Believing God’s Word
Luke 1:10-25 (ESV)
And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” 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.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. 24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Psalm 14:1a (ESV)
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
Matthew 8:25-26 (ESV)
And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Mark 9:22-24 (ESV)
And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
If you put a penny close to your eye, it will block out the brilliance of the sun. If you let a trial consume your vision, it will block the glorious power and potential of our mighty God.
So what can we learn from Zachariah’s problem of doubt?
We all struggle with doubt
Luke 1:6 (ESV)
And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
Zacheriah walked with God and he had done so for many years. The fact that such a godly man doubted shows us that none are exempt from the problem.
Luke 7:22-23 (ESV)
And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
If godly men like Zachariah and John fell into doubt, we should be on guard, so that we do not fall.
Since even the godly have fallen, we may wonder, “What is the source of doubt?”
Doubt comes from our sinful nature not a lack of evidence.
Luke 16:27-31 (ESV)
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Many have wondered, “How does Zachariah’s question differ from Mary’s question?” When the angel told her that she would become pregnant with Jesus, she asked, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel did not confront her for doubting. Abraham laughed and brought up the matter of his and Sarah’s old age when he was promised a son, but he was not corrected for doubting, while Sarah was. Gideon twice asked God for a sign, and he was not rebuked. But Zachariah asked the angel for a sign, and was rebuked for his doubting.
Why these differences?
The difference was not in the words spoken, but in the hearts of each person. God who sees the hidden secrets of each person’s heart, knew that Zachariah was different than Abraham, Gideon, or Mary. Zachariah was limiting God by the normal course of human nature. He and Elizabeth were too old to have children.
How often do we take personal inventory when faced with a challenge rather than exercise our faith in the fact that nothing is impossible with God?
Our sinful hearts make us all prone to limit God by human potential.
The disciples fell into this mistake when they were faced with the crowd of 5,000 hungry men, plus women and children.
John 6:5-7 (ESV)
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
God has given us abundant evidence in the Scriptures that He is the God of the impossible. Nothing is too difficult for Him. The source of our doubts is not a lack of evidence. It is rather our sinful hearts.
Doubt is often connected to disappointments or long term trials.
Thankfully, God in His grace often pours out His blessings in spite of our doubts! That was the case with Zachariah. God lovingly disciplined His servant and Zachariah’s doubts could not thwart the sovereign plan of God. Part of the solution to our doubts is to understand the source of them. We’re all prone to doubts because of our sinful hearts, often coupled with disappointments and trials.
The solution for doubt is to believe that God will do what He says He will do.
God will do what He promises in his own way and time!
The opposite of doubt is not a leap in the dark. The Christian faith is founded on solid historical evidence. Luke wrote to convince Theophilus that God was in fact at work in this amazing history of Jesus’ birth and life. He structured these early narratives with this purpose in mind.
WE KNOW THROUGH HIS PROPHETIC WORD THAT GOD DOES WHAT HE SAYS.
One way we can know that God will do what He says is by observing His prophetic Word. There are many prophecies in Scripture that were fulfilled later in Scripture. God spoke, and later God did what He said He would do. That should strengthen our faith. Scripture also contains many prophecies yet to be fulfilled. While some of the details may be fuzzy, the overall plan is pretty clear, and it’s also clear that in our day it is all lining up just as God has said.
2 Peter 1:19 (ESV)
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
WE KNOW THROUGH HIS LOVING DISCIPLINE THAT GOD DOES WHAT HE SAYS.
So the angel struck Zachariah mute. By doubting God’s messenger, he was doubting God Himself. As a loving Father, He taught His stumbling child a lesson he would never forget. The angel specifically states Zachariah’s sin: “because you did not believe my words”. This is further underscored later in the narrative, when Elizabeth exclaims of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord”.
Zachariah’s discipline was appropriate for his sin. He shut his mouth in silence when he should have praised God, so he would be silent until the day when his lips were loosed to praise God in front of others.
Doubt has nothing to say; faith opens the heart and lips in praise to God.
We can recover if we will submit to God’s gracious discipline. During his months of silence, Zachariah submitted to God by meditating on His Word and being thankful for His faithfulness in fulfilling His gracious promises. This is evident from the stream of praise that gushes forth when he finally has his speech restored (1:68-79). It is loaded with references to Scripture and how God has fulfilled His promises. If Zachariah had spent those silent months grumbling about how unfair God was to strike him mute, he wouldn’t have erupted in praise as he did.
We should learn from this godly man. When God graciously disciplines us for our doubting hearts, we can either grumble and complain under it, or we can thankfully submit to His chastening. If like Zachariah we submit, we will grow stronger in faith and be filled with joyful and thankful hearts.
We can overcome the problem of doubt if we will see that God does what He says He will do.
In the matter of faith and doubt, the crucial thing is not our feelings and not even our faith. The crucial thing is the object of our faith. Luke wants us to see that God is faithful to His promises, especially in the matter of sending the Lord Jesus to be the promised Messiah. We can trust God, He has a proven track record of keeping His Word.