By Sam E. Stone
For the next two months our lessons are taken from Luke’s Gospel, presenting “Jesus and the Just Reign of God.” Luke is the longest of the four Gospels and, in fact, is the longest book in the New Testament. Angels are shown throughout to be special messengers from God. Early in chapter one, Luke records the visit of the angel Gabriel when he brought hope to a priest, Zechariah (Luke 1:8-23). He and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children and they were “both well along in years.” The angel told him his wife would bear a son (John the Baptist) who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
Mary lived in Nazareth, a small town in southern Galilee. H. Lynn Gardner notes, “It was one of the most unlikely places for the Messiah to be raised from the viewpoint of the leading Jews in Jerusalem. They viewed with contempt the unlettered country people from Galilee (see John 1:46).”
Mary was a young, unmarried, Jewish woman engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David (see 1 Chronicles 22:10). Gabriel described her as highly favored. His greeting, “The Lord is with you,” reminds all believers they can be assured of God’s supporting presence, as they obey him (see Matthew 28:20). Previously Isaiah identified the child as “Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’” (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Matthew 1:23).
Like every human being who sees an angel, Mary was frightened. As in most other angelic appearances, Gabriel quickly tells Mary, “Do not be afraid” (see Judges 6:23; Daniel 10:12; Luke 1:13). He adds that she has found favor with God. Mary’s favor was “not as the mother of grace, but as the daughter of grace” (Bengal). Nowhere does the Bible teach that Mary was able to dispense favors to other people through her boundless supply of grace. Mary received grace, just like we all do.
Gabriel explained that God had chosen her to bear a child, and to call him Jesus. Joseph was given the same instruction (Matthew 1:21), with the added explanation “because he will save his people from their sins.” Later even the evil spirits would refer to Jesus as “Son of the Most High God” (Mark 5:7). He would sit upon the throne of his father David. J. W. McGarvey points out that this must refer to Mary’s descent from David, since she is especially told in verse 35 that her son would have no earthly father. His reign over Jacob’s descendants includes his spiritual descendants (see Galatians 3:7, 28, 29). This name therefore includes the Gentiles, just as the name of a river includes the rivers that flow into it.
Mary tried to understand this dramatic news. She did not question that God could cause this to happen, but only asked, “How will this be . . . since I am a virgin?” She was unmarried and she had not had sexual relations. Her child would be conceived in an unprecedented way. “The Holy Spirit will come on you,” Gabriel explained. He then added additional information. Mary’s relative Elizabeth was going to have a child, late in life. That child (John the Baptist) would help prepare the way for Mary’s child (Jesus), as God unfolded his plan for the salvation of the world.
Upon hearing this, Mary did not demand a sign, like Zechariah did. When told she was to have as her child the very Son of God, she simply responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” In beautiful faith and submission she presented herself to the Lord as his slave, to do with according to his will. She was willing to accept disgrace, slander, ill repute, or even death. Like Isaiah, Mary said in effect, “Here am I, send me.”
Immediately after the angel departed, Mary hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea. There she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within, Elizabeth understood the significance of this visit. “Blessed are you among women . . . . As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.