************ Sermon on Luke 1:26-38 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 8, 2013
The message of Christmas is "good news." As I said last week, in his first chapter the gospel-writer Luke tells us 4 different responses to the good news of Christmas. The first response was that of Zechariah. We were disappointed in his response. Zechariah, don't forget, was a godly man. Yet, his response to the good news of Christmas was unbelief. I warned you, congregation, not to be unbelieving to God's good news as was Zechariah.
This week we want to look at the response of Mary. Her response to the good news was the opposite of Zechariah's. Her response was faith.
I Mary is Favored
A The same angel, the angel Gabriel, who brought news of a pregnancy to Zechariah was sent by God with a second birth announcement. This time Gabriel was sent to a young virgin in Nazareth named Mary. Notice the differences in the two assignments: an old man versus a young woman; a member of the priestly family of Aaron versus a member of the royal family of David; the temple versus a home; Jerusalem versus Nazareth; unbelief versus faith.
We know from Matthew's gospel that the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem did not respond warmly to this news because the Jews in Galilee had extensive contact with the Gentiles who lived in their midst (Mt 4:15). According to the tradition of the Pharisees such contact made one unclean and unfit. For this reason, the people in Jerusalem and Judah looked down upon the Jews in Galilee. They especially despised the people from Nazareth (Jn 1:45-46). But God, in His grace, chose a girl from Nazareth in Galilee to be the mother of the promised Messiah!
When it comes to Mary, people tend to go to one of two extremes. They either magnify her so much – as is done by the Roman Catholics – that she becomes the equal of Christ; or, they ignore her and fail to give her the esteem she deserves. Mary is not co-mediator with Jesus; she is not the equal of Jesus; she is a sinner just like you and I. Yet, we should honor Mary because the angel announces that she has "found favor with God" (Lk 1:29,30) and announces that "the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). And, inspired by the Spirit, Elizabeth calls her "the mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:43) and announces "Blessed are you among women" (Lk 1:42).
What do we know about Mary? She was a Jewess of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, and a virgin (Lk 1:27). She was engaged to an impoverished carpenter in Nazareth named Joseph (Mt 13:55; Lk 2:24; Lev 12:8). In that time and place most girls married young, so it is likely that Mary was in her early teens when the angel appeared to her.
B "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:29). Another translation is, "Rejoice, you who are greatly graced!" Or, "Rejoice, you who are exceptionally blessed!" This greeting troubled Mary. She wondered what kind of greeting this might be. She did not understand what it meant. Why would an angel be sent to her? In what way was she "highly favored"? And, in what way was the Lord with her? It is like she said, "Who me?"
Mary's trouble with this greeting reveals her humility before God. She never expected to see an angel and receive special favors from heaven. There was nothing unique about her that led her to expect such things to happen to her. She was not one of those people who thought the world revolved around her. She didn't say, for instance, "It's about time! I've been expecting you!" No, all of this was a great surprise to her. If anything, Mary would say she did not deserve any of this. "Who me?"
Gabriel comes from the same viewpoint. He says, "You have found favor with God" (Lk 1:30). By favor, Gabriel means "grace." This means it is an unearned act of kindness, it is an undeserved gift, it is God's unexpected good will toward Mary. It is not something Mary deserves or earns. It is an act of grace.
Here is a reminder that humility is a requirement for those who want to be of service to God in His church and Kingdom. Either you are already humble – like Mary, Moses, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, and Mordecai, to name a few. Or, the Lord makes you humble – as He did with Jacob, Peter, Paul, and others. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 14:11).
C Gabriel explains his greeting to Mary. "You will be with child and give birth to a son ..." (Lk 1:31). We notice a pregnancy and a birth. This is a clear affirmation that Jesus is human. But Gabriel also affirms the deity of Jesus: He "will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:32); and, He "will be called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). Gabriel echoes the language of Isaiah: "For to us a child is born [His humanity], to us a son is given [His deity]" (Isa 9:6).
"You are to give him the name Jesus" (Lk 1:31). Jesus, as you know, means "Savior." Mary has been chosen by God to give birth to the Savior. He is the Savior from sin and hell. He is the One Who provides rescue from the powers of darkness.
"He will be great ..." (Lk 1:32). Notice, the emphasis is on the greatness of the Son, not the greatness of the mother. Reminding us that He is the One we worship and revere and glorify, not her.
"The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Lk 1:32-33). Way back in the history of Israel a Messianic promise was given about Judah. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, this Messianic promise was stated by Jacob as his last will and testament.
(Gen 49:10) The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.The scepter and ruler's staff are both symbols of kingly power coming to the tribe of Judah. God also made a Messianic promise to David to establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:13). Well, as stated last week, Herod the Great was king at the time of the early New Testament. He was a foreigner, a deputy of Rome, and a wicked tyrant. This means, doesn't it, that the scepter has departed from Judah. And, it means David's throne has not been established forever. But Gabriel announces that all of this is about to change with the pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus, the promised Messiah.
II Mary is Faithful
A Note Mary's response: "How will this be since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34). A virgin is what she is and the Greek makes clear that Mary has every intention to remain a virgin until her marriage to Joseph. No fooling around on her part. No sex outside of marriage for her. So, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" Mary wants to know how a pregnancy and birth are possible because she is planning to remain pure and holy. It is not a case of unbelief. It is a question of process. How can a virgin give birth to a child?
Compare this to Zechariah's response when he was told he was to become a father: "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years" (Lk 1:18). Zechariah didn't ask about the process. Rather, he pointed out how God's promise is impossible to be fulfilled. Zechariah, as I said last week, responded in unbelief to the Good News of Christmas.
B "How will this be since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34). How can a virgin give birth to a child? Gabriel's answer includes three things. First, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). Time after time in the Old Testament we see the power of angels unleashed in the work of God. But this time it is the divine power itself at work, the power of the Spirit Himself. In other words, it's a miracle. Neither Joseph, nor any other man, will be involved.
Second, the one to be born is "holy" (Lk 1:35). He does not share the sinful nature of fallen man. Jesus knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21), did no sin (1 Pet 2:22), had no sin (1 Jn 3:5), and was without sin (Heb 4:15). The word "overshadow" emphasizes His holiness. Let me backup and explain this. Do you remember what happened when the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was first set up? The cloud of God's presence covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34). To use the language of Gabriel, the presence of God "overshadowed" the Jewish tabernacle and its Holy of Holies. Now, in the Spirit, the presence of God overshadowed Mary. Telling us what? Telling us that Mary's womb is a sacred place, a Holy of Holies, because the holy "Son of God" is present there.
Third, Gabriel mentioned that Mary's aged cousin, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant. Elizabeth's pregnancy proves that "nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). Mary realizes, of course, that similar language is used with the birth of Isaac. At that time a disbelieving Sarah is told, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). The Hebrew makes clear that the answer is NO. NO, nothing is too hard for the Lord. The message of Gabriel is that if God is more than able to give children to an aged couple like Abraham and Sarah, or an old man and wife like Zechariah and Elizabeth, then He can also make a virgin like Mary conceive and give birth.
"Nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). Our God can do anything. This is the testimony of many in Scripture. Job says, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). Jeremiah says, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you" (Jer 32:17). Through Isaiah the Lord asks, "Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?" (Isa 50:2; cf Num 11:23; Isa 59:1). As for Jesus, He reminds us that with God all things are possible – even things that are impossible with man (Mt 19:26).
There are many times when our faith is tested like Mary's and Zechariah's. Parents, for instance, struggle about a child. Do they have the faith to give their child over to God or do they give up? A couple's marriage is failing. Do they have the faith to give it over to God or do they give up? A loved one is sick, grievously sick. Do we have the faith to let God do what most glorifies His name, or do we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with despair?
C Mary listens to all of this. She doesn't have to think about it overnight. She doesn't ask for the time to make up a mental list of pros and cons. She doesn't hesitate. She doesn't take a wait and see attitude. She says, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). This is her response to the good news of Christmas.
First, this was a dangerous response. Mary was going to get pregnant outside of marriage. It could have meant the end to her relationship with Joseph (cf Mt 1:18-20). And, in that time and place more than one woman was stoned to death for adultery (cf Jn 8:1-11) or was subject to the mockery and scorn of the gossips. Mary knew all this and still submitted to the Word of God through the angel Gabriel.
Second, this was a faithful response. I cannot help but observe that Mary has a far better response to the good news of Christmas than does Zechariah. A young Jewish girl puts an aged and godly priest to shame. Mary can echo the words we will be singing shortly: "I know whom I have believed And am persuaded that He is able ..."
Third, this was a wholehearted response. Mary surrendered herself to God as His willing servant or handmaid. Actually, the Greek is far more graphic. Mary surrenders herself to God as His slave. In that society, hardly anyone was lower than a slave. Only criminals were further down the totem pole. By law, the slave was classified as a piece of merchandise, a piece of moveable property. He or she had no rights and could own no property. The rights of a master over a slave were absolute and no one could hinder or prevent a master from doing with a slave what he wanted.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). Before God, Mary adopts the status and attitude of a slave.
The Greek word for "Lord" means "supremacy, supreme in authority." What a good description of and for God. God is almighty, supreme, and worthy of authority.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). Mary adopts the status and attitude of a slave before the almighty God.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). What exactly does this mean? A slave's calling in life is to serve the master. He has no other purpose. He has to devote 100% of his time, gifts, talents, and abilities to the master's service. Together with service there must be obedience. A good slave serves the master by being obedient, fully and completely obedient at all times. A slave has only one purpose in life – to please her master.
"I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). Mary is stating here that she is dedicating herself to the Lord's service. She is expressing her willingness to follow the Lord's leading and to live before Him a life of obedience.
What an example Mary is for us to follow. She belonged totally to the Lord: body and soul.
D "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). God wants everyone of us to be like Mary. God wants everyone of us to say these same words. In the face of a world that hates Christ and Christian, God wants us all to make a dangerous response. In the face of believers who are often faithless and disbelieving, God wants us all to make a faithful response. In the face of a church that often lacks commitment, God wants us all to make a wholehearted response.
Our passage ends with these words: "Then the angel left her" (Lk 1:38). It is generally supposed that at this instance the virgin conceived. It is generally supposed that at this instance the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. Scripture is silent about this. So, we had best be careful about being too inquisitive about the things of God.
As we continue our observance of advent, let us consider – again – the good news of Christmas. Let us consider whether we are unbelieving like Zechariah or faithful like Mary.
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