Prisoners of Hope - Zechariah
Reporter at an event - interviews all the witnesses to understand the event. There has been no greater event in the history of mankind than the miraculous birth of Jesus. Looking back we can say that this was a turning point in history, but in reality, it was the darkest of times and as Isaiah prophesied in Is 9: 2 “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” They were like prisoners who had but a glimpse of hope that they would see the light again. Zechariah, prophesying about the coming messiah, calls them in Zech 9:12 “Prisoners of Hope”. So this Christmas season we will be doing a series called Prisoners of Hope looking at the lives of some key people who were witnesses to the birth of Jesus.
While the other gospels start with the birth of Jesus or the ministry of John the Baptist, Luke takes a step back and starts with the origin story of John the Baptist - the very first witness in the story of the birth of Jesus.
Luke 1: 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.
The story is rooted in history, during the reign of Herod, who was a puppet king of the Roman empire, Zechariah was a priest married to Elizabeth. They were considered righteous before God and walked blamelessly - they were faithful to all that was commanded in the scriptures. But they were childless. Faithful yet unfruitful.
Now Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in a time when the voice of God was silent for over 400 years after the prophet Malachi - it was a time of toxic religion when barrenness would have been attributed to sin. Imagine what this would have done to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Even when they were misunderstood and perhaps despised, they remained faithful. In the middle of it all they lived righteous lives. They probably waited for a long time with eager expectation that God would bless them with a child, but now it’s too late. Through the life of Zechariah lets learn about the God of hope - When hope is heavy, when hope is hurting and when hope is lost, how can we continue to be prisoners of hope?
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 lot to 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.
This was significant in the life of Zechariah because a Priest would only get to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense once in a lifetime. There were so many of them to serve at the temple that by the time it was your turn again you were most likely dead. Isn't it strange that when it comes to serving in the church today we think of it as a burden rather than a privilege? A lot of this priestly serving in the temple looked very practical - washing vessels, cleaning the altar, sprinkling the blood, etc. Today it may look like serving on sound, putting up curtains, cleaning the bathrooms, but it is still serving the house of God. Now that Jesus made a way for us to enter his presence day or night, because he has become more accessible, let us not assume that he has become common. Everything we use in the context of service to God, becomes set apart.
AP: Let us reflect on how we view serving here at Word of Grace. Do we see it as an honourable task to the King of Kings or do we think of it as “Oh I will help out when I can” or “ I am helping these people out”
It is in the course of this service that Zechariah has a supernatural encounter!
The Sting of Hope:
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.”
Hope feels very good when we first receive it. When a prophetic word is spoken over you, when you have a dream or a promise from God, it is exciting! But as you keep holding on to it, it starts to sting a little. Pro 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. It is not likely that Zechariah was praying for a child when he was burning incense. He must have prayed for it in his 20s, and 30s, he would have really prayed hard in their 40s, it’s the last hope. But now, he’s beyond the point of hope. Have you had promises in your life that have become like that?
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.”
Hope stings when we give more weightage to our disqualifications over God's qualifications. Zechariah doesn’t realise that the prophetic word that is being spoken over his child is the fulfilment of the very last words of the OT. Malachi 4:5-6 “5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”
But Zechariah was too despondent to hear that. His heart was sick. He forgot the promises of God - he forgot about Abraham and Sarah, about Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, he forgot that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also His God, he is also our God. But hope was not lost because the name Zechariah means God remembers.
The Silence of Hope
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 (gospel). 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.
When we struggle to believe God, sometimes it's just better to be silent. But Silence is a place of reflection, of waiting on God. Zechariah was mute, but he could still do something. He definitely had something to do with Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he must have been helping Lizzie around the house, taking care of her, he probably started pondering the words of the promise in his heart, remembers the promises of old - Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah, remembers the promises of the coming Elijah, the coming messiah and his heart probably started becoming well again in that silence. Even though it looked like a punishment for unbelief, this silence must have served Zechariah well. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus practising this as well- where he would withdraw from the public and go off by himself.
AP: If you’ve been just going through the motions and finding it difficult to believe the promises of God, can I encourage you to find time to meditate on the word of God in silence?
But I think there would've also been frustration. Mary, after receiving the good news from Gabriel, comes to visit Elizabeth. Then Elizabeth blesses Mary, Mary sings a song of praise… while the women are doing all this, imagine Zechariah, quietly in a corner, unable to speak, unable to give thanks to God for this miracle, unable to share the good news of the coming Messiah!
Today, we too have good news that is preached to us, we know the messiah has come, we know that we are saved by the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross, and we have the words of eternal life and yet we choose to be mute. There is no angel from heaven that has caused that but we can become prisoners of our choices. It’s not that God’s promises are hindered, but our enjoyment of it can be.
AP: This Christmas season, can we be more intentional to be vocal about the good news of Jesus Christ? Invite your friends and neighbours to the Christmas carol evenings, lets share the good news that we have been so privileged to receive.
The Song of Hope
Elizabeth delivers a child. On the 8th day, he is circumcised when he is to be named. This is when all the neighbours and relatives poke their noses and ask, what's his name? Elizabeth says, John. But they say, no one in your family is called that… i.e. it is weird. So they say, what does she know? Let us ask Zechariah. He writes it out on a tablet and says, his name is John. The minute this happens, he can speak again and he starts praising God!
Luke 1: 67-79 - “And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This is a completely different man from the one who encountered the angel Gabriel. This is a man whose hope has been revived! He is not simply thanking God for giving him a son, he is filled with hope for all the promises of God. he is speaking into the future! He is remembering the promises of God right from the time of Abraham and he is releasing a blessing upon his son and upon all God's people. The song of Hope, reminds us of God's promises, revives our soul and restores our faith. We need songs of hope- we need to take hold of the promises of God, and push it forward.
Zechariah - a prophetic picture of the nation of Israel
Like Zechariah, the nation of Israel was waiting for the coming messiah for so long that when he appeared, their hearts were too hardened and hopeless to receive him. In fact till date there are so many of them who are unable to believe the good news of the messiah because they are carrying the sting of hope.
Just as God was silent for 400 years until the things that he promised came to be, Zechariah was silent until the birth and naming of his son. But this silence did not mean that God was not doing anything. He was birthing the promises (over 300 prophecies of the OT came to pass in Jesus - in the fullness of time), he was working in the waiting.
As Zechariah spoke and gave hope to people, Jesus the word himself became flesh and the living hope to all mankind. He is the inexhaustible supply of songs of hope.
Today as we have surveyed the life of Zechariah, let us take a moment to reflect on our own hearts and our hope. Are you suffering with the sting of hope that has hardened a part of your heart? Have you silenced your hope because of the fear of rejection, or doubt? Do you have some songs of hope to release that you are unsure about?
Word of Grace is an Evangelical (Born Again), Spirit-filled (Charismatic), Reformed, English-speaking in Pune that upholds the Bible as God's inspired Word for life. We are a church community that has people from every part of India and parts of the world. We are here to put the Great Command and the into practice by equipping and releasing every member into works of service. Word of Grace is part of a wider international family of Churches called RegionsBeyond.To know about us please log onto www.wordofgracechurch.org.