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Zechariah the Priest

The second person we come to as we look at the characters of the Christmas story is Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When he’s introduced into the story he’s not yet a father. The fact that he was going to be a father was a big surprise to him and a key element in his story. He served as a priest in Jerusalem and was married to Elizabeth.

Temple where Zechariah was a priest
Model of ancient Jerusalem, the time of King Herod and the period of the Second Temple at the Israel Museum

Here’s how Luke describes them,

And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Luke 1:6-7

As you read the first sentence you can’t help but think of them as models of faith. “Righteous” and “walking blamelessly” are high praise! As you read the second sentence you can’t help but feel sorry for them. That praise seems even more significant when you realize they remained righteous and blameless while living with disappointment.

According to historians Zechariah was one of about 18,000 priests serving at the temple. It was a big place and there were many daily tasks that they did. There was, however, one special task that a different priest was called upon to do each day. It was so special that a priest did it only once in his lifetime. It was to go into the Holy Place and offer incense, a symbol of the prayers offered by the people to God. Zechariah was chosen!

It seems as if Zechariah was being blessed for his godly life. That was more true than you realize. Once inside the Holy Place Zechariah saw an angel and did what most of us would do if we saw an angel. He was afraid. He probably froze in his steps. Then the angel told him the most wonderful thing Zechariah could ever hear.

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. Luke 1:13

How fantastic! But it gets better! The angel went on to describe how the Spirit of God would be upon him, that he would turn many people to God and he would be great.

And how did godly Zechariah respond to the angel? He must have had a brain freeze! Here he was, in the temple where very few priests ever got to go. He was talking to an angel! The angel said his and Elizabeth’s prayer would be answered! They would have a son. And the son would be a man of God. And then he said this,

How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years. Luke 1:18

He took his eyes off God! He took his eyes off the promise! He looked at the problem. He was staring in the face of one who lives in the presence of God and all he could see was his problem.

The angel gave him a sign that his words would come true. He made Zechariah unable to speak any words until the boy was born.

Faith is not a one time immunization that forever protects us from doubt. It’s a muscle we must use each day. Use it or lose it. At this moment Zechariah didn’t use it. He would use it again.

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Let’s not be hard on Zechariah because we’re all like him at some point in our lives. What is it that you’re praying for today? Do you believe God has heard your prayers? Would you be surprised if God gave it to you? Don’t be! Don’t give up on praying.

Do you have a comment or question? Please leave it below. I’d love to hear from you.

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Ward Cushman

My journey of faith started when I was nine years old when I realized that Jesus died and rose again to pay for my sins. At the age of thirteen I felt the call of God on my life for ministry.

I have been fortunate to work in the marketplace for over ten years and in full-time Christian ministry for over thirty years.

My passion is to teach God's Word in such a way that it is easy to understand and so that God uses it to bring about life change in those who hear it.

It is my greatest joy to see God work through me to produce fruit for His glory!