Summary: The difference between honest questions and unbelief.
There are a few people in the Bible whose births were announced prior to their conception. In the Old Testament we had Isaac, Samson, and Samuel. In the New Testament we have John the Baptist and, of course, Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke commences with the end of 400 years in which the voice of prophets had not been heard in Israel. Now God was about to break that silence.
We read of an old married priest named Zechariah, whose wife Elizabeth was barren. These two were counted righteous by God, and kept His commandments.
It was a matter of great privilege to Zechariah that he was chosen to offer incense in the LORD’s Temple. As he disappeared behind the veil of the Most Holy Place, the people remained praying outside.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Zechariah, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. The angel told the old man not to be afraid. Zechariah’s prayers had been heard, and God was answering them.
Please be assured that the LORD does hear and answer the prayers of His people. The Scriptures encourage us:
‘Call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’
In this answer to prayer, the longings of the nation were wrapped up with the more private concern of the old couple’s childlessness.
When we lift our hearts in prayer to God, we should not only be looking for personal benefits, but praying also for the good of others, and for the glory of God.
Those who were faithful in Israel longed for the appearing of God’s anointed one. The angel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear him a son. That son would be the messenger to prepare the way for the coming of the Saviour.
Elizabeth was beyond the years for childbirth, but nevertheless she was to have a child. When all this was explained Zechariah cried, "How can this be?"
The angel identified himself as Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God. He had been sent with good news to speak to Zechariah. Now the priest was temporarily struck dumb for his unbelief. (Zechariah’s speech was restored later when he acknowledged God in the naming of John.)
Six months later, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, Elizabeth’s young cousin. Though a virgin, she also was to have a son. "How can this possibly be since I am a virgin?" she enquired. How was God going to accomplish this thing? These were not words of unbelief, but of wonder and praise. She was not struck dumb, but blessed.
We must be careful how we respond to the gospel. An honest questioning like that of Mary is acceptable, but unreasonable doubt like that of Zechariah prevents us from entering into the fullness of God’s blessing.
Mary was told by the angel, "You have found favour with God."
Mary would have a Son and name Him Jesus. Her Son would be called the Son of the Highest!
Gabriel informed Mary of God’s blessing upon Elizabeth with the reassurance that, ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’
Many years later, Jesus told his disciples, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).
This is a great encouragement for all who address their prayers to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Concerning faith, Jesus also taught, ‘nothing shall be impossible to you’ (Matthew 17:20).
The Virgin Mary submitted herself to the will of God and responded,
"Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be according to your word." Mary later praised God: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord!’ (Luke 1:46).
The true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ will always point away from themselves to the Lord. John the Baptist in his ministry would later declare: ‘He must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30).
We must believe the Word of God, and submit ourselves to the true and living God through His Son Jesus Christ. We need to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, as were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and like them to obey the commandments of God. We must worship the one true God, to the exclusion of all other, pointing away from ourselves and glorying in His Name alone.