Zechariah and Mary

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News of birth in Luke 1 to two unexpected people. Zechariah, a law-abiding, married old man and temple priest. Mary, a young and obscure single woman.

  • Both are visited by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19; 1:26-27)
  • Both are promised the miraculous birth of a son (Luke 1:13; 1:31)
  • Both are equally unfit to have a child: Zechariah’s wife is barren, and Mary is a virgin (Luke 1:7; Luke 1:27)
  • Both respond with equal perplexity—”How?” (Luke 1:18; 1:34)

Zechariah’s “how?” brings the inability to speak. Mary’s “how?” results in a song of humble praise recorded for all history (The Magnificat).

Both Zechariah and Mary were shocked with the visit from Gabriel. Both were stunned to hear the news of a birth. Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth is well beyond her child bearing years. And Mary, well, you know the story. How can a virgin give birth to a child?

They both ask “How?” How can it be? How is that supposed to happen?

Zechariah’s question seems to be an innocent, even expected one. However, Gabriel and later Elizabeth, point out that his question lacked the element of faith that Mary’s “how?” contained.

Mary’s “how can this be?” arises from faith, asking how God would work.

Zechariah’s “how can this be?” is driven by doubt and is actually bringing into question the truth of such a claim.

Verse 20, Gabriel responds, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

Elizabeth later on, speaking of Mary says, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (1:45).

Zechariah, of all people (a temple priest, steeped in the Law, privy to the promises and prophecies of God) should have received this news with faith. Instead, he was looking for a sign (“how can I be sure of this”), as if a visit from an angel who spoke for God wasn’t enough of a sign.

Of course, the good news is not hindered or thrown off track by the moment of doubt. The “good news” will come to fulfillment in spite of human unbelief. God’s promises (and their fulfillment) are not dependent on us.

Pilgrims, when we are honest, have these moments. Abraham, Gideon, John the Baptist, Martha, Thomas, the early church. Canaan still came, Midian still fell, Lazarus walked out, Peter showed up at the door.

God’s power is always greater than our faith. He is always faithful, even when we lapse. His promises depend on Him being who He is.

Lord, with the unknown before me, I stand thankful that your plan moving ahead is in your hands and depends on your goodness, power, love, and endless mercy! Thank you that you are faithful, and your lovingkindness endures forever!

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