Luke’s gospel begins with an introduction to an older, godly couple – Zechariah and Elizabeth. They are drawn in to the nativity story and included in the wonder of God’s redemption plan for humanity. But God’s timing is also perfect for them as individuals – in a way which is forever beyond their understanding. God is Sovereign and over all, and yet in His majesty He is still a relational God, and our loving Heavenly Father.
Zacharias and Elizabeth – A godly couple
In chapter one, of his gospel, Luke introduces Zechariah and Elizabeth. They have impeccable ancestry both being from the tribe of Levi and are descendants of Aaron. Zechariah was a priest from the division of Abijah – one of the heads of the priestly families. Their reputation was flawless, people regarded them as righteous, observing the Lord’s commands blamelessly.
Blameless does not mean that they were without sin, but that they followed the law with integrity, with a desire to obey and to please God. Into this perfect picture of a godly couple comes a shocking admission – ‘but’ they had no children. Elizabeth had been unable to conceive and now they were old, the time for hoping for a family had gone. This lovely couple, faithfully serving God, were barren.
Story of Zechariah and Elizabeth
Zechariah was going about his duties as a priest and it ‘just happened’ to be his turn to go in and to burn incense at the altar. While he was serving in the Temple an angel appeared to him, direct from the presence of God. Zechariah was startled, and was fearful, at the sight of an angelic being.
The altar of incense was within the Holy Place, accessed by the priests alone while the people stayed outside. Every morning and evening the priest would burn incense at the altar, while the people prayed in the Outer Court. Zechariah was shocked because he did not expect to see anyone else at the altar.
The startling sight was the angel Gabriel with a message that God had heard Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer. This couple who had been hoping for a baby for so long, finally hear that God was answering their prayer. Gabriel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would conceive, and the baby would be a boy. They were to call him John, meaning ‘the Lord is gracious.’
Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist
John would be set apart for God, he would be subject to a vow never to take alcoholic drink, for even before he was born, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. He would have a powerful ministry of repentance and reconciliation. John’s message would turn the hearts of the people back to God – ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’
This all happened before Jesus’ conception. God was preparing for the ministry of Jesus by sending a messenger ahead of Him. John’s ministry would be to prepare the hearts and minds of the people, so that they would be receptive and ready to receive Jesus!
Before Jesus’ conception God was already preparing for His ministry!Tweet
Zechariah responds with disbelief and asks Gabriel for a sign to confirm that his word is true. God gives him a sign, maybe not quite the sign he wanted – he would be unable to speak. Zechariah would be silent until the day the words were fulfilled.
Zechariah finished his duty at the altar, but when he came out to the waiting people, he was unable to pronounce a blessing over them. He tried to tell them that he had seen a vision, but he could only sign. God had, for now, silenced Zechariah. Next time he speaks it will be with praise and worship to God, full of the Holy Spirit, he will sing a prophetic song over his new-born son!
Where did Zechariah and Elizabeth live?
Zechariah as a priest was responsible for one week’s service at the Temple in Jerusalem every six months. But they did not live in the city of Jerusalem. Scripture refers to Zechariah ‘returning home’ when his period of service at the temple was over. Their home was in a village or small town in the hill country of Judea, although Scripture does not record the town’s name.
This is where Mary visited them after Gabriel’s announcement of Jesus’ conception. This was where their neighbours ‘throughout the hill country of Judea’ talked about the awesome events that surrounded the birth of their baby.
Shortly after Zechariah returns home, Elizabeth becomes pregnant. Straight away she acknowledges God’s favour on her life. God had finally answered her prayer and taken away her shame and disgrace in the eyes of other people.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’Luke 1:23-25
How old was Zechariah when John the Baptist was born?
Scripture does not specify how old Zechariah, or Elizabeth, were when their son was born. In Luke’s gospel, the doctor does describe them both as ‘very old.’ Zechariah asks for a sign to confirm Gabriel’s promise that he and Elizabeth would have a son. He doubted the truth of God’s word because, in his own words, he was an ‘old man,’ and his wife was ‘well along in years.’ The implication was that he and Elizabeth had given up hope of ever having a child and believed that it was no longer possible.
The angel Gabriel revealed Elizabeth’s pregnancy at the annunciation of Jesus’ to encourage Mary in the miraculous:
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word of God will ever fail.Luke 1:36-37
Jesus and John, the Baptist, were related through their mothers. In Scripture Elizabeth is referred to as Mary’s relative, although Scripture does not say whether she was her cousin, aunt, or other relation. There is a significant age difference between Mary and Elizabeth but also a clear friendship. It is to Elizabeth that Mary turns after receiving the startling news of her own pregnancy. Mary hurries off to visit Elizabeth and stays at her home for three months, possibly until the birth of John, before she returns home.
Lessons from Zechariah and Elizabeth
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6
God’s Timing is Perfect
Zechariah and Elizabeth were a godly couple who served God faithfully and kept His commands ‘blamelessly.’ To live a ‘blameless’ life, is not a sinless life, but with integrity and a desire to obey and please God. There will always be challenges as we live of live out our faith, wherever God has placed us. But if the desire to please God is the foundation of our life that perspective changes everything.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.Philippians 2:14-15
Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a blameless life but, in the eyes of many people, not a ‘perfect life.’ God had not fulfilled all their hopes, for they were childless. It was in God’s perfect timing, that He answered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer. They would never understand why God’s best plan for them was to have this child in their old age – that was God’s mercy!
They would experience the joy of a child and prophetically receive a glimpse of John’s ministry, but they would not live to see it fulfilled. Scripture infers that they died when he was a young man and John then lived in the desert of Judea. Zechariah and Elizabeth, by God’s grace and compassion, were spared the heartbreak of seeing their only son, arrested, and unjustly killed by king Herod. God who did not spare Himself, spared them – blessing without sorrow!
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.Psalm 62:8
God’s Plan is Perfect
God has a unique plan for our lives, and He tailors the answers to our prayers for us as individuals. There is a need for us to know God’s answer to our ‘big’ prayers, whether He is saying, ‘no,’ or ‘wait.’ If the answer is yes, that usually becomes obvious! But ‘no’ and ‘wait’ can be harder to discern and accept. Peace in our spirit will only come with trust and acceptance of God’s perfect plan for our lives.
Related Post: Peace of Mind in Daily Life
We may have a prayer that remains unanswered, or a problem that refuses to go away. But do we allow the problems in our lives, to become a stumbling block? If we are always living for tomorrow, for the day when we think God will answer all our prayers, in the way that we would like, we are in danger of missing what He has for us right now.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.Jeremiah 29:11
The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth reveals the Sovereignty of God and the loving care of our Heavenly Father. God was working out His redemption plan for all humanity. He was preparing for Jesus’ ministry by sending John the Baptist ahead of Him. And through it all, God cared for the details of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s lives and poured out His blessing and favour on them.
God care for us too. We may never know what grief He is saving us from, we may never understand why He has said, ‘wait’ or ‘no’ in answer to a prayer. But God calls us to trust in Him, at all times, for He is faithful!