An angel promises the birth of John to Zacharias
My story begins with a Jewish priest, Zacharias, who lived when Herod was king of Judea. Zacharias was a member of the Abijah division of the Temple service corps. (His wife, Elizabeth, was, like himself, a member of the priest tribe of the Jews, a descendant of Aaron.) Zacharias and Elizabeth were godly folk, careful to obey all of God’s laws in spirit as well as in letter. But they had no children, for Elizabeth was barren; and now they were both very old.
One day as Zacharias was going about his work in the Temple—for his division was on duty that week—the honor fell to him by lot to enter the inner sanctuary and burn incense before the Lord. Meanwhile, a great crowd stood outside in the Temple court, praying as they always did during that part of the service when the incense was being burned.
Zacharias was in the sanctuary when suddenly an angel appeared, standing to the right of the altar of incense! Zacharias was startled and terrified.
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias! For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. You will both have great joy and gladness at his birth, and many will rejoice with you. For he will be one of the Lord’s great men. He must never touch wine or hard liquor—and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from before his birth! And he will persuade many a Jew to turn to the Lord his God. He will be a man of rugged spirit and power like Elijah, the prophet of old; and he will precede the coming of the Messiah, preparing the people for his arrival. He will soften adult hearts to become like little children’s, and will change disobedient minds to the wisdom of faith.”
Zacharias said to the angel, “But this is impossible! I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to you with this good news! And now, because you haven’t believed me, you are to be stricken silent, unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time.”
A Jewish priest was a minister of God who worked at the Temple. The priests were divided into twenty-four separate groups of about one thousand men each, according to David’s directions (as described in 1 Chronicles 24:3-19). Zacharias was a member of the Abijah division, on duty this particular week. Each morning a priest was to enter the Holy Place in the Temple and burn incense. Lots were cast to decide who would enter the sacred room. One day the lot fell to Zacharias.
Let God Do the Impossible
While Zacharias was burning incense on the altar, he was also praying, perhaps for a son or for the coming of the Messiah. In either case, God answered his prayer. He would soon have a son, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. God answers prayer in his own way and in his own time. He worked in an “impossible” situation—Zacharias’s wife was barren—to bring about the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. If you want to have your prayers answered, you must be open to what God can do in impossible situations. And you must wait for God to work in his way, in his time.