Angelic Announcements

Q. In Luke 1 the angel Gabriel announced to Zacharias the priest that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son to be named John. Zacharias doubted and was unable to speak until John was born. Gabriel also announced to Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Mary also questioned him but was not punished. Why?

A. Both asked a similar question:
Lk 1:18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
• Lk 1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

But the thinking behind each is very different.

What do we know about Zacharias from the text? We know that he:
1. was righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord (v6)
2. had no child, his wife was barren, and they were both advanced in years (v7)
3. had been praying for a son (his petition has been heard, v12)
4. asked for a sign (how will I know this for certain v18)
5. looked at his circumstances (I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years v19)
6. did not believe Gabriel’s words (v20)

Although Zacharias was a priest and ought to know better, he did not believe Gabriel’s words.
Lk 12:48b From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
He prayed but did not believe when God answered his petition. He did not accept God’s messenger’s words at face value, but asked for a sign similar to what Gideon did (Jdg 6:36-40). And unlike Abraham who did not waver in unbelief (Rom 4:20), he contemplated his own body and the deadness of Elizabeth’s womb, and he became weak in faith (contrast Rom 4:19).

What about Mary? We know that she:
1. was a virgin engaged to Joseph (v27)
2. was very perplexed at Gabriel’s statement (v29)
3. was puzzled about her conception as she was a virgin (v34)
4. accepted Gabriel’s announcement without further objection (may it be done to me according to your word v38)

Even though she was only a country girl and not as highly trained as Zacharias was, she received the angelic announcement by faith, despite the impossibility of a virgin conception. Her Magnificat showed that her focus was entirely on God, not circumstances:
1. the Lord (v46)
2. God my Savior (v47)
3. He has had regard for His bondslave (v48)
4. the Mighty One, holy is His name (v49)
5. His mercy toward those who fear Him (v50)
6. He has done mighty deeds with His arms, He has scattered (v51)
7. He has brought down rulers (v52)
8. He has filled the hungry (v53)
9. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy (v54)
10. He spoke to our fathers (v55)

This is in stark contrast to Zacharias. No wonder she was blessed and he got his sign of being struck mute.

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John the Baptist Shirking Responsibility?

Q. Why did John the Baptist go to live in the desert instead of with his parents? It seems like he had not observed the commandment to take care of his parents. Was he allowed to weasel out of his Levite duties? or maybe he left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.

A. I believe he lived in the wilderness to fulfill his calling as prophesied in:
Isa 40:3-5 A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I think maybe you assumed too much. The word of God came to John in:
Lk 3:1-2 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

Tiberius was the stepson of Augustus, whom he succeeded on the throne AD 14 according to Roman history. The 15th year of his reign was AD 29. Since John the Baptist was only about 6 months older than Jesus (Lk 1:26 ff), he was already a grown man at that time. His parents Zacharias and Elizabeth were not mentioned again in the NT after Luke 1. They might have already died by that time, after John had fulfilled his filial duties to care for his parents.

John did not weasel out of his duties as a priest. When God called him to be the Messiah’s herald, he obeyed, just as Samuel was raised by Eli to serve in the tabernacle, but responded to God’s call to become both a judge and a prophet. There is no evidence that John left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.