through His Word
by Julie Coleman
The day I went into labor with my third child ended with quite the surprise. What we assumed would be one baby turned out to be twins! The midwife didn’t discover little Joseph until I had his sister Melanie in my arms. “Wait, there’s another head!” she informed us. I burst out laughing. Are you kidding me? A second baby? How wonderful was that?
Then the reality of the logistics of the situation hit me. Just moments ago, I had delivered my daughter “naturally,” my first childbirth experience without the aid of an epidural. “Wait a minute,” I said in a panic. “How are we going to get this baby out? Because I’m not going to do THAT again.”
Luke begins his gospel account with another surprise birth announcement, given to Zacharias. On that day his lot had been chosen out of thousands of eligible priests to offer incense in the temple’s Holy Place. His task was to cast incense on the altar, prostrate himself, then withdraw immediately.
But while he went about his responsibility, an angel of the Lord appeared. He told Zacharias that his wife would give birth to a son, despite their old age. That son would come in the power of Elijah and herald the coming of the Savior of the World, preparing the people for the Lord.
But Zacharias didn’t hear much further than the angel’s first sentence. “How will I know this for certain?” he asked. In harsh response, the angel struck Zacharias mute.
A second surprise birth announcement was given within a few months of the first, this time to a young virgin in Nazareth. Gabriel told her, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus” (Luke 1:31 NASB). Mary asked the obvious question: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NASB). Gabriel has a much different response to Mary. He explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. He then gave her proof that God was already doing the impossible: her cousin Elizabeth was now pregnant despite having passed her childbearing years.
Two startling announcements. Two astounded receptions. Why such different reactions from Gabriel? Why did he discipline the one and coddle the other?
The reason can be found in the original language of the text. What is translated, “How will I know this for certain?” (Luke 1:18 NASB) in the Greek literally reads “According to whom shall I know?” Zacharias was challenging the messenger and his improbable message. In modern day language, it would have sounded something like “Says who?”
In spite of Zacharias’ doubt, Gabriel patiently answered: “I just came from the presence of God! He sent me to give you this good news.” (Julie paraphrase.)
Mary’s response, on the other hand, was one of faith. She believed the message; she just needed to know the logistics. How was this going to work? Was she supposed to marry Joseph right away? Do something else? Her believing obedience shines through in her reply to Gabriel’s ensuing explanation: “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NASB).
Throughout his gospel, Luke demonstrates that faith is hearing, believing, and responding. These first two accounts are examples of this: one negative, one positive. Both Zacharias and Mary heard. Only one believed.
But God did not give up on Zacharias. He kept him mute until the day the child was born. As people pressed him for the child’s name, Zacharias wrote the very name the angel told him nine months earlier: John. And after that faith-inspired response to God’s command, God loosened his tongue.
Our belief in God’s promises matters to Him. What are the promises of God that have meant the most to you?
And without faith it is impossible to please Him,
for he who comes to God must believe that He is
and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6 NASB
© Copyright 2017 by Julie Coleman
Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her book, Unexpected Love, was released in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. When she is not glaring at her computer, Julie spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com or facebook.com/juliezinecoleman.
Subscribers, comment here.Christmas, faith, God’s promises, Unexpected News, Julie Coleman, Katy Kauffman, Lighthouse Bible Studies