Every story has a preface. It’s what needs to be said before diving in. It often sets the stage, the tone, for the masterpiece ready to unfold. Sometimes it is direct author commentary, and many times it explains the story before the story.
As Luke begins and lays the foundation for why he is writing this letter to Theophilis, he shares with us an amazing moment in history. Luke introduces us to a righteous priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. They are obedient to God’s law, and have grown old, past the years they could have had children.
Zechariah happens to be on his rotation duty at the temple in Jerusalem, and is chosen to be the priest to enter and burn incense before the Lord. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This would be the one and only time Zechariah would enter the Holy Place. What a responsibility and privilege! As he enters, he brings the incense, representing the prayers of God’s people, before the presence of the Lord.
Zechariah also brings his own prayer, the desire and longing of his heart.
This is incredibly refreshing to me. When approaching the throne room of God, Zechariah is honest. He tells God what is really on his mind and in his heart. Too often, when we are in church and given an opportunity to share a prayer request, we default to sharing other people’s troubles and not our own. We don’t say that we struggled with reading God’s Word this week, or that we stunk it up as parents that morning, or we desperately need God to show up in the midst of a shredded relationship. Even in our own private time, when we are communing with God alone, we give a glossed over report so we can make things quick and easy. Why is that? Why are we afraid to spend the time to be real, to be broken and raw before the God we know loves us? It is exhausting being a neat-and-tidy Christian. Maybe Zechariah was tired, too.
In this hushed place where few people ever enter, Zechariah can’t help but share his burdens when he has been charged with interceding for his people.
God’s answer breaks the 400-year silence of heaven.
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.
A son…with the spirit and power of Elijah….preparing the people for the coming of the Lord…
Emmanuel, God with us, the promised Messiah, is coming soon. And, Zechariah’s son will lead the way, pointing the Jews to their long-awaited Savior.
God raised up Elijah during a dark time in Israel’s history, where their most evil king prevailed to lead the people’s hearts to betray the God who loved them. God gave Elijah power over the weather. Elijah obeyed God’s plan and stood up, alone, to face those idol-worshippers on Mount Carmel. He called down fire from heaven, and God demonstrated His great power, proving He was God, and the people turned back to their Sustainer. However, Elijah was also threatened, became scared and ran away to the mountain of God, seeking direction and help. God Himself answered, comforting him and giving him instruction.
All of this will come to life in new ways as John “will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.”
Zechariah can’t speak when he leaves the temple because he doubted God’s word. Now, he has a little more than nine-months to quietly meditate on the angel Gabriel’s words.
The story before the story is about to collide with the One who wrote them all.