Why God Shut Zachariah’s Mouth

July 26, 2012  Leave a comment

As we saw in yesterday’s post, Luke and it’s sequel Acts clearly lay out the pattern that all who are filled with the Spirit have their mouths opened in witness and praise.  Jesus says in Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…

It makes it all the more remarkable than to find Luke, the gospel of the open mouth, beginning not with an open mouth but with an old man having his voice taken from him.

You’ve heard the story.  We hear it almost every Christmas time.

The angel Gabriel tells Zachariah the priest he’s going to have a son. But the priest needs proof.  

“How can I be certain?  My wife and I are well passed childbearing years.”  

The angel snaps back.  “Your mouth will be shut because you did not believe the good news.” (Luke 1:5-23)

Wow!  Did you get that?  This isn’t just a story.  It’s a warning.  

Zachariah’s inability to speak is made all the more striking when compared to another who receives the same Good News. Get this!  Luke parallels Zachariah’s story with the announcement made to Mary.

  • Situation: Like Zachariah and Elizabeth, Mary is unable to have children.  They are old.  She is a virgin (compare 1:5-10, 26-27)
  • Message: Like Zachariah, the angel comes to Mary with the miraculous good news. (compare 1:11-17, 28-33) (Don’t be afraid (1:13, 30), You will have a son (1:13, 31), You will name him… (1:13, 31) He will be great… (1:14-17, 32-33))
  • Question: Like Zachariah, she asks “How” – though it’s a very different sort of question then the one Zachariah asks. (compare 1:18, 34)
  • Response: Like Zachariah, she gets an answer. (compare 1:19-20, 35-38
  • Elizabeth Reaction: And Like Zachariah, she journey’s to Zachariah’s home where Elizabeth proclaims the glory of what God has done. (compare 1:21-25, 39-45)

Point after point, Luke takes pains to reveal the comparisons in these two accounts.

And then suddenly the pattern is broken – and its broken in MARY’S SONG (1:46-55)!  Mary’s mouth is opened and she sings a song almost ten verses long.

See the parallels and the break!

  • Zachariah:  Situation – Message – Question – Response – Reaction – (        )
  • Mary:          Situation – Message – Question – Response – Reaction – SONG!

Zachariah is silenced.  His song is clearly missing.  He should have sang a song after Elizabeth speaks.  But he doesn’t.  He can’t.  Instead he sits silently watching and listening to this young girl sing a song that he himself is unable sing.

Why is Mary’s mouth opened when Zachariah’s is shut?  

It’s comes down to the very different responses they have to the good news.

  • Zachariah doubts the message.  “How shall I know this?”
  • Mary believes. “How will this be?”

For Luke, these two stories aren’t just about the birth of John and Jesus.  It’s the very message of Luke’s Gospel and Acts.  Be careful how you receive the Good News – the Gospel, Luke warns.  To those who believe their mouths will be opened, but the mouths of the those who disbelieve will be shut.

The good news is that there’s hope even for Zachariah.  Though it comes late, his mouth is opened when he humbles himself and submits to the good news.  When he names his son John, as the Angel instructed, Zachariah, like Mary before, is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and at last sings His song (1:67-79).

Question: When have you experienced your mouth opened in witness and praise?  Have you ever had it closed because of a refusal to believe?

Matthew Scott Miller

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