Sometimes you have to step back and let the beauty of the Bible speak for itself. This one’s for all the people who wake up believing in grace, but go to bed with a voice that says they didn’t measure up.

Zechariah is an old man — an old priest of the Old Way. He lives and breathes the law of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord (Luke 1:6).

For thousands of years, people have come to send up prayers of repentance outside the temple. It is now Zechariah’s turn to offer them up inside, burning the incense that carries their cries to God in a fragrant smoke. Forgive us. Cover us. Save us. 

Suddenly, an angel steps into the silent, holy space. At long last, he says, their prayer has been heard: a son will be born to Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth —  John the Baptizer, the last of the prophets of the Old Way. He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared to receive their King (Luke 1:13-17).

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At the end of Isaiah 5, the case of God vs. the people has been tried — the Lord’s broken heart vs. their broken promises. Once again, God’s people have disobeyed God’s law, and once again, they will find themselves without its shelter, its safety, its rest. His judgment is devastating.

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
Isaiah 5:5

All the rules have been broken. All hope seems forever lost.

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Zechariah could not believe what he saw — what he heard. A baby? How shall I know this? He begs. For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.

And the angel answered him, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time (Luke 1:18-20).

Zechariah shuffles out of the temple, motioning to the crowd in mute silence. He will not be able to say another word until God’s plan comes true.

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The law has been rejected and God’s judgment has been devastating. The land is dark and distressed — a desolate, silent waste (Isaiah 5:24, 30; 6:12). Seven hundred years before Zechariah entered the temple, the God of the heavenly armies cries out from His throne: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?  (Isaiah 6:6)

For, though His anger and heartache have burned against the people, God seeks a servant who will bring them good news of great joy: that the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do what the law could not do — He will rescue all those who the rules have been powerless to save:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end.
(Isaiah 9:2, 6-7).

God is sending a Savior, One who will keep the rules for a people who could not. The Lord searches for one who will spread the news that He alone will uphold both His mercy and His holiness — my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed (Isaiah 51:6).

The prophet Isaiah answers. Here I am! Send me (Isaiah 6:8-9).

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Six months after Zechariah leaves the temple, Gabriel is sent out from the Lord again — this time to a young virgin girl in Galilee. And there, the angel speaks the most beautiful promises the world will ever hear:

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:31-33).

Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, Mary answers. Here I am.

Let it be to me according to your word, she says. Send me.

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Isaiah goes out into his calling, telling of the Righteous Truth who will go to death for our lies without a word in His defense.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:6-7)

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Gabriel also tells Mary about her cousins Zechariah and Elizabeth and the coming baby John, and she runs with haste to their house in the hills. There, she bursts into a ballad of God’s mercy, a melody that has built up in her heart since she first heard the news:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
(Luke 1:46-53)

Grace begins caroling its young and new song over all the earth, to the glory of God the Father.

And Zechariah, the old priest of the Old Way — the very picture of living up to the demands of the law — that voice that says we don’t measure up — sits by in forced silence as mercy sings. The law has shuffled out of the temple, mute. God has closed His own mouth; the rules cannot say another word against us.

His plan is coming true.

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For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering (Romans 8:3).

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