“There was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old”. – Luke 1:6-8
We’ve all heard of “gifts that keep on giving”. But it seemed as though life had given this godly couple a curse that kept on cursing. As the gospel narrative introduces us to Zechariah and Elizabeth we are told two disturbing facts about them. They are childless and they are very old. I can only imagine what wounds they must have suffered by this time.
“A hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. – Proverbs 13:12
First, there is the wound of a hope deferred. What else could a young godly couple have hoped for than for a house full of children and sons to carry on the legacy of the priesthood? As a priest, Zechariah determined his success in life by having sons to follow him. As a woman, Elizabeth based her very worth and significance on giving these sons to her husband. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “a hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life”. There would be no tree of life for Zechariah and his wife. The desire of their hearts had been denied.
In the decades that followed they begged and pleaded with God to bless them with children. They would examine their own lives to see if the blame lay within their character. Perhaps some moral failure and shortcoming had brought on God’s displeasure. They would beat themselves up for not being worthy of children. This, then, was another facet of their pain.
But as the childless years dragged on, they would also be tempted to blame and accuse God. For isn’t God the One who ultimately has the power to give or withhold children? And this was still another painful wound that accompanied the first. Zechariah and Elizabeth are tempted to harden their hearts against God for their barrenness. They felt alienated toward the only One in the universe who truly understood their pain and had the power to help them. Isn’t it tragic when we’re isolated from the One who loves us most?
Yet there were so many other curses that came with the curse of childlessness. At every gathering poor Zechariah would have to listen to fathers brag about their children’s achievements. Poor Elizabeth would have to endure mothers sharing their precious moments with toddlers.
But it wasn’t simply being surrounded by much happier couples – couples who had everything Zechariah and Elizabeth were denied – that caused them pain. There was also the endless stream of unsolicited advice from “successful” parents. I’m sure there were homeopathic remedies for every ailment in those days, especially for infertility. Certain Elizabeth had tried them all! I’m also certain that friends and family always had one more miracle cure to share with her – only to end in failure and disappointment for this suffering couple.
And, of course, most painful of all was the “human cause and divine effect” that everyone around them attributed to their situation.
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring are a reward from him”. – Psalm 127:3
If Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless it must be a sign of God’s displeasure with some secret sin in their lives. Their relationship with God was called into question. All because of something they were powerless to control.
Sadly, the very opposite was true. In God’s sight Zechariah and his wife were righteous, blameless in keeping all of God’s commandments. Why then had God allowed Elizabeth to suffer such disgrace in the eyes of others? Why had God not vindicated them? The burden God called them to bear was a cross with many painful splinters, a curse that kept on cursing. Beside their own disappointment, they would always be vulnerable to envy and jealousy toward others, bitterness toward God, and lonely isolation.
But somehow this heroic couple kept their faith and character intact. Somehow they resigned themselves to whatever station in life the Lord had chosen for them. And as long as they had God’s approval, they needed no one else’s. Their pain had not driven them from God, but all the nearer to Him. They knew that only God understood the full measure of their pain and that God would somehow reward and vindicate them for all they had endured for His sake.
And, yes, it is most definitely for the Lord’s sake that we bear our cross with many splinters. It’s for the Lord’s sake that we fight all those behind-the-scene battles that no one else knows about. For through them God accomplishes His purpose in us and through us. (Romans 8:28-39)
Remember, in the Old Testament it was Hannah’s barrenness and the criticism she suffered from her rival that drove her to her knees in desperate prayer to God. Her pain prepared her heart before God and ultimately brought forth Israel’s greatest judge and one of its greatest prophets, Samuel. (1 Samuel 1-16, 19, 25)
And it was Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain that prepared them for the miracle of John the Baptist’s birth, who came forth in the Spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Jesus would go on to say that of all those born of women, none was greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). John was the forerunner of the Messiah that both the prophets Isaiah and Malachi foretold. (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1) It was this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth who would prepare the hearts of Israel to receive their Messiah and be reconciled with God.
And haven’t the greatest hymns of all time been borne out of such pain and suffering? Haven’t the most powerful sermons been preached from a preacher’s inner agony? And wasn’t God’s greatest act of redemption accomplished through the tragic and violent death of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ? (Romans 5:6-10)
If God has called you to carry a cross of many painful splinters, please bare it patiently. By doing so you will become God’s instrument of peace, healing, and redemption in the lives of others. God will vindicate you. He will reward you eternally. God will make the glory and joy of heaven worth every bit of the pain this cross has caused you.
Lord, please keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus. He endured the cross that caused him shame. But now sits at Your right hand. Amen.