Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

Luke 1:8-17

It’s a Boy…

Gabriel’s announcement of answered prayer for a child was wonderful news. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for the blessing of children for many years, and now they were assured by an angel from God that they would have a child. Obviously, this child is special because God doesn’t normally send angels to announce a pregnancy, reveal gender, or command a specific name to be given. What is particularly special about this child? This wonderful answer to prayer will be named John, but he is known by another name in the prophets.

After 400 Years of Silence…

Zechariah was well acquainted with the Scriptures and Gabriel’s allusion to the prophet Malachi was certainly not lost on him. The angelic messenger said John “will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God… in the spirit and power of Elijah”. That phrase is quite literally the last thing Israel heard from God through the mouth of His prophets. Malachi 4:5, the last verse of the Old Testament, is God promising to send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the LORD and through this Elijah, many hearts will be turned to avoid the judgment of God. Zechariah’s baby boy will be named John, but he is the fulfillment of God’s Word through the mouth of Malachi. This news was simply too wonderful for even a pious priest of God to take in all at once.

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, and the last prophet of God to speak the phrase “thus saith the LORD” (Mal 1:4 KJV). Have you wondered what that time-gap between Malachi and Matthew was like? There was approximately a 400-year gap that God was providentially working in to prepare the cultural stage for the advent of our Lord. That gap is now commonly referred to as the “400 silent years”.

The King is Coming…

Gabriel identified John as the person Malachi called Elijah and identified John’s role as a forerunner. A forerunner was a messenger sent by his king to announce a soon arrival and to prepare the city to receive its king. Gabriel said, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him”. John will go before who? Gabriel is here referring to the Lord. The Lord is coming! John will be the Lord’s messenger who will prepare the way before the Lord comes into His Temple (Malachi 3:1). John’s role will be to announce the soon arrival of the Lord of Glory (1 Cor 2:8).

Imagine Zechariah’s mind reeling as he’s hearing the very Word of God from the mouth of an angel. God has broken His silence? God has chosen two prayerful servants to raise up a mighty prophet of God? This prophet, Zechariah’s son, will be the forerunner to Messiah? The long-awaited King of Israel is almost here? How is this possible? This priest was overwhelmed and simply couldn’t believe his ears (Luke 1:20). In his defense, if we were in his shoes we wouldn’t have believed such wonderful news either. Isn’t the grace of God wonderful? God works in us and through us, despite our insufficient faith. God will overcome our sorrow and teach us what everlasting joy is, even if our pious minds stumble trying to understand His Word.