Praised – Context allows us to better understand statements and words within a story. Without this context, we may miss important parts of the story, have an incomplete understanding of the story or draw wrong conclusions on a story. Compare these two statements: “This was a fantastic movie” with “This was a fantastic movie, as long as you aren't looking for plot or character development.” The first statement takes out of context from the second statement. In this case, the danger of taking a statement out of context is drawing a wrong conclusion. If all we had was this first statement, you would think the reviewer loved the movie. However, once we put this quote within the larger framework of the whole statement a completely different conclusion is drawn. We cannot dismiss the importance of context. Once Zacharias opened his mouth, the first words were praising God. The word “praised” (v.64) means to speak well of someone. Zacharias opened his mouth and spoke well of God. To fully understand the importance of Zacharias praising God, we must put this “praise” within the context of the overall narrative. By doing this, we will appreciate the power and precedent of Zacharias praise to God.
First, in describing Zacharias and Elizabeth’s relationship with the Lord, Luke used “righteous” (v.6). Remember from last week’s message, even though the Apostle Paul wrote the most books in the New Testament, Luke wrote the most word. So, we have a large sample size to glean what Luke thought of the word “righteous.” Did he use the word “righteous” often, dismissively or sparingly? How did Luke view the word “righteous?” Luke did not use the word “righteous” very often. Luke wrote nearly 38,000words in the New Testament but used the word “righteous” just four times. Luke 1:6 to describe how Zacharias was righteous before the Lord, Luke 5:32 and 18:9 in describing the self-righteousness of the religious leaders of Jesus day, and 23:47 the Centurion at the cross described Jesus as righteous. So, in 38,000 words Luke used the word “righteous” twice in a favorable light: Zacharias and Jesus. Jesus was righteous because He is God and Zacharias was righteous because of God. Unlike most of their countrymen, Zacharias and Elizabeth loved the Lord, passionately followed after the Lord and were prayer warriors. These actions did not produce his righteousness but were results of his righteousness.
God is the only person who has the power to cleanse man’s sin and make him righteous. All of our good works combined could never wipe one stain created by sin clean. David confessing his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, pleaded with the Lord to “Wash (him) throughly from (his) iniquity, and cleanse (him) from (his) sin” (Psalms 51:2). There are not enough self-righteous deeds in the world to cleanse us from our sins! We need a gracious God who is in the business of cleansing undeserving people from their sins. Zacharias was one of these undeserving and sinful people who God, in His mercy, love and grace, cleansed. The cleansing of God makes us righteous before Him. Praise flows out of a righteous heart.
The Psalmist knew much about praising God. The entire book of Psalms is one Psalm after another praising God. “Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright” (Psalms 33:1). The word “comely” means suitable, beautiful and becomes. Singing praise is suitable and becoming of a righteous person. If a Christian wants to do something beautiful for the Lord then praise Him. In another Psalm, the Psalmist sang, “The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory” (Psalms 64:10). The word “glad” means to rejoice and be joyful. The righteous will rejoice and be joyful in the Lord.
Zacharias did what righteous people do. Regardless of what happens in our life, we Christians can rejoice and praise God for our great salvation that made us righteous before Him. Jesus Christ redeemed the humanely unredeemable. We have reason to praise God! We have allowed the world to influence our praise portion of the worship service because of our failure to connect the reason we should praise God with praising God. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people” (Romans 15:8-11). There is a progression of praise: “The Jews glorify God among the Gentiles (Romans 15:9) …The Gentile rejoice with the Jews (Romans 15:10) …All the Jews and Gentiles together praise God (Romans 15:11).” Why did the Jews and Gentiles praise God? “For His mercy.”
The first angel to getting the complete context is Zacharias could never have praised God without being righteous. His righteousness was not because of outward conformity to a system but an inward washing and regeneration by the Holy Spirit God that made him righteous before God.
God’s Dog House
Not only does his righteousness add context to him praising God. Consider him not being able to talk or hear for nine months for his unbelief in the power of God. He was in God’s doghouse. Zacharias had one of two tracks he could have taken during the nine months of silence. He could have grown more bitter towards the Lord for silencing his mouth and closing his ears. Zacharias was old and probably not many years left, and in the last portion of his life, God prevented him from speaking and hearing. During this time of silence, he could have become angry with God and bitter towards him. This appears to be the case with Lot, King Uzziah, and the prophet Jonah.
The other track Zacharias could have taken was humbleness and reflection on the goodness of God. If on this track, he would have seen the grave error of his way (not believing in the promises of God is a grave error. The foundation, material and structure of our faith are His promises. If we fail to believe in His promises than our faith is useless and powerless), and understood that he deserved the chastening hand of God, plus much more. Knowing the chastening hand of the Lord would have humbled him. “For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Proverbs 3:12). The chastening hand of God means we are loved by God and He delights in us! We know Zacharias took the second track because of his immediate response once the Lord opened up his mouth – he did not curse God or complain about not being able to speak or hear, but praised God!
God blessed us with the opportunity to see two sides of Zacharias. We have the before and after with Zacharias. The before paints a completely different picture than the after of Zacharias. The before was a righteous man who had lost his way. Year after year and decade after decade praying the same prayer without any success had jaded his joy in a gracious God who made him righteous. The Zacharias we meet in verses 5-25 had no joy, and lost confidence in God. His lost confidence in God was so deep and scarred that an angelic appearance could not change his direction.
The after is a completely different Zacharias. After not speaking for nine months, the first words out of his mouth were praising God. What happened in Zacharias’’ life that produced this enormous change? Why after nine months of not speaking or hearing did Zacharias praise God? Luke gives us insight by recording three events that happened in Zacharias life during these nine months. First, the chastening hand of God; so, he could not speak or hear. Isaiah wrote, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (40:31). The chastening hand of God forced Zacharias to wait on the Lord. The manifestation of him waiting on the Lord was his praising God at the first available opportunity.
The Psalmist sang, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (46:10). God had to remove Zacharias voice and hearing in order for him to “be still.” The words “be still” means to be cast down and sunk, no longer making any effort and leaving matters with God. God brought Zacharias to a place where the only thing Zacharias could do was to trust God and put everything into the hands of God. We cannot give our all, in praising God until we give God our burdens and leave them with Him to do as He sees fits. Doing this is almost as liberating as salvation.
Robert Orben said, “Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, But deep down I know that’s not true. Some of the smaller countries are neutral.” No doubt Zacharias felt this way before the angel met with him. He had no children, his community looked down upon his wife for having no children, the nation he loved was in a deep state of hypocrisy, and the priesthood went through the motions without any real urgency or passion. During his nine months of silence and not able to hear, Zacharias learned to ‘be still and know that I am God.” He put all the weight that he carried unto the Lord’s shoulders. Needless to say, by the time the Lord opened his mouth, he as more than ready to praise God!
Second, the meeting between Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, and Mary. By the time Elizabeth and Mary met, Elizabeth had been pregnant for six months. Six long months Zacharias had been unable to speak or hear. Even though he could not hear any of what Elizabeth and Mary said and sung, Elizabeth would have to give him the details through the written tablet. As she gave him the details regarding their Lord and Savior being in the womb of Mary, I wonder if the words of the Angel Gabriel came rushing into his heart: “he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v.17). My wife got pregnant with Elizabeth shortly after our marriage. Even though she was getting bigger and visiting doctors I have never heard of, the reality of us becoming parents did not happen until the doctor Quale said that they were going to induce labor. Elizabeth and Mary’s meeting could have been the moment when everything became real for Zacharias. He believed that his son would be the forerunner of the Messiah. So when the Lord finally opened his mouth, Zacharias could not wait to praise God for his coming redeemer and the role his son would have in the operation code named: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Third, the birth of his son. Zacharias learned that God could do whatever He wants to and whenever He wants to. He does need our permission to work miracles. In learning this lesson, Zacharias understood the Lord’s timing is perfect; never too early or late. If the Lord answered his and Elizabeth’s prayer earlier then they would have missed out on their son being the forerunner of the Messiah. When God gave him the opportunity to speak, his praise would reflect the perfection in God’s timing.
Trusting God’s timing is hard. We live in a here and now culture that wants everything today. “Sometimes it seems as if we are not even on God’s clock” Yet, six thousand years of human history points to God’s timing being perfect. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He was called by God to preach to a wicked culture in Judah. He preached and preached with very little results. His life was threatened, he was incarcerated for preaching the truth, and the king of Judah would take a penknife and cut the word of God into pieces and throw the pieces into the fire. He was a prophet who wanted God to move decisively in rescuing Judah from her wickedness and captivity. Not only did he write the Book of Jeremiah, but he also wrote the book of Lamentations. “Lamentations is a mournful postscript to the Book of Jeremiah…(Jeremiah) grieved over the fate of Israel because of her sin.” In spite of all that Jeremiah went through at the hands of his countrymen and the pain lived through over their sin, his hope rested in God. “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” (Lamentations 3:25).
Waiting on God’s perfect timing requires us to trust in His plan. We must believe He will be victorious every step of the way. I know believing in His plan seems unfruitful. Based on everything we see with our eyes and experience in our life. However, trusting in and waiting on God’s plan is essential for us to not to get to Zachariah’s place before the angelic visit.
“Psychologist Julius Segal wrote about 25,000 American soldiers who were held by the Japanese in POW camps during World War 2. ‘Forced to exist under inhumane conditions, many of them died. Others, however, survived and eventually returned home. There was no reason to believe there was a difference in the stamina of these two groups of soldiers. The Survivors, however, were different in major respect: They confidently expected to be released one day. As described by Robins Readers in Holding On the Hope, ‘They talked about the kinds of homes they would have, the jobs they would choose, and even described the kind of person they would marry. They drew pictures on the walls to illustrate their dreams. Some even found ways to study subjects related to the kind of career they wanted to pursue.’’” Waiting on God demands confidence of final victory.
The last angle this morning so that we can properly view Zacharias’ praise to God is obedience. The timing of God opening Zacharias mouth followed his obedience in naming their baby John, in accordance with God’s command (v.13). There is a direct connection between obedience and praise. Without obedience, Zacharias could have never praised the Lord with his lips. A summary of the Book of Judges is God’s people rebel against the Lord, He sends armies to oppress them, they ask for forgiveness, and God delivers them through Judges. In Judges four, the send moved a woman named Deborah to be a Judge. God used her and Barak to defeat Israel’s enemy and provide peace once again for Israel. After the victory over the Canaanites, Deborah and Barak sang a song. The first verse of the song speaks of the relationship between obedience and praise. “Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves” (Judges 5:2). Praise follows a people who willingly offer themselves to do the Lord’s word and the first step in doing the Lord’s work is obedience.
This morning, let us dig below the surface of obedience so we can see why obedience is a necessary function in praising God. Both the Old and New Testament speaks of the relationship between commandment keeping and loving God. Moses wrote: “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). He wrote the same truth in Deuteronomy 5:10. In the New Testament, John wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:2-3). Jesus said Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments…If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:15, 23).
Understanding the order and dynamic in the relationship between obedience and love is of utmost importance. Obedience does not produce love; love produces obedience. The reason Zacharias obeyed the Lord was love. However, Zacharias loving the Lord as evidenced in his obedience does not tell the whole story. There is a reason Zacharias loved the Lord – The Lord first loved him. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Based upon verses 63 and 64, there is a direct link between obedience and praising God. As we connect versus 63 and 64 with the rest of the Bible, we discover there is a link between praising God to obedience, obedience to loving God, and loving God because God first loved us. Zacharias praising God goes so much deeper than just praising God. Praising God is a manifestation of a chain reaction that began with God loving him first.
What happens if we struggle praising God. Christians can struggle with praising God. Usually, this occurs when we allow the difficulties or goodness of life to interfere with our relationship with God. Understanding the genesis of why we struggle to praise God helps us to conquer this struggle. We struggle with praising God because we are disobedient, we struggle with our obedience because we have replaced Jesus as our chief love, and we replaced Jesus as our chief love because we question God’s love for us. As tempting as questioning God is God’s love for us should never be in doubt. All sixty-six books of the Bible speak of the depth of love God has for us.
We are going through the Book of Jeremiah during Sunday School. In chapter two, the Lord said to Judah, “my people have committed two evils (Jeremiah 2:13). Their first evil was they forsook the Lord“the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13). Their second evil was not learning from the destruction of Israel because her wickedness, in turning to God. The Lord said in spite of all the destruction I allowed Israel (Judah’s sister) to go through “Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:13).
This morning, we have Zacharias as an example of someone who lost hope in God and stopped believing in the promises of God. His result was nine months in God’s doghouse where he got his heart right so that he could praise God once again. Let us not follow his footsteps by questioning God but keep our whole heart anchored in God’s love for us so that we can authentically and biblically praise Him – For He is worthy.
Jeffrey Kranz, “Word Counts for Every Book of the Bible,” Overview Bible (blog), May 29, 2014, https://overviewbible.com/word-counts-books-of-bible/.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, vol. 1, Matthew-Galatians (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1989), 563.
Albert Barnes, The Book of Psalms, 13th ed., ed. Robert Frew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), 2:44.
Robert Morgan, Preacher's Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 712.
Jada Pryor, “Top 7 Bible Verses About God’s Timing,” Patheos, June 26, 2015, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/26/top-7-bible-verses-about-gods-timing/.
John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 1, Old Testament (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1983-1985), 1207.
Robert Morgan, Preacher's Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 450.