The stories of Zechariah and Mary teach us the importance of faith. Zechariah doubted God’s word when Gabriel promised him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and give birth to a son. They had prayed for years that God would give them a child. Yet, in that glorious moment when God told Zechariah that his prayers would be answered, Zechariah succumbed to doubt and asked Gabriel how he could be “sure” of God’s promise. (Luke 1:18). One would think that if God’s word were not evidence enough, certainly the means by which it was delivered should have sufficed. How could Zechariah doubt a promise of God that was declared to him by an angelic messenger who stood “in the presence of God”? (Luke 1:19).
We often think that if we had a supernatural encounter with the Lord, it would be easier for us to believe in Him or to believe a promise He has made to us. Zechariah’s story, however, proves otherwise! Scripture says that he was “righteous in the sight of God.” (Luke 1:9). But even an angelic encounter was not enough to overcome Zechariah’s doubt -- a doubt that likely had grown like a weed in his soul each day his prayers had gone unanswered, and slowly had begun to strangle his faith.
In response to Zechariah’s doubt, God silenced him, rendering him mute until John’s birth. At first blush, this might seem like a pretty harsh form of discipline. But God was doing more than disciplining Zechariah, He was protecting him. Silencing Zechariah for the next nine months shielded him from further dishonoring God with his lips by continuing to question the reliability and veracity of His promise. Even after Elizabeth conceived, it is possible that Zechariah continued to struggle with doubt, wondering if his aged wife could carry the child full-term.
In short, Zechariah’s discipline was a reflection of God’s love and mercy! It also teaches us, however, that when God makes a promise to us, He wants us to speak and respond in faith, not in doubt, as Mary did. When Gabriel visited Mary, she did not question if God would do what He had promised; she simply asked how He would. It was a question born of a reverent curiosity and a holy wonder (“How will this be[?]”), Luke 1:34). In many ways, God’s promise to Mary was harder to believe than His promise to Zechariah. At least God’s promise to Zechariah had precedent in Scripture (e.g., Abraham and Sarah). Never before, however, had a virgin conceived, much less given birth to the Son of God!
Mary’s response to God’s promise was three-fold. First, she believed it. Second, she received and embraced it -- she submitted her will to the Lord’s, aligning her heart to desire for herself what God desired for her. And, finally, she worshipped the Lord and gave thanks to Him for His promise, an outward sign and overflow of her inward work of believing:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” . . .
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (Luke 1:38, 46-48. See also John 6:29).
When Zechariah’s son was born, he followed Mary’s example. He believed and embraced God’s promise, and worshipped Him for it: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel . . ..” (Luke 1:64, 68). The difference, however, is that Zechariah believed God after the fact, while Mary believed Him even before the promise was fulfilled. Her faith expressed itself in a “confidence” of what she hoped for, and in an “assurance” of what she did not see. (Hebrews 11:1).
May we respond as Mary did, when the Lord makes a promise to us: May we believe His word; may we receive and embrace His word; and may we thank and praise Him for His word.
God fulfilled the seemingly impossible promises He made to Zechariah and Mary, and He will do the same for you and me. “For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37). Between the declaration of the promise and its fulfillment, however, we must together do the hard work of believing and declaring that which is not as though it were!
Heavenly Father, I pray that you would encourage us, reminding us of the promises You have made to us and that not a single word You have spoken to us will ever fail. May Your promises no longer overwhelm us with a bitter disappointment and cynicism that is fueled by doubt. Instead, may Your promises fill us with a joyous anticipation, an unshakeable hope, and an unwavering assurance that is sustained by our faith in You. Amen.