Commentary by Walter Albritton


December 2, 2007


God Calls Us to Believe Rather than be Muted by Unbelief


Luke 1:5-25


Key Verse: But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur. – Luke 1:20


In the story of the Incarnation Joseph and Mary are major players. Zechariah and Elizabeth are not center stage. They are not included in our annual re-creation of “manger scenes.” But though Zechariah and Elizabeth may be overlooked participants in the Incarnation celebration, their story is worthy of careful study.

This devout couple was important to Luke. He uses their story to connect us to the past and to illustrate the way God fulfills his promises. Zechariah was a priest but even more he was a righteous man and a man of prayer. He and Elizabeth kept the commandments and “lived blamelessly” before God.

Elizabeth had been unable to have children. Now she was old, past the age of child-bearing. Nevertheless she and Zechariah kept praying earnestly that God would allow her to bear a son. They refused to give up praying for a child even though they knew they were asking for a miracle.

Now it was Zechariah’s turn to serve as a priest in the temple. He was excited for to serve was a rare privilege that might be his only once in a lifetime. But he was not prepared to encounter the angel Gabriel inside the temple!

We can all sympathize with the terrified Zechariah. Anyone of us would have been as shocked as he was to be confronted by an angel. But it was not fear that left Zechariah speechless; it was his failure to believe. He had prayed for a son. His prayer had been answered. But instead of rejoicing in the goodness of God, the dear old man wanted proof that Gabriel’s good news was not a hoax.

Zechariah blundered badly. It is simply not a good idea to irritate an angel, especially Gabriel! Zechariah’s unbelief left Gabriel aghast. He did not have to call headquarters to ask what to do. He understood immediately that faithlessness always disappoints God. So he quickly upbraided Zechariah and rendered him speechless until the birth of his son John.

Zechariah’s unbelief brings to mind the occasions when Jesus would chastise his disciples for their unbelief. Think of how embarrassing it must have been to have Jesus address them with the words, “O ye of little faith!” And recall how often Jesus urged his disciples to believe that “nothing is impossible with God.” He kept calling them to believe, to have faith in God.

If it is true that unbelief always disappoints God, it is equally true that God always rewards obedience. In one sense unbelief results in silence. Our tongues are silent when faith is dormant. But when the Spirit gives us the gift of faith, he moves us to speak, to lift our voices in grateful praise. We cannot remain silent!

So obedience leads to praise. Then, released from unbelief’s paralysis of speech, we cry with Charles Wesley for “a thousand tongues to sing” of our “great Redeemer’s praise.”!  The more we speak, the stronger faith becomes. The stronger faith becomes, the more boldly we can proclaim “the glories of our God and King.”

Zechariah’s experience is instructive. It teaches us that God calls his people to exercise faith, to pray for miracles, and to believe that God delights to answer our prayers. In every church and every community, God is looking for people who will expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

Unless our unbelief has rendered us mute, let us lift our voices in praise to God rather than give in to the culture’s demand to be quiet. Let us use the tongues God has given us to tell others we serve a God who keeps his promises and answers the prayers of his people. Our godless society needs to know that our Redeemer lives and is ready to perform miracles in our midst.

Zechariah could not speak though he wanted to. We can speak if we are willing. The God of Zechariah can release our paralyzed tongues to praise the Son who was born to set us free!

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