In answer to what was probably long years of praying for a child, God sent an angel to Zacharias to let him know that even though he and his wife Elizabeth were now well past child-bearing age, their prayer was about to be answered. But although Zacharias was a faithful man of God, this impossible promise was more than his faith could handle.
Luke 1:18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
Zacharias was a faithful man, but his response to what God said to him was not that of a faith-filled man. His immediate reaction was to assess this angelic pronouncement from the perspective of human limitations. It wasn’t that he didn’t know with whom he was dealing. He understood that the one speaking to him was doing so as the representative of God:
Luke 1:11-14 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.
Zacharias was fearful at the appearance of a strange man where no other man but himself had a right to be. But the angel quickly put his fear to rest, speaking words that could have only come from God. And it’s clear that Zacharias quickly recognized that this was God’s representative. His question to this stranger who appeared out of nowhere was not, “who are you?” but “how can I believe what you are telling me?” Obviously, the “who” issue was already settled in his mind; he understood that he was experiencing an angelic visitation.
Zacharias and Elizabeth were godly people, totally committed in their love and service to the Lord. God had commended them for their walk with Him.
Luke 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Still, when God gave him an impossible promise through the angel, it was hard for Zacharias to respond in faith. God rebuked him for his doubt:
Luke 1:19-20 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
Zacharias’ faith-failure was not in any way rebellious. He just was so used to evaluating the events of life from a human perspective that doubt in the face of a promise that was clearly impossible was the natural reaction for him. God’s rebuke was definite, but also loving and mild. It was to teach him, not punish him. But that rebuke did clearly establish the seriousness of unbelief. It is not something God overlooks.
Faith is not automatic, even for godly and committed believers. It must be deliberately chosen in the face of natural pressure to give more credence to our evaluation of the circumstances in light of our life experiences and outlook. Doubt is natural, and in fact built in if we view life from a human perspective. But God will not leave us in our doubt. He will do what it takes to give us opportunity to gain a faith perspective. It may not be comfortable, but it is certainly for our good. His rebuke, whatever form it takes, is an expression of His love.
God honored Zacharias and Elizabeth’s years of faithfulness to Him, but He still had to rebuke Zacharias for unbelief. In this case, unbelief didn’t derail the intended answer to prayer because God gave grace. But Scripture makes it clear that that is exactly what can happen:
Heb 10:35-36 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
So, in the case of Zacharias, God was still teaching and highlighting the lesson of faith. Faith is crucial! God couldn’t let Zacharias’ unbelief go unchallenged because faith is so key to the believer’s life. God had to impress upon us, though this account, that even though He gave grace, the faith-failure that Zacharias experienced was not “OK.” The angel, Gabriel, emphasized the element of God’s timing:
Luke 1:20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”
The faith-failure that brought upon Zacharias the penalty of muteness was not that he and Elizabeth were no longer praying in faith. It was because Zacharias disbelieved the Word of God. God had given them a specific, personal word, and Zacharias questioned it. That was unbelief, and God had to deal with it.
Heb 11:6 But 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 diligently seek Him.
The answer to this couple’s prayer had been a long time coming because of the timing of God’s plan. They didn’t know about the plan, only about their desire for a child. So, they couldn’t know the reason for the delay (or even that it was a delay and not a “no”) – God had not during those years of praying explained what He was doing. But there was a plan, and there was a due time!
Gal 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
Zacharias forgot that there is nothing too hard for God. If God says it, He can do it – and He will, for He can never fail to fulfill His word.
NEVER GIVE UP ON GOD OR ON PRAYER!