The Promised Messenger

from the Advent 2019: A Thrill of Hope reading plan


Luke 1:5-17, Malachi 3:1-4, Isaiah 40:1–5, Mark 1:1-8

BY Russ Ramsey

Do you carry a certain sorrow? Do you ask God for things you suspect He will probably never give you? I love the story of John the Baptist’s father in the nativity. Zechariah’s story would be easy to skip right past on our way to the parts about Jesus, but consider what’s going on here. God answers the impossible prayer of a man with a certain sorrow.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have been unable to have children of their own. They are now old. He is a devout man, serving as a priest for years. He knows the scriptures. He knows the stories of the barrenness of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah. He knows God is fully able to open a barren womb if He chooses. So far, the Lord has not done so for Zechariah and his wife.

Then one day, as he is serving in the temple of the Lord, an angel appears and tells him that God has heard his prayer, and his wife will bear a son whose name will be John. Their son will be the messenger the prophets spoke of, turning the hearts of fathers to their children (Malachi 4:5–6; Matthew 11:13–14). He will prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming.

I want to zero in on one little detail from this passage. The angel told Zechariah, “Your prayer has been heard…There will be joy and delight for you” (Luke 1:13,14). Imagine what this must have meant to Zechariah. Week in and week out, he had given his life in service to the Lord, carrying the secret sorrow of their barrenness. He carried this sorrow as the years ticked by and he and Elizabeth became old.

John was a miracle baby. His mission would be a powerful one. He would prepare the way for Christ’s ministry. Before that, Zechariah and Elizabeth would get to raise him. I think about those years of gladness and joy the angel spoke of—Zechariah and Elizabeth seeing John take his first steps, speak his first words, recite his first prayer, tell his first joke. The joy was real, but, as it goes in this world, not lasting. John would later die by Herod’s hand for publicly criticizing Herod’s immorality (John 14:1–12). If Zechariah was still alive, he would have attended John’s funeral.

As sad as that story is, a deeper sorrow was being healed. And John would play a key role, which meant Zechariah would too. God wasn’t just healing the infertility of an aging couple. He was healing the brokenness of the entire world.

When you bring your sorrows to the Lord and ask Him to relieve you from the burden of your particular pain, sometimes He will do just that. But not always. What you can bank on is that the greater problem of living in a world where brokenness and suffering exist is one He has already promised to solve through the work of Christ. And Zechariah’s son was born to prepare the way for His coming.

Written by Russ Ramsey

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