One of the more bizarre subplots of the Christmas story is that of Zechariah, the priest who would become the father of John the Baptist. In the midst of his faithful service in the temple, an angel appeared to him at the right side of the altar of incense and announced that his wife would bear him a son. As most of us know, Zechariah was overwhelmed with this news specifically because his wife was barren. His experience had convinced him that this prophecy was highly impractical and improbable.
How many of us struggle with what God says about our future because of our past experience? God always seems to be speaking good things over his people, even when they’re stubborn knuckleheads. And how many of us immediately start “doing the math” when we hear some of this good news? Just yesterday in our worship gathering, I sensed the Holy Spirit offering people the immediate healing of long-standing wounds, yet how many of the people sitting there had past experiences that made that offer untenable? Can’t you hear Zechariah’s thoughts: Elizabeth is barren, she has never been able to conceive, etc.
It is in the face of past (and significantly limited) experience that Zechariah seeks for something to help him process this prophecy. Can we stop here and note the problem? Prophecy is not something we “process” – it’s something we receive. We don’t figure-out prophecy, we sit with it and hope. Zechariah seems to think that knowledge will help him believe what the angel has said.
“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’” (Luke 1.18 / ESV)
The fallen human condition makes intellectual knowledge the basis for belief, yet in God’s Kingdom of the Heavens, belief is simply a response to God revealing himself. It is profoundly personal. And furthermore, this sort of belief makes true, spiritual knowledge possible (not vice versa). How many of us have tried to make a word from God subject to our ability to comprehend it? This simply does not work, and sadly is the sickness that causes our lack of obedience.
So during this Christmas season, let Zechariah’s experience shape you. By God’s grace, we’ve received many precious promises and words of outrageous possibility. Our response to them must flow out of who God has revealed himself to be, not what we have experienced in our broken and limited past. Our belief that God is able to actually be God must overcome our need to know how he will be God. In this case, seeing will not be believing, believing will.