1996-12-20 - Zacharias and Elizabeth
The Christmas Characters Series, Part 3
Before we begin, I would like to take just a moment to thank everyone who was able to attend the online memorial service for Francine Reed (aka. REEDLOVE@aol.com). She went home to be with the Lord on December 5th. Her service to the online Christian community will be sorely missed. Her mission and ministry in this life are standards for us to reach for as we continue the struggle against the enemy and the journey toward our own meeting with our beloved Lord Jesus. I, like Jan, had the honor of serving with her as a Host in the AOL Christian Fellowship chat room. I will miss her friendship and her constant smile and heart for reaching people with Jesus' love and the Gospel. Please pray for her family and friends who now know the loss of this dearly loved one. She now sits, well and whole, at the feet of our Savior. We look forward to being reunited with our Sister in Christ someday very soon. Hallelujah!
From each of our families to each of you, we wish you a blessed Christmas celebrating the first coming of our Lord and King Jesus Christ. Help us to share the gift of love given that night in Bethlehem to this lost and dying world in the name of Jesus the Messiah.
The story is a familiar part of the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ. The focus is often of the birth itself. Over the last two weeks, we have looked at some of the characters that have gotten less attention. Though none of them would vie for the spotlight, they have their part orchestrated by God Almighty to play in this drama. They have their appointed portion of the message to deliver. God never seems to put things in the Bible without a purpose. We come to Mary's cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias. It is my prayer that God is blessing you in the reading as He is me in the preparation of these devotionals.
In Luke chapter five we meet the couple. They live in tumultuous times and yet they are counted as "… righteous in the sight of God and walked blameless in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord". What a powerful statement to begin with that they stand out as having heart and mind aligned with God in a perverse and wicked time. Zacharias amazes me even more since he was a Priest in the corrupt temple of Ciaphas and Annas. Zacharias, by remaining righteous and true, protected his bride Elizabeth from the corruption of their day. His calling to the Priesthood took him directly in to the path of this evil daily. Yet he remained faithful as God required.
For a woman to be barren of children in this day was often considered an act of God closing up the womb for some unrightiousness. We have already been told that Elizabeth was righteous in God's sight. But she must have suffered at least inside. Family would be a very important consideration in any marriage. The woman's inability to provide children was considered at least a failure on her part. Now we know today that either the wife or the husband can be the cause of childlessness. But it is none the less painful to the couple who desire to start a family. If you know a husband and wife who are without children and have a desire to have children, pray for God's will in their lives. Perhaps God has a plan for them that does not include children, or not yet. Privately let them know you are praying for them personally. It will be one of the greatest Christmas gifts you could give them.
In verse eight, Zacharias draws the lot that indicates that he will burn incense in the sacred Holy of Holies behind the great veil of the temple. This curtain was 60 feet high and four inches thick of hand woven cloth that spanned the width of the temple. The priests did not enter this area without due cause. To do so, or to do so unrightiously, would draw the penalty of death at the hand of God Himself. Each priest who entered the Holy of Holies had a rope tied around his ankle. So that if anything went wrong, his body could be retrieved. Zacharias would have prepared himself in prayerful examination and sacrifice, put on the priestly garb and had the rope tied to his ankle. He would take fire from the altar and fill a golden censor and pass through the veil. Zacharias would have begun his prayers and began rocking the censor scattering smoke into the room. The smoke was symbolic of the prayers of the people.
At this moment, an angel appears to Zacharias. He must have feared he had done something to displease God. The Angel sensing this terror says, "Do not be afraid …". I'm not so sure I would have been so easily comforted. We now learn that the couple have prayed and prayed for a child. We are told they were both "well stricken in years", and I have to wonder if they had stopped praying. And yet, the angel informs Zacharias that Elizabeth will bear him a son! The angel goes on to tell the Father to be several amazing things about his new son. The defensive reaction he had built into himself kicked in and he threw cold water on the idea. "How shall I know this for certain for I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?" The angel identifies himself as the archangel Gabriel, and informs him that since he has not believed the good news God had prepared for him, he would be silent until the prophecy is fulfilled. And wham, he is gone.
Zacharias then exited the scared area. His compatriots quickly realized that something special had happened to Zacharias. While they play 20 questions, Zacharias writes the incident down on paper for them. Some must have scoffed at first, but mute Zacharias was stark testimony that something had indeed happened. In verse 23 we learn that Zacharias finished his tour of service faithfully, even after the miraculous events in the Holy of Holies. He gives us a model of faithfulness and consistency to emulate.
Now we turn to Elizabeth in Luke 1:25:
Luke 1:25 And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying: "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men." (NAS)
Elizabeth recognizes that the Lord God has favored her greatly. A child alone would have been redemption enough to make her aching heart sore, freed from this "disgrace among men." But she will also have a very special child, the forerunner of the Messiah. The honor would have been heady to most. Elizabeth honors the Lord by not making a scene over the wonderful events that she has been granted a part.
Now we skip from verse 25 to verse 39. Mary had been visited by Gabriel and told that she will be the vehicle through which the Messiah would arrive. She is a virgin and in spite of the fact that it could cause serious problems for her, she trusts God. In verse 39, she has come to the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was about three months ahead of Mary, and "when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy." Elizabeth recognizes many things here. She sees Mary carries a far more special child and is not jealous. She is satisfied with what God has granted her. She recognizes that the child she carries, is excited to be near the Lord. Did the child sense his mother's excitement, or recognize Mary's voice? Either way the child is an active participant in this. In verses 43-45, Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith in accepting this task. "And blessed is she who believed there would be a fulfillment …" of the promised Messiah. Mary returns the praise to the Lord in her Magnificat.
In verse 57, John is born, circumcised and named. At the time Zacharias names the child as he was instructed by Gabriel, his speech returns. After nine months of silence, he first words are praises to God. No anger or upset that he was so put upon by God for some small infraction. But, ringing praises fall from his lips. He has a son, and he will prepare the way for the promised Messiah. How full his heart must have been.
Zacharias shows us that we do not have to be perfect to be righteous before God. He did not accept the angelic message because of the physical impossibility. King David is another perfect example of this. But with God all things are possible. Elizabeth shows us the gratitude we should have when God pours our His blessings on us. We do not deserve anything good. What we deserve is Hell itself. But God in His mighty love and mercy stayed with the plan of the ages to free mankind of the bondage of the enemy and the shackles of death, sin and enslavement by the enemy.
The walk to Calvary began in the manger in Bethlehem, and was announced at the Jordan River by the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth. The victory that Jesus shares with us was planned in eternity past. This couple kept themselves separate from the world in order to take a small part in the redemption of you and me, and all mankind.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the example of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Keep us mindful that they are flesh and blood just like we are. Show us that we can also live separate, faithful lives for You. In this life, we will learn to see and think more like You do and see those around us You do. Living this life will require dependence on You in everything. Make it crystal clear to us that the Manger in Bethlehem is only the very beginning of the walk to the cross, and eventually Heaven. Teach us to see the eternal perspective. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.