Do you ever have trouble believing a promise of God or believing He will see you through a particular situation? Perhaps your circumstances seem impossible to bear right now, maybe impossible for even God to handle. Just because it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” does not mean the problems disappear. On the contrary, for many the holidays just intensify the hurts, despair, and those impossible circumstances. The good news is God delights in doing the impossible.
I would like to explore the lives of three people to demonstrate this truth. Note: You will find links to Biblegateway by moving your mouse under each Bible reference.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple who suffer from infertility, are promised a son. As I have said in a previous article, among the Hebrews of Biblical times having a child, especially a son, was HUGE to them. Even today, a childless couple may suffer a certain degree of shame and often a lack of understanding from others. For example: “When are you going to have kids?” “Don’t you want children?” “If you really want kids, you can take mine for a while.” or “Why don’t you adopt?” Okay, that may be a topic for another day. (In the meantime you might want to read this link: http://www.infertilitysurvivalguide.com/issues/chapter14.htm)
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story begins in Luke 1. This is a godly couple who had been unable to have children. Let me repeat, they are a GODLY couple. Zechariah is a priest whose division is serving in the temple at this time. It is their turn to perform the tasks required according to Jewish law, and “it happened he was chosen by lot to burn incense”. Just the fact that his division or clan is on duty was not a common occurrence. And for him to be chosen as the individual to burn incense did not happen every time they served. Notice people are praying outside as he minister, and an angel appears to Zechariah promising the priest a son. Zechariah questions the angel, not understanding how this could be. That seems to be understandable as he and his wife are well-advanced in years. Apparently the angel has a real problem with Zechariah’s attitude however. He introduces himself as Gabriel who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19, NIV). He tells the priest “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words…” (Luke 1:20, NIV). Notice this messenger from God had name picked out as well! Seems Zechariah should have taken the angel at his word. But still the “not speaking” thing seems a tad harsh. Perhaps.
Now let’s jump ahead a few verses to another individual whose life is about to be upended. She is betrothed to a man named Joseph, and as I’m sure you realize this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She also receives an angelic visit from Gabriel who tells her she has found favor with God and will bear a child and name him Jesus.
Take a moment now and notice the similarity between the two situations–Zechariah’s and Mary’s. First of all, an angelic visitor comes to both of them, and secondly, they both receive the promise of a baby when that seems impossible. Thirdly, both receive a name to give the child.
So how does Mary react? Is she perfectly fine with this? Nope. She is troubled by the angel’s greeting. And then *grimace* she questions Gabriel, asking how in the world she can have a child since she has not been intimate with a man. Whoa, wait a minute. She questions the angel? What is Gabriel about to do to her? Take away her speech too? If you’re reading along you see that Gabriel does not even reprimand her, AND he explains how this will happen. He then goes a step further, offering her encouragement as he relates the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He gives Mary an example of a miracle proving “nothing shall be impossible with God.”
So why the different treatment for these two individuals? Did the angel just not like Zechariah? I doubt it. Did Gabriel feel sorry for the young Mary, and was he just in a bad mood when he visited poor Zechariah? I don’t think that was it either. Was there some difference in the faith they displayed? Ah, maybe now we’ve got something. After all, that is the reason angel gives for Zechariah’s loss of speech.
So now let’s look at the differences in their stories. There are at least two that should be obvious. First of all, Mary was a woman, probably a very young woman barely of the age to have children. She was also, as she said, a virgin. Had a virgin ever been pregnant in all of Biblical history? While this had been predicted by the prophets, no, it had never happened. What about Zechariah’s circumstances? Was he in a better position to have children? Well, he was married. Did married couples have children? Uh, yeah. Did OLD married couples who were past the age of child-bearing ever have kids? Hmm. Might have to think about that one.
What about Abraham and Sarah as just as one example? (See Genesis 17 and 21) Both were well on in age, but they were promised a son, and while it was some time later, God delivered on His promise. Now think about this: did Zechariah know this Scripture? Well, let’s hope so. He had been a priest for many years and part of his education was to learn the books of the Hebrew Bible. He also knew about the doubts of both Abraham and Sarah and how the Lord proved faithful.
Maybe this explains the difference in the angelic response to their questions. But I certainly don’t have all the answers. Perhaps you can come up with some other reasons, and if so I would love to hear your thoughts.
One more thing: I love the part where Gabriel tells Mary she is “highly favored”. Is there any way that you and I can apply those words to us? Are you and I “favored” of God? To find an answer to that, I encourage you to read: Colossians 1 and 2 and Ephesians 1. Among the words and phrases used to describe Christ-followers are: reconciled to God; without blemish; having fullness in Christ; forgiven; triumphant; holy; dearly beloved; redeemed, and much more. In the Holman Christian Standard Version of Ephesians 1:5 you also find that He adopted us “according to His favor” and in verse 6 He “favored” us with His grace.