Beyond our Dreams
Some people say that if you have great faith, then God will answer: and there are Scriptures to support that. But God is also far greater than the limits of our faith. In this narrative, Zechariah the priest had prayed for a child, but did not believe it was possible (see Luke 1:18-20). Nevertheless, his faithless prayer would be answered!
An angel had appeared unexpectedly while Zechariah was performing a most sacred rite of temple worship. Firstly, he reassured the terrified priest. "Do not be afraid" is one of God's most common commands in the Bible - because we are naturally vulnerable and often afraid. Then the angel said that God had heard his prayer, and announced the birth of a baby boy even before he had been conceived (see Luke 1:23-24), naming him John (meaning: 'Jehovah is a gracious giver') and giving an overview of his life's purpose.
John would far exceed all his parents' expectations, bringing joy into their home, and much more widely. John's preaching would urge many to repent of their sins and get ready to welcome God's salvation through Jesus. Luke often uses the word 'joy' to describe the overflowing relief of salvation: here he applies it to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and to many in Israel. John was to be God's special messenger, and would be filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (see Luke 1:39-44). That was also God's sovereign act, without John doing anything. So: John was known before his conception, and equipped with God's presence to fulfil God's appointment even before he was born. This was God operating in grace (unasked and undeserved), to John who was not yet born, his family who did not fully believe, and Israel who did not care!
We need these reminders that God is not limited by our formulae, or how we think He should behave - God does as He pleases, and pours grace on whosoever He wills. This passage should also encourage those who only see the future as a fog, because God is continually working all things together for the good of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28), even if their faith is weak. It is God who is strong; and He will always complete what He has decided to do. So be encouraged at home, at work and in the church ... God is at work far more than we can imagine.
© Dr Paul Adams