The temple ministry of the priest was done on a rotation basics and it was Zechariah’s turn to minister. Tradition tells us that all the priests that were on active duty gathered in a circle to draw lots, which is kind of like drawing straws, to determine their responsibilities for that week. There were many tasks that could be done only by the priests. The lamps had to be filled with oil. The wicks needed trimming. The ashes had to be removed. What a messy job that was! Included in that list of responsibilities was burning the incense on the altar in the inner court. Burning the incense was an amazing opportunity and Zechariah chose that lot. I can only begin to imagine how exciting that must have been.
Most people would be anxious to tell their wife and kids, but Zechariah didn’t have kids. Elizabeth was barren. In the Jewish culture of that day, it was a disgrace to be childless. Elisabeth wore the emotional shroud of barrenness and shame. Empty arms…empty dreams….
But I don’t think that was even on Zechariah’s mind as he made his way into the inner court. The Bible doesn’t give us a glimpse of his emotions at this point. Was he filled with praise as he removed the old incense ashes and piled the special mixture of aromatic spices into a mound and lite them? As the smoke began to ascend heavenward and a wonderful fragrance filled the room, an angel appeared to Zechariah. Suddenly he was overwhelmed with fear. Most people in Scripture responded that way when they had a heavenly encounter.
Luke 1:13 “But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John.”
Then the angel begins to paint a glorious picture for dear old Zach. The angel describes the joy that this little guy would bring into their home. Then he explains what an awesome man his son would become and how he would prepare the way for the Messiah that they had been looking for so long.
Can you picture this scene? A bearded, white haired man standing there totally stunned–dazed eyes –his mouth hanging open and then finally muttering something like, “Yeah, right? Impossible! I’m old. She’s old. Old dream. It’s impossible! He couldn’t wrap his head the promise. His Elisabeth…have a baby..now…as old as they were. How? Why now? Why not then?
I think the angel was as shocked at Zach as Zach was at the angel. The angel assured him that they would have a baby, and then continued, ”but because of your unbelief, you will not be able to speak until it happens!” The people waited for Zechariah to come out and when he did, they realized something extraordinary had happened that day. But Zechariah couldn’t share it, because he was literally speechless!
Elisabeth did conceive…just like the angel said. I wonder how much Zechariah shared with her about his heavenly encounter in the inner court of the sanctuary. He couldn’t talk, but he could write…did she know about the angel? Did she know before she conceived that she would conceive? When I get to heaven, I want to hear Elisabeth share her story.
The Bible tells us she hid herself. Why ? Did she want to savor the preciousness of that season that she had dreamed of for so long? Was it to protect her joy from crude comments? Was it a sequestered time to pray over that little promise that was growing in her womb? As a mother I know the utter joy she felt as she watched her tummy grow plump and round. She was experiencing a miracle. She was experiencing a gracious gift of Jehovah. She must have said in her heart over and over again…Jehovah is a gracious giver, as she rubbed her stomach. Then moments later she would again reflect Jehovah is a gracious giver…JEHOVAH is a gracious giver.
Not only was new life growing in her physical womb, I believe something was happening in the womb of her spirit. I believe as she rehearsed the words ”God you are a gracious giver” again and again her image of God was changing. She knew she was going to have a boy,even without the aid of an ultra sound and she knew his name would be John which means “Jehovah is a gracious giver.”
Her friends argued, “Where’d you get a name like that? That’s not a family name.”
But when they asked Zach, he wrote it down for them, “His name is John.”
Jehovah is still a gracious giver. Do you know Him as gracious giver? Do you realize that God has gifts for you…gifts that can only be received when you discover Him as gracious giver? Recognizing that facet of His nature causes you to open your heart to receive from Him.
He is the giver of every good and perfect gift. But our image of God is so blurred and smeared by what we’ve heard about Him that we don’t recognize Him as a giver.Our enemy, satan, has twisted and lied to believers, even as we’ve prayed desperate, sincere prayers. He has whispered and screamed lies that have distorted our image of God to the point that many believers hardly know Who He is. But Jehovah is a gracious giver.
For many years audience members dreamed of being on one of Oprah’s “My Favorite” Shows, so they could be on the receiving end of the lavish out pouring of Oprah’s extravagant generosity. We are not shocked by the gifts of generous philanthropist, but our picture of God isn’t always so generous. We often feel that our long prayers just might pry a little something out of God’s clenched fist. But God is nothing like that. Our limited vision of Him limits our faith.
Bruce Wilkerson explains in his book “Beyond Jabez,” that some people are shocked and even alarmed at the lavish outpouring of blessings on their lives after they began to pray “The Prayer of Jabez.” He shares that some people were so overwhelmed with blessings that they stopped praying that prayer, because they thought it was wrong to be so blessed. That is an example of people with a wrong image of who God is. God is a gracious giver. In “The Prayer of Jabez”, p.21, Mr. Wilkerson said,”When we seek God’s blessing as the ultimate value in life, we are throwing ourselves entirely into the river of His will and power and purposes for us. All our other needs become secondary to what we rally want—which is to become wholly immersed in what God is trying to do in us, through us and around us for His glory.”
The Prayer of Jabez 1 Chronicles 4:10 “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.”
Elisabeth and Zechariah’s gift—John, was a blessing to them, but he was also a blessing to people, both then and now as we see him in the role as the forerunner of Christ. That’s how God’s gifts work. His gifts bless us so we can bless others. God wants to give you good gifts. God wants to bless you, but the rules of the kingdom require that we ask. When we understand His gracious gifts enable us to be equipped to give, serve and bless other, it changes our motive behind the prayer, “Bless me, Lord.” We become a conduit for His blessings to flow through, rather than a container that hoards them selfishly!