Jesse Tree: Day 20 Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25)
Four centuries of silence. No word, no messenger, no appearing. Yet Anna and Simeon were not alone in clinging to His promise (Lk.2:34-38). Then ‘when the fullness of time had come’ (Gal.4:4), God spoke His Word into the darkness. We might struggle with the idea that people need to be made ready for Jesus’ coming, but that is John’s role as the promised forerunner. He will ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (Lk.1:17). John’s coming, fulfilling so many prophecies in its own right, is so significant that Gabriel is sent from the very presence of the God to bring the good news to Zechariah (Lk.1:19).
Zechariah’s disbelief is well known, as is Gabriel’s response (Lk.1:20). We might celebrate a healthy cynicism, or reserve the right to question or ‘critically engage’ with what God says, but Gabriel (meaning: God is Mighty / My Strength) clearly doesn’t think it an appropriate response! When God speaks, the only morally justifiable response is to listen, trust and obey. If all that Zechariah can articulate is unbelief, then it is better he doesn’t speak at all. Irrespective of whether our response is faith-filled or not, God’s words ‘will be fulfilled in their time’ (Lk.1:20). In the meantime Zechariah’s silence will be a standing rebuke. In the midst of both Elizabeth’s quiet confession of faith (Lk.1:24-25), and Mary’s famous magnifying of the Lord (Lk.1:46-56), his silence becomes all the more deafening.
But that is not the last we hear of him, and as John is named as Gabriel decreed, Zechariah’s ‘mouth was opened … and he began to speak, praising God’ (Lk.1:64). So many Christians judge themselves by their mistakes, and assume that those mistakes, those moments of unbelief or faithlessness, put them beyond the reach of God’s grace. We mistake God’s Fatherly discipline for judgement and convince ourselves we are on the spiritual scrap heap. Zechariah was a mature Christian who had long walked in the ways of the Lord (Lk.1:6). Should that mean he resists the temptation to unbelief? Perhaps. But at least it meant he had the experience of God’s grace to know he is never condemned to the scrap heap. ‘Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…’ (Lk.1:67). With an eloquence rarely equalled, he sets a precedent that will be followed by his own son, and points us to Christ through whom and in whom the Lord will show the mercy He promised to the fathers. That is the joy of every Christian, for it is on the basis of Christ that His ‘tender mercy’ can be shown to any of us.
And so with this old saint, the curtain rises on the drama of redemption. The overture of grace sounds, and all that God Almighty has promised throughout the long generations of the Old Testament begins to find its fulfilment.
…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. (Lk.1:13)
Ideas for Family Devotions:
There is a lot about prayer going on in today’s passage. What can you think of to pray about as a family today? What would it look like if you actually thought God was going to answer?
Read through Matthew Chapter 5 (or the whole Sermon on the Mount, chapter 5-7). Talk about what would life look like if we actually trusted and believed what Jesus says just in this one section of His teaching? Do you think it is realistic to live like this? What help would you need from other Christians?
Can you get through today without speaking? Use the quiet to think about what God is asking you to do that you might find hard to believe…