5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lotto enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Elizabeth and Zachariah’s Pregnancy
The story of Elizabeth and Zachariah’s pregnancy harks back to many pregnancies in the Old Testament. Pregnancy was a bigger issue in ancient days because it was often seen as the sole reason a woman was alive. She was the recipient of the man’s seed, so it was presumed. His seed was to be fruitful in her womb and then she was honoured by the raising of offspring. Unfortunately many women bore the brunt of shame and scorn from the community around them because their role as child bearers was not fulfilled. Sarah was barren but brought the sugnificant child of promise to Abraham. Rachel was barren until God opened her womb to bring the blessing of Joseph to her husband because of the Lord’s hand. Manoah and his wife were childless but God gave them the deliverer Samson, although they spoiled him and he was deeply flawed. Hannah was barren and cried out to God so that Eli thought she was drunk, but God gave her a great son in Samuel who was dedicated to God as the last in the long line of the Judges. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel the scene is set for another miraculous birth. However, this is a birth that will be a precursor to a greater birth, the birth of Jesus.
John’s birth is remarkable because his parents were old and yet he would be a prophet in the spirit of Elijah. Elijah was a bold man who spoke truth in the northern kingdom of Israel when Jezebel was queen. John would speak truth with boldness to the sons of Herod the Great, and for his boldness he would lose his life. However, this was only after the purpose of God in his life was worked out. God’s hand directs history and moves key players into key positions. He performs miracles to ensure outcomes. he silences those who are doubtful of his abilities. His will is done.
Christ, you are the apex of history but you are also its beginning and end. You fill the Creation as we walk in it and you touch history as events unfold. Help us not to be cynical and distant, but help us to believe and then live appropriately.
- Describe John’s parents.
- What was John’s purpose?
- Why doesn’t the book just cut straight to Jesus?
- How have you seen history reveal God’s hand?
- How does God use infertility to work for his glory?