So how would you react if you met an angel? You're on your way into church, preparing to worship, and you encounter an angel. Zechariah was scared stiff by his encounter with this angel, and struck dumb by his unbelief, but in this story there are many things for us to learn, and I want to think with you about five things we learn in this great passage.

I. The Angel's Announcement Is That God Is Preparing To Fulfill His Promises

Dr. Luke tells us that he recorded these stories in consecutive order based on his careful historical research in which he interviewed eye-witnesses. When he records the story about the angel, he knows full well that this is not something that happens every day. When angels appeared, they appeared for very important unique purposes in the unfolding of God's plan.

And now this angel who has met him and scared him witless has said to him, "Zechariah, I am Gabriel. And the last human being that I spoke to was Daniel, and I told Daniel that God was sending His Son into this world. And I'm telling you, Zechariah, He is sending His Son into the world, and your son John is going to be His forerunner." This is a special announcement about the plan of God for redemption.

II. Zechariah's Response Manifests The Fear of God

And that leads me to the second thing that I want to say, because Zechariah's response is one in which he manifests the fear of God. When \believers encounter God (some manifestation of God), or when believers encounter a divine messenger (an angel or some other supernatural being) manifesting the presence of God, regularly those people report two responses: one, a sense of the grandeur of God; two, a sense of their own sinfulness.

Why is it that Zechariah fears when he encounters this angel? Because when we come into contact, when we come into the presence of God or of His messengers, we're made to sense something of His greatness and something of our sin. And I want to ask you this: Is that a part of your experience in the Christian life and the worship of God? I don't mean every Sunday, but have there been times when in your Christian experience under the ministry of God's word you have been so brought into God's presence that you tremble at His greatness? That you recognize your sin and its deserving of judgment? And so His grace to you is magnified in such a way that that very encounter with God is written down on your heart and you can never forget it?

That's why Zechariah trembled. That's the fear of God, and the Old Testament rightly says that it is the very beginning of knowledge and wisdom.

III. Prayers Are Not Rejected Just Because God's Answers Are Delayed

But there's something else we learn in this passage. We learn something about prayer.

Isn't it a beautiful phrase that the angel says in response to Zechariah's trembling in verse 13? Now I don't know how many times that Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed for a child. They were old; it might have been a while. They may well have given up on that prayer a while ago. And in quelling Zechariah's fear, the angel has this to say: "Zechariah, don't be afraid. Your prayers have been heard." Here's what we learn about prayer: your prayers are not rejected just because God's answers are delayed.

You may also have some of your own hopeless prayers. And you may think that your prayer is rejected, when in fact God has simply delayed His answer. I love the phrase: "He may not come when you want Him, but He's always on time." That's the message of the angel to Zechariah. Just because the answer of the Lord has been delayed, do not think that your prayers have been rejected.

IV. True Greatness Is Greatness In The Lord's Estimation

But there's a fourth thing that I want you to see here, and that is a word of the angel to Zechariah about Zechariah's son John. Look at what we're told in verse 15: "He will be great before the Lord."

Now the fact of the matter is there were many people in John's own time who knew him and who saw his ministry who thought that John was crazy and dangerous. He ate weird food, and he dressed funny, and he ruffled lots of feathers. The Lord's estimation of John was that he was great. In fact, God's own Son, Jesus Christ, would say of this John, "There has never been one born among women greater than he."

John was accounted by no one as great, except the Lord Jesus Christ, and that was the only one who mattered. Herod will be forgotten on the Last Day; John will not. True greatness is greatness in the Lord's estimation. Is that an important message for you? What your peers think of you is not nearly so important as what the Lord thinks of you. It is the Lord's estimation that matters. True greatness is greatness in the Lord's estimation.