Reading the Word
Luke 1:5–25 (ESV)
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 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. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 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. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
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.” 19 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. 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.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Understanding and Applying the Word
Luke gives us the background to the birth of John the Baptist in today’s passage. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both advanced in age. They had no children and Elizabeth was barren (v. 7). She had not been able to conceive when she was younger and now she is beyond her childbearing years. In this seemingly impossible situation, an angel appears to Zechariah while he is on duty in the temple and tells him that Elizabeth is going to have a baby. This will not be just any baby, but one who will be used in an amazing and unique way. This baby will prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ.
When Zechariah heard the words of the angel, he did not jump up and down in joyful celebration. He did what many of us would likely do. He doubted. After all, how could an old man and woman have a baby? He did not believe the angel and asked for proof that what he was saying was true. Because of his unbelief, Zechariah received a sign. He was left unable to speak until John the Baptist was born.
Unbelief is sin and we see that Zechariah is punished for it. However, we also see that the plans and purposes of God will be accomplished. God fulfills his promises even among sinful people who doubt him and fail in their response to his word. This should bring comfort to us all because we have all failed at one time or another. We have all doubted. Yet God’s plans stand forever. We can have complete confidence in him, even when we cannot trust ourselves.
**Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. Please subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We will be reading through the life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospel accounts in 2019.