The moral of today’s lesson could be: Don’t talk back to the angel.
The lessons learned come from the New Testament; The Book of Luke; Chapter 1; Verses 5-22 and 59-80.
The person who learned this lesson was Zacharias. He and his wife Elisabeth were of the lineage of Aaron. Verse 6 describes them as righteous and obedient people. This righteous couple had never bore children. They were getting along in years now, and had resolved themselves that they would never have children together in this life, though it was still the greatest desire and hope in their hearts.
Zacharias was of the lineage that he held the rights to the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood authority, and was himself a priest. Perhaps it would be appropriate to pause and explain this significance.
In the history of Israel, those who were male descendants of Levi could have this authority, and only firstborn sons of Aaron could be the high priest, or president of the priests. The priests could offer sacrifices for the people, burn incense on the altar, and teach the law, whereas the other Levites were employed in more menial tasks, such as the housekeeping of the tabernacle, keeping oil in the lamps, transporting the Ark of the Covenant, taking down and setting up the tabernacle when moving, and related tasks. As the family of Levi grew, King David later organized the Levites into twenty-four courses, and each took turns performing the duties at the temple. After the scattering and captivity of Israel, only four courses remained. By the time of our story in Luke, there were perhaps 1400 men in each course.
I bring that up to emphasize that with each course taking turns, and within each course the men taking turns at performing duties, it was a once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime kind of event to be serving in the temple in the official priesthood capacity. Something men would train and prepare and look forward to all their lives. Even more rare was the opportunity to serve as the high priest who would get to step inside the temple to burn incense. This priest would be only steps away, separated by the veil of the temple, from the most sacred “holy of holies” room where the most sacred objects of the religion, including the Ark of the Covenant, was kept. It was the room, behind that curtain, that Jehovah Himself would return to, if He choose to appear. This place called the temple was the most sacred, holy, revered place of worship in all of Judea.
And this day, it was Zacharias’ turn to go in and burn the incense.
Zacharias did not just walk in without preparation. Men who were to go inside went through a period of purification and preparation for the event.
He must have been excited. Perhaps he was also anxious or nervous. His mind certainly swirled, taking in the magnitude of the experience and savoring every moment of the opportunity. The people would be waiting outside, praying until they saw the smoke rise out, and then the priest would exit, and dismiss the multitude.
That was how it was supposed to go.
But this time, something different happened. Zacharias went inside and began his duties. When in this holiest of places, an angel appeared.
He was troubled. He was certainly not expecting anyone else to be in this room with him. Many thoughts might have occurred, including perhaps thinking this was another mortal man. If so, who was he, and how did he get inside? Or perhaps, He thought that it may be Jehovah coming to His temple? No matter how much purification and preparation a mortal man might have done, there would be no preparation for that experience!
The angel told him to “Fear not, Zacharias.” The angel knew his name, and called him personally. That must have assured Zacharias. He continued, “Thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.”
The angelic messenger proceeded to tell him about his child. John would be an Elias, a title meaning a preparer or forerunner for another. He gave prophetic instructions and introduction for this unborn son to the man would be his father.
An overwhelmed Zacharias reacted by asking “Whereby shall I know this?” or in other words, “How do I know that you are telling me the truth?” Perhaps in modern language he might have asked, “Am I on Candid Camera?”
Now I can’t fault poor Zacharias for not believing. This news seemed impossible to him; he and his wife had long ago given up hope of having a child. Zacharias was still a mortal man, and doubt entered his heart the same way it sometimes comes into yours and mine. Doubt about his deepest regrets and dreams would be no stretch of the imagination.
Unfortunately, it was in the one place on the Earth where there should be no doubt and no fear. It was inside of the temple, and clearly this was an angel of the Lord. There should have been no room for disbelief in this environment.
So Zacharias was reproved with sharpness by the angel. The angel reminded him that he came from the presence of God to deliver this message, and if Zacharias didn’t appreciate that, then for a sign that this was all on the up and up, Zacharias would be struck dumb. He would not speak. This curse would last until the baby arrives.
It was a curse for his unbelief, but mercifully there was an end pronounced to the suffering. God is pretty good about not punishing a person any more harshly than they deserve. And so He saw fit, through his angel, to extend an end to the punishment.
All the while the people waited outside, wondering what was taking so long.
Zacharias came out, and tried to dismiss them, but could not speak. With gestures, he beckoned them to be dismissed.
Just like the angel said, at the eighth day after the birth, at the circumcision and naming of the child, Zacharias wrote the name, and the dumbness was lifted. Then Zacharias followed the event with a lengthily explanation and prophecy, expressing great faith and hope in the Lord God of Israel. Zacharias learned his lesson, and everything turned out alright. Though he was once caught up in his own thoughts, and couldn’t see past his own mortal abilities to understand and comprehend the mysteries and miracles of God, he had learned his lesson now!
So should I learn my lesson from Zacharias. Don’t doubt the power and ability of God. Seek wisdom from Him, and accept it and embrace it with faith when it comes. Don’t get caught up in your own limitations, fears, and beliefs that you would deny the power of God to work miracles in your own life.
That’s what I learned today from Zacharias.