As we read this portion of Luke chapter 1 today, think about Zechariah’s reply as it compares to Mary the mother of Jesus. We will see her response in vs 34.
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
The angel Gabriel plays a big role in this chapter as this is his second appearance in chapter 1. The first occurrence was with Zechariah when he came into the temple and announced the coming birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth. Gabriel comes straight from the throne of God Almighty Himself as we see in verse 26: “the angel Gabriel was sent from God”, but also in how Gabriel responds to Mary in vs 19: “And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.'”
We find Mary’s response to Gabriel to be much different than Zechariah’s reply. Mary’s initial reaction seems to be fear and she was also troubled or confused. Wouldn’t any of us be confused if an angel appeared out of nowhere? Check it out:
29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Mary asks “How will this be?” in verse 34. Compare that to Zechariah’s reply of doubt. He asks “how can I be sure what you’re saying is true?” back in verse 18: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
As further evidence that Mary’s answer was of faith and Zechariah’s was one of doubt, we saw that at Gabriel’s word Zechariah was left mute. He couldn’t speak until after John was born. I love Gabriel’s reply of assurance to Mary in verse 37 below.
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
As believers, we tend to doubt God don’t we? We wonder if He can really do a medical miracle of healing, or we doubt that God can create the universe in 6 days. Why do you think we doubt God? I believe it’s because He doesn’t always do what we want Him to do. When we don’t see Him perform what we ask, then we doubt that He can.
But we know that’s not the way God works. God doesn’t give us every single thing we ask for. If He did, He would be doing no better than the parent that spoils their child. If we believe that God knows all, then we can believe that he knows what is best for us. We can also know for absolutely certain that He can do anything.
Jesus says so Himself:
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
~ Matthew 19:26
And the prophet Jeremiah tells us the same:
‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
~ Jeremiah 32:17
Mary had faith and Zechariah doubted. In this one chapter, Luke provides us this great contrast that we can all learn from. God shows us throughout His word that He is able to do absolutely anything. God saved Daniel and his friends because they had faith that He could. Victory was given to Gideon as He trusted God. Every time we have a challenge, we can choose to believe or we can choose not to believe. Faith is a choice we make every day. Even when we have doubt in our hearts, we can still choose to believe. I love the story of faith in the Gospel of Mark when the loving dad brings His boy to Jesus seeking healing and deliverance from a demon:
17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute.
18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”
20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.
21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood.
22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.”
27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
~ Mark 9:17-27
The father’s reply to Jesus is one I have quoted back to God many, many times. “I believe, help my unbelief!” God loves it when we affirm that we believe but still ask for help from God to get rid of any doubts. Imagine how different this story would be if Zechariah’s reply to God from Gabriel’s message had been “I believe, help my unbelief”. When we ask God for help dispelling our unbelief, we are affirming that we believe He can do it!
At the end of Gabriel’s visit to Mary, she responds in complete faith that He can do it, and in total trust that God’s will is best:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Wow, what faith this young girl had! She affirms that she is God’s servant, and then confirms that she wants God’s will over her own. God knew what He was doing to choose a young woman of incredible faith to raise Him up in complete faith that he is the Son of God.
Now, to tie this all back together with Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the birth of John the Baptist:
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,
40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,
42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth affirms that Mary is in fact carrying the Messiah. She knows this only by God’s Holy Spirit and speaks it out in complete faith.
Again, in total faith, Mary responds in praise and worship to God Almighty:
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
(Lord, I do believe that you can do anything through me to reach this world for Jesus. Please help my own unbelief. I am your servant. Do with me and through me whatever you choose.)