By Joseph Ametepe
"Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John" (Luke 1:8-13).
This passage is full of spiritual principles for believers in Jesus Christ. The one I would like to highlight in this devotional teaching is this: Even in difficult times or circumstances, God's servant must remain faithful in his service. The context of this passage shows that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were living in difficult times and circumstances. When they got married, they prayed and made plans for raising a family. Each year, they prayed and waited for the news of Elizabeth conceiving and bearing a child. But each year came and passed with disappointment. No doubt, they saw their friends and neighbors rejoiced at the birth of their children. Zacharias and Elizabeth would strengthen themselves in the Lord and pray and wait. Yet nothing happened. Elizabeth's biological clock kept ticking. Over time, their prayers and expectations for answers had weakened and waned. No doubt, they were disappointed, discouraged, and perhaps even depressed.
But there was one good thing going for them. Zacharias and Elizabeth chose to be faithful in God's service despite their disappointment and difficult circumstances. Both of them were descendants of Aaron. This means Zacharias was privileged to serve in the priestly service. Zacharias faithfully reported to his post as a priest. I believe he was encouraged by Elizabeth. According 1 Chronicles 24, the descendants of Aaron were divided into twenty-four divisions for their ministry in the house of the Lord starting from the time of King David. These twenty-four divisions rotated the priestly duties in the temple, with each division serving twice a year for one year. They were highly organized. David knew his God is a God of order. So he established order in the ministry of the descendants of Aaron who served in the temple as well as for the other Levites who were not direct descendants of Aaron. Zacharias, belonged to the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5) which is the eighth of the twenty-four divisions (1 Chronicles 24:10).
As Zacharias served faithfully despite the difficulties he and Elizabeth were experiencing in their lives, a day came when he was chosen by lot from his division to burn incense on the altar of incense. This altar was located just in front of the veil that divided the holy place from the Most Holy Place (Exodus 30:6). According to the law, the incense was kept burning perpetually on this altar (Exodus 30:7-8). Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, once a year. Zacharias was not the high priest. But definitely it was a high honor to be chosen to burn incense every morning and every evening at the altar of incense. It was a dream come true for him. Because of the high volume of priests serving in the temple, most would never be chosen to perform this priestly duty. Moreover, no one was allowed to minister in this capacity twice. No doubt, this was a supreme moment for Zacharias. He considered it as the greatest occasion in his priestly service. It was the highlight of his entire life as a descendant of Aaron. It was the crowning moment of his life as a priest.
But here is what I don't want you to miss. The honor of being chosen to burn incense would not have been bestowed on Zacharias had he not been faithful in his service. He would not have had the awesome privilege of being called upon to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense had he not risen above his difficult circumstances to serve the Lord faithfully. He would not have had the honor of being visited by the angel Gabriel with the good news that God had heard his prayer and would bless them with a son to be called John. Had Zacharias said: "Lord, I'm quitting. I'm throwing in the towel. I'm walking away from serving You. We've sought You and served You all these years, but You have not blessed us with a child. We can't continue this way. Although, You've promised to honor those who honor You, yet that has not been true in our lives in all these years of serving You devotedly and diligently. We've reached a breaking-point. We can't go on. We've made the decision to resign from the priestly service." If Zacharias had chosen to give in to self-pity, to discouragement, to disappointment of not seeing the gracious hand of God in their lives, he would have missed the blessing God had in store for him and Elizabeth. Had he walked away and not remained faithful in serving God, despite the difficulties and disappointments, he would have not had "the dream come true experience." In fact, God honored Zacharias' faithfulness far beyond his wildest imaginations.
Personally, I've learned a lot from the life of Zacharias. Since I accepted the call of God upon my life, I have faced one difficulty after another. But, by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, I continue to faithfully serve the Lord. I've committed myself to fulfilling His call upon my life. To be honest with you, several times, I thought of quitting, throwing in the towel, and walking away. But the example of Zacharias, who remained faithful, who rose above the difficulties he was facing to continue serving the Lord, who was resilient in his commitment to persevere in the Lord's service, has been a great encouragement to me. I sincerely thank God for godly and faithful servants like Zacharias, who pressed on, despite encountering difficulties and disappointments in fulfilling their calling.
What about you? Where are you in your service of Christ? Are you facing difficulties in your life and ministry? Are you contemplating throwing in the towel? Are you at the point of making a decision to walk away from what you know God has called you to do? Are you giving in to discouragement and disappointment of not seeing God's hand of grace in your life? Let the example of Zacharias encourage you. Learn from his example. Lean on the Holy Spirit dwelling in you to remain faithful in your service. Look to the Spirit to help you rise above your difficulties and disappointments to continue honoring the Lord by fulfilling His calling upon your life. In His own time, He will reward your faithfulness and mine, far beyond our wildest imaginations. He will also bless us with "the dream come true" experience. To Him be the praise both now and forever!