"When Elizabeth was full-term in her pregnancy, she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her.
"On the eighth day, they came to circumcise the child and were calling him Zachariah after his father. But the mother intervened: 'No. He is to be called John.' "'But,' they said, 'no one in your family is named that.' They used sign language to ask Zachariah what he wanted him named.
"Asking for a tablet, Zachariah wrote, 'His name is to be John.' That took everyone by surprise. Surprise followed surprise -- Zachariah's mouth was now open, his tongue loose, and he was talking, praising God!
"A deep eventual fear settled over the neighbourhood, and in all that Judean hill country people talked about nothing else. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart, wondering, 'What will become of this child? God has His hand in this.'" Luke 1:57-66 (The Message).
Zachariah was finally released from his silence because of his unbelief. What transpired in those nine months when he spent a lot of time with his own thoughts? Whatever went on in his mind, he was completely transformed, especially when he saw Elizabeth's girth beginning to increase and he realised that the angel's promise to him was for real.
It was a discipline he probably would not like to go through again but it was necessary and he learned his lesson well. He was quick to obey the Lord's instruction regarding the naming of his son. Contrary to custom and culture, he would not allow the present company to call him Zachariah. He backed up his wife's declaration that the baby's name would be John - meaning "grace".
With this act of obedience came Zachariah's moment for truth. Through the angel Gabriel, God has spoken an amazing prophecy over the child that was to be born. Now the baby boy had safely entered the world and all the things spoken about him were about to be played out from this time on. He and Elizabeth would be witnesses to and a part of the life of this unusual boy, filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth and ministering in the power and spirit of Elijah.
What did Zachariah feel like, especially as an elderly first-time father, when he looked into the pink and wrinkled little face of his new-born son, knowing that this was a very special and hand-picked child who was his responsibility to raise and train in the ways of the Lord? Did he also think of the fact that he might not even live to see his son into adulthood or into the fulfilment of his calling to be the forerunner of Messiah? Who would take over his role when he was no longer there?
This must have been an overwhelming moment for the old man. He displayed his confidence in the promises of God by giving him the name John. Why John? Was it because everything about the child was pure grace?
It was God's grace that produced the miracle of conception and birth for an elderly couple who were well beyond childbearing years. It was God's grace that gave them this special child, whom Jesus called "the greatest of the prophets". It was God's grace that took away the reproach of barrenness from Elizabeth and flooded her heart with gratitude for His mercy.
Most of all, it was God's grace in its fullest measure that would be revealed through the Messiah who would be coming into the world, and who would be the focus of John's ministry. "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14 (NIV).
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