By Mark Scott
One thing that we can take to the bank is that God always keeps his word. He does not make a promise and then fail to keep it, and God could not have made a greater promise to the world than the promise of sending a Savior. During this Christmas season we are studying Luke 1, 2. The chapters are filled with joy, celebration, song, intrigue, mystery, miracle, and promise.
The Promise Delivered
Following the formal introduction of Luke’s Gospel (1:1-4) Zechariah and Elizabeth were informed of the birth of their son, John, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:5-25). Gabriel (only one of two named angels in the Bible) delivered the promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Soon Elizabeth, who was old and barren, was pregnant. Six months later Gabriel was on the move again. God dispatched Gabriel to Nazareth (now a sprawling city, but then a small town on a Galilean hill, see John 1:46). Two sites are identified as the possible places where this took place. One is the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation, located in the heart of Nazareth; the other is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, located in another part of Nazareth near a well.
The promise was delivered to a young girl (a virgin) named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. It is no accident that God chose this engaged couple to be the earthly parents of Jesus. In his life Joseph demonstrated the two great qualities of Jesus’ cross—justice and mercy (Matthew 2:19-21), and in her life Mary demonstrated the two great qualities of Jesus’ ministry—servanthood and humility (Luke 1:38). Gabriel greeted Mary, said she was highly favored by God, and reminded her that God was with her (a promise given to many others in the Bible, such as Joshua 1:5).
The Promise Questioned
After such a stunning announcement, Mary was greatly troubled (deeply confused) at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. Gabriel reassured Mary with common angelic words of comfort, Do not be afraid. Gabriel affirmed Mary: You have found favor with God. Then Gabriel packed several promises into the overall promise of a Savior: 1—Mary would conceive. 2—Mary would give birth. 3—Mary would name the baby Jesus. 4—Jesus would have God’s title (Son of the Most High). 5—Jesus would occupy King David’s throne.
6—Jesus would reign over Israel (Jacob’s descendants), filled with all kinds of people. 7—Jesus’ kingdom would never end.
No doubt Mary was dumbfounded. She could have chosen any interrogative, but the one that made the best sense, “How?” Virgins don’t conceive and therefore all the other promises were at risk. There is a difference between Zechariah’s “how” (Luke 1:18) and Mary’s “how.” Zechariah’s how is one of unbelief. Mary’s how is one of details.
The Promise Embraced
Feigned faith brings judgment (1:20). But honest faith brings explanation (Acts 9:1-19). Gabriel explained to Mary how the process of the virgin birth would work. The person of the Holy Spirit will come on you. This is the language of empowerment in the Bible. When the Spirit of God came on people, they were able to act supernaturally (Judges 14:19). Also the power of the Most High will overshadow you. This is the language of creation in the Bible (Genesis 1:2). We are not suggesting Jesus was created. But God is doing something new as he enacts his promise for a Savior. This process protects the Son’s holiness and deity.
Mary was informed of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. This must have made Mary raise an eyebrow. But the angel Gabriel gave the sermonic word, For no word from God will ever fail. This is actually based in Genesis 18:14 when the angel of the Lord told Abraham that Sarah would bear Isaac. God’s power in bringing fruit from barren wombs has a great track record in the Bible.
Mary’s embrace of this promise is applicable to us. She placed her whole life in God’s hands by saying, I am the Lord’s servant (slave) . . . May your (spoken) word to me be fulfilled. She may not have known all the details of this epoch event to come, but she trusted in the one who promised (Hebrews 11:11).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.