5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Last Sunday, I preached about the grace of God as illustrated in the identity of Jesus as the “Son of David.” God showed grace to David in giving him what he did not deserve: the promise that his descendant would be the Messiah. That’s what grace is: Being given what you do not deserve.
But there’s another side to it: My righteousness does not earn anything from God. In other words, God does not owe me when I do the right thing, when I show myself faithful and righteous.
We see that in our text for today. Zechariah and Elizabeth for “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” But despite this, they were childless, and were now past the age of child-bearing. I need to say more about what it means that they were “righteous” as well as the seriousness of childlessness in their culture.
When Luke says that they were righteous, he is not talking about complete moral perfection, including their thoughts and intentions. This expression refers to their performance of all of the external requirements of the law: the dietary laws, keeping the Sabbath, as well as the Zechariah’s priestly duties. Anyone observing them would see them as a model Israelites, faithfully following the Lord’s commands.
Childlessness was a tremendous social liability in their culture, especially for women. A woman’s status in the community was greatly tied to her children, especially the number of male children. As a consequence, barrenness was often viewed as a sign of the Lord’s disfavor and even as a punishment
And that’s the problem here: Despite their external righteousness in following all of the Lord’s commands and decrees, He had not given them a child. This is the truth: God owes me nothing. Jesus put it this way in Luke 17:10 – “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
My righteous behavior does not put God in my debt. Now maybe we don’t ever think about it terms so crass, but this kind of thinking is at work when we wonder what we did to deserve a misfortune in our life, or we find ourselves thinking that by our behavior, we are earning God’s blessing.
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s childlessness had nothing to do with their righteousness, nor was it punishment for some secret unrighteousness. God owes us nothing. And that’s a good thing. If our relationship with God was transactional based on our behavior, things would not be so good for us. The truth is that we are blessed far beyond what we deserve.
And chief among these blessings is the gift of a Savior.
Lord Jesus, I praise you for your grace to me, that you bless me not according to what I deserve, but according to your grace and compassion.
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