And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.Luke 1:56-66, ESV
Who Says Life is Fair…
Zechariah’s angelic encounter ended very differently for him than Mary’s did for her. Why is that? Was there some quality of faith that is evident in Mary and absent in Zechariah? It is possible, but it seems not. Zechariah and Mary were visited by Gabriel in almost identical ways. They both felt fear grip them in the presence of God’s messenger. The angel sought to calm both their fears with comforting words and a promise from God, but they both similarly had a question. Zechariah asked, “How shall I know this?” and Mary’s question was “How will this be…?”. Are these responses very different from one another? I think not. In addition to their similar questions, they attached their imagined obstacle to the gracious promise of God. The obstacle on Zechariah’s mind was, “I am an old man, and my wife is advance in years”. The obstacle that puzzled Mary’s intellect was similar enough, “I am a virgin”. These similar stories of angelic visitation, human fear, prophetic announcement, and physical impossibilities ended very differently for Zechariah and Mary.
Mary was given more words of confirmation and an object lesson of God’s ability to do the impossible. It just so happened that Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was that object lesson to engender Mary’s hope in God’s promise. What did Zechariah receive for asking a similar question to Mary? While she was given more answers he was made mute. Does that seem fair? No. But when does God ever seem to care about our confused and subjective opinions of justice anyway? Almost never? Exactly. God will do all that He pleases. Nothing is too hard for Him and He always has a plan. Sometimes His plan is to give positive reinforcement and other times His plan is to give difficult trials. Who are we to say that God’s plan for one is wrong? Exactly. We are in no position to judge the wisdom of the Eternal God in these matters of life.
God Works in Mysterious Ways…
Mary’s question seems to be almost identical to Zechariah’s question, but God handles the two subjects of grace in very different ways. So then why? Zechariah was made to be mute for the glory of God, the good of Zechariah, and the furtherance of God’s providential works. His path seems to be rougher in comparison to Mary’s path, but God has unique plans for each individual life as He works through individuals to bring about His Holy purposes. I think Zechariah may have felt a sense of honor to be chosen by God to be made mute for the Kingdom. Does that sound strange to you? It does sound a little strange, but mostly because we have all been accustomed to thinking that God is fundamentally interested in our comfort. Though God is most definitely interested in His children’s lives (Matt 10:29-31), their comfort seems to be low on His list of priorities (Acts 9:16). What seems to be incredibly high on God’s priority list for His children is manifesting His glory for their good (John 11:40-44). The Lord knows exactly how to work all things together (Rom 8:28) for His good ends to be accomplished in the lives of those He has set His affection upon.
This truth is helpful to us because we are often plagued with insecurities and temptations to compare our blessings or lack of blessings with others all around us. We may easily fall into the trap of trying to decipher the love of God for us based upon our current blessings, at least as we deem them so to be. If our hearts are filled with gratefulness to God because life is going well for us, then we tend to interpret that as God’s love. On the flip side, if life is currently hard and we feel frustrated and/or defeated we tend to interpret that as God’s displeasure. That is a dangerous misinterpretation that can lead to a vicious cycle of self-righteousness or self-loathing that produces more unwise comparisons with our neighbors.
Did God love Mary? Yes. Did God love Zechariah? Yes. Who did He love more? Neither. His love is not a finite resource that He must manage and therefore give a piece to you, and another piece to me as if He spreads His kindness sparingly to preserve enough for our children. No. God’s gracious love is equal for all His children because His love for us is based upon His own character and not ours. The reason we all have received something a bit different from His hand is due to His intricate and perfect plan working together for good to those who love Him (Rom 8:28). Zechariah had his ability to speak taken away, but his suffering was meaningful. May we never despise the suffering that God has ordained us to walk through for His glory and our good.