I like Doctor Luke. He was not only educated, but rather academic in personality. I can relate to that. He was not an eyewitness to the birth or ministry of Jesus, but he wanted to understand and report his findings to others, so he did a research project. That’s what I do here, on a smaller scale, every week. Critics may say that because Luke didn’t know Jesus, his report is not reliable. However, he spoke with the people who did know Him after all of the events of Jesus’ life on Earth took place, so he had a different perspective on the whole matter. And he was evidently meticulous and methodical in his work. He wanted to pass on to Theophilus, and to anyone else who would read his document, a detailed and chronologically organized report, so that he and they may know that the things they had been taught were true. (Luke 1:1-4)
This chronology begins, not with Jesus, but with Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-25), the couple who would become the parents of John the Baptizer.
One day, Zechariah, a priest, was chosen by lot to burn incense in the holy place inside the temple. This was not a place with public access. Only priests who were chosen, and when they were chosen, could enter. Because of the number of priests and the schedule that was followed for serving in the temple, it was unlikely that a priest would have this privilege more than once in a lifetime. Theoretically, if it is a lottery, anyone has the chance to win, but if you believe that God is in control of the universe, you know that He makes the choice. (Proverbs 16:33) This day He chose Zechariah because He had a message for him. God sent His angel Gabriel to give him the news that Elizabeth would have a son. Zechariah had trouble believing this because physically they were well past the point of childbearing. Zechariah should have known better because, after all, he would have been well acquainted with how God had provided a child for Sarah, (Genesis 11:30, Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21, Genesis 21:2) Rebekah (Genesis 25:21) Rachel (Genesis 29:31, Genesis 30:22) Manoah’s wife--the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2-3) and Hannah--the mother of Samuel. (I Samuel 1:2, I Samuel 1:20) Don’t be too hard on Zechariah though. Can you imagine how his mind must have been swimming with all that had happened that day? Nevertheless, Gabriel took away Zechariah’s ability to speak. This served not only as a punishment for his lack of faith, but also as the sign he had asked for in Luke 1:18. Surely it would remind him that God was all-powerful.
Zechariah, like Elizabeth, would have felt the disgrace of childlessness. It would have been a well-known fact to the people around him. So when he didn’t come out of the temple in a reasonable amount of time, there was quite possibly speculation that God had struck him down for his sin. Perhaps this is why Luke takes pains to assure us that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God. (Luke 1:6) But the people weren’t aware of all that at the time. They only knew that Zechariah was a long time coming back. What were they to do? Having permission to enter the inner sanctum of the temple was not a common thing. They couldn’t just go in and check on him. I can just imagine what the chatter was like after they finished their prayers and they were still waiting. When he did emerge, though, and couldn’t speak, the people started to realize that something pretty spectacular must have happened. I wonder how much they understood from the signs that Zechariah gave them.
I wonder too, if Elizabeth had trouble figuring it all out after Zechariah came home. Luke doesn’t tell us about their interaction, but we do know that Zechariah couldn’t speak until eight days after the baby was born (Luke 1:59-64), and we know that it was “after some time” (Luke 1:24) that Elizabeth became pregnant. Was that enough time for the people to have moved past this unusual episode on to something else? Was it enough time for Zechariah and Elizabeth to begin to doubt again? We don’t know for sure. Once Elizabeth did conceive, she kept herself in seclusion for five months. I know women today who have had trouble conceiving, and even if they haven’t, they often wait three months before sharing the news. Perhaps, Elizabeth wanted to keep it quiet until she was sure. Perhaps she just wanted to be careful. We don’t have all the details, but of this we can be certain: God had not forgotten His promises to the people of Israel (Malachi 3:1, Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:13-16), and He had the power to fulfill them. He still does.