The details of Christ’s birth are well-known, celebrated, acted out, and cherished, especially throughout the Advent season. But what about the events leading up to the Nativity? And what of one who came before Jesus, “unworthy to untie his sandals”? This lesson is a tale of two Zechariahs: first taking a peek back at the Messianic prophet of the Old Testament and then at the story of the speechless father of John the Baptist, Christ’s vanguard and announcer.
Lesson focus: God works in remarkable ways to make possible His will; the Bible points to Christ as center, and so should our lives
Passage: Zechariah 9:9-11 (and other passages in chapters 9 and 11); Luke 1:5-25 and 57-66 (and surrounding verses).
Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th Grade (adaptable older or younger)
Materials Needed: Note cards; dice; letter stickers and beads; card stock; coloring supplies; white boards and markers.
Bible Lesson: From Zechariah to Zechariah…Messages and Messiahs
Announcing…guess what? Start off with a game of “picto-charade…” Students will either be acting or drawing out things for others to guess. Have a stack of cards with things someone might want to announce (“I am getting married!” “We are going on vacation!” “Free ice cream!”)…one at a time, students will draw a card and try to get others to guess what is written on it. Roll a die to determine whether the student will be conveying the message through charades (even numbers) or Pictionary-style (odd numbers). As the actor/artist draws or mimes, other students in the group will try to guess what is being said.
Explain that today we will be looking at special announcements and predictions in the Bible. Remind them that the entire Bible ultimately points to Jesus, our Savior and reason for faith. The announcers we will see in this lesson were sent by God to prepare for the Messiah.
First, take a look back at an Old Testament prophet, Zechariah. If this messenger has already been discussed, give a brief re-cap. If students are not already familiar with him, explain that Zechariah was among many prophets used to let people know a Savior was on the way, and describe some signs to look for as to how that savior would appear. Many of those signs might be familiar as they are echoed in the Gospels…see if this one is recognizable:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
This image comes to fruition on Palm Sunday, as Jesus enters Jerusalem upon a donkey. But it is not just the Old Testament that prepares for Jesus…His own cousin came to make way for him—and had a pretty remarkable birth himself. This part of the lesson makes an interesting comparison between Jesus and John. With an older crowd, it might be helpful to set up a chart with “Jesus” and “John the Baptist” columns linking the two births. For younger (and older) students, have them help act out the events taking place.
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. 8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
Mary was young; Elizabeth was old. But both had angels letting them know of upcoming births and that the LORD was responsible. With John, there was an element of disbelief that rendered Zechariah the priest speechless…for nine months! (this is a fun part to act out) The birth announcement of Jesus and acceptance of Mary is good to bring in briefly at this point, especially in conjunction with her visit to Elizabeth. Follow up with John’s birth:
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Having babies is an exciting thing. These days making birth announcements is increasingly a production. Zechariah and Elizabeth did not have Facebook or gender reveal parties to celebrate. But they did trust God and knew He had special plans for their son. He was to communicate to others about Jesus. Well, our job is no different! We are called by God to love Him, serve Him, and tell others all about Him!
Nameplate decoration…names play an important part in today’s story. And names are important to us as people. They add to our identity and individuality. In celebration of that, have students decorate bookmarks and/or name plates with their names. The decoration could be as simple as large letters spelling out the name, or it might have an acrostic poem to go along with it. If materials are available, students could even make bracelets or necklaces with letter beads spelling out their names.
Close with prayer and reminder of God’s work in our lives. Thank Him for giving us Jesus and for giving our lives special meaning. Ask Him to help direct our paths and show what His purpose for us is.
For more lesson inspiration, try some of these related resources on our website:
- Bible Lesson: Zechariah prophecies about Jerusalem’s future glory
- Bible Lesson: John the Baptist’s Birth is Predicted
- Zechariah Bible Coloring Page
- Birth of Jesus Foretold to Mary: Christmas Bible Lesson
- Birth of John The Baptist: Christmas Lesson for Children