Advent: A Surprise Response.

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 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. 20 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.” (Luke 1:18-20)

Have you ever heard the old adage “seeing is believing?” The idea behind the familiar statement is that if an individual could only see the who, what, where, why and how of a situation or circumstance then it would naturally follow that the individual would trust in, commit to, depend upon and honor the One who is the object of such trust, commitment, dependence and honor. Unfortunately, this does not always occur.

Take Zechariah for example. Luke went to great lengths to explain to us that Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth for the matter, were exemplary examples of obedience and faith in God. There were God servants and demonstrated this by living righteously. However, Zechariah, even though an angel was standing before him with an oracle from God, the righteous priest did not believe what he had been told.

His response to the angel was one of unbelief regarding Elizabeth and him having a child. “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 1:18)

The verb “know” (γνώσομαι; gnosomai) means not just to have or acquire knowledge but also to understand and to accept the knowledge one has acquired. Zechariah heard the angel’s words, but did not understand the angel’s words. Regarding what? Regarding how Elizabeth and him could have a child when they were both old and beyond childbearing age.

There was no excuse for this response. It was a response of unbelief by a believer. How can I be so sure? I urge you to follow my reasoning.

First, Zechariah was a believer in God. Second, he was also a priest serving God. Third, he stood before an angel sent from God. Fourth, Zechariah had a biblical example of another couple faced with the same personal dilemma: childlessness. However, God provided them a child in their old age. The couple in question, of course, was Abraham and Sarah.

Genesis 15:1-6 says, “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

Genesis 17:15-21 says, 15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Genesis 18:1–15 says, “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

“9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

 Genesis 21:1-7 says, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

As recorded in the Book of Genesis, Zechariah had a biblical example of how and when God provided a child, Isaac, to Abraham and Sarah who were old and beyond the physical ability to have children.

What was the angel’s response to Zechariah? That is what we will examine next time.

Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever doubted His Word when it clearly provided a promise which was trustworthy because it came from God? I’m sure you have. I know I have.

Abraham’s problem, and Zechariah’s, was that they both were looking at their circumstances and not upon the Lord who remains sovereign and providential above, in, and through our circumstances.

What about us? What circumstances are you presently encountering in which your faith is weak and your trust in, commitment to, dependence upon and worship and honor of God is wavering due to your circumstances? Immediately pray to Him to help you through the valley of unbelief and place you upon the rock of faith.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

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