By Andrew E. Courtis
Life is full of surprises. Surprises can be interesting, exciting and even difficult to deal with. I am sure you can think of your fair share of surprises.
Luke 1:26-38 is a story full of surprises. But what is significant about them is that they bring about the greatest of news. The angel Gabriel makes another appearance and this time with the announcement to a young, unknown woman named Mary that she is going to conceive and the Child is the Son of God. In addition to the exciting news that comes as a result of the surprising announcement, we also learn much from the the way Mary responds to these surprises.
This passage has a number of parallels to the previous passage (1:5-25), but what is most interesting is the differences. In both stories the angel Gabriel appears (1:5-11, 26-27), the recipients fear (1:12, 29), a miraculous conception and birth is promised (1:13, 31), and the child’s name is given (1:13, 31). But the differences are: the first appearance is in the well known city of Jerusalem and the second is in the unknown town of Nazareth. The first appearance was concerning the conception of an elderly woman that was barren, the second was the conception of a young woman that was a virgin.
In the previous passage we learnt about God’s power in announcement of the conception and birth of John, the forerunner of the Messiah. In this passage we learn about God’s power in the announcement of the conception and birth of Jesus, the Messiah. John will be great, but the birth of Jesus Christ and His ministry surpasses the greatness of John’s.
In this message we will see three surprises that reveal the promise of the long-awaited Messiah. These surprises teach us much about God’s ways.
1. A SURPRISING APPEARANCE (1:26-27)
Our passage being with a surprising appearance. What is so surprising about this appearance is who appears, where he appeared, and who he appeared to. Luke records,
“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” (1:26-27)
Sixth months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, “the angel Gabriel was sent from God” to make another appearance. In Luke’s narrative this is two appearances in sixth months, but we are to understand that this is not normal. To see an angel would not be received causally by anyone, as we saw in Zechariah’s response (1:12) and will see in Mary’s shortly (1:29). The fact that Gabriel, the angel who stands in God’s presence (1:19), the very angel sent many years earlier to appear to and make announcements to Daniel has now appeared again is significant. This is big news and clearly something exciting is about to happen.
Where He Appears
We are then told that he “was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth”. Nazareth was a small and insignificant village with only around 2,000 residents about 100 k/m north of Jerusalem. It even had a bad reputation. Later, when Philip tells Nathaniel that he has found the promised Messiah, and it is Jesus of Nazareth, Nathan responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The fact that Luke records that it is in the “city of Galilee” is to help his readers who have not heard of it understand where it is. The location of Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah was Jerusalem, but this appearance is in a small, insignificant and even lowly location. This is surprising.
Who He Appeared to
Thirdly, we are told that Gabriel appeared “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary”. Gabriel doesn’t appear to a princess with this great announcement, or to a woman of prominence, or privilege. He appears to an unknown and unmarried young women. She was a virgin, which describes her chaste state and she was betrothed. Betrothal was different to a modern day engagement. In that culture, those who were betrothed had not consummated their union nor did they cohabitate. Betrothal was a legally binding relationship that could only be broken by a divorce (cf. Matt. 1:18, 19). Betrothals could happen as early as the age of twelve. The man she was betrothed to was Joseph. In the previous passage, Gabriel appeared to an elderly priest, in this passage he appears to a a young unknown chaste girl named Mary. However, she is of the house of David, and the significance of this will be seen shortly.
2. A SURPRISING ANNOUNCEMENT (1:28-34)
After seeing a surprising appearance, now we come to the surprising announcement. Gabriel said to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (1:28). She is called a “favored one” which could literally be translated “full of grace”. She is given this title because it describes what God has given her. He has dispensed grace upon her. This term is also used to describe all of God’s people (Eph. 1:6). Understandably, Mary was confused by what she has seen and heard, and she began to process what was happening (1:29). The angel then provides the most surprising announcement she has heard in all her brief life,
“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” (1:30-33).
Mary has just been given the surprising announcement that she will conceive, and the child she will carry will be given the name Jesus. Jesus means, “the Lord saves” and this describes the mission of this child. Gabriel said to Zechariah that his child will be “great before the Lord” (1:14), but Jesus will be “great”. He surpasses John in greatness. This is seen clearly in that He will have a royal title. Luke writes, “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 have a royal rule, “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”. This is talking about the arrival of the Messiah, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will bring about a spiritual Kingdom in which he will rule and reign, and then after He returns the second time this rule will spread across all the earth lasting for eternity.
How does Mary respond to such a significant and surprising announcement? She said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). She knew that there was still some time before she would be married, but she understood this announcement to be referring to something that was going to be immediate and even miraculous.
3. A SURPRISING AFFIRMATION (1:35-38)
We now arrive at the final surprise, and that is the surprising affirmation. Gabriel responded,
“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 was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:35-37)
Gabriel informs her that God is going to be directly involved. The Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will miraculously conceive. This is a Divinely creative act unlike anything that has ever been experienced. Why is the doctrine of the virgin birth, or more accurately the virgin conception, important and necessary? It reveals that when Jesus left Heaven and came into the world to dwell among us, he came as a human, so that He may represent us. But the fact that it was a virgin conception reveals that He is Divine and He came as God. Jesus Christ is the God-Man. Gabriel goes on to say, “therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (1:35). He also informs her that her relative Elizabeth, who was barren conceived and is sixth months pregnant. The angel then declares, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37). Now after giving a surprising affirmation of how thefulfilment of the announcement will occur, Mary responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). This is the response of a person who submits to to God’s promise and will. This is not going to be easy for her. How will she tell Joseph? What will people think? Mary’s example here is exemplary and impressive. I love the words of JC Ryle on Mary’s response,
“Let us seek in our daily practical Christianity to exercise the same blessed spirit of faith which we see here in the Virgin Mary. Let us be willing to go anywhere, and do anything, and be anything, whatever be the present and immediate inconvenience, so long as God's will is clear and the path of duty is plain” (JC Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, Volume 1, Banner of Truth, p. 30).
What does this amazing passage teach us? In addition to providing us with the facts and the reliable report of what happened prior to the arrival of Jesus Christ in His earthly entry, this passage provides us with two powerful lessons.
God’s Ways are often Surprising
God does not always do things they way we think they would or should happen. In-fact, His ways are often contrary to the expectations and standards of the world. God bypassed the prominent, the powerful and the prosperous when it came to who give birth to His Son. It wasn’t going to happen in the capital city, it was going to be in a small village. God often chooses the “foolish in the world to shame the wise”, the “weak in the world to shame the strong” and the “low and despised in the world … to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). This is done “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:29). God’s ways are often surprising, but this helps us to seek to be humble in exalting the greatness and wisdom of God’s ways.
God’s Word is Always Fulfilled
This passage also teaches us that God’s Word is always fulfilled. The announcement in this passage that revealed that a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a Son, was prophesied over 700 years earlier through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 7:14). When God speaks we must listen, and we must trust Him for His Word is true.