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Zechariah
Tuesday, December 17, 2019 by Paula Kortkamp Combs

Life in first century Palestine was hard. The Jewish nation found itself squirming under the heavy heel of the Roman Empire. The laws of the land were foreign laws, imposed by foreign rulers and enforced by foreign troops. The Jews hated Rome’s cruel domination and longed to be free of oppression.

God’s ancient promises

Since ancient times, Israel’s prophets had spoken of a coming deliverer. Every generation of Jews looked expectantly for the promised Messiah. Through Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, God had said, "I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of parents to their children" (Malachi 4:5,6 NLT).

But four centuries had passed since then, and Messiah had not come. Nor had there been any further word from heaven. Had God forgotten His people and His promise?

A four century wait

One day as a great throng of worshippers prayerfully waited outside the Temple, an old priest named Zechariah entered the Holy Place to burn incense. Suddenly an angel was standing next to him at the altar of incense. The old man was frightened.

But the angel said, "Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice with you at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival. He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children."

Zechariah doubts

Zechariah couldn’t believe his ears, for the angel’s words echoed the well-known prophecy of Malachi. But he and Elizabeth were both well past the time of life for having a child. Doubt filled his mind. How could the angel’s message be true? “How can I be sure of this?” he asked.

The angel replied, "I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! And now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you won’t be able to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time."

Zechariah must wait

Instantly Zechariah lost his ability to speak. After finishing out his Temple assignment in silence, he returned to his hometown. In spite of Elizabeth’s age, she did become pregnant, just as the angel had said. The old couple rejoiced.

When Elizabeth delivered a baby boy, family and friends joyously gathered to celebrate his surprising birth. Everyone assumed the child would be named after his father, but Zechariah wrote on a tablet for all to see, "His name is John." Immediately Zechariah’s power of speech returned, allowing a torrent of praise and thanksgiving to God for this miracle baby to burst forth.

Zechariah believes & prophesies

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he prophesied, "You, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace." (Luke 1, NLT)

Zechariah understood that his newborn son would grow up to be the forerunner of Messiah. This child of miraculous birth was destined to prepare the Jewish nation for the arrival of their long-awaited Deliverer. Now that Messiah’s forerunner had been born, could the birth of Messiah be far behind?

Today’s prayer

"Dear God, how faithful You are to do what You say You’ll do! Help me to believe Your promises, even when they sound impossible. Amen."

© Paula Kortcamp Combs 1998

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