Date: June 30, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 1:26–1:38
From the start I want to state very clearly to you that the main point of this passage, the primary focus, the one thing we dare not miss today is the glory and grace of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. This passage is not primarily about explaining or defending the possibility of a virgin conception. As Christians, we affirm God’s Word is true in all its parts, and we confess that God himself is all-powerful. If the Word of our all-powerful God declares that a virgin gave birth to the Son of God, then that is enough to demand our faith and allegiance. This passage is not primarily about defending the miraculous.
Neither is this passage primarily about Mary. Some folks, like the Roman Catholic Church for example, spend so much time talking about Mary that they end up missing the main point of the passage – Mary’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. To be sure, Mary does have something to teach us as God’s people, but she actually does so by pointing our attention away from herself and to the great God whom she serves. This passage is not primarily about Mary.
For all the glory and intrigue of this familiar passage, our text is ultimately a call to worship and adore Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
But I don’t want you to simply take my word for it. I want you to see this Christ-centered emphasis in the text itself, and one way to do that is to note even the way Luke arranges his narrative. This is telling. Even the way Luke puts his material together is meant to exalt Jesus. You may have noticed, as we read, that there are a number of similarities between this week’s passage and the text we considered last week about John the Baptist. Both pregnancies are unexpected. Both announcements are made by the angel Gabriel. Both recipients are initially afraid and then ask a follow-up question. And both receive signs that confirm God’s word. There are a number of similarities.
But at the same time, there are also a number of differences, and these stand out most clearly. Elizabeth’s pregnancy is unlikely because she is barren, but Mary’s pregnancy is miraculous because she is a virgin. The one child, John, will have a prophetic role in God’s plan, but the other child, Jesus, will have a royal role. John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke told us in v15, but Jesus will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Do you see the contrast? As great as John is, Jesus will be far greater! Even in the way Luke puts his narrative together, our attention is brought to Jesus. It’s not about the question of miracles or the possibility of the supernatural. It’s not about the person of Mary. No, this passage is ultimately about the glory and grace of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
Brothers and sisters, to help us behold the glory of Jesus this morning, I’d like us to note together four truths that I pray magnify the Savior whom God has provided. First, we’ll consider the Surprise of God’s Grace in vv26-30. Second, we’ll look at the Reign of God’s Son in vv31-33. Third, we’ll focus on the Wonder of God’s Sovereignty in vv34-37. And finally, we’ll consider the Submission of God’s Servant in v38. Let’s begin, then, in v26 with the Surprise of God’s Grace.
The Surprise of God’s Grace
The scene opens in a very simple setting. Gabriel is once again sent from God to deliver a message, but this time, the angel goes not to the temple, like with Zechariah, but to a small Galilean village named Nazareth. Understand that Nazareth sounds important to us because we know the story, but at this point in history, Nazareth is an out-of-the-way little town. Luke actually includes the part about Galilee to give his readers some reference. Nazareth – where’s Nazareth? It’s in Galilee. This is not the place you would expect a divine messenger to be sent, and especially considering the message Gabriel will announce. You would think Jerusalem would be the destination, but God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way. God’s King is not looking for a platform. He’s not chasing headlines. No, it’s the opposite entirely. The good news of the King’s birth begins in a very humble way.
It’s actually an anticipation of Jesus’ entire life, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t start with the powerful but with the weak. And he doesn’t find a home among the significant but among the lowly. Right from the start, we are surprised. Gabriel comes not to the capital but to a humble little town, Nazareth of all places.
But the surprise continues in v27 when we learn the recipient of Gabriel’s message. It is a young woman who is soon to be married to a descendant of David named Joseph. It is perhaps purposeful that we learn the woman’s circumstances before we learn her name. Luke tells us she is virgin – that is, her marriage to Joseph has not been consummated. The two are bound to one another by Jewish law, but they are not yet living together as husband and wife. And only after that do we learn her name – Mary. Again, there is a surprising simplicity to this encounter. We haven’t heard of Mary before this point, and there is nothing in Scripture that causes her to stand out before this moment. It’s not like we meet her in prayer or in worship or fulfilling some vow – nothing of the sort. Instead, Mary is an everyday Israelite young woman, going about her day, likely preparing for her marriage. Just like her hometown of Nazareth, there is a surprising simplicity at work as we meet Mary.
But all of this only prepares us for the most surprising moment of all – the interruption of that simplicity with the grace of God. Notice v28, where Gabriel greets Mary – “And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” Gabriel’s first words to Mary are a declaration of grace. He calls her favored one, and the point is that Mary is the recipient of God’s grace. We need to clear here. It’s not that Mary already possesses the favor that has drawn God’s attention, and it’s not that Mary will now serve as the one to bestow God’s favor. No, Luke’s point is that Mary has received grace. At his own initiative, God has visited this everyday young woman in this simple little town. The entire thrust of opening scene is to highlight this point, brothers and sisters. It is God’s grace that initiates this moment. It is God’s grace that begins the good news that follows.
But Mary, as you might expect, is troubled. Notice v29 – “But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Again, there is a note of humility at this point. Mary is perplexed about the greeting. Now, she might be a little afraid of the angel as well, but it’s the greeting that troubles her. What does this mean? Why such an exalted greeting for her, a young woman in Nazareth? She’s troubled.
In v30, Gabriel speaks a word of reassurance, and again, the emphasis is on the grace of God, v30 – “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Gabriel’s answer highlights God’s gracious choice of Mary to be the mother of the Savior. Mary has not earned this privilege, and she did not first move toward God. It was God who chose Mary. It was God who initiated, who moved toward her. If Mary wants to understand the meaning of Gabriel’s greeting, then she need look no further than the grace of the Living God.
Now, clearly, brothers and sisters, Mary stands in a unique position at this point. This is a one-time occurrence in redemptive history. No one else has or will hear the message Gabriel is about to proclaim to Mary. No one else will receive this precise expression of grace. In that sense, Mary is unique.
But in another sense, Mary is a reminder that all of God’s people live by grace and by grace alone. Mary didn’t move toward God. He moved toward her. He bestowed grace. And so it is with everyone who knows God through Jesus Christ. We are not a self-made people. We did not make the first move to know God. It was God who revealed himself to us, and he did so by grace.
As we hear the angel Gabriel greet Mary, we are very much reminded of what we also have received from God. We have received grace. And that truth should renew our hearts in worship.
The Reign of God’s Son
The second truth begins in v31, where see the Reign of God’s Son. After greeting Mary, Gabriel delivers his message. Mary will have a son, though as the announcement makes clear – this is no ordinary Son. Notice again v31 through the first part of v32 – “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Right away, there are a number of points that should get our attention about this child.
First of all, we should note the child’s mission. Just as with John the Baptist, the angel instructs Mary to give her son a specific name – Jesus. Again, this where familiarity might hurt us. We just breeze past the name because we know the story. But that name is significant. The name Jesus means “God saves,” and that is what this child comes to do. He is the Savior of God’s people. His mission is salvation.
But the significance goes deeper when we note the child’s nature. Gabriel says the child will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. That name for God – Most High – is important. This was the name for God used in the OT to communicate God’s uniqueness, his power, and even his exclusivity as God. There is no one else like the Most High. He alone is God. He alone reigns over the earth. All the nations belong to him, for he is the One, True God. That’s the sense of the title Most High – it’s a declaration of God’s unique glory.
When Gabriel says that Mary’s child will be called Son of the Most High, he’s giving us a hint that this child’s nature will be unique. Mary’s son will share in the glory of God, the very same glory that the Most High would not share with another.
In fact, if we peak ahead to v76 here in chapter 1, we can see Luke’s point a bit better. V76 is referring to John the Baptist, and it also uses this title the Most High to describe God. But notice John’s relationship to the Most High. Who is John? He is the prophet of the Most High. That is, he proclaims the truth of who God is. But who is Jesus v32? He is the Son of the Most High. Jesus reveals the nature, the glory of who God is. It’s only a hint at this point – there is more to say about Jesus’ nature – but even so, it’s enough to clue us in that this child will have a unique connection with the Most High God.
But it’s the final point, brothers and sisters, that brings all the significance together. Notice the end of v32 and into v33, where Gabriel proclaims the child’s position, end of v32 – “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Now, as soon as you hear that name David, your mind should go back to the OT, and specifically to one of the more important passages in Scripture – 2 Samuel 7. You may remember that passage from our series in Samuel – it’s where God promised that one of David’s sons would reign on his throne forever. It was the promise of an unending dynasty.
But God also promised that this Davidic king would have a unique connection with God himself. God would be to him a father, and the king would be to God a son. And that relationship would endure forever. This promised King would reign forever, and he would lead his people to know God forever. That’s 2 Samuel 7 – one of the most important promises in the entire Bible.
And incredibly, what Gabriel announces here in Luke ch1 is that God is now fulfilling that promise, and he will do so through Mary’s Son, Jesus. In the scope of redemptive history, this is the best news that has ever been proclaimed. Mary will give birth to God’s King who will then establish God’s kingdom and through that kingdom, will bring salvation to God’s people. In other words, brothers and sisters, Mary will give birth to the Messiah, the Christ.
Now, there is still more we need to notice about this Son, Jesus, but before we move on, I want to stop here for a moment and encourage us to think about what it means that Jesus is King. You know, as Americans we don’t live under a monarchy, and there are very few monarchies left in the world today. We should perhaps remind ourselves that a King has absolute authority, doesn’t he? A King don’t set up a town hall style government where you get to decide whether or not you want to do what the King says. No, what the King says goes. He rules without question. He both deserves and demands allegiance, and you either bow to him in reverence or you bow under the weight of his judgment. Those are the only options before a King – submission or judgment. There’s no third way.
Gabriel’s announcement that Jesus is King actually reminds us that there is no third way for you to live in this world. You can either submit your life to Jesus Christ and find the joy of life everlasting in him. Or you can oppose King Jesus until that final day when you are brought low before him in judgment. That’s it. Everyone on earth will bow before King Jesus. It’s only a question of whether you bow in faith leading to salvation or whether you bow under his judgment at the end.
I would urge you this morning to bow before King Jesus in faith, so that you will be saved. The gospel is not simply one way for us to live in this world. The gospel is THE way to live and be saved and know God. Jesus is King, and he is King alone. Only Jesus possesses the glory of God in himself. Only Jesus lived a sinless, holy life before God. Only Jesus took the full force of God’s judgment at the cross but then rose again on third day. Only Jesus can save. If you don’t know him this morning, God’s Word here in Luke 1 is calling you to submit your life to King Jesus. There’s no third way. The Reign of God’s Son will never end, and I pray that each of us here would respond to God’s Son in faith.
The Wonder of God’s Sovereignty
The third truth of our passage continues to unfold for us the significance of Mary’s son, and beginning in v34, we see find the Wonder of God’s Sovereignty. After hearing this initial announcement, Mary responds with a question. Notice again v34 – “And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” Mary expects that this pregnancy will begin immediately, and since she asks such a specific question, she also clearly does not expect for this pregnancy to occur in the natural way. How will this happen, she asks?
Now, we should understand that Mary’s question is different from Zechariah’s question that we considered last week. Remember, Zechariah asked how he could know that Gabriel’s message was true. It was a question that revealed some level of unbelief in Zechariah’s heart. But Mary’s question is a bit different. She’s not asking for confirmation but explanation. It’s a natural question, in other words, one that is seeking understanding.
And in v35, Gabriel provides the explanation, which highlights for us what is the most profound and glorious miracle in all of Scripture. Notice again v35 – “And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Throughout the OT, we learn that God’s Spirit has the power to give life, and that is what will occur with Mary. The Spirit of God will overshadow her, Gabriel says. Think of the glory cloud that would come down over the Tabernacle to signal God’s presence. That’s the idea here with overshadow. God himself, through his Spirit, will overshadow Mary, and through his life-giving power, the Spirit will conceive this child in her womb. Is this miraculous? Yes, absolutely, and that is actually the point, brothers and sisters.
God intends for us to be awed by the mystery of this moment. On some level, this should defy our comprehension. Think about it. If the infinite, almighty God is truly to come and dwell with his people, shouldn’t we expect an element of mystery? Shouldn’t we expect a depth of wonder that leaves our mouths gaping and our minds astounded? A god who is completely comprehensible is not a god worth worshipping. A god whose ways always fit your level understanding is a rather small god. Instead of dismissing this moment because it is miraculous, we should instead stand amazed that God would reveal himself in and through our humanity. The mystery is part of the point, and it should lead us to worship.
But perhaps more than mystery, we should be awed by the glory of this moment. Notice the end of v35 – “therefore, the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” This is a stunning statement that reveals, once again, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus will be conceived by direct action of the Holy Spirit, he will not have the sin nature that every other person born since Adam has brought into this world. In fact, Luke aims to make this connection very, very clear. The Holy Spirit will overshadow Mary, and therefore, the child will be holy himself. Holiness begets holiness. This Son is not a descendant of Adam. He is actually a second Adam. He does not carry the curse of sin in his body. This child is the Son of God.
And that means that this Son conceived in Mary’s womb is able to save God’s people, once and for all. Please don’t miss this truth, brothers and sisters, Right here from the beginning of the Gospel account, we see the glory of Christ’s person – that he is both God and Man together. He is truly human, v31, conceived in Mary’s womb, and he is fully God, v35, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the very Son of God himself.
Our salvation depends on both of those realities. In order for us to be saved, we need Someone who can stand in our place, Someone who can represent us before God. And as One who is truly human, Jesus meets that need. He is able to represent us.
But at the same time, in order for us to be saved, we need Someone who can bring us to God, Someone who is utterly righteous, holy, and pure. And as One who is fully God, Jesus meets that need. He is able to bring us to God because he is himself God in the flesh. Brothers and sisters, this is the wonder of wonders, the pinnacle of all glory – conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is God and Man together, for us and for our salvation.
Of course, how minds perhaps instantly ask, “How can this be? How is this possible? It sounds impossible!” Those questions aren’t necessarily from doubt or unbelief. This good news is, on some level, just too wonderful. It’s so staggering you’re left asking, “How can this be?”
But God, through Gabriel, has anticipated that response. Notice v36, where Gabriel gives Mary an encouraging report that confirms God’s word, v36 – “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.” This is the kindness of God, that he would encourage Mary’s heart. Gabriel tells Mary of Elizabeth’s unlikely pregnancy, and the point is clear. If God can do such a thing with Elizabeth, then surely he can do such a thing with Mary.
In fact, that is the lesson that Gabriel leaves with Mary. Notice his final words, v37. Here is the truth that stands behind all that has happened. Here’s the reason why such a wonderful thing can come to pass, v37 – “For nothing will be impossible with God.” From the human perspective, what Gabriel has announced is crazy. Virgins don’t have children. It’s impossible. But that’s just it – God is not bound by the human perspective. His sovereign power enables him to accomplish all that he has determined to do. That’s the wonder behind the wonder! What is unfolding here in Luke ch1 is not anything the human mind could conceive or carry out. This is, undoubtedly, the work of a sovereign God, who has determined to save his people, and that work is wonderful.
The Submission of God’s Servant
What does that mean for us, as God’s people? What should be our response to something so wonderful and glorious? That’s where our fourth truth comes in, and it’s also where Mary becomes the example, the model for us. In v38 – and we’ll close with this – we see the Submission of God’s Servant. Look again at v38 and notice the humility of Mary’s response, v38 – “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to the your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” You’ll look throughout Scripture and not find many clearer pictures of what it means to trust the Lord. Instead of clamoring for more insight, Mary submits herself to God. She entrusts herself to God’s word and to God’s care. Understand, brothers and sisters, this is a bold step on Mary’s part. Think about it:
Mary submits her understanding to God and to his Word. She doesn’t see how all this works or how all this makes sense. It’s not clear to her how things are going to go from this point forward. And yet, Mary believes on the basis of what God has said. She doesn’t know where this is going, but in some sense, that doesn’t matter. Mary entrusts the situation to the Lord. She submits her understanding to God’s, trusting that his wisdom far surpasses whatever she might be able to understand.
But there’s more. Mary also submits her life to God. Remember that Mary is betrothed to Joseph at this point, soon to be married. And now, she has to tell Joseph that she is pregnant, and the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine how that conversation was playing out in her head? She would have been terrified, and who would blame her? Remember, Mary doesn’t know yet that God has sent an angel to Joseph as well, giving him this same astounding news. Mary doesn’t know that part. In her mind, there is this huge question of “What is going to happen to me? Will Joseph still want to marry me? What about my future?” This is terrifying.
And yet, what does Mary do? She submits her life to God and to his word. She cannot see how this will work out, but she doesn’t need to see all the way to the end. She has God’s word, and that is enough for her to believe. In fact, God’s word is enough for her to bear whatever cost there will be in following the Lord.
This is actually a preview of what Jesus himself will teach about discipleship. Later in his ministry, Jesus will teach his disciples that if you want to be great in the kingdom of God, you must be last of all and a servant of all. You must submit your very self to God, laying down your life now in order to find life in him. That’s discipleship, and other than Jesus himself, who is the first illustration of those truths? Jesus’ own mother, Mary, who understands that ultimately she is only a servant of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, this is a picture of true faith and submission to the Lord. It is banking everything on God and his Word. From our understanding to our future to our very lives, faith calls us to submit ourselves to God and to believe that he is always faithful to do what he has said.
Is that how you are living today? Are you submitting everything to God and to his Word? Is your hope resting on the truth that God will always be faithful to do what he has said? That’s where Luke and Mary leave us this morning – with this picture of faith that rests on the God is able to do the impossible.
What a glorious passage, brothers and sisters. God has given us his Son, Jesus Christ, and this Son has come to save those who trust in him. May our hearts be encouraged in faith, and may our lives display this kind of beautiful submission that banks everything on God and on his Word. Amen.