Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”
Zechariah and Elizabeth remind me of Abraham and Sarah (I’m sure purposefully so, God loves to do things like that), only with the roles reversed. While they lived righteous lives, Zechariah does not quite have Abraham’s faith in God. Ironic, considering Abraham’s story was likely to to him from birth! Even though the angel said Zechariah had been praying for a son, he did not really believe it could happen! Yet happen it did, and Elizabeth honored God for her blessing. Notice that even though she knew nothing of the angel’s prophecy, Elizabeth gives the credit to God and no one else. She knows our God is a God of impossible miracles.
The angel predicts many things for John. He is destined to be a great prophet, one with the spirit and power of Elijah! The Jews at this time loved Elijah, and many believed he himself would return to be their Messiah (I think, don’t quote me on that). But his most important tasks will be turning the Israelites back to God, and readying their hearts for the Messiah. Before the Jews would be ready to hear Jesus’s message, John had to pave the way. This prophecy makes it clear that John the Baptist is an essential part of God’s plan for His people. Yet we know that he will not be treated much better, by either the Pharisees or the Roman government.
The main thing I take from this story is that God uses the most unlikely people to bring about His plan. If He can use Zechariah and Elizabeth, old and infertile, to bring John the Baptist into the world, He can use me for great purposes too. All I need is a little faith, like Elizabeth had.