Check out Luke 1:57-66, the account of the birth of John the Baptist, and note especially the progression in the responses of Zechariah’s relatives and neighbors to this event. Zechariah, John the Baptist’s dad, was a godly man, a priest in the temple from a long line of priests in the temple. Actually, both John’s mom and dad came from ministry families. There are some dangers in growing up as a “pastor’s kid” that I want to stay reminded of as my daughter gets older. The danger I fear most is that serving the Lord would become routine (just dad’s job), and we would miss seeing the beauty of what God is actually accomplishing in our family.
When Zechariah was told by the angel that he was going to be the father of the man that Malachi prophesied about, the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of children to the fathers and fathers to their children, he didn’t believe the angel and asked for a confirming sign. The sign the angel gave him was to make him unable to hear or speak until the baby was born. This gave Zechariah time for serious reflection, and the cool thing is this: Zechariah used the time wisely and allowed himself to grow through it. This is the mark of a seriously spiritual man. Zechariah was not so full of spiritual pride and arrogance that he was not able to be teachable by God. Today’s text tells us what happens when the baby was born:
“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1:57-66)
I underlined the texts about the neighbors and relatives to highlight the progression of their responses. Our culture and our families sometimes exert subtle pressure on us to conform to what makes them comfortable. So, it’s fine to celebrate the joyous occasion of a birth, or a wedding, or a holiday like Christmas – as long as we don’t get too spiritual about it. Notice that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s friends and relatives are initially excited for them, that God has granted them a child in their old age. (Remember that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were well beyond normal childbearing years.) If they could have just left it at that – a joyous celebration of the birth of a baby – everyone would have had a good time and gone home happy. (And, keep in mind, that Zechariah and Elizabeth’s families are both in “the ministry.”)
But Zechariah has re-learned the importance of trusting and obeying the Lord through his recent experience of being deaf and mute. Apparently, for whatever reason, the assumption and expectation was that this baby was going to be named after his dad. Now comes the pressure to conform to the accepted cultural norm, even if it flies in the face of what God has commanded. “None of your relatives is called by this name.” In your family, you might hear this as, “our family doesn’t do it that way.” Your circle of friends might say, “that is so old school.” But Zechariah will not be deterred. “His name is John.” And all the friends and family “wondered”. They were surprised at his lack of interest in conforming to this cultural norm that they believed was so important – that the child be named after him. What has happened to Zechariah?
But it doesn’t end there. Zechariah’s mouth was miraculously opened by God and the first words Zechariah spoke were words of praise to God. And the friends and family were afraid, and began to ask “Who is this child?
When we begin to follow Christ seriously, it tends to ignite some controversy among your friends and your family. We may hear “we don’t do things that way in our family.” Or “you’re taking this way too far”. People might wonder what is going on with you. It might even cause some fear or some discomfort.
Zechariah had some time to reflect, and in that time decided that it was best to trust God completely and obey him faithfully. I hope and pray that our Lord has brought or will bring you to the same conclusion. Zechariah’s child was destined to be a very special man who would have the unique blessing of announcing the arrival of the Messiah.
For more thoughts on what Zechariah learned during his ten months of silence, read When a Rubuke Became a Reward, by Jon Bloom on the Desiring God website.
What great works has God prepared for you to do?
What are you allowing to get in the way of serving God whole-heartedly?