Just then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of the incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. (Luke 1:11-12 BSB)
We cannot understand the working of the Spirit in this world and in our lives without grasping this fact: God moves at His volition, in His way, and for His purposes. Whether we say something was the will of God, or the will of Christ, or the timing of the Spirit of God, all of these are the same concept – God moving in His way at His time.
To us this normally seems an interruption. Zechariah was one of many priests in those days, and to prevent jealousies and petty grievances, the different divisions of priests served at different times throughout the year, and even among their number the priest who entered the temple to merely light the altar of incense was chosen by lot. It would appear to any of them that Zechariah had been particularly honored by this choosing of God, for him to be the one on that day to light the incense.
But God had greater plans. In this story we are introduced by Luke to the reality of us dealing with God, or, really, God dealing with us. Even religious leaders make their plans for God and scope out their ministries, thinking that these matters will be the great moments of their lives and service. But we will find, I believe, in the judgement of Christ, that the truly great moments of life and service for us all came at the instigation of God, at the surprising moment, through what appeared to be an interruption.
We are likened to farmers who plant their seed in season, and we should plan our activities, and be intentional in our service to Christ. But we must also realize our place in the order of things, and respect the timing of God that often makes seemingly random moments times of some of His greatest works, and that relegates our best plans to the scrap heap of history.
The ‘Random’ Act of God
No act of God is truly random from His perspective, for He knows very well what He is doing. But to us they seem random, coming from no where, unplanned and unpredictable. Such a moment came to Zechariah as he entered into the temple, and saw that God had sent an angel. An angel is not the Spirit of God, but angels always obey God, and never think or act outside of His will. So the angel was there at command of God.
He spoke of the birth of a son to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both already beyond the age of bearing children. And this son of theirs would be a great prophet, preparing the way of the Messiah, filled with the Spirit of God from his mother’s womb. It was an announcement that whatever Zechariah had achieved in life would pale in comparison to this act of God.
This also shows the compassion of God, and the way that God weaves into His timeless plans the prayers of common people. As a barren couple they had prayed for a child and God knew of their devotion and faithfulness to Him. And in that moment when Zechariah was lighting that altar of incense, which, by the way, stood to symbolize the prayers of God’s people, God answered their prayer as well as fulfilled his prophetic plan to send a forerunner to the Messiah.
This is so much like God, to take the request of a sincere believer and in answering that one specific prayer, to do so in a way that blesses millions of others who also make sincere prayers to God. What appears to us as random is God’s way of showing us that He is in charge and that He will achieve His will.
The Spirit’s Interruptions
This reveals the way that the Spirit will work in our lives and in our world. God will interrupt us from time to time to do what He plans to do. The fact that the Spirit is unleashed in this world and that He is able to move when and where He wishes, means that we are often unexpectedly touched, used, and called.
The movement of the Spirit in our prayer requests: The first thing we should notice in this story is also the thing we are apt to ignore or forget, that the Spirit’s movements in the world often begin with our hearts being burdened for something. When God moves in this world it seems that very often the first thing He does is to put a prayer burden on the hearts of His people.
If the sinfulness of this world, or some single injustice, or some need, even if it is personal as Zechariah and Elizabeth, is on your heart, then take that matter to God. If we pray regularly, and if we fellowship with the Lord Jesus in our hearts regularly, then He will entrust to us concerns. Often the sinfulness of the world must be felt through some personal pain, or unpleasant experience, before we realize the evil in the world.
We learn from the specific to the general, from the simple to the more complex, so in understanding the sin of the world, and the pain and suffering from this sin, we begin with some personal sin, some personal suffering. We then from there can begin to understand the pain of every heart, the shame and guilt of every individual, and learn the need for the grace and healing of God across the world.
If we may let the Lord touch us and give us the prayer burdens that He chooses, then we will find the doors of our hearts will open to others as well, and we will know the comfort of the Lord and share this same comfort.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which accomplishes in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we experience. And our hope for you is sure, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7 BSB)
Jesus wept over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, showing that the spiritual person will have a different perspective of the world. He will see through the shallowness of the world’s praise, will look past the temporariness of life’s good and pleasant moments, and be concerned with God and with His will. The Spirit interrupts our worldly pursuit of what the world has told us should fulfill us, but actually leaves us empty.
Has the Spirit interrupted you? Has he put something on your heart? Has He taken your pain and your sin and through your personal experiences led you to gain a better understanding of the pain and sin of the world?
Your prayer burdens could be used of God to change the world, if you will take these requests to God.