THEIR PROPER TIME
This text begins the report of Luke's investigation. People involved with God are the prime subjects. Places or things are secondary. God is a personality seeking those attracted to Him. The Lord God of heaven knows the capacity each heart has for expanding into His image. He can and will recover those willing to return to His fold. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Believers, before John and Jesus, knew God would send someone to do that. So, Luke's account tells of some of these people tender to God. Unnoticed by the world, the Lord had His eye upon them, as He always does!
Luke 1:5, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord." David prescribed twenty-four groups of priests to work at the Temple (1 Chron 23). One thousand years later Israel continued this system. The individuals were not always godly men. Their ranks contained some with wicked hearts interested only in their name, not God's. The winds of external pressure often bend even the powerful people. They give just enough to keep their place secure.
Zacharias is not a publicly powerful man. He lived in the hill country of Judea, going to Jerusalem only when his priestly course served in the Temple. Influential Priests, with authority, had to live close if not in Jerusalem. Few would notice this humble servant quietly going about his assigned tasks. Many would consider his lack of an heir a sign from God. Yet God's people are often hidden in the earth, at times overlooked, other times totally obscured from the public view. Nevertheless, the Lord knows those who are His! Leaven works quietly. However, kindred spirits noticed Zacharias and Elizabeth's devotion to God's name. God's spirit led Luke to those familiar with this tender obedient couple.
These two were sensitive to God's word, actively working for His name in all they did. Their obedience put them in line with God's objective on the earth. Zacharias and Elizabeth had hearts in which God could operate His perfect will, to increase His word. God can use anyone He chooses at a given time. Yet His first choice is always those who love Him over those who do not. He spoke and left a written record of that truth. Those who love the truth are tender to those words, knowing that they give life. Their ears listen and lean toward the words of God's mouth, realizing they are not only history of another generation. God's word is dynamic, whatever the time and place. This remains true in us who continue in the faith of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Quietly living by faith, these two moved, unknown to them, ever closer to the time of their prayers' answer. God intended to engage them at a crucial point in unfolding His great salvation.
Luke 1:7, "And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. 8Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense." Childbearing was a high priority in that society, unlike our own. They considered it God's primary blessing of a marriage union. These two doubtless prayed for years as Isaac prayed for Rebecca! Now that their age advanced, beyond the accepted time, they must have endured barrenness as the answer.
Zacharias burning the incense was a solemn event, for it symbolized the prayers of God's people. This task came by lot from God. So, a priest might never have it fall to him. The incense altar stood directly in front of the Most Holy Place, as close as the ordinary priests drew to God's presence behind the Veil. A crowd, outside the Temple, suggests this was a Sabbath day, Zacharias represented their prayers, the nearest a typical Hebrew could approach God's presence. His tender heart would not view this opportunity lightly. Those who love the truth do not thoughtlessly draw near to their God! The understanding of faith makes addressing Him a somber thing.
Luke 1:13, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John." Few men received messages from God. Zacharias' humble heart recognized the heavenly presence. This message revealed several things. God does not measure time as a man does. God works His will, not ours. God always blesses those with a heart for Him. God works in majestic and modest ways. God knows us before the womb (Ps 139:16; Jer 1:5).
Isaiah told of John's ministry more than seven hundred years before (Isa 40:3-4). Then Malachi's final words in the Old Covenant Scripture spoke of this one promised to the aged priest (Mal 4:5-6). Let there be no mistake about God's guiding hand in human history. Time is a tool God uses for His name. Let not your heart be troubled by times or seasons on earth. Delight yourself with the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Those who do, naturally want His will in and around them. They understand that God's blessing is found in His purpose. So, place yourself in its path. He makes it known to all who seek it. In His hand there are everlasting pleasures. One need not have worldly acclaim, though you might, to have a significant place with God. So, do not despise a day of small things. Small and large have different significance with God than men. Jonathan, Saul's son, uttered great truth when he said, 'The Lord can save with many or few.' Gideon and his three hundred aggressively attacked and defeated a vast army. Elijah humiliated and destroyed eight hundred fifty false prophets. So take courage in your God. Let Him have His way with you!
Luke 1:19, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." This is the messenger's reply to Zacharias' question, which might seem reasonable or at least innocent. However, Zacharias was dealing with the word of the Lord! This was not a common message, even in that context. Faith, from men, pleases God and His angels. Unbelievers have no hope of benefit before God. Gabriel came from a place of absolute and instant obedience to the Throne. Angels, wiser than we, hold a serious view of faith. So, Zacharias' words offended the heavenly envoy, who struck the old priest dumb for the next several months. Unbelief can receive instant and unchangeable punishment. Many throughout history did get this reaction. However, God, and Gabriel, knew Zacharias' heart. This was a minor lapse for him. Nevertheless, the angel administered this severe lesson without hesitation. Count yourself blessed to know it that you may avoid the same!
Zacharias could not fully share the Temple blessing that day, which was part of his task. The people, who could not enter, waited for him to give it to them. Faith, or lack of it, affects others! God works through His people, ministering to His people. Giving and receiving, in mutual ministries, finds a blessing for all. He can and does work in some without faith. However, this is not His preference. God wants to bless, making the blessed a blessing. However, lack of faith hinders Him.
Zacharias returned home with a sober message for Elizabeth. His homecoming mingled joy and sorrow. This tender couple would grieve at his lack of faith. God expected the priesthood to lead His people. Zacharias' schooling in Scripture, as a boy and young man, was for this task. Elizabeth did not share this training. Yet together they served God all their lives. Then at this great opportunity, the blessing was less than God intended for them. The short fall must have caused them great sorrow. Beware lest you find more than your share of sorrow. Do not let your faith fail the test. Ask God's help for your opportunity!
Yet they found comfort in their God, Who did not totally reject them from the blessing. God used their union, as husband and wife, to fulfill the prophet's word. God's image in the male and female includes human intimacy. This is the highest purpose of the marriage act, to glorify and increase His word in the earth. Let us seek to maintain this perspective of our intimacy (Heb 13:4). God will operate in it to increase our intimacy with Him. His holy purpose for this human bond always involves timing, trusting Him to feed our appetites.
The world confines this story to the barren environment of greed and gluttony in the marketplace. Faith handles them as God intends, always ready to fully engage God's word. We know not when our Lord may call us into something we have prayed for. The ambitions of a godly heart are not vain or selfish. God places them there according to our faith in His word and purpose. Let Him find us alert and laboring in the place assigned us. Those walking in the light see His opportunities clearly.
Unbelievers do not honor the names of Zacharias and Elizabeth. That is not the point of this lesson. God knows His own. His Angels also know the Spirit's mark! So, let our fellow heavenly servants find us alert to the proper time. God will make it plain. Busy yourself in the work of faith for which He has designed those who bear the mark of faith. This mark is the Spirit of God's dear Son, poured into our hearts. (Gene HutchcrafT, PO Box 256, Alba, MO. 64830-0256)