Luke 1:5–25 (NKJV)
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.Luke 1:5-10
8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
Luke opens the narrative of his gospel with this account of the promise of a child to a barren couple, Zacharias the priest and Elizabeth his wife. While he was on duty burning incense, the Jews were praying outside the holy place. They were faithful people, and served God blamelessly. It is interesting to note that the structure and setting of this passage resembles some of the Old Testament stories. Look speaks of Herod the king ruling in Judea, and a barren couple seek God for the blessing of a son (Nolland, WBC). This makes the story–all of which is true–more familiar and readable to the Jewish people whose Messiah had come in the form of Jesus.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.Luke 1:11-17
13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also 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 a people prepared for the Lord.”
The entrance of an angel changes the tone of the story completely. Everything before this was just normal occurrences of the everyday life of a priest in the temple. Then comes an angel! Understandably, Zacharias was afraid. The angel comforted him and prophesied that Elizabeth and he would have a son, and call him John. He then spoke of the unique characteristics of this son’s life. He would not drink any wine, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was in the womb. He would go before the Messiah to prepare His way, and would bring unity to families and the nation. What a powerful word for this priest to hear!
18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”Luke 1:18-25
19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.
23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Zacharias, either in astonishment or in disbelief, questioned the prophecy. He wondered how this could be since they were old. The angel identified Himself as Gabriel, and chastises his unbelief. As a result of Zacharias’ questioning, he would be mute until the day the child was born. The people waited for the priest to exit the holy place, as he was taking longer than normal. Once he came out, he could not speak, and they assumed he had seen a vision. After his service was complete, he went home and Elizabeth conceived. She rejoiced that her shame was to be removed.
Like many of us, Zacharias and Elizabeth had lost hope of having a son. Although loved and respected, there was a sense of shame that they had not born a son. Therefore, this blessing seemed past reception for the two of them. God had a plan for them, though, that would glorify Him and fulfill a prophetic purpose in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The message here is simple. Do not give up on a blessing from God, for in His time the blessing will come. Trust, obey, serve, and see what God will do!