to determine which priest would be permitted to enter into the temple and burn the incense. According to the Talmud, a priest could only be chosen for this honor once during his lifetime. Therefore, this event was considered to be the greatest moment in the life of any priest.

Try to visualize the scene. It is the time of the morning sacrifice. The sun is just beginning to rise in the east, casting golden rays from behind the Mount of Olive.

In the early morning light, the priests of the division of Abijah have assembled within the temple area. The lots are drawn and the lot falls to Zacharias.

The old priest has been coming to the temple once every six months for many years. This is the first time that he has ever been granted this privilege. He will never be allowed to do this service again. This is the most important moment in his life.

Once the morning sacrifice has been offered and its blood dipped on the horns of the great altar outside the temple, Zacharias climbs the steps leading up to the temple porch and passes through the great gold-leaved doors into the Holy Place.

With Zacharias are two other priests who have been chosen to assist him in this service. The first priest removes the old coals that have been left from the previous evening s service. He then retires from the temple. The second priest now advances and spreads the live coals across the altar and then he also retires.

Now Zacharias stands alone in the temple. A thousand priests stand outside, and thousands of worshipers have gathered beyond in the Court of Israel. But in here it is quiet.

Zacharias stands alone in the temple. To his left is the golden lampstand, bathing the interior of the temple in the soft glow of its burnign lamps. To his right is the table of shewbread. Before him hangs a great woven veil which serves as the doorway to the Holy of Holies. In front of the veil stands the altar of incense. It is made of wood and completely overlaid with pure gold. Its hot coals glow dimly in the faint light of the temple. Zacharias steps up to the altar and begins to spread the incense over the altar. Suddenly he is interrupted.

 

THE ANNOUNCEMENT TO ZACHARIAS

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.

And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him.

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

"And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

"For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine of liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother s womb.

"And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.

"And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:11-17).

Just as Zacharias begins to sprinkle the incense upon the altar, an angel stands before him. We do not know what this angel looked like, but it seems obvious from the reaction of Zacharias that he recognizes this as an angel almost immediately.

Before we judge Zacharias too harshly, letís consider what he was and what he was doing. This is the most important event in his life. He is alone in the temple, giving service to the Lord. He is in the very presence of God. He is really on the spot.

Suddenly an angel appears before him. We can imagine what must have gone through his mind. He had goofed! He had committed some sacrilege and God is now going to kill him!

But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid" (1:13). This is usually the first thing that an angel says when he comes before a human (Daniel 10:12; Luke 1:30; 2:10; Acts 28: 24). It is likely written in the Angelic Training Manual under the chapter entitled: "Communicating With Humans."

"Your petition has been heard" (1:13).

What petition does this refer to? Apparently, Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying for something. They had been praying for a child. It is possible that they had been praying this way for 40 years or more. In all those years they had not had a child. Now it is humanly impossible. They are too old. Nothing short of a miracle will allow them to have a child.

This is the way God works. He answers prayers according to His timing. He waits until it is humanly impossible and then He steps in.

Why does God work this way? Why does He wait until the situation is humanly impossible? I think that it is so we will be forced to give Him the glory.

"And you will give him the name John" (1:13).

The name "John" is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew name "Yhohanan." It means "gift of Yahweh." It was a common name among the Jews of this period. However, I think that this is a name with meaning. "Gift of Yahweh." It is a name that describes what God is doing in the lives of Zacharias and Elizabeth. It is a name that describes what God is doing in my life and in your life.

"It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him" (1:17).

Now I want to ask you a question. Who is John the Baptist going to go before? Historically, we know that he preceded Jesus as His forerunner. However if we look at the context of this passage, we see that the "Him" of verse 17 refers back to "the Lord" in verse 16.

"In the spirit and power of Elijah" (1:17).

Elijah was always considered to be one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. He was the worldís best weather forecaster. He predicted that it would not rain for three years and it did not rain. He stood before the king of Israel and condemned him. He prayed and a dead boy came to life. He challenged the religious apostasy of the entire nation of Israel at Mount Carmel. He did not die; instead he was taken up alive into heaven.

Four hundred years after Elijah was removed from the scene, a prophecy was made concerning him.

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:5-6).

Malachi had been the last of the Old Testament prophets. This was the last of his prophecies. After this prophecy, there had been silence.

Now, a son is going to be born to Zacharias who will go before God in the spirit and power of Elijah. The message that he will preach will be similar to that which Elijah preached. It will be a message of repentance.

"To make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (1:17).

The primary reason for the ministry of John the Baptist will be to make people ready to receive their Messiah. They are to make ready for the coming of the Lord.

 

THE REACTION OF ZACHARIAS

And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." (Luke 1:16).

The reaction of Zacharias can be summed up in one word: UNBELIEF. Here is a man who has been praying for a child. An angel appears to him inside the temple and tells him that his prayer has been answered. What is his reaction? "How do I know that you are telling the truth?"

Notice the reasons for his doubt.

(1) I am an old man.

(2) My wife is advanced in years.

The problem with Zacharias is that he had a very limited view of God. He did not really believe that God had the power to give him a son.

We often have the same problem. It is reflected in our prayer life. Do we pray like we really believed that we were speaking to the God of the Universe?

Here is the principle. There is a direct correlation between the reality of your faith and the perseverance of your prayers. If you believed better, you would pray more.

 

THE SIGN TO ZACHARIAS

And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.

"And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time."

And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple.

But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remaining mute.

And it came about, when the days of his priestly service were ended, that he went back home. (Luke 1:19-23).

In his unbelief, Zacharias has asked for a sign. He has asked for some credentials. He has said in effect, "Who are you and how do I know that what you say is true?"

The answer will come in two parts:

The Name of the Angel: "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God" (1:19).

The name "Gabriel" is a compound. It is made up of two Hebrew words.

Zacharias had heard of Gabriel before. Gabriel had appeared twice to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 6:16; 9:21). The first time he had interpreted Daniel s vision of the Ram and the He-goat. The second time he had given Daniel the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.

The Sign of Power: "You shall be silent and unable to speak" (1:20).

Because Zacharias had spoken in unbelief when asking for a sign, he would now be silenced until this prophecy had been completely fulfilled. He had asked for a sign. He would now receive a sign. He had questioned the power of God. Now he was given a sample of Godís power.

The Waiting of the People: And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple (1:21).

All this time, the 1000 priests and the multitude of morning worshipers have been gathered outside the temple. It is the time of the morning prayers. As the incense burns and fills the temple, seeping out and drifting into the sky, so their prayers will be ascending to heaven. But there has been a delay. Zacharias has gone into the temple. His two assistants have long since come out. The period of waiting lengthens.

This was highly unusual. The Talmud taught that it was customary for a priest who has offered incense to leave the altar as quickly as possible, lest he unwittingly commit some act of sin in the presence of God.

A soft murmur begins to run through the crowd outside the temple. What has happened? Why does he linger? Something must be wrong. Maybe God has struck him down the way the sons of Aaron and the sons of Eli were struck down.

Finally, they see a movement at the door of the temple. It is Zacharias. Everyone breaths a sigh of relief.

The Silence of the Priest: But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them (1:22).

Zacharias emerges from the temple. The priests stand beneath him at the bottom of the steps, waiting for him to give the benediction.

He opens his mouth to speak and his lips move, but no words come out. He tries again, but there is only silence. As he realizes that he has made no sound, he begins to move his arms in wild gestures. Gradually, the people begin to realize that something fantastic has happened in the temple.

A Quiet Home going: When the days of his priestly service were ended, that he went back home (1:23).

Zacharias had to finish the remaining week of his priestly duties in silence. This was a constant reminder of the faithfulness of God. When his days of duty were over, he went home and listened to Elizabeth.

 

THE REACTION OF ELIZABETH

And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men." (Luke 1:24-25).

As was promised by the angel, Elizabeth became pregnant. God is always faithful, even when we are faithless.

Zacharias had doubted the promise of God. God would have had every right to strike Zacharias down on the floor of the temple. But He did not. Instead, God acts in GRACE.

She kept herself in seclusion for five months (1:24). The Scriptures do not tell us why Elizabeth did this. We can only speculate.

In any case, we see a contrast between Elizabeth and her husband, Zacharias. While he had doubted the word of God, she believed and rejoiced in the promise of God.

How about you? Are you a Zacharias or an Elizabeth? Have you been doubting that God is able to do what He says He can do? Or have you been trusting in the promises of God?


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