Zechariah and the Christmas Story (He heard it first!)

9 Oct

Luke1:8-11, “And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.  And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.”

I must attribute much of my understanding of this passage, right from the start, to both Beth Moore and my pastors, who have so faithfully taught it to me for years.  I haven’t done primary research into the customs of first century priests, but I have read or listened to the work of those who have.

First of all, the context of Zechariah approaching the altar of incense in the Temple was that God had not spoken corporately to Israel for over 400 years.  We know He still dealt with individuals (for instance, Simeon, who had been shown he would not die before he saw the Lord’s Christ), but there had been no prophetic message to the nation for 400 years of silence.

Zechariah, whom Luke tells us lived a righteous life, along with his wife Elisabeth, was God’s choice to be the first to hear a prophetic message to the nation.  Later, Gabriel would come to Mary and let her know about the birth of the Messiah.  But first, he came to Zechariah, frightening him by appearing next to the altar of incense.

Zechariah had a truly auspicious day that day.  Since there were 24 courses of priests in Israel at the time (since Old Testament days had decreed that it be so), each course of priests covered two weeks and some holidays every year.  That meant that each individual priest would be chosen once in a lifetime to offer incense.  Some were never chosen at all.  This was Zechariah’s big day.  The Scriptures give us every indication that he took the day and his responsibility seriously.  He just did not know he was about to collide with answered prayer!

The prayers Zechariah was offering would have been for his nation, and for Messiah to come.  Since Gabriel later says his prayer would be answered by a baby boy, it seems he also slipped in a personal request for a son!  Little did he know that the answer Gabriel promised would be directly linked to the answer to the prayer about Messiah!

How gracious God is!

And the people outside?  Well, they would pray for the priest who was praying for them.  A perfect circle of prayer that would serve us well today if we would lift up our leaders as they faithfully lift us up in prayer!

Zechariah was expected to come outside after he offered the incense and give the people a benediction (roughly translated:  good word).  As we know, he didn’t do anything of the sort that day.  He was struck dumb until the day that “all these things shall be performed.”  That was not the day of John’s birth.  That was the day John was named.  It was Zechariah’s job to make sure he was named according to the angel’s prophecy.  Once that happened, his tongue was loosed again.

Oh, and how his tongue was loosed.  His benediction included elements of what Gabriel had said to him, that John would go before the Lord to prepare His way!  Six months later, that very thing occurred, the birth of the One for whom John was born to prepare the way.

Oh, glory, God has always had a plan to redeem us, since before time began.  We can trust Him.  He is good!

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