by Mike Stine
As children, we would go over to friends’ houses to play. Some families were like ours. Some families were much more well to do than us. Some families had problems that were very apparent. Nevertheless, we can’t do much about our family. Unlike our friends, we only get one family and we are stuck with them for life. This is a blessing or a curse depending on what family you are in.
God has told us that he will bless the families that honor him for a thousand generations. But those who do not honor the Lord he will punish to the third and fourth generation. While this is not a hard and fast rule, we do see this played out, especially in the case of David and his descendants. While the descendants of David did not always follow God’s ways, he still continued to be merciful to them because David was a righteous man.
There is one family however that we find God blesses tremendously. We don’t know much about the family as a whole but only about two children. Why God chose this family, we don’t know all the reasons why. What we do know is that this family loved the Lord.
The story begins in Luke 1.
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zachariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years. 8 When his division was on duty, and he was serving as priest before God, 9 it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zachariah saw him, he was startled and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zachariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and will never drink wine or beer. And he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people. 18 “How can I know this?” Zachariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen! You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” 21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zachariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept making signs to them and remained speechless. 23 And when the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, 25 “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”
This is our first look at the family. The first thing that we discover is that Elizabeth was a direct descendant of Aaron. Her husband Zachariah is a priest. There is a good lineage as well as a good family currently. Today, it would be the equivalent of being a descendant of Martin Luther and being married to someone who worked closely with Billy Graham on his crusades.
Not only does this sound like an ideal family, we also learn that they are righteous in God’s sight. Nevertheless, Elizabeth is unable to have children. Not only this, but they are both beyond the years of having children.
As Zachariah goes into the temple to offer incense an angel of the lord appears to him. The news he brings is that he and his wife will have a child. This will not be just any child however, this will be a special child. (More special than just a child born to a barren woman past child bearing years.)
The child’s name will be John and he will be full of the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. John will turn many people back to the Lord. Not only will he do this, he will go in the power of Elijah and he will make people ready for the coming of the Lord.
Zachariah does not believe this however, and asks how he can be sure of this. He is given a sign that this is from God as well as a punishment for his disbelief. He is left unable to speak until John is born. When he emerges from the temple, the other priests immediately realize that he had seen a vision.
When Zachariah’s time of service was completed he returned home and his wife became pregnant and remained in seclusion for five months. She recognized the miracle that was taking place and knew that it was the Lord who had shown favor on her and had taken away her disgrace.
Luke then tells us the story of Mary and a similar visit by the angel Gabriel. I won’t tell the whole story because you are familiar with it. I will point how Mary’s reaction is different from Zachariah’s at the news. Zachariah says, “How can I be sure of this?” Mary asks, “How can this be?” Both sound like questions of disbelief, but this isn’t the case with Mary.
Zachariah wants proof of what has been promised. I would like to think that if an angel came and spoke to me that I’d be willing to believe anything he said. However, I would likely be questioning my sanity and whether this was truly happening, so perhaps asking for a sign isn’t out of the question. After all, Gideon asked for several signs before he was willing to act.
Mary’s question is not the same however. She wants to know how this is going to happen. She doesn’t question how it CAN happen, but simply how it will. Gabriel answers both questions however. It will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit. It can happen because it has already happened with her relative Elizabeth. 1:36, “Even Elizabeth, you relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.”
Mary rushed off to see her relative Elizabeth.
39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah, 40 where she entered Zachariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your offspring! 43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me! 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord will be fulfilled!”
When Mary hurries to her relative’s house the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps. Remember that Gabriel told her that the child while still in the womb would be full of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is also filled with the Holy Spirit and recognizes the miracle that is taking place. She knows that Mary will bear the Messiah that the Jews have long been waiting for. Although she herself was barren and past child bearing years and is now pregnant she still does not consider herself worthy “that the mother of [her] Lord should come to [her].”
Mary stays with Elizabeth until the baby arrives.
56 And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home. 57 Now the time for Elizabeth to give birth was completed, and she bore a son. 58 Then her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her His great mercy, and they rejoiced with her. 59 When they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day, they were going to name him Zachariah, after his father. 60 But his mother responded, “No! He will be called John.” 61 Then they said to her, “None of your relatives has that name.” 62 So they motioned to his father to find out what he wanted him to be called. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote: His name is John, and they were all amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came upon all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard took them to heart, saying, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him.
Elizabeth gave birth to a son, just as Gabriel had told her husband. This was a time for rejoicing. The neighbors and relatives came and rejoiced with her. Yes, this was a miracle that occurred, but everyone’s reaction was the same as if this was normal. Any time a baby is born, friends and family stop by to see the child. And everyone celebrates.
On the eighth day the baby was taken to be circumcised as was Jewish custom. It was at this time that the child was named.
The people wanted the name the baby Zachariah after his father but his mother knew that he should be called John. However, there was no one else in the family by that name. Ultimately, it was the father’s responsibility to name the child. Zachariah wrote that the baby should be called John.
At this moment his mouth was opened once again and he began praising God. This caused a stir among all who saw this and they talked about throughout the countryside. And they also recognized that John would become great because God’s hand was with him.
So we have a very special family that God chose to bless. In some ways it may be very much like ours. In others it may be very different. Nevertheless, they loved the Lord and God chose to bless them for their obedience in following him.