Advent: Surprise!

“5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:5-7)

Has God ever taken you by surprise? Pastor Chuck Swindoll several years ago penned a devotional entitled, appropriately enough, Surprises. Here is a brief excerpt.

The feelings are familiar. Mouth open. Eyes like saucers. Chill up the spine. Heart pounding in the throat. Momentary disbelief. We frown and attempt to piece the story together without a script or narrator. Sometimes alone, occasionally with others . . . then boom! “The flash of a mighty surprise” boggles the mind, leaving us somewhere between stunned and dumb with wonder. “Am I dreaming or is a miracle happening?” So it is with surprises.

O. Henry did it with his endings. World War II, with its beginning. Surprises start parties and they stop partnerships. They solve murders, they enhance birthdays and anniversaries, and they embellish friendships. Kids at Christmas love ’em. Parents expect ’em. Coaches use ’em. Politicians diffuse ’em.

Ever stop to trace the surprises in the Bible? The Scriptures are full of them when you look at certain events through the eyes of the people in that day.

  • When Adam and Eve stumbled upon Abel’s fresh grave.
  • When Enoch’s footsteps suddenly stopped.
  • When Noah’s neighbors first felt sprinkling.
  • When Moses heard words from a burning bush that wouldn’t stop burning.
  • When manna first fell from the sky.
  • When water first came from the rock.
  • When Jericho’s walls came a tumblin’ down: from the inside out.
  • When a ruddy runt by the name of David took down a seasoned warrior named Goliath.
  • And so on, and so on.

Today we look at another scene found in Scripture in which God scripted a surprise. Be careful! It would be easy to view these scenes as purely historical in nature and theme. However, God still surprises us. The question is whether we are aware when He does, and how do we respond when He does?

What do we know about Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth? To begin with, they were a righteous couple.

Today’s text informs us that Zachariah was a Jewish Priest. He lived during the days of Herod the Great, King of Judea. Herod ruled over Judea from 37 B.C. – 4 B.C. Herod was capable, crafty, and cruel. He was a diabolical monster. This is the same Herod who is mentioned in Matthew 2.

Zachariah was the exact opposite of Herod. His name means, “Yahweh has remembered.” Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (I Chronicles 24:4-19). He also belonged to the 8th Division of 24. During David’s reign, the priests were divided into 24 divisions. (I Chronicles 24:1-6). Solomon reaffirmed these divisions (2 Chronicles 8:14). Twice a year each division was on duty in the temple, and each time the period of service was one week.

Zechariah had a wife named Elizabeth. A Wife name Elizabeth. Her name means devoted One or an absolutely reliable one. She was one of the descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. She too, along with her husband, belonged to the Tribe of Levi.

What a blessing for a priest from the Tribe of Levi to marry a woman from the same tribe. One gets the sense they were equally called to the ministry of serving the LORD. They were mutually compatible.

Additionally, the Bible tells us that both righteous before God. They were walking blamelessly in all the commandments of the Lord. In other words, they both possessed an imputed righteousness from God. Though it is true that good works never saved anybody, it is also true that the person who is conscious of having been saved by grace through faith will put forth every effort to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). The forgiven trespasser and the true heart are twins. Their righteous walk was evidenced by their behavior. They were conscious of the Ten Commandments. They were obedient to the Word of God.

What more can be said of such a couple? Well, today’s text adds one more thing about Zechariah and Elizabeth. “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7).

What a burden to bear. Remember Rachel’s words to Jacob: “Give me children or I die” (Genesis 30:1). What about Sarah (Genesis 15:1)? Or Hannah (I Samuel 1:1-6)? Barrenness was about the worst thing which could happen to a woman. Because Elizabeth was barren, people believed that it was a sign of God’s disfavor. She would be shunned, and despised.

Could it be possible that she could become pregnant? No, unfortunately not. For you see the text also says that they were both well advanced in years. With each passing year the hope that their situation would change began to dim. At last it was extinguished altogether, for by now both were beyond the age of child bearing.

However, Zechariah and Elizabeth were in for a big surprise from God. When next we meet, we’ll see what God has in store for this righteous couple. Be careful to not read ahead in the Gospel of Luke. That would spoil the surprise.

One more thought from Pastor Swindoll. “Jesus’s return will be the absolute greatest surprise. Well, maybe I had better not say that. The greatest surprise is that people like us will be included in the group, stunned and dumb with wonder. Let’s face it, that won’t be just a surprise or a dream. That’ll be a flat-out miracle.”

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!






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