It seems to me that regardless of how many times I read the Bible, I am struck anew with something every day. Something I’ve read before, maybe hundreds and hundreds of times. I had one of those moments last night. This year in my daily Bible readings, I am using a Chronological Bible. I am always interested to know where everything fits in chronologically, so my new Bible meets that need wonderfully.
Last night I read through the first few chapters of each of the gospels which give an account of the birth of Jesus, the birth of John the Baptist, the early life of both of these men, and what was happening around them politically. They are cousins by birth, and John the Baptist was sent before Jesus to prepare the way for Him, so their lives were intertwined from the beginning.
Firstly, a priest called Zechariah has the angel Gabriel appear to him, to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will be great in the sight of the Lord; he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born, he will bring back many of the people of Israel to their God, he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, and he is to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (vv. 15-17). Problem is, like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth are old and past the age of child bearing. Added to this, Elizabeth had always been unable to conceive. And again like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah was unable to believe Gabriel. His human mind could not fathom how he and his wife’s old, barren flesh could produce a child. As a result of this unbelief, Zechariah was made mute until the time of John’s birth.
Then we have Mary. She was betrothed to Joseph, who was a descendant from the line of King David. Mary would have been a young girl — between 12 and 16 at the most. A betrothal in those days was much more involved than an engagement now. The betrothal was legally binding, and to break it off meant issuing a divorce. It wasn’t merely a matter of deciding you’re incompatible, or had met someone else and were moving on— it was a very serious legal matter which involved both families. Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. His greeting unnerved her; “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), and then she is told she’d conceive and give birth to a son who would be the Son of the Most High (vv. 31-32). Naturally, she asks how this will happen as she is a virgin. The angel answers her question, telling her the Holy Spirit would come on her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, and she would give birth to the Holy One; the Son of God (vv. 35-36).
This is the point that we see a difference between Mary and Zechariah. Zechariah asked the question as to how it could possibly happen, as he and his wife are too old and cannot have children, and he is muted as a result of his unbelief. Mary asks how it will happen as she is a virgin, but her question is not asked out of unbelief. It is asked out of pure logistics. Her response to the angels answer clarifies this further; “I am the Lord’s servant,” “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v 38). Mary had every reason to act in unbelief, and maybe even terror and shock — she’s a virgin, how would she explain this to her fiancée and her family, how would she manage this? She had every reason to be confused and unbelieving, but she acts in the very opposite manner. Mary is so convinced of God’s promise to her that she is filled with joy. The Magnificat is one of the most beautiful prayers of praise in the Bible, and from it we can see Mary’s joy and love for the Lord and what He has done for her.
The Lord will always accomplish His plan, because He is a sovereign God, but how beautiful when His children believe Him and respond in adoration and praise. God still fulfilled His plan in the lives of Abraham and Zechariah, and He will continue to do so in our lives, but I want to remember Mary next time I am tempted to gripe about something in my life that bothers me or seems too difficult. I want to do what she did and look beyond her natural inclination, and instead, to trust God.
Luke 1:46-55 (ESV):
Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”