While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”(Luke 1:11–18 NLT)
Zechariah should have known better. He was a priest, a descendent of Aaron, and was therefore quite knowledgeable concerning the Scriptures. He would have been intimately familiar with the story of how Abraham and Sarah came to give birth to Isaac, the father of Jacob. He would have known how Abraham laughed and asked himself how he could be a father at age 99 and Sarah a mother at 90. Yet, despite all this, Zechariah questioned the angel of the Lord in the same way Abraham did. As a result, Zechariah was unable to speak until after the birth of his prophesied son.
The remarkable thing is that Zechariah wasn’t questioning all the great things the angel said John would accomplish. He didn’t question being told of John’s anointing of the Spirit while he was still in Sarah’s womb, even though it is a blessing received by a comparatively few people within all of Scriptures – none of whom were in Zechariah’s lifetime; in fact, until John, no one had been anointed by the Spirit before birth. Zechariah wasn’t even questioning the angel’s talk of John being a forerunner of the Lord, leading the way for the Messiah, the one anticipated for generations.
Instead, Zechariah was concerned with the part of the angel’s message that pertained directly to him in that moment. He and his wife, Elizabeth, both of them seemingly barren in their old age, would give birth. This is what seemed beyond the scope of God’s power to Zechariah, despite all he knew about God and about the Scriptures. The knowledge in his head was not penetrating into the faith residing in his soul.
In the end, Zechariah would praise God for his faithfulness. Whether he realized it or not, by the time John was born Zechariah more fully understood Job’s sentiment: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me” (Job 42:2–3).
God is all powerful – omnipotent – so there is nothing he is unable to do; he is also all loving, so there is nothing he would not do for our ultimate benefit, even sacrificing his son so that we – indeed, all of creation – could know redemption. A song titled “Your Love Is Strong,” based on passages from the Sermon on the Mount, includes the lyrics, “Two things you told me, that you are strong and you love me.” Whenever we doubt God’s promises to us, we are showing that one of these truths – maybe both – have not penetrated deeply enough into our souls.
Think back to when you last questioned God’s promises to you. Did you doubt his strength? His love? Both? What can you do to bolster your faith in God’s strength and love for you?