Years ago, a Greek physician and a meticulous historian named Luke penned a historical account of the life and works of Jesus Christ. His purpose in writing was to give his audience certainty of the things learned of Christ (Luke 1:1-4). Luke’s work begins with the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the birth of their son, John (Luke 1:5-80). Let’s draw near to study and grow ever certain of God’s fulfilled work in Christ Jesus.
One day an old woman--a daughter of the tribe of Aaron, living with her husband in the hill country of Judah during the days of Herod, king of Judea--wakes up to discover that she is pregnant. Her world must have stood still. Can you imagine her wandering emotions? Years of longing and prayer, more years of trusting God with a hope deferred and then this...the conception of a child in old age! The Lord had looked upon Elizabeth and had removed her reproach among the people (Luke 1:25). She would be a mother! Can you picture her astonishment and joy?
But there’s more. Elizabeth’s child would be no ordinary boy. By His elective purposes, God was ordaining the child to be the forerunner to His own Son (Luke 1:16-17). John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Certainly salvation is a gift of God and not of our own doing (Ephesians 2:8); God chooses whom He pleases before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4)!
Now Luke tells us that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were righteous before God. Like their father Abraham, God counted the couple as righteous through faith (Genesis 15:5-6) and that faith was proved by their blameless walk in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:6; James 2:17-18). Yet in spite of their faithfulness, Luke 1:7 presents an interesting conjunction. Elizabeth and Zechariah were blameless before God but “they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.”
If children are a heritage from the LORD and the fruit of the womb a reward (Psalm 127:3), how could this righteous couple not merit the prize? Yet children, like all good gifts, are not earned but are given from above, coming down from “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Yes, the Lord does bless the Spirit-wrought works of His children, yet how He chooses to bless them is according to His wisdom. In His sovereignty, God ordains barrenness for righteous Elizabeth and then, in time, gives a son to fulfill His word and praise.
Like his wife, Zechariah was a descendant of Aaron, a priest of the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Abijah was number eight of twenty-four priestly divisions and each division was assigned temple service twice a year for one week (1 Chronicles 24:4-19). “Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty…[Zechariah] was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense” (Luke 1:8-9). The lot was cast but the decision was the Lord’s (Proverbs 16:33); and it pleased God to appoint Zechariah.
No priest was chosen twice for this duty so this marked a high moment in Zechariah’s life. No doubt, his senses were soaring as he stepped before the altar of incense by the veil that divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Like his father Aaron in the wilderness, he would offer fragrant incense and then leave to pronounce a benediction upon the waiting assembly (Exodus 30:1-9; Numbers 6:23-27 ). His task was important, but not long. Unbeknownst to the priest however, God was planning to detain him in conversation (Luke 1:21).
The angel Gabriel meets Zechariah in the Holy Place with astonishing news: God had heard his prayers. Elizabeth would have a child; he was to be named John. Like Hannah and Samson’s mother, the boy born to Elizabeth would be a Nazirite from childhood (Numbers 6:1-12). God was fulfilling His words in Malachi 4:5-6; the foretold Elijah was coming into the world. John would end 400 years of prophetic silence. His words would “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:13-17).
Bewildering! This message was more than the aged priest had anticipated. He was old and his wife was also advanced in years, how could this be? Now Abraham himself had asked the question “how” when promised land and offspring. Yet Abraham had asked in belief (Genesis 15:5-8). Zechariah heard the angel yet doubted (Luke 1:18-20). God gives both men a sign; unfortunately for Zechariah, his is a silent tongue until God’s word is proved true.
For nine months, Zechariah must employ the use of a writing tablet for communication (Luke 1:63). He must have scribbled these amazing words for Elizabeth’s reading for in Luke 1:59-60, she insists on the name John for her son. Here, I wonder if Elizabeth longed for her husband’s voice in these months. Her first and second trimesters are spent in hiding (Luke 1:24). These must have been quiet months for the expectant mother. A picture, perhaps, of Israel’s own 400 years of waiting in silence for the fulfillment of God’s promise.
But the drought ends for Elizabeth in her sixth month. Mary enters the house with a greeting that sends the baby in utero leaping and fills Elizabeth with God’s Spirit and God’s praise (Luke 1:39-45). In her own womb, Mary bore the incarnate Son of God, an embryo, probably no larger than a poppy seed yet, the object of praise!
The scarcity of words gives way to showers of worship as Mary rejoices in God her Savior (Luke 1:46-55). Zechariah joins the singing at the birth and naming of His son, John. His tongue is loosened to pronounce his long awaited benediction and he blesses God for His covenant faithfulness in sending the Sunrise to give light to those in darkness (Luke 1:67-79).
Sisters, let’s draw near and read! Take in these glorious truths and grow ever certain of God’s fulfilled promises in Christ. And then sing of His praises!
*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women--from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!
 The MacArthur Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 1473.