Note: We will be examining each of the characters from the Christmas story found in Matthew 1–3 and Luke 1–3 on the blog this month. I’d love for you to grab your Bible and read those passages before digging into these posts.
But there is also a parallel plot line—a story that happens alongside Jesus’ arrival with striking similarities and its own lessons to teach. It is the story of the arrival of Jesus’ cousin, John (later known as John the Baptist). It was a birth filled with miracles and wonder, much like Jesus’. And it was a birth with lessons to teach all of us about sinking our teeth into the promises of God.
Luke 1:5–7 describes Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest. The Bible describes the couple this way:
And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (v. 6).
But righteous living did not lead to an easy life for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Verse 7 tells us that the couple had no child because Elizabeth was barren. This is especially bad news because they were “advanced in years.” That’s a nice way of saying they were old.
Zechariah was minding his own business, serving in the temple, when everything changed in an instant.
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 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. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 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. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vv. 11–17).
Did you notice all of the parallels between the angel’s announcement that John was on his way and his announcement that Jesus was coming?
Here’s a recap. The angel Gabriel delivered both messages. Both Mary and Zechariah were troubled when the angel appeared. Gabriel gave both Mary and Zechariah the news that a baby was on the way and gave them specific instructions on what they should name their child. Both births would be miraculous. Elizabeth was barren and way past the childbearing years. Mary was a virgin. In both stories, Gabriel shared exciting news about how the coming baby would change everything for God’s people. But that is where these two stories diverge.
Remember that when Mary got the news, she surrendered to God’s plan.
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).
Zechariah didn’t jump on the bandwagon quite as quickly.
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v. 18).
Zechariah wanted to know the details, and he wanted to remind the angel of the challenges. I can picture myself in those very shoes. Here he was faced with an angel of God bringing the most amazing news Zechariah could have asked for, and he can’t see past the status quo. Even though Zechariah had been praying for a baby, clearly he had lost the faith that God would actually deliver. He had become comfortable with his disappointment. It had been a constant companion for so long that he couldn’t fathom that God would remove it.
Gabriel responds this way to Zechariah’s unbelief.
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. 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” (vv. 19–20).
Zechariah’s story is proof that God is serious about our response to His promises.
Fortunately, Zechariah’s story has a very happy ending. You can check it out here.
But for now, let’s zero in on the lesson that Zechariah’s response has to teach.
If God promises something, He will do it. No matter how impossible it seems. No matter what obstacles must be scaled. No matter if it makes sense to us or not.
No, an angel may not appear to you with the promise of a miraculous birth, but God has promised you so much. His Word is rich with promises for your life. They are as real as the angel’s word to Zechariah in the temple.
When you encounter a promise from God, there are two ways you can respond. You can react like Zechariah, out of disappointment, disbelief, and the need to know every detail. Or you can sink your teeth into His promises and respond like Mary, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
What has God promised you today? How will you respond?
PS: I explore Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story in more detail in my latest Bible study, Beautiful Encounters: The Presence of Jesus Changes Everything. Leave me a comment below, and I will choose one of you to win a copy.