Dec 112013 3 Responses

Never Give Me a Gift Like This

The pinnacle of his life was prophesying over his son and baby Jesus. It’s called the Benedictus—a blessing spoken in praise to God for the faithfulness which God had shown to his people. (Read the Benedictus Here)

It would be the highlight of anyone’s life, but especially that of a priest. His words were so inspired they are now viewed as part of Holy Writ. A few thousand years after they were spoken, we still read them and gain a deeper understanding of God’s nature because of them.

It’s any communicator’s dream—to say important things, life-changing things. For a priest, to say words which last and to have those words bring such glory to God is the ultimate desire.

It all came true for Zechariah.

Yet notice how these words came to be. Notice the circumstances which led Zechariah, the priest, to his personal and career achievement.

Doubting God Can

Luke describes him in an impressive manner—“…righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (1.6) He, and his wife Elizabeth, were people to be admired, yet they were people who had also suffered. At an old age, they were without children.

“Barren” the writer says. We wouldn’t use the term today—it’s too insensitive. It communicates an absence of life. We can sense the feeling of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Everything they did contained a sense of emptiness because of their situation. His work was important, but he often felt it useless. Her life was vital, but she often questioned the reason for her existence. Everything might have appeared beautiful on the outside, but few people saw her tears at home; few knew his sorrow behind close doors.

He prayed. That’s what priests do. He prayed for others; he had hope for their hopeless situations. He tried to pray for himself, for his wife. Yet the words seemed empty. What Zechariah believed for others he could not believe for himself.

He wanted God to move, but his situation seemed beyond God’s reach. It’s possible Zechariah had more faith that God could save the whole nation of Israel than change the state of his tiny family.

Zechariah did what many priests do: he prayed full-heartedly for others and half-heartedly for himself, believing God could do amazing things for other people but uncertain of what God could do for himself.

Scared When God Does

One day while carrying out his priestly duties, an angel visits Zechariah. If anyone should be prepared for a visitation from an angelic being you would expect a priest to be that person, yet the text says what it so often says when an angel shows up, “Zechariah was troubled when he saw him and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid.’”

Funny how everyone longs for a heavenly appearance, yet nearly every time the Bible mentions an angel appearing, the people are terrified.

Thankfully, the angel brings good news—the impossible is soon to happen. Gabriel tells Zechariah his prayers have been heard. God has had compassion on the brokenhearted and will work a miracle in the family of his priest. Elizabeth will give birth. The barren one will become the birthing one. What was lifeless will literally become filled with life.

We expect a faithful priest to be touched but not shocked by the news. Of course God has answered his prayer—that’s why he prayed. Zechariah was a faithful man; he shouldn’t be shocked by this move of God, yet shocked is an understatement.

Instead of shouting, “Amen,” (let it be) the faithful priest asks the question “How can it be?”

Standing in the presence of an angelic messenger, Zechariah is more concerned with what might prevent the miracle than the God who has the ability to do whatever he wishes.

Zechariah is shocked that God would answer his prayers.

There is a consequence for his disbelief. Gabriel tells Zechariah that the priest will be mute for the next nine months because of his disbelief. It seems like a harsh punishment. Mary will show the same doubt, but she won’t be struck mute. The disciples will later deny Jesus, but they aren’t punished to this extent. Yet Zechariah will go months without words because he spoke a few careless words.

For nine months he was silent. He was used to being the voice of reason, but he had no voice. His words normally resulted in action. Authority resonated in everything he said: at home, in the Temple, in the community. Yet for the length of the pregnancy, he was unable to utter a single word.

Even when his son was born and the community turned to him for the child’s name, he was not able to speak. He took a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” At that moment, his silence ended. He was free to speak. And in response to nine months of silence, Zechariah the priest spoke his famous Benedictus.

Thankful God Did

The conclusion of his nine month punishment was his greatest contribution spiritually, personally, and professionally. The height of his life was the result of a negative consequence to his disbelief.

His punishment was a gift.

What feels like a harsh response to Zechariah’s words was actually a compassionate gift preparing him for what was to come.

What if he hadn’t spent nine months in silence? Is it possible he wouldn’t have spoken these words of blessing?

And so it is with God. Even his discipline is grace-filled. Even his retribution is purposeful. Even our sinfulness and its consequences can be used by God for His glory and our good.

In response of Zechariah’s disbelief, God gave him a gift and that gift prepared Zechariah for the most memorable moment of his life.

What negative event in your life will God use for his glory and your good?

3 Responses to Never Give Me a Gift Like This
  1. […] Because of this it is not surprising that Zechariah says a blessings at the birth of his son John. (... kevinathompson.com/god-saved
  2. […] Luke 1 gives us a glimpse of what God is like. As Zechariah is talking about God’s activity in the... kevinathompson.com/mercy
  3. dennyneff Reply

    I was so moved by this one that I shared it with a friend of mine. She and her husband have been unable to have a child of their own and want so deeply to have a one that I felt moved for them to read a wonderful story of how God was able to hear the prayers of another family who desperately wanted to know the joy of having their own child. I didn’t share this to build up false hope and to remind them of a situation where another couple felt the pain of emptiness. Rather I shared this as a tale of hope and the wonder of a God who can do anything he desires to do for His Glory. I wanted them to know that with God nothing is impossible. My prayer is that they will know the love with which I shared this and my desire that they share in the same faith I have for a Wondrous God who is Able to Do far more than we could ever imagine or even understand.

    Thanks for writing such an encouraging and awe inspiring essay.

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