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When Zechariah the elderly priest and Mary the young virgin encountered a word from the Lord by means of an angel, they both found the experience troubling and frightening:

“And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).

“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29).

And in both cases the angel’s first command was against the fear they were feeling:

“But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah . . .” (Luke 1:13).

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary . . .'”  (Luke 1:30).

Mary obeyed the command with fear-filled faith.

Zechariah initially disbelieved with fear-filled doubt.

But in her song of praise to God (the Magnificat) Mary commends the fear of the Lord:

“And his mercy is for those who fear [God] from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

And in his prophecy, Zechariah discourages fear before the Lord. He recalls that Israel was shown mercy and delivered in order that they

“might serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).

John Newton got to the heart of this biblical paradox:

The Lord bids me “fear not”--and at the same time he says, “Happy is the man who fears always.”

How to fear and not to fear at the same time is, I believe, one branch of that secret of the Lord which none can understand but by the teaching of his Spirit.

When I think of my heart, of the world of the power of darkness--what cause of continual fear! I am on an enemy's ground, and cannot move a step but some snare is spread for my feet.

But when I think of the person, grace, power, care, and faithfulness of my Savior, why may I not say -- I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.

I wish to be delivered from anxious and unbelieving fear, which weakens the hands and disquiets the heart.

I wish to increase in a humble jealousy and distrust of myself and of everything about me.

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7 thoughts on “Mary v. Zechariah on Fear of the Lord”

  1. Mason says:

    Exodus 20:20 also brings out both aspects in a single context:

    Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”

    “Don’t be afraid, God has come to make you fear!”

  2. David says:

    Reminds me of Abraham vs. Sarah’s response to God’s promise.

    Abraham —-> How can this be! (Wonderful)

    Sarah ——> How can this be? (Impossible)

    Zechariah –> How can this be? (Impossible, though it had happened for Abraham and Sarah who were likely even older)

    Mary——–> How can this be? (Wonderful, and did not have precedent)

  3. Larry says:

    I disagree with Newton because we are not called to fear the world or our heart…but rather to fear the Lord.

    Our fear of God is kindled when we consider His holiness, justice, glory, etc.
    Our fear of God subsides when we consider His mercy, love, patience, etc.

    But since God is never one without the other (e.g. holy without mercy), we must always have a balance of fear and fearlessness.

  4. Newton speaks about this in Amazing Grace as well:
    Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

    Larry, I don’t think Newton is saying we should fear the world, but that in our weakness we do. And it is Christ who delivers us from this fear.

  5. Great quote. Thanks for sharing it. Definitely reposting.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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