“According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.” (Luke 1:10)
This passage is from the beginning of Luke. It is speaking of the priest, Zacharias, who was performing his duties in the Temple in Jerusalem. In a few moments, he would have a visitation by the angel of the Lord who would tell him of the child he and his wife would have. The child that would one day become John the Baptist.
What struck me in this passage was something very simple. What would normally be of only passing interest.
He was offering incense according to the Law. Something that was to be done in the morning and the evening. If you go back to Leviticus 10, you will see that this was no insignificant responsibility.
The incense was made of very special materials. It was offered in a special way. And it was offered on a specific altar constructed in a very special way. All according to the Law.
To fail to do this properly could result in one’s death. And a gruesome death at that. By the very hand of God Himself.
Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, found this out the hard way. Leviticus 10:1-2 gives the record of this. But I will save that tale of presumption for a future post.
Joy in the Daily Tasks
The simple truth that struck me here was that Zacharias had learned to follow God in the small things. And his life, as a priest, was filled with a multitude of small things. Small things that could easily become a burden and drudgery when followed in a strict and legalistic manner.
In my minds eye, I imagine Zacharias getting up that morning and going through his various priestly functions with a joy in his heart. A peaceful joy. Maybe preparing the spices he would bring to the altar that day. Thinking of what they meant. And why God chose that particular mixture.
Maybe the sun was just beginning to shine in from the temple roof or the windows. Maybe he could hear the singing of hymns. And maybe the cooing of doves.
(I love the cooing of doves. When I was a child, I used to think that the flowers made that cooing noise. It was a disappointment when I discovered that birds made that sound. But it always brings peace to me whenever I hear that sound in the morning.)
Maybe smoke from the temple fires swirled around the shafts of streaming light. And his thoughts drifted back to when Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” And how “the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6)
Maybe his heart longed for the presence of God that the high priest would experience once every year when he went into the Holy of Holies. Or he was thinking back on the amazing pillar of cloud and fire that would continually appear before Israel in those far-away days in the wilderness.
And in the midst of that morning reverie, God came to visit Zacharias.
When God Ends Our “Silent Years”
This meeting was “the first direct word from God to Israel since the days of Malachi in over 400 years.” (Quote by Dr. Henry Morris, from the Henry Morris Study Bible, pg. 1495)
Consider that for a moment. This was the first time we have a written record of God speaking directly to Israel for over 400 years! This is why they are called “The Silent Years.”
That brings to mind Carl Sandburg’s poem about Fog. God came out of the silence of those years on “little cat feet“.
He came to Zacharias while he was doing what God wanted him to do. Quietly. Faithfully. Day after day. So much so that God said that both he and his wife, Elizabeth, “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1:6)
That is hard to imagine. We know that men have always been saved by faith. And that no one is saved by the Law. Yet Paul used that same language when recounting his own past “righteousness” under the Law as a Pharisee. He said, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:6)
(I say this just as a caution to those Dispensationalists who would take this too far and say that under the Old Testament a man was saved by keeping the Law. But this was not possible. Read Galatians carefully and you will discover how the Law was never given that it would give life. It can only bring a greater knowledge of our sin and of our need for the grace of God.)
The Beauty of the Lord
There is a sweet beauty in this account of Zacharias. And there is a deep beauty we find in the Old Testament Law. Because it was all meant to teach us of Christ. To reveal Him in countless different ways. Like the beauty of a precious stone with all its sparkling facets.
As Paul says in his letter to the church in Galatia, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) This is why we can go back and glean the wonder and grace and beauty of God in the Old Testament. Because it all is about the Lord revealing Himself to man. Even in the midst of all the commandments He gave us.
And it helps me to realize in the midst of the drudgery, the disappointments and the seemingly endless “sameness” of life’s chores, that we too can have a visitation.
That God is ready to meet with us in those quiet places, when our hearts are still and our focus is upon Him.
Let us learn to be joyful in the work God has given us to do. And to look for Him to meet with us in those quiet places of visitation.