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The reactions and responses of Zechariah and Elizabeth


28/08/2015

I was struck recently reading through the gospel of Luke by the varied reactions and responses of Zechariah and Elizabeth to the work of God in their lives. When Zechariah hears the announcement of the angel Gabriel that he would become the father of a son in answer to his and his wife’s prayers, Zechariah’s response is to stagger in unbelief. Even though he had prayed fervently no doubt all his married life for God to give them children, long after I suspect Zechariah had given up praying for this to happen, God had not given up and time may have run out in Zechariah’s mind, but not in God’s mind.

So when the Angel announces the good news, Zechariah asks ‘how on earth is this going to happen?’ He cannot even begin to believe that such a thing might occur. Now Zechariah is a priest serving in the Temple, he knows the Word of God very well and is familiar with the various supernatural accounts in the Old Testament of God’s intervention in the life of Abraham and Manoah in terms of God giving sons to his servants in miraculous circumstances, yet Zechariah cannot believe the message of the angel.

The reaction of Gabriel is simply astonishment at Zechariah’s unbelief ‘I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good new!’ In other words, ‘what kind of a crazy man are you that you don’t believe that the God who made the heavens can give you a son in your old age!’ Unbelief is totally irrational, it has the ability to make God disappear from reality and place us in a world of total meaningless existence. Zechariah is struck dumb by the angel as a punishment for his unbelief which is exactly what unbelief does to a person. Unbelief silences our voice, faith speaks. If we don’t believe then we have nothing to say of any value, whereas the man or woman of faith has much to say that is of great value as we will see with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth neither hears the angel speaking, nor witnesses his glorious presence, yet her response to the gracious work of our God is simply breath-taking. Consider this, when Mary encounters the visit of the Angel Gabriel announcing to her the news that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the son of God she immediately seeks help from her cousin Elizabeth. On her arrival and with no one else knowing the news about what had just taken place, she is greeted by Elizabeth with these words, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?’ Mary would have been both astounded by these words and enormously relieved and encouraged, but how did Elizabeth know all these things? It’s not like Mary picked up the phone to her and told her. The only way this was possible was because Elizabeth heard the voice of God within her telling her what had happened. Elizabeth in a moment had the revelation that within Mary’s womb was the ‘Son of God’. I mean it took the disciples 3 years to get that, but Elizabeth understood it in a moment, truly that Scripture is made meaningful here, ‘“You are blessed… because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.’ Matt 16:17

The Scriptures greatly honour both Mary and Elizabeth for their faith and humility and rightly so. What great examples of faith they are to us today. Elizabeth’s faith and anointing by the Holy Spirit gave her a voice that would have made a dramatic impact on Mary at that moment in time. God knows when we need a word of encouragement and understanding, especially when we are being misunderstood by others because of our obedience to God. Mary’s spirit soared when she heard Elizabeth’s words. I cannot think of a word spoken more fitly nor in a timelier manner than by Elizabeth here to Mary. May we copy her example by being people who trust in God deeply and who walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith in God gives us a voice of hope for others.

 
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