Scripture tells us that Zachariah was a godly man, followed the law and was blameless. He was a man of faith and lived his life devoted to serving God. What happened next surprised me, but when I think of my own faithlessness and doubts it shouldn’t. Zechariah let doubt and unbelief take hold of his thoughts and mind and here is the result. Luke 1:18-22 from The Message translation.
18 Zachariah said to the angel, “Do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is an old woman.” 19-20 But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time—God’s time.”
21-22 Meanwhile, the congregation waiting for Zachariah was getting restless, wondering what was keeping him so long in the sanctuary. When he came out and couldn’t speak, they knew he had seen a vision. He continued speechless and had to use sign language with the people.
Zachariah heard the message from Gabriel about the son that would be born to he and Elizabeth, and he did not believe God capable of making that happen. He let the fact that he and Elizabeth were old be greater in his mind than the resources and power of God. Gabriel saw and heard his unbelief. Unbelief is sin and sin has consequences before Almighty God. Gabriel did not strike him dead but touched him in a way that Zachariah would know beyond a doubt that God was in control and He is not to be doubted. Later in our story Mary questions Gabriel, but her questions do not come from unbelief or doubt in God’s ability to make it happen like Zachariah. God is okay with questions but not with unbelief. So, Zachariah’s ‘punishment’ would be his inability to speak, since the words of doubt came out of his mouth, until the baby was born. My guess is that immediately Zachariah knew his error in judgement and went from doubt to faith in a heartbeat. Now he had to live with the consequences of his unbelief until the birth of his son.
The crowds were waiting outside the temple for the priest to come out from offering prayers and they immediately knew something had happened to Zachariah. His gesturing showed he could not speak but probably there was a look on his face that revealed his wonder at the encounter with an angelic being as they concluded he had seen a vision from heaven. What outward signs are evident in your countenance that you have been with God after a time of prayer? Does your prayer time give you peace and hope? Do you allow this peace to be expressed towards others?
This real life story of godly Zachariah speaks to my heart as I see my own doubts and fears lived out by him. I am reminded of the scene from Mark 9:23-24 where Jesus helps a mute, demon possessed child brought by his father after the disciples had failed to cure him. He came seeking Jesus’ help and wondered if He could cure him. “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” 24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
I am so with the father of this child as I too pray for Jesus to help my unbelief. Prayer changes things and helps us to solidify our faith as God speaks to our hearts and minds and reassures us of who He is. When you find yourself overcome with doubt, be like this father, pray for Jesus to help you overcome your unbelief. He will answer as you seek to know and trust in Him.