As we pick up the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth, we don’t so much hear about the prayers that they prayed, but the incredible way in which their answer was given to them. God chose to send an angel to Zacharias as he was performing his priestly duty in the temple, to reveal to him that his prayer of many long years was to be answered, and not just answered in a normal kind of way, but the answer was to produce one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. We’ll look at 3 things we can learn from this passage.
1. Sometimes God makes people wait a long time to answer their prayers. Zacharias and Elizabeth were, as Luke puts it ‘advanced in years’, and it’s clear that they had been praying for a child. We can probably assume from this that they had been praying a long time. I’m sure the praying went up and down, and the fervency of their prayers dropped at different times, but we know that they had sought God for His favour in the form of a child. I’m sure it must have been frustrating for this couple, and there was also the shame of being barren that was very real in their culture, but God still made them wait, because He had something incredible in store for them. It’s so easy for us to get frustrated when our prayers aren’t answered even in a few weeks or months, let alone the years that Zacharias and Elizabeth had to wait. We should never let this frustration get the better of us – as God’s children we can cling to the fact that God’s timing is perfect. Sometimes He doesn’t give what we ask because it isn’t good for us, and sometimes He wants us to wait, because He has something much better planned for us than what we could ever think up. This leads us to the next point:
2. God wants us to keep trusting, and keep believing. Unfortuntely this is the part where Zacharias doesn’t give us the best example – he has the angel Gabriel himself come to him and tell him that his prayer has been answered, and he begins to question. He asks the angel “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Maybe we wouldn’t have thought much of the question, but the angel sees through Zacharias’ unbelief, and tells him that because he has even questioned the message God has sent, Zacharias will not speak again until the baby is born. Somewhere along the line, even though he may still have been praying the prayer, Zacharias had lost hope in the answer coming, and so when it does, he doesn’t immediately begin to rejoice, but begins to doubt. Let’s not look down on Zacharias because let’s be honest, the answer God was promising was something impossible for a couple of their age – it’s perfectly possible that we would have done the same. However, let’s learn the lesson that this situation wants to teach us – we should never give up hope of God answering our prayers, but rather wait patiently in faith, and always be ready for the answer to come. Finally one more thing to pick out:
3. God can do incredible things from the most unlikely places. You would never have thought it possible that Zacharias and Elizabeth could bear a child at all at their age, and yet God does the impossible for them, and as we’ve mentioned earlier He gives them a son, but not just any son – a child that had been promised in the Old Testament, a child who would prepare the way for the Messiah Himself. I somehow doubt that this was the answer to Zacharias prayer specifically, and yet God takes the simple prayer of a simple couple who had served Him faithfully through the years, and He turns it into seomthing incredible. I’m sure you could even hear Zacharias saying along with Paul, ‘Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.‘
That same power that was at work in Zacharias and Elizabeth’s lives, and in the life of their only son is the same power that is at work in us, and what was true for them can be true for us – God can take the smallest, most insignificant life, and can use it to do incredible things – ‘to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.’