Gabriel really racked up the air miles in the first chapter of Luke. He was sent to Earth twice to share special birth announcements. Well, they were actually conception announcements. Both were pretty unusual. And the recipients’ responses to the announcements seem very similar. But Gabriel’s reactions to their responses were very different. Let me explain what I’m talking about.
The first announcement is to Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest who was married to Elizabeth. According to Luke, they both followed all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They were an upstanding Jewish couple. But that was the problem. They were just a couple. No kids. And they were OLD.
One day when Zechariah’s priest division was on duty, he was chosen to go into the temple to burn incense. That’s where things got interesting. An angel appeared to Zechariah and scared him half to death. The angel told him not to be afraid. But more importantly he told him that his prayer had been heard. That his wife Elizabeth was going to become pregnant and have a son!
The angel then goes into detail about what they’re to name him and how they’re to raise him and the role he would play in God’s plan.
Zechariah’s response to all this is a question. A ‘how’ question. He asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
Something about Zechariah’s question doesn’t sit well with the angel. He replied, “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.” He goes on to explain that because Zechariah didn’t believe him, Zechariah wouldn’t be able to speak until everything Gabriel had told him came true.
When he left the temple, Zechariah couldn’t even explain to the other priests what had just happened.
Zechariah went home and sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant.
Just like Gabriel said.
And Zechariah still couldn’t speak.
Just like Gabriel said.
Now for Gabriel’s conversation with Mary.
Six months after the Zechariah trip, God sends Gabriel back to Earth. This time to Nazareth, to carry a message to a girl named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph.
Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
I think it’s interesting that Mary isn’t startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance like Zechariah was. However, she was confused by how he greeted her. So he explained it to her. He told her his greeting was a good thing. He told her that God had chosen her for a special assignment. That she was going to become pregnant, have a son, and name him Jesus. And that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High and that his kingdom would never end.
And just like Zechariah, Mary responds to Gabriel with a ‘how’ question. “How will this be since I am a virgin?”
But Gabriel’s response to Mary is very different than his response to Zechariah. Gabriel actually explains to Mary ‘how’ things are going to happen. ‘How’ she is going to become pregnant even though she’s a virgin. He even goes on to tell her that Elizabeth, who is Mary’s relative, is pregnant.
And then Gabriel makes one of my favorite statements in the entire Bible. He says, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
I have a feeling it became one of Mary’s favorites, too.
Okay. Those are the two stories. And the two ‘how’ questions. And Gabriel’s absolutely opposite responses.
Now I just have one question.
Why did Gabriel silence Zechariah for nine months for asking ‘how’? But six months later when Mary asks ‘how’, why did he explain everything to her?
Gabriel hasn’t appeared to me recently [or ever!] so I haven’t been able to ask him. But after looking closely at these two scenarios and the two questions, I came up with an answer to my ‘why’ that satisfies my curiosity. At least for now.
I took a closer look at Zechariah’s question. Zechariah wasn’t really asking how he and Elizabeth were going to have a son after all these years. Zechariah was asking for a sign. I think he was saying: an angel appearing to me and telling me that God has heard the prayer I’ve been praying for decades and that He is now going to answer it, isn’t quite enough for me. Telling me that my wife is going to have a boy and that we’re to name him John and explaining the role he will play in God’s plan, doesn’t exactly convince me that it’s really going to happen. I need something more.
Whoa. I think Zechariah had lost sight of something very important.
And I think he had forgotten how important faith is to God.
Zechariah was very good at following the rules, but somewhere along the way, he had forgotten that what pleases God is faith—believing without seeing any evidence. And apparently asking for more evidence right after God sends an angel direct from His throne to share good news with you, isn’t a real smart move.
I don’t need to criticize Zechariah. I’m pretty sure I’ve been exactly where he was.
I think Zechariah’s . . . and Elizabeth’s . . . hearts had been broken several times over the years. Probably several times a year . . . for many years. Their dreams of having a family had been crushed. They had lived for decades with the shame of being childless. This upstanding Jewish couple, who followed every command and regulation God had given, lived in disgrace among their friends and relatives because they couldn’t get pregnant.
I wonder how many calluses were on their hearts. Is it even possible to keep a tender heart while living for decades in their situation?
When Zechariah doesn’t immediately jump on the baby bandwagon with Gabriel, it may have been out of self-protection. I don’t think Zechariah wanted to get his hopes up again . . . and run the risk of having them crushed again.
And I really don’t think Zechariah wanted to get Elizabeth’s hopes up again. I’m sure he had watched his wife’s heart break more times than he could count. So before he went home and told Elizabeth what Gabriel said, Zechariah wanted to be sure Gabriel knew what he was talking about. And as it turned out, he couldn’t tell Elizabeth anyway. Because Zechariah had been given the sign he requested.
Now to Mary’s question.
I think Gabriel answered Mary’s question because her question was a real ‘how’ question: How is this going to happen?
In fact, I wonder if Mary was asking an even bigger question.
A question I need to ask.
A question you may want to ask, too.
I wonder if Mary was saying:
- I understand what’s going to happen—I’m going to get pregnant and have a very special baby.
- Here is my current situation—I’m a virgin and not planning to get married immediately.
- So, what is my role in this scenario? What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for God’s plan to be accomplished in my life?
I wonder if that’s what Mary was really asking, because that seems to be the question Gabriel answered.
Gabriel told her how God was going to do something miraculous with her life.
But he didn’t tell her that she needed to do anything differently. Apparently she just needed to keep doing what she was doing. She didn’t need to go ahead and marry Joseph in order to get pregnant. She just needed to keep living her life, believing God, and remaining open to whatever adventure God brought her.
Mary’s role was to continue doing the possible part of the plan. God would take care of the impossible part.
And He did!
And He still does.
I think I need to spend some time with God and ask Him Mary’s question: What, if anything, do I need to do differently in order for Your plan to be accomplished in my life?
And then I need to listen.
And then I need to do my part—the possible part. And watch God do the rest.
For nothing is impossible with God!