In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendent of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared to the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
(Luke 1:5–20 ESV)
Getting up in the morning was becoming less easy than it once was for Zechariah. His joints ached and the energy he was accustomed to enjoying seemed to run out sooner rather than later. But life was good. Zechariah served as a priest before God in the temple in Jerusalem, an honorable call if there ever was one among his fellow Jews. Furthermore, he and his wife, Elizabeth, were descendants of one of Israel’s most significant heroes, the priest Aaron.
Luke gives us additional important information about this couple. We learn that Zechariah served as one among the many priests in the temple, working together in this bustling center of the Jewish world. Luke does not single him out as the chief priest or leader among the priests who served here. Furthermore, Zechariah and Elizabeth are commended as “righteous in the sight of the God,” meaning they observed “all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (v. 6). In other words, these two embodied God’s will for his people as called for in Israel’s covenant with God. Luke also tells us they were childless. In their context, such a fact would likely have raised eyebrows (1:25). Why has God not given them children? What have they done wrong? Without doubt, as Zechariah’s prayer life made apparent (see 1:13), this matter was of great concern to them. All in all, Zechariah and Elizabeth seem like a fairly normal priest and wife, laboring away in the Lord’s service.
Yet, God chose to initiate the process of salvation through this faithful but unsuspecting couple. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and delivered the message that Elizabeth would bear a son. Like Abram and Sarai, God would give him and Elizabeth a child in their old age. But this would be no ordinary child. He would be filled with God’s Spirit and, like Elijah, would play a powerful role within God’s mission to return Israel to their God.
If I could characterize this priestly couple, I would describe their life as one of common, everyday faithfulness. Even amidst the pain of their childlessness and the shame generated by that fact, they remained blameless before God. Day in and day out, in the normal rhythms of life, they stayed faithful to the Lord. It was this couple through whom God chose to work.
We will see this pattern repeated several times in Luke’s gospel. God’s superstars, those through whom God choose to change the world, often came from among the unnoticed and the unsuspecting rather than those whom the world counted as important. Zechariah and Elizabeth were the first among those so chosen in Luke’s gospel.
Questions for Reflection
- Whom do you know that you would describe as living out common, everyday faithfulness? Why would you characterize them in this manner?
- Can you name one or two practices or traits that would constitute such faithfulness in your life?
Jesus sums up the entire biblical message as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). But what does that love look like where we live? Where we work? With the people we do life with everyday?
In answer to such questions, Jim Miller draws practical lessons from Luke’s Gospel in order to help us live a life modeled after the example of Jesus Christ. This involves his pattern of prayer, relating to others, establishing holy priorities, and a host of day-to-day issues that together establish what Jesus himself called the abundant life. Get the Bible study from our store here.