Zacharias had just had what was literally the event of a lifetime happen to him. As he was performing his priestly duties, an angel of the Lord appeared to him to let him know that God was going to give him and his wife a child in their old age. Because he doubted the word the angel imparted to him, Zacharias was struck dumb, unable to speak. But when his wife, Elizabeth, heard the news, she did speak, giving God fervent praise for His graciousness to her. I think both their responses provide us with valuable lessons.
Luke 1:21-25 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless. 23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Two things strike me about how Zacharias and Elizabeth handled things in this passage.
The impact of the angelic visitation on Zacharias was obviously immense. I’m sure it took him some time to take in what the angel told him, and what was happening to him physically as his ability to speak left him. The actual conversation with the angel would not have taken a long time, so apparently Zacharias spent a good while just being stunned by what had happened. He was so long at this that the people waiting outside realized that he was taking far longer at his priestly burning of incense than he normally would.
But here’s what impresses me about Zacharias. After experiencing the greatest single event of his lifetime, and coming face to face with an angel of God; after learning from the angel that he and his wife were to experience the miracle of the conception and birth of a child by a couple who were clearly too old to have children; and, after being told that the child to be born to them would be great in the sight of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, and would pave the way for the coming of the Messiah; what did Zacharias do?
He went back to work.
Verse 23 informs us that it was only when the appointed days of his service were completed that he left his duties and went home. In the face of greater upheaval in his personal life than most of us will ever experience, he kept to his calling and fulfilled his responsibilities.
How many times are Christians today thrown off their game by what are, in the overall scheme of things, trivial events in their lives? How many times do we allow ourselves to willingly be pulled away from fulfilling our responsibilities because something out of the ordinary happens? Does it take something that is truly seriously disruptive to cause us to forsake our duty as a greeter or praise team member or Sunday School teacher? Or will the intrusion of some slight inconvenience do the trick?
I think it probably never occurred to Zacharias that an angelic visitation constituted a valid reason for not completing the fulfillment of his ministry responsibilities. It’s a lesson I think we all can take to heart.
Elizabeth’s response to the news the angel brought provides a different lesson. God was working out His plan for the ministry of His Son in this world, and Elizabeth’s pregnancy was an integral part of that plan. But that was not what she focused on. Her reaction was intensely personal:
Luke 1:25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Was Elizabeth being self-centered, so focused on what affected her personally that she was unable to see the bigger picture? I don’t think so.
Elizabeth well understood that there was a purpose behind her pregnancy that went beyond just answering the prayers of the parents. Obviously, Zacharias had shared with her what the angel told him about God’s plan for the son that would be born to them. But Elizabeth did not forget that God, in His sovereignty and love, had chosen to implement His plan in a way that was a tremendous blessing to her. Whatever else the Lord might be accomplishing, the fact was that she was being blessed, and she was properly thankful.
Elizabeth did not overlook the breadth of what God was accomplishing by giving her a son. When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to visit, Elizabeth’s response to the sound of Mary’s voice showed that she was excited about what God was accomplishing for His people and the entire world through the two of them (Luke 1:41-45). But neither did she forget that God had blessed her. And she made sure to express her thanksgiving and praise for that personal blessing.
Psa 103:2-5 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
We, like Elizabeth, should not overlook all God’s benefits to us. Every day brings us new opportunities to give God praise for His individual blessings to us, even as He works out His plan of “good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.”
Psa 103:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!