Luke now shifts the story to another couple. The intention of the story is to draw out a dramatic contrast to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. So as we go through the story, be sure to make mental notes of the things that are similar to Zechariah’s story and the things that are different. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel has another message to give. The angel is sent by God to a village in Galilee called Nazareth. Nazareth was a very small town of only a few thousand people at most, perhaps a lot less. Nazareth is a completely insignificant village. It is so insignificant that Luke feels compelled to explain to Theophilus where Nazareth is (note the explanation of "a town in Galilee"). Nazareth is so insignificant that when Nathanael is told the Messiah has been found and he is from Nazareth, Nathanael’s response is, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). This little village where Mary lives stands in contrast to the important large city of Jerusalem where Zechariah receives his message from the angel Gabriel. There is a young woman in this village of Nazareth named Mary.
Before we can go forward, we need to break with the false images that we have of Mary. How old do you visualize Mary to be? We picture her in this blue garment, with a halo over her head, angels singing in the background, and the sun beaming on her face. We probably picture her to be in her 30s. All of these images are false. This is a normal, average girl. There is nothing extraordinary about her. She is not walking around beams of sunshine shooting from her face. Angels are not following her everywhere she goes. It is likely that Mary is a teenager and in her early 20s at the most. Remember that this is not a society where the woman stayed single until she found the right man and got married when she was 30 or 40. She is a young woman, and this stands in contrast to Elizabeth. Remember in the story from the last lesson, Elizabeth is so old she cannot bear children. Mary is so young that she is not even married yet. Mary is a virgin and she is engaged to be married. Engagements in that society were different from our society. Their engagements are more rightly called a betrothal. Most betrothals took place in that society when a woman became a teenager. A betrothal was not something that could be broken off. To break off a betrothal required a divorce or the death of the one you were marrying. The betrothal period lasted for about a year, a formal ceremony occurred, and then the couple were considered married. So picture Mary, living in a little village, who is probably a teenager, who is not married, but is engaged (or betrothed) to be married to a man named Joseph. Now notice the subtle point about Joseph. Joseph is of the house of David. That means that he could trace his lineage back to king David. Joseph has royal blood in him. Since Mary and Joseph are betrothed, any child born to Mary would be regarded as Joseph’s son and part of his lineage, so long as he accepted care for the child. Luke has now set us up for the rest of the story.
The Angel’s Announcement
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says these words, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" That is all the angel says for the moment. This short statement leads to Mary wondering what the angel means by these words (vs. 29). An angel suddenly appears to Mary and tells her that the Lord is with her. "Okay. What does that mean?" So Mary is trying to understand what the angel has just said. Gratefully, the angel then continues with more information. "Don’t be afraid." What is the first thing you do when someone begins a statement with the words, "Now, don’t be afraid," or "Don’t worry?" Yes, you start to become a little worried. "What are you going to tell me?" Mary is not to be afraid because she has found favor with God. Mary is going to conceive and bear a son and his name will be Jesus. Further, this son named Jesus is going to be great and will be called Son of the Most High. Not only this, but Lord will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end. Now, we need to understand what the angel just told Mary about this child that she is going to have.
First, just like Zechariah, Mary has no choice as to the name of the son. Zechariah was told that the son will be named John, meaning "the grace of God." Mary is told that she is going to have a son and will name him Jesus, meaning "salvation." Second, Jesus will be great. Remember that John was going to be "great before the Lord," meaning that John would be important to God and would be used in God’s service. Jesus is just going to be great, not as a servant of God. He will be the greatest person ever. Third, he will be called the Son of the Most High. "The Most High" is another name for God (Genesis 14:18). John was called the prophet of the Most High (see Luke 1:76), but Jesus is the Son of the Most High. While John would be a prophet, Jesus is going to be a king. But Jesus would not be just any king. Jesus is going to be the king of Israel. Notice the rest of the description in verses 32-33: he will be given the throne of his father David, reigning over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end. Psalms 110 and 132 reveal that the Messiah would sit on the throne of David, picturing rule and authority. The angel is relating the very important prophecy given to David in 2 Samuel 7. Notice the parallel:
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:12-14a; ESV)
Just as Gabriel quoted from the Malachi prophecy to reveal to Zechariah who John would be, so also Gabriel quotes from the 2 Samuel prophecy to show Mary that Jesus is the Messiah King that Israel has been looking forward to arriving. This young girl has been told a big bombshell. "Mary, you aren’t even married and you are young. But you are going to have a baby boy. But not just any baby boy. The baby boy! The Messiah! The King of Israel! The Son of the Most High! You are the favored one, Mary. Your son is going to be the hope of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people and to the world." What would be your reaction to these words?
Notice her words in response, found in verse 34: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" This is a different response than Zechariah. Remember that Zechariah said, "How shall I know this?" Zechariah asks how he can know this is really going to happen. The angel points out that Zechariah is doubting (1:20). But Mary does not ask she can know this is going to happen. Mary asks how this is possible because she is a virgin. She is not doubting or lacking faith. She is simply saying that she is not married, so how can she have a child! The angel answers how she can have child in verse 35.
"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." The angel answers that this conception is not going to happen by natural means. "You do not need to be married, Mary. This is going to happen supernaturally." A miracle is going to take place. Consider that the birth of John was a miracle, for neither Zechariah or Elizabeth were able to have children. But the birth of Jesus is a greater miracle because Jesus’ birth will not happen by any human intervention. His birth will happen exclusively by the power of the Most High. To show that amazing things are happening, the angel Gabriel tells Mary that her relative Elizabeth is already six months along in her pregnancy and she is too old to have children. "Miracles are happening, Mary, and you are the next recipients of God’s miracles!"
Before we go on to the next verse, it is important to consider the words of angel. Notice that the angel does not say that the Holy Spirit is going to come upon Mary and the child will be called holy and the Son of God. There is an important "therefore" in the sentence. The virgin birth is the reason the child will be called holy and the Son of God. This is very important to observe. The Holy Spirit is going to come upon Mary. THEREFORE, the child will be called holy — the Son of God. The virgin birth defines Jesus. The virgin birth proves Jesus is the Son of God. The virgin birth is the defining moment. There are many scholars today who say the birth of Jesus was not the miraculous virgin birth, but Jesus is still the Son of God. The angel says that such a belief is not possible. The virgin birth defines who Jesus is. The virgin birth proves that Jesus is not ordinary, but set apart from all of humanity (holy). The virgin birth proves Jesus is the Son of God. Consider the consequences otherwise. If this is not a virgin birth then Mary is a liar. She is a liar and a fornicator. Further, she is evil because she let her son believe that he was the product of a miraculous birth, letting him die on the cross believing a lie. She allows her son to die believing he is the Son of God when all along she was lying about his birth and simply was sexually immoral. You see that this simply cannot be. The virgin birth is everything to the life of Jesus and why I say that it defines Jesus. The virgin birth proves Jesus’ claims about who he is: the Son of God.
Notice verse 37 and let the words sink into your hearts and minds: "For nothing will be impossible with God." Do we believe those words? Or do we limit God and what he can do? Do we think that there are things that are not possible for God to accomplish? Do we pray to God as hopeful wishes, thinking that God cannot do what we are asking him to do? Essentially, I am asking you what God you are worshiping. If we are truly worshiping the Creator of heaven and earth and all creation, then there is nothing that God cannot do. By definition, God has the power to accomplish anything. It is not a power problem for him. As God asked Moses, "Is the arm of the Lord shortened?" (Numbers 11:23). Is there something God cannot accomplish? We must change our thinking to believing that there is nothing that God cannot do. We see this thinking reflected in the lives of God’s people through history and throughout the scriptures. God can change the outcome. God is all-powerful. Imagine if God were to come to you and tell you that a miracle was about to take place in your life. Perhaps a miracle like Mary’s or something else that breaks the laws of the universe, would we believe it could happen? I think our first response would be that we don’t have to worry about that because God has not done anything like that for 1900 years. But that is the thought I want you to work with because it has been a very long time since God had acted in the lives of his people in the days of Mary also! It has been more than 400 years since God spoke to the people. It had been more than 400 years since a prophet of God had walked the earth. It had been more than 500 years since a true miracle of God had occurred, with Daniel in the lion’s den. Further, miracles had not regularly occurred since the days of Elijah and Elisha, nearly 800 years previously. Let us not think that miracles were regular occurrences that were readily accepted. Mary had to believe that all things were possible with God. Mary had to have the mind that God can do anything that he says.
Once Mary finds out that this is going to be a child born of the Holy Spirit and that she will be an unmarried virgin when she is pregnant, how do you think she would respond? Don’t forget the impact this is going to have on Mary’s life! (1) She is going to have to explain to Joseph how she is pregnant. Is Joseph going to believe her? He would have the right to divorce her for infidelity if he did not believe that she had been faithful to him but somehow was still going to have a baby. Can you imagine Mary sitting down with Joseph and trying to explain that this baby is really God’s miracle? (2) Mary is going to have much explaining to do to that society. While having a child without being married not longer has much of a stigma attached to it in our society, in her time this would have been a huge disgrace. No man would marry her if she had a child out of wedlock. It would be the end of her future. (3) Mary must explain this to her parents. Can you imagine this teenage girl explaining this pregnancy to her parents? All you parents in the audience, imagine that you have set your girl up with a good man and they are engaged to be married. She tells you one day that she is pregnant. But, don’t worry, she is still a virgin. Can you see Mary having to explain this to her family?
We would expect Mary to offer some resistance to this plan. We would expect her to say that this is going to be terribly inconvenient for her. She could say that this could potentially ruin her life. If Joseph does not believe her, and if her parents do not believe her, her life will forever be altered. She would be disgraced and shamed. How about the excuse that she is too young for this responsibility? Or even more, I am too young to raise the child that will be the Messiah King! Why not choose a woman who has had experience raising children and has been successful at it. Don’t choose a virgin teenager! But Mary does not go down the road that Moses went, trying to find a way to get out of the responsibility placed upon her. Notice her words:
"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38; ESV)
When God asked in the days of Isaiah who will go on his behalf, Isaiah responded, "Here I am; send me." When the angel says that you are going to have a child born of the Holy Spirit and Mary recognizes the difficulties of this task, Mary simply responds, "I am the servant of the Lord." I am just a servant. I am happy to serve the Lord. Ask me to do anything and I will do it. Whatever you need, Lord, that is what I will do. Not whatever is convenient for me, that is what I will do. Mary will do anything to serve the Lord. This is a statement of great faith, in contrast to Zechariah. Zechariah doubts. Mary believes. Mary is ready for the task. We need to have the faith that says God can do anything and the faith that says that I want to be the one through whom God’s plans are accomplished. Not only do I want God’s plan to be done, but I want to be the one to do God’s work and be a servant in God’s plan.
- The virgin birth proves Jesus to be the Son of God. Either Mary is a liar and a fornicator or Jesus is the Son of God who must be obeyed and worshiped.
- The virgin birth proves that nothing is impossible with God. We must believe that God has the power to do all things, otherwise we do not serve God, but an idol.
- The virgin birth reveals the great faith of Mary who believed God’s word and desired to be God’s servant in the working of God’s magnificent plan.