I’ve known the story of the miraculous birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias and Elizabeth since I was a little girl. But I had no idea what a profound impact it would have on me when I taught a lesson about them in gospel doctrine. What I discovered was a powerful example of patience in waiting for answers to prayers that I had never quite considered before.
How Could They Be Imperfect and Blameless?
Zacharias and Elizabeth experienced an incredible resolution to their years of patient faith by becoming the parents of John the Baptist—the one who would prepare the way on earth for Christ’s mortal mission.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were both older and well past the age of bearing children. I love the description of their spiritual characteristics found in Luke 1:6:
“And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
How is it possible for imperfect humans (such as myself) to walk blameless before the Lord when we’re not capable of perfection? As I asked this question in my gospel doctrine class I felt my own flood gate of emotion open up because of the the guilt I feel regarding my own imperfections. Sister Lewis in the class then made the comment about how we are all so hard on ourselves. I don’t know whether she was sensing what I was feeling at the time but her words brought a feeling of comfort over me as if Heavenly Father was aware that I am trying my best. And I believe that is how a couple such as Zacharias and Elizabeth could be imperfect mortals yet walk blameless before God. They were faithful and obedient and were trying their best! Because God knew the righteous intents of their hearts, his grace could make up for the rest.
The other principle that really struck me about their experience was their patience. They chose to continue to have faith in God despite not having the righteous prayer of their hearts answered in being able to bear children. It was shameful for women in their day to not have the ability to bear children. I can only imagine the pleading prayers Elizabeth and Zacharias must have offered during their child-bearing years. And then to have that window of time come and go without the desired reward must have been so heartbreaking and capable of shaking even the strongest faith. But I also imagine a loving Heavenly Father looking down on his faithful son and daughter wishing he could end their despair. He knew the incredible blessing He had in store for them—raising John the Baptist and helping prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ.
I find great courage in their example of trusting and remaining faithful in spite of seemingly unanswered prayers. I have many unanswered prayers based on my righteous desires that cause me great anguish at times. I choose to believe that Heavenly Father may have answers to these prayers that he can’t give me right now. Maybe I’m not ready, or maybe I need to prove my faithfulness by being willing to keep moving forward trusting in His timing.
Not an Ordinary Child
Once John the Baptist was born, Zacharias and Elizabeth took him to the priest to be circumcised. It was custom to give sons the name of their father. But Elizabeth insisted his name be John according to the instructions previously given to her by an angel. When Zacharias was asked what the name of the child should be he motioned for a writing tablet and scribed the name of ‘John’. He had been previously struck dumb and unable to speak by the angel for doubting the angel’s proclamation that Zacharias and Elisabeth would conceive a son in their old age.
After writing the child’s name of John, Zacharias was immediately able to speak and praised God. He continued to speak, declaring John’s mission would be to prepare the way for the Savior to come. I especially love Luke 1:79:
“To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
I try to imagine what it might have felt like to hold this miracle child in his arms and know that this child would grow up to one day prepare the way for their deliverance from death and misery through the Atonement of the Savior.
Never Underestimate the Powerful Messages in the Scriptures
As I closed the lesson with my testimony I explained that I felt rebuked for doubting I would find much practical application or insight from a story in the old testament I have read many times before. My testimony of the possibility of one day imperfectly standing blameless before God and of having patience when prayers are not answered according to my desired timetable were greatly strengthened by the scriptural account of Zacharias and Elizabeth. I suppose that is the beauty of the scriptures. The stories contained in them will mean different things to us at different times in our lives. So we need to keep reading these scripture stories over and over and never underestimate the powerful messages contained in them.