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Luke 1:5-7 ESV

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were ripe for a miracle, just like Abraham and Sarah, and Elkanah and Hannah before them.

Luke 1:8-17 ESV

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to 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.”

God had answered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer! Their child would not be an average boy either. He would be great before the Lord and a lifelong Nazarite, abstaining from wine and filled with the Spirit. Their son would have a divine mission to fulfill the prophecy of the Malachi 4:5-6, ESV “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

But Zechariah could hardly believe it. Israel had not had a prophet in hundreds of years!

Luke 1:18 ESV

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

There were consequences for Zechariah’s unbelief.

Luke 1:19-20 ESV

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Why did God prevent Zechariah from speaking? Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18:21, ESV). The Lord did not want Elizabeth–or anyone else–to be infected by Zechariah’s unbelief.

Miracles require faith. Doubt can quash miracles. The right words fan the flame of our faith because faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17, ESV). If faith comes through hearing the Word, then it stands to reason that doubt can come through words too. If John had not been born, according to the prophecy, God would come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.

Luke 1:21-23 ESV

And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

The people knew something special must have happened. How frustrating for Zechariah that he could not tell them about it!

Luke 1:24-25 ESV

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”