Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:57–66.
In this passage, Zechariah emerges from nine months of silence with an important message. We will see what that important message is in a moment, but it might be helpful first to remember why Zechariah had been silent so long. His silence was divinely imposed because he had doubted the angel’s message regarding the miraculous conception of his son.
Don’t you wish God worked promptly with you, like he did with Zechariah? Don’t you wish that every time you obeyed God you would receive an instantaneous blessing? Or that every time you disobeyed God you would get an immediate slap on the wrist? Wouldn’t it be easier to obey God (and harder to disobey) if you experienced the consequences of your actions immediately?
Psychologists refer to this kind of dynamic as behavioral programming. In my college psychology class, my lab partner and I tested this dynamic on a rat. We put him in a contraption known as a Skinner box. (It was named after B. F. Skinner, a pioneer in behavioral programming.) If the mouse lowered a switch on the wall of the box, it received a pellet of food or a drink of water. The mouse quickly learned how to lower the switch. But the Skinner box also allowed us to shock the mouse with a small electrical current if it performed a behavior we didn’t desire. The mouse quickly learned to do what we wanted it to do.
God is not a behavioral programmer. Life is not a Skinner box. You and I are not mice. Usually, God does not respond to our behavior with immediate carrots or instantaneous sticks. He wants us to put our faith in Him and do the right thing because those are the right things to do, not because we are looking for the spiritual equivalent of food pellets and sips of water.
But on occasion, He does respond to our behaviors with immediate consequences. He did so with Zechariah. And when God does this, He wants to teach us a very important lesson.
In Zechariah’s case, that lesson was not just faith and obedience, although I’m sure Zechariah learned them both as he watched his aged wife grow big with their son through her months of pregnancy. Instead, the primary lesson Zechariah learned was this: The Lord is gracious.
According to Luke 1.57–66, Zechariah regained his speech the moment he named his son. Elizabeth wanted to call her baby boy John, but the friends and family wouldn’t let her. John was not a family name. Shouldn’t he be named after Zechariah or after one of his grandfathers? So the friends and family went to Zechariah and asked his opinion.
“He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God” (verses 63–64).
In Hebrew, the name John means “the Lord is gracious.” God was gracious to Zechariah, giving him a second chance after a long period of discipline. God offers grace to us too. The only question is whether we’ll respond like Zechariah, with faith and obedience.
P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here: