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Signs and Doubts

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.”

John 1:24
Signs and Doubts Book Cover

Have you ever cupped your Bible in one hand, closed your eyes, and pointed your finger to the page—hoping the verse you landed on would be a sign to you from the Lord? If you have, you’re certainly not alone. We seek signs about which direction to take, what decision to make, or the simple reassurance that God is with us and loves us.

Yesterday, we looked at King Ahaz’s unique opportunity to ask God for a sign—an opportunity he turned down. Today, we’ll look at two more signs from God.

righteous, blameless, and childless

In Luke 1, we meet a man very different from King Ahaz. The priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth “were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (v. 6). Yet they had no child. The devastation of infertility lingers for a lifetime. For this couple, the wound had ached for many years and brought deep shame in their culture. Verse 7 tells us “both were advanced in years.” They may have long moved on from the monthly rollercoaster of hope and disappointment. But they still felt that sting and disgrace as their family and friends raised children all around them (v. 25). They surely asked: Do you see me God? Do you really love me? What did I do to deserve this?

Let’s pause for a moment and reread verse 6. Zechariah and Elizabeth “were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” They weren’t sinless (as we’ll see in a minute) but their suffering wasn’t caused by any particular thing they did. And they remained faithful in their suffering. At this point in the story, Zechariah had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord in the temple. While inside, he met the angel Gabriel who said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” (vv. 13-14). How did Zechariah react to the news that his prayers had been answered? That “joy and gladness” would be his?

the doubting priest

With doubt.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years,” he replied (v. 18). This priest knew the Scriptures. He knew the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Rachel. God had a long-established pattern of blessing barren, older couples with children. And Zechariah knew it. His question revealed his lack of faith, not confusion. Isn’t it a comfort to know a “righteous” person sometimes doubts? That they can make mistakes?

Because of his doubt, God removed his ability to speak until his son was born. Imagine the difficulties you’d face if you suddenly lost your main method to communicate for more than nine months. The sign God provided (at Zechariah’s request!) constantly reminded him of the coming greater sign in his son John.

John was born and Zechariah used his first words to praise God. His temporary muteness grew his faith. He understood how his long-prayed-for son was himself a sign of God’s coming redemption. In his joy, he told everyone,

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (vv. 76–79)

Zechariah no longer doubted. He knew his son was a sign of the coming Messiah—that God was keeping his promises (vv. 68–79).

What are you doubting this Christmas Eve? Perhaps you find yourself in a season of barrenness or hopes set aside. Maybe you doubt that God sees you or hears your many prayers. Or maybe you’re simply waiting. Rest in the truth that God sees you and loves you. He will not leave you in the waiting.

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Daily Question

When have you doubted that God will keep his promises? How does the story of Zechariah encourage you?

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Comments (1)

When people you love practice evil, it is discouraging. It is important to remember God is still in control and can save everyone from their sins if they believe. Seeing people destroying themselves and their bodies, is still saddening. Yet it is their own free will. Giving all control and outcome to God!

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