The People Outside Praying
“And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” –Luke 1:10
Zechariah was an old man when his turn came as a priest to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense on the altar in front of the Most Holy Place. This command to keep the incense burning, in and of itself, was a big responsibility. But more to the point for Zechariah, it was a special blessing. Of all the men in his division, he was awarded the privilege of serving by “lots” (gambling). And the act of casting lots has great significance in the Bible.
But for some reason I’ve been thinking about what is happening outside just as much as what the angel is saying to Zechariah inside. Luke tells us that “all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.” And that little piece of information sparked my curiosity. Who were these people? Why were they waiting and praying outside?
Most of the commentaries I consulted agree that the occasion was most likely either the Sabbath or during some “high festival time.” But I like best what Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says:
“Knowing as we do from this Gospel, what hopes were cherished by devout hearts at this time, we may well believe that the prayers of the people, no less than those of the priest, turned towards the manifestation of the kingdom of God.”
In other words, after four hundred years of silence, these “outside” worshipers were faithfully waiting and praying for the redemption of Israel that God had promised. Among those in the crowd who were praying was most likely Simeon (Luke 2:25) who was “righteous and devout.” Scripture tells us, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” We probably can also assume that a woman named Anna was there. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37b).
These were just two of the people who perhaps caught a glimpse that day that something big was happening in the spirit realm; something that soon would come to be in the physical world as well. Their prayers had been heard. And seeing Zechariah after his experience, “They realized he had seen a vision in the temple…” (Luke 1:22). Some nine months later a son, John, was born—the one who would prepare the way of the Lord as foretold by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 40:3-5).
As we journey through this season of Advent, may we, too, prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. May our prayers be as fragrant incense before Him, and may our worship be pleasing in His sight as we watch and wait for His return. Amen!