I’m going to back up a little now. When Gabriel visits Zacharias to tell him about his son’s birth, Gabriel quotes Malachi. We’re pretty used to people quoting Isaiah when they’re talking about John [and we’ll get there too], but Gabriel breaks outside the mold of the ordinary. He’s reminding Zacharias of Elijah’s story and the life of the prophets. It’s not an easy life; it can be tumultuous. Prophets are rejected and cast off. They’re ridiculed and unpopular. But they tell the truths of God. This would be the life of John.
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
Gabriel quoting Malachi…
It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
What do you recall about the life of Elijah? I’ll just give you a few of the highlights.
Elijah was the arch nemesis of Ahab and Jezebel. He predicted a drought, warning Ahab to beware of his evil ways. He made a widow’s oil and flour not run out. Then he raised that widow’s son back to life after he died. Elijah challenges the followers of Bail to see who could cause fire to burn up their sacrifice. God and Elijah win even after dousing their sacrifice with buckets of water. This also signals the end of the drought. Elijah gets scared of Jezebel right after God burns up the sacrifice in front of Bail’s followers, and ends the drought. In his fear, Elijah goes running into a cave to hide out. It’s there that God passes by him. Not in the wind, or earthquake, or fire. But in the sound of a gentle blowing. A lot more happens, and then… Elijah doesn’t die. God took him to heaven in a whirlwind [2 Kings 2]. Elijah’s life is an incredible story of friendship, glory, and miracles. We'll dig into him a little later on.
In one quote of Scripture from Gabriel, he is bringing to mind this ancient story that Zacharias would have known by heart. Zacharias would understand the weight with which his son would live.
We can forget what an important figure in the stories of God this prophet played, but I don’t think Zacharias ever forgot again.
This example from Gabriel makes sense to Zacharias. Or at least in his 9 months of silence, he had plenty of time to come to understand. Also, in the telling of Elijah’s story, Zacharias might have been convicted about his lack of faith as he was reminded of Elijah running from Jezebel.
We know Zacharias gets it because after Mary’s Magnificat, when John is born, Zacharias also becomes a prophet. [Luke 1:68-79] No one can understand why he wants to call his son John. So Zacharias’ first words of faith are an incredible retelling of God’s faithfulness through the ages. He recalls to his own mind and for the people listening the stories of the Old Testament. Luke 1:68-79 is jam-packed with reference after reference to God’s faithfulness to His people. David, the other holy prophets, and God’s holy covenant to His people. In these 11 verses Zacharias references passages from 1 Kings, Psalms, 1 Samuel, Ezekiel, Micah, Genesis, Malachi, Jeremiah and finally Isaiah.
Gabriel’s mention from Malachi wasn’t a flimsy object lesson to Zacharias. It was a strategic reminder of the life and responsibility his son would bear as a prophet of God. Gabriel knew Zacharias would be retelling himself the stories of prophets gone before, and the message they proclaimed of redemption.
Gabriel was giving Zacharias a way to process the life of his son before John ever drew his first breath on the planet. He was giving him a way to find his way back to doubt to faith.
Zacharias’ doubt is replayed often in my life, and I’m guessing in yours also. What scenarios most often cause you to question God’s work in your life?
What can you use as a reminder that God is still present, at work, and involved in your story?