Mary's Gift (Luke 1:26-38)
Topic: Luke Passage: Luke 1:26–1:38
December 23rd, 2012
Way of Grace Church
I. Seeing the Virgin
“December 19, 1996—CLEARWATER, Florida (Reuters) -- Hundreds of people converged on Clearwater Wednesday to see what they believe is a vision of the Virgin Mary on an office building. "God is giving us a sign," said Sister Martin, a nun of the Order of Saint Anne in Bangalore, India. The image, two floors high, first emerged last Thursday on the tinted windows of a finance company office. It glows and shimmers, turning from green to blue, to red, and there is a distinct outline of a head, a hooded robe and most of a torso. Skeptics say it is caused by the sun reflecting off water left by sprinklers. But others believe it is a true miracle. "God is telling us it is time to change our ways," said Sister Christian of the same order. "(It) looks exactly like all the paintings of the Blessed Mother." As the nuns moved closer to the window, reciting the Holy Rosary, dozens of people crowded around, some on their knees in prayer, others just curious. The wall in front of the image has become a shrine, piled with candles, photos of children, handwritten prayers and funeral notices. Police barricaded the front entrance of the building, which during the morning rush hour, created gridlock. By early Wednesday morning the parking lot was full of mothers and children, elderly couples, people in suits or work clothes and youths who had camped out all night.
I’m not sure if you remember this sighting of the Virgin. If not, then I’m sure that you have, at some point, heard about somebody, somewhere seeing the virgin. In Phoenix, a number of years ago, people believed they could see the Virgin Mary in a cholla cactus.
And as we just read, about the sighting in Clearwater, when people do see her, they often believe that she is somehow communicating to them; that her appearance is intended to communicate a clear spiritual message.
Well, for those who are not devoted Catholics, all of this may sound a bit bizarre. But this morning, WE are going to see Mary. This morning, she is going to make a bona fide appearance right before our eyes; and through her, we are going to hear an incredible message.
Where is she? She’s right here in the pages of Scripture. Turn with me to Luke 1:26-38.
II. The Passage: “Greetings, O Favored One” (1:26-38)
This morning we are concluding our Journey to Bethlehem. Through God's word, we've been able to consider what God wants to teach US through these stories about the first Christmas.
A. The Announcement of God’s Favor (Luke 1:26-30)
Let's do that same thing as we look first at 1:26-30:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothedto 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.”
This story sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yep, this is the flip side of Joseph’s story. Mary, probably weeks, maybe months, before an angel would visit Joseph in a dream, Mary herself is visited, in her waking hours, by the angel Gabriel.
What do we know about Mary before this point? Not much at all. We know from later on in the passage that she is a relative of Elizabeth, a wife of the priest Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist. But this word “relative” is a very broad term.
We also know that since Mary is betrothed, she is probably between 13 and 14 years old. This was the normal time for a girl to be betrothed in Jewish culture.
We also see that twice in verse 27, Mary is described as a “virgin”. Now this is not mentioned as some kind of mark of holiness or humility. Luke simply wants to stress this in order to highlight the power of God in the coming verses.
The main thing that we want to see here is that the angel Gabriel came to Mary with an announcement of God’s grace. Notice in verse 28, he addresses her as the “favored one”. This is one word in the original Greek, charitao. The first part of that word contains the word charis, which in Greek is “grace” or “favor”. Mary has been radically blessed by the grace of God! Notice the last part of the angel’s greeting: “the Lord is with you.”
Now, what would you think if an angel, in all His brilliance, stood before you and proclaimed, “Greetings, O favored one!” We see here that the angel wants to reassure this disturbed teenager that he comes with good news:“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
But what exactly does this mean? Look at what we learn from verses 31-33.
B. The Gift of God’s Favor (1:31-33)
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.”
Mary will not only be blessed by God with a child, but she will give birth to the Messiah himself, the Savior for whom the Jewish people had been waiting for hundreds and hundreds of years. And look at what we learn about this Messiah. 1) He will be called “great”, 2) He will be called the Son of the Most High, 3) He will possess the kingdom of David, 4) He will reign over Israel, and 5) His rule will never end.
Now this description of this Messiah must have been even more glorious than Mary could have imagined. And this was going to be HER child. What could she have done to deserve this incredible honor, this gift of God’s grace? Nothing. That’s the point of grace. Grace is unmerited favor. It comes totally from the will of the Giver, regardless of the recipient’s identity, condition, or worth.
Mary was going to be a vessel for the Son of God, a vessel for the Messiah, the Christ; and this distinction is ALL OF GOD.
Of course, in Mary’s mind, there is just one problem. Look at verse 34.
C. The Power of God’s Favor (1:34-37)
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 bornwill 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.”
Mary must have sensed in the angel’s initial words that this pregnancy was going to happen almost immediately. But...she was a virgin, and her betrothal period would probably not end for a matter of months. How could SHE be pregnant? Now we probably shouldn’t read into this that Mary’s question is inspired by doubt. Mary simply doesn't understand.
So Gabriel reminds her that nothing is impossible with God. I would guess that Mary, after hearing those worlds, would have been reminded of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18, and how God responded to their doubts about becoming pregnant so late in life with the question, “is anything too difficult for the Lord?”
The answer of course is NO! Nothing will be impossible with God. Through the Holy Spirit, the power of God was going to form a baby in Mary’s womb. The One who had made man from the dust of the earth and woman from the man’s bone was going to work again in the womb of a virgin.
The Holy Spirit will form Christ within her. And because the Holy Spirit will bring this about, the child will be called holy. In fact, the child will be the Son of God.
So how does this teenager respond to the news that she is going to have one of the most important jobs in all of the universe? That she is going to be mother to the Son of God? How would most teenagers today respond to such a responsibility? Look at verse 38.
D. The Response to God’s Favor (1:38)
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servantof the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Wow! What a beautiful example of a human being humbling herself before the unmerited favor of God. She says, literally, “I am the Lord’s slave. Let Him do whatever He pleases with me.” Whether she fully understands it or not, she knows that this is from God, and she is fully prepared to do whatever God wants her to do.
So in light of being radically blessed by God, so that she might be a vessel for Christ, whom the Holy Spirit will form within her, Mary is fully submissive to God’s agenda for her life.
III. “Greetings, [Your Name Here], O Favored One”? (Ephesians 1:6; 3:14-21)
1. Favored Like Mary (Ephesians 1:6)(pg. 976)
Now, I said at the outset that WE would see Mary this morning. And here she is. What an incredible picture God has painted for us! But I also said that through her appearance, we would receive an incredible message.
So what do we learn from Mary? Well, there are many things we could learn, but the one I’d like to encourage you with this morning only becomes clear when we focus on a key word in this passage. It's that Greek word charitao, which means “highly favored”, or “blessed with grace”.
Now this word is a pretty rare word in Greek. In fact, it only appears one other time in the New Testament. Turn with me to Ephesians 1:6. In the opening lines of the Apostle Paul’s letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus, he writes this: (starting at the end of verse 4)
In love 5 he predestined usfor adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
Now it may be hard to see in English, but we just read charitao. Here it is simply translated “blessed”. We could retranslate that sentence and say, “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he highly favored us in the Beloved…or with which he has, with grace, richly blessed us in the Beloved.”
The “Beloved” of course is Jesus Christ. And what this amazing verse is telling us is that we have been highly favored or blessed with grace just like Mary. If you are a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a Christian, then you can be greeted this morning with this same greeting: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” That’s what Paul is telling us here.
But you might say, “hold on a minute. Mary was blessed with a singular, with a unique experience that we can never know.” Of course she was! But there is, in some sense, a way in which we are or can be like Mary. Listen to how Paul expands on this idea at the conclusion of the first half of this letter, in Ephesians 3:14-21.
2. Praying for the Gift and Power (Ephesians 3:14-21)
In 3:14-21, we find that Paul wraps up His discussion about the grace of God by praying for the application of these truths in his life and in the lives of his hearers. But listen, listen to this prayer in light of what we've already learned about Mary. Ephesians 3:14...
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every familyin heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Did you see it there? Did you see how Paul was praying for those who have been “highly favored”, who have been richly blessed with God’s grace? The gift of the grace of God in the life of the Christian is that we might be vessels for Jesus Christ, that through His power, the Holy Spirit might form Christ in us.
Did you see it there? That you may be (vs. 16, 17) “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”
The Holy Spirit who made it possible for Christ to be in Mary is the same Holy Spirit who, if you are a follower of Jesus, makes it possible for Christ to be in you. In fact, the very reason that Jesus came to be in the womb of the virgin is that He might come to dwell in you.
You see, the Spirit of God is the means by which Christ dwells in us. Look at what Paul teaches us in Romans 8:9: You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
The Spirit of God is the means by which we can know the presence and power of Jesus Christ, in order to become like Him, in order to glorify God the Father.
Is Christ in you? If you have accepted the forgiveness of God through faith in Christ, rejected your desire to rule your life, and submitted to Jesus’ loving leadership, then, like Mary, Christ is in you through His Spirit.
And like Mary, it is God’s desire that Christ be brought forth into this world through your life. In your family, you have been chosen to bring forth Christ. At your work, you have been chosen to bring forth Christ. In your neighborhood, you have been chosen to bring forth Christ.
Like Mary, we have an incredible privilege, that, at the same time, entails an incredible responsibility. If you are a Christian, then you are a vessel for Christ.
Now, we also might be like Mary in that we might also have questions about how this could happen? Instead of questions about virginity, we might ask, “How can Christ be seen in me? How can others be impacted for Christ through my life? I’ve got so many problems. I have a hard enough time just focusing on Christ. How can this be, since I am a sinner? How can my little life really make a lasting difference?”
Well Paul gives us the same answer Gabriel gave Mary. Nothing will be impossible for God, or as Paul states it in the form of a prayer, (v. 20) “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us...
As Paul points out through his prayer, we can’t do any of these things; we cannot make this kind of difference. But the Spirit of God, working through us, can.
3. Amen to Submission (Ephesians 3:21)
How does Mary’s example help us here? Well, as we saw, after the angel explained how God could and would work in her, she was fully submissive to God’s agenda for her life.
Has God put her words in your heart this morning? In light of God’s grace to you, is your response to Him, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; O God, let it be to me according to your word.” Paul also exemplifies this for us. Remember how he begins his prayer in Ephesians 3? He describes himself in a posture of submission, “I bow my knees before the Father”.
In some sense, the end of the prayer also points us to submission. The word “amen” comes directly from the Hebrew and literally means, “so be it” or “so it is”. When we say “amen” to this prayer, we agree that is God’s desire and best for us.
And I pray all of us will say “Amen” to the submission that we see in Mary, that we will lay ourselves before God to be used by Him according to His word. There is no greater place that we can be in this life, than bowed down in humility and faith before the throne of God.
This sighting of Mary, the sighting that has taken place here this morning has brought with it a powerful message: Mary's unique blessing was, in fact, a template for the blessing that God himself wants to bring into YOUR life: that you would know His favor, that Christ would be formed in you by the power of God's Spirit, and that you, as you humbly submit to what God wants to do, you would bring forth Jesus in all you say and do.
If this is what God HAS done your life, then rejoice this morning. Be encouraged by Mary's story. Remember the miracle that God has done in your life. Don't take it for granted. Submit to God's grace in humility. Whenever you hear His truth, respond to it with…“Behold, the servant of the Lord; O God, let it be to me according to your word.”
If God has NOT done this amazing, miraculous work in your life, then today is the day of faith. Reach out to him. Receive the the only Christmas gift that really matters. The baby that Mary laid in a manger became the man who God hung on a cross for your sin and my sin. And that man rose from the day three days later.
Because He was forsaken, we can be forgiven. Because He died in our place, and because He now lives, we can now live forever with Him. And all we must do is believe that Jesus did it all. Jesus Christ came to reign, beginning with your heart and mine.