The Fear of Dutiful Faith
Religious people have faith, but in what? Zechariah obeyed God's commandments in his private life, and fulfilled the requirements for priests when he was working in the temple (Luke 1:6) – his division was on duty to burn incense in the temple for one week twice a year, the priest being selected by casting lots. Zechariah certainly believed in God and was faithful to the rules, but there was something missing: he did not expect God to communicate with him.
Like many 'good church-goers', Zechariah tried to keep the rules of religion, and carefully fulfilled his official role, but had little understanding of a personal relationship with God. The incident in today's passage was the once-in-a-lifetime privilege for a priest. Zechariah was appointed to burn incense alone in the Holy Place of the temple, representing the prayers of Israel. As he did so, a large crowd prayed outside, asking God to come to save His people. It was a regular ritual, but not even the priest expected that God would respond.
When the angel appeared next to the altar, Zechariah was petrified. This was not part of the prescribed ritual at all. But God wanted to speak to Zechariah; He wanted the priest to work with Him to be part of the answer to his own prayers. This aged priest and his wife were to conceive a son in their old age, John the Baptist, the cousin and announcer of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, at this stage in the story, nothing could have been further from Zechariah's mind (Luke 1:7) even though he had been praying (Luke 1:13). So, the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19) came as God's personal representative to deliver the message. But instead of joy, he was met by fear (Luke 1:12). Alas, the old priest proved that his faith was more in a rational religious structure than in the Word of the living God.
You may say you believe, but what do you believe? You may be a cultural believer, a social believer, a religious church-goer, but do you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If not, the biggest bit of faith will be missing. If you are not sure, watch www.crosscheck.org.uk and check it out. If you are enjoying a real relationship with the Lord, are you keeping it quiet? Everybody has the right to know how they can have freedom of forgiveness in Christ, and a real friendship with the God who made them. So, if you know the truth of salvation, you are God's messenger (that's what 'angel' means!) to announce the Good News to your family, friends and colleagues.
© Dr Paul Adams