Can you imagine what it would be like to be visited by an angel?
Would your heart be flooded with fear and doubt at this sudden revelation? It’s a common human response (Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:21-22; Daniel 8:15-18; 10:5-10; Luke 1:11-13; 2:8-10). Or would faith rise up like fragrant incense?
Luke records two angel visits prior to the birth of Christ. The angel Gabriel, who “stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19) was sent to Zacharias, a temple priest, and Mary, a young woman from an out-of-the-way town. Gabriel brought both of them messages of favor with God and both asked questions, yet the angel’s response to each was very different. Mary received commendation; Zacharias received a consequence.
Why the difference?
A casual reading of the text can leave us scratching our heads and wondering if it’s really okay to ask God questions. But the answers to our puzzle is there, right in Luke chapter 1. We simply need to slow down and read carefully, thoughtfully and contextually. When we do, we’ll discover the answers God wove right into the text.
Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth were to have a son in their old age who would bring them “joy and gladness…” The angel told Zacharias that their son would “be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:14-17
Mary was told to “Rejoice, highly favored one!.. 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 shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:28, 31-33.
Both Zacharias and Mary responded to Gabriel’s amazing announcement with questions. On the surface their questions seem almost identical:
Zacharias: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Luke 1:18
Mary: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:34
Gabriel graciously answered both Zacharias’ and Mary’ questions. Yet Zacharias was also made mute. See if you notice the reason in Gabriel’s answer.
To Zacharias: “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 1:19-20
To Mary: “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… For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:35,37
Did you catch the difference between Mary and Zacharias? It’s all about belief.
Mary asked how the angel’s prediction would come true. She had no doubt that what the angel said was truth, she just couldn’t comprehend how it could happen. Her’s was a question of wide-eyed wonder.
In contrast, Zacharias asked how he could know the angel’s prediction would come true. He didn’t think it was possible, so didn’t believe what Gabriel said. His’ was a question of close-minded disbelief.
It was about faith vs. doubt.
Trust vs. distrust.
Mary took God at His word. She simply accepted the angel’s life-changing prediction. She didn’t question how it could be done or worry about the effect it would have on her engagement to Joseph. Her faith grew to the challenge and she willingly surrendered her life to God’s plans. It was an attitude that made her “highly favored” and ready to be the mother of God’s Son.
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” Mary responded. “Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
A few days after Gabriel’s visit, Mary arrived at the home of Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s unborn child leaped for in her womb; “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” and testified to Mary’s faith in God.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!.. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Luke 1:41,42,45
The months of silence gave Zacharias time for deep reflection. His faith grew and when the promised baby was born and his voice was restored, his first words were full of faith in God and His promises of the coming Redeemer.
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets…” Luke 1:68-70
Three months later, Gabriel’s prediction to Mary also came true. “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
God’s Word came true for both Zacharias and Mary, for God’s Word always comes true. It’s the reason we can celebrate the birth of Christ at this special time of year.
Our Choice: Faith or Doubt
Friends, we too can rest our faith fully in the Word of God. It is just as powerful, just as life-changing, today as it was when Gabriel foretold the births of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
“Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” Proverbs 30:5
“Let us take the promise just as it reads. The Lord wants us to come unto Him with full assurance of faith, believing His Word, that He will do just as He said He would.” Ellen White, To Be Like Jesus, p. 283.
When we accept God’s promises to us in the Bible with Mary’s trusting faith, then the Holy Spirit will work a miracle in us too: “Christ formed in you.” Galatians 4:19 It is the miracle of Christ living in our hearts and transforming us into His likeness.
This is the “riches of the glory of this mystery… Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
God’s question comes home to us today: Will we, like Mary, accept His written Word in faith and surrender fully to Him? Or, like Zacharias, will we doubt God’s Word and lose the joy God has for us? What is your choice this Christmas?
“Blessed is she (or he) who believes, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her (or him) from the Lord.” Luke 1:45
Read the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1 & 2 several times. Think about the different characters in the story (Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, the priests, etc.) and how they responded to the birth of Christ. Was their’s a response of faith or doubt? What can you learn from each character? Which character are you most like?