I was perusing around some different blogs and came upon a post about the Temple in Jesus’ time. You can read the blog here. The writer talks about how there is only one story in the New Testament that takes place inside the Temple. It’s in Luke 1 at the very beginning when the angel comes to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth is going to have a child. I’ve always known about this story, about Elizabeth being barren, and the angel coming to Zechariah, and Zechariah not being able to talk until he can announce that the child’s name will be John, and John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary comes to visit. But there’s something to this story that I did not realize until now.
First, Zechariah was a priest. I didn’t notice that before. I wonder what it was like to have such a high “position” in the Temple and have the issue of not being able to have children. What did the other priests think of him? How did Elizabeth feel around all the other priests’ wives at the staff parties where all the little kids were running around? Did the others think that Zechariah and/or Elizabeth were being punished and that’s why they couldn’t have children? Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe Zechariah and Elizabeth were the resident “keepers of wisdom.” Maybe they were Uncle Zechariah and Aunt Elizabeth to everyone else. Maybe they loved the roles that had been given to them. I don’t know.
What really impacted me, though, was the time and place of the angel’s visit. One time a year, one priest was to go into the Holy of Holies and present an offering of incense to God. At no other time and by no other person could this be done. Messing with this rule was punishable by instant death. I’ve heard how they used to tie a rope around the priest’s ankle, so that if God decided to smite him, he could be pulled out of the chamber without anyone else going in. What an exciting and terrifying opportunity for any priest to be chosen for this task. And Zechariah, by casting of lots, got his opportunity. How many years do you think Zechariah had been waiting for this moment? Do you think he wrote his Last Will & Testament, upgraded his life insurance, and reminded Elizabeth of his undying love before he left for work that day?
So, why was it that God had the angel come at this particular moment? Why did he speak to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies when angels appeared to other people in ordinary places? Scripture says that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “well along in years.” I wonder how many years Zechariah spent carrying out his duties as a priest praying and praying for a child. I wonder how many glances up to heaven, how many hugs for his wife, how many cycles of hope and disappointment he went through. I’m sure he was frustrated and even angry at God at times, yet he was faithful to God. Luke 1:6 says “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” My guess is that after a while, maybe after they both turned a certain age, Zechariah and Elizabeth gave up on their dream, and reconciled to being childless. They continued to love and serve God, even after they were not given the thing they desired most.
Ha, I wonder if Zechariah’s heart stopped when the angel appeared. I wonder if his life flashed before his eyes, thinking this was the end. I can see his thoughts racing – “Didn’t I burn the right incense? Was I too early? I memorized the instructions!” I can hear Zechariah later “God, did you think at all before you chose the location for your revelation? I mean, really?”
But seriously, what I take away from this story is this: It wasn’t until Zechariah was content with the life that God gave him that God delivered His promise. God was pleased with Zechariah’s obedience and therefore granted him the thing he desired most. And I think the most beautiful part is that God had the message sent to him while he was carrying out the most sacred of tasks. How special Zechariah must have felt. The God of the Universe used the time in the Holy of Holies with Zechariah to present him with the best news ever! And it wasn’t the answer to the question of the meaning of life. It wasn’t how to save Israel forever. It was simply the answer to fervent prayer prayed thousands of times by one couple.
Zechariah didn’t give up on God after all of those years. How many times do we “hold out” on God until we get what we want? How often is our faith or worship lackluster because we’re resentful that we have not been given our heart’s desire? How many times have we prayed for patience about something, hoping that it will get us what we want, but only asking for patience as a copout, as if God doesn’t really know what we’re thinking? It was the simple fact that Zechariah loved God no matter what, that he was blessed. What desires or wants in your life are holding you back from worshipping God? Have faith – God sees your entire life in one moment. It’s very likely that if it’s in your best interest, God is planning to give you what you desire. Worship Him as if that desire has already been promised.
If you can’t identify with that, if you feel like God is holding out on you, if you feel like you were dealt the bad hand, remember – the gift of grace trumps all other desires and wants and promises, so worship Him with all your heart, because you are loved by and belong to Him! More than children, a spouse, a home, a job, a puppy, or anything else we desire, God has already given us the one thing that will content us for eternity. Continue to be obedient to God, love Him no matter what, carry out His tasks, and you will be blessed.