Good news is usually well received, although sometimes, as it was with Mary and Zechariah, it can sometimes be overridden by the shock of the news, or the fact that sometimes, good news doesn’t always sound so good when we first hear it…
Christmastime is all about good news of Jesus being born, how He was born to die for our sins to save us, but we should think about how people living at the time received this news.
A virgin conceiving, an old couple being granted a son.
It was all very unbelievable, and all very real for those personally involved. We have the benefit of hindsight, whereas those living it were very human in their understanding and reactions…
Think of Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth. None of them knew this was coming, at their reactions to it all tell us just how real it was. From unbelief, to faith, from praising and blessing to feeling betrayed.
All of the people involved had their lives changed in ways they would have never imagined.
News like that happens to us at certain moments in life. How we deal with those moments will reveal just how much we trust God, or how much we trust in our own wisdom when we come up against things that take us by surprise.
The appearance of any angel would be enough to scare you out of your wits.
Seeing angels is one thing, being told by one that you were going to have a child in very unexpected circumstances is another.
Gabriel comes to both Zechariah and Mary with a very similar message.
A child would be born to them, miraculously. Both would have a son.
There are many parallels in their stories…
Zechariah was found by Gabriel in the temple, doing his duty as a priest.( 1:5-14).
He had a very prominent and important role in Israel. Having the responsibility of being a priest before God was one of significance, and he served faithfully and very, very publicly.
Mary, on the other hand, was in her own words, “ A simple handmaid”. ( 1: 26-33)
She was a young Jewish girl, living in a small town in one of the most despised regions of Israel. She was betrothed to a man named Joseph and she was living a very secluded, normal, private life. But she too, had been chosen by God to receive a very special blessing.
Both instances pronounce a supernatural birth was about to take place.
Elizabeth was barren.
Mary was a virgin.
Both would have sons.
The reasons for their son’s births were also given by Gabriel.
John the Baptist was to prepare the people for receiving the Messiah. ( 1: 14-17)
Jesus’ birth was of course the throne of David could be established forever, with an eternal King, the Son of God. ( 1:32-33)
Both announcements certainly came as a surprise to Mary and Zechariah, but they both responded very differently…
II. The Responses…
What would you do if you met an angel and your were given news that would change your life?
Often we think of angels like God’s little genies that He sends out to do errands and grant wishes, but Gabriel was no fluffy little baby, fluttering about with dainty wings and he has far more going for him than just a great singing voice…
Gabriel was God’s chosen announcer. He was mighty, powerful and clearly has an authority that shouldn’t be tested. He comes from God, and he brings truth.
Both were afraid and needed reassurance from Gabriel that there was nothing to fear. ( 1:12,29-30).
Zechariah’s response is very natural. ( 1: 18).
He is old, his wife is old. These things don’t happen. How can he know this is true?
Mary had a similar thought. (1:34)
She is a virgin. These things don’’t happen. How will it happen?
Very similar questions at face value, but vastly different hearts behind them.
Zechariah asked, “How shall I know this?”.
Mary asked, “How will it happen?”
One is a question of open doubt in the face of a clear announcement, direct from God.
Zechariah openly doubts what God has said. He doubts that God can intervene in human affairs to decree His Sovereign and Eternal plan. He thinks God is limited to the same time and space as we are.
The other question,Mary’s – is not of doubting the supernatural possibility, but of wondering how it could possibly happen to her, a virgin. It was a moral issue for her. Was this child to be conceived by a man, when we she was not married? She knew that would not be God’s Will. Was is to be conceived when she married Joseph? That would be in God’s Will, and she and Joseph would later have children together, but there would be no special reason for this angelic announcement unless there was something God – appointed and supernatural happening.
She asked how because she needed to know.
Zechariah asked how because he didn’t think God could do it.
– this was an answered prayer, but he didn’t believe in his own prayer. ( v.13)
How often have we prayed, but all the while thinking God is limited in His power has no interest in our problems?
Zechariah had prayed for a child, but maybe after many years, had given up on God coming through. He no longer prayed in faith, he prayed on only because it was habit or to keep up appearances…
– Gabriel was not enough ( v. 18)
The problem when we become so jaded by life, or disgruntled with God for not coming through when and how we wanted Him to, is that when God does answer us, and intervenes in our life, we can miss it.
We want spectacular. We want miraculous, and then God sends us a message, but His Word is not enough. We want an experience over revelation. We want signs and fleeces and writing in the sky, when our answer is staring us in the face.
For Zechariah, Gabriel was not enough, and that says something for his prayer life and his faith.
Gabriel’s response was clear, precise, and authoritative. (1:19,20). Zechariah paid a price for speaking his mind. He lost his voice.
How many direct messages from God do we miss in our apathy and pride, or need for self-fulfilling prophecies, our attempts to be the answer to our own prayers?
We don’t give attention to the Word of God we should, mostly because we think we know it, or because it’s not enough for us. We need something more real. Something we can touch, feel, experience. We to soon forget that The Word became flesh…and that is all the miracle we need.
“ The Word of God is more than enough to accomplish the work of God in the people of God” – Kevin DeYoung
Mary, on the other hand, did not know what was coming her way. She didn’t ask to be the mother of The Messiah, but neither did she turn away from it when it was presented to her.
She had a life ahead of her. By announcing a pregnancy outside of wedlock would mean more than a loss of dignity, it could well have meant that her life would be over also. Adultery meant stoning under the law.
She had everything to lose.
You would think she would be the one asking for the sign to know for sure that what had been said by Gabriel was true, but she just wants to know how it will happen, not what will happen before she knows it will really happen….
Gabriel’s response to her is patient, and filled with assurance, where he actually gives her a sign he’d prepared earlier, even though she hadn’t asked for one… ( 1:35-37)
what was going to happen would not compromise God’s Will, it would be of the Holy Spirit
the sign that this was true was that her barren, elderly cousin was also pregnant
nothing would be impossible with God
What we learn from this exposes much in our own heart.
Our own doubts, fears, worries.
Zechariah and Mary learnt that God is not limited in His power and authority, that His Word will be fulfilled, no matter what we think of it! ( 1:20b)
God is not bound to the way our fallen world works. He made this world. He put the natural processes of life into motion, and can override them at any time to initiate His own Sovereign purposes.
For Zechariah and Elizabeth, God was restoring nature, bringing life back to where hope had died.
For Mary, He was directly intervening in nature, stepping in to override so He could bring life where it was impossible.
God’s intervention in this instance can raise all sorts of questions for us, such as, why doesn’t He intervene for me?
The hard but deeply comforting truth is that this was the single most important intervention in our world on God’s part. Without this intervention, we would not even be in any position to debate His purposes in our own personal lives. We wouldn’t even be able to speak of God without Him having revealed Himself in this way.
In His Sovereign, Eternal plan of redemption, He came, at just the right time. He allowed a child to be born because His Son was given.
If God has not intervened in our lives the way we would like Him to, we must note the following:
Are we asking for a sign where His revealed Word is already enough? Where Jesus is already enough?
Are we willing to submit to His intervention when it does come to our lives – because that will not be what we are expecting…
Do you recognise a gift of God when it’s given?
How can you doubt the existence of God, or question His goodness, while taking everything else He gives?
How can we know this is all true? Did it really happen and can it happen in my life?
Luke 1:1-4 tells us we can be certain this is very true….
Receiving gifts from God points out to us that He is a generous giver. He answers prayer, even when we doubt. He gives us favour even when we don’t expect it.
We too often ignore the Giver of gifts. But the gift of God in Jesus cannot be treated the same way as a gift from under the tree.
This gift He offers, as Mary knew, could not be accepted without also accepting Him. The Giver is the Gift.
The Word became flesh and dwelled among us…and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.