How would you describe yourself, trusting or skeptical? I am not proud of it, but I think I demonstrate a fair mix of both. What about you?
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Luke 1:13 – NIV
“That’s just too good to be true.” Have you ever spoken those words? Maybe you said them out loud, or perhaps you just let the thought roll around in your head. I know I have thrown those words around often enough. It’s the kind of thing you sling out there with arched eyebrows, hands on your hips, and that disgusted little shake of the head. I usually say it when someone is trying to sell me something I don’t think I need or want. Those words come to mind during pharmaceutical ads, time-share presentations, and most especially, political speeches. Those words come to mind when I don’t trust the message, or when I don’t trust the messenger.
Sometimes, I really want the message to be true. Sometimes, I want to believe the messenger, but try as I might, those words pop in my head anyway. Why is that? Why is doubt such an easy fall-back position for us? Why is it so much easier to doubt than to believe?
Often, I think that our skepticism is rooted in self-protection. We don’t trust because we don’t want to be disappointed. It’s easier to discredit the source, or even poke fun at it, than it is to live with the bitter disappointment of a broken promise. We don’t get our hopes up because they might just crash. Doubt is a safety mechanism to cushion us from the fall. Doubt has its roots in fear, and we are all subject to fear.
Sometimes our skepticism is healthy because the product or the proclamation is unworthy of our trust. Our natural tendency to doubt makes us check things out, and our investigations expose a fraud. Still, doubt is not without its consequences. Just ask Zechariah. He found out the hard way.
Zechariah was just an average guy doing his priestly duties when an angel of The Lord showed up with a message. The message was good news, news he and his barren wife Elizabeth had longed to hear after years of infertility. Elizabeth was to bear a child. This was good news, great news, in fact. It was an answer to prayer, an affirmative answer to the thousands of prayers the couple had lifted over the course of a lifetime.
Zechariah should have been overjoyed. He should have thrown himself down at the angel’s feet, his mouth singing out praises of thanksgiving. He should have immediately recognized the authority of the angel. After all, he was a priest. He should have known that his angelic visitor would, and could, only tell the truth.
He should have believed, but he didn’t. Zechariah’s initial reaction was doubt. He was too old. His wife Elizabeth was long past childbearing age. It wasn’t possible. It was too good to be true.
Zechariah wanted that baby boy so badly, but he couldn’t allow himself to believe this promise. He couldn’t squelch his natural skepticism. He couldn’t fight his fear of disappointment. Despite his priestly faith, he couldn’t overcome that human tendency to doubt, and he paid a price for it.
Zechariah paid a hefty price for his unbelief. With a word, the angel silenced Zechariah, making him fall mute, not just for the moment, but for the entire term of the pregnancy. Zechariah dared to doubt, and that decision left him speechless.
Here’s where the story gets real interesting to me. Here is where we are reminded that God’s promises will not be thwarted. Regardless of our disappointing human behavior, God’s promises will prevail.
While there was definitely a consequence for Zechariah’s unbelief, the promised child would be born. Despite Zechariah’s doubts, God didn’t break His promise. God didn’t select someone else to receive this blessing. He may have put Zechariah in time-out, but He still forgave him. God may have let Zechariah sit in silence for nine months, but God still came through with His promise. God understood his human frailty and chose to use Zechariah anyway to fulfill His divine purposes. Zechariah became the father of the legendary John The Baptist. God’s great grace allowed a prophet to rise out of a moment of doubt.
Doubt comes so naturally to us, but it is not without its consequences. While we may not lose our speech for nine months, we pay a price for our doubts. Doubt opens the door to fear, invites bitterness to the table, and warms the seat for despair. Doubt separates us from God. When we fail to trust, we separate ourselves from the peace, joy, and hope only God can provide.
Thankfully, Zechariah’s story does not end in despair. Zechariah got a second chance at redemption. Not only did he have the chance to see God’s promise fulfilled, but he was also offered the opportunity to proclaim the name for his newborn son. Remembering the angel’s instructions from that pivotal moment months earlier, he wisely chose to pen the name “John.” It was Zechariah’s testimony of belief, and it was rewarded with the return of his speech. Wow! I bet there were some mighty loud praises coming out of those lips on this go-round, don’t you?
Friends, take heart and discard your doubts. God is good, and his promises are true. Nothing is impossible with God. He can work all things together for good. Trust and believe, for God only makes promises He plans to keep.
Jesus looked at them and said, “ With man, this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.”
Mark 10:27 – NIV
O Lord God Almighty, You are our promise keeper. You make the promises, and You can be trusted to keep them. You expect us to proclaim Your promises, and in turn, praise You for them. Forgive us when we doubt. Strengthen our trust muscles that we might sing Your praises today and always.
In the Mighty Name of Jesus, we pray,