“It so happened that, as Zachariah was carrying out his priestly duties before God, working the shift assigned to his regiment, it came his turn in life to enter the sanctuary of God and burn incense…Unannounced an angel of God appeared just to the right of the altar of incense. Zachariah was paralysed in fear….” Luke 1:8,9,11,12.

It seems to have been quite an event for Zachariah. It was his turn to enter the Holy Place and burn incense on the golden altar that stood in front of the great thick curtain that veiled the glory of God’s presence in the Most Holy Place. He must have gone over this sacred event in his mind time and again. He wanted to be sure that he did everything just right. He would be frighteningly close to the Shekinah, separated only by the curtain from seeing the symbol of God’s presence.

Finally the day came and Zachariah made careful preparation for his once-in-a-lifetime duty. Worshippers gathered outside the temple to pray and, as he mounted the temple steps and entered the sanctuary through the great door between the pillars Jabin and Boaz, he could hear them chanting the set prayers of the day as the faithful did every day at the time of the burning of incense. As the fragrant smoke on the golden altar curled upwards inside the Holy Place, so the prayers of the people rose in unison, to the throne of God.

Zachariah must have felt the thrill of that holy moment. He was part of a long tradition that stretched over more than a thousand years, interrupted only when the people’s rebellion had caused them to be driven from their land, and their temple razed to the ground by marauding enemy armies. The great and beautiful temple, originally build by Solomon, son of Israel’s greatest king, and destroyed by the Babylonians, had been rebuilt by the exiles returning from captivity in Babylon and restored by King Herod the Great in more recent years. It was the pride of Israel as it kept its silent watch over the city of Jerusalem

Zachariah was enclosed at that moment by the thick walls of the temple in the awesome quietness of the Holy Place, in the gloom of that windowless room lit only by the golden menorah, the lamp that symbolised the fervently-anticipated Messiah who would be sent by God in the anointing of the seven-fold Spirit of God.

Zachariah, too, held that fervent hope of Messiah in his heart but he had no idea that God had chosen him and his barren wife Elizabeth, to be players in the greatest drama of history to begin in his own lifetime. The very pain of seemingly unanswered prayer would be a part of God’s story. In their old age and childless marriage, God would step in to carry out His greater purposes in the bigger picture that Zachariah in his feeble humanness could not see.

Then the most unexpected thing happened. Zachariah was suddenly not alone, as the gloom of the Holy Place was lit up by the glory of an unearthly being and the quietness broken by the sound of an unearthly voice. Zachariah was overcome with terror. This was not supposed to be part of the deal! But he was about to be told about the greatest event in his life and the melting of his forgotten hopes into God’s greatest plan for His people and for the world.  3

Luella Campbell

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