Communications Restored –The Plan Unfolds
“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 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.” Luke 1:11-17
If you’ve ever experienced a sudden power outage particularly in the winter when the temperatures are below freezing, no radio, no TV, no electricity to power the lights, all communication lines are down, you’re cut-off from the rest of the world for days, weeks, may be longer, if so, then you have a very small idea of what it would be like to know there is a God, and that in the past He has done great and miraculous things for your ancestors but you’ve never heard from Him all your life, generation after generation of your people have had no contact with Him for 400 years. But then suddenly while you’re going about your daily routine and angel appears and begins to prophecy to you, not just about the nation, but about you and your wife in your old age having a child.
When Gabriel, “an angel of the Lord,” appears to Zacharias standing on the right side of the altar of incense in the Holy Place of the Temple, it was not only a shock to Zacharias but it marked the first time in 400 years that God sent a message to Israel as a nation and to the world at large.
The voice of God to the world of mankind was spoken first to one man, not a multitude, not a king nor one of the rich and powerful, but to a humble priest just going about His daily work of ministry, a holy servant of God for sure, but not a man of great influence or authority.
Gabriel’s appearance alone would have been imposing because angels exist in the realm of the glory of God, in the realm of eternal light. The radiance of Gabriel’s presence was probably dazzling. But more important was his message on that day. The world was filled with sin and death, with fear and a sense of hopelessness. Wars, pestilence, plagues, and darkness covered the people. The strong dominated the weak, the sick were helpless, the poor were resigned to their poverty and a nation longed to hear from God. The people of God longed to see the day when what had been prophesied of the coming Messiah was fulfilled, to see the One who would save them and establish a kingdom of righteousness and peace on the earth.
Into this world God sends His angel to a man, to speak words of comfort, hope, encouragement and assurance to him.
Comfort – “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard….” At the moment Zacharias was praying, maybe with his gaze and his hands lifted toward the veil that stood before him behind which was the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant stood with its mercy seat, where God said he would meet with Moses on behalf of the people. (The lid on the ark that was also adorned with two cherubim was also known as the Ark of God’s presence). Fear and sin separated the people from God, but now God sends His Word of comfort and peace. “Do not afraid.” The world may be going mad around you for a time, but “Do not be afraid.” Your hope may be all but gone, but take heart, “Do not be afraid.” You may have thought I was angry with you because of your sin, but “Do not be afraid.” “I have come to bring you good news. Your prayer is heard.”
Hope – In promising Zacharias that he would have a son the angel is saying to him, “God is granting you what you have desired.” Zacharias had been praying for a son and for Elizabeth, his wife to have a child so that her reproach among women would then be taken away, because to have no children meant God did not favor you because of sin in your life. But this was not true of Elizabeth or Zacharias, because they were called righteous before God. [Luke 1: 6] The words of Gabriel renewed their hope and strengthened their faith to believe God for such a miracle. They heard the promise of God and they believed. They had no New Testament to read or study. There was, as of yet, no Savior in the world, therefore no death, burial or resurrection of Jesus for them to hang their faith on. They only had the Law and the prophets. And those all pointed to a Messiah who would come one day in the future. So, to hear the angel say, “Your prayer is heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” [Luke 1:13] must have been both astonishing and comforting indeed.
Encouragement – “…and you will have joy and gladness…” Where there was once sorrow and hopelessness, despair and fear, the drudgery of never hearing from God and the endless prayers seemingly going unheard, now there is the promise of joy and gladness. But, still Zacharias was wavering and uncertain if he could indeed believe. So, he asks for a sign. Was not the sudden appearance and dazzling glory and gracious words of the angel enough of a sign? To Zacharias, apparently, not. So, because he doubted the very presence and Words of God, though he was righteous before God, he was made mute until the child was born. He was made mute not so much to punish him but to prevent his words of doubt negatively influencing this miraculous event and process.
Assurance – “…because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time. “ Gabriel affirmed the Word of God and told Zacharias that these things will happen because God said they would, whether he believed them or not. “…in their own time” meant in the natural season of the cycle of pregnancy. The process of life had begun in Elizabeth and the doubting words of Zacharias would not be allowed to interfere with it. God wanted him to know it was a “done deal” but, he had difficulty accepting it.
The word “assurance” appears many times in the Bible, and in every instance it is tied to a promise. Our faith is to hear it, believe it and receive it now. That pleases and glorifies God when we do.