Meditations on Luke
“Zachariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:18-20, NIV
Zachariah as we find out, does not believe the Angel of the Lord. He questions him, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” I love how the angel of the Lord answers Zachariah. He addresses Zachariah’s disbelief by giving a resume’ of sorts. Notice, how the angel first gives Zachariah his name followed by his qualifications and references. “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” Wow, what an impressive work reference!
It almost would be like you interviewing someone for a position, and they said, “I’m the Secretary of State and I work for the President.” What else can be said? This person like our Gabriel works for the highest authority in the land. Surely, this indicates a certain level of trustworthiness, ability, and competence. Notice also that Gabriel says, “I stand in the presence of God.” What fascinates me about this word “stand” is how it refers to an upright, firm-footed, confidant stance. To stand in the presence of God infers holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness. In other words, Gabriel is telling Zachariah, “I can be trusted because of who I am, who sent me, and what I do.”
Gabriel is also telling Zachariah that his word can be trusted because of it’s content.
“…I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news.” Clearly, Gabriel attests that his words are not one of calamity but of good news. Also notice the double meaning referenced here. “Good News” of course refers to Zachariah’s new parent status. But it likewise points to the gospel of Christ which is also referred to as the “Good News.”
Gabriel speaks directly to Zachariah’s disbelief. “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words…” In short, because of his disbelief, Zachariah has been made mute. Wow, at first, I thought this was very harsh for the angel to silence Zachariah. Afterall, what would my own reaction have been to see a heavenly host suddenly standing before me? I can imagine shock, awe, incredibility, and even fear. What about you?
But I wonder if there something else we need to consider behind Zachariah’s response. I think if we place his unbelief within the context of previous encounters between the Angel of the Lord and man, we might gain greater understanding. When the Angel of the Lord called out to Abraham to stop the sacrifice of his son, Abraham’s response was, “here I am.” Also recall during the infamous burning bush, Moses fell on his face and immediately obeyed when the Angel of the Lord told him to remove his sandals. Even Balaam did not respond with unbelief when the Angel of the Lord opened his eyes. “I have sinned…” was his response when he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the middle of the road.
Interestingly, when the Angel of the Lord answered Sampson’s parents’ prayer for children, they believed and made a sacrifice. Specifically, Sampson’s father, Manoah, asked the Angel of the Lord, “when this is fulfilled, what are the rules to govern the boy’s life?” An Angel of the Lord also appeared to Gideon. What is interesting about this exchange between Gideon and the Angel of the Lord, is that Gideon also questioned. However, I wonder if his questioning came from a place of incredulity, curiosity, and inadequacy rather than bold unbelief. Regardless, Gideon ultimately made a sacrifice and eventually stepped out in obedience.
In all these examples, although fear, awe, and reverence all characterized their responses, unbelief did not. Instead, we see belief, obedience, repentance, sacrifice, and submission. From this perspective, Zachariah’s unbelief would have been a true affront to the Lord.
We should also remember that an angel is telling Zachariah his prayers were being answered. If we were told that a prayer for which we had been praying in great earnest for many years was being answered, should not our response be one of praise? I am sure many of you like me, know sweet couples, who are trying to have children but have not been able. There is such heartache, such deep desiring for a child accompanied by prayer and pleading out to the Lord. Surely Zachariah and Elizabeth had similar cries and pleas to the Lord from their heartache. So, in many ways when our reaction to an answered prayer is disbelief rather than one of praise, it is an affront to the Lord. Afterall, when Jesus healed the sick, how many times did He say, “because you have believed or because of your faith, you have been healed?” And here Zachariah is not responding with praise, belief, or faith but disbelief, doubt and questions. So, when God answers our prayers with a yes, we should learn from Zachariah’s example to not question, not doubt, but simply give praise to the Lord, worship Him, and believe.
Let us also remember that Zachariah is standing in the Holy Place of the temple. Perhaps another reason behind the angel silencing Zachariah for his disbelief is that of all places where one should be reminded of God’s faithfulness, power, and might, would it not be in the temple of the Lord? In the Holy Place? Of all the places Zachariah should have submitted to a posture of belief and trust, should his belief in miracles not been more magnified in this sacred space performing this sacred duty?
It is interesting the angel of the Lord chose silence as Zachariah’s consequence for unbelief. Why silence? After a little research, several thoughts come to mind. First, a heart of unbelief does not testify or bear witness to God’s miraculous deeds. Although actions and behaviors can be used to testify, words and speech are also necessary. Perhaps, Gabriel made Zachariah mute because his initial words testified of unbelief and not belief. The theologian, Matthew Henry, wrote that Zachariah’s unbelief was silenced. How true this is! Zachariah’s disbelief was literally silenced with his muteness. But it was also figuratively silenced when his unbelief turned to belief.
God also uses silence to bring about more intimate communion with Him. “Be still and know that I am God,” we read in the Psalms. We see similar themes of God using times of quiet to draw His people near throughout the Bible. We even see it reflected in Jesus’s ministry. Jesus constantly withdrew and stole away from the crowds to pray. Perhaps God, wanted Zachariah to use the next nine (almost ten!) months for thoughtful meditation, reflection, and prayer to foster a posture of belief, praise, and worship. Perhaps, He wanted Zachariah to fully grasp the significance of what was unfolding before Him. Afterall, how mind boggling would it be to realize that God is using you as a part in the greatest fulfillment in prophecy of all time?
Regardless of the reason why the Angel of the Lord chose silence as the consequence, we need to remember, God can see what is really going on in Zachariah’s heart. God can see any hidden or unsaid emotion or thought in all of us. For God to have addressed the unbelief which Zachariah held in his heart, it must have been most strongly present. The angel did not say because you had little faith, because you did not fully believe. NO, the angel said, “because you do not believe.” This meant that Zachariah in his heart of hearts truly did not believe Gabriel’s words.
The other point we need to remember is that Zachariah was a priest. As such, he of all people knew well the story of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, who could not conceive, bore a son at age 99, well beyond child-bearing years. Surely, Zachariah’s knowledge of this ancient story should have given him some basis of belief in Gabriel’s fantastic news. But, it did not.
So, let us not be hard on Gabriel for silencing Zachariah. For even as Gabriel pronounces judgement over Zachariah, it is accompanied by mercy and grace. How? In the same breath which silences Zachariah for his unbelief, the Angel of the Lord still delivers the news of the Lord granting the priest’s prayer. In other words, God is still allowing Elizabeth’s pregnancy despite her husband’s lack of faith. How like God to allow grace to accompany judgement. Often God chastens us that we may be kept from the full wages of sin. Like a father disciplining a child, God disciplines us to protect us from harm and so that it might go well for us.
Oh, dear friends in the Lord, my prayer for you is that when the Lord speaks to Your heart through the Holy Spirit or reveals something to you, believe it. Let us not be doubters or disbelievers. There is blessing in stepping out in faith with where HE is telling us to go and what He is telling us to do. Let us not miss out on it. Remember, God can grow faith as small as a mustard seed. Oh, sweet brothers and sisters, believe His still, soft voice and step out in faith that we may receive God’s abundant blessings.
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