Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18a
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34
Studying Luke 1 last week and this week. Last week was Zechariah. This week is Mary. But the one constant character in both lessons is Gabriel, the angel. The other element common to both stories is the reactions to Gabriel. Both Mary and Zechariah asked the same question: “But, how?” But Gabriel’s response to that reaction was very different in each story.
Let’s not play word games here, and let’s not split hairs over how their reactions are actually different. If you were writing the story yourself and wanted their reactions to read the same way, you couldn’t write it any differently than Luke did. Their reactions to Gabriel were remarkably similar. Both of them asked the same question, showing the same concern for whether Gabriel really had all his facts straight. We can engage in all kinds of speculation about their respective hearts (i.e., perhaps Mary’s question was truly one of wonder, while Zechariah’s was one of doubt, etc.), but that is just speculation on our part. We cannot judge a person’s heart. No, in order to explain Gabriel’s very different response to each of them and their respective questions, we need not engage in questions of the heart. We can find a much easier critical distinction between Zechariah and Mary: Zechariah was a priest.
Zechariah was a Spiritual leader among God’s people and was doing a Spiritual thing in the most Spiritual of all places when Gabriel appeared. What kind of sad commentary is it that, upon entering the place where God abides, doing a thing God had commanded him to do, Zechariah seemed genuinely shocked to meet a messenger from God? While Mary certainly had no reason to expect a visit from God under her circumstances, Zechariah had plenty of reason to expect it. But not only was he not expecting it, he did not even recognize it when he saw/heard it. For a teenage girl to ask some questions when a messenger from God comes to her in circumstances such as Mary’s is no big deal. But when a church leader has been praying and begging to hear from God and then encounters a messenger from God in church, it just seems like bad form for that leader to ask for some ID, wouldn’t you say?
So it has made me wonder…
How often am I shocked and surprised when God answers one of my prayers? Seriously, when I pray “fervently” in the morning for some thing, am I really expecting to hear from God in response? More importantly, do I attend gathered worship or prayer meetings truly expecting to find God there? Do I greet Christian brothers and sisters looking them in the eye with a genuine expectation of seeing Christ there? Do I attend gathered meetings listening for the voice of God in my other brothers and sisters in Christ? I believe this story raises some important questions about our expectations as leaders in the church.
These are convicting questions for me. If Gabriel walked into my church service this week with a message from God, I want to be the kind of leader who says to everyone, “Listen up! This is a word straight from the Lord.” I want to recognize it immediately as my Shepherd’s voice. To me, that is what is required of us as leaders.
Furthermore, is it any wonder that Gabriel, upon seeing Zechariah’s doubt, concluded that Zechariah is NOT the right leader to be a spokesperson for God in this instance. Striking him dumb is exactly what God would want. Why would God want a leader whose faith and expectations are so very small to be out there telling this important message?
Here is my prayer for this Christmas season and beyond: “God, build my faith and teach me your ways so that I will recognize them when I see them and will know your voice when I hear it. And if I do not, then strike me dumb so as to protect your glorious name and your redemptive message from my doubting tongue.”
© Blake Coffee
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