Yesterday, my pastor, Mark Wheeler began a series of sermons lead up to Christmas on the lives of those involved in the Birth of Jesus. You can find that sermon on his blog, On Target, here. Or you can listen to it by visiting the First Central Website and downloading the Mp3.
One of the Things he mentions in his sermon is Mary’s response to being told about being chosen to be the mother of Christ. “She said ‘Yes.'” said pastor Wheeler. I had just read chapter 1 of Luke the night before and had taken note of this as well as of the story of Zechariah finding out that GOD would give him a son–John the Baptist. That is what I would like to contrast here. First, lets look at the two passages from Luke 1.
Gabriel tells Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist.
Luke 1:5-17 ESV –  In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.  Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,  according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.  And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
What wonderful news for Zechariah! Not only would his prayers for a child be answered despite his and his wife old age, but also this was to be a child that would be “great before the Lord.” His son was to be a leader in the spirit of Elijah and would bring many back to GOD, and would be the “voice in the dessert” announcing the coming of the promised Messiah Jesus Christ! Let’s now take a look at Mary’s encounter with Gabriel.
Gabriel tell Mary about the birth of Jesus
Luke 1:26-33 ESV –  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
This is considerably much bigger news! Not only was Mary to undergo a miracle pregnancy, (Even though she was engaged to Joseph, she was a virgin) but also her first-born was to be the Son of GOD! I can’t imagine how overwhelming this would be to hear. Mary was a young girl, probably around 13 – 14 years old, and yet she was chosen by GOD to be the mother of Immanuel (GOD with us), the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. (No pressure, right?)
So here we have two great announcements. The Lord has put into motion the coming of the Messiah and the reconciliation of man to GOD. How would you respond if you were Zechariah or Mary? One might think that Zechariah, being a long-time priest who “walked blamelessly” before the Lord would have said, “Great! Let’s do this!” Mary was just a young girl with little life experience, and she did not seem to understand what was going on. Surely she would be reluctant to believe or accept this, right? Let’s see how they responded.
Luke 1:18 ESV –  And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Luke 1: 34 ESV –  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
and then in verse 38
Luke 1:38 ESV –  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Now, at first glance, one might think they are both giving the same answer. I don’t think this is the case, and here is why.
Consider Zechariah. Zechariah doubts! He is essentially asking, “Are you sure you have the right guy?” He is looking at the circumstances and says, “this is impossible, how can it happen?” This is confirmed in the subsequent passages by Gabriel’s response:
Luke 1:19-20 ESV –  And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
At that time Gabriel leaves and Zechariah leaves the temple and goes out to the people, and he is mute until the birth of his son, John. GOD had sent good news to John, but instead of accepting it in full faith and joy, he limits GOD to his frame of logic. “I’m old.” he thinks, “How could GOD do this?” What should have been a time of great joy was then marked with the frustration and hardship of being mute, as a sign that this was a miracle of the Lord.
Mary responded in faith. I say that her response is one of curiosity, not doubt. If it were doubt then wouldn’t it be likely that Gabriel would have rebuked her for it in a similar manner? See here her question and Gabriel’s answer:
Luke 1:34-38 ESV –  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Gabriel’s answer is one of patient explanation, not rebuke. She does not doubt that GOD can or will do this, she just does not understand how. This is in contrast to Zechariah’s response of “How can I know you’ll do this.” Zechariah wanted a sign, and he got one. Mary wanted to be a servant, and she was one.
Her response reminds me of how when I tell my four-year-old son about this thing or that thing, he does not doubt what I say, but often asks how it works. Maybe it is no coincidence that GOD picked a young child instead of the elderly wife of a priest to birth his son. After all, children can easily see the truth, and don’t have the disadvantage of experience telling them, “That’s impossible!”
Is GOD telling you that he wants to do something big in your life? How will you respond? Maybe you don’t know GOD, and yet you feel the tug on your heart of his calling. We will talk more about that later in the month, but you can respond to GOD’s call on your life right now just like Mary did by saying “Yes” to GOD.