The Strong Ones of God
“I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God,
and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.”
The story of Gabriel’s visitation to the aged Zacharias contains precious words of encouragement and admonition for all Christians, especially preachers and teachers of the Gospel.
God sent the angel Gabriel (whose name means “God is my Strength”) to bring good news to Zacharias and Elizabeth: Soon they would have a son–John the Baptizer–a son who would be great in the sight of the Lord. But Zacharias, focusing on his wife’s barrenness and their own advanced years rather than the angel’s promise, doubted the good news, and so became mute until the birth of John, which did indeed occur in its appointed time.
Why was Zacharias struck dumb? What is the meaning of this judgment? And what does it teach us today? The answer, I think, is two-fold.
First, it instructs us to be like Gabriel, to be “strong ones of God.” This is the inheritance, the birthright, of every born-from-above Christian. God has placed us in Christ, seated us with Him in heavenly places, and thereby enabled us to stand in the His presence at all times. True, we are in His presence in a manner different from Gabriel: We are in it by faith, beholding God inwardly through the Word and by the Spirit; Gabriel (happy is he!) is in it by sight. But though we are in His presence in different ways, we are not in it in different degrees. No less than the angels of Heaven, the enthroned Christian stands before the very face of God.
Moreover, as with our standing, so with our calling: It too is like Gabriel’s. For our calling is to hear God’s voice and to be sent by Him with heavenly words that will impart life to the spiritually barren. Is there any more glorious privilege–or any more pressing priority–than this: to stand before the One who makes His face to shine upon us, receive his word, and bring it in life-giving power to the spiritually dead?
The first lesson, then, is that we should dedicate ourselves to becoming “strong ones of God,” Christians rooted in God’s presence by daily prayer and Bible meditation, intent on hearing and bringing His powerful, living words to the spiritually barren of this world.
But secondly, it also teaches us not to be like Zacharias. What was Zacharias’ fault in this matter? Gabriel himself tells us: He did not–in child-like simplicity, faith, and obedience–welcome the word of God. Unlike Gabriel, he did not prize it, he did not wait for it, he did not set it above his own thinking, but chose instead to listen to the sterile reasoning of his own natural mind.
And so, with poetic justice, God struck him dumb for months to come. This is, or should be, the terror of every preacher: not that he will literally become mute, but that when he speaks it will be as if he were mute; as if he were saying nothing at all; as if no one could hear him, whether God or man; as if he were a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, bombarding the outer ear with doctrinal racket, but leaving the inner ear untouched and altogether shrouded in the silence of the grave.
As an occasional preacher of the Gospel, I will gladly make my confession now: All too often I have not brought good news from Heaven above. All too often I failed to do as Gabriel: to stand diligently in God’s presence, before His shining face, waiting for His chosen words so as to bring them to His beloved barren ones, of whom I am chief.
The good news, however, is that God does not shame us with such failures, but is busily at work, separating us day by day, month by month, year by year, to His presence and His living word. This, I firmly believe, is the true trajectory of sanctification, the true end of spiritual growth and maturity in the faith.
Will you therefore join me today in dedicating yourself to it? Will you aspire with me to become a Gabriel of the Lord, a strong one of God?