“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.’…And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’ And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.’ ” ~ Luke 1:11-14, 18-20
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then 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 bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.’ Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.’ ” ~ Luke 1:26-38a
Two different accounts of visits by the angel Gabriel are found in Luke chapter 1. Both times he startled and scared the recipients of his “glad tidings”. Both times they wondered and questioned. When I read this chapter, I was curious why Zacharias suffered consequences for questioning and Mary did not. Because I question God sometimes, wondering about the disasters He allows into my life, and I am always hoping for grace like God gave Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3-4, as He patiently explained and reassured Moses, time and again. And I am always hoping that I have sense enough to stop questioning, and trust and obey before I anger God, which unfortunately Moses did not!
I read the study notes in my Bible, and then I consulted the commentaries of Pastor Chuck Smith and Matthew Henry. Because I want to be like Mary and not like Zacharias!
Pastor Chuck Smith: “It is interesting to me that we so often put such great emphasis upon our faith that God will do a certain thing. As though God is almost impotent apart from man’s faith, to operate, or to work. But here with Zacharias, the angel said, “Alright, you want a sign? You’re not going to be able to speak until the day the child is born, because you didn’t believe.”
The things that God is going to perform, whether you believe it or not, God is going to do it. Your unbelief will not stop the work of God. It will not hinder the purposes of God. And so many times they put heavy trips on us. You know, as though God’s work is totally responsible upon my hanging in there and believing, and I feel so guilty because maybe I failed God, and thus, people are lost, or whatever, because I failed God. No, God’s purposes shall stand, whether I believe it or not. You see, your believing or not believing doesn’t really hinder the work of God. He is going to do what He is going to do, in spite of us. And that’s sort of comforting, because I’d hate to think that God’s work depended on me and my faithfulness…
“…Now there is a vast difference between the question of Zacharias and the question of Mary. Zacharias was questioning the word of the Lord. Mary was only asking information on the procedures. “How is this to be, seeing I know not a man?” Hers was not the question of doubt. Hers was only an inquiring question as to the manner by which it should be fulfilled. She believed. And that is pointed out a little later as Elisabeth said, “Blessed art thou who hast believed the words that the Lord spoke to thee.”
She believed the word that the Lord spoke to her. However, she didn’t know by what process it was to be fulfilled, and that really was her question. “How is this going to be, seeing I am a virgin, I know not a man?” ”
Matthew Henry: “What his unbelief spoke, v. 18. He said to the angel, Whereby shall I know this? This was not a humble petition for the confirming of his faith, but a peevish objection against what was said to him as altogether incredible; as if he should say, “I can never be made to believe this.’ He could not but perceive that it was an angel that spoke to him; the message delivered, having reference to the Old-Testament prophecies, carried much of its own evidence along with it. There are many instances in the Old Testament of those that had children when they were old, yet he cannot believe that he shall have this child of promise: “For I am an old man, and my wife hath not only been all her days barren, but is now well stricken in years, and not likely ever to have children.’ Therefore he must have a sign given him, or he will not believe. Though the appearance of an angel, which had long been disused in the church, was sign enough,-though he had this notice given him in the temple, the place of God’s oracles, where he had reason to think no evil angel would be permitted to come,-though it was given him when he was praying, and burning incense,-and though a firm belief of that great principle of religion that God has an almighty power, and with him nothing is impossible, which we ought not only to know, but to teach others, was enough to silence all objections,-yet, considering his own body and his wife’s too much, unlike a son of Abraham, he staggered at the promise, Rom. 4:19, 20…
“…It is a just enquiry which she [Mary] makes: “How shall this be? v. 34. How can I now presently conceive a child’ (for so the angel meant) “when I know not a man; must it therefore be otherwise than by ordinary generation? If so, let me now how?’ She knew that the Messiah must be born of a virgin; and, if she must be his mother, she desires to know how. This was not the language of her distrust, or any doubt of what the angel said, but of a desire to be further instructed.”
And there you have it. It is given to us in a nutshell, in that last line of Henry’s quote above. “This was not the language of her distrust, or any doubt of what the angel said, but of a desire to be further instructed.” As Pastor Chuck said, “Hers was not the question of doubt. Hers was only an inquiring question as to the manner by which it should be fulfilled. She believed.”
This is a heart issue. It is okay to question, to wonder how or perhaps even why God is doing something. But when we doubt His word, when we question His truth, then we are heading into dangerous territory. (Hmm, my attitude about losing our water for days was not a good one.)
Luckily for Zacharias, the angel Gabriel gave to him only a temporary “sign”, and he regained his voice after the birth of John the Baptist, his son.
“Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.” ~ Luke 1:64
When God “puts me in my place”, may I learn my lesson quickly and use my mouth to praise Him!
(And Hallelujah, we have water again!)