Some people like surprises; I’m not one of them. I prefer to know, or at least have a good idea, how things are going to work out, and when. Perhaps that is what makes me a planner and a list maker—a person who likes to be prepared. Of course, knowing what’s going to happen, or at least thinking I do, doesn’t happen very often, because none of us can truly know the future. But it doesn’t make me want to know any less. Unfortunately, because of our limited perspective on things, we often limit our faith too. Because we don’t know how a particular thing can be accomplished, we doubt God’s ability to do it.
Zechariah was a perfect example of this. (Luke 1:5-20) He and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous in the sight of God (Luke 1:6), but they were also childless, and getting on in years. To be more precise, Luke 1:7 tells us that they were both very old. Since children were seen as a blessing from the Lord, and it was a disgrace to be barren, there is little doubt that they would have been praying fervently for a child. Why then should Zechariah be surprised when an angel of the Lord appeared and told him that his prayers had been heard and his wife would bear a son?
In Zechariah’s defense, he did have reason to be surprised. First of all, it was a once in a lifetime event for Zechariah to be chosen to burn incense in the holy place. (Luke 1:9) It’s like winning a door prize when hundreds of people are at an event; you don’t really expect to. Secondly, the privilege of burning incense didn’t mean that you would have an angel appear to chat with you. Yes, angels had appeared to others before, but even these devoted priests had not heard from God in 400 years. We now call this the intertestamental period—the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament—but Zechariah didn’t have our hindsight. And then, thirdly, this angel tells Zechariah that his wife will have a son. Zechariah could not, from his limited perspective, understand how this could be possible. Given some time, and a calmer situation, he might have thought back to the birth of Isaac, (Genesis 17:15-19) but he didn’t. So he questioned the angel, (Luke 1:18) and doubted God. As a result, Zechariah was unable to speak until after his son was born. (Luke 1:20)
You can be sure that God’s plans are not thwarted by our doubt or inability, even unwillingness, to participate. But think about what Zechariah missed out on because he doubted God. For at least nine months (we’re not sure how long–Luke 1:24) Zechariah was unable to clearly articulate this great event that he had experienced. In his day, oral communication was the primary means of sharing information. Yes, he could make signs, (Luke 1:22) but he didn’t have a blog or Facebook to share his thoughts in writing. He was effectively stopped from sharing in God’s miracle until after it had taken place. Let’s not suffer the same fate. Let’s trust God to do more than we could ever ask or imagine, (Ephesians 3:20) and share the joy when He does the impossible.