Mary, an Exemplary Believer
March 29, 2015
Well, take your Bibles in hand and open them to Luke 1:26—Luke 1:26, for your final sermon on this section. We’ll begin by reading one more time that passage—Luke 1:26 to 35—and this account is nothing short of amazing. Its depth is staggering. Its simplicity is incredible. Without a doubt this is the Word of God. You can tell a difference every time you read anybody else’s book. A human book, a human author, as excellent as it may be, it still only goes to a certain level. It’s two-dimensional. You get into the Word of God, and you see how it confronts everything in your heart, it exposes things; it’s clearly not written merely by a human author, but by a divine author as well. You’ll notice in your bulletin that there’s an outline for this section. We’ve already covered the first two points. The first one, “an unlikely situation.” The second one, “a puzzling introduction.” We’ve made it most of the way through the third point, “an amazing annunciation.” So, we’ll finish up that third point, along with the two final points this morning. The outline there in your bulletin will give you a little structure. Follow along as I read Luke 1:26 to 35.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. 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. Nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
There is no way that Mary woke up that morning expecting this. This is one of those days. What started out for her is just another day in Nazareth—mundane routines, domestic responsibilities. Her simple, normal world was radically interrupted by this visit from the heavenly messenger. And after hearing the angel’s announcement, her world would never be the same. You see her response at the very end, “Behold, I’m the slave of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” I hope you’re as okay with God’s interruptions in your life as Mary was. Because when God comes into your life, He does not leave you the same. In fact, He always intends to change you—and to change you radically. When you belong to Christ, it’s not about your maintaining your safe, comfortable world of easy expectations and comfortable routines; it’s about Christ accomplishing His will in and through you. That means change. That means discomfort. But He’s going to, through your life, glorify Christ and cause you to please the Father. If you think about your life in terms of eternal perspective, you could want nothing more than for Him to cause you to glorify Himself and to please the Father. If you keep eternity in your mind and in your heart, you’ll realize that is the most loving thing that Christ could do is not leave you the same. It’s not leave you as you are, but to change you and to change you radically.is
And that’s what I want you to see this morning—how Mary is an example of that kind of faith. She’s an example of true faith. This girl is a genuine believer, and she is also at the same time, even though young, she’s an exemplary saint. Her willingness to abandon to herself completely to the sovereign will of God for her life—that’s an example all of us need to follow. Why? Because obedient faith pleases God, and in the end, when you stand before him, that’s the only thing that matters. We’ve been focusing on the heart of this section, verses 31 to 33, the past couple weeks. This is Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about the miraculous conception, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. That Mary would experience a real pregnancy, physiologically normal after the conception anyway protects and guarantees, as we said, Christ’s full humanity. The son of God robed himself in flesh when he entered into the world. In fact, the humanity of Christ was so real, so normal, so common to everybody around him. It would be a grave mistake, though, to assume that’s all He is, that He’s nothing more than that. So Gabriel also announced to Mary Jesus’ unqualified greatness as the Son of God, Most High. That meant being the son of the Most High God. That meant that the fullness of the Godhead was coming bodily in her infant son—fully man, fully God—both of those truths held together.she’s
But Gabriel’s not finished yet. The full humanity of Jesus, his full divinity—those two facts qualify Christ uniquely to fulfill the role of Christ, to fulfill the role of the Messiah, the ruler of the world, and that’s the final point we’re going to come to in this amazing annunciation. And that’s this point, “divine purpose equals full sovereignty.” “Divine purpose equals full sovereignty.” Take another look at verse 32: “He will be great, the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Before saying anything about the purpose for his Messiah, the angel announces the Messiah’s qualification for taking the throne. Jesus, the son of the Most High, is the only one in the history of the world, the only one ever to exist or whoever will exist who is worthy to receive the throne of David, to reign over Israel forever, to administrate an everlasting kingdom. It’s just as the living creatures and the elders cry out in Revelation 5:12, “The voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” And all that.
It starts right here, verse 32 to 33. Notice how those verses describe ascending spheres of authority. The scope of Messiah’s reign is ever expanding, ever increasing to fill the entire earth, and it starts at the throne of David, chief in the tribe of Judah. Then it expands to the house of Jacob, extending his sovereignty to all Israel, Jacob being the father of the 12 tribes. But then his sovereignty extends even farther, beyond all borders, international or cosmic and everything in between. It’s an eternal kingdom, which means this: Jesus Christ will administrate a universal reign over the entire created universe, the entire created order.
So, let’s take those things one by one, okay? Very quickly, before the universal everlasting kingdom, Jesus is going to rule over the house of Israel by ascending the throne of David. Turn back to the Old Testament to 2 Samuel 7:12. 2 Samuel 7 is a very important passage of Scripture because it contains one of the Biblical covenants, the promise that God made to establish David’s throne forever. You remember David wanted to build Him a house, had it in his heart to do that. He said, “How can I live in a palace of cedar and timber and the Lord is dwelling in a tent? I can’t justify that, I can’t’ rationalize that in my conscience. I want to build him a house.” So, God said, “No, it’s not going to be your job to build me a house. You’ve got blood on your hands, David. Solomon will do that. You just prepare it, you just prepare it.” Israel would look back to this covenant here in 2 Samuel 7, and especially after the exile, after they were cast out of the land—they looked back to this promise with deep, deep, longing, regret as well. “Why didn’t we obey the Lord, why didn’t we follow his covenant? Why didn’t we listen and follow along David’s line and what he commanded,” what he upheld with justice and righteousness and groaned over their sin. They had suffered terribly under the judgment of God.
You can hear the ache and sorrow come out in the passage like Amos 9:11, “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that’s fallen and repair its breaches, raise up its ruins, rebuild it as in the days of old.” So, David’s booth had fallen; it was ruined. That’s a beautiful promise in Chapter 9. It’s based on God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:12: “When your [David] 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. He should build a house for my name and I will establish the throne his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, he shall be to me a son.” The end of verse 14 and verse 15 refer to specifically to Solomon, the son of David who would receive the throne immediately, but then it gets back to the greater son of David in verse 16, where it says in “Your house, David, and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”in
Now, David was of the tribe of Judah. And though he ruled over the united kingdom of Israel, there was always tension among the tribes. In fact, it was immediately upon the death of David’s son Solomon that the united monarchy was ripped in half, torn in two. Solomon’s son Rehoboam was a foolish young man. You remember him—he surrounded himself with youthful counsel, rejected the counsel of older, wiser men who’d served his father, Solomon—well, who learned from Solomon. So Solomon’s former slave, Jeroboam, rebelled against Rehoboam. He took charge against the ten northern tribes known to us as Israel, left Rehoboam with two small tribes, Judah and Benjamin. The rift that divided Israel caused such pain, such sorrow, and resulted in such sin and idolatry.
And in the midst of all that, the prophets, even then, spoke words of mercy and comfort. They prophesied about a day when the tribes would be united again, when God would bring them together. It would start, as Amos said, by raising up the booth of David that’s fallen, and repairing its breaches, raising up its ruins, rebuilding it. Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 16:5, “A throne will be established in steadfast love and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David, one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.” He would be the one to unite Israel. According to Hosea 3:5, “The children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord, their God, and David their king. And they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.”
In the latter days, by installing the Messiah on David’s throne, God was going to use that to draw Israel and Judah together again. He would heal that fractured nation. He would erase the divide. He would unite them as one people, under the leadership of this son of David. You may remember in Ezekiel 37 that vivid imagery in the prophecy of the valley of dry bones. You remember that? What a great picture! God promised the restoration of Israel and Judah, and we begin in the valley of dry bones by those bones rattling, you remember that? Then they kind of come together, and then sinew and flesh all form around them, and then they’re incased in skin. In this God brings about a spiritual revival. That’s the imagery of the valley of dry bones coming to life again. Ezekiel 37:10 says that those dry bones now becoming men standing on their feet; they lived and stood on their feet in an exceedingly great army, and God breathed into them His life. After the revival, then Ezekiel 37, God would reunify the divided nation; then he says this in Ezekiel 37:24, “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall have one shepherd.” Again in verse 25, “David my servant shall be their prince forever.” What a promise in Ezekiel. Ezekiel is speaking to the exiled people in Babylon and comforting them.
Daniel was another prophet in the exile, remember that? He prophesied along with Ezekiel, and he foretold a day when David’s kingdom would extend beyond the old borders of Israel. Daniel prophesied, Daniel 7:13 to 14, “I saw in the night visions and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like the son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, languages should sever him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Amazing prophesy. This is the eternal universal reign of the Messiah over the whole earth.
And as it stands today, we’re waiting right now, we’re waiting for the time when Christ will return. When Christ will return. When He returns, He’s going to rapture the church, and that’s going to kick off a seven-year period of tribulation, a time of trouble that the world has never seen. During that tribulation—the Bible calls it the Great Tribulation—the Antichrist will be revealed. The spirit of antichrist is already in the world. We see it everywhere, but there will be one who embodies that spirit who’s possessed himself by Satan. He’s going to be revealed. He’ll make and break a covenant with Israel; his murderous persecution of Israel will lead to Israel’s repentance. Zechariah 12:10, “They will look on me on him whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for him.” The Antichrist’s intent to destroy Israel unwittingly is going to work right into the Father’s plan. It’ll lead to Israel’s wholesale regeneration as a nation and repentance.
Meanwhile, the Antichrist is going to gather the rest of the nations against Israel in battle. That is when Jesus Christ will return in judgment at the end of that tribulation period. He will destroy the armies of the earth. He’ll capture the beast and the false prophet. He’ll cast them alive into the lake of fire. Jesus will have Satan bound for 1,000 years, during which time Christ will reign from Jerusalem, from the throne of David. He’ll reign over united Israel, over the entire earth. Isaiah’s prophecy is going to be fulfilled, which says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forever more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” At the end of Christ’s 1,000-year reign, right here on earth, what we call the millennial kingdom, Satan will be released one final time. The devil will gather those who were born during the millennial kingdom who did not bow the knee to Christ, and he’ll form a final coup d’état; he’ll rebel against Christ. And suffer another crushing defeat.
Folks, that is the last war that will ever be. That’s the final war, that’s the end. That’s the war to end all wars. They thought it Great War, World War I. Then they thought it was the Great War, World War II. No, it’s not. It’s this one. It ends with the final defeat of the devil and his angels; they’re cast forever into the lake of fire. It ends when God destroys the heavens and the earth with fire, the conflagration described in 2 Peter 3:10 to 13. It ends with all humanity, the great and the small, standing before the Great White Throne, to give an account to God. Revelation 20 says this, “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire.” Paul says, 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” That’s it. Once God has executed sentence and final judgment, death will have served its purpose. There’s no more need, and at that time, 1 Corinthians 15:24, “Comes the end, when Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and every power,” including the power of death. All of it is destroyed. At that time, Jesus Christ will rule the new heavens and new earth as co-regent with his Father. And in the words of the angel Gabriel, to this young girl Mary right here “and of his kingdom there will be no end.” No end. Are you looking forward to that day? Because I am! Would that it would be today, that would start now.
Well, listen, that ends the third point in our little outline, “an amazing annunciation.” It is amazing. Quite a bit for this young girl to digest there, don’t you think? You’re saying, “Yeah, it was quite a bit for me to digest.” And I know the story. Listen, it’ll take the rest of Luke’s Gospel, the rest of the New Testament, and in fact the rest of human history to unpack the implications, the profound truths that are here in Gabriel’s announcement. In fact as I’ve been showing you in the last few weeks, the truths contained in these verses provoked all the ire and the opposition of heretics who hate this truth. These truths and these verses have drawn out the slander of unbelievers, but the faithful have always responded. God has used all of their attack to sharpen our understanding, to deepen our conviction, and to strengthen our faith—and Church history provides the record of that. So, what are we supposed to do with all this? One word—worship. Worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen, what this is describing here, of this reign, starts with the throne of David, extends over all of Israel, unites them together, and he rules over them in a millennial kingdom. It extends to the entire earth. Think about that for a moment because this announcement began with, “You shall call his name, Jesus,” which means, what? Savior, right? The Lord Saves. This king dies for his people. Folks, look around, read your history books—people die for their kings, not the other way around. Not so with this King. This King put Himself on a cross and subjected Himself to all shame and the wrath and anger of men and the wrath of His Father in heaven for you and for me. Does that cause you to be humbled? To worship in humility? It should.d
At this point, Mary’s got just one question. She accepted Gabriel’s words here. She took them at face value even though all the implications weren’t completely known to her, and of all she could ask about—of all that must have flooded her mind in that moment—she wanted clarification on just one point. This is the fourth point in our little outline, the one in your bulletin, “a reasonable clarification.” “A reasonable clarification,” That’s verses 34 to 37. Look at verse 34 when Mary asked the question: “She said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” Now, she’s not asking the same kind of question that Zechariah asked in verse 18, “How shall I know this?” Mary wasn’t asking for a sign, looking for a reason she should believe what Gabriel told her. She fully believes him. In fact, her question assumes it’s going to happen. Not only that, but Mary’s question is reasonable, it’s understandable. Unlike the late-in-life conception of Zechariah and Elizabeth, there’s no Biblical precedent for virgin births. It had never happened before. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was rare, to be sure. There are no geriatric maternity wards in hospitals. We know that old-age pregnancy does not happen often. But still, because the Bible recorded the conception of Isaac through Abraham and Sarah, because it recorded the conception of Samson, Manoah and his wife, Zechariah was able to read his Bible and trust what Gabriel had told him. It’s quite a bit different with Mary’s conception. Mary knew that conception in normal life just routinely, it requires a man and a woman. In fact the phrase there, “since I’m a virgin,” she says there in the original language, “since a man I am not knowing.” “Let me make this plain to you, Gabriel, I’m not knowing a man.” That’s a euphemism there for conjugal relations, martial relations. She’s saying, “I’m in the stage of virginity and I’m remaining so.” So, she’s proclaiming her innocence in the matter; that’s what’s drawn out here. But Mary’s question is really about the biology of all of this. It’s not that she’s incredulous or skeptical. She’s not doubting the angel’s word at all. She believes it. She just doesn’t understand how it will come to pass. Mary wanted to know how it’s going to work out. Perhaps she wanted to know if she needed to do anything. You know—prenatal vitamins, certain exercises—I don’t know, something., it
Listen, this shows Mary’s humility on her part. Mary isn’t presumptuous here. She’s not jumping to conclusions here. Mary’s willing to let God shape her expectations. She’s willing to let God determine how this is going to work out. She just want to know, “Can I know how?” This is awesome news. This is news of cosmic proportions, and since it’s unprecedented, since it comes from heaven, she realizes this is way out of her league. Mary simply needs to believe it, wait for God to act. So, the angel responds in verse 35 to 37. And here’s basically what he said in verse 35; he answers her direct question, but then he gives her something more. He answers a question she didn’t ask. We’ll get to that. In verse 36, he strengthens her faith with a sign. In verse 37, he tells her what the sign signifies.
So, how’s this going to happen? How will a self-avowed, divinely attested virgin become pregnant apart from a man’s involvement? Look at verse 35. The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Now, does that answer her question about biology? Does that explain the science behind all this? Not really, no, no it doesn’t. That’s because this is supernatural. The virgin birth is a creative miracle on the level of the creation of the world itself. It’s a creative miracle, something a finite human mind can’t comprehend. You might as well ask, “How did God create the heavens and the earth when there was no preexisting material? How did he speak that into existence?” Tell me the science behind all of that. Can’t. There was no science behind that. There was nothing. Then God created it. Spoke it into existence. As a creature bound by limitations of space and time, you might as well try to figure out how God is both omnipresent—that is, not limited by space—and at the same time, eternal—that is, not limited by time. Try to figure that one out. You’ll be sucking your thumb in a corner all balled up in a fetal position. You can’t. You’re a finite creature, and your finite mind can’t comprehend your infinite Creator.
The biological answer to Mary’s question about a virgin conception is way beyond human anatomy and physiology; it’s a divine miracle. The Holy Spirit will draw near, “the power of the Most High will overshadow.” That’s not sexual language by the way; it’s not the language of natural procreation at all. The term “overshadow” reminds us actually of the Holy Spirit’s creative power present there in creation, Genesis 1:2, “The spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” It was way out of the realm of human biology. It’s in the hands of God, the designer, the creator of life. So, that answers the biological question, “How’s it going to happen?” Not with biology. The Holy Spirit will be involved in a way you can’t fully understand, which means natural explanations for this fall short.
But Gabriel goes further. He answers a question that Mary did not ask, and that’s the moral question. G. Campbell Morgan put it this way, “If this child is to be born of a woman, how is it be free from and escape the continuous persistent contamination which characterizes all human history. There is a moral difficulty here.” Good point. So Gabriel draws the logical conclusion for Mary. Based on the divine presence and power operative in the virgin conception, he says this in verse 35, “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Now, the word “holy” could refer to the fact that Jesus is set apart as the son of God because “holy” means “set apart.” It’s true. It’s the teaching of Psalm 2:7—but there’s more here. The word “holy” could also refer to the fact that as the Son of the Most High, Jesus shares in the divine nature. In fact, it’s interesting to see how in this one single verse how all three Persons of the Trinity are present. You’ve got the Holy Spirit, you’ve got the Most High, and you’ve got the Son of God. Holiness is one of the triune God’s essential attributes. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,” right? It’s right there, but again, “holy” in this verse is pointing to something else. Jesus is holy—set apart as the Messiah—and He is holy in the sense that He is a possessor of the divine attribute of holiness as the second Person of the Trinity, but there’s something more immediately significant for the virgin Mary. What’s emphasized here—the immediate concern which answers the practical question—is this meaning, and this understanding of the word “holy” is that the Son of God would be free from the taint of sin. That wouldn’t be so obvious to Mary or anyone else either.
We understand that Jesus had no physical connection to a human father, that’s true. He would, however, have some kind of an organic connection to Mary. So doesn’t that mean being born by means of the virgin’s womb Jesus would be tainted by sin? Would his connection to Mary cause a blemish? Well, according to Gabriel’s reply, answering a question Mary didn’t ask, the answer was “no.” Categorically, emphatically, “no.” By the presence of the Holy Spirit, the overshadowing power of the Most High God, Jesus was untainted by sin. Like Adam, Jesus was a new creation of God. That meant He was untainted by the guilt of original sin and unstained by the presence of personal sin. That’s what the word “holy” in verse 35 signifies; it’s testimony to the absolute sinlessness of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews tells us, it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens. This divine miracle proclaimed the sinlessness of Christ—His holiness—emphatically.
Now, what that means for Mary. If Jesus is utterly and absolutely free from sin, then this whole ordeal is holy and undefiled as well. Mary is blameless and pure in this thing, no matter what people around her might say, and she needed to know that. Let me tell you, Mary was about to endure all kinds of false assumptions, all manner of uncharitable insinuations, whispering, scandalous accusations, talking behind her back, cold stares the marketplace. It started with her beloved Joseph. He wasn’t unkind or unreasonable at all, but when you find out your fiancé is pregnant, and you haven’t gone near her, this was kind of hard to take. Matthew 1:19 says, “Joseph was a just man and unwilling to put her to shame.” He was trying to find a quiet way to resolve the situation and keep her alive at the same time. Joseph knew that some in the community might react according to what’s described in Deuteronomy 22:23 to 24, “If there is a betrothed virgin and a man meets her in the city and lies with her then you shall bring them both out the gate of that city, you shall stone them to death with stone so you shall purge the evil from your midst.” Oh, Joseph loved Mary, and he wanted to avoid all of that if he could. So, while he’s pondering all of this, while he’s trying to figure out the most merciful solution to the problem, an angel visits him. “Do not fear Joseph, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Wow. Mary’s reputation and credibility were restored in one second. Joseph immediately believed the angel and he went out and married that girl. Remarkable young couple.
Still, rumor would abound. Did Mary and Joseph violate the terms of their betrothal? Did Mary go behind the back of poor Joseph? Yeah, that’s what the Pharisees chose to believe. “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon? We do not know where this man comes from,” insinuating he came from adultery. In light of the difficulty that lay immediately around the bend, God knew Mary would need a sure and certain word. She needed a foundation of truth to rest upon. So, this angel’s word from heaven above became an anchor for her conviction. The conception of the incarnate son of God. It was unconventional, it was utterly unique. It was without precedent. It would never be repeated. But Mary knew, and now she would always know her son Jesus was conceived through holiness by the presence of the Spirit and the power of the Most High God. His conception, his birth was impeccable and she was blameless.
Again, a lot to digest for her. A lot to take in, so the angel provides her with a sign. Next verse, verse 36, “Behold, your relative, Elizabeth…” Just to comment here—if Mary was of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth, of the house of Aaron, the tribe of Levi, how where they related? Simple. They were cousins. Mary’s father could have married one of the sisters of Mary’s mother, okay? There are other explanations we could come up with, but they were related, and at the same time, Mary was still of the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth of the tribe of Levi. So continuing, verse 36, “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son and this is the sixth month with her who is called barren.” Mary didn’t ask for a sign. Unlike, Zechariah, she didn’t ask for a sign. She didn’t even hint at wanting one. Mary was prepared to receive it all by faith, but perhaps in view of the severity of the challenges that lay ahead, Gabriel gives her one anyway. “Your relative Elizabeth, the one who was called barren, she’s pregnant, she’s pregnant.” Evidently Mary hadn’t know about Elizabeth’s conception. As you can see in verse 39, Mary couldn’t wait to visit her cousin. It says, “In those days, Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to visit Elizabeth.” Those two had a lot to talk about. But seeing her relative pregnant—Elizabeth in her old age pregnant—was a sign for Mary, something for her to latch onto if her faith wavered. And what did that sign signify? Verse 37: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
You know that’s exactly what the Lord said to Abraham about the birth of Isaac. It’s the same phraseology exactly if you compare the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament in that passage, compare it to Luke 1:37, it’s the same phraseology. Abraham and Sarah had both wavered in unbelief. Those two failed big time. Remember, they tried to make God’s promise of childbirth for them in their old age a reality in a way that made sense to them. Sarah gave Abraham her own slave, Hagar. “Here Abraham, I’m too old; have a baby through her.” Almost unthinkable to us, right? You can’t think of doing that, but then again some of our modern ways and means would seem unthinkable in their judgment too, wouldn’t it? God had promised the child would come through Abraham and Isaac—no one else. And still, even after that failure, they laughed at God’s Word. Both Abraham and Sarah independently laughed. So, the Lord asked Abraham, Genesis 18:13, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Another way to translate that: “Nothing is impossible with the Lord. Same as verse 37—God’s power is limitless. True believers view the power of God not only as limitless, but as efficacious—that means, effective, put to use in real space in real time. True believers believe that God’s power is not only omnipotent, not only without limit, but it’s effective in our lives today, right now. Do you believe that? Because it’s not enough to believe in principle that God has almighty power, while in practice you never expect Him to act in your life. “The demons also believe and shudder.” How do we believe? As John Calvin said, “God is and wishes to be acknowledged as powerful that by the accomplishment itself, he may prove his faithfulness.” Did you get that? God wants you to see Him act in your life. God wants you to see and to recognize His power in your life, to transform it, to change it, to shape it, to make it something it never was. Why? So that you’ll acknowledge His power. So that you’ll become more consistent in trusting His faithful character. God is like a kind father who urges his little child to jump off the little ledge into his strong arms. By learning to trust the father’s strength, in a controlled moment of momentary fear, the child learns to trust his father for other things too, for more important things, more critical things. It’s the same way with God.
Well, we’ve seen an unlikely situation beginning in this text. We’ve see a puzzling introduction, an amazing annunciation, and a reasonable clarification. What’s Mary’s response? Here’s our fifth and final point—”a humble submission.” A humble submission, verse 38. Look at it there: “Mary said, ‘Behold I’m the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” Folks, we have before us here in this text a model saint. This is an amazing example of humble submission from Mary. She gives a simple unqualified response to the Word of God. Absolutely exemplary. This is not a prayer here. She’s not asking that what the angel said would come to pass. She knows it will. And Mary, in this text, isn’t necessarily rejoicing over what Gabriel told her either. Her response to all this seems rather subdued. She’s kind of pensive, contemplative. It’s as if she’s taking a deep breath, thinking it through, embracing God’s will for her life and in so doing, entering into the joy of it. I’m thinking Mary knew how difficult this would be. As we’ve already said, there were going to be consequences to all of this. Would people think she fooled around? How would Joseph react? What about her parents, her siblings, her family? What about her neighbors? Would Jesus live with the stigma of illegitimacy all of his life? Well, Mary set all of those questions aside, and she responded with unqualified submission to God’s will, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”
The word there in verse 38 is not “servant,” actually, the way it’s translated. It’s the word “slave.” Not a very popular word in our world today, but it’s been an unquestioned fact of life throughout most of human history. Many economies have been slave economies throughout history. Slaves have always been in plentiful supply, whether in debt slavery, in prisoners of war—people have been bought and sold and traded like property. Just a fact of life. And people who lived in those economies didn’t think twice about it then. Sure, they wanted their freedom, but they were no abolitionists. Being owned by somebody else, being under somebody else’s power, will, whim. Slaves had no claim on anything. They had no rights, they had no demands, they had no grievances to file with anyone—they were utterly subject. That’s how Mary saw herself before the Lord. She already ranked low by human standards. She didn’t live in an upscale neighborhood. She was young, barely a teenager. She was a female in a male-dominated society. Her immediate family was insignificant—no wealth no prominence, nothing special about this girl. Except God. Just to be clear, we don’t see Mary’s humility by the fact she called herself the slave of the Lord. You see, by acknowledging that, Mary recognized the tremendous honor that was bestowed upon her as the Lord’s slave; Mary is one favored by God. As the Lord’s slave, the Lord is with her. As the Lord’s slave, she never needs to fear anything or anyone ever again.
Listen, that’s because our Lord takes very good care of His slaves. He’s very careful with His property, causing us to serve His good and gracious purposes to the full pleasure of His kind and gracious will. Mary, from an insignificant village—too young, the wrong gender, no noble family, no means, no reputation—this girl had found favor with God. That is quite a promotion, isn’t it? So Mary, the slave of the Lord. Her humility isn’t really in recognizing her slavery. Her humility shines through in this phrase, “Let it be to me according to your word”’ that is, “May the Lord’s will be done.” With what she faced as a virgin girl, pregnant with a child, that’s quite a remarkable act of humble submission. Like a little girl jumping into her father’s arms, Mary had put herself in the Lord’s powerful, tender, perfect hands. She rested in Him. She contented herself with whatever He planned for her life. What’s the only answer that a slave can give to the master? “Yes, Lord.” “Yes, Lord.”
That’s the heart of every true believer in responding to the will of God. Submission to His will. When you see someone who doesn’t have a heart of submission, you’ve got to question where they are with Christ. Submission marks the believer. Will you trust God like a little child who falls in the arms of his father? What if God showed you that following Him meant great loss? Would you still trust Him? Would you submit to His will without complaint? What if God showed you that following Christ meant personal pain, great suffering, the loss of your job, your reputation, or even your family—would you still submit to Him, joyfully? What if it’s something less than that? What if God showed you that following Christ and submitting to His will mean the loss of your personal autonomy? It meant that your choices aren’t your own? Because that’s where we all live, right? Would you still submit to him? Even though what happened to Mary was absolutely unique—the incarnation of Jesus Christ is an unrepeatable event—there are similar less remarkable demands made on every believer every day. When God comes into your life, He does not intend to leave it the same. You’re not okay just as you are. That’s why He saved you, and that’s why He intends to change you, to sanctify you. Your life is not your own. He intends to glorify Himself through you in ways that you right now cannot even imagine. You okay with that? Follow Mary’s example of humble submission, just go with it, okay, because God is a wonderful, loving, beneficent Master and Lord. He’ll take care of you. Like Mary, let it be to you according to God’s Word. As the hymn writer said, “We may trust Him fully all for us to do; they who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true.”
Let’s pray. Father we give thanks to You in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, born through the virgin Mary, fully man, fully God, and the sovereign King of the universe. We give thanks to You in His name, willingly bringing ourselves to you to humble ourselves before You, to submit before You and Your every word. We’re grateful for our salvation that You secured for us in Jesus Christ. Father, we just ask that You give us the strength, the power—encourage our hearts to obey You fully every single day. Let eternity be before our eyes, let us live this life now not by what we see, but by what we don’t see, putting our faith in You, the unseen God. We give thanks to You in Jesus’ name. Amen.