Luke’s account of how God blessed Zacharias and Elizabeth with a long-desired son is a story of the triumph of faith over doubt, and of faithfulness over disappointment. For many long years they did not receive what they prayed for. Yet God had not forgotten them, and He had not forgotten their prayer.
Luke 1:5-7 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
Was Zacharias still praying for a child, even though he and Elizabeth were “well advanced in years”? That phrase probably means they were in their sixties, well beyond child-bearing age. I’m sure that when they were younger, they prayed fervently for a child. It must have seemed to them by this point in their lives that their prayer had not been answered, and now the time when it could be answered was long past. The fact that even with that great disappointment in their lives, God could still commend them as “both righteous before God … blameless” is a great testimony to their faith and faithfulness. Their commitment to God was not shaken by what seemed to be unanswered prayer.
But I very much doubt that Zacharias and Elizabeth were still praying for a child at this point in their lives. Obviously Zacharias was very aware of and very influenced by their advanced age:
Luke 1:18 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.”
It must have seemed to Zacharias and Elizabeth that their prayer was never going to be answered. They had probably given up on praying it, for if it were still a living prayer in their lives, Zacharias would not have questioned the angel’s assertion in such a non-believing way. Even if the couple did still pray for children, it would have been in a pro forma kind of way. As Zacharias’ reaction to the angel shows, there was no expectation at this point in their lives of that prayer being answered. Actually, I suspect that it had been many years since they prayed about this.
Yet God had not forgotten their prayer.
Luke 1:13 But the angel said to him, “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.”
The angel made it clear that the son they were to be given would come as a result of their prayers. It appears to me that God was honoring all those previous years of praying, even though they were no longer, at this point, living prayers. God honored their prayers, and the faith that underlay their prayers, even though the real praying had been done years before.
God, remembering the couple’s years of faithfulness to Him, “finally” answered their prayer. But the timing of that answer was not according to Zacharias and Elizabeth’s timetable, but God’s. He had a plan for the child He would give them. That’s why the answer to their prayer could not come any sooner than it did. Yes, God wanted to bless His faithful children, but He was also working out His plan through them. They had no way of knowing this. What was required of them was to continue to be faithful until their “due season” arrived.
Gal 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Zacharias and Elizabeth’s desire for a child was matched up with God’s plan for the forerunner of the Messiah. They had been praying, but God’s plan went beyond simply blessing them. Yet, the fulfillment of God’s plan was also the answer to their prayer. The angel Gabriel seems to be indicating that God is responding to their prayer. If they had not prayed for a child, would John have been born to them, or would God have given him to someone else? So, Zacharias and Elizabeth’s prayers were effective, even though they also fit into God’s preexisting plan for bringing the Forerunner on the scene.
God is faithful to remember our prayers! We should never give up on prayer, no matter how delayed the answer may appear to be. As Jesus taught us,
Luke 18:1b … men always ought to pray and not lose heart.