While reading Luke chapter one, the juxtaposition of two incidents involving visits from the angel Gabriel stood out to me.
Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. Both were upright before the Lord (v. 6). One day while Zechariah was in the temple of the Lord, Gabriel appeared and announced Zechariah’s prayers had been heard. His barren, aging wife would have a son who would be named John (v. 13). John would prepare the way for the Lord (v.17).
Zechariah asked Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this?”
He expressed doubt, and because of it, Gabriel told him he would not speak until the day the events happened (v. 20).
A few verses later, Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her because she had found favor with God, she would give birth to Jesus (v. 30-31). Though Mary asked how it was to be since she was a virgin (v.34), she wasn’t expressing doubt. She was probably bewildered because of the angel’s unexpected announcement.
In spite of the surprise, Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
I think God led Luke to place the two stories side by side so we could see the contrast in Zechariah and Mary’s reactions and learn from them.
After years of asking God for a child, maybe Zechariah had stopped hoping because it was too painful, and the fear of disappointment was too great. Perhaps cynicism had crept into his life. So, when he learned his prayer would be answered, he voiced his doubt and lost his voice. Though God disciplined him, it didn’t change what he planned to do. Months later when Zechariah regained his ability to speak, he praised God (v. 64).
Mary received unexpected news, believed the Lord, and was blessed because of it. In verse 45, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Mary humbly acknowledged God’s ability to do what seemed impossible according to human reason and set an example for us of how to respond in faith.
What has the Lord told you he wants to accomplish in your life? Is it something you’ve prayed about for many years? Is it connected to a desire so deep that the fear of being disappointed causes you to doubt?
Whatever the case, remember the juxtaposition of Zechariah and Mary’s stories. Zechariah’s doubt-filled response may be understandable and natural, but it was Mary’s faith-filled reaction that was blessed.