What We Can Learn from Zechariah’s and Mary’s Interactions with the Angel Gabriel

Angel ornament, Elizabeth Christmas story

Imagine that you are going about your everyday life and suddenly the angel Gabriel appears to you to give you a message about a miracle that the Lord is going to do in your life. Seeing the angel would cause great fear and concern at first. This message would be life-changing and both exciting and terrifying. In Luke 1, Gabriel appears to Zechariah and Mary. However, both situations were different. Today, we are going to compare the two stories and what we can learn from them.

Both were Approached by Gabriel and Both Were Afraid

Zechariah was a priest who had been chosen to go into the temple and burn incense for the Lord. When he went into the temple while those worshiping God were outside praying. The angel appeared to Zechariah in the temple and he was afraid.

Luke 1:11-12 says, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”

Mary was a young woman engaged to Joseph from the line of David. Gabriel went to her small town of Nazareth to tell her about her pregnancy.

Luke 1:28-29 says, “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

When we think about angels, many times we have an image in our head of sweet little babies with wings. Even though Gabriel is not described physically, we do know that his appearance scared Zechariah and Mary.

Both Were Told What to Name Their Children

It is amazing that Gabriel tells Zechariah and Mary what to name their sons. Both names were very intentional. According to Behind the Name, John means “Yahweh is gracious.” When we think about how Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in age and still barren, it was the grace of God to gift them with a son. They probably imagined their family line would end with them, but the Lord had another plan.

Luke 1:13 says, “But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.’”

Mit.edu shares that the name Jesus means, “God saves” or “God rescues.” When we think about the weight of this moment, how Mary was given the name of the Savior of the entire world from beginning to end, we are in awe. Up until this point, He was known as the coming Messiah, now through the prophetic words of the angel Gabriel, Mary was given the name of her son, Jesus. This name is the name of true power where the demons flee, this name is the name which stirs excitement that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus to be Lord one day. (Philippians 2:10)

Luke 1:31-33 says, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacobs descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary Asked Questions, but Zechariah Doubted

One main contrast between the two stories is that Mary asked questions, but Zechariah doubted. Mary asked the angel how she could become pregnant out of genuine curiosity.

Luke 1:34-35 says, ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

After Gabriel’s response, Mary is humble in accepting God’s will and blessed for her belief.

Luke 1:38 says, I am the Lords servant,” Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.”

We see Zechariah question doubtfully in unbelief. He ends up receiving the consequence of becoming mute until the birth of John.

Luke 1:18-20 says, “Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’ The angel said to him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’”

God’s Ultimate Plan Comes to Pass Regardless of Our Responses

We can learn a lot from the responses of these two people. When the Lord reveals His will and desires for us whether they be big or small, we have a choice on how we respond. Will we doubt in disbelief like Zechariah or ask genuine questions in trust of God’s plan like Mary?

What I love is that both Zechariah and Mary are sinners, they both equally needed a Savior. The Lord in His great grace still fulfilled His plans in spite of their reactions. In other words, God is going to be glorified whether we get on board or not. We can choose to doubt, or we can have true belief. It is wonderful in knowing that God’s ultimate plans are not dependent on our reliability, but He so kindly invites us into His work.

  • Psalm 33:11 says, “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
  • Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a persons heart, but it is the LORDs purpose that prevails.”
  • Isaiah 46:10 says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

As you look at the miracle of Christmas, as you enjoy the season of lights and carols, may it draw you back to study the amazing events that took place when Jesus came to earth. He is deserving of all the glory. May we have hearts that say yes to Him as He works in our lives today.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Iulia Alekseeva

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com


This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

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