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“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, 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 before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
“Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.
But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.
And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’
“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’
And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel.
I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.
And 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 remained mute.
And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
“After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’”
“Your prayer has been heard.”
Whatever else may be said of the father of the Baptist, this godly priest received God’s commendation as a man of prayer.
We would do well to emulate his example.
Permit me to introduce you to Zechariah.
Father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, together with his wife, is commended as “righteous before God.”
This godly couple is denoted as “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth pleased God because they had a heart to obey God.
Another important piece of information that Doctor Luke provides readers is that the couple was childless; “Elizabeth was barren.”
Today, we think it is odd that a couple should have a sense of emptiness without children.
We consider it strange that a family (and women in particular) would consider themselves unfulfilled without children.
Modern couples seek fulfilment through education, through social advancement, or through financial security.
A society that is focused on self-gratification and self-fulfilment likely cannot understand the grief that attended the barren womb in an earlier day.
That children are recognised as a reward from the Lord and that the blessed man has his quiver full of children [cf.
PSALM 127:3-5] continues to be cause for consternation until an individual is submitted to Christ and thus reflects the mind of God.
The final piece of information necessary for understanding the message is that Zechariah was a descendant of Aaron.
As a descendant of Aaron, the old man was both privileged and responsible to serve in the Temple.
However, because of the multiplication of priests at this late date in the history of Israel, those ministering before the Lord were chosen by lot.
This one time would almost certainly be the only time Zechariah would ever minister in the Temple.
It was a though the servant of God prepared for a lifetime to ensure that he was prepared to serve for the one time he was called to fulfil his responsibilities before the Lord.
Keep these points in mind: Zechariah and Elizabeth was a godly couple that pleased God because of their obedience; the couple, though apparently longing for children, are childless; and Zechariah, dedicated to service before the altar of God, will serve only one time.
Within these elements are found a Christmas message.
‘Twas the prayer before Christmas, and without that prayer, Christmas will never come for us.
THE PRAYER THAT CHANGED A WORLD — Some prayers make a great impact in world affairs.
Other prayers really make little difference in the world about us.
Zechariah presented a prayer before the Lord that forever changed man’s relationship to the Living God.
The impact of our prayers is dependent upon the greatness of the One to whom we pray, and not our own stature or personal greatness.
When the angel first began to speak, he comforted the terrified priest by informing him of the purpose of his mission.
“Your prayer has been heard.”
Most of us would naturally think that the angel here speaks of a previous prayer for a child.
After all, he continued by announcing the birth of a child.
We were previously given the information that Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless.
Taken together, with the emphasis on the birth of John the Baptist, it is reasonable to think that the focus of the account is on the birth of the Baptist.
What seems reasonable may not be accurate, however.
There are other possibilities to consider in interpreting the angel’s message.
There is an old saying within the medical profession that teaches that when you hear hoof beats you should not look for zebras.
As a humorous aside, should you speak with a physician educated in South Africa you may hear a similar saying, only it encourages looking for zebras when hoof beats are heard.
The point is, look for the obvious when presented with a dilemma.
Don’t invest too much time in the esoteric, or in speculative reveries.
The obvious, however, may be overlooked in haste to move to the next issue.
What seems apparent may not be supported by facts.
Take careful note of the angel’s words to Zechariah: “Your prayer has been heard.”
That word which the Angel used and which is here translated by our English word “prayer” is a fascinating word.
Doctor Luke was careful to employ a powerful word that speaks of “a need” or of “an entreaty.”
Such a plea is addressed almost exclusively to God.
One would never present a déāsis to man.
The word is found much less frequently than other words that are translated “prayer.”
The word emphasises the distinction between formal petition and tenacity, which is tantamount to wrestling with God.
Déāsis, the word used here, speaks of the “prayer of a righteous person” that James insists has “great power as it is working” [JAMES 5:16].
This word describes the prayers Anna offered as she gave herself to “fasting and prayer” [LUKE 2:37].
This prayer is akin to that offered by a widow of the church, “who is truly a widow, left all alone.”
Such a woman “continues in … prayers night and day,” because she “has set her hope on God” [1 TIMOTHY 5:5].
This type of prayer is offered by saints for fellow believers who have supplied their need [2 CORINTHIANS 9:14].
This is the prayer that is urged on the saints of God who pray in the Spirit [EPHESIANS 6:18].
This is the “supplication” urged on all who with joy seek God’s face [PHILIPPIANS 4:6].
Thus, we would conclude that déāsis is powerful, prevailing prayer.
Zechariah’s entreaty was powerful before God.
The prayer for which God sent an answer was not mere form, but it represented some great burden that impelled Zechariah to plead with God.
This is intriguing information.
The prayer of this godly priest grew out of some deep longing of his heart.
It would appear that it was a prayer that revealed some characteristic aspect of his life.
Something that was so elemental to his life that when his name was spoken people would think of that characteristic must have formed the heart of his prayer.
Luke’s language also suggests that what he prayed was of such importance that he was not likely put off by what we are tempted to call unanswered prayer.
The problem of unanswered prayer plagues the people of God and worries us.
How long shall we pray?
At what point do we cease seeking the face of God?
The Master has taught us that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” [LUKE 18:1-8].
Until God has clearly issued the command, “Do not speak to me anymore of this matter” [see DEUTERONOMY 3:36], I take it that we should keep on praying.
Surely, Zechariah exemplifies the application of Jesus’ words.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” [MATTHEW 7:7, 8].
Faith always gives a double knock at Heaven’s door and refuses to be put off until the gracious King has received the supplicant.
Too often the saints at prayer resemble “Deputy Dawg,” a dopey television cartoon character from years long past who would knock at the door, all the while saying, “No one is home (I hope.
I hope.
I hope.).”
Another issue of significance is that the angel did not speak of Zechariah’s “prayers” (plural) but rather of his “prayer” (singular).
Perhaps you are surprised that the noun is singular and not plural.
I considered alternative possibilities to my more casual interpretation of the text and I began to understand that God is informing us that one great prayer flowed from the heart of this godly man.
He could not pray for other needs without bringing this one great need before the throne of the Great King.
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