************ Sermon on Luke 1:38 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 6, 2015

Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:38
"I am the Lord's Servant"

Think for a moment, mothers, of the awesome responsibility you feel at the thought of bearing and rearing a child. Now, try to imagine what Mary felt at the responsibility of bearing and rearing the Son of God. Mary, I would have to say, is one of the heros of faith.

I say this in spite of the differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics over the role of Mary. The Roman Catholic Church, as you know, has exalted Mary: they pray to her, they bow before her image, a recent pope has called her co-mediator with Jesus. Many Protestants have over-reacted to this by down-playing who Mary was and what she did.

I Mary as Theotokos
A Notice, though, what the Bible tells us about Mary. "You have found favor with God." These are the words of the angel Gabriel, sent by God to visit with Mary (Lk 1:30). Gabriel is one of God's mighty angels. In fact, he is one of God's archangels -- one of those angels who stand in the very presence of God (Lk 1:19). He comes to Mary as God's personal representative. He comes to Mary with a simply astounding message: "You have found favor with God."

Now consider the words spoken about Mary by her cousin Elizabeth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:42). "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

The Spirit inspired Mary herself to say, "From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name" (Lk 1:48–49). Mary’s statement is found in her prayer of adoration, which begins "My soul glorifies the Lord." In Latin, the first word is magnificat; thus, her song is known as the Magnificat. The Magnificat is a great hymn of praise inspired by the Holy Spirit.

B What brought about this kind of Spirit-inspired talk from Gabriel, Elizabeth, and Mary herself?

Let me answer this with a question. What is the highest title ever bestowed on a woman by human beings? The highest title ever bestowed on a woman is the Latin word "theotokos" (pronounced in English "thee OH te kos"). It means "bearer of God." This is the title bestowed on Mary by the early church fathers. By this title they did not mean that Jesus derived His divine nature from Mary. Rather, what they meant was that Mary was the mother of the child who was God Incarnate, God in the flesh, the Emmanuel.

This is not a title you will find in the Bible. This is a title hated by atheists and liberals because they do not and cannot believe Jesus is God. This title is even hated by some conservative Reformed Christians because in their eagerness to defend the deity of Christ they end up denying His full humanity.

Mary is spoken of so highly by the Bible because she is the "bearer of God." She was the chosen vessel from which the eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature. As Gabriel explains,
(Lk 1:31-33) You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (32) 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, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.

C Mary is the theotokos. Mary, a single woman in Nazareth of Galilee is chosen to be the theotokos. God's choice is surprising and unexpected. We would expect someone glamorous -- like Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William. We would expect someone from a leading Jewish family -- with a title and money. We would expect someone important. But God chose Mary to be the theotokos.

One of the glorious attributes of the Gospel is revealed in the way God raises up the lowly and bestows honor on the unlikely. The Christian religion is not for the proud and haughty, for it contradicts man's wisdom and man's ways. As Mary puts it in her song, the Magnificat:
(Lk 1:51-53) ... {God] has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. (52) He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (53) He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
This Gospel theme of lifting up the lowly is continued when we see that the first tidings of Christmas were given to shepherds (Lk 2. And, the first news of Easter was given to the women at the tomb -- not the apostles (Lk 24).

Now, with this in mind, look at Christ. He embodies this Gospel theme of lifting up the lowly. He was born of a humble woman. He was born in a stable. He was laid in a manger. He was raised by lower class parents without a lot of money. He grew up in Nazareth. He was despised and rejected by men. He had no beauty or majesty (cf Is 53). To sum up, He made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, and became obedient to death. And then, because of all this humiliation, He was exalted to the highest place and given the name that is above every name (cf Phil 2:6-11).

What happened to Christ happens to those who believe in Christ: humiliation is followed by exaltation.

II Mary as Servant
A Mary is told she will be the theotokos, the bearer of God. How does she respond? "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38).

There is a bit of theological controversy about the second part of Mary's reply: "May it be to me as you have said." This statement has been called "Mary's fiat" -- that is, it has been understood by some as Mary's command to the angel to make it happen. Those who see it as such say Mary's fiat was absolutely necessary in order for Christ to be born. Christ, they say, could not have been born without Mary's permission. God, in other words, is tied down and limited by the action of men.

Don't we see that same kind of argument on the part of those who say salvation and faith is man's decision? God makes salvation possible and waits with bated breath for man's decision on whether or not to believe.

We have a name for this kind of thinking. It is called open theism. Open theism says God's knowledge is dynamic and God's providence is flexible. Thus, the future as well as God's knowledge of the future is open. God does not know what will happen as He waits for human action or reaction. To adopt open theism, to speak of Mary's fiat, to believe salvation is man's decision, is to make God in our image. God is no longer sovereign. He is not in control. Just like that, God is no longer God.

B Contained in Mary's answer is the second title for Mary that we find in our Scripture reading. Our text for this morning gives us Mary's title for herself: "I am the Lord's servant" (Lk 1:38). Do you hear the title Mary gives herself? She calls herself "servant."

The Greek word for "servant" can also be translated as "slave." Other translations use the phrase "handmaid."

As we consider this title, we can't forget the status of a slave in that time and place. A slave is to have only one attitude: willing submission to the wishes of the master. A slave has only one duty: to serve the master. A slave has only one command: to obey the master. A slave has no say and no control.

"I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38).

Mary was submitting to the Divine Master. Mary was serving the Divine Master. Mary was obeying the Divine Master. In being the bearer of God, the theotokos, Mary was putting herself -- totally and completely -- in God's hands. Obviously, we cannot speak of Mary's fiat. In our Bible reading Mary is not giving orders to the angel. Rather, she is submitting to the sovereign power and will of God. "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38).

C Mary does have a question, though: "How will this be ... since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34). This is not a question of unbelief. Mary, for instance, has no problems believing in the pregnancy of an aged Sarah or an aged Elizabeth; but they both had a husband. By way of contrast, Mary is still a virgin, without a husband. It has become popular in books and magazines to depict ancient peoples as being ignorant about the conception and birth of children. But Mary knew. She knew she needed a husband. She knew that it is ordinarily impossible for virgins to conceive and bear children. "How will this be ... since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34). Yet, as Gabriel told Mary, "nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). The angel explained to her how this is possible:
(Lk 1:35) "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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."

Here is another teaching hated by liberal churches and liberal pastors. These liberals deny the supernatural, deny the possibility of miracles, and even deny the resurrection of Jesus. They find belief in the virgin conception and birth of Christ to be particularly embarrassing.

We all know from the Catechism, based upon the Bible, that our Mediator has to be a true and complete human being because only a human can atone for human sin (Q&A 16; Heb 10:1-18). We also know that the sinful nature we inherit from Adam makes it impossible for a fallen human being to atone for sin (Q&A 16; Rom 5:12-21). Our Mediator must be human and our Mediator must be righteous. God overcame both problems through Christ's conception by the Spirit and birth of the virgin Mary. Through Mary, Jesus took on a true human nature. And, because of the conception by the Spirit, He did so without inheriting the corruption of original sin.

What am I saying? I am saying belief in the virgin birth is crucial to salvation, for this miracle is the means by which God gave us a sinless Mediator.

Let's go back to the introduction of Luke's gospel for a moment. Remember why Luke wrote his gospel? We looked at this last week. So Theophilus can be "certain" of the things he has been taught about Jesus: that it is true, trustworthy, and reliable (Lk 1:4). So Theophilus, and us through Theophilus, can trust the Christmas story and all of the Gospel.

Luke makes clear, after careful research, that part of the trustworthy message is Christ's conception by the Spirit and birth of the virgin Mary.

III Mary's Humility, Faith, Obedience
A We look at Mary and we see that the theotokos is a humble servant. Mary has just been given the most important calling given to any human in the universe. We detect no sense of pride, no arrogance, no swagger, no self-exaltation. "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38).

Mary does not argue, ask irreverent questions, or disbelieve in silence. She does not have the full picture. She must have many questions that go unanswered: where will I live, how will I support myself, will my child be accepted, will people believe my story or think me a loose woman, what will happen with Joseph? Instead, she displays true humility: "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). True humility always bows joyfully to God's plans and purposes in our lives, no matter how difficult they may seem. Mary is overcome with reverence and awe for our almighty God Who has blessed her and done great things for her. This knowledge fills her with a humble reverence.

We see Mary's humility when she is with Elizabeth. What does Mary do? In the Magnificat she exalts God's amazing kindness to her. Humility is self-forgetful. Humility focuses on the great Giver, not on self as the recipient. Humility does not look inward but upward. So Mary sings about God and His mighty deeds in the past and in the present.

"Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift thee up." That is the message we see in Mary here. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Whoever wants to be first in the kingdom of God must be like a little child. Here is a call, congregation, to be like Mary and like Jesus.

This is so hard for us to swallow. We tend to be proud and arrogant and independent. We fail to see our complete dependence upon God for everything. [Think of what the Catechism taught us this morning about prayer.] It is bad enough when we have this attitude towards physical blessings. It is even worse when we allow this attitude to spill over into the spiritual realm -- thinking we deserve and are worthy of salvation. We must remember we are sinners. Sinners, you should know, deserve nothing but judgment from the hands of God.

B Second, we look at Mary and we see that the theotokos is a faithful servant. "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). We read a little further in Luke's gospel that Mary hurries to Elizabeth to share her news and confirm the angel's report. At this meeting, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims,
(Lk 1:45) Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!
Did you hear that? Mary believed. She believed what Gabriel said to her. Yes, she didn't have the full picture. Yes, many questions went unanswered. But she believed. She took God at His word. To use Luke's word to Theophilus, she was "certain" that nothing is impossible with God. She was "certain" about the conception by the Spirit and the virgin birth. She was "certain" she would give birth to the "Son of God."

Those liberal churches and pastors can learn from Mary here. Don't snort in disgust. Don't dismiss this as a fairytale. Don't deny miracles. Be like Mary and believe. Be like Mary and be certain about the truths of the Gospel.

C Third, we look at Mary and we see that the theotokos is an obedient servant. "I am the Lord's servant ... May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). She passively submits to the Word of God.

But she is also actively obedient. We see her active obedience in her relationship to Joseph. I want to hold Joseph and Mary before you, congregation, as a godly couple to imitate. Mary obviously views Joseph as her spiritual head, for she follows him wherever he leads. After Joseph takes Mary to be his wife, he is the one who receives divine guidance for the family. The angel appears to Joseph in dreams four times to give him directions. Joseph's instant obedience tells us much about his character. First, Joseph takes Mary as his wife though she is pregnant (Mt 1:24). Second, Joseph rushes his family off to Egypt to escape Herod (Mt 2:13-14). Third, Joseph returns to Palestine at the angel's command (Mt 2:19-20). And fourth, Joseph turns aside to Nazareth after being warned by God in a dream (Mt 2:22-23). Mary is wedded to a godly, faithful man, and she is an obedient, submissive wife. Their life together is anything but settled and comfortable, for the Child is born in a stable, they flee for their lives in the middle of the night, and they live in a foreign land. In all of these afflictions, Mary is led by her husband. The theotokos is an obedient servant.

Mary is the theotokos. She is highly favored by God. Yet, Mary remains a servant with a servant's attitude.

Why? Because Mary realizes she is not the star of the show. Why? Because Mary knows she is not worthy. Why? Because it is Jesus, not Mary, Who deserves the worship and the praise and the glory.

Mary as the theotokos is great; there is no denying that. But Jesus as the Son of God and Savior is greater, infinitely greater. So, to Him be the honor and the glory and the praise forever and ever. Amen!
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