In the last post we were introduced to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a godly couple that had prayed for over forty years for a child.
Does God hear our prayers? That’s a question we have all asked. Does God really hear me? After many years Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth probably questioned if God heard their prayers for a child. But God had great plans for their child who was still on the way -John the Baptist.
Zechariah served in the priestly division of Abijah. Priests were divided into 24 divisions, which we can read about in 1 Chronicles 24. Each day 56 of the 300 Priests in their division were chosen by a lottery who would serve in the temple. It was an honor to be selected to have duty over the altar of incense (Exodus 30:7-8). This burning of the incense was the place representing the prayers of the people. How long had the people been praying, “Send the Messiah, work in our nation?” How much do we pray for our nation, for revival?
Today was Zechariah’s turn. I’m sure he was overjoyed telling his wife Elizabeth the good news. Many priests go their whole life without the honor. At the appointed time, Zechariah would enter into the Most Holy Place of the temple, just outside the Holy of Holies. The Golden Candlestick would be to his right. The Table of Showbread was to His left. Before him was the Altar of Incense with the veil to the Holy of Holies just beyond the Altar. This was a reverent time of worship.
Incidentally, it was here that Nadab and Abihu were struck down for offering “strange fire” before God (Lev 10:1-3). Spiritual leadership truly is life or death. Zechariah was up for the task while a multitude was outside praying.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. (Luke 1:11-12)
What happens next is unexpected and amazing. The man without a child met an angel with a gospel. Even without the appearance of the Angel, Zechariah’s ministry in the Temple would have been a once in a lifetime experience. Now to the right of the Altar stands the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19) It is worth noting that it was Gabriel who appeared to Daniel to reveal the 70 weeks of years prophesy (Dan 9:20-21). This prophecy provided Daniel with an exact date of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Messiah. It will also be Gabriel who appears to Mary shortly.
Scripture explains that angels minister to us and help us and they are all around us. We hear stories of angels helping people in trouble. Sometimes they take human form as Hebrews 13:2 says: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)
We cannot overemphasize the importance of the setting this encounter takes place. This is a holy place Angels are messengers from God. They play a significant role in assuring God’s plan and will is carried out and they were pivotal in announcing the coming of Christ. They will play an active role in the final days of the end times. They have created beings, eternal in nature, and mighty. Angels are not cute cupids floating on clouds, but they are warriors and powerful. So Zechariah’s response to the appearance of Gabriel is to be expected. “Fear fell upon him.” (v.12)
When we encounter the Holy or Divine, we will naturally respond in fear. In every instance, the angels provide assurance of peace and calm. “Do not be afraid.” For we know there are also fallen angels. These are the angels who followed the arch-angel Lucifer in a revolt against God (Revelation 12:4).
We should also know that there is a constant spiritual battle happening all around us that we are entwined in daily. Our prayers are effective against the evil forces and engage us in the spiritual war. Ephesians 6:12-13.”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. Luke 1:13
Gabriel is bringing to Zechariah a grand message announcing the coming of the forerunner of the Messiah. There are some important pieces of Gabriel’s message that we want to look at:
First, after assuring Zechariah not to be afraid, Gabriel tells Zechariah that God has heard his prayer. Because, Gabriel is making the annunciation of John, some believe that Gabriel is talking about Zechariah’s prayer for a son. This could be, but given the context of where John is, it is unlikely John’s prayer was self-focused. Rather, it seems more likely that Zechariah may have been praying for the redemption of Israel. Prayer for the nation was the point of the evening offering
Nevertheless, God hears our prayers. There may be times when it seems like our prayers go nowhere but just waft into the air. This is not the case. God hears our prayers. His answers will sometimes come at surprising times, in a surprising place, in a surprising way. Watch for the answer!
Secondly, Gabriel tells John they are going to have a baby and the baby’s name will be John. Yohanan means “God has been gracious.” God knows us. He forms us and shapes us in our mother’s womb. He even gives us our name. God knows your name. Your life begins before you take your first breath. That’s why every life, including life in the womb, is sacred and holy.
There are some key characteristics Gabriel shares with Zechariah about John’s life:
First, His life will bring joy to Zechariah & Elizabeth, along with many others. The joy rooted in John’s ministry was pointing people to Jesus as the forerunner of the messiah.
Second, John was set apart for God. The reference to not drinking beer or wine would be clear to Zechariah that John was to be a Nazarite. Nazarites were set apart for special service for God (Numbers 6:1-21). A Nazarite was to avoid strong drink, not to cut his hair, and not to touch a dead body. The real contrast here is that John’s filling of the Holy Spirit. This is something common in Luke’s gospel as well as Acts
The most important thing is that from the very first John was to be filled with the Holy Spirit, without whose help God’s work cannot be done effectively. John is the only person who said in the New Testament to be filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb; this emphasizes the fact that God chose him and equipped him from the very beginning.
He will be a great prophet. Jesus said that John was the greatest of all prophets in Matthew 11:11
Months from now, when Elizabeth, is visited by Mary who is carrying Jesus in her womb, it will be John who leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. (Luke 1:44). This reminds us that the Holy Spirit was with John from the day of his conception. Even in the womb, John is It also serves as a Scriptural basis for the sanctity of life in the womb. This was not a glob of flesh.
The last thing of John’s life Gabriel shares is the theocentric ministry of John. His ministry is not self-serving. He will turn people to the Lord with the “spirit and the power of Elijah.” Elijah spent most of his ministry opposing apostasy and turn people away from Baal.
Baal was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia. The practice of Baal worship infiltrated Jewish religious life during the time of the Judges (Judges 3:7), became widespread in Israel during the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31-33), and also affected Judah (2 Chronicles 28:1-2).
Baal was a fertility god and was commonly associated with child sacrifice and sexual immorality. In this way, God’s incredible gift of sexuality was perverted to the most obscene public prostitution. No wonder God’s anger burned against his people and their leaders.
The worship of Baal (which means “lord”) worship is evidenced by the out war on anything biblical and Christian. The glorification of sexual deviance, violence, abortion (child sacrifice), pornography and prostitution is evidence of Baal worship in our culture. Incidentally, Jesus In Matthew 12:26, calls Satan “Beelzebub,” linking the devil to Baal-Zebub, (2 Kings 1:2). The Baal of the Old Testament were nothing more than demons masquerading as gods (1 Corinthians 10:20).
One last interesting aspect of this is Gabriel’s words “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just” (v.17). The idea of family and the spiritual leadership of fathers cannot be overlooked here. A major part of Israel’s reconciliation was the reconciliation of the family with the role of the father leading the family spiritually. All of this was vital to the first coming of Jesus. Will He find us any more ready when he comes again?
Will Christ find us upright, righteous, praying, leading our family, turning away from idolatry, and toward God’s grace and goodness? Are we a church committed to strengthening the family? Are we more interested in what is popular or what is holy? There is hope in the darkness.
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