But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. . . . He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival.” - Luke 1:13, 17
Most people never get to meet the president or the queen. Most athletes never make it to the Super Bowl, the World Cup Final, the Wimbledon Championship, or the Olympics. Should they be fortunate enough to receive that kind of opportunity, they savor it, for they know it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Zechariah the priest had one of those experiences when he was picked to burn incense on the altar in Jerusalem’s temple. There were approximately eight thousand priests in Israel at the time. They were divided into “divisions” that rotated the duties of the Temple, including the burning of incense morning and evening—part of a tradition dating back to the days of Aaron, the first high priest (see Exod. 30:7-8). Individual priests were chosen out of the division by casting lots. One day, old Zechariah’s name was called for this most sacred of tasks. It was his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. No doubt Zechariah entered the holy place with a mix of exhilaration and trepidation. He was part of a venerable tradition, and he was as close to the Holy of Holies as any man other than the High Priest would ever be allowed to go. The awesomeness of God’s presence would be well nigh overpowering for him. And then it happened!
The angel Gabriel met him beside the altar and said, “God has heard your prayer” (Luke 1:13). Zechariah could have been forgiven if he had asked “Which prayer?” but immediately he was told about the impending birth of a son in his old age. Now a once-in-a-lifetime experience had suddenly turned into a once-in-a-hundred-lifetimes experience! This son’s dramatic birth was only the prelude to a dramatic life devoted to a ministry which would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17).
Zechariah asked what probably seem to us to be perfectly understandable questions, but the angel interpreted them as evidence of unbelief (1:18-21)! Then he was made mute, presumably so that he could not express his unbelief until it was obvious that God had done what he had promised to do.
Most people haven’t seen angels—or at least they haven’t recognized them as such. And most have not received as direct a message from the Lord as did Zechariah. But all God’s people have been called to a relationship with the Lord and to an avenue of service for him. For some, the experience was dramatic and unforgettable; for others, less so. But for all it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be forgotten, always to be cherished.
For Further Study: Luke 1:5-25