The news would be a boon to Zechariah, but would cost Mary dearly. The contrast between the Zechariah story and Mary’s is unmistakable. While they have enough in common to make it so, Luke ensures that we see the contrast by setting the stories next to each other.
John would be the greatest man to ever live. But that is only so because Jesus is incomparable. Jesus is unique. The Son of God, the eternal second Person of the Trinity stooped to take on flesh. Jesus is not on a continuum with John. He’s radically superior. He is the king.
Not only is there a striking difference between the two men, one being the forerunner, pointing to the other, like a shadow to the object which casts it, but there is a striking difference also between Zechariah’s response and Mary’s.
Zechariah asks Gabriel, “How shall I know that this will be?” Mary asks, “How shall this be?” The ‘that’ makes all the difference in the world. Zechariah is demanding a guarantee. He imagines himself in a position to assert some ill-conceived ‘rights’. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can shift from beggars to bosses?
Mary, on the other hand, is merely looking to understand. She is not doubting the truth of the pronouncement, she’s just confused by how this could be, given that she is a virgin.
Both get a sign. But Zechariah’s impudence costs him the very great privilege of sharing his joy with others. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be, having had life-long prayers for a son answered in your old age, only to be completely unable to share the story? Mary gets a sign, too. Not only does God reveal to her how it is that she will have a son, He also gives her a sign. Elizabeth’s joy will be a sign for Mary. God does not hesitate to give us signs. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are given a tangible sign to strengthen our faith.
Mary is further contrasted with Zechariah in her response. This event would dramatically change her life. Like most little girls, she probably dreamed of her wedding day. But now she would be regarded as an immoral woman. She would bear a bastard child, and all the reproach that came with it. Nevertheless, she responds with unhesitating trust and submissive abandon to the will of her God.
The Cost of Faith
The kingdom comes at a cost. And the cost is total (Luke 9:23-25, 57-62). Mary’s own dreams, her relationship with Joseph, her reputation … everything had to be set aside, abandoned to the will of the king. She trusted that nothing she might give up would compare to the glory that would result (Rom. 8:18).
Are you prepared to abandon all for the glory of the king?