“So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias for your prayer is heard.” (Luke 1:8-13a).
It was a great privilege for one of the priests to be chosen to be the one who would go into the temple, to be just outside of the holy of holies, right before the very presence of God. Finally, Zacharias’ number came up, and he was able to serve the Lord in this special manner.
Now don’t miss the significance of this supernatural event here. Remember that for over four hundred years, there had been no prophecies, dreams, visions, angels, or heavenly experiences of any kind. They had no doubt heard stories, and knew that all throughout the Old Testament the Lord had manifested Himself in supernatural ways, but it had been many generations since anything like this had taken place. And then all of a sudden, a supernatural being appeared to Zacharias and gave him the standard angel greeting: “Do not be afraid!”
Whenever angels showed up in the Bible, they always said, “Fear not!” Why do you think they did that? Because there was something about the presence of these heavenly messengers that would cause you to freak out. Angels aren’t cute, fat little naked babies with wings on their backs, as is depicted in various art forms. Rather, angels are mighty messenger warriors from the Lord. When the Old Testament prophet Daniel saw this same angel, Gabriel, he described him this way: “His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:6).
Not only did the angel tell Zacharias to not be afraid, he also spoke four of the most hope-filled words that Zacharias had ever heard in his life: “Your prayer is heard.” That surely meant a lot to Zacharias. Can you imagine how you would feel if an angel appeared to you one day and told you that God had heard your prayers? Sometimes when we pray and pour out our hearts to the Lord, we wonder if God is really listening. God wants you to know today that your prayers are heard, too. “But I’ve waited so long and nothing’s happened,” you might say. No. God’s Word promises you that your prayer is heard!
Look at the hope-filled words the angel spoke to Zacharias: “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” (Luke 1:13-16).
God sent an angel to Zacharias and said, “Your prayer is heard. You’ve been praying for a son, but you’re not just going to get a son – you’re going to get a prophet. And not just an ordinary prophet, but one who will be the greatest prophet in the history of the prophets. One who will turn the hearts of the children of Israel back to their God.” Now why is that significant? Because of the fact that over those four hundred years when God was silent, many of the children of Israel had wandered away and lost their faith in God. They had given up hope. So God sent this prophet named John to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord and restore their hope and faith. John proclaimed that message, “He is coming! Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.”
This is how the Christmas story begins. Before Jesus, there was John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way. “And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
(Luke 1:18). I think that statement is so funny – he was very diplomatic when he said that: “I’m an old man, but my wife… is well advanced in years!” I don’t know if he was thinking, “I’m having an angel encounter here, and people might write down what I’m saying about my wife someday, so I better be careful what I say about her here.”
Zacharias is essentially saying here, “I’m glad you showed up, Mr. Angel, and I’m glad that God heard our prayers, but we’re old, and you’re a little bit too late!” Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever said, “God, you’re too late! I needed you to show up five years ago.” May the truth of this story encourage you today: God is never late. He always arrives right on time, just as He did in this story.
“And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” (Luke 1:19-20).
Gabriel responded by saying, “Are you kidding me? You’re standing here talking to an angel of the Lord, I tell you what God is going to do, and you doubt the promise?” The angel goes on to say, “My words… will be fulfilled in their own time.” That’s a key phrase! Our God is a promise-keeping God. Our God is a faithful God. And as you pray and stand on the promises of God’s Word, know that it will come to pass… in God’s timing. So as we’re praying for God to intervene in our lives with a miracle, we also need to pray, “Lord, give me patience.”
Now John the Baptist is just the warm-up act, setting the stage for the main event: Jesus.
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