Luke 1:5-24, 57-66
Today, we are looking at the New Testament priest Zechariah. You may or may not remember him, but I bet you remember his son – John the Baptist!
The Bible begins by telling us that Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah. This division is not really significant for our purposes, but just by way of interest, back in the era of the monarchs, King David split the priesthood up into 24 divisions based on the names of the adult males descended from Aaron. He then created a rotating schedule, so that each division ended up serving in the temple for two weeks a year.
This continued until the people went into captivity. Upon their return, only four of the divisions remained; the rest died in captivity. As their numbers once again grew, they again divided themselves up into 24 divisions using the old names. So we know that Zechariah was, without question, a Levite and a priest, however, he may have been serving under the division of Abijah even though he was descended from another family member (you can read it for yourself in 1 Chronicles 24).
Anyway, in verse 5 Luke also reveals that Zechariah had a wife named Elizabeth, who was also a descendant of Aaron. So both of them were from the tribe of Levi. We are told that they both served God in righteousness:
Luke 1:6 – And they were both righteous before God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
The people who lived under the Old Testament law had a multitude of commandments to try and keep (seriously – have you read Exodus and Leviticus?). Keeping them all would be quite an accomplishment indeed!However, the overall meaning of the scripture is not that they were actually perfect people, but that they were faithfully observing both the moral and ceremonial institutions of the law. They were certainly making Jehovah the center of their lives and they were fair in their dealings with others.
Interestingly, we see that despite their service to God, they had some problems in life. I bet you can relate to that – I know I can.
Luke 1:7 – But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.
In our society, there is no shame or stigma attached to not having children. So it is sometimes hard for us to imagine that back in the days of Zechariah,there was a lot of shame and embarrassment associated with being childless. The couple without children were often considered as being under some judgment from God, leading to speculation that they had sinned in some way.
To add to their dilemma, they were both ‘advanced in years’. Every day that passed made it look less and less likely that they were ever going to have a child.
Luke tells us that Zechariah was serving out his week of temple service when he was chosen by lot to burn incense before the Lord in the Holy Place (since some of the priestly duties were better than others, they used lots to assign jobs).
Incense was burned twice daily. One priest would go into the Holy Place and remove the ashes from the altar. After he departed, another priest would bring a pan of fresh burning coals from the brazen altar. After he left, a third priest (in this case Zechariah) would come and burn the incense before God. As the smoke ascended, he would make intercession for the people, while at the same time, a whole crowd was outside praying.
So Zechariah is in the Holy Place about to offer the incense and prayers, when all of a sudden, he sees an angel.
Luke 1:11 – And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
The wording here is interesting. It does not say that the angle suddenly arrived; it says that Zechariah finally saw him. The angel may have been there for quite some time. How many times are we surrounded by God’s angels of protection but we don’t see it?
Anyway, Gabriel has a two part message for Zechariah. The first part is for him personally.
Luke 1:13-14 – …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…
How amazing is that? A personal notification that God was going to give Zechariah and Elizabeth the deepest desire of their hearts! Not only a child, a son! Their prayers have been answered! But wait – there’s more! Not only will Elizabeth and Zechariah be blessed, John will be a blessing to the whole Jewish nation! God is going to use him to prepare the hearts of the Jewish people for the soon coming Messiah, whom they have been waiting for, for literally hundreds of years.
Luke 1:14-17 – …and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord…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 make ready for the Lord a people prepared.
Now, stop and consider this scenario: if you saw an angel right this moment and he told you that God was giving you the deepest desire of your heart, what would your response be?
For most of us, the response would be unbounded excitement and gratitude, right? We would jump up and down and rejoice and burst out with audible thankfulness. We would already be making plans. We would definitely try to get a selfie with the angel. Then we would tell him to wait a minute, while we either send out a mass text or a tweet, letting everyone know that we were blessed!
The priest, however, does none of that. Apparently, he has a moment of weakness and unbelief, despite the heavenly message.
Luke 1:18 – And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
For future reference, calling your wife “advanced in years” is a bad idea, but doubting a direct promise of God that comes straight from an angel who stands in His presence is an even worse idea! What was he thinking?
Luke 1:20 – 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.
So Zechariah is immediately unable to speak. Most scholars believe he was also struck deaf, based on Luke 1:62 which says that when the baby was born, they “made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him [the baby] to be called” (if he could hear, they could just ask him instead of making signs).
Meanwhile, as all this is taking place, the crowd outside is getting restless. Zechariah has been in the Holy place an unusually long time, and they are wondering what is going on.
Eventually he comes out, but obviously, he can’t tell them anything. They realize he had seen a vision of some kind, but that is about all they can determine. He ends up finishing his week of service, then going home.
Are you married? Imagine what it would be like to live with a spouse that could not speak or hear for the better part of a year. Be honest – Aren’t there times when that sounds like a desirable condition? But all joking aside, I bet it was frustrating.
Since communication was difficult, I wonder if Zechariah stopped communicating every little thought that popped into his mind. I think he began to really consider what he wanted to say before he made the effort to communicate. I bet that when he did make the effort, he had something meaningful to say. He sure had lots and lots of time to think about how his words affected his life.
Well, as we would expect, the words of the angel are indeed fulfilled in their time.
You already know the end of the story; Elizabeth gives birth to a son, Zechariah names him ‘John’ as instructed, and instantly the priest is once again able to speak and hear. Now he bursts out with vocal praise to God. People take note of John as a person of future interest; it is clear that the hand of the Lord was upon him.
So, what can we glean from the experience of Zechariah?
Answer: THE THINGS THAT YOU SPEAK MATTER TO GOD.
Let me say it again: Just as in the case of Zechariah, your words affect your life. God is listening and he wants you to pay attention to what you are saying.
Matthew 10:36 – I [Jesus] tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
When Zechariah responded to the angelic messenger, he spoke words of unbelief, instead of faith and thanksgiving. Remember, he was living under the old covenant (not the age of grace), which means he spoke unbelief in the very presence of God. He deserved to be struck down and killed, but God did not do so. He showed mercy to Zechariah and used him to teach us this powerful lesson about our words at the same time.
The bible has much to say about what you speak. Here are two of many, many examples:
Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
1 Peter 3:10 – For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile…
We live in an era where communication is astonishingly quick and easy. No other generation has ever had the potential to speak as we do. Not only do we speak to people in person, we can call, text, Snapchat, skype, instant message, tweet, Facebook, YouTube and on and on and on…
But I have to wonder – in this age of constant talking, are we saying things of value?
If our tongue really does have the power to give life and death, shouldn’t we pay attention to what we are saying? Is it really a good idea to just communicate anything and everything that pops into our minds? Have you ever said/posted/tweeted/shared something that you later regretted?
Do any of these things sound familiar:
- I’ll never get out of debt.
- It’s too late for me to find a spouse. I will always be alone.
- kids are addicted/living in sin/making wrong choices. I don’t think they will ever change.
- Nothing every goes right for me. I never get any good breaks.
- I’m losing my mind.
- I probably have Alzheimer’s. My memory is shot.
- I am so stupid.
- I’ll never have a son, I am too old (that one was from Zechariah)!
The good news is that we can learn from the lesson of Zechariah and going forward, we can change the way we speak.
First, let’s take a look at how our words function in the spiritual realm.
Joyce Meyer tells us in her book, “Power Words, What You Say can Change Your Life”, that words are like containers of power that you sow into your life. They can contain power to destroy or power to create, depending on what you speak.
When you speak words that destroy, such as ‘I give up, my marriage will never work’, you are sowing destruction in your life in the spiritual realm. If you speak words that are life-giving such as ‘I believe God is going to is going to heal my marriage’, you are sowing life and blessing into your situation in the spiritual realm.
Now that we have a better understanding of how our words affect ourselves and others, what can we do to ensure that we speak words of faith, encouragement and affirmation instead of unbelief and destruction?
Once again, the bible has the answer. Jesus tells us that the words we speak are a product of what we are thinking.
Matthew 12:34-35– You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
Matthew 15:18-19 – But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts…
Our thoughts determine what we speak. The words we speak play a big role in what happens in our lives. The key, then, is to gain control over our mind and thoughts.
I’m sure you have already figured out that despite your salvation you may still have thoughts of lust, envy or (like Zechariah), unbelief. [Also, many times we speak destructive words out of pure habit]. That is because your mind/thought life is not instantly regenerated when you receive Christ as your savior. Rather, it is sanctified over time as you strive to control it. Gaining control over your thoughts is part of spiritual warfare.
2 Corinthians 10:5 – We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ
You can choose to fill your mind with the things of God like scripture or praises or testimonies of God’s grace and mercy. You can dwell on stories of triumph and love. When you dwell on those things, you will speak praise, thanksgiving and words of life to yourself and others.
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Stop and do a quick inventory of what you are watching, what you are reading and what video games you are playing. Which of these things does your mind dwell on? Do they affect you positively, negatively or not at all? What is coming out of your mouth as a result of what your mind is dwelling on?
Obviously, this little lesson is not an exhaustive study of the power of words and the importance of our thoughts. It is up to you to look for good Christian sources to further assist you in making changes in your life. Please do so!
In the meantime, what choices can you make right now that would make your thoughts (and by default your words) more pleasing to God and more beneficial to yourself and others? Are you willing to take the first step? If you could ask Zechariah, I bet he would tell you to get started, because these issues are vitally important.
Let me offer you some words of ENCOURAGEMENT: You can do all things (including this) through Christ. With study and discipline, you can control your thoughts and bring them captive under Christ. You can speak blessing into your situation. It won’t happen overnight. There may be some struggles. You may make mistakes from time to time, but getting your thoughts and words under control is going to make a big difference in your life.
Proverbs 21:23 – Whosoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles.
Let me offer you some RELIEF: You don’t have to do this on your own! There are many, many good sources available to you from other believers who have taken control over this area of their lives. They can offer you advice and helpful insights. More importantly, the Holy Spirit is living right there inside your heart and it is his job to sanctify your life – including your thoughts and words! He is standing by right now to help.
Let me offer you some words of STRENGTH: Speaking words of faith can break bondages in your life. It can open the door for God to move in miraculous ways. Even though this may be a long term process, the rewards will be worth it. Take the first step today!