We pick up the story with Zacharias in the holy place, standing before the veil of the most holy place, lighting the incense in a once in a lifetime opportunity. I imagine that Zacharias was delighted to be so close to the presence of God, and he was worshipping and praying as he lit the incense.
Then suddenly, an angel appeared. Zacharias was startled and gripped with fear. I’m sure if it had been me, I would have let out a little (or big) screech. Most every time angels show up, people are “gripped with fear.”
The first thing this angel said to Zacharias was “don’t be afraid.” I wonder if that did any good to calm Zacharias down. But then he said, “God has heard your prayers…” (Cool!) “…and you and Elizabeth are going to have a baby!“ (Super cool – especially since they are so old that it was impossible!) “…and you shall name him John.” (which means “the Lord is gracious”). The angel went on to say that this baby would be a huge blessing to Zacharias, Elizabeth and the people of Israel. He was going to be used mightily by God, and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. This baby, John, was going to get the people of Israel ready for the arrival of God’s Son, Jesus.
Not only was the impossible going to happen, (a baby is born to old people), but he was going to have a special purpose before the Lord. I wonder how I would have responded in the same situation.
Zacharias’ encounter with the angel reminded me of the story of Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion whose story is told several years after the death of Christ. He followed the Jewish traditions and the Old Testament commandments. Cornelius and his family were devout God-fearing people. Cornelius gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.
One day, an angel came to Cornelius in a vision and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”
In other words, Cornelius’ prayers, devotion, faith, generosity and goodness were like a fragrant offering—an incense offering—to the Lord. God’s response to both Zacharias and Cornelius was that “God had heard their prayers.”
That is exciting! Our lives can be a fragrant offering—an incense offering—before the Father. I love that God’s response is that “he hears our prayers.” When we honor God, He delights in honoring us.