There are some things in life where the answer is obvious and if God chastises us for our inaction, it should not surprise us.
In Luke chapter one, a priest named Zacharias is approached by the angel Gabriel and told that he and his wife Elizabeth were soon to become parents to none other than John the Baptist. This was impossible. Elizabeth was barren and she and Zacharias were old (to put it bluntly). Still, they held out hope for a miracle because when the angel appeared to Zacharias, he told him: “thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13b). Zacharias just did not believe him.
As a priest, he should have known better.
Consider the scenario: A couple well-stricken in years where the wife is barren is approached by a divine being who announces that they will have a child. Sound familiar? Surely Zacharias had heard of Abraham and Sarah! Still, he had to ask:
“Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (Luke 1:18b).
In response, the angel shares his credentials not so much to impress Zacharias but more to say, “Do you know who you’re talking to?”
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings (Luke 1:19).
As a rebuke to the priest’s unbelief, the angel goes on to tell him:
And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season (Luke 1:20).
This same angel appeared six months later to make a similar announcement “to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luk 1:27). To her, he declared:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (Luke 1:31)
Now that was impossible. It had never been done before. Prophesied, yes. But done? Never. So, Mary asked the obvious question:
“How shall this be, seeing I know not a man” (Luke 1:34b)?
Gabriel’s response to Mary is much different from his response to Zacharias. He offers no rebuke. He simply and kindly answers her question (Luke 1:35), and after telling Mary about Elizabeth’s impossible pregnancy, he adds: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).
Why the difference in responses to such similar questions? Zacharias was a priest with thorough knowledge of the Word of God, and what was to happen to him and Elizabeth was not without precedent. Mary was not a priest and not a trained theologian, and what was to happen to her had never happened before (and would not happen again). Zacharias’ question was unnecessary. Mary’s was completely understandable.
We are all expected to respond to God based on the amount of truth He has revealed to us.
No one knows everything there is to know about God, but as a believer, God expects me to obey Him based on what I do know of Him and not doubt. A person hearing the gospel for the first time may not know a lot of doctrine, but if he trusts the Lord based on what he hears in a simple gospel witness, he is just as saved as a believer who has known the Lord for decades. God holds us each responsible to the level of the truth we know about Him. The more we get to know of Him the more responsible we make ourselves. Whatever the level of truth we know of God, the right action is required.