Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him . . . When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said, “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 great in the sight of the Lord. . . . 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.” (Luke 1:11-18)
“How can I be sure?” Seriously???
How about the fact that an angel is standing right in front of you? How about the fact that you know all about what God did for Abraham and Sarah? How about the fact that the angel is echoing the words of the prophet Malachi that form the final verses of the Old Testament?
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents, or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
“How can I be sure?”
“How can you NOT be sure?” would be my immediate reaction. That’s before I remember that I can be as irrational as the next person when my ideas of how things should unfold are upended.
Like so many of us can be, Zechariah was afraid to believe that his prayers had actually — and miraculously — been answered. Oh, there had a long period of years when he would have instantly praised God for this promise of a son. But that was back when he and Elizabeth were young enough for it to happen in the natural way. Now it seemed incredible to Zechariah that God would answer his prayer in this supernatural and spectacularly significant way. Not only a son, but a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah? Not only a son, but one who would make his people ready for the Lord?
Perhaps Zechariah was afraid to believe because he feared having his dead hopes resurrected. It had taken so long to finally bury them; if nothing came of this announcement, how could he deal with that crushing disappointment again?
Perhaps he was afraid because, although he lived a righteous life, Zechariah’s picture of God was too limited. But much more likely, perhaps he had too small a view of his own worth to believe he could be any part of such a momentous outcome. Perhaps like you and me, it was hard to imagine that God would choose an ordinary and unremarkable person like him to father such a spiritually significant son. Surely, he may have thought, he couldn’t come close to being worthy of such a distinction!
If that were the case, Zechariah hadn’t yet learned that it’s not about any personal achievements, but God’s sovereign choice, that this plan was being put into place. It wasn’t about his eminence or lack thereof; it was about faithful obedience.
Isn’t it remarkable that we can sometimes pray and pray and pray without seeing the result we hope for in the way we expect, and then question the answer when it does come because it’s too supernatural, too far beyond what we ever imagined?
Father, may I not put limits on the timing or the outcome of any answer You choose to give in response to my prayers. If I am rendered speechless, may it be only because I can’t immediately find words wonderful enough to thank and praise You.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.