The Reward of God’s Rebuke

What might Zechariah and Elizabeth have talked about after their friends left the naming ceremony where Zechariah had miraculously regained his speech?

“So . . . are you going to tell me?”

Elizabeth was ready to burst. She had waited nearly a year to hear what had happened in the temple.

Zechariah was looking adoringly at the infant boy lying on his lap. “Baby John, there’s something you need to know about women. They always want the details!” Zechariah glanced up playfully at his wife.

“The Lord has freed your tongue, Zechariah. It needs some exercise. Out with it!”

In some ways being mute for ten months had made it easier. How does one even describe such things? The moment had been so sacred, and overwhelming.

“That day seems like a dream. I remember walking into the temple. I had a knot of joyful fear in my stomach. I had been chosen by the Lord to intercede for Israel in the holy place. I remember praying as I lit the incense. And then suddenly there was a man standing just to my right! I never saw him come. He was just there! I was so startled I nearly dropped the fire.”

“The angel looked like a man?”

“Well . . . yes. I guess. But I’ve never seen any man like him. It’s hard to explain.”

“Did he have wings like the carvings?”

Zechariah paused. “This is going to sound strange, but I’m not sure. I remember him not looking anything like I’d imagined. But his appearance is less clear in my memory than the words he spoke — and how suddenly conscious I was of my sinfulness. I felt unclean.”

“So what exactly did he say?”

“I was terrified. You know how we’re warned. If priests offer unrighteous intercession we could be struck dead. And at that moment it didn’t feel unjust. So the first thing he said was, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah.’ His words gave me strength.”

Looking at his wife with tears, he went on, “Then he said, ‘Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’” Husband and wife both sobbed in sorrow-laced joy.

“Liz, all those years of praying. I had stopped hoping. But God heard.” Elizabeth just nodded with closed, tearful eyes.

Zechariah wiped his face and beamed at his son. “‘And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.’”

“The angel said that?”

Zechariah nodded. “‘And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,” and looking at Elizabeth he said, “even from his mother’s womb.’” Both were thinking of Mary and of John’s womb-leap over the Miracle she was carrying.

“‘And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’”

“The prophecy!”

“Yes. The Prophet Malachi. Liz, those were the last words that the Lord spoke to our people through a prophet. It’s been 400 years of silence. But now the Lord is loosing the prophetic tongue of Israel, beginning with this little boy. God is visiting us again, this time with the Messiah! And our John will be his forerunner. Who are we that God would allow us to be a part of this marvel?”

Neither spoke for a while.

Then Elizabeth asked, “Why did the angel make you mute?”

Zechariah sighed. “I’m a sinfully proud man, Liz. I’ve viewed myself as a man who believes God’s word. I’ve lived by his law. I’ve felt contempt for doubters. Though I’ve never said it out loud, I’ve secretly thought that my faith would be greater than some of our prophets and kings if only God spoke directly to me as he did to them.

“Well, God showed me what I really am. You know what I said to the angel? ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ I — who have taught many about Abraham and Sarah — I doubted God when he sent an angel to tell me that he’s answering my prayer. Is there a greater fool?

“So the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’

“God was very gracious to only take my words. He could have taken my life.”

“The Lord is gracious, Zechariah. That is the name he gave our son.”†

Zechariah smiled again at John. “Yes. Isn’t it beautiful? God has taught me more about his grace these past ten months of silence than in all my years of talking. Even his rebuke has become a reward for me. It’s all grace! I love the ways of God, Liz.”

The humble father then held his son in the air. “And this boy will help us all see that Messiah is coming to show the tender mercy of our God in forgiving undeserving sinners — even proud, faithless old priests.”

God’s grace toward his children is infused in everything he does for us, even when he chastens us. “God always turns his rebukes into rewards” for his own.

This story is published as “When a Rebuke Became a Reward” in the book, Not By Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (Crossway, 2013).