God answers Zacharias’ prayer in a divinely appointed time (Luke 1:5-25).
Zacharias was given the once-in-a-lifetime job to offer incense in the Holy Place of the temple. The levitical priesthood had been organized into 48 groups or teams. Each group would serve for one week twice a year in addition to other special times such as Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc. The priests drew lots at different stages in the morning (4 lots total) to determine who would perform various functions. While a priest could draw one of several lots over again in his lifetime. The person who drew the lot to offer incense would not be allowed to draw it again until every other priest has done so. Since there were thousands of priests serving at the temple, no one ever got a second chance to draws this lot (the 3rd lot for the morning incense and also the additional lot for the evening incense). It was a once in a lifetime job.
Gabriel appears in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime prayer. With the lamb slain, the blood sprinkled on the four corners of the altar, and the candlestick and altar of incense in the Holy Place prepared, Zacharias enters with two aids. One aid carries burns coals of fig wood the other carries the special mixture of incense which can only be used in the temple. This special recipe was a closely guarded secret. After all, the incense offered here represented the prayers of the people ascending to God. Once the coals are carefully laid on the altar and the incense is arranged, the two aids depart the Holy Place. Zacharias is left alone to offer the incense at the proper signal and offer prayer for Israel while many outside gathered to pray as well. It seems that Gabriel appears once Zacarias lays the incense on the altar. The people would have more than wondered what was taking Zacharias so long to come out had he not offered the incense at the signal (see Luke 1:21). Specially chosen for the task at this time, he lays the incense on the altar and prays when, all of the sudden, Gabriel appears.
God’s message to Zacharias makes an wonderful point. Zacharias’ name means “Yahweh remembers.” Gabriel tells Zacharias that his prayer has been heard. Now it is important note that the Greek word used here for prayer is also used in the LXX but is really a translation from the Hebrew word Tehinnah which means prayer for favor and is actually related to the Hebrew name Yohanan or John. The Greek word also points to a specific prayer. It is not likely that Zacharias was praying for a son in his old age nor while he was supposed to be praying for Israel. This prayer was likely a prayer from long ago- one he may have forgotten or at least given up on. Now, Zacharias is told that he will have a son and he will call him John – meaning “Yahweh has been gracious.” Putting it all together, we could say God sends Gabriel to tell Zacharias (Yahweh remembers) “Your prayer (i.e. prayer for favor or specif request) has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John (Yahweh has been gracious).
Application: God never forgets your prayers. It might just be that it is awaiting the divine appointed time when His glory will shine brightest and you will see that that it is truly by His gracious hand. God is gracious.