“In the time of Herod, king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendent of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all of the Lord’s commands and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as a priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all of the assembled worshippers where praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear.” (Luke 1:5-12)
Luke wrote so that we can “know the certainty of the things” that we have been taught. (Luke 1:4) Certainty is hard-won for faith. In fact, we must regain it often. The real challenges to certainty are never what we expect they would be. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story demonstrate some draining challenges to maintaining our certainty of God’s goodness and control.
The Difficulty of God’s Timing
“…they were both well along in years.” They had been living a life of faith for some time. What had they seen? What had they experienced? Faith is, “…being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) But how long can we go without seeing something before we cross the line from “living by faith” to “wasting my life”?
A Corrupt Culture
“In the time of Herod…”, King Herod was corrupt, paranoid, and power-hungry. This King, supposedly God’s man to bless God’s people, cared about two things: lining his pockets and holding onto power. Surely, God could not do anything redemptive in the midst of corruption like that? Surely, if God were just, he would do something about the Democrats and Republicans…I mean, something about Herod. When you are trying to live by faith and all you see is corruption, you wonder how long a just God will wait.
Zechariah was a priest, and he was a good one. He was in Jerusalem because “his division was on duty” and was “chosen by lot” to light the candles on the incense altar. He was engaged in one of the most significant acts of worship he will ever be a part of and he is within a few feet of the Holy of Holies. But when the angel of God shows up Zechariah is “surprised and frightened”. He was completely unprepared for this experience. Still, it had been 400 years since a direct prophecy had been recorded. Four centuries where word from or credible encounter with God had been recorded.
It can be draining on faith to keep showing up at temple, mass, or church week after week, going through the motions. I know I get tired of it. Don’t you? One sustaining characteristic of faith is EXPECTATION! When we pray, light candles, and sing songs to God, but never honestly see God show up…how long can that last? Such a mindless ceremony is difficult for the devout and maddening to the skeptic. I would imagine it is not much fun for God either.
“But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well along in years.”
Not being able to have a child was a terrible disgrace. Luke shares this fact with the word, “But”. They were serving God conscientiously and blamelessly. They were doing the best they could, “But”… you can probably fill in the blank with your own disappointment.
It is one thing to be disgusted with your government and worried about your church, but it is a different level of struggle when you go to bed every night without a dream coming true.
And you are getting older...
All those ambitious goals of accomplishment before the age of forty are frustrated. All those idealistic pictures you had of proms, graduations, and wedding dances are fading. All the effort you have given to doing things right don’t seem to be delivering you the joy for which you hoped and to which you feel entitled. This challenges our confidence. Often faith is not blown away. It is simply worn down.
One of the most godly women I ever pastored was caught completely off guard by the onset of deep depression in her senior years. She sobbed, “The problem with life pastor is that it is just so daily.”
The Indispensable Quality
You cannot put a “happy face” on this reality. We walk in a faith relationship to an eternal God unfettered by our time schedule. Sermons and books with titles like “7 Steps to Your Miracle Now” are snake oil sold as elixir.
God is not handing out quick solutions, he is making saints.
It takes a special quality to remain humble and faithful when your reality is corruption and disappointment. That quality is “perseverance”.
Scripture implores us constantly to develop and employ “perseverance”. The word isn’t used here, but Zechariah and Elizabeth demonstrate the characteristic. The full nature of perseverance cannot be covered briefly, but it means so much more than just, “hanging in” or “hanging on”.
All those years they had lived under a corrupt king, went to temple and never saw God show up, dreamed of a family, prayed for just one child with no answer. They wrestled resentment at every baby dedication. They endured the well meaning but patronizing advice from friends. Years of that could make you bitter, hard, angry. But, they kept doing what was right even when everything seemed wrong. That is perseverance.
Jesus once sighed, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) It was a sincere question asked by the God who came and lived on this earth among us. He knows our world is not hospitable to faith and that we are “bottom-line” creatures whose faith has little staying power.
We are ready to grab our weapons and rush into war, anxious to run to the next miracle crusade, challenged and inspired by the romance and adventure of calls to great things. But very few of us have the character to press our faith into action when one uneventful and frustrating day follows upon another.
We all believe in the God of the heroic. What we need most these days is the God of the humdrum - the commonplace, the everyday.-(Peter Marshall-A Man Called Peter)
It is that God, the true and living God that we serve. To walk with him demands our perseverance.
Just a thought.