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Archive for the ‘Luke 1’ Category

Today we are looking at the Gospel of Luke and how the angel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. As we work through these stories we will see how Mary emerges as an example to us in a couple of different ways.

Let me begin by backing up and giving you a very brief overview of –

Luke chapters 1-2


John’s birth

Jesus’ birth

1. Birth announcement – 1:5-23Elizabeth’s response – 1:24-25 2. Birth announcement – 1:26-38Mary’s response – 1:39-56
3. The birth – 1:57-66Prophetic response – 1:67-79

John’s growth – 1:80

4. The birth – 2:1-21Prophetic responses – 2:22-39

Jesus’ growth – 2:40-52

You can see the way these accounts of John and Jesus line up with each other, each having the same topics in the same order. And you can see how the story alternates between John and Jesus. We will focus in on the first part of sections 1 and 2 – the birth announcements – and see what we can learn. In these stories –

Gabriel comes to Zechariah and Mary

. . . to make his announcement about John and Jesus. There are a number of parallels in these two accounts and I want to use these to lay out  these stories. (The presence of parallels are noted by most commentators, but see especially John Nolland).

1. Their social situation is given

  • Zechariah is an older priest, married to Elizabeth – v. 5.
  • Mary is a young woman, betrothed to Joseph – vs. 26-27.

2. Their spiritual status is noted

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous people. v. 6 says, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”
  • Gabriel tells her that She is favored by God and the Lord is with her – v. 28.

3. The condition that keeps them from having a child is noted

  • “Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” – v. 7.
  • Mary was a “virgin” – v. 27, engaged, but not yet married.

4. The angel Gabriel came to them

  • He appeared to him in the Temple in Jerusalem while he was offering up incense in the Temple during prayers – vs. 8-10; 13.
  • He appeared to her in Nazareth in Galilee – v. 26.

5. They were both troubled

  • He was troubled by the presence of an angel. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was (literally) terrified when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
  • She was troubled by the greeting – “O favored one.”  v. 29 says, “But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

6. They are told not to fear

  • “Do not be afraid” – v. 13 – “your prayer has been heard.”
  • “Do not be afraid . . . you have found favor with God” – v. 30.

7. Both are told they will have a child

  • “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John” – v. 13.
  • “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” – v. 31.

Gabriel also tells them both about the greatness and life mission of each child.

8. Both respond with a question to Gabriel

  • “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – v. 18. In other words, we’re too old!
    • Mary asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin” – v. 34

9. Both are given a sign

  • “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words” – v. 20.
  • Elizabeth is with child. This is a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible with God, as Gabriel says in v. 37.

10. What they did after the encounter is told

  • He quietly waited for the fulfillment. What else could he do?
  • She responded in faith, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” – v. 38.

This is an amazing number of parallels. But the significant thing is that these parallels are used to make contrasts between Zechariah and Mary, which show that even though Zechariah is good and blessed –

Mary is highlighted in these stories

Let’s look at this –

1. Their social situation: It was more exceptional that God would come to lowly Mary, as opposed to Zechariah who was a priest, in the Temple, at the time of prayer.

2. Their spiritual status: Zechariah and Elizabeth are righteous, but Gabriel himself tells Mary that she has God’s favor.

3. The condition precluding birth: Elizabeth’s birth would be miraculous, but a virgin birth is an unprecedented miracle.

4. Gabriel came: Zechariah was praying and had asked for a child. God took the initiative to come to Mary. She hadn’t asked for anything.

5. Both were troubled: She was not terrified, but more perplexed about what the angel said.

6. They were told not to fear: Even as she is told not to fear, her favored status is emphasized.

7. Both will have a child: John is great, but Jesus is greater. And it is the greater honor for Mary to have him.

8. Both asked a question: Zechariah responded with doubt. Mary simply wanted to know how God would do what he said he would do.

9. Both received a sign: Zechariah was judged for his unbelief – he couldn’t speak. She received a positive sign – Elizabeth was pregnant.

10. What they did after the encounter: She responded with true faith – ‘Do what you want Lord.’

I am showing you all this to make a point.

Mary is the example

She is the hero of the story. Zechariah is also blessed, but Mary is the focus. What can we learn from her?

1. Mary is an example to us that God loves to use the lowly to fulfill his will. She was of humble circumstances. This is especially so in contrast to Zechariah. He was a priest, a man – who had priority in this culture, and he was older. She had no official role, was a woman and young, somewhere between 14-20 years old.

She was not just lowly in circumstance, she was also inwardly humble. In vs. 28-29, the angel said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” This was a strange thing for her to hear and so she was trying to make sense out of it. She must not have thought of herself as greatly favored by God.

She referred to herself as a “bondservant” or slave in – v. 38. And later in the story she spoke of her “humble estate” in v. 48.

And yet as we learn in this story – God used lowly Mary in the most extraordinary way. As Elizabeth says in Luke 1:42-43, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

She reminds us of what Paul said in   I Corinthians 1:27-28 – “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” – that is, by God.

As she herself said later in Luke 1:52 – “God has brought down the mighty from their throne, and exalted those of humble estate.”

2. Mary is an example to us of how to receive God’s word in faith. She had amazing faith. She was told that God will do what had never been done in all of human history – the impossible. What was her response? She said in v. 38 – “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” ‘OK God, do whatever you want.’ This is amazing faith!

Did she think of the shame factor, that everyone would suspect that she was unfaithful? Did she think of the complications this would bring to her marriage. Joseph almost divorced her as we learn in Matthew. This was going to mess up her life!

But nevertheless hers was a response of faith. She believed, just as Gabriel said, that “nothing will be impossible with God” – v. 37.

Elizabeth notes Mary’s faith when she says in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

She reminds us of what Paul said about Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20-21. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

She also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Now, having said this it is clear that she was not perfect. Later she had doubts about what Jesus was up to, like the other disciples, and Jesus’ brothers. But Mary is an example to us in this story. She teaches us that God loves to use the lowly to accomplish his will. And she teaches us how to receive God’s word in faith, so that God can work in and through us.

May we learn from her example

William Higgins

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