We start the book of Luke with a prologue talking about why it was written. Luke was a doctor who had become a Christian when the church first began. He was a learned man, and here he writes to a man named Theophilus. Luke tells him that in becoming a Christian, he himself had carefully investigated the story of Jesus, and now he wanted to lay out all his findings for Theophilus and all who were interested.
I must say that this gives me some comfort that a man of Luke’s education would do this for us so close to Christ’s time here on earth. It gives a real credibility to the history of the story of Jesus.
Luke starts with the story of Zechariah who was a priest. And as you read between the lines of this story, you see someone who, though he was a good man and loved God, nevertheless had suffered deep disappointment in his life.
Namely, his wife was barren. As painful as that is in this day and age, it was much more so in theirs. And for his wife Elizabeth in particular, their culture considered it a disgrace.
One wonders how long they prayed for a son. Perhaps there were months that Elizabeth’s period was late, and hope sprang anew. But then her period would start, and hope would be dashed. How often did this pattern repeat in their lives?
How do we respond to unanswered prayers in our lives? How do we respond to hopes dashed?
For some, they get bitter.
“Why won’t you answer my prayers? I need this! Don’t you hear? Don’t you know what I’m going through? Don’t you know how I’m feeling?”
Others get resigned.
“Well, I guess God just isn’t going to answer this one.”
And they just move on with their lives, living in disappointment.
But others hope beyond hope. Abraham was an example of this in a similar situation to Zechariah.
How did Zechariah feel? At a guess, he had resigned himself to “the facts.”
“My wife and I are old. It’s too late. If it hasn’t happened now, it never will. Maybe God just had more important things to worry about.”
But one day, he was chosen by lot to burn incense at the altar in the temple. Because of the number of priests in Israel, the odds of getting chosen were very slim. But that day, he was chosen for this honor.
The smoke of the incense was a symbol of the people’s prayers rising to God, so while Zechariah was in there, the people outside the temple prayed, and no doubt, so did Zechariah.
What did he pray for? Undoubtedly he prayed for the nation. Perhaps he even prayed that the Messiah would finally come. For God had not spoken to anyone in 400 years.
Did he pray for himself? Perhaps. Perhaps not. One wonders if after years of discouragement, he started to doubt if God really cared about him personally.
“Sure God loves Israel. But does he really care about me?”
But in the midst of his prayers, to his great shock, an angel appears. His first reaction is fear. Did he do something wrong? Would he be struck down as Aaron’s sons had once been while doing the very same thing (Leviticus 10)?
But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got good news for you. Do you remember all your prayers that you prayed for a son? God has heard them. And he’s giving you a son. More than that, your son’s going to prepare the way for the Messiah you’ve been hoping for.”
Zechariah’s reaction? Disbelief. Years of unanswered prayer had beaten him down. And he said,
How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years. (18)
In other words, “I’ve been praying for years. Nothing has happened. Time and again my hopes have been dashed. I don’t want to get my hopes up again only to be disappointed.”
How often do we respond the same way? Because of disappointments, we lose hope.
God graciously didn’t take away the blessing because of his doubt, but he did rebuke Zechariah, and said, “Do you want a sign? Here it is: You won’t speak again until the birth of your son.”
That certainly got his attention. And he believed. Soon, so did his wife. She got pregnant, and when she did, she said,
The Lord has done this for me…In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people. (25)
What can we get from all this?
First, whether we feel like it or not. God does hear all our prayers. It was one of the first things the angel Gabriel told Zechariah.
“Your prayers were not in vain. Your prayers were not bouncing off the ceiling. God has heard you.”
Second, God is weaving a story that we can’t always see. A story that is often bigger than us. You can’t get much bigger than preparing the way for Jesus to come.
But because of that, our prayers may seem to go unanswered at times.
But don’t lose hope. God has heard you. He may or may not give you what you desire. But know that God is working something out in your life. He’s working out something for your good. Because he loves you. And if you’ll keep hoping and trusting in him, in the end, whether it’s in heaven or on earth, you will see the story he wove and the beautiful tapestry that resulted.
So whatever you’re going through, stay in the story. And you will find blessing as Zechariah and Elizabeth did.