Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. Luke 1:11-22 (NRSV)
Zechariah is one of the more interesting characters in the story of the Nativity. He was a high priest in the temple, a man well educated in the Torah and in the Jewish faith. He knew the story of Moses. He knew the I AM God. He knew that all things are possible with God.
Yet when Gabriel (the same angel who later appeared to Mary to announce the impending birth of Jesus) came to him with the good news that he was to be the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah doubted that what Gabriel had come to say to him would happen.
Sometimes what we know in our heads is true doesn’t quite make it all the way to our hearts. We all have those moments of, “I believe what God says is true, but…” The reality of the human condition is that doubt is part of faith. God wants us to question our faith and to bring our questions to Him. That’s the reason why God gave us intellect- so that we could seek, knock and ask, and grow closer to Him in our searching.
But Zechariah was a guy who because of both his education and his vocation, should have known that when God’s angel makes a special trip to tell you something that God is going to follow through with that announcement. It is interesting that God decided to literally shut Zechariah up until He made good upon granting him that gift of a son. It was if God was saying in that action, “I have the final word.”
I have a plaque in my dining room that says, “Lord, keep Your arms around my shoulder, and Your hand over my mouth.” Part of the reason I like that short little prayer is because I tend to want to cut off the possibilities before I remember that God is the one in control, not me. In a crisis, I can only see what my narrow focus allows me to see, instead of the complete picture that God sees and of which God is the Author. Sometimes I want to say, “But, God…” or, “How can that happen?” or, “Why,” without considering that it is the I AM God who is deciding things.
There are many promises God gives to His people throughout Scripture. Some of those promises have been fulfilled, and some of them are not yet.
But God has the final word. He hears our prayers, He answers them, and when He speaks, it will happen as He says. No matter what I might have to say in disbelief or protest.