Zechariah is visited by an angel
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
This biblical research aims to ask the following questions about the assumptions and modelling given by Jesus in the gospels. The working hypothesis here is that Jesus engaged in battle with every work of the enemy, not just on the cross, but throughout his ministry. In addition, I am also suggesting that Jesus never lost a battle. His ministry not only defines the spiritual battle we face each day, but he also models victory. If that is so, then we will discover that we need to modify some of our ideas about what victory represents when we allow it to be defined by the life and ministry of the Son of God.
How were the battle lines drawn up in this incident? How was the presence and dominion of the enemy evident? What does God do to engage in this battle? What do people do to engage in the battle? What happens? What is the nature of the victory? How does this apply to our own circumstances?
The day Zechariah entered the Temple in Jerusalem could not have been more critical as far as the kingdom of God on earth was concerned. The Romans had exceeded their predecessor imperialist rulers, gaining ignominious proficiency in every kind of human injustice. In addition to this, corruption and compromise was the order of the day for Judaism. As always, a quiet righteous remnant remained. Godly men and women lived their lives by avoiding trouble and praying for the kingdom to come. It seems that the closer anyone got to the religious centres of power the more difficult it was to avoid the toxic traditions and their abuses.
Like others mentioned in the New Testament (Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna), Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were able to maintain godliness with humility. If you want to think about battles, then this is a day to day battle that is hard to fight. Anyone who has lived under corrupt authority will know this all too well. I heard someone say a few years ago that if a righteous person was elected to public office in Australia they would soon be crucified. We are in a time when people love darkness rather than light, so the systems need to be corrupt to stay in place. It is the same with Biblical truth in the church. There are far too many ungodly leaders and leadership systems. They operate pretty much like their secular counterparts and making it harder rather than easier for ordinary believers to be passionate about following Jesus.
It was because Zechariah and Elizabeth chose to live lives of true godliness that they qualified for an angelic visit and were aware of the prophetic presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this was made the more difficult when they were not able to bear children. It was not just the frustration of unfulfilled maternal and paternal desires that needed to be managed. It was the unwritten but publicly assumed idea that if someone remained childless it was because they were being judged by God for some hidden sin. It’s hard to remain righteous when people think you are hiding some sin that has incurred divine judgment.
But on the one day of the year when a priest entered the Holy Place, an angel showed up. After four hundred years of silence that is an astounding event. And it happened in one of the few places where there would be no one to witness it other than Zechariah himself. It seems to be the way of God to bring a word to a man or a woman and for that person to become the embodiment of the word, not just the witness of it. The battle engages and a number of different levels. In the first place, the presence of the angel and his message was the first in the biggest battle, the one that will be won on the cross. The Messiah’s advance party is being secretly announced to one man. John will be born as a priest but will be known for a prophetic ministry that will happen a long way from the Temple precinct. At another level, a godly man who has been praying for a son is being asked to believe God for the fact that, even though the child will be born by natural processes of conception and gestation, it is also a miracle because both of them are well beyond the normal age for childbearing. The small battle is as important as the big battle. This is always the case. Whatever the particulars of our God-given vocation, each battle needs to be won the same way: faith and obedience. When Zechariah starts to think of the angel’s announcement as a rational human being, the angel gives him a little supernatural reminder. He is not going to be able to speak for a little more than nine months. This will be a daily reminder that the kingdom issue is not about normal human experience but about divine power working through ordinary human activity.
The next battle is trying to convince Elizabeth that they need to “try for a baby once again.” He had to do it without being able to talk. There’s a little battle all on its own. I reckon a good portion of prayer, fasting together with a largish slate with an even larger supply of crayons. I don’t want to dwell on the matter, but there are genuine challenges associated with older people trying to conceive. Just ask Abraham and Sarah when you meet them in heaven. They would have a story to tell on the subject. I only point this out because it needs an example of the battles needing to be fought.
We need to be very clear about how the battle is engaged. God sends a prophetic message by angelic visitation to a man who has been praying that he and his wife could have a child. Way after all human hope is gone. The man can’t believe his prayer is now to be answered. His hesitation invokes a temporary supernatural block on his ability to speak. With this increased level of difficulty, he goes home to his wife. They miraculously produce a son by the natural process. This is how God fights battles and this is how his servants wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, spiritual darkness and wickedness. It is when the supernatural works in and through the natural.
The nature of this victory is the birth of a special Spirit-filled prophet and forerunner to the Messiah. This event will be linked to another angelic visitation about which Zechariah and Elizabeth knew nothing. Their initial faith was to live godly lives in a time when Israel’s public faith was compromised. When they received the word from God they obeyed and God worked a miracle to give an old couple a baby boy. Then they began to receive further prophetic revelation and a visit of a young unmarried relative from Nazareth who would give birth to the Messiah about three months after John was born.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO US?
- Be faithful to God even if the systems and other people are compromising Biblical faith. This is important not only as a qualification for more specific roles, but for its own sake. It is hard to be a radical counter-cultural revolutionary, but every person who seeks the kingdom of God first and lives a lifestyle mandated by the Bible will find themselves at odds with both the religious and the secular culture, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth.
- Regardless of how revelation comes – angelic visit or reading the Bible or a prophetic Holy Spirit word, we need to embrace that word until it becomes our lifestyle. Just think how Zechariah and Elizabeth began and continued to live on the basis of this word. First, they tried to have a baby in their old age. Then, they raised this child according to the further prophetic revelation they received.
- As they pursued this new purpose they were sovereignly linked to God’s big story. They became part of the birth and life of the Messiah. Then they saw their son take up a ministry that became so confronting that he was imprisoned and then executed. Their obedience immersed them in the bigger story. They were faithful in small ways and became partners with the biggest story in the history of God’s purposes for the world he loves. We have exactly the same opportunity. It is only when we allow the word and purpose of God to shape our lives that God brings us together with people who make up the bigger picture. The kingdom of God is a big but amazingly connected group of people doing an amazingly connected work. Whenever we plug in, through faith and obedience at any point, it is like connecting to the internet. We are directly connected to a world of kingdom people and kingdom work. We will find that God puts us together with all kinds of people we would never have known and with work that we would otherwise not have been aware – and we immediately belong to it.
February 12. 2019