An angel came to Zechariah with an incredible promise. He and his elderly wife would be given a son who “will be great before the Lord…he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:15-17). That son would be John the Baptist. Yet we may be surprised to find that Zechariah, a silver-haired priest, doubts the promise. He asks, “how shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v18). He is struck mute for the duration of his wife’s miraculous pregnancy for his unbelief. Yet by the end of the chapter, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesying in a beautiful Psalm that expresses complete faith in God’s promises (vv67-79). What happens in between the doubt and faith? Spiritual growth! God takes Zechariah through spiritual boot camp, using three tools that spur his growth.
Tool #1 is the spiritual instruction from the angel Gabriel. Gabriel’s message was rich in prophecy and Old Testament allusions about one who would be filled with the Holy Spirit (v15), be the prophet foretold by Malachi (v16), fill the role of Elijah (v17a), and prepare the way for the Messiah (v17b). While Zechariah initially doubts the angel’s promises, the message of Gabriel surely stuck with him during his mute months.
Tool #2 is receiving discipline. Because of his doubt, Zechariah is stricken mute for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. Then a beautiful object lesson unfolds throughout the chapter: the last words of Zechariah before his muteness are words of doubt, but the first words out of Zechariah’s mouth that break his muteness rival any of the Psalms in their faith and beauty (vv67-79). The intent of discipline is not simply to punish, but the cause the disciplined to reexamine the issue that caused the discipline in the first place.
Tool #3 is being surrounded by people with greater faith. Throughout Luke 1 there is a stark contrast between the doubt of Zechariah and the faith of the women in the story, Elizabeth and Mary. While Zechariah sought for a sign (v18), Mary said, “behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v38). Surely Mary’s 3-month stay (v56) at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth had a great impact on Zechariah.
The lesson of Zechariah is that you can grow in faith. Where you are in your faith today does not have to be where you will be tomorrow. You may have doubt today, but that doubt can dissipate just as Zechariah’s did. Through listening to spiritual instruction, receiving discipline well, and being surrounded by the faithful, we can grow in faith.