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The First Coming of Christ, part 2: Mary’s response

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

As we continue the story of Jesus’s first coming, we find Gabriel now appearing to Mary. Luke’s account of Gabriel’s conversation with Mary tells us much about who this child will be: the fulfillment of prophecy, and a very unique individual at that. We learn important truths about Jesus’s nature, and we see a right response to God’s revelation: faith even through amazed wonder at seemingly impossible promises. 

Let’s read today’s passage together.

Luke 1:26–38 (ESV)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke’s purpose

This is a much beloved passage today. If you grew up in a Christian home of any sort, you likely heard this passage read during the advent season or at Christmas time. For some, it can be a powerfully nostalgic passage, stirring up memories of home and childhood, and I wonder if sometime we miss some of the important detail this short passage gives us about who Jesus is.

Luke wrote this gospel not simply as fuel for nostalgia. As part of our annual Christmas traditions, a decoration of sorts to go along with our lights and our trees and our candy and baked goods and songs, he wrote this book to equip the church. Here’s what he says:

Luke 1:1–4 (ESV)

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Specifically, Luke writes a few details about who this Jesus is that would have fought against some budding heresies about Jesus’s nature. Early Gnostic teaching that Jesus wasn’t really human, or that Jesus was merely human, and not divine. Rumors that perhaps Jesus was the physical offspring of Mary and Joseph, and they made up a fantastical story to cover up some pre-marital immorality. Nothing of the sort!

In this passage today we learn things about Jesus that became part of the early creeds the we still read today, and we are told that Jesus is the long awaited fulfillment of a promise to King David. Here’s what Luke teaches us, in his report of Gabriel’s short discussion with Mary:

What is true about Jesus

  • Conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Born of a virgin
  • The savior (“You shall call his name Jesus.”)
  • He’s a king. (“Son of the most high God.”)
  • He’s a Davidic king – the first Israel has had since Jehoiachin in the Babylonian exile.
  • Promised Messiah – forever throne, no end to kingdom

CONTRASTING ZECHARIAH AND MARY

One other very important piece of this passage, and what will be the bulk of the sermon today, though, is the contrast between Zechariah’s conversation with the archangel Gabriel, and Mary’s conversation with the Archangel. And in this comparison, we are going to see modeled for us, what a faith-filled heart and mind looks like in action.

Let’s look at these two.

First we have Zechariah – a priest, married to a priest’s daughter – double priestly from an entirely preistish family. “Like a pastor marrying a pastor’s daughter.” One commentator says. Super special guy. Actually “righteous and walking blamelessly according to the law.” This was a special family. And not only that, he was chosen to be the guy serving in the temple at the alter of incense in the holy place, just in front of the holy of holies.

Basically you couldn’t find a more religiously powerful and significant place to be in all of Israel than where Zechariah was.

By contrast, we have Mary, and though she was a relative of Zechariah’s wife, she was a young single woman, no children, and she lived in Nazareth, which was looked down at by Israel. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Was the saying of the day.

Luke, records, in a very intentional way, nearly identical conversations between these two, and the angel Gabriel, sent to bring good news.

Similar scenario and encounters, very different locations, very different responses.

Similarities

Zechariah

Mary

“There appeared to him an angel…” (1:11)

“And [the angel Gabriel] came to her…” (1:28)

“And Zechariah was troubled…” (1:12)

“She was greatly troubled…” (1:29)

“…the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid…’” (1:13)

“…the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid…’” (1:30)

“…your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (1:13)

“…you will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (1:31)

“…he will be great before the Lord.” (1:15)

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (1:32)

Differences:

Zechariah

Mary

“Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am old and my wife is advanced in years.’” (1:18)

“Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34)

“And the angel answered him… I stand in the presence of God… you will be silent and unable to speak… because you did not believe my words.”

“And the angel answered her…”

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Nothing will be impossible

What a remarkable contrast. The appointed, law-keeping, elder priest, in the holy place in the temple, right in front of the ark of the covenant, disbelieves. And the humble maiden in backwater “nowheresville” believes, and which one is commended by the Archangel, God’s messenger? The lesson is simple: it is faith in God’s word that matters, not status in the church, or religious performance.

So that’s the question for us today: In response to the seemingly impossible, unfeasible commands of God in light of the promises of God, what will be our response? Questioning God’s word like Zechariah, or humble inquiry and faith-filled willingness like Mary?

Zechariah’s question was: “How do I know that God’s word is true?”  Mary’s question is “Lord that doesn’t seem possible, can you help me understand how that is going to happen?”  Gabriel’s response: “Nothing is impossible for God.”

This verse is misused a bit in our day of “name-it, claim-it, prosperity preaching” – nothing is impossible for God isn’t telling us that we can have a million dollars, or a jet airplane of our very own if we just have enough faith.  It is speaking of God’s commands and God’s promises from the scriptures. When we come up against life circumstances, where we are being asked by to persevere through hard things, are we going to believe that God’s word is true, even if we can’t see how it is going to possibly work out?

So here’s a question for you today: Which of God’s promises and commands seem impractical, impossible, unfeasible to you?  And how are you going to respond?

      • Perseverance in prayer for something that has seemingly gone unanswered for years?
      • Energy and courage to do your daily tasks, or to go back to work or class tomorrow morning, or to stay home with the kids, and work “with heart, as if working for the Lord..”
      • Faithfulness to marriage vows?
      • Pursuit of peace, unity, and like-mindedness as a church with people who are just so different from you.
      • Humility and contentment in your current life circumstances, when you feel you deserve more and better.
      • Prayer for someone, maybe even yourself, to be saved – when it seems like the things they have done, or the circumstances of their upbringing have taken them so far away from God.

Nothing will be impossible with God.

His commands are possible in light of his promises, and I think perhaps this is where we go wrong: claiming something as a promise from God that he never promised. His promises in scripture aren’t really that many in terms or specifics we’re prefer, but they are comprehensive: his people will have everything they need to do his will, and they will make it to the finish line.

Let it be to me according to your word

Mary’s confession of faith in the face of a seemingly impossible situation: “Behold, I am the servant of the lord, let it be to me according to your word.” Oh, don’t you wish you could have more of that in your heart?  I feel like most of the time I’m more like the guy who said, “Lord I believe but help me in my unbelief.”  How can we have more of Mary’s heart?

When we feel short on faith, when we’re feeling convicted that we just frankly aren’t that good of a Christian, not that wise, not that faith-filled, not that spiritual, not that righteous, this is when the good news, the Gospel, is especially sweet.

Many of us are working through a study called Gospel Fluency, and the key question that it remind us to ask, pretty much in any situation is: What is true about Jesus? Take a minute in your struggle and get your eyes off yourself an on to Jesus, and it tends to bring things into focus.

Mary’s statement here reminds me of something Jesus said 33 years later, that Luke records 22 chapters later.  When Jesus was faced with the very difficult, we’d probably say impossible to face situation, prays to the Lord:

Luke 22:42-43

“Lord if you are willing, take this cup. But not as I will but as you will.” And there appeared to him and angel from heaven strengthening him.

(“There appeared an angel…” Isn’t that a fun parallel detail that Luke gives us? I almost wonder if its an intentional connection Luke gives us to connect these two passages. Mary made her declaration and the angel left. Jesus made his request and the angel showed up…)

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an angel appear to strengthen us?

But we can have something better than an angel, can’t we?  We actually have a promise from God, through the Holy Spirit’s presence in us, we can have God himself strengthen us.

When we are faced with the seemingly impossible, we are instructed:

Philippians 4:5-7 ESV

“…The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The ministering angel showed up to Jesus to strengthen him in his hour of need. And we can expect God himself to give us his peace in ours, because he is near at hand, always, to his children.

Does this seem unattainable to you? Perhaps impossible? Are we tempted to be a Zechariah here and ask God to prove it when it comes to this promise? To ask “how do we know this will happen”? How do we know we will get peace just by praying…

Follow Mary’s example, ask instead “Lord this seems impossible, how is it going to work, I am so far from peace right now…”

Remember that nothing, not even that peace, which seems so unattainable in this particular circumstance, is impossible for God.

Let’s repent today of our asking God to prove himself. To provide a sign. He has already provided it in Jesus. Trust Jesus for salvation. Gabriel told Joseph a little later “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus – Yeshua – “God Saves” – He is the savior of God’s people. Trust him to save you from your sin, trust him to save you from your trial. Trust him to guard and guide you exactly where he wants to you to be for his glory and for your good.

This is the gift we celebrate this time of the year.  Its not a “get out of hell free” gift card that we get to spend where and how we want.  It is a very real, very present, daily, constant companion of Jesus, the son, God himself, with us always, at all times, in our time of need. Does that sound impossible to you?

His name is Jesus – “God Saves” – believe him.