Most sermons I’ve heard on the story of the birth of John the Baptist, recorded in Luke 1, focus on the role John would have as forerunner of Jesus. But there is a fascinating light to be shed on God’s purposes if we look for a second at John’s parents.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
(Luke 1:5-7 ESV)
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
(Luke 1:24-25 ESV)
Zechariah’s name means “God has remembered.” Read commentary on the role Zechariah played as a priest and Pharisee, and you will discover that though this was a man who worked hard to achieve ceremonial righteousness, the fact that his wife had never produced children was a great blot on his record. This may sound strange to us today, but in the First Century the inability to bear children indicated that you had sinned in some way. Add to this the fact that Zechariah had grown to be an old man. Since there were so many priests who could be tapped, and the family rotation made it so that no one man would have the honor fall on him more than once in his life it is probable that Zechariah had not yet been chosen to burn incense at the daily offering. So here was a man who was probably pretty depressed; his name a kind of cruel joke.
Meanwhile there is Elizabeth. There is no more fertile name to be had than “House of God.” But here she is, an old woman with no hope of producing an heir for her husband. If the house of God cannot produce, what then? To be noted as especially righteous is no honor when everyone you know whispers behind your back, “Of course, she can’t have children.”
The most important thing that is said in the whole story (some of which I have edited out because of space – read all of Luke 1) is what Elizabeth says after John has been conceived and after Zechariah has lost his ability to speak. Since he can’t talk, she says, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Both of their names now come into play! “Thus the Lord has done for me” is like saying, “God has remembered me.” And “to take away my reproach” testifies that God has put his stamp of approval on this “house of God.”
Do you ever feel barren or like God has forgotten you? Don’t wonder about it. God has not forgotten you. He will come… he has come to take away your reproach. It may seem like he’s late. It certainly must have seemed that way to Zechariah and Elizabeth. But pray it through. God is not late and he will reveal his plan in time.