Life of Christ 4
In the first blush of dawn a priest climbed the pinnacle of the Temple, a trumpet in his hand. From this lofty perch, forty five stories above the valley floor directly below him, on the highest point of the highest building on the highest hill in Jerusalem, he gazed east waiting for the first sliver of the sun to peak above the horizon. The moment it did he lifted the trumpet to his mouth and blew, and in the courtyard below him hundreds of priests swung into action around the Brazen Altar, initiating the solemn ceremony known as the daily sacrifice.
Standing among the assembled priests that early morning two thousand years ago an old man, Zacharias, felt his heart begin to pound and his pulse to quicken. He had been waiting for this moment his entire life. There were 20,000 priests in Israel divided into twenty four different groups called courses. These courses were based all over Palestine, and were called by turns to care for the Temple services one eight day stretch at a time. Zacharias had often served in the Temple, but he had never before been offered the opportunity he was about to have for each priest was only allowed this particular service once in his whole life.
The moment came. Carrying a lamp, he solemnly ascended the stone steps of the Temple, and all alone, entered the first room of the structure, the Holy Place. As the marble and gold plated door swung closed behind him he lifted the lamp, and its rays pierced the gloom, reflecting dimly off three pieces of ornate furniture placed strategically in the massive room before him. On his right was the Table of Shewbread with its twelve loaves. Directly in front of him, though some dozens of feet away, was the Altar of Incense. In just a moment he would arrange the fuel and kindle the fire below it, and inhale gently for the first and only time in his life the sweet savor there offered to Jehovah. But first he turned to his left, and crossing the floor, he took in the sight of the Golden Candlestick, each of its seven branches lavishly carved with almond leaves, flowers, buds, and fruit. Lifting the lamp he carefully lighted each of the branches, and as the flames caught the splendor of the Holy Place took his breath away.
Moving solemnly now, he made his way toward the Altar of Incense. As he neared it, he bent to arrange the fuel in preparation for lighting it. Suddenly, without a warning of any kind, he was not alone anymore. Appearing from thin air, an angel had materialized on the right side of the altar. If his heart was pounding before it was positively thundering now. He had anticipated this opportunity for years. He had no idea that in the process he would be scared to death.
The angel, for there was no other word to describe it, opened his mouth and with great gratitude Zacharias heard it say kindly, 'Fear not.' This day, the highlight of his life before the angel appeared, now took on a biblical quality as the angel described to Zacharias that they would soon have a son. Not only that, but this son would be a great and holy man, and would be instrumental in bringing many people to Jehovah. In fact, he would be a similar type of figure in Israel as the most revered of the Old Testament prophets, one of only two miracle workers in the entire Torah, Elijah.
All this was a bit much for Zacharias, to put it mildly. In disbelief, either at the whole thing, or at the angel's message, he asked the angel for some proof, since it was practically impossible for he and his wife, Elisabeth, to have children due to their advanced age. Gabriel, for that was the angel's name, promptly gave Zacharias a sign that Zacharias probably regretted asking for in the next nine months. Gabriel informed him that he could no longer speak, even if he tried, and that this condition would remain until the promised son was born.
Outside, the gathered priests began to mutter among themselves, wondering why he had been gone so long. Just as someone began to say that perhaps another priest should be sent in after him the heavy white and gold doors swung open, and Zacharias appeared at the top of the flight of stone steps. Slowly descending, as if in a daze, he seemed unable to speak when pressed about why he had been so long inside.
Put yourself in his place for a moment, as I've been trying to help you do here in this Bible story (Luke 1.5-25). Your heart is filled to bursting with what just happened but you cannot express yourself. Waving your arms and pointing and facial expressions are all you have to convey that you haven't lost your mind, no, you saw something miraculous inside the Holy Place. There is no record in rabbinical literature of anyone else seeing an angel in the Holy Place. He had, in short order, received the wonderful once only privilege of lighting the incense, seeing an angel, receiving a personal message directly from God, been told he had a son on the way, informed this son would be one of the greatest men in Jewish history… and then he couldn't talk about it!
A few days later, when he got home from his biennial trip to Jerusalem, the 'conversation' between he and his wife must have been very interesting indeed. Explaining to the neighbors why Zacharias suddenly couldn't talk and why she was pregnant at her age must have been interesting too. But most interesting of all over the next few months must have been to place his hands on his wife's growing belly, and to marvel over the rich goodness and graciousness of God in granting his family such tremendous blessing and honor.