Well, as we come to our time in God’s Word this morning, you can open your Bibles as we’ve been in Luke’s Gospel. We’ve just entered into this study. We’re just kind of dipping our toes into the water, basically, of such a wonderful, rich text of Scripture, the main subject of which is our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We love talking about Him. We love learning about Him. More than ten years ago probably, I remember witnessing to a former Mormon. He had been burned by the Mormon Church and was kind of going through a rough patch in his life. And that had made him open to talking about the Gospel. You can tell when the Spirit’s kind of working on somebody and bringing them through difficult things to maybe draw them. Anyway, he was going through a rough patch, and I talked to him about the Gospel, and things seemed to be going well. I had given him a very clear Gospel. I had time to be thorough with him, and he responded with interest and enthusiasm, and he even agreed to visit our church. And so I remember we brought them to church on that next Sunday, and as we walked toward the church campus, he was telling me just as we walked, one of his main bones of contention with the Mormon Church was the tithe. He didn’t like the tithe, and in the Mormon Church it’s a mandatory giving to stay in good standing with the Mormon Church. You’ve got to continue to give your money, and if you don’t do that, you fall out of faithfulness, and they start coming after you because staying in good standing is how you earn your way toward favor with God. So, he asked, “How much is your church’s tithe?” I could tell he needed to understand a few things, so I just said “Look, let me explain that the tithe is actually more like a tax in the economy of Israel.” As Christians, we’re really not living in the theocratic kingdom of Israel here at this time. We’re living among the nations, so today our tithe is our tax; that’s what we pay to our government. So just being faithful to pay your taxes is like the Israelites paying their tithe. Our church people give what we call an offering. An offering is of no set amount. We call it a free will offering because it’s of the free will of every believer, every worshipper who wants to worship God by contributing money to God’s work and God’s kingdom and what he’s doing in God’s church, completing between the worshipper and God. It’s completely a matter of conscience.
The man seemed to be relieved to hear that. And, I could actually see the relief on his face. His shoulders kind of relaxed. He seemed even to walk with a spring in his step as we walked up to the church. We came close to the campus. Perhaps I should have let it go at that, but I didn’t. The little cloud that entered my mind: I wonder if he shares something in common with the rich young ruler. I wonder how attached he is to his money. So, I followed up my little explanation about the difference between the tithe and offering with this comment. I said at our church, “We understand the Lord doesn’t just want your money, he wants it all.” He said, “What?” Tension returned, and he started looking at me with suspicion. I said, “Yep, he wants everything. He wants your money, your time, your plans, your ambitions. When you come to Christ, none of that belongs to you any longer. In truth, it never did. Yep, God wants all of it.” I could see not all was well. He was discomforted by that comment, and so I tried to encourage him just with the Gospel. I said that in Luke 9:23, Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” It is worth losing everything to gain Christ.
Well, no matter how hard I tried, he had heard enough. He attended one service, I believe, with us; then he left. We never saw him again. He seemed more concerned about keeping his money than he was about gaining Christ. People like that aren’t interested in the Gospel. They’re not interested in the reward of the Gospel, who is God. God is the reward of the Gospel. He wanted to keep his money. So many people today, just like that man, are gravely misled. They want to add Christ to their possessions; they want to add Christ to their plans. They want to work him into their busy schedules. And they may seem for the moment like they really do want Christ, but when you start to see how they live their lives, what really is it in the heart of the conversation, you can see that they remain fixed, firmly committed to their self-sufficiency, their prideful ambition. So many professing Christians are unwilling to offend people like that, unwilling to tell them the truth that the Gospel is not about us staying the same. Christ demands that we bow to Him as Lord when we cling to Him as Savior. That means we need to abandon self and money, possessions, ambitions, future plans, all of it. It’s a high call to discipleship. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!” That includes our souls, beloved. That includes our very lives. Every square inch of our lives belongs to him as well.
And I want to give you a glimpse of how that thinking worked out in a young girl, young virgin girl named Mary. So, if you’ve not already turned there, open your Bibles to Luke 1 and follow along as I read this entire context here of the annunciation to Mary, verses 26 to 38.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee names Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a 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 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 overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of Gd. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the slave of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”
The outline for that passage of Scripture should be there in your bulletin again. We worked our way through some of the background information Luke provided for us by considering that first point in our outline, “An Unlikely Situation.” It was an unlikely situation, an unlikely setting in verses 26 to 27. We talked about that last week. God sent the angel Gabriel to this obscure out-of-the-way place called Nazareth, a little country village in Galilee. Nazareth was nothing to boast about even though it had a commanding view of some very strategic real estate. To the south of Nazareth and about 1,000 feet below the little town was a very important east-west quarter called the Villa Maris, which connected Egypt to Mesopotamia. It was a route for the Gentiles to go back and forth; caravans of Gentiles of all shapes, sizes, colors, flowed back and forth through Nazareth of Galilee, influencing the Galileans with the culture of the world, tempting them with their false religion. It was the most unlikely of places, really, to send the angel Gabriel, but God had ordained Galilee for the breaking of the dawn. As Isaiah prophesied more than 500 years before the Gospel came to Mary here, it says in Isaiah chapter 9:1, God “has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee,” of the Gentiles, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, for them a light has shone.”
And the light dawned, as we said last time, on two very unlikely characters: a young virgin girl named Mary, probably only 12 to 13 years old at the time, and the man to whom she was betrothed, a young man named Joseph. Joseph was special: he was of the tribe of David, as was Mary, but Joseph’s unique contribution to the plan of God was going to provide the Son of God, the incarnate Son of God with the legal right to the throne with his father, David. The promise was to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7, “I will raise up your offspring, I will establish his kingdom, I will establish his throne forever” (2 Samuel 7:12). You can see all that coming out in the language here. That was Joseph’s role: to pass on the legal right to sit on David’s throne, passed on from father to son. Mary’s role was the role of a mother. Mary doesn’t know her role here, yet, in all of the providence of God, and she’s learning it here through Gabriel’s explanation, but her role was utterly unique, totally unprecedented. Not only would she fulfill prophecy by bearing a child, Isaiah 7:14 says that she would do so without knowing a man. How is this going to happen? The birth of the child coming from her womb would miraculously conceive. He would not come by the seed of the man, but come by the seed of the woman, Genesis 3:15. Amazing.
At this point in the story, where we’ve come to in our text as we’ve looked at verses 26 to 27, we’ve looked at the setting—this unlikely setting and unlikely couple—and here’s Mary just on the cusp of finding out what this angel is doing in her house. So let’s catch up here. And what I want to do this morning is to draw out the true meaning of this angelic greeting—the true meaning of what was going on when Gabriel said what he said to her in his introduction. If we understand what the angel truly meant when he greeted Mary, we’re going to understand something very important about the grace of God, and we’re going to understand something very important about the nature of true discipleship. So think about that as we walk through these points together. We covered our first point last week, like I said—”An Unlikely Situation.” Let’s take a look at the second point. I called it there, as you can see in your outline, “A Puzzling Introduction,” “A Puzzling Introduction.”
“If we understand what the angel truly meant when he greeted Mary, we’re going to understand something very important about the grace of God, and we’re going to understand something very important about the nature of true discipleship.”Travis Allen
Follow along again as I read verses 28 to 30: “And he came to her”—the angel came to her—”and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.’ And she was greatly troubled at this saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be, and then the angel told her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” That opening phrase in verse 28 indicates that Gabriel came into Mary’s home. He entered into the dwelling presumably when she was alone, maybe busy with domestic chores as she would be doing. We could see clearly about Mary—undeniably about this young girl—from, if you look ahead to the Magnifcat, Mary’s Song in verses 46 to 55, that this is a teenager who knew her Bible well. I mean, this girl understood theology, she understood her biblical history, she understood the redemptive story. Amazing! Amazing! Never underestimate youth. Never underestimate what they have the power to learn and comprehend. Their minds are bursting and crying out for understanding. Mary understood.
So, maybe we could think about the angel happening upon her as she’s having a little private time of prayer and meditating on the Scripture. We don’t really know, but all of a sudden, the angel Gabriel materializes in her living room. She didn’t even have a chance to tidy up, run the vacuum, nothing, dust cloth, no, just—poof! an angel! Unannounced guests are so Biblical, right? Notice how this introduction parallels Gabriel’s introduction to Zechariah, though. Zechariah and Mary were both troubled when the angel Gabriel appeared, as you might imagine. He had to calm them down. He had to tell them not to fear, but there is a difference between the two encounters, and it’s this difference: Zechariah was troubled by the sight of the angel; Mary was puzzled by his words. And even the words that are used in the Greek text to describe their troubled spirits, the word that’s used, is the same root word, but it’s with a slight difference. Back in Luke 1:12, Zechariah, it says, “was troubled when he saw him and fear fell upon him.” I mean there’s like a quaking going on. It’s visible, Gabriel can see it. He was rattled. He was shaken. He was gripped with fear—and no wonder! We talked about that, right? He was alone in the sanctuary; he expected to be alone in the sanctuary, with no one else around. All of a sudden, this mighty angel materializes right in front of him—an absolutely terrifying experience. We can all understand that. I get it. But the word is slightly different when it comes to Mary, when it’s used of Mary. It’s got a preposition prefixed to the front of the same root word for “troubled,” and the preposition along with that word points to a mental issue. She’s perplexed. She’s confused. Her fear or her being troubled isn’t driving her to paralysis; it’s not driving her to shaking. It’s driving her to perplexity and confusion. She’s puzzled here, and it’s not because of the presence of the angel, per se, it’s not only that. She’s puzzled by his words. She’s puzzled by the nature and content of his introduction here.
So, let’s get inside her head just a little bit here and try to figure out why. I see here three reasons Mary was puzzled by the angel’s greeting. Mary was wondering, number 1, “What do you mean by greeting?” Okay, you might think that’s a very easy question to answer, but I’ll get into that. What did he mean by “Greetings”? Number 2, “Why is he addressing me as ‘O Favored One,’ why is he addressing me as, ‘O Favored One’?” And number 3, “Why or for what reason is the Lord with me?” like “What’s about to happen?” So, “What did he mean by greetings?” “Why is he addressing me as O Favored One?” “Why is the Lord going to be with me?—What’s going on?” All right, three points.
So, first of all, the word “greeting,” the word in the Greek there is chairo. In some senses that could just be word of greeting between two people. “Chairo, chairo, greetings.” A more typical word for greeting in Hebrew Semitic context like this would be shalom, “peace.” That was how they typically greeted one another, so this is a little bit untypical, this is a little bit different. It’s not totally unknown as a greeting, but it’s a little bit out of the ordinary. Still attached to the sentence that followed, the word “greeting,” Mary is wondering if it means a little more than just “Hello.” And there’s something going on here, something heavy happening. The literal interpretation of the word chairo really is to interpret it as a command; literally, the angel comes in and says, “Rejoice.” It’s a command. “Rejoice.” In a couple of familiar passages, Paul commanded the Philippians, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord,” Philippians 3:1. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and I will say again, rejoice.” Same word, same command. That’s how we take it there. Jesus said as well, “When you’re persecuted for the sake of righteousness, rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.” “Rejoice”—it’s a command. But the word chairo could it just be a “hello,” a greeting, or could it be a command to rejoice, “You need to rejoice”? It could also be used to greet someone in a position of authority—someone who’s maybe higher than you, a little bit of respect, maybe having a governorship or something like that. In that case, it would be translated, “Hail! Hail!” Admittedly, Mary probably wouldn’t have thought to too much about the opening word were it not attached to this really uncommon sentence. What is this? This sentence is not typical. This is now not how you really greet someone. So attached to this sentence, she’s wondering, “What is the angel really saying if he’s saying ‘Hello’? Is he telling me to rejoice, or is he hailing me because he’s calling me, ‘O Favored One.’ What is this?” “Hello” seems a little bit too benign. “Hail” seems maybe too unfitting, so utterly unsuitable for a teenage girl from Nazareth. “Rejoice” is a little puzzling too because of what comes next.
But the second thing that’s puzzling Mary about this greeting is what Gabriel calls her here, “O Favored One.” “O Favored One.” The word is attached to—it builds off of a root that means grace: charis. Charis. And it literally means, in, as you translate it literally, it’s kind of awkward, but it’s “Greetings, O Having Been Favored One,” or “Greetings, O Having Been Graced One.” That is the word, grace; charis in the Greek is the root word here, but it’s in the perfect tense, so the gracing of Mary is something that had happened in the past, and the results are carrying on into the present with the expectation they’re going to continue all the way into the future. So, “having been favored,” “having been graced”—it’s in the passive voice as well. This is something that’s happened to Mary. She didn’t go out and get herself graced. She didn’t earn anything to get her favor. This isn’t something she’s done herself. It’s not something she’s actually involved in except it’s just happened to her. So she’s passive in this process of being graced. She’s passive in being favored by God. The fundamental idea of the verb here is that a person has received not what was owed, not what was merited; the person’s received what was not deserved. It’s a blessing. It’s freely bestowed; it’s a gift, it’s a favor. So, there’s a superior, there’s one in authority—it’s a wealthy benefactor, so to speak—and he’s bestowing blessing on the one who’s in an inferior position. One who could never earn it. One who could never merit it. Mary didn’t earn this. She didn’t merit anything. She’s simply in a position of finding out that she’s been favored. Why would that puzzle her? What’s the problem with that? Someone walks up to you on the street or just happens to materialize in your living room, and he tells you you have been blessed by a wealthy powerful benefactor, and you’re going to want to know why. Um, okay. What are the strings attached; what is it? “Yeah, right. There is no such thing as a free lunch. What do you have in mind? You’re going to give me this, but what? A million bucks? Sure. What’s happening though? What am I going to have to do? Who am I now enslaved to?”
If you took the time, though, like Mary is doing, to think about the language the angel used to parse the verbs, to actually consider the meaning, you’re going to realize there are no strings attached. Divine favor is freely bestowed. It’s utterly undeserved. It’s totally unmerited. So, then the question would be, “Why me? Why me?” Precisely at this point the Roman Catholic church has gone off the rails. Some of you former Roman Catholics may have recognized that greeting. If you didn’t, let me give it to you using Jerome’s translation from the Vulgate laid in the 4th Century. This is how he translated this passage: “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.” Recognize that? Neither do I; that’s the Latin. Here’s the English: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Recognize that? You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? That’s the opening sentence of what we call the “Hail Mary,” a prayer to Mary. This Roman Catholic prayer to Mary is based on two texts in Luke’s Gospel: the angelic greeting here in verse 28 and then Elizabeth’s greeting in verse 42: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Okay, so the Hail Mary essentially quotes these two passages, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Now if that were all the Hail Mary was, just reciting Luke 1:28 and 42, the only thing to quibble about maybe is the translation. To translate charito as “full of grace,” rather than “one having been favored,” it’s turned out to be a tad misleading. When he translated that verse that way, Jerome was probably thinking that Mary had been graced by God—favored by God—and in light of the nature of the blessing and in light of who was blessing, it was a blessing in the fullest. It was a full measure of blessing. In that sense gratia plena is not a bad translation. However, later Roman Catholics infused that translation with the aberrant doctrine of the Treasury of Merit. They put it into “full of grace.” They squeezed it in like squeezing the cream into a jelly donut, right? Or the jelly into the jelly donut. I’m thinking of the Bavarian donut—you know, the cream. I was thinking that, but I said the jelly donut. I really don’t even like the jelly donut, so I like the Bavarian ones a lot better, just to clarify.
“Mary was a self-avowed sinner who rejoiced.”Travis Allen
But they put into this “full of grace” idea, they put into this the idea of a treasury of merit. They believe that at this moment here, God had given Mary a treasury of merit that she then had the power and authority to dispense to faithful worshippers, those who came to her in prayer. And so they added a final line, which really is what adds an abomination to the two texts of Scripture here. So, here’s the Hail Mary in all of its blasphemous totality: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.” By adding that final line, a prayer to a human being, a prayer to a creature, they crossed the line. They’re now promoting idolatry because what is prayer fundamentally but an offering of worship? But everything Rome touches turns into an idol, so we’re not surprised that they pervert this beautiful text as well. Mary was a self-avowed sinner who rejoiced—Luke 1:47—she rejoiced in “God, my Savior.” She knew she was a sinner in need of salvation. She wanted God to save her from her sins, so she rejoiced in “God my Savior, the One who saved me from my sins.” Mary would be absolutely mortified to find out what men have attributed to her. The Roman Catholic Church has put Mary at odds with her own son. The Roman Catholic Church has put Mary at odds with the Messiah, who by His life and death merited her salvation for her. Like the rest of us, she deserved death, but God had given her grace. So Mary is wondering first of all, “Why is God favoring me?” and secondly, “Why is God favoring me? Who am I? What is this favor?”
The third question on Mary’s mind comes out of that last sentence. “The Lord is with you.” “The Lord is with you.” Now to you and me that might sound like Gabriel is simply encouraging Mary. You know, just proclaiming the nearness of the Lord—and it is that, an empowering, confidence-building sense of encouragement, and at the same time that same sentence may have been the most troubling to her of all of them. The phrase, “The Lord is with you,” is more than just a simple pleasantry to accompany a greeting; that’s Old Testament language. In the Old Testament, “The Lord is with you” was spoken specifically to people who had been chosen by God for a special purpose in redemptive history. The Lord appeared to Isaac, Genesis 26:24 and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” God said the same thing to Isaac’s son Jacob, reaffirming that Abrahamic covenant. He said, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land” Genesis 28:15. Those are promises to the patriarchs of Israel to establish them in the land, to bless them, to make them a nation.
God gave the same promises to special servants, who because of the immensity of the task before them, would need to know for certain that God was with them. It’s why God said to Moses—Exodus chapter 3, the burning bush, “Take off your sandals; you’re standing on holy ground.” God said, “I will be with you. And this shall be the sign for you when I have sent you and brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain. I will be with you.” And God was with Moses mightily as recorded in the exodus. Jeremiah had the unenviable privilege of crying out to a nation in rebellion, to a nation heading into exile. Poor Jeremiah. He wouldn’t have a single convert. Was he faithful? Yeah, he was faithful. Did anybody repent? Did anyone convert? No. Was his church full of congregants? No. By our standards, he looked like absolute failure, but not before God. Before God he was righteous. He was faithful and he would suffer ridicule and painful abuse ate hands of his countrymen. But God’s promise was his reward. Jeremiah 1:8, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you declares the Lord.”
So “I am with you.” Mary’s like, “What is going on? Am I going to be like Jeremiah? What’s going on?” Closer to Mary—at least in geographic proximity—was what happened to Gideon. Remember the story of Gideon, Judges 6 and 7? The angel of the Lord spoke that same sentence to him, “The Lord is with you” about 1,200 years before he came here and spoke it to Mary. Back then the Midianites had filled the Jezreel Valley, which was as you may remember from last week the Jezreel Valley was just below Mary’s little village of Nazareth. You can imagine Mary’s daddy taking her by her hand as a little girl, taking her over to the crest of the hill overlooking Jezreel, and he’s telling her the story. He’s pointing out the places where God defeated the Midianites, where Gideon had to go the brook and call out—and still too many. God said, “You need to take away some of these men. Send them home. I’m going to do through you with a few, and I’m going to vanquish this land of the foe, the Midianites”—the sword of the Lord and Gideon. So there’s Mary as a little girl learning from her dad, looking over Jezreel Valley, “Oh, over there, oh, over there. That’s where Gideon was.” Before Gideon marched out to battle, had the victory—before he even knew he would lead 300 men to rout the Midianite hoard, the angel of the Lord appeared to him to announce the news. And it’s recorded in Judges 6:12, which says, “The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.’” “O mighty man of valor.” Funny thing about that. Gideon was no “mighty man of valor” when the angel of the Lord said that to him. He’d been threshing wheat inside of a wine vat. Okay, now I’m not a farmer; I haven’t done any threshing of wheat, but I’ve seen it done. I don’t think I’ve watched a Youtube video, but I’ve seen pictures. It was in my coloring books, you know, and in seminary. But you thresh wheat, and you need wind, right? So, you crush it, you throw it up, and the wind takes away the chaff and the wheat; the heavier grain falls, right? You don’t want to thresh wheat in a wine vat. He was hiding. He was choking in the dust and the flaky husks that were produced by threshing because he feared the Midianites would discover him and steal his grain. The angel of the Lord appeared to call him a “mighty man of valor,” not because of what he was, but because of what he was going to be.
So, he appeared to him, strengthening him for the task that he would fulfill—ridding the land of the Midianites. “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” “The Lord is with you,” biblically, is a sentence of assurance, and it’s intended to instill confidence in someone who’s been chosen by God for a special purpose. It signals that the mere presence of the Lord is imminent, is drawing near, preparing an individual for divine service, especially for battle, and for times of great difficulty. So, for poor Mary, I think the collective impact of that puzzling introduction got her attention, don’t you? Perhaps her mind schooled back to the accounts recorded in Judges. Think about Gideon. A couple chapters before, Judges 4 and 5. They record the victory of Barak and the prophetess Deborah. The two of them defeated the Canaanites in the Jezreel Valley as well, right below where Mary grew up. They rid the land of King Jabin and his renowned commander Sisera. Remember, the credit for the victory, as Deborah had prophesied, went to a woman. The woman Jael drove a tent stake through Sisera’s temple while he slept. Ewww. But, that’s what happened. Credit for the victory went to a woman. There is the angel, “The Lord is with you” to a young girl. Was God planning to raise up Mary to rid the land of the Romans? No wonder she’s troubled. She’s like, “I’ve never served in the army.” This would completely ruin her plans. She was betrothed to be married, after all. She and Joseph had already sent all of the invitations. They bought the decorations, picked out their dishes. Hey, everything is going to be great. “God, I lead an army? Kick out the Romans?” Notice in verse 29, “Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, she tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
Back in Luke 1:12, Zechariah was troubled at the sight of an angel. At the sight. Mary was troubled at the words of the angel. Zechariah was focused on the phenomenon of angelic visitation, but he didn’t think as carefully about the words. He failed to stop and think and that led to a blundering, a fumbling of the ball in unbelief. Mary, though, she was troubled— the word means confused, perplexed, puzzled—and that led her, provoked her to think. The word translated “discern” in verse 29 there in your Bibles—Mary tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be; that word shows Mary thinking carefully. It shows her reasoning. It shows her pondering. It’s a word that refers to thinking through the implications of something. That’s what Mary was doing. She’s mulling it over, considering each word that the angel spoke, parsing the language, trying to interpret—and then considering the implications for her life. That’s how that word is used in other parts of Scripture. Mulling it over, pondering, thinking, mediation, thinking about the language, interpreting and then thinking about the implications for her life. The imperfect tense here means she was taking some time to do that, to figure it out.
I want you to stop and think about that for a moment. Think about the contrast between the old priest and the young virgin girl. The old priest was troubled by the whole angelic appearance, and he didn’t stop to think. And he asked a question that revealed a heart of unbelief. You have to wonder what a few moments of meditation would’ve earned for him, what it would’ve done for him. Then a young virgin girl—remember, again, she’s just 12 or 13—try to think about that. 12 or 13 years old. She believed right away. She had the sense enough to listen to the word of God as spoken here by the angel Gabriel. She didn’t respond immediately. She thought about it. She pondered it in her heart. She reflected on what she heard. Let me ask you. Do you listen to God’s Word that way? When the Word is preached on Sunday morning, are you quick to speak like Zechariah, or are you quick to listen like Mary? My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would teach all of us to be better expository listeners so we can follow the example of a young virgin girl. She led the way in this. Amen. Do you see that?
Well, if you could imagine the scene here, it was probably slightly comical to watch Gabriel enter Mary’s home, greet her in this fashion, informing the “highly favored one” that the Lord is with her, only to watch Mary not respond. I mean she is just sitting there, not saying a word. Quietly thinking. Gabriel’s like, “Um, I usually don’t have this effect. I show up, people get all trembly.” She’s just sitting there. What’s going on in her head? He’s not omniscient, he’s not God. He’s just reading the signs on the outside. Hard to know how long that went on, that silence, but at some point, Gabriel broke the silence. It says there, look at it, “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Once again, this mighty angelic message: he’s gentle, calming Mary’s fears. Who knows what’s written on her face. Perhaps Gabriel could see that the more she pondered the future in light of that puzzling introduction, the more Mary was concerned about the future. We don’t know, but in any case, he says, “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” And why not? “Because you have found favor with God.” To say Mary found favor with God, it might sound like she was looking for it. That’s not the case. The verb heurisko can refer to the result of an active search: she found, she looked, she found. But it can also mean she attained to a certain state. She attained, she obtained favor. That’s obviously what it means here because grace is what she found. Favor is what she obtained. By definition, grace is not something you look for, find, and earn. It’s not something you merit. She didn’t ask for this divine favor, but God granted it anyway. She just discovered she had it. Mary knew then also what my Mormon friend didn’t. The grace of God did not guarantee an easy life. The grace of God did not mean she’d be able to hold on to all of her money. Demands of discipleship would prove to be quite costly.
Here’s the announcement again. Go look at it in verse 31 to 35. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and he will be called son of the Most High. And the Lord 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 everything’s great right there. Everything’s great. Because this so far doesn’t describe a virgin birth. What other expectation would a young virgin girl betrothed to a man to be married have than that she would have children? That she asked the question that prompts the answer, “‘How will this be since I’m a virgin?'” The angel said to her, “’The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will over shadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.’” Now, you’ve read the Gospels; you know the rest of the story. Think about what all of this would mean for Mary. And let’s start here with this announcement. A virgin conception would mean a cloud of suspicion would hang over Mary’s head. People would talk. They’d ask questions like, “Did Mary runaround on poor Joseph? Is that why she’s pregnant?” Or, “Did she break broke the terms of betrothal, eh? Hey eh eh.” It may have been the basis of the charge the Jews, made later of Jesus in John 8:48. They said, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Mary’s secret runaround on Joseph—and with a Samaritan no less. That had to be hard, especially for a young girl who was really the paragon of virtue and purity, to bear a kind of reproach—that head-wagging suspicion—and it wasn’t just from others in the community. Her challenge began with the man that she would marry, her husband Joseph, who was like, What’s going on? Virgin? Holy Spirit? What? Can’t you come up with something better than that?” That was later overcome by the angelic visit in his dream, Matthew 1:20, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” “Oh, okay, got it. Marry her.”
But finding favor with God didn’t guarantee them a good reputation in the community. You remember that in obedience to the Roman government, Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to be registered? And that happened while Mary was pretty far along in her pregnancy. I have never been pregnant, okay, but it sounds pretty uncomfortable, sounds painful. What do you think? Would that be hard? Ride on a donkey, bumping along from Nazareth down to Bethlehem? I just—I don’t know. Call me a sissy, but I don’t really want to do it. Nothing glamorous about this. Sometime after the birth, they settled into a house in Bethlehem, and when they were forced to flee Bethlehem in order to avoid murderous plot, remember, or avoid Herod’s murderous plot, you remember that? He wanted to kill the King of the Jews. He wanted to kill the newborn King of the Jews whom he learned about through the wise men who came visiting from the East. So, they had just had the baby—all tough, travail, travel down to Bethlehem—had the baby, then they moved into a little home and now they’ve got to flee. Obtaining divine favor for Mary did not mean an easy, trouble-free life.
Herod died. After his death, Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth. Nazareth isn’t Jerusalem. It’s not Caesarea. It’s not important—just a small village hidden in relative obscurity, ignored by most people, scorned by those who hear the name, even despised by the fastidiously religious. So, being favored by God didn’t mean fame and popularity. It didn’t mean celebrity and adoring fans. It didn’t mean being “liked” on Facebook. It didn’t mean cultural sophistication for Mary. The young couple would also start with very meager means. They never attained financial prosperity. At Jesus’s birth they offered the sacrifice of the poor, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. And throughout Jesus’ upbringing, remember Joseph was a tradesman, a carpenter, great profession, nothing wrong with that. But, it’s not going to bring you to the Ritz-Carlton, is it? The young family made a living there in Nazareth. It wasn’t a pathway to a fat bank account. Divine favor certainly didn’t mean wealth.
Mary would also deal with family sorrow and sibling strife. Joseph would die before Jesus entered into the ministry. And then after Jesus entered into his ministry, His brothers didn’t believe in Him. They even kind of mocked Him, chided Him a little bit. “Hey, you want to be known? Go show yourself at the feast, that’ll get you known, Jesus.” You can imagine the strife generated among the siblings, sinful brothers and sisters living under the shadow of an absolutely perfect, spotless brother. That had to be hard. Most agonizing of all, the pain Mary would have to endure as she watched what happened to this son born by miraculous conception. Jesus was perfectly righteous in every point, and as a mother she saw that from the most intimate vantage point. In the home, Jesus never put a foot wrong, and yet He’d be hounded from the very moment He entered public ministry. First by the devil himself, and then by all the devil’s agents. He dealt with tedious scrutiny from such small-minded critics. He endured the scorn of leaders, watched them turn the people against Him. And as we know, Jesus was unjustly swept away in the wave of public scorn, open ridicule, murderous hostility. That then led to physical torture and the social shame of public crucifixion. Think about what ISIS is doing these days. That’s what Jesus endured. But almost unthinkably, He endured it at the hands of His own people. He endured it at the hands of the people He came to save, that He came to love, to die for. Even more profoundly unthinkable than that, something our minds cannot fully fathom, Jesus endured the wrath of His heavenly Father. The perfect obedience that He offered to God that should have merited his Father’s unqualified, unquestioned favor, blessing, protection—but “It pleased the Lord to crush him,” Isaiah 53:10. Jesus endured all of that for you and me. Apart from Jesus Christ Himself, there is probably no one on earth who felt the pain more acutely than His mother, Mary. As Simeon prophesied, Luke 2:34 to 35, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
So, being the favored one of God, the promise of God’s abiding presence, finding favor with the Lord—those wonderful blessings didn’t result in a good reputation, an easy life, fame and prominence. The grace of God didn’t produce prosperity or material abundance. Joseph and Mary didn’t live in a Norman Rockwell neighborhood with a Beaver Cleaver family life. For Mary, from an earthly prospective, divine favor meant quite the opposite: suspicion, difficulty, obscurity, financial scarcity, financial strife, and a sword pierced her own soul as well. That is why the final phrase of Gabriel’s greeting is so vital for Mary’s comfort and assurance here. The phrase “The Lord is with you”—that is the reason he can say, “Do not fear, do not fear.” Gabriel’s preparing Mary here. Gabriel, the mighty strength of God coming to visit her—that’s what his name means—he’s coming to strengthen her with the assurance that God is with her. God will strengthen her, help her through whatever she faces in the future. Folks, that’s the message of grace. God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life, but he does promise in his grace to be with us in the trouble. Blessing and divine grace for Mary was the blessing of knowing God as her Savior, for following God as her Lord as she says in verse 38, “Behold, I am the slave of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” You know, that’s the same for us, too, isn’t I? The blessings of the Gospel are spiritual in nature, not physical. Our best life is in heaven with Christ worshipping God for all eternity. Reconciliation with God is what the Gospel promises—and the freedom to pursue a righteous life that pleases God, the resultant blessings of the Gospel. Is that what you want? If it is, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden.” Laden by what? By trying to pursue material gain, by trying to pursue your best life now, by trying to pursue your own ambitions, by trying to run around like a rat in a cage, spinning around on a wheel futilely. If you want Christ, Jesus says, “Come to me; you will find rest for your souls.”
Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for the Gospel that’s been revealed in this text through what You revealed to Mary. She’s a favored one. She has an unprecedented treasure—unique, unparalleled. The treasure of being the mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She herself being a sinner and having no merit before You, earning no favor, but blessed. You just gave it to her. You are the wealthy, powerful, omnipotent benefactor Who graces us. You graced Mary and every one of the godly, every one of the saints is graced in the same way. We thank You for your goodness, Your kindness to us in Jesus Christ for opening our eyes, giving us eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to understand, pointing us in faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. We ask, Father, that you would impress this message upon us. Let us be people who love the Lord Jesus Christ dearly and cling to Him forever. He is our salvation, He is our hope, He is our enteral joy. It’s in His name we pray. Amen.