Friday, March 2, 2012


Luke 1:18, “And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this for certain?”

Luke 1:34, And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be…?”

When God ended His centuries old silence to His people He did so in dramatic fashion. He sent the angel Gabriel—who had previously spoke to the prophet Daniel of God’s plan for the ages (Daniel chapter nine)—to speak of miraculous things. Zacharias and Mary had both found favor with God (Luke 1:6 & 1:28), but were otherwise quite different. Zacharias was an old and childless priest. Mary was a young and engaged virgin.

Gabriel spoke to both--to Zacharias in the temple, to Mary in Nazareth--of the miraculous intervention of God on their behalf. Elizabeth, Zachariah’s elderly wife, was to bear a son. Mary, the virgin, was to bear a child too. Both responded to the angel’s announcement with a question. “Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’” (Luke 1:18). “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’” (Luke 1:34).

Zacharias question was met with dramatic consequences. Mary’s was not. Zacharias was made silent for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy: “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words” (Luke 1:20). Coming out of the temple “he was unable to speak to them…and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute” (Luke 1:22). The exile of his tongue remained in effect until his son’s birth. On that day a discussion arose regarding what was to be the new born’s name. Zacharias “asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, ‘His name is John.’” (Luke 1:63). “And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God” (Luke 1:64). Later, filled with the Spirit, Zacharias blessed God in a prophetic song of praise (Luke 1:69-79).

But Mary’s question to Gabriel did not lead to any similar repercussions. How are we to account for this? Zacharias’ question reflected unbelief in God’s word to him, Mary’s did not. Mary was confident to God’s ability to do that which Gabriel had declared, she did not question THAT God could do what He promised, she wondered HOW. She believed, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Zacharias question reflected an element of unbelief: “How shall I know this for certain” (Luke 1:18). The announcement of the God-sent angel was not enough, he wanted further evidence. The evidence would come, God would fulfill His plan, but his unbelief worked to bind his tongue until its fulfillment.

As J. C. Ryle rightly notes, unbelief is a grievous sin bearing grave consequences: “A well-instructed Jew, like Zachariah, ought not to have raised such a question. No doubt he was well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. He ought to have remembered the wonderful births of Isaac, and Samson, and Samuel in old times. He ought to have remembered that what God has done once, He can do again, and that with Him nothing is impossible. But he forgot all this. He thought of nothing but the arguments of mere human reason and sense. And it often happens in religious matters, that where reason begins, faith ends. Let us learn in wisdom from the fault of Zachariah. It is a fault to which God's people in every age have been sadly liable. The histories of Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses, and Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, will all show us that a true believer may sometimes be overtaken by unbelief. It is one of the first corruptions which came into man's heart in the day of the fall, when Eve believed the devil rather than God. It is one of the most deep-rooted sins by which a saint is plagued, and from which he is never entirely freed until he dies. Let us pray daily, "Lord increase my faith." Let us not doubt that when God says a thing, that thing shall be fulfilled.”

It is ever and always a good thing to take God at His Word. It is as we do that we fully enjoy the fulfillment of His promises and are freed to openly declare His praise. Unbelief binds our tongues and leaves us speechless. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Let us meet today’s’ challenges with this kind of faith in our great God and His sure Word.

Pastor Jerry

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