There are lots of people losing their jobs these days, and millions more worried about losing their job. About two years ago, I lost a job, and went without work for about three months. During this time, I experienced great stress, fear, shame, and anger. I would not wish such a thing on anybody. Thankfully, I now have a good job.
In Luke 1:18-25, Zacharias loses his job. As a priest, he needed to be able to speak, so when he was struck speechless, it was like getting fired. Unless he got his voice back, he would be out of work. I doubt they had much back then in the way of severance pay or social security, and women couldn’t work. Zacharias probably experienced much of the shame, fear, and questions that we feel today. Even more so when a few weeks later, Elizabeth becomes pregnant. When it rains in poors. He loses his job; she gets pregnant.
Of course, Elizabeth’s pregnancy was also a blessing. It was an answer to prayer for her and Zacharias. Furthermore, as Luke records in Luke 1:25, by getting pregnant, her reproach (or shame) was removed. So while Zacharias gains shame, Elizabeth gains honor. I am not sure if Zacharias intentionally tried to honor his wife, but he certainly had a part in getting her pregnant…
Seek the Honor of Others
Does this mean that when we experience a downturn, we should seek to honor someone else, thereby helping us get out of our slump? Well, I suppose so. It could be taught that when you experience a downturn in your life, and you begin to experience shame, fear, and doubt, one good way to break out of it is to work for the honor of someone else. Seek to make their dreams come true. Try to bring them success. If you are going through a time of shame and disgrace, look around you to see who you can serve and praise. It may be that your shame will result in their honor, which in turn, may bring you honor as well (See Philippians 2).
Grace and Disgrace
But I’m not content with that. The thing that surprises me in this text is the statement of Elizabeth in Luke 1:25. If possible, read it in a few different Bible translations to get the flavor and passion of her statement. One of them (the NLT) put it this way, “How kind the Lord is!” I wonder if Zacharias was thinking the same thing. One would hope that he was rejoicing with his wife in her pregnancy. But maybe he was thinking, “How mean the Lord is! To take away my job. To remove from me anything meaningful. I loved to teach Torah, and now, I can’t even talk!” There’s no way to know if he was thinking such things.
But here is what we do know. Priests entered the Holy Place of the Temple with the fear of the Lord, knowing that if they entered with sin that was not taken care of, they could be struck dead. Zacharias certainly went through all the purification rituals, washings, sacrifices, and prayers that were necessary to enter…and then, when he is actually IN the Holy Place, lighting the incense, he blows it all by sinning! If it is one thing to enter with a previous sin, it is quite another to actually sin while you are in there! Truly, Zacharias probably could have been struck dead. But instead, he is only struck mute. From one perspective, that Zacharias lived is one of the greatest examples of grace in this passage. Sometimes, perspective is everything.
The Question of Sin
Of course, then we get into the issue about how Zacharias sinned. All he really did was ask the angel a question. Is it wrong to ask questions? Is it wrong to raise doubts? Is it wrong to express our fears, worries, and confusion? Absolutely not. The Psalms are full of such questions. Mary the mother of Jesus asks an almost identical question later in 1:34. Zacharias sinned because he should have known better. He was praying for a son, he was a Priest, a teacher of Israel, a student of Scripture. He knew the angelic messenger was sent directly from God. So it appears that questions are unwise when all the evidence points in a particular direction, but we still raise questions.
But guess what? Even in this, God’s will was accomplished, and Zacharias was raised again to honor. His nine months of silence only magnified his obedience at the birth of his son when there was a controversy about what to name him, and Zacharias wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” (1:63). And then, he was given his voice back, and the first words out of his mouth were in praise to God.
Are you facing a loss in your life? Recognize that whether it is the result of sin or not, God can use this loss to accomplish His good purposes for your life. The great themes of Scripture (and life) are death and resurrection. Life leads to death, which in turn, gives birth to life. The losses we experience can be resurrected to new life, new directions, new relationships, new experiences. The waiting is hard, but let the loss run its course, looking expectantly for what God will raise up from the ashes.