57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John." 61 And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name." 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And they all wondered. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.
---> I'm most intrigued by the word "fear" in this section. Luke informs us that "fear came on all their neighbors," (v65) -- why "fear?" What was it about this particular event that inspired "fear" in the hearts of their neighbors?
The word "fear" is used all over the Bible -- mostly in the phrases "fear of God" or "fear of the Lord." In my understanding, in such contexts, this word denotes an awe-inspiring respect for God. But I don't believe that is the context for "fear" in this passage -- I have to believe these people were legitimately afraid of what was happening. Here, Zechariah was muted for at least nine months for questioning God. When his neighbors start questioning Elizabeth's name choice for their baby and even going to Zechariah about it (I can only assume to nag), he blurts out, "His name is John!" (Luke tells us that he actually wrote that on a tablet since he was mute and, since this is the only account we have of this event, that must have been what happened. My imagination, however, prefers the possibility that Zechariah boldly proclaimed it silence his naysayers)
Whatever happened, it made everyone stop questioning the name immediately. I can imagine them throwing up their hands and slowly backing away, saying, "Whoa -- easy now, Zach. His name is John -- that's a good choice. Strong name," then walking away and murmuring to each other, "Well that reaction was a little unnecessary!"
But Luke tells us that they were fearful. I'm fascinated about how quickly their attitudes change from one moment to the next; one minute, they were rejoicing and praising God for His mercy (v57-58), the next minute, they're freaked out and, probably, a little offended at Zechariah's outburst.
But, consider the two events they were reacting to: when they were cheerful, they had just seen a birth. There was a cute new baby to join their little village and they were excited that God had allowed such a thing to happen. Then, when God's will, His word, is boldly proclaimed by Zechariah, they are suddenly silenced and fearful.
I find this in the church today: we get excited about the miraculous, we get excited about God's goodness and mercy and love. When we hear about forgiveness and liberty and freedom, we, rightfully, rejoice and praise God. Then the preacher comes at us with a hard gospel, with a high calling, and we are suddenly offended. When there was a cute new baby, -- possibly, for some in the village, symbolic of a new beginning -- there was something to rejoice about. But, when Zechariah comes to them and says, "You people are perverting God's will and tempting my wife to pervert God's will -- his name is JOHN!," suddenly there's nothing to rejoice about anymore. Now everyone is solemn, fearful and a little offended.
Luke tells us that they, then, walked away and talked amongst themselves about John's destiny, for they understood that if such miracles took place, surely John had a high calling on his life (v65-66).
And this leads me to ponder callings:
1) Everyone knew John had a high calling because of the miracles that surrounded his birth: Elizabeth gave birth at a very old age, Zechariah was muted for doubting God and his speech was restored for declaring God's word. If these things happened, surely God has something big in mind for John! God made these things happen for a reason; He re-aligns the stars and the planets to make His will happen.
2) The ball was in Zechariah and Elizabeth's court to facilitate God's will, His master plan. I find this to be one of the downfalls of Calvinism and open theism: Zechariah and Elizabeth had to be willing (free will), first of all, to carry out God's plan; He wasn't going to force them to do anything they didn't want to do. I believe, when Gabriel came to Zechariah and told him what was going to happen, Zechariah could have said, "Absolutely not," and flipped Gabriel off. But he didn't. And who's to say what might have happened had that happened? It was up to them to live their lives in His will and act accordingly.
The same goes for us, I think. For example, I believe I am called to be a missionary: guess what -- it's up to me to keep my passport up to date, to buy plane tickets, to learn another language if necessary, to find a place to live, to have some sort of plan. I believe I am called to be a worship leader: again, it's up to me to learn to play an instrument and practice, to get involved with a church that either needs a worship leader or has room on the worship team for another musician.
Things, more often than not, don't just happen. It's up to us to be God's hand and feet in these situations; to carry out His work. If we choose to reject His plan for our lives, if we choose not to believe, if we choose not to participate in the work He his doing, we won't receive the blessings He has in store for us (Luke 1:45, 1 Peter 3:9, Deuteronomy 28).