2005 Issue 14 icon

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The Zechariah and Mary Narratives

When we read the Bible, we should not only note what is said but also interruptions to the narrative.  One good example is how Luke interrupted his narrative about the pregnancy of Elizabeth [Luke 1:5-25] with a narrative about the pregnancy of the virgin Mary [Lk 1:26-56]. Luke can be counted as an excellent writer; his work is well-researched and rich in details.  So any interruption in his storyline is not accidental. Let’s zoom in on the two narratives.

The first thing that strikes us about the two narratives is how similar they are. In the first narrative, the angel Gabriel appears to a Levite, Zechariah. In the second narrative, Gabriel appears to a young virgin, Mary. When a skillful writer puts two similar or almost identical things side by side, what does he want us to do?  Do a comparison?  Yes, it’s very likely that he wants us to take that path.  So let’s compare what happens in the two narratives.

In the Zechariah Narrative, what was the reaction of Zechariah when the angel appeared?

Well, Lk 1:12 tells us that “he was startled and gripped with fear”.  This is the normal reaction of people when an angel suddenly appears to them.  Gabriel’s first words were, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah” [Lk 1:13].  How did Mary react when Gabriel appeared to her?  She apparently did not react with fear, for the angel’s first words were not: “Do not be afraid”, but were words of greeting and praise.  This may tell us something about what kind of woman Mary was.  But Luke says that “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this was,” [Lk 1:29]. It was then that she felt some fear, for Gabriel had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid, Mary,”.

In both instances, the angel knew their names.  Isn’t that reassuring?  There are many people who feel that they are nobodies; no one knows them or cares about them.  How wrong they are!  God knows us all by name and cares about each one of us.  He is looking after every one of us.

What was the reaction of Zechariah when Gabriel told him that his barren and elderly wife Elizabeth would become pregnant and bear him a son?  Zechariah said, “How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” [NIV].  The NASB translation is stronger: “How will I know this for certain?” Zechariah's words express disbelief and the angel makes this clear when he tells Zechariah,  “… you did not believe my words” [Lk 1:20]. 

In the first place, wasn’t Zechariah’s question a ridiculous one?  The obvious answer is that he will know that the angel spoke the truth when his wife became pregnant!  So strong was Zechariah’s disbelief that he was not talking sense.  Now, since Zechariah's disbelief was so strong, would his remark about being an old man and his wife being well along in years not be an exclamation? 

Why did Zechariah disbelieve?  Can we learn something from him and avoid his mistake?  Certainly.  Zechariah disbelieved because the “science” or body of knowledge of his day told him that old women who had been barren all their life do no get pregnant, and certainly not by old men.  Are we not like Zechariah too?  We believe everything that Science tells us and disbelieve that God can do miracles outside of the scientific laws that He put in place.

Returning to the Mary Narrative, how did Mary receive the angel’s words saying she would be come pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear a son?  Mary also asked a question, but in a different way: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” [Lk 1:34]. “How will…?” denotes belief that it will happen, but seeks to know how the matter would unfold.

When Gabriel explained how she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not by any human, Mary replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” [Lk 1:38].  This verbal acceptance completed Mary’s belief.  But there was more.  Mary confirmed this not only with her mouth, but also with her subsequent actions.

Gabriel had told her that her relative Elizabeth was going to have a child in her old age and “she who is barren is in her sixth month [of pregnancy].  Nothing is impossible with God” Lk 1:36 & 37]. The next verse says, “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.  “At that time” and “hurried” convey the meaning that Mary wasted little time in making preparations and in actually going to see the wonderful thing that had happened to Elizabeth.  We do not hear of Zechariah rushing home after hearing Gabriel.

What a woman of faith and action Mary was!  A young unmarried woman rushing off to Judea, perhaps two days’ journey away on foot?  And staying with Elizabeth for three months [Lk 1:56]?  Was this normal behaviour for a young woman of that time?  Was there no opposition to her going off like that?  Even today, would you allow your teenage daughter to suddenly pack up and go away for three months, to the other side of town, much less the next province?  Mary not only believed, but also acted on her belief.  What an outstanding example she set for us!

But aren’t the Zechariah and Mary Narratives also about the consequences of unbelief? Zechariah was struck dumb for his unbelief.  Mary, on the other hand, seems to have had a wonderful time at Zechariah’s home, receiving Elizabeth’s confirmation that she [Mary] had been blessed, and breaking into a magnificent song, the “Magnificat” [Lk 1:46-55].

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel Speaker on 20 April was Mr Lewis Lew. He spoke on 2 Peter 3:1-18, "Living in the Last Days." The following is a summary of the message.

In this chapter, Peter is reminding us that this earth will not last forever. The Day of the Lord will come but "How do we recognize the coming of the Day of the Lord?" Looking at the happenings in the world today (earthquakes, Tsunami, wars, rumors of war), one wonders if this is the sign of the birth pains Jesus was talking about in Matthew 24.

As Christians what is more important is how we should live in the last days before Christ’s glorious return.  Peter 's message to believers is “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God.” (verse 11).  There are 3 key words to consider.

Holiness

We are living in a time where ideology and values are in conflict with the teachings in the Scripture. There are more cases of divorce, teenage abortion, HIV patients, synthetic drug abuses and so forth. Christian families are not spared of the woes in the world. Many live to be "happy" but the Scripture teaches us to live to be holy. What does it mean to live a holy life? The question is answered by the Apostle Paul in Colossians chapter three. 

Unity

In living a godly life, what is much needed today in the church is Unity. Nations are rising against nations, people are against people and even Christians are against Christians. Churches need to stand together to guard against false teachings and to preserve those values true to Scripture. Christians need to stand together to fulfill the work the Lord has given us to do. Without unity, much work will be left undone. What does it mean to be united? Paul's emphasis in Ephesians 4 is that we need to keep the unity of Spirit through the bond of peace, using an analogy of a human body.

Missions

As we look forward to the day of the Lord's return, let us not forget the mission He has entrusted us. What does it mean to be involved in the work of missions? It means a costly sacrifice that demands our time, resources and inconveniences to bring the Good News to the world! But all these sacrifices cannot be compared to the sacrifice of Christ Jesus who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. 

Peter wrote this letter to warn us and to prepare us for the "last days."  Let us earnestly desire to live a life of holiness, unity and involvement in the mission of God.

Chapel speaker next week (4 May) will be Mr Tang Kok Fai who is working toward the MCS at BGST.

NEWS BITS

Closed for Labour Day. BGST offices and library will be closed on 2 May as Labour Day (1 May) falls on the Sunday. School will resume on 3 May.

     

A Blessed Birthday to…



Ms Tan Lee Pin  2/5

Rev Ng Seng Chuan  4/5

Mr Lee Fatt Ping  4/5

Mr Seah Min Aun  4/5

Ms Carolyn Gan  5/5  

Ms Irise Lee 5/5

Mrs Low Bee Hong 5/5

Mr Alvin Tey 5/5

Ms Yeo Kim 6/5

Ms Chong Sook Yee 6/5

Dr Atomic Leow 8/5 

Mr Daniel Jew 8/5

 

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