My reading plan last week took me to the end of the Old Testament, and into the New. In between, just one page, yet that page represents 400 years of silence - God wasn't speaking to the people of Israel. And then suddenly, Gabriel the angel is sent with an incredible message... We pick up the story in Luke 1.
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.
Meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, old faithful. Their story tells us that just because you do everything "right", doesn't mean you will get everything you want. Even so, sometimes those that go through the most painful journeys God uses for the greatest purpose. Sometimes adversity and suffering have to come into our lives to drive us to God in a deeper way.
8 When his division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
This was the most likely place of for people to experience God's presence. All the people would go up to the temple for festivals there times a year, but every day there would be incense burning, morning and evening, while people prayed outside. There were about 20000 priests who served in 24 divisions throughout the year. There was a very small chance to be picked as the incense burner, statistically 1:50 or thereabout if my math is right. So, this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for Zechariah, literally.
11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 17 And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
Naturally, Zechariah is terrified. 400 years of nothing, and then BOOM! And what Gabriel says is a throwback to the last words of the prophet Micah, from 400 years earlier.
Mal 4:5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.
What Gabriel is spelling out is not just an answer to prayer, but an invitation to purpose. Sometimes we are praying for one thing, and God shows up in the most unexpected way, and invites us into a much bigger story.
18 “How can I know this? ” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”
Zechariah is arguing with an angel! This is the great power of unbelief. Perhaps it is because of an unwillingness to believe that God wants to be good and kind toward him. You may have believed that too. Or how about a sense that says it's not that God can't do it, but that he won't do it for me?
19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen. You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
It's almost as if Gabriel is saying "Your faith is not yet at the level it needs to be to be part of the story, so I'm going to silence you to stop more negative talk, until such time as you can't hold it in anymore... Spoiler alert, when the baby is born, and Zechariah indicates by way of writing that he should be named "John" and not Zechariah junior, his mouth is open.
DOUBT DELAYS YOU!
God is waiting for you to respond in faith. You have a choice, now, to believe in the truth of what He says about you. Don't exclude yourself from the story. Believe the truth, of who God is, what He has done, and who you are in him.