Each of the four Gospels has a different starting-point. John: the pre-existent Christ. Mark: beginning of public ministry. Matthew: birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Luke: more details about the conception and birth of Jesus. But each also tells of a man named John, who was the herald, the forerunner of Jesus. It is Luke who informs us that the lives of John and Jesus, so intertwined in their adult ministries, were also linked by the circumstances of their births. [On Luke’s sources, see 2:19, 51]. And Luke has something to say about John’s parents, and particularly Zechariah, his father.
1. His quiet faithfulness, vv5-10. These were dark days. The voice of prophecy had not been clearly heard for 400 years. The country was ruled by vicious tyrant. This pair were geting on in years and were childless. But they were faithful to God, and no doubt cherished a hope of better times to come, just like Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna. Do you find that it’s becoming very difficult to maintain your profession of faith in Christ? Do you even feel that God has let you down? Take heart from Zechariah and Elizabeth.
2. His unexpected visitor, vv11-17. He is a priest. It’s his turn to burn incense in the temple. He is astonished and terrified by the appearance of an angel. We’ve got it wrong about angels. But Scripture is clear, with regard both to their reality, their number, and their power. Mt 26:53 “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” The angel’s message. They are to have a son – no ordinary son. He is to be great (vv14-17; 7:28 – “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John”). But note: Jesus is to be the greatest (vv32f; 3:16).
3. His temporary doubt, vv18-25. There is disbelief in Zechariah’s voice. Gabriel’s response. The sign. We too are a mixture of belief and doubt. God has spoken: our business is to take him at his word.
And God’s word says that he is faithful to his promises. The message of the angel to Zechariah heralded the dawn of a new day. This is the day of which Malachi spoke. The rising of the sun in that day is as a furnace to burn up the arrogant and the evildoer. But for those who revere the name of the Lord, it is a sun of righteousness, which rises with healing in its wings. That day dawned with the coming of Jesus Christ. But now the day is far spent: it is speeding on towards it conclusion.