Read an Excerpt
Jesus, Solo JesusIncomparable y Glorioso Dios / Jesus, the One and Only
By Beth Moore
Broadman & Holman PublishersCopyright © 2003 Beth Moore
All right reserved.
"Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard." (Luke 1:13)
* * *
Our study will focus on the Gospel of Luke. In his first verses the "beloved physician" wrote that while many others had also written about Christ, Luke "carefully investigated everything from the beginning." His resulting "orderly account" began in the time of Herod, king of Judea. A priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were godly people, but they had no children. Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years (Luke 1:6-7). Zechariah's time came to serve as priest, and while he was serving in the temple: "an angel of the Lord appeared to him" (Luke 1:11).
Picture that morning with me. Zechariah rose from his bed in a small room outside the temple, amazed at the once-in-a-lifetime priestly privilege he feared would never come; after all, he was no spring chicken.
Zechariah's mind surely detoured to his wife of many years. Unlike most of the other priests, he had no children. When his templeservice took him from home, Elizabeth was all alone. She handled her empty home with grace, but he knew her childlessness still stung terribly. Jewish homes were meant for children.
Zechariah took extra care to smooth out the white linen fabric and carefully tie the sash of his priestly garments. Not all the priests took their responsibilities so soberly, but Zechariah was a righteous man. He walked through the temple gate with all senses magnified and beheld a sight to take your breath away-the cream-and-gold temple bathing in the morning sun. A few early risers probably already gathered for worship in the courtyard. Little did Zechariah know that the gentle breeze was blowing in far more than just another morning.
First Chronicles 24 provides the detailed background for the story of the priesthood. Aaron had many descendants. Each of the twenty-four divisions of priests served in the temple for one week twice a year and at major festivals. An individual priest could offer the incense at the daily sacrifice only once in his lifetime. Zechariah's only turn had come. Surely he was overwhelmed.
Luke 1:10 tells us that worshipers assembled outside the temple at the time for the burning of the incense. Their custom was to pray individually and simultaneously in the courtyard as the priest was praying for them corporately inside. After he finished his duties, he would come out to them and give them a blessing.
As Zechariah was praying, the angel Gabriel appeared to him saying: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John" (Luke 1:13).
Obviously, the fragrance of the incense wasn't the only thing that ascended to the throne of God that day. Don't miss the significance of the statement "your prayer has been heard." The responsibility of the priest on duty was to offer the incense and to pray for the nation of Israel. His purpose was to offer a corporate prayer. Furthermore, the priest's intercession for the nation undoubtedly included a petition for the Messiah, Israel's promised Deliverer and King. Zechariah would have petitioned the throne of grace on behalf of the nation of Israel and for God to send its long-awaited Messiah.
The old priest could not have known that God had purposely manipulated his appointment that day for a revolutionary reason. Later we will see that many of those who served in the priesthood were not like Zechariah. Many priests could have offered the incense that day with little respect and voiced a repetitious prayer void of anxious expectation. Luke 1:6 tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were "upright in the sight of God." The Creator and Sustainer of the universe was ready to answer a prayer that had been prayed for hundreds of years, but He purposely chose a man who could pray an old prayer with a fresh heart.
I don't believe Zechariah's prayers that day were limited to corporate petitions. Whether or not he planned to make a personal request, I believe he did. I think he poured the perfectly mixed ingredients on the fire, inhaled the aroma of incense rising toward heaven, asked God's blessing over the nation of Israel, passionately pleaded for the coming of the Messiah, then, before he turned and walked away, voiced an age-old request from the hearth of his own home.
I will never forget the first time I had an opportunity to go into the "old city" in Jerusalem. As much as I had enjoyed the trip, it would have been terribly incomplete without going to the Wailing Wall. I knew from my studies that the Wailing Wall is considered to be virtually the most sacred place on earth to an orthodox Jew. As a portion of the sacred temple structure, it signifies the place of most intimate physical closeness to God. Droves of people pray at the Wailing Wall. Many write their requests on small pieces of paper and literally wedge the notes in the wall's crevices. I rose early that morning and had a lengthy time of preparation in prayer. I knew I would have only a few minutes at the wall, and I gave serious thought to the petitions I would make there.
After deep consideration, I recorded the most important requests I could possibly make on a small sheet of paper. Later I stood at that wall as overcome in prayer as I have ever been. After I voiced my petitions through sobs, I wedged my requests in a crack in the wall and left them there. Why did I take it so seriously when I can boldly approach the throne of grace twenty-four hours a day? Because in a common, godless world, I was standing at an uncommon, sacred place. A place where more collective petitions have been poured out to the one true God than any other in the world ... and I had one chance.
I believe that's why Zechariah may have grasped the most sacred moment of his life to let his personal prayer ascend like incense to the throne of grace. The prayer at that exact moment may not have been for a son. At their ages, perhaps Zechariah and Elizabeth had given up. Or perhaps he remembered Abraham and Sarah, and he knew God could do the impossible. Either way, I believe Zechariah voiced something about the void in their lives and the hurt or disappointment of their own hearts. What the old priest could not possibly have known was how intimately connected would be his corporate prayer for the Messiah and his personal prayer for a son.
Have you almost given up on God answering an earnest, long-term prayer of your heart? Not becoming hopeless over a repetitious request can be terribly challenging. God never missed a single petition from the children of Israel to send their Messiah; nor did He miss a solitary plea from the aching hearts of a childless couple. God does not have some limited supply of power, requiring that we carefully select a few choice things to pray about. God's power is infinite. God's grace and mercy are drawn deeply from the bottomless well of His heart.
When Zechariah stood at the altar of incense that day and lifted the needs of the nation to the throne, an ample supply of supernatural power and tenderhearted compassion remained in the heart of God to provide not just his needs, but the desire of his heart. God was simply waiting for the perfect time.
Do you have a long-standing prayer concern? If you have received a definitive no from God, pray to accept it and trust that He knows what He's doing. If you haven't, don't grow weary or mechanical. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, continue to walk faithfully with God even though you are disappointed. Walking with God in the day-in/day-out course of life swells your assurance that God is faithful and enjoyable even when a request goes unmet. Recognizing all the other works God is doing in your life will prevent discouragement as you await your answer. Zechariah waited a long time for God's answer, but when it came, it exceeded everything the priest could have thought or asked.
God gave Zechariah some assurances about this promised son. He said, "He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.... And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous-to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:14-15, 17).
How would you have responded to the words of the angelic messenger? I somehow think I might have been just like Zechariah. The message was just too much for the old priest. He asked for a sign.
Apparently Gabriel was in no mood for Zechariah's doubt. Those were the last words out of the priest's mouth for a while. Zechariah's transgression wasn't terminal. The promise was still intact, and the old man would still be a father. He just wouldn't have much to say until his faith became sight.
Luke's account of Zechariah's news concludes with his return home and the record of Elizabeth's pregnancy. The woman in me fusses over the lack of details. How did Zechariah tell her the news? What did she say? Did she laugh? Did she squeal? Did she cry? If age had already closed her womb, what was her first sign of pregnancy? Why did she remain in seclusion for five months? Lastly, I wonder if Zechariah somehow shared with Elizabeth every last detail of the prophecy concerning their son. Can you even imagine being told in advance of your child's conception that he or she would bring joy and delight to you and be great in the sight of the Lord? We breathe a huge sigh of relief over a sonogram showing all the right appendages. What we'd give for a few guarantees about their character!
Without a doubt, Zechariah and Elizabeth would think this answer was worth waiting for. God is so faithful. One reason He may have given them such assurances about their son's future greatness is because they would probably not live to see all the prophecy come to fruition. Like few of the rest of us, this set of parents would not die hoping. They would die knowing.
Give Him the
"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to
give him the name Jesus." (Luke 1:31)
* * *
Picture the omniscient eyes of the unfathomable El Roi-the God who sees-spanning the universe in panoramic view, every galaxy in His gaze. Imagine now the gradual tightening of His lens as if a movie camera were attached to the point of a rocket bound for planet Earth. Not a man-made rocket, but a celestial rocket-of the living kind.
Gabriel has been summoned once again to the throne of God. At least six months have passed since God last sent him to Jerusalem. Gabriel's previous assignment took him to Herod's temple, one of the wonders of the civilized world. This time heaven's lens focuses northward. Imagine Gabriel plunging earthward through the floor of the third heaven, breaking the barrier from the supernatural to the natural world. Feature him swooping down through the second heaven past the stars God calls by name. As our vision "descends," the earth grows larger. God's kingdom gaze burns through the blue skies of planet Earth and plummets like a flaming stake in the ground to a backward town called Nazareth.
Luke 1:26 tells us that in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy Gabriel made his appearance to Mary. Miles and decades separated an expectant senior adult from her kid-cousin up north. Jewish families were close-knit, but these women, presumably related by marriage, inhabited very different cultures. A few constants would have permeated their family lives, however. The practices of the ancient Jewish betrothal were consistent.
Luke 1:27 tells us that Mary was a virgin "pledged to be married to a man named Joseph." Betrothal compares more to our idea of marriage than engagement. The difference was the matter of physical intimacy, but the relationship was legally binding. Betrothal began with a contract drawn up by the parents or by a friend of the groom. Then at a meeting between the two families, in the presence of witnesses, the groom would present the bride with jewelry. The groom would announce his intentions to firmly observe the contract. Then he would sip from a cup of wine and offer the cup to the bride. If she sipped from the same cup, she was in effect entering covenant with him.
The next step was the payment of the mohar, or dowry, by the groom. This occurred at a ceremony, ordinarily involving a priest. Other traditions were also practiced, but these were the most basic and consistent. By the time a couple reached this step, their betrothal was binding, though a marriage ceremony and physical intimacy had not yet taken place. An actual divorce would be necessary to break the covenant. Furthermore, if the prospective groom died, the bride-to-be was considered a widow.
Betrothal traditionally occurred soon after the onset of adolescence, so it is probably accurate to imagine Mary around age thirteen at the time of the announcement. Remember, in that culture a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old was commonly preparing for marriage.
Don't miss the one fact we're told about Joseph in Luke's introductory account-he was a descendant of David. How awesome of God to purpose that Christ's royal lineage would come through His adoptive father. We shouldn't be surprised at the profound significance with which God views adoption.
Ephesians 1:4-6 tells us something profound about God's view of adoption. It identifies us as the adopted children of God. In a peculiar kind of way, God the Father allowed His Son to be "adopted" into a family on earth so that we could be adopted into His family in heaven.
Luke's Gospel doesn't tell us much about Joseph, but we have plenty of information to stir our imaginations about his bride-to-be. I love to imagine where Mary was when Gabriel appeared to her. I wonder if she was in her bedroom or walking a dusty path fetching water for her mother. One thing for sure: she was alone.
No matter where the angelic ambassador appeared to Mary, he must have stunned her with his choice of salutations: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Prior to Zechariah's encounter, four centuries had passed since God had graced the earth with a heavenly visitation. I doubt the thought occurred to anyone that he would transmit the most glorious news yet heard to a simple Galilean girl.
How I love the way God works! Just when we decide He's too complicated to comprehend, He draws stick pictures.
Excerpted from Jesus, Solo Jesus by Beth Moore Copyright © 2003 by Beth Moore. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.