As I begin to prepare my heart for the birth of our Savior, I was struck by the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and their drama of disappointment as it is found in Luke 1.
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John . . . After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Did you see the drama of disappointment in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth? They were childless. This was especially difficult in Jewish culture. Notice what Barclay observes about this,
The Jewish Rabbis said that seven people were excommunicated from God and the list began, ‘A Jew who has no wife, or a Jew who has a wife and who has no child.’ Childlessness was a valid ground for divorce.
You can see that being childless would have been a great burden and constant source of pain to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their culture. Their childlessness was not a consequence of sin. In fact, the text says that they were “righteous and blameless” in God’s eyes. Even so, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived with the constant heartache of not realizing their dreams and yet they were faithful and walked blamelessly in obedience to God.
Did you also notice they are described as “advanced in years”? This means they were beyond the age in which a person could naturally conceive and have children and, therefore, had been dealing with this pain for years.
In spite of his age, Zechariah is told by the angel that “your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” To appreciate the scene we need to understand what had taken place for Zechariah to even be in the temple serving that day.
Zechariah “was a member of one of twenty-four divisions in the first-century priesthood…, one of approximately 18,000 priests. More specifically, he was a member of the eighth order, Abijah (1 Chron. 24:10). A priest only officiated at the sacrifice once in his life, having been selected by lot.
Zechariah had been chosen by lot out of 18,000 priests for a once in a lifetime opportunity to serve in the temple. This would be the greatest day of his life as a priest! As great as this honor was, he still ended up talking to God in the temple about the personal pain and disappointment that he and Elizabeth shared.
What can we learn from this?
First, we serve a God of the miraculous! Nothing is too difficult for him, even when there is no human hope for a solution.
Second, God is active in his creation and it is never too late from him to intervene! He is at work today even when I do not see it.
Third, disappointment can be part of a faithful believer’s life for years and it can be deep! This does not mean we have done something wrong, but the pain and disappointment can be a normal Christian experience that we may never fully understand.
Fourth, we must be faithful in the disappointment and be honest with God as we endure. Like Zechariah, we must express ourselves to God and not hide the disappointment we feel as long as it is a burden.
Fifth, as Zechariah heard from God in the temple, I need to intentionally make the effort to hear from God in his Word. I have to make time for prayer and the study of his Word.
Father, thank you for this amazing story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Thank you for being involved in your creation and for providing John who paved the way for Jesus. Thank you for giving us your Son and our Savior! Thank you for understanding my heartaches and caring about them. May you help me to be faithful as I serve you even when there are times of disappointment in that service. May your will be done in and through me for your glory.
Following Jesus with you,