As we come to our time in God’s Word, go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Luke’s Gospel chapter 1. And we’re getting into verse 26, Luke 1:26. You’ll notice when we get there that we have finished the first narrative. We’re entering into the second narrative. Yay, yeah, woohoo! We actually made it. This is great.
Like you, if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you are, when I open my Bible, start reading, wherever it is I read in the text, you know, the text is so concise and to the point. I mentioned how God has spoken, and he’s given us 66 books of revelation, knowledge from him, from his mind to us, written in black and white. What’s amazing about that is he could have told us a whole lot more. I mean, it’s amazing what he condenses into such a small book like this. I mean the Library of Congress, all the books in the world. It says if all Jesus’ works and all that he said and all that he did were recorded, the books of the world could not contain the whole. Man, that God condensed it into this little bit for us is amazing.
And you can probably read this account we’re about to read, Luke 1:26-38, you could probably read the whole thing in less than a minute, right? If you’re reading it for your morning devotions, maybe over a cup of coffee, you try to grab a couple of devotional thoughts to, to chew on, to meditate on.
You know, you come through here and, and obviously the humility of Mary is so front and center. I mean, you see this young girl and her humility and receiving what the Lord told her. And so you come away and you say, “You know, that’s really wonderful. I read that about Mary, and she’s so humble. I should be more humble.” And so you try to apply that to your week, your relationships. Those aren’t, not bad thought, right?
You, you, you come to verse 37. It says, you know, you think since nothing is impossible with God, I should trust God in every circumstance because nothing is impossible with him, and so you kind of meditate on it that way, and you grab whatever thoughts you can and you move on into your day, into your week, right? Those aren’t bad thoughts; they’re not wrong. They’re true, good to ponder.
But even as you think about those things, even as you think about those thoughts, as things that come out of the text immediately on the surface, you do know there’s so much more there, don’t you? You just have a sense that there is something even more in the message, there, something even deeper to get to. If God, by the Holy Spirit, authored every single word, and he did, then every word is important, right? Every word matters.
Take verse 26, for example. Look at it, there. It says, “In the six month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.” It’s very brief, very concise, to the point. But for us, living 2,000 years after that was written and living nearly 7,000 miles away, we’re separated by the culture, the customs, the history. We really are foreigners to that verse, aren’t we?
That’s why biblical preaching has to involve the hard work of taking you back into the context, the linguistic context, historical, cultural, geographical, biblical, literary context of Scripture. All of that context is vital to take us back in time, like we’re in a time machine going back in time, so we can examine that context carefully. We need to understand what God really meant by what he actually said. So part of preaching is about cultural immersion, right? It’s about immersing you into the context of Scripture, and that involves some mental effort on our part.
Again, look at verse 26. Of all the things that the Holy Spirit could have told us, of all the words he had to choose from, why these words? Why? What is significant about the sixth month, about Galilee, about Nazareth? What about verse 27? What’s so important about Mary’s virginity, her betrothal, and the man to whom she’s betrothed?
I can tell you this: Luke’s first- and second-century readers would have known immediately what those things meant. But not us. There’s some distance between us and the meaning, and that means we need to do some study first, to get some instruction so that we can understand the significance of what’s written. It takes us just a little longer than it did for them. That opening narrative that we came to, verses 5-25, all about Zechariah and Elizabeth, that section, a first- or second- century preacher men a, may have been able to cover that in maybe a sermon, maybe two.
That took us five weeks. If you read back through that section, though, on your own, informed by those five sermons that we covered together, your morning devotions will never be the same in that section of Scripture, will they? I’d encourage you to do just that. I’d encourage you to read through these sections that we cover, that we study together, pray over these verses, and see what God wants to further teach you from them.
After all, it’s this kind of expository study that is a joy to every believer, because this is transformative. This is how God changes your life. Like the blessed man in Psalm 1, our delight is to delight in the law of the Lord, isn’t it? It gives us joy. It thrills us because it’s the Word of the living God, and it’s on that law that we meditate day and night.
Well, let’s begin by reading Luke’s second narrative that we’re getting into, the announcement of the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary, and follow along as I read, starting in verse 26. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named 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.’
“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 we, he 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 overshadow 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 is called barren. For 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.”
That last sentence, there, “and the angel departed from her,” really marks a shift in these birth narratives. After Luke provided the angel’s name in verse 26, that’s the last time he uses Gabriel’s name. That’s it. Luke refers to Gabriel four more times in this section, this angelic messenger, but he doesn’t repeat his name again after that. It’s just “the angel, the angel, the angel.”
And Luke here is pivoting when he says, “The angel departed from her.” He’s pivoting away our attention, away from the angelic, the heavenly visitor to the human instruments. The focus is on now the message that’s put into the hands of human instruments. God sent Gabriel to put the Gospel into the hands, into the care of frail, weak, lowly people. But these are the very people who are vital to its fulfillment.
First, the message comes to an elderly couple. They, they’re way beyond childbearing years, and he puts it in their hands. Now it’s this young girl. There may be no more meek and humble representative of the human race than this young girl, Mary, from this insignificant little town called Nazareth. And it’s she, not an angel from heaven, she who becomes the protagonist. She becomes the main character at the center of these next narratives.
Gabriel’s invol, involvement here is just one of the threads that Luke uses to weave these narratives together, these two accounts. He’s tied the announcement back of this, of Jesus’ birth to Mary, he’s tied that to the announcement that he gave to Zechariah, the announcement to Mary, the, they’re separate accounts, but they are vitally and fundamentally connected.
Notice how he begins in verse 26 by telling us Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy. So that means that Elizabeth has emerged from her five-month, self-imposed exile, her seclusion. She’s come out of hiding, so to speak, and she’s showing. She’s got a baby in there, and people are noticing, and word is getting around. “Hey, did you see Elizabeth? The dear old woman. Well, she seems to be pregnant. Can you believe that? What is going on?” Word’s getting out.
There are other parallels here, too, between these two stories, joining these two counts together, keeping them connected. As we read through the announcement to Mary, I’m sure your mind picked up on some parallels with the previous birth announcement. Luke begins by placing the story within a historical setting, just like he did the other account. Real people, real places, going through what might otherwise be considered the normal activities of human life, like pregnancy, like engagement, like the anticipation of marriage.
Then God interrupts the normal routines. He sends this angelic messenger to Zechariah, then to Mary. Both of them here are troubled at first, as we can see. They’re both encouraged not to fear. Both announcements promised a son. Both announcements provide the name. Both announcements foretell the Son’s greatness. Both Zechariah and Eliz, Mary asked questions. They receive answers.
Not only that, but you can see the activity of the Holy Spirit in the birth of both sons. The Spirit is the one who provides the energy, the power, the, the activity to bring both of these promises into reality. His involvement, here, points beyond the human instruments, even beyond his own involvement, beyond the angelic instrument, and it points to the God who is standing there in the background in every scene, orchestrating all things to his sovereign ends. And all of this is happening by his design, and exactly according to his perfect will.
On all these points, these two announcements are very much alike. Luke has been intentional in showing the continuity between the two, weaving them together like with the same threads.
But there are also some significant differences, aren’t there? You can see them there. The announcement of John the Baptist’s birth takes place in Jerusalem, takes place in an urban setting amid the bustling activity of Israel’s capital city. Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah happened at the temple, not just the temple, but in the very sanctuary itself, in the very heart of Judaism.
Zachariah traveled to Jerusalem, was engaged in very special service, a unique privilege in his priestly life of ministering in the sanctuary. And Gabriel came there, visited him there, and it’s shocking, but it is a very appropriate place for an angel to appear, right, there at the heart of the very presence of God.
By contrast, Mary didn’t go anywhere. Gabriel was sent to her home, a tiny village, rural setting, an insignificant, despised and forsaken part of Israel. Whereas Elizabeth was a barren old woman, Mary is not. She’s a young girl with all the normal anticipation of bearing children, starting a little family.
More significant contrasts are in the announcements themselves. The first child, John, would prepare the way for the second child, Jesus, and Jesus came after John. But Jesus is clearly the more important figure, right? As the noonday is brighter than the dawn, Jesus is more important than John. John was filled with the Spirit from conception, but Jesus’ conception happened by the direct miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. The seed of man was required for the first conception, but the seed of man was not involved in the second conception. It wasn’t required.
The responses of Zechariah and Elizabeth, they stand in contrast to one another as well. Zechariah is an older, biblically informed priest, a more mature man. He held a priestly office. And yet he doubted God’s Word. By contrast, Mary’s a relative nobody. She’s insignificant, a young girl from a remote backwater village. And yet this young girl, maybe only 12 to 13 years old at the time, she believed God’s Word without any hesitation, without any qualification, with simple faith.
With that as a bit of introduction just to inform your thinking and reading, you’ll notice they put the outline there in the bulletin, there in your bulletins, verses 26-38. And here’s how we’re going to walk through those verses, just a few points to hang your thoughts on. First, in verses 26-27, we see an unlikely situation. An unlikely situation there in verses 26-27. And then there’s a puzzling introduction, something that is, that Mary needs to meditate on and think about. “What is going on?” she’s pondering. So a puzzling introduction, verses 28-29.
After that, an amazing annunciation, verses 30-33, an amazing annunciation as Gabriel tells her about Jesus, who will be born to her. And then a reasonable clarification, verses 34-37, as Mary asks a very reasonable question. Finally, a humble submission, a humble submission, as Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant,” or the slave, “of the Lord.”
And it’s that final point about Mary’s humble submission that really sets the tone for the entire narrative. I mean, we’re thinking it all the way through. We get to the very end, and it just punctuates the entire narrative, her humble submission. She declares herself the slave of the Lord. This is not a stoic resignation to the forces of fate. This is thoughtful abandonment of herself to the good and the kind will of her God. And as her song of praise later testifies, Mary’s mind is filled from this point onward with joy and satisfaction in being the vessel of the Lord’s perfect will even though it would be very, very demanding on her.
Well, that’s the theme that pervades the whole story: this quiet, unassuming humility that believes God, that takes him at his Word, that submits to him joyfully regardless of what it may mean for the future. This is a beautiful, beautiful attitude. And Mary models this for us perfectly.
Now, as I said earlier, you can tell from just reading the text that there are some huge themes running through what we, what might otherwise appear to be a simple story. You’ve got the fulfillment of prophecy here. You’ve got the importance of the virgin birth. That has been, by the way, attacked time and time again by liberals who want to chip away at the authority of Scripture. The virgin birth is important. It’s vital to the story. The incarnation of the son of God is a theme here, the restoration of the Davidic throne. These are massively, massively important biblical and theological themes.
But all of that rests on the introduction that Luke provides there in verses 26-27. And we’re going to unpack that this morning in some detail, and as we do, I want you to be thinking about the theme of God’s sovereignty and his wise providence. I want those themes of sovereignty and providence to be in the back of your mind.
God rules over absolutely everything and he is always, always, always working. He’s working in the big things, and he’s working in the little things in each of our lives. You need to remember that, and this account shows it. It demonstrates that even in the most seemingly insignificant of places, he’s working.
God’s sovereignty, his providence, overshadows this whole narrative, and it starts with the first point in our out, our little outline here, an unlikely situation, verses 26-27. An unlikely situation. Look at the text again. It says in verses 26-27, “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”
Luke has just given us, like every good storyteller, he’s just given us the setting of the story, and he’s given us the characters in the story. He’s provided us, you ever heard of the “who, what, when, where, why, and how,” on how you evaluate things in that way? He’s given us the “when,” the “where,” and the “who.” We’re about to get the, the “what” and the “why” later. But he’s given us, here, the “when,” the “where,” and the “who.” He’s given us the time, he’s given us the location, and then the players, the characters, the people that are in the story. And there’s a reason that he’s giving us these details. They aren’t superfluous to the story. They’re packed with meaning, every single term.
When does this take place? We already said it happens when Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy. That is, that five months of seclusion that we talked about last time, that five months is over. Elizabeth has gone out in public. People now know she’s pregnant. She’s talking about it, they’re seeing it. They’re recognizing something strange is happening here, woman in her 70s or whatever it is. So more than five months after Gabriel appeared to Zechariah in the temple sanctuary.
After Elizabeth comes out in her sixth month of pregnancy. God dispatches Gabriel again. And now Luke tells us where this takes place. This time, God doesn’t send the angel into the heart of Judaism. He doesn’t send him into the busy cosmopolitan setting of Jerusalem. God sends Gabriel to the northern region of Israel called Galilee, to a little town called Nazareth.
Nazareth may be well-known to us. We know who came from there, right? But in those days it was nothing more than obscure little, an obscure little village. The word translated “city” in the ESV, that’s, that’s kind of like too high of praise for this place. That is not what it was. It is the word polis in Greek, which means “city,” but it’s, it’s a correct translation, but that is a little misleading because this was very small. “City” leads us to think of like Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York. City, right?
Luke, though, often used the word polis to refer to smaller towns and villages. Nazareth was just that. It was a small little town, a little village, a population probably at the, in the day, less than 500 people. Far cry from the city, right? In fact, Nazareth was so obscure that some commentators think that Luke may have added the name of the region Galilee for the sake of his non-Palestinian readers. That is, they would have no idea where Nazareth was, but they could know where Galilee was, and so that helped them locate it.
But there was actually a better reason for including Galilee, a biblical reason, a theological reason. Nazareth itself, as far as small villages go, it actually would have been a very beautiful, quaint little place to live. There’s nothing inherent in Nazareth to cause any scorn or disdain. It was just small, that’s all.
Little village was perched on top of what’s called the Nazareth Ridge. It was a limestone formation that rises about 1,300 feet above sea level, about 1,200, you know, 1,300 feet from the valley below. So it rose up above this. It was, had beautiful panoramic views in most directions of the compass. That ridge, the whole ridge there where Nazareth was built on top of, is really the southern edge of a mountain range that extends north into southern Lebanon.
Immediately below Nazareth, to the south, lay the Jezreel Valley. The valley had a, had rich alluvial soil. Farmers loved that stuff. Be great for farming if it weren’t, in the day, for all the marshes and the bogs that were there. The drainage wasn’t great. So some of it was farmed, but it would be centuries until irrigation technology would, would allow farmers to maximize that rich soil there in the Jezreel Valley.
So for farmers in the first century who didn’t have access to all that technology because of the irrigation needs, farming was better up on the slopes. It was terraced farming. You’ve probably seen pictures of that, where they cut into the hillside, make flat furrows and be able to plow that, have good drainage and irrigation, decreased erosion, water runoff, and all that.
Nazareth provided the perfect little perch up on top of the Jezreel Valley, with terraced plots encircling the village all around. They farmed olives, figs, pomegranates, grapevines. A lot of wine came out of that area, rich, rich produce. Ancient name for Nazareth was Medina Abayat, which is similar to the Arabic El Madinat El Baida. If any of you speak Arabic, I’m sorry for what I just did to your ears.
But the, the main, the name in Arabic means “the white town,” “the white town.” Probably came from the white limestone that was used to build the town, little stones that they used to gather and build. It was all white. Presence of a nearby spring in Nazareth, there, provided the water. In the, the limestone hills meant the water was plentiful there. In the spring. colorful flowers bloomed all around, all over the top of the ridge and inside the little hollow in which Nazareth was nestled there.
The Nazarenes channeled water from that spring into the town through a conduit, and it supplied a fountain in the center of village. And so you could see women coming there with, with big jars to come and get water for their daily household use. Men channeled water from the spring out to the, the crops on the terraced plots. Sounds like a serene, peaceful living, right? The serenity in Nazareth, the beautiful views, all of that was part of the town’s story and history. Still is to this day if you go to Nazareth.
But there is more to the story. Nazareth, the name, it’s pronounced, “Nat-sarat,” “Nat-sarat” in Hebrew, and it may come from a word that means “shoot” or “branch” as in “descended,” but it’s more likely that “Nazareth” comes from the Hebrew word nazar, nazar, which means “to watch” or “to guard.” The name signifies Nazareth’s strategic importance. Because of its commanding view of the entire region, it had the perfect vantage point for a military observation post. You could see everything for miles.
Up in the northern part of Israel, Nazareth is pretty much right in the middle, running east to west between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Jordan Valley on the east. So you look west from Nazareth and toward the setting sun. It’s just 20 miles to the, the Mediterranean Sea. Short little drive. You look east from Nazareth in the morning, and you’ll see the sunrise 15 miles to the east, over the Sea of Galilee.
Jordan Valley runs north to south from the Sea of Galilee along Nazareth’s eastern flank, there. Runs from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south, connected by the Jordan River. So it’s, natural boundary. Just five miles to the east of Nazareth, if you look toward the Sea of Galilee, you see this massive mountain called Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is standing almost 1,600 feet above the valley floor. It’s this lone, prominent limestone mountain. It’s really the traditional side of the Transfiguration, but it stands at the crossroads, importantly, it stands at a crossroads of three northern Israelite territories.
Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar all come together there at that point. All converged very close to Mount Tabor. Prominent points like Mount Tabor or the Nazareth Ridge, they overlooked the entire Jezreel Valley, the valley below, including the plains of Megiddo to the west. And that made Nazareth, like I said, a strategic military location. Napoleon called the area the greatest battlefield he had ever seen. And he’d been around.
To hold, to capture and hold Megiddo, which was to the west, and all that Jezreel Valley, it meant the control of the entire Jezreel Valley, the surrounding cities, but most importantly, it meant the control of the entire trade route. And if you’re a military man, you understand how important supply is to winning a war. So if you hold that valley, you hold the supply routes.
And it was probably for that reason that some very, very important battles happened right under the nose of the little village Nazareth. They could watch them happening from their homes. Deborah and Barak, they defeated the Canaanite king Jabin, king of Hazor, and his commander Sisera in the Jezreel Valley, Judges 4. You read in Judges 6 and 7 Gideon routed the Midianites, the Amalekites right there below. Significant victories.
There were some tragic losses, too. Both Saul and Josiah died in battle in the Jezreel Valley. Saul died at Mount Gilboa, over to the south and east of Nazareth. He died at the hands of the Philistines. You can read about that in 1 Samuel 28-31. Josiah also died. He was warned not to go into battle, but he went into battle anyway, fought against Pharaoh Neco. He died there, 2 Kings 23.
You might also be interested to know that the final battle of Armageddon takes place right there below Nazareth, right there on the plains of Megiddo, just below Nazareth. It’s interesting to think about that. You know, Jesus, as a little boy growing up, he could have thrown a rock down onto that plain, where centuries later, who knows, millennia later, how long it’s going to be when he returns. But the armies of the world are one going to, one day, going to assimilate there, gather there, consolidate their forces. They’re going to attack Israel, Revelation 16:16.
And the grown-up, no longer the boy, but the grown-up, glorified Jesus Christ, he’s going to return again. He’s going to lead the armies of heaven. He’s going to have a sharp two-edged sword with which he strikes the nations, Revelation 19:11-16, and he’s going to rule the nations with a rod of iron.
It all happens right there, right below the village where he grew up. Lot of blood has been shed in that valley. Lot more to be shed there in the future, too. Everyone seems to want to capture and hold the real estate, but why? What made Jezreel so important? Because just south of Nazareth, that valley, starting from Megiddo on the west side of the Jezreel Valley and running all the way to the Sea of Galilee, that was one of the ancient world’s most important trade routes. It’s called the Via Maris in, I guess, Latin. That’s “the way of the sea.” It’s connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq, and so the, the people of the world used to travel through there.
And that’s why Isaiah called this region “the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, the Galilee of the Gentiles.” It would have been common to watch from Nazareth, from that little town, the lines of caravans creeping back and forth across the valley floor.
I like how Alfred Edersheim described it. He speaks of how, looking down from Nazareth, the eye would be, quote, “riveted by the long, narrow string of fantastic caravans, and curiosity roused by the motley figures of all nationalities and in all costumes, busy binding the East to the West by that line of commerce that passed along the route winding around Tabor.” End quote.
Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? You can almost hear the Middle Eastern music kind of going on as you’re watching caravans and flowing robes and turbans and all that kind of thing. However you put it, though, the land, this Jewish land, the Promised Land, was literally crawling with Gentiles. For a Jew, that meant compromise. For a Jew, that meant temptation toward Gentile lifestyles, Gentile religions, Gentile idols.
Throughout its histories, history, the northern tribes of Israel, they had failed to stay pure, hadn’t they? They had failed to stay pure to the covenant and committed to the covenant of the Lord, the Mosaic covenant. They intermixed with the indigenous Canaanites that were there, and they also intermixed with the foreign traders of the ancient world who traveled back and forth through their lands. They intermarried. They corrupted themselves with their idols. They made themselves a stench to God and a blight on the land.
God sent the Northern Kingdom repeated warnings through his prophets all through the Old Testament. You can read about that in 2 Kings. Repeated warnings, but they ignored his Word. And God finally said, “Enough. Stop right here. Here’s where my patient en, patience ends.” He sent Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrian king, to devastate that Northern Kingdom, to take this, this entire Galilee region, to conquer it. Galilee was literally overrun by the Gentiles when the Assyrians came, because God judged Israel, these northern 10 tribes for its idolatry.
So when Assyria came and invaded in 722 BC, the king took captive most of the population of those northern tribes, took, took captive most of the population of Galilee, took them back into Assyria, which is modern-day Iraq. Took them there, and then he repopulated that region with his own people. The Gentiles who moved from Mesopotamia relocated into Galilee. They intermixed with the, really the unfaithful remaining Jewish population.
They continued the corruption of Galilee due to their trade, their business partnerships, intermarriage. They continued corruption through idolatry. It all just continued on there in Galilee. These, this, you’ve read about this mixed race, this offspring of Jew-Gentile marriages. These people spread out. They went south; they migrated across the Jezreel Valley, down into the range of hills surrounding Samaria, the former capital of the northern Kingdom. And they’re the ones, these mongrel children, the Jew-Gentile mix, they’re the ones who we, became known as Samaritans, right? Samaritans.
So the Israelites living in Galilee, they were about as far away from Jerusalem, the temple, the heart of Jewish faith, as any Jew could get. They, they were separated by Samaria, this despised offspring of unfaithful Jews and Assyrians. They were in close proximity to Gentile lands, Gentile regions. High percentage of Gentiles were part of the population.
So all the tribes living in Galilee—Asher and Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar—they were considered corrupt, corrupted by Gentile influence. Most of them probably were. Region is rightly called Galilee of the Gentiles. It was despised by the religious elites in Jerusalem. And make no mistake, the religious elites didn’t despise Galilee for no reason. Ju, Judeans’ scorn of Galilee wasn’t entirely misplaced. It wasn’t just mere snobbery. Galilee of the Gentiles was a spiritually dark place.
The Old Testament commentator E. J. Young wrote, quote, “The inhabitants of Galilee,” commenting on Isaiah 9, he said, “they are walking in darkness. Their manner and course of life, their very existence, is one that is in the darkness, darkness without, and darkness within, ignorance, distress, misery, and sin. By the Assyrian invasion, the darkness may have been brought on, or possibly simply intensified by that invasion. Far deeper than any darkness brought on by an invasion, however, was the inward condition of the nation, the plight of sin and misery in which it carried on its life.” End quote.
Now with all that in mind, can you see why this is such an unlikely setting for the announcement of the Messiah? Why would the Messiah, the purest of all pure Israelites, why would he have anything to do with Galilee of the Gentiles? And Nazareth? Whoever heard of Nazareth? Phillip tried to get Nathaniel to come and see Jesus. Nathaniel responded by saying,
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Perhaps you can understand the reason he asked that question, now.
So it’s a very unlikely setting for a birth announcement about the Messiah. Temple in Jerusalem, sure. Nazareth and Galilee, not so much.
But it’s this unlikely setting, a city of Galilee named Nazareth, that introduces us to another unlikely introduction in this narrative. We’ve seen the “when” and the “where” in Luke’s introduction. Now, the “who.” Two unlikely characters there, this young couple, Mary and Joseph. Take another look at verse 27. “Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Naz, of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the Virgin’s name was Mary.”
Obviously, these first two verses in the narrative, Luke’s introducing us to the setting. That’s what we just looked at, Nazareth and Galilee. Now he’s introducing us to the characters in the scene. We already met Gabriel in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s one of the characters. He’s overshadowed by another character in the scene, God. He’s a character who’s in the background of the scene. He plays the most important role, even though his part is the most understated.
Cameras are all pointing at Gabriel and Mary, here. God is the sovereign authority who, verse 26, he’s the one who sends Gabriel to Mary. He’s the one in charge of this. But for now, he’s content to stay in the background, out of sight. He wants us to focus our attention on this young couple.
So let’s meet Joseph and Mary here. Luke tells us twice in verse 27 that Mary’s a virgin. Because of what we’ve learned about Galilee, you might think he’s pointing that out because virginity is a remarkable thing in the land. From what we know of spiritual darkness, of Israel in general, of Galilee in particular, maybe Mary’s purity is in question. Maybe it’s a surprise, but Luke has a different reason, really, for highlighting Mary’s virginity.
First of all, the term there, the word “virgin” is parthenos, and it can refer to just a young girl of marriageable age. It can refer to a young woman who’s ready to marry, which in that day was somewhere around 12 to 13 years old. But Luke tells us Mary wasn’t just young, she was sexually pure as well. Verse 34, Mary says plainly, “I haven’t been intimate with a man.” Hasn’t happened. And that claim is strengthened not only by the fact that she said that to an alen, angelic messenger, who would know, but because of this social convention, here listed in the text, called “betrothal.”
Mary was betrothed to a young man, verse 27, named Joseph. Betrothal in that day was a contractual relationship, that though it was a prelude to marriage, like our engagement, it was just as strong as marriage. If someone was betrothed, they were basically married. That’s how you thought of it. So don’t think engagement; think something different. Think marriage. That’s pretty much what it was.
When a young couple was heading toward marriage, it had usually been arranged by the parents, either in birth or before birth or right after, shortly after. It was often arranged by the parents, sometimes from young ages, but whenever the arrangement was made, once a young girl reached that marriageable age, around 12 or 13 year olds, I know, she’s like a middle-schooler, right? Think about that. Middle-school girl. Incredible. But that’s what they did back then.
And once a girl reached that age, betrothal been arranged, that young man would enter into a contract with the family. He signed a deed with her parents. He res, received, then, a bride price, like a dowry. And then he left that arrangement, went back to his father’s house, and he shored up his means of provision, either getting his business going. He prepared the home. He often made an addition on the father’s house.
That should give you a little bit of a context with which you might read John 14. “I’m going away to prepare a place for you, but when I return, I will take you to myself.” That’s what Jesus was talking about. He’s using marriage terminology to speak about his return for the Bride.
But this betrothed bir, girl would wait for her bridegroom to return and take her into the home that he prepared, so they could start their life together. Waiting period could take up to a year. That was the normal time frame here in the first century. During that time, the couple had very little contact, no sexual contact whatsoever. In fact, anything sexual that happened was grounds for divorce. That is what sealed their marriage, is that sexual consummation of the marriage. Prior to that, though, no physical relations.
So that’s what Luke is telling us, here, in verse 27. This girl’s a bona fide virgin, by contract, by her own testimony, by the tacit affirmation of this angelic messenger, who doesn’t dispute that she has not known any man. She’s a virgin. Period. Mary hasn’t been intimate.
Now, we’ll come back to the significance of Mary’s virginity in, in weeks to come. Bottom line: Mary’s virginity is crucial for the virgin birth. Is crucial. The Messiah would be born of a virgin. We know that. We know the Christmas story. That’s what we sing about. And we’ll look at it in more detail.
For now, I’ll just give you a couple of passages that we’re going to look at later. Genesis 3:15. That is the Gospel right there after the Fall, and it promises the Messiah would be born the seed of a woman, not of a man, of a woman. Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, God himself will give you a sign. The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son. You shall call his name Immanuel.” That’s here in this announcement. Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman.” We’re going to see all that. Today, though, is about getting an introduction to the characters, so we’ll keep moving.
Mary’s betrothed husband, here, verse 27, is Joseph. Joseph, a man who comes from the house of David. Okay, now what’s so important about that? You know your Bible, right? The promises of David’s royal line, that’s what’s important about that. Biblically speaking, whenever you hear David, Davidic means “kingly.” Joseph is from the royal line. He’s the heir to the throne of his father David.
And this is a big, big deal. Every Israelite remembered the promise that God made to David, called the Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7. Here’s a part of it, just a couple verses. “God said to David,” 2 Samuel 7:12-13, “‘When your 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 will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.’”
Now, you understand that Mary is also from the line of David on her father’s side. She’s of the house of Aaron on her mother’s side, which is why Gabriel in verse 36 can refer to Elizabeth, who was of the daughters of Aaron, Gabriel can legitimately call Mary and Elizabeth’s relatives. That’s what you see there.
But Mary and Elizabeth were related through Mary’s mother, not her father. On her father’s side, according to Luke’s genealogy in Luke 3:23-31, Mary is also a physical descendant of David. Why doesn’t Luke mention that here? Why does he focus on Joseph’s descending from David? Because the right to rule was passed down through the father and not the mother. Jesus’ physical connection to David came only through Mary, but Jesus’ legal right to ascend the throne of his father David, that came through Joseph and not through Mary.
And just a quick thought to point out here. Notice how Mary and Joseph both have a role to play here. They both have a role. Mary’s role has to do with the a, the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin shall be with child.” Joseph’s role is in the fulfillment of 2 Samuel 7:20, 12-13, fulfillment of the Davidic promise. Both of those roles are of equal importance in fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah.
But they’re not the same roles, are they? They’re different. Mary’s role is connected to her doing what she has been designed to do as a woman. Joseph’s role, it’s connected to him doing what he was designed to do as a man. Mary is a woman, her role to bear children, to be a mother. Joseph is a man to bear authority, to lead, to bear responsibility.
You see, even in the fulfillment of prophecies, these huge, historic, eternal prophecies and events, every detail lines up perfectly according to God’s revealed will, according to God’s perfect design. He doesn’t overlook the one thing to accomplish the other. God was not a pragmatist, here. His providence accomplishes all his perfect will according to his perfect ways, men being men, women being women, and he keeps all that intact.
Having said that, you’ve got to ask the question, “What is this young couple, both from the royal line of David, what are they doing in Nazareth? I mean, why there? Of all places, why Galilee? Why not Jerusalem? Why aren’t they hanging out near the palace? Why this despised backwater village along a major Gentile highway?
Well, the Bible really doesn’t tell us exactly how Joseph and Mary ended up in Nazareth, all the exigencies, the circumstances that brought them to the middle of nowhere. How did that happen?
But it does speak to the degradation of the Davidic throne in the days of Herod, king of Judea. Herod was on the throne, an Idumean, someone who wasn’t even Jewish. The Davidic line was utterly insignificant in these days. It’s sitting dormant, completely powerless to assert itself, completely powerless to make any claims against Herod, Rome, the corrupt powers of Jerusalem.
But again, all of this is by God’s design. When everything seems to be lost, when everything seems completely hopeless, that is the moment that God, precise moment when God’s wisdom and power shine most brilliantly. No human achievement gets in the way. No wealth, no power, no ability to detract from the glory of God. Everything has been arranged perfectly so that those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, they can see that the sovereign will of God is accomplished “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”
So again, what are these two royals, descendants of David, Mary and Joseph, what are they doing betrothed to one another, living as penniless teenagers in total obscurity? What are they doing in the most despised region of Israel? Two unlikely people, unlikely setting. What is going on here?
God is about to fulfill a promise. He’s about to fulfill a promise, something he made 500 years previously, Isaiah 9:1-2. The tribes of Israel that were, were the first to tremble before the Assyrian invasion, those who were first to be exiled, those who first suffered under the darkness of Gentile influence, false religion, they would be the first to experience the mercy and grace of God.
According to prophecy, it would all start in Galilee. Isaiah 9:1-2 says, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun, the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he 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, on them light has shone.”
Isaiah speaks of that in the past tense. For Isaiah, 500 years previously, he speaks about a future event in the past tense, declaring its certainty. Here it is. Luke doesn’t quote that passage. He doesn’t make that connection overt. But it’s there. It’s there in the context.
Matthew did make it overt. Matthew was all about telling the Jews how everything was fulfilled, fulfilled, fulfilled, fulfilled. So Matthew 4:12-16, Matthew tells us, “Jesus withdrew into Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went in to live by Capernaum, by the sea and the territory of Zebulun, Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.” Then he quotes Isaiah 9:1-2, what we just read.
Most of Jesus’ public ministry was in and around Galilee. Luke is very clear that Jesus was raised in Nazareth of Galilee. After dedicating Jesus to the temple, doing all that the law of Moses required, Joseph and Mary returned. They entered into Galilee to their own town of Nazareth, Luke 2:39.
When Jesus was 12 years old, you remember his parents accidentally left him behind in Jerusalem. You ever done that parents? So have I, accidentally leave them behind, drive away, 500 miles away. But Jesus was engrossed in doctrine. He was sitting among the teachers as a 12-year-old young man. “When they found him,” Luke 2:51 says, “he came back with them, he submitted to them, he went down with them to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Hear that, 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds? He was submissive to them, to his parents.
From birth to 12 years old and beyond, Jesus lived in Nazareth. In fact, Luke 4:16 says right after he entered into public ministry, he came back to Nazareth. He came back there, where he’d been brought up, is what it says.
So Luke has answered for us the “when,” the “where,” the “who” of the story. It all happened while promises were being fulfilled in Elizabeth’s womb. It all happened in Galilee of the Gentiles, a little town called Nazareth. It all happened according to a young virgin named Mary.
From a human perspective, considering the historic, considering the eternal magnitude of what’s about to happen, the one-time event of the incarnation of the Son of God, would you write the story this way? Is this how you’d do it? Would you risk fundle, fumbling the Gospel message by putting into the hands of two teenagers in love? Would you risk the corruption of the message by embedding it in a place like Nazareth, Galilee of the Gentiles?
No way. Not if we wrote the story. But these two unlikely people, living in an unlikely setting, they’re about to have a part in fulfilling the sovereign plan of God. God has directed all these unlikely events to fulfill his ordained purposes. It’s moving along exactly as he designed it.
Don’t miss this lesson. God is not only interested in what’s going on in Jerusalem of Judea. He cares about little Nazareth and corrupt Galilee as well.
It’s been popular these days to direct a lot of youthful energy, a lot of youthful interest in to the big cities. After all, large concentrations of people, all the feeling of angst and pressure of modern demands and big city life. “So let’s send all of our young Christians into the cities, because that’s where all the action is.” Yeah, God cares for Denver and Los Angeles. God cares for Chicago and New York. But he cares for what’s going on in Greeley, too.
You know what? Sometimes God’s greatest works have the most unlikely of beginnings. Never be afraid to think big. Don’t ever put a limit in your mind on what God can do. Why? Nothing will be impossible with God.
So much more to unpack in this story, but we’re out of time. Next time we’re going to look at the puzzling introduction, the angel’s introduction, his greeting of Mary. What’s going on there? And get this: This is where the Catholics get their “Hail, Mary.” We’ll get to that next time, okay? Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we are grateful for what we’ve learned in just the set-up and the background of this beloved story, the annunciation of the birth of your son, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary, the one who would save us from our sins. We’re so thankful to you for how you have ordained everything, how you have ordained every detail, you have guided by your providence, your invisible hand working through every event to bring about your perfect will.
We’re grateful for what you’ve done and how you’ve demonstrated your sovereignty and your power, your wisdom in choosing to do your will this way and letting us see it. Thank you, Father, for your goodness. We love you. We ask that you would use what we’ve taught today for your purposes, for your glory and the glory of your son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.