He was the first person to hear a divine word in over 400 years. He saw an angel while in the temple of the LORD. He was a priest who was well versed in the prophecies of old and miracles from ancient times. Yet despite all these things, he disbelieved Gabriel’s message and became mute for over nine months.
This is Zechariah’s testimony; his story. So let’s discover why Gabriel delivered such a harsh punishment for Zechariah’s unbelief and see what lessons we can gain from Zechariah’s story.
The angel Gabriel delivers his God-given message, and Zechariah answers with a question. Sound familiar? It should. This is similar to what happens later when Gabriel appears to a young girl living in Nazareth. Mary also answered Gabriel’s message with a question, but she received a very different response than Zechariah.
So this advent season I’ve been pondering the why. Why did Zechariah’s question render anger from Gabriel and a strict judgment while Mary’s did not? Both Zechariah and Mary’s questions deal with the improbability of bearing a son. So what is the difference? They both seem to ask similar questions.
Well, let’s take a look at what Zechariah asks the angel and see if we can find the answers to our questions.
“And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this?
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’”
The word know used here literally means “be aware of, feel, have knowledge, perceive, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.” Zechariah wasn’t asking how God was going to perform this miracle, but rather how he was going to know and understand this unbelievable news. His focus was not on God and His plan. Instead, he was selfishly wondering how he was going to figure this out.
Contrast this with Mary’s response to Gabriel:
“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’”
Mary wasn’t questioning Gabriel’s message nor did she ask for a sign of confirmation. She was merely asking how the impossible was going to happen since she was a virgin. She already believed the angel’s message and was simply trying to find out more details on how this was to come about.
Zechariah on the other hand wanted a sign or revelation of some sort to validate the Gabriel’s message. As if seeing an angel in the Holy Place of the temple is not a big enough sign! But he had doubts and questions that he wanted confirmed before moving forward. However, God doesn’t work that way. When God asks someone to do something or gives them a task, He expects faith and trust and immediate obedience. For example, Mary, after hearing how she would become pregnant with the Son of God, humbly stepped out in faith and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Now the question for us is…who are we going to be like? When God asks us to do something, will we step out in faith and trust Him to support us or will we doubt and seek further confirmation to quell our selfish doubts? Will we be a Zechariah or Mary?
Remember how terrifying Gabriel’s appearance would have been, so Zechariah had some nerve to question the divine messenger. May we not follow in his footsteps! But may our response to God’s call always be Mary’s humble statement of faith:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”
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