Such a contrast in two encounters with the angel Gabriel are found in Luke 1. First there was Zacharias. Now Zacharias was a priest and it was his turn to serve in the temple. While he was alone in the temple an angel of the Lord appeared to him with great news. Apparently, he had been praying for a child as he and his wife remained childless. Now here is Gabriel coming to him to share the news that his prayers have been heard and his wife Elizabeth will have a son. A son they shall name John.
“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
What amazing news! But this is Zacharias’ response:
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
Let’s think for a moment about that. Has God ever done anything like it before? Well, yes He has, and as a matter of fact it is in our reading for today in Hebrews 11:11.
"By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised."
And yet here we have Zacharias, in a similar situation as far as age goes, and he basically asks: How will I know God will actually do this? He was just told by an angel of the Lord what God is about to do and he does not believe. We know this is a question of unbelief because of how God responds-Zacharias will be unable to speak until his son is born-the son he has been promised by the Lord God Himself.
“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, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Next we have Mary. Just like Zacharias, she receives a visit from the angel Gabriel with amazing news.
And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
On the surface, Mary’s response sounds quite similar to Zacharias’:
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
But there is a significant difference in the two questions. Mary does not doubt what God has said, but rather wonders how it will happen. While there have been incidents in Israel’s past of women giving birth “past their time” this is a first-a virgin birth. So Gabriel goes on to answer her question of what is going to take place and concludes with this very important line we all need to remember: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And how does Mary respond to this pronouncement? The way I hope I always respond to God
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
The contrast between these two people is in what they believed about the God whom they served. The impossible is possible because of who God is-Mary believed this with all of her heart. Zacharias sadly did not-but God still did the impossible through him, and He gave a sign to Zacharias (his inability to talk) that He was the Almighty God. Perhaps this was God’s way of helping Zacharias’ unbelief.
Grace, Peace, and Mercy,