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Shaky moment, solid life

Zechariah and Elizabeth were "upright in the sight of God," (Luke 1:6). Can there be higher praise? They’re not spoken of as being good neighbors, or well liked by the people they worked with (though these things are commendable) --- they were upright in the sight of the Holy One! Lest we read into the text that they were sincere people who were morally free-lancing it, we’re also told they were observing "all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly," (v. 6). They were people God was proud of and if you know people like that, then you know that you are blessed.

But there was a dark cloud that stole some of the sunshine from the lives of these two believers. Elizabeth was unable to have children. She was advanced in years and no doubt in the conviction that she would go to her grave bereft of children and grandchildren. You can almost hear her telling her friends about the full life that she and Zechariah had, his priestly duties, and how she volunteered her time for this cause or that project. She would speak quite convincingly until a child appeared. Then she would get a distant look in her eyes and note of distraction would color her voice.

Zechariah was still praying for a child (1:12). Maybe he was thinking of Sarah or Hannah, or other women who had been barren but God had later blessed with children. We’re not sure what prompted his prayers, we just know he hadn't given up on having a child.

When Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son, his response is, "How can I be sure of this?" If this were all we had, we’d be tempted to think he is merely asking for some kind of confirmation, but we’re told in v. 20 that it’s more than that --- he didn’t believe what the angel had told him. Gabriel reassures him and then tells Zechariah that because he didn’t believe, he will not speak until the baby is born (and named --- see v. 13, 62-64).

I don’t wish to make too much out of Zechariah’s momentary unbelief, because in the context of his overall life, it was a small matter. But it takes us by surprise, doesn’t it? Here is a solid man who has a shaky moment and no one saw it coming. But maybe we should have. After all, believers have breakdowns --- there’s Abraham and his "sister" Sarah (not once but twice), Thomas’ trouble believing in the resurrection, Elijah’s meltdown after the meltdown on Mount Carmel, and the list goes on. The message is clear:  Even the strong can stumble.

The important thing to remember is that their failings were not what characterized them. Their momentary missteps point out that while they had it in them to be unbelieving, lying, and whatever else, with God’s help they were able to rise above it. They weren’t mastered by these things and we don’t have to be either. And the stories we have of men and women like Zechariah are there for a reason.  It is not to intimidate us or to help us rationalize our failures. These stories have been recorded in order to supply us with a rich source of hope in our lives (Romans 15:4).
And hope is a good thing!
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