Luke 1:5 – 10
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
Luke begins his story, not with Jesus, but with John the Baptist, or with the parents of John. There was a time when John could have been seen as being in competition with Jesus. The gospel writers take pains to show that he was a part of Jesus’ story, the one who proclaimed Jesus’ coming. Luke begins by setting the scene – it is the time of King Herod, and the place is Jerusalem. Herod ruled an area much larger than Judea – the nation was broken apart after his death as Rome did not want any one ruler with quite that much power to replace him. If this were a movie, it would open with a scene of decadence and power in one of Herod’s many palaces, and the camera would then pan down across the bustling city of Jerusalem, to the great temple – from the noise of the market-place to the silence as Zechariah enters the great holy space in the temple alone.
Zechariah was a righteous man, a priest who came to Jerusalem to serve in the temple when it was his time to do so. There were many descendants of Aaron, of the various families; each family took its turn as priests in the temple itself. Zechariah was of the family of Abijah, and at this particular time it was that family’s turn to serve in the temple. There was only one temple – in Jerusalem. It had been rebuilt in 516 BCE, on the return from exile; Herod had remodeled this temple during his reign, thus it was a beautiful place of worship, and the symbol of Judaism throughout the world at this time.
One priest was selected to burn incense inside the temple (not the Holy of Holies, but the next space out from that). He was selected by lot – the belief was that a random selection process allowed God to enter the process, to determine the outcome. A priest might have this opportunity only once in his life. In this case, it seems that God did influence the outcome, for God had a message for Zechariah. And so, Zechariah enters the silence of the temple, the great vastness, alone – while the people pray outside. model of Jerusalem & temple in 1st Century