Luke 1:11 – 20
11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ 18Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ 19The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’
As Zechariah was serving in the temple, and the people were praying outside, suddenly he looks up and sees an angel standing there. Zechariah was scared to death! Luke says it twice – “he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.” We must recognize that angels must not look like the lovely beings in flowing robes and white wings that we see on Victorian post-cards; they must be pretty fearsome beings! Whenever someone encounters an angel in the Bible he or she is terrified! And, of course, the first thing the angel always says is, “Do not be afraid.” And that was what he said to Zechariah.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were “getting on in years” and had never had children, although they had prayed for children. The angel says that their prayers have been heard; Elizabeth will bear a child, and they are to name him John. They will rejoice at his birth, and from his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. They must raise him carefully, dedicating him to God; he must never touch wine or strong drink. (This is a common command for those to be dedicated to God’s work in the Bible. Look at Judges 13:1 – 5, the beginning of the story of Samson.) The angel further says that this child will grow up with the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the people, calling people back to God, to prepare the way for the Lord.
This should have been good news for Zechariah, but he just could not believe it! He says to the angel, “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” At least that is the implication his words have to Gabriel, who takes offense. One does not want to offend the Angel Gabriel! And Gabriel tells Zechariah that because of his disbelief he will be unable to speak until the child is born.
Sometimes we, like Zechariah, put limits on what we believe God can do. We might say, “That is a life that cannot be turned around, a person who cannot be redeemed.” Or we might think, “This prayer is too audacious; let me pray for something that is more possible.” We must remember that “nothing is impossible with God.” (Matthew 19:26, and Luke 1:37) We must just keep praying!