Centuries ago, the famous author Charles Dickens penned a book entitled, ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ It starts with the oft-quoted verse, ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’ I want to share a message based on Luke’s narrative of the events leading up to that first Christmas entitled ‘A Tale of Two People.’ The first person is Zacharias.
ZACHARIAS (Luke 1:1-25)
Zacharias was a leader in Israel. He was a priest and together with his wife Elizabeth, he was righteous before God, walking in all that commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blamless. So, he was considered a pretty good guy.
But he had a problem. His wife Elizabeth was barren, which in those days was considered a sign of God’s displeasure. On top of that, they were both quite old.
But something good happened to him. A priest had ‘the privilege of burning incense in the Holy Place only once in his lifetime and sometimes never.’ The priestly duties were assigned by lot, and each section of priests served in the temple one week a year. This year, the lot had fallen on Zacharias.
So, Zacharias was in the temple on the right side of the altar of incense when an angel appeared. Actually, the angel was one of the big three ‘Gabriel,’ with a message from God. In response to Zacharias’ fear the angel told him not to be afraid; that his prayer had been answered and his wife was to bear a son who would be called John (John the Baptist). Following this, Gabriel gave a prophetic word about this child’s future life and ministry.
Zacharias’ initial response was, ‘How shall I know this, for I am an old man and you ought to see my wife (Elizabeth was well advanced in years).’ Think about it! He had just had a visit from not just any angel. He had Gabriel come to tell him his prayer had been answered and he was questioning how it could be true. How many of you have had an angel sent from God to tell you your prayer has been answered? Note that Zacharias’ initial lack of faith did not prevent God from working a miracle to fulfill His plans.
Gabriel was not too happy with Zacharias’ response, and because of his reply the Lord dealt with him, and the angel said, ‘You shall be mute and not be able to speak until the day these things take place because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.’
What was the end result of all this? God disciplines his children. He brings correction. I believe that with this correction, Zacharias eventually believed the word of the Lord, but he lost the joy that the angel had promised him. It is hard to have overflowing joy when you can not speak. Think for a moment. What God had promised was not new or unique; it had happened to Abraham and Sarah. There was a precedent. Zacharias could have replied, ‘Praise God. He has made me and Elizabeth to be as Abraham and Sarah.’
MARY (Luke 1:26-38)
The second person in the ‘Tale of Two People’ is Mary. A young woman, probably a teenager at the time, Mary was a virgin, never having had sexual relations with a man. This is where we come across the doctrine of the virgin birth, an important belief, but that is another matter, albeit a very important one.
The angel Gabriel came to Mary just as he came to Zacharias. Mary, at this stage, was betrothed to Joseph, which was part of the process that led up to marriage. Gabriel, as he did with Zacharias, gave her a message from God, telling her that she has found favor with God and she is blessed among women. Simply said, Mary must have been a remarkable young woman to bear the Son of God. Gabriel goes on to declare that she is going to conceive a son and shall call His name Jesus, followed by a prophecy about His life and ministry.
Mary’s response, at first sight, sounds a little like Zacharias’ response as she says, ‘How can this be since I do not know a man (i.e., have never had sexual relations with a man)? However, Mary was not so much doubting Gabriel’s words. Rather, she was asking, ‘How can this happen?’ Then Gabriel gave a beautiful reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. . . ‘ I often wonder when did that happen? Was Mary conscious of it when it took place? Or did it happen while she was sleeping? Gabriel then finishes with the powerful declaration, ‘For with God nothing will be impossible.’ In other words, it will be a miraculous birth.
Whereas Zacharias had a precedent in Abraham and Sarah, Mary had no such precedent. She was asked to believe for the impossible; something that had never happened before nor would ever happen again.
Mary’s response was remarkable as she took hold of God’s words in faith and declared, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.’ What a response! What faith! What commitment!
Contrast for a moment the responses of Zacharias and Mary. Zacharias, a leader in Israel. A priest. A righteous man. He initially lacked the faith to believe what God was saying to him even though he knew the precedent of Abraham and Sarah. Mary, on the other hand, a young woman, probably a teenager, with no religious credentials and no precedent in Scripture for what she was asked to believe in. And she responded in faith, obedience, and commitment to the purposes of God in her life.
WHICH PERSON ARE YOU?
At this Christmas time, which of these people are we going to be? Zacharias or Mary?
Is God asking you to believe for the impossible? May we respond to the Lord as Mary did, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.’ Let us see what God will birth in our lives and ministry.