Now it happened that 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.
Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, 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. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children , and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Incense was used a lot around the Temple. It was mysterious, unpredictable, and engaged your smell and sight. God had a specific recipe for them to use, that couldn’t be used for any other domestic, vulgar incense.
It had to be burned in a certain way, otherwise fire would come out and destroy you (Look up Nadab and Abihu, the oldest sons of Aaron, nephews of Moses). It was a big deal and it was the job of Zacharias (as the NASB translates it) to wave it around and fill the Temple that day. There were a ton of priests that were eligible for the job, so they began to cast lots to see who had the honor of doing it. Because of the randomness, it could be a whole lifetime—technically never—before your lot got picked and you had the chance to do it.
So as rare as it would be for an old guy like Z to become a father, and as rare as it would be that he would get picked to burn incense, today was his day.
The sight of the angel could really only mean one thing: you’re dead. You burned the fire wrong or had bad thoughts or weren’t clean enough. Whatever it was, nobody else had seen an angel like this before, and he was rightly scared.
All of the news from the angel is as unbelievable as the rest of this event. It’s spectacular and amazing and hard to grasp. It was one thing to be the father of a prophet, but to be a father to THE prophet that would “so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord!”
Not only was a prophet coming, but the prophet that comes before the MESSIAH was coming. Whatever sadness of not having a child, whatever sadness of getting a one-and-only chance to burn incense before the Lord, whatever sadness of the temple being ruled by corruption and Romans…was all blown away at the mention of the Messiah.
The King is coming and your son is going to be His MC. Whatever cares or hardships you had before are blown away at this news.
We as Christians, have even better news than Z! What a thing to rejoice in!