The Incense Offering

Luke 1:8-20 (NLT)

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”


There is a lot happening in this passage but I want to hone in on one specific item: The Incense Offering. This offering was a way to lift the prayers of the people to God. It represented all those “asks” that the people had from day to day. Not just those general requests for “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men”, but more specific prayers as well. It was the embodiment of Elizabeth’s prayer for a child. It was the essence of the Israelite prayers for a Redeemer. It was the longing of the prayer for a deliverer.


The shocking part of the story is that standing in the Temple on behalf of the people of God, Zechariah didn’t believe God would hear their requests. He didn’t trust that God would answer their pleas. He had no confidence in the power and will of God.

So, when he hears Good News, he doubts the Giver of the News.

When he receives a Promise, he questions the One Who Promises.

When he is informed that prayers will be Answered, he scoffs the Answerer.

When he is handed Hope, he remains hopeless.

This man of God, who should have all the faith in the world has no faith at all.

How often do we pray for a miracle with little or no faith that it will be done. We pray for healing of our bodies. We pray for family harmony. We pray for a job, wisdom, peace, Hope. And yet we have no confidence that God will hear, much less act.

Is it any wonder that Zechariah spent the next 9-months unable to speak? Perhaps God didn’t want him demonstrating his doubt, speaking his skepticism, heralding his hesitation.

I suspect we would also do well to keep our mouths shut when we approach God with our requests. Our words and lives manifest our own mistrust on so many levels.


Dear God of Hope,

In the words of the man who’s son is healed by Jesus, “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”





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