Lk 1:19-20 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
Any church leader will tell you that they wish that every one of their congregation were on fire for God with their lives well and truly sorted out – but people are people and unbelief in various forms is often the most human characteristic observable. If only we could wave a magic wand over people and all their spiritual ills would disappear! If only people would respond instantly to God’s word. We even pray for better responses because the hard truth is that most of the time the Lord moves very gently in dealing with people.
This good man, this law-keeper, Zechariah, finds it so hard to believe that he and his wife could have a child, in their old age, even when he is being told by an angel from God. When we look at what now happens it seems as if God feels He has to do something a bit more dramatic to urge him along the path to blessing. The Lord knows that if only He can get Zechariah to respond, the outcome will be the blessing of producing the man who will prepare the people to receive Jesus, a son who will bring joy to this aging couple. God is planning blessing for this couple and for the nation in about thirty years.
It all hinges on this. If God can’t get this man to respond there will be no John the Baptist, and if there is no John then the people will not be prepared to receive their Saviour. Could God not have used another family and there been a different ‘John’? Obviously He thinks not! The Lord sees the potential of what this child could be and no one else will achieve what John will achieve. Perhaps we don’t realise that we have potential and it is the potential to do what no one else can do. We have a unique place in this world, with a unique bunch of contacts and no one else will ‘fit’ my place in this world.
So the Lord has determined to deal with this situation so that there is a good outcome. The angel could have berated Zechariah, flashed bolts of lightening around and him and generally scared him some more, but that isn’t God’s way. That could have turned Zechariah off, it could have made him completely give up, and so no, the angel doesn’t do that. He is operating with God’s wisdom as well as God’s power and authority and so he does something that will stay with Zechariah until this child is established. This has got to be something that will encourage Zechariah to be obedient right through to the naming of the child, not just conceiving him. This isn’t about punishing Zechariah but motivating him into a place of blessing.
So the angel speaks a word and Zechariah is dumb for the next nine months. He doesn’t know when it will end; he just knows he is dumb. It is something that is constantly with him. Time and again he feels the frustration of not being able to speak out and get someone’s attention, or speak out and give an answer. He has to learn to communicate through sign language, and he realises that he’s not too old to learn new things!
Does God move like this today? Yes, I’m convinced He does, maybe not so dramatically but He certainly does stuff to motivate us. I am convinced there are things that happen that are the simple, straight forward discipline of God – and remember that discipline in the Bible is not about punishing, it’s about training. I suspect that much of the time we don’t realise what is happening, but nevertheless these things that come as trials will test us and change us, even if we’re not aware of it at the time.
When difficulties come into our lives and we complain about them, what we are unable to see is the good outcome that God is working towards for us. We can’t see the future and very often we can’t even see the whole picture of what is happening in the present, and so we don’t realise where this is going and don’t realise that it is working to change us and perhaps change other people, so that at the end of it, blessing will be there that couldn’t have been otherwise.
Zechariah no doubt struggled with being dumb right up until the naming of John. At that point, when he confirmed the boy’s name in line with God’s wishes, his tongue was released and not just to talk, but now to prophesy. We need to see the big picture and we need to see the end outcome, and until we can, we need to have and open heart, that says, “Lord, what do you want of me?” and be willing to do what God says in answer. Do you and I have that sort of heart?