"For your petition has been heard..." Luke 1:13
Many people wouldn’t include this as a prayer of the Bible at all much less one of the Great Prayers of the Bible. Truthfully, we don’t even know the actual wording of the prayer. Still, I consider it a “great” because though made in secret it had such a singularly great outcome. In fact, the whole opening of Jesus’ ministry depended on it.
I’m speaking of the prayer of Zacharias and Elizabeth for a child. They are the parents of John the Baptist, the prophesied messenger who prepared the way of the Lord by “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Zacharias and Elizabeth were barren and past childbearing years yet as we will see, God remembered their prayer in secret and answered it openly in the fullness of time.
The story is told by Luke the Physician who is especially good about filling his accounts with interesting and personal details. We are told up front that Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6)
That’s an important detail because in those days, being barren was considered a curse and probably the result of some sin the person had committed. It is therefore noteworthy to any of us who have had a long term prayer unanswered with the vague and guilty feeling that it is somehow our fault.
While Zacharias was taking his turn ministering before the Lord in the temple the angel Gabriel appeared to him announcing: “for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.” (Luke 1:13) This reference to “your petition” is how we know about the prayer at all.
It is in Zacharias’ reaction that we come to understand how agonizing the petition must have been. He and Elizabeth had evidently prayed so long and so hard that they were not only past childbearing but also past expecting an answer. Zacharias replied to Gabriel: “’How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’” (Verse 18)
That sounds like a reasonable question and I always used to wonder why Zacharias was rebuked for it and struck dumb until the child was born. Mary on the other hand asked something similar at her announcement; “’How can this be, since I am a virgin?’” (Verse 34) but was given only assurance.
The Heart Revealed
The difference deals with revealing the deep places of the heart. Gabriel nailed Zacharias good by saying: “’And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time.’” (Verse 20)
Zacharias had not only given up, he was in disbelief. His heart was sore, bitter and hard. I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I can almost hear him say: “Yeah, sure, you come around now that it is too late and tell me our prayer is answered. Where were you when we still cared, when we were still young enough to have children and enjoy them? Little late now, aren’t you God?”
Well! So being struck dumb was a big punishment from God, huh? He got zapped for his lack of faith? Actually, NO! God is forever in the business of healing and restoration. He used the time awaiting the Baptist’s birth to bring both to Zacharias. How do we know? We know by what he said when John was born.
The first words he spoke since Gabriel’s visit were, “’His name is John’” (Verse 63) expressing his agreement with God’s command about the name. But it is the next words that reveal a healed heart: “And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.” (Verse 64)
Secretly for years he had been disappointed in God but now publicly he praised him. Further, his joy erupted in a beautiful prophecy about the divine destiny of John and the part he would play in announcing the coming of the Messiah – Jesus Christ. (See Verses 67-79)
Encouragement and Hope
The prayer of Zacharias and Elizabeth holds encouragement and hope for those who have prayed in secret – maybe even YOU. They prayed and asked for a child and they were given John the Baptist, the forerunner for the Savior of the world. How’s that for return on investment?
It was not dependant on them holding on; they had already given up. It was not about some sin in their life hindering their prayers; they had none. Proverbs 13:12 says; “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Yes, they were heartsick for a time. But what does the end of the verse say? “But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” What a great ending for their great prayer!
Read next about Abraham's great prayer.