A Viral Unbelief – The Silence of Zechariah

Why silence Zechariah?

Perhaps it was a kindness, an act of mercy.

I write for those of us who have entered a relationship with Jesus – many of us decades ago. So, it may seem odd that I want to focus a post on the problem of unbelief.

But, this is what I know – that while our baptisms are far in our rearview mirrors, we can still feel as though we’re a long way from home!

Unbelief is usually a problem we classify as a struggle for people who reject Jesus, but it can also creep into the lives of Christians.

Sometimes it enters through the door of sudden tragedy or unanswered prayer. It can be a by-product of a series of hardships or setbacks. Other times, it happens when an important Christian role model disappoints us. Or, perhaps we’ve let down our guard due to inattention or in the weariness of relentless battle and Satan has seized an opportunity.

When we’ve followed Jesus a long time, it’s easy to keep looking as if belief hasn’t taken a hit.

We show up at worship and at our ministry. We counsel others, pray, lead Bible Study, and offer assurances that we believe with our minds.

And no one sees that there’s been an erosion in some vital formerly functioning sector of belief. But, it’s there, lurking.

We are well-served if we face that necrotic lesion of the soul when it first forms rather than allowing it to fester and spread in the dark.

Zechariah was a devoted follower of God. He was righteous and had walked blamelessly, Luke reports.

He’d long awaited the baby Gabriel announced but somewhere in between the prayer and the promised son, Zechariah let a whisper of unbelief slip into his heart and when the angel spoke, out of the overflow of his heart, words of unbelief were given voice.

The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically why silence was chosen. But Gabriel, perhaps knowing that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36 ESV) silenced Zechariah for nine months.

Zechariah knew and trusted God’s Word. He obeyed Him. He worshipped. He followed. But in this moment, he had faltered.

Several months pass and Gabriel visited another individual, a teenage girl, betrothed to a carpenter. He announced a miraculous child to Mary, too, shattering her life plans with fewer than one hundred words.

Out of the overflow of her heart, she responded – believing Gabriel and humbly offering her obedience to God, even though it would mean hardship, suffering, and changes of plan.

When she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, now six months along with her miracle, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her form the Lord.” (Luke 1:45 ESV).

Blessed is she who believed. Mary didn’t just believe in God, she believed God.

In Mary’s song of praise (the Magnificat), she pours out words that glorify God but also speak boldly of bringing down the mighty from their thrones and sending the rich away empty.

This isn’t an emotional outburst from a young girl living under the oppression of Rome but the triumphant song of a servant of God filled with the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and all the Israelites with them had been waiting and waiting for the coming Messiah. They would have known the words we know from the prophet Joel, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29 ESV

But people can become so accustomed to waiting they lose their expectation that what has been promised will actually one day be realized.

In Zechariah’s imposed silence, he would have been prevented from casting any doubt on what was occurring and would have, instead, been privy to witness in silence the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on his wife and her young relative.

God’s Word being fulfilled before his eyes. Perhaps the silence was God’s mercy allowing Zechariah to repent of his unbelief and regain full faith before speaking again.

Many others who had given up waiting, yielding to unbelief, simply missed the Messiah, but Zechariah had the opportunity to be quiet and watch God work.

And we find that Zechariah does, indeed, regain his perspective of belief – fitting that in his first verse, he would prophesy redemption – “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Luke 1:68 ESV

We wait now for Jesus to come again. How many of us have waged a private battle with moments of unbelief – moments we only acknowledge in the dark – hoping not to be found out?

The Lord finds us out. And so do our words. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. But in bringing our weakness and sin to light, He shows us mercy, because in His light, we find redemption.

Zechariah’s prophecy ends with this light, “to give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:77-79 ESV

We are free in Christ to confess and repent of our unbelief – even if we’re believers. As He conquered death, so He will conquer the beginnings of necrosis in our souls and restore even hidden sectors to life.

When we speak, do our words send out light? speak of redemption? inspire belief? Or is the overflow of our heart so convoluted we sow confusion, duality, or doubt?

Let us live in His light so that when we speak, our words are not those of unbelief that passes to others like a virus

but instead,  full of faith which spreads like the holy fire of the living God.

If you’re interested in following along with Lunch with Luke, my weekly Wednesday brief study on Luke but you’re not on Facebook, you can check out the videos on YouTube! Feel free to follow and share! Weeks one through three are posted with more to come: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghINWoq_YeM&t=105s

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    The Conversation

  1. Deborah Kreyssig says:

    Hi Lori. I have a quick testimony to share.
    Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
    Mark 9:24 NIV In the story of the man whose son had an impure spirit, Jesus tells the father everything is possible for those who believe. This is the dad’s response. I had a season before we left to return to Haiti where this is the scripture I continually prayed. We had been in the US for 8 months and God was preparing our hearts to return to ministry here. It was a Zachariah season of waiting. God knew I wanted to believe all His promises but there was this tiny seed of doubt. We are human so it is natural for doubt to creep in. God knows the heart. I, like this man, truly wanted to believe without any doubt so I offered that up to the Lord. He answered my prayer through the Word and with His presence. I’m sharing this in case anyone is feeling like I did. May this be an encouragement. You can’t hide doubt from God, He sees everything but you can give to Him and trust Him to strengthen your faith. He will.

  2. Amen, Deb! Thank you for sharing this testimony!

  3. Gary says:

    Thank you. The letter of Paul to the Ephesians, and then sadly, the letter to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 is “revealing”. May He draw us ever closer that we may not lose our First Love.