Isn’t that an amazing announcement? Isn’t that what we are longing to hear? Zechariah had prayed for a son, and I suspect he prayed that prayer for years. But I also suspect that he gave up when he and his wife had gotten too old to have a child. And then….WHAM….a huge answer to prayer! Not only did God grant them a son in their old age, but also a son who would prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah! Unfortunately, he had stopped believing for a son, but fortunately God was merciful and granted it to him anyway, along with a little discipline to remind us all to, “always pray and not give up” (Lu.18:1).
One of the reasons why this story is so encouraging to me is that it reveals how integral prayer is to God’s plan to send the renewing work of the Holy Spirit on the earth. God had promised the Israelites:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ez.36:26,27). The fulfillment of that promise was when He would send the “Baptizer with the Holy Spirit”. And the one who was going to prepare the hearts of the people to receive Him would be John the Baptist, the one who was to “restore all things” (Mk.9:12) by calling people to repentance. We still need that gracious work of God’s Spirit today if we are to have renewal and revival, and, as of old, it comes by prayer. We too must faithfully stand by the altar of incense and offer up our prayers for God’s renewing work of the Spirit and be ready to receive His answer in His time and in His way.
One other thought; my guess is that mingled in with Zechariah’s prayer for a son was also his prayers for the Messiah to come, and there were others praying along with him: “And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” (Lu.1:10). Who knows when an angel might appear, “at the right side of the altar of incense (incense symbolizes prayer)”, and tell us our corporate prayers for renewal have been answered?