Zechariah was a priest from a priestly family. He had married Elizabeth who was herself a priests’ daughter (v5). They are described by Luke as being ‘righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord’ (v6). What an outstanding introduction for the first people to appear in the gospel!
But there followed a ‘but’: ‘But they had no child’ (v7). How often in life does a ‘but’ follow an introduction? ‘He was such a lovely man but…’ ‘She was such an incredible boss but…’ ‘They had such potential but…’
The ‘but’ for Zechariah and Elizabeth was one filled with pain that was reinforced and extended over many years. Month after month there would be the indication that, yet again, Elizabeth was not pregnant. And now they were old and advanced in years (v7) and well beyond hope of conceiving. They were destined never to have a child. Or so they thought…
Quite why God made them wait until their old age to be blessed with a child we cannot know. But we do know that His timing is always perfect. It was now, as Zechariah had his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to offer the incense in the temple (v9), that God decided it was the time. As he was performing his duties in the presence of God the angel Gabriel appeared and told him that his prayers had been heard and that Elizabeth would give birth to a son. Not just any son, either, but one who would be great and was called to be a forerunner to help prepare the people for the coming of the Saviour (vv15-17).
What must Zechariah have thought? All through the years they had faithfully prayed, time and again, week after week, month after month, year after year for a child. And nothing – absolutely nothing – had happened. But now, as an old man, could it really be that he was going to father a son?
We need to learn this lesson about prayer, don’t we? The lesson is simply that God hears our prayers. Whether it seems like it or not, He hears. When it seems like our prayers simply bounce back off the ceiling, He hears. When it seems like we’re speaking into an empty room, He hears. Not only does He hear but He collects our prayers up and in heaven there are ‘golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints’ (see Revelation 5:8). Here, even as Zechariah offers up incense, he is told that his prayers have been heard (v13) and are as incense to God.
Gabriel’s news sounded so unbelievable Zechariah asked for a sign. He was given one he didn’t expect! He was struck dumb (v20). When he returned home to Elizabeth following his stint at the temple I am sure that his mute-ness would have taken some explaining! However, he and Elizabeth acted in faith and she became pregnant (v24).
Some time later (I guess approximately 9 months) Elizabeth gave birth to the promised son. On the eighth day he was due to be circumcised and at that point the son would be named. The obvious name choice was Zechariah. Elizabeth, speaking on behalf of Zechariah (as he was still unable to talk) said that he should be called John (v60). This confused the gathering who looked to Zechariah for confirmation (v62). He took a writing tablet and wrote ‘His name is John’ (v63). The shock at this declaration was palpable but would have been heightened further as he began to speak (v64)!
Having received back the ability to speak, Zechariah’s first words are words of praise to God (v64). He’d had 9 months to ponder the events of that day in the temple and now out of His mouth poured praise to the faithful God he served. He then went on to prophesy. Prophecies had not happened for many years but what Zechariah spoke were profound and deep truths that revealed the plans of God. He spoke of God visiting and redeeming His people (v68). He spoke of salvation coming (v69). He spoke of God fulfilling His word spoken in years past (vv70-75). He spoke of the forgiveness of sins (v77) and of the tender mercy of God visiting His people and bringing light in their darkness (vv78,79).
These verses are condensed truth and I encourage you to study them in detail. This is an incredible prophecy from a godly man who experienced God breaking in unexpectedly to promise the fulfilment of his hopes and dreams and the answer to his prayers.