Part 4–Zachariah

“Don’t be afraid; God has heard your prayers…” These are the first words the angel said to Zachariah as he stood frozen with fear before the altar of Almighty God. Then the angel went on to announce the miraculous–a child would be born to Zachariah and Elizabeth in their old age. But not just any child. This child would be the forerunner of the Messiah himself. This child would be a Nazarite (like Samson) but he would have the spirit and power of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets Israel had ever known. Zachariah, childless into old age, was suddenly confronted with the fulfillment of his wildest dreams!

Often his unbelief is mocked by those of us who read the story almost 2000 years later. We click our tongues and shake our heads. How could a man of God, who has experienced an angelic visitation that is the answer to His very prayers, stand before the altar of God and question the message?  The Angel indignantly proclaimed himself, Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God. Zachariah was chastised for his lack of faith and rendered mute until the fulfillment of the promise.  And our response, is “Clearly he deserved it. Good thing he learned his lesson.”

Answered Prayers
But something about this story resonates with me and I can’t brush Zachariah’s unbelief aside. It feels a little too familiar. The angel said to him, “God has heard your prayers.” At some point Zachariah had prayed–more than once–for a son. Was he still praying for the impossible, his faith turned brittle with age? Had had entered into the era of rote prayer with little feeling or expectation to go along with it? Have you ever prayed for something so hard and for so long that it becomes something of a mantra, a part of your communion with God that has become dry and crusty with age–withered without the fresh water of Life? I certainly have.

The Impossible
Zachariah prayed for what he didn’t believe could possibly happen until one day it did. And he still couldn’t believe it! But his unbelief didn’t stop God.  In his graciousness, He still answered that worn out, weather beaten prayer. He still came in and filled that dry, crusty, stale prayer with Life! His life. An answer beyond anything Zachariah had ever actually expected, even in the days when his prayers were young and fresh.  God did not redact the answer, because Zachariah’s faith proved weak. Instead He not only kept the promise, but gave Zachariah the gift of silence–a consequence that arrived in a miracle, and reminded Zachariah daily that God is able! He will do what He says.  Nine (plus) months later when Zachariah’s speech returned, “He began praising God.” (Luke 1:64) For all those months he had been meditating, watching, praising God in his heart; finally he could praise him out loud, and he did not waste an instant. Where his voice had previously been used to utter questions, and doubt, now it was used to utter proclamations of praise.

Miracles Compounded
So it seems the miracle was compounded. Zachariah’s son was born–John the baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, and  Zachariah’s faith was reborn–in praise and adoration to a God who proved Himself personal, faithful, and perfectly good.

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