Day 8 - December 10, 2017

Left Speechless

We left off in our story about Zechariah with this priest taking his turn to burn the incense in the temple. During this experience, he had an unexpected visit from the angel Gabriel. This sudden appearance of the angel troubled him and he became fearful (1:12). Gabriel then shared the wonderful news that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth would give birth to a baby boy named John. This was an answer to both of their prayers, for they had always been obedient to God (1:6), and now John would someday prepare the way for the Lord (1:17).

One would have thought Zechariah would have rejoiced at the news from Gabriel. But surprisingly (or not) Zechariah responded in unbelief, “How can I be sure of this”? (1:18). It was though Zechariah needed a sign to confirm this long-awaited miracle and Gabriel was more than willingly to provide one; the problem was it wasn’t what Zechariah was expecting. There were no bells or whistles but a direct rebuke, “You will be unable to speak until John is born” (1:20). God’s plan is taking shape and while Zechariah has become aware of the approaching fulfillment of God’s promises, he will be prevented from doing what he should have been doing: praising God for His goodness, preparing the people for the coming of John, and witnessing to others that the Messiah was about to come to Israel.

Why did God strike Zechariah as He did? No doubt it was to discipline the priest for not believing, so that his faith would become stronger and God’s glory would be lifted high. This incident should remind us that we lose opportunities—probably daily—because we will not act on God’s answer to our prayers. Now we must be clear; it is easy to believe when we receive upfront what we pray for. We can be strong in our testimony when we have tangible proof for what we have prayed. But when the answer to our prayers is, “Yes but not yet” we have the tendency to doubt it will happen. In other words, if God says to us, “Yes you will receive what you prayed for but not just yet; in the meantime, you simply should live like it is already here,” we wonder how is that to be done. Apparently, Zechariah had forgotten a similar situation involving Abraham, Sarah and Isaac (Gen. 18:10-15; 21:1-7) or at least thought, since nothing really happened to them in that story, I’ll just ask for confirmation. But God treats us individually and Zechariah’s lack of faith resulted in a period in which he was prevented from serving the Lord. 

Zechariah forgot the big picture. John had to come to earth to prepare the world for salvation. God chose to do this preparation through Zechariah and Elizabeth; it was now time to begin the process. Jesus would someday say, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). This is not an invitation to give our Lord a wish list because we are “to pray His will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Nevertheless, we must remain on alert that God chooses to answer our prayers whenever and wherever He wills. The bottom line is our faith should lead us to work for Him and when we don’t—as Zechariah didn’t—we close off our opportunities for God to use us, and, in a sense, are struck speechless.

Dear Lord, help us through our doubts by reminding us of this story about Zechariah and keeping our way clear to follow and serve You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
submitted by the Reverend Dr. Richard Menninger, Andrew B. Martin Professor of Religion

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