Last week we studied the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist. This week Luke shows us the foretelling of the birth of Jesus.
Both of these messages were brought by Gabriel, the angel who stands in the presence of God. He is one of only two angels who are named in the Bible.
Gabriel was sent by God to tell about the birth of Jesus, as he had been to Zechariah. He was sent in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. (Luke 1:26)
Who did Gabriel go to with his message? He went to a virgin. (27) This is the first thing told to us about the recipient of the message. Luke did that for emphasis. It is important that she was a virgin.
This virgin was “betrothed” to a man named Joseph. “Betrothed” means she was pledged to marry him. It is similar to being “engaged to be married”, but more restrictive. The betrothal could only be broken by divorce. Joseph was a descendant of King David.The last thing we are told is that the virgin’s name was Mary. It was not as important as the other things.
The emphasis is not on Mary, but on the manner of the conception of Jesus. This is not a slight of Mary. She obviously was a Godly young woman. But, again, the most important item for Luke is the conception of Jesus.
She lived in a small city named Nazareth. It was located in Galilee, the northern part of the country. Nazareth was a small place, a village, devoted to agriculture.
The angel appeared to Mary and said “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you”. (28) In other words, the Lord bestowed favor on her and was with her.
Anyone would like to hear that message. But, most people would ask “why are you telling me this now?” Mary, likewise, was troubled. Verse 29 says she tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. She wondered why this message was brought to her.
So, the angel told her why. He began, however, by reassuring her that she did not need to be afraid and that God favored her. The Greek word for “favor” comes from the word translated “grace”. It means to be treated with undeserved kindness.
MartinLuther said it was like the angel said “O Mary, you are blessed. You have a gracious God. No woman has ever lived on earth to whom God has shown such grace.”
Because of this favor, she would conceive and give birth to a son. She was to call the son “Jesus”. That name means “God saves”. Mary received grace from God. Scripture does not portray her as the dispenser of grace. She shows us that God gives grace to even the most insignificant people.
The angel went on to tell Mary some things about her son. First, he would be great. Zechariah was told that John would be great before the Lord. But Jesus is great without reservation because he is the Lord. In the Old Testament, greatness is often attributed to God. Jesus, as deity, as God, would also be great.
It is an interesting paradox, isn’t it? Jesus would be born to humble people in humble circumstances, yet he would be great. He would be humble on earth, but exalted by God. He was an example for us in this. We are to be humble. In fact, Jesus said the one who is the least among us is great. (Luke 9:48)
Second, he would be called “Son of the Most High”. This is a way of saying “Son of God”. Third, God the Father would give Jesus the throne of his father, David. “Father” here means ancestor. Fourth, Jesus would reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever. His kingdom will never end.
These titles are important. We saw in our study of the book of Hebrews, that Son of God is an exalted title. It puts Jesus above everyone else other than the Father. As the Son, Jesus is the heir of all things. He is the exact imprint of the nature of the Father. That is why he has the ability to lead us to the Father. He is above angels, all men and women and all creation. In fact, it was through Jesus that the creation was created. (Hebrews 1) He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
The giving of the throne of David refers us back to God’s promise to David that he would have an heir, or son, on the throne forever. That promise is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 7:16. God fulfilled his promise in Jesus. The Jews understood that the person who came to fulfill that promise was the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. This kingdom of the Messiah is eternal. It never ends.
The first contrast we see between Zechariah and Mary is status. Zechariah was an elderly priest and ministered at the temple. He was married to a woman whose ancestors were priests. He was a somewhat important person.
Mary, on the other hand, appears as insignificant. She was a young woman, maybe a teenager. Historians say that women were betrothed between 12 and 13 years of age at that time in Israel. She was poor and uneducated.
She lived in a small town far away from Jerusalem. Her town was not thought well of. Nathaniel, upon hearing Christ came from Nazareth, said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
By choosing Mary, poor and insignificant, God also began to show us the humiliation Jesus would experience in order to bring salvation to us. Jesus would be humbled from his birth to his death on the cross.
The second contrast is in the way the two received the message of the angel. Zechariah, though much older and a priest, doubted the message of the angel. Mary, though young, with no important position, believed the angel. As world changing as the message was, Mary accepted it. She accepted it because it was the word of God. She may also have thought of God’s promise in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel”. Matthew specifically applied this verse to Jesus. (Matthew 1:21-23)
Mary’s only question was the mechanics of the event. She asked how she could conceive a child since she was a virgin. (34) Gabriel, the angel, gave her an answer. The child would be put into her, conceived, by the power of God (the Most High) through the Holy Spirit. This would be a supernatural conception.
Because his birth would be a supernatural act of God, Jesus would be called holy and the Son of God. He would be holy for he would not inherit the sin nature passed on to all of us by our parents. He would not have the guilt of “original sin”. He would literally be the Son of God, not just by title granted to him, but because of the manner of his conception.
The doctrine of Jesus’ virgin birth would later be a problem for some of the Pharisees. It is a problem for many today. Some people always want to explain away the supernatural events of the Bible and replace them with natural explanations. This was an emphasis in 19th century theological liberalism.
We who believe the Bible is true believe the virgin birth is true because the Bible tells us it is. But, also, God is a supernatural being. He is above the rules of nature. He made those rules to govern us and this creation. But, as God, he transcends them. If God did not transcend the natural, he would not be God.
To further show Mary that the miraculous was involved, the angel told her that her relative, Elizabeth, was pregnant in her old age, after a lifetime of barrenness.
Another contrast between Zechariah and Mary is that Zechariah asked for a sign because he did not believe. Mary believed and did not ask for a sign, but God gave her one for reassurance. He pointed her to the miracle he had already performed.
To sum it all up, the angel reminded her that “nothing will be impossible with God”. (35) We should remember this also.
Mary’s reaction to this fantastic message was one of faith and obedience. She said “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”. In other words, since I serve the Lord, he may do with me as he pleases.
This statement is neither casual nor insignificant. Pregnancy for Mary could have had grave consequences. Getting pregnant before marriage would mark Mary for life with her Jewish neighbors. Sex before marriage was considered a grievous sin. She would be shunned. Her children would be marked as well.
Not only could Mary be shunned, she could be killed. The Old Testament punishment for adultery was death by stoning. Remember how Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned by the Pharisees.
Even if not killed, pregnancy could also cause her to lose her husband to be. She would be considered an adulterer. Joseph could divorce her and shame her.
Knowing these possible outcomes, Mary accepted the message of the Lord in obedience.
We should all strive to be like Mary: hear the word of the Lord and obey it.