From the Pastor's Desk 

A Divine Announcement

12-9-18

            History has recorded some amazing births.  In 1934 in Ontario, Canada, the Dionne sisters became the first known set of quintuplets to survive infancy.  For the first decade of their lives they were Canada's biggest tourist attraction, bigger even than Niagara Falls, generating several hundred million dollars in tourist revenue. 

            In 1974, the Rosenkowitz sextuplets were born in Cape Town, South Africa.  They were the first recorded set of septuplets to have survived to adulthood.  Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey of Des Moines, IA gave birth in 1997 to the first set of septuplets to survive infancy. 

            Another notable birth involved only one child.  In 1978, Louise Brown was born in Oldham, England.  What was noteworthy about her was not her birth, but the manner of her conception.  She was the world's first test-tube baby, conceived by means of in vitro fertilization.  In 2008, a single woman gave birth to octuplets by means of in vitro fertilization.  All are currently alive.

            The Bible also records some amazing births.  Isaac's birth was nothing short of miraculous since his father was 100 and his mother 90 when he was born.  The Lord miraculously opened the womb of Samson's mom; Hannah had also been barren but God enabled her to give birth to Samuel.  Zacharias and Elizabeth were an elderly couple who couldn't conceive, yet God blessed them with a baby who would become the forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist.

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            But the most remarkable birth of all was that of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  He is the incarnate, eternal Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.  He was supernaturally conceived in a virgin without a human father.

            The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is foundational to Christianity.  It is the only way to explain how He could be the God-man.  To deny the virgin birth is to deny the biblical truth that Jesus Christ is both God and man.  If Jesus had a human father, He was just a man; if He was just a man then He could not be the Savior.  If Jesus is not the Savior, there is no gospel, no salvation, no resurrection, no hope beyond this life.

            Of course the virgin birth is fully revealed to us in the NT, but it was also foreshadowed for us in the Old.  In Genesis we're told that the seed of woman would crush Satan's head.  Psalm 2 predicts that at a specific time the eternal second person of the Trinity would be born into the world.  Isaiah 7:14 tells us that a virgin will be with child and bear a son and she will call His name Immanuel.

            There are others.  Isaiah also predicted in detail Messiah's sacrificial death as a substitute for the sins of His people.  Daniel predicted the time of His coming.  Micah prophesied about the place of His birth.  Those are just a few of the instances of the OT predicting and telling us about the coming of God's Messiah into the world.

            Despite what the Bible clearly teaches, there always have been and always will be folks out there who deny the virgin birth.  Therefore, it's important that we know what Scripture says and believe what God is teaching us.  As we continue our look at the Christmas story this morning, we're going to look at a divine announcement.  This morning we are going to be reading from Luke 1:26-38. 

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            This was Gabriel's second appearance with a special birth announcement.  He had already appeared to Zacharias to announce that he and his wife would have a baby boy who would be the forerunner to the Messiah.  About six months later, Gabriel makes this appearance to make the most significant birth announcement the world has ever heard.  It was the most significant birth announcement because it announced the most monumentally significant event in human history:  the birth of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Most scholars of that day would have expected that particular announcement to be made in Jerusalem.  That was the capital city and the center of economic, social, political and religious life for the Israelites.  If the Messiah coming was to be announced anywhere, surely it would be in Jerusalem.

            But it wasn't.  Instead, God sent His archangel to a town called Nazareth.  Nazareth was a small village of only a few hundred people, about 75 to 100 miles north of Jerusalem.  It was an obscure and insignificant place.  It was well off the beaten path.  No major trade routes went by; it wasn't even close to any sort of important road.  It was a long ways off from the important center of Jewish culture and religion.

            Not only did the announcement come in a distant, small, unimportant place, it also came to a young, insignificant and seemingly unimportant girl.  Maybe the best known adjective used to describe Mary is virgin.  Even today she is still referred to in some circles as the virgin Mary, although she didn't stay that way her whole life.  Virgin refers to a person who has "never had marital relations."  It is word that would never be used to describe a married person. 

            In Jewish practice, girls were usually married at age 12 or 13 and married at the end of a one-year betrothal.  That betrothal was a binding, legal agreement that could only be severed by death or divorce.  The couple did not live together during that time or have relations.  When the year was up, there was a seven day wedding feast after which the couple began their life together as husband and wife.

            Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph.  He was an ordinary carpenter, but was by lineage a descendant of David.  Joseph was not Jesus' natural father, but his adoption of Jesus made Jesus legally part of David's lineage which is an important fulfillment of prophecy. 

            After saying all of that, Luke finally gets around to identifying this young girl by simply calling her Mary.  He ascribes nothing to her except her status as a virgin.  He says nothing else that would set her apart as a noteworthy young woman.  She must have been righteous and obedient, but she's not described that way for us in Scripture. 

            Gabriel approached her and using today's vocabulary said hello.  Then he addressed her as favored one.  There was nothing intrinsically worthy about her that set her above other believers.  She was a sinner like all people.  She was not perfectly holy; not born herself of a virgin birth.  She is not the co-redeemer of the human race.  She does not hear and answer prayer or intercede for anyone.  She certainly doesn't deserve our worship.

            Needless to say, Mary was perplexed at what Gabriel had to say to her.  Actually, the word translated deeply troubled means "perplexed, disturbed or confused."  She was confused because she knew she was a sinner and did not understand why God had favored her.  Gabriel's appearance and greeting unnerved Mary, nothing in her brief life could have prepared her for this astonishing event. 

            As angels often do in Scripture, Gabriel sought to calm her by telling her to not be afraid.  She had nothing to fear; Gabriel had come to her with a message of blessing not judgment.  God had sovereignly chosen to use her to help carry out His redemptive purposes.  The issue was not her merit or worthiness; it was God's sovereign grace which is beyond human understanding.

            If Gabriel's greeting confused Mary, what she heard next must have left her absolutely dumbfounded.  He told her she was going to conceive and give birth to a son.  But she was old enough and smart enough to know that was not possible.  That staggering promise of a divine miracle was far beyond her understanding or any human comprehension. 

            Then Gabriel summarizes Jesus' entire ministry.  The name Jesus means "God saves."  That was His mission:  to seek and to save the lost.  He would be great.  The understatement of that phrase is striking.  But what more can be said to more completely explain Christ's greatness?  Nothing.  He Himself defines what it means to be great.

            He is the Son of the Most High.  Jesus possesses the nature of God: He is the same essence as God.  Thus Christ would be God incarnate, perfectly righteous in everything He thought, said and did.  He would die as a sinless sacrifice, offering His atoning death to save us from our sins.  He would also rise to reign.

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            The astonishing announcement from an angel of God that she was to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah left Mary shaken and confused.  Overwhelmed by what she heard and wondering how it could happen, she asked an honest question.  "How can this be since I'm a virgin?"  She couldn't conceive the possibility of having a child without a man.  But her question did not reflect doubt on her part.  She believed what the angel told her, she just didn't understand how it could happen.

            So Gabriel told her.  The Holy Spirit will come upon you.  We shouldn't be surprised that the Spirit would be involved in this miracle.  He is God and was involved in the creation of the world.  The Holy Spirit, the original agent of creation, would again become an agent of creation, this time in Mary's womb.

            Mary didn't ask for any sort of sign to confirm what he was saying, but Gabriel gave her one anyway.  That sign involved her older relative Elizabeth.  The exact relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is not spelled out for us; some think they may have been cousins.  Whatever their relation, they were close enough for Mary to know that Elizabeth was old and had been barren.  The news that Elizabeth was pregnant would have been shocking to Mary.  She must have been amazed and overjoyed to hear that God had taken Elizabeth's reproach away from her.

            The miracle that occurred for Elizabeth was one of conception in old age, not the virgin conception that Mary would experience.  Nevertheless, Elizabeth's conception was a sign from God to Mary that He was still able to perform miracles; that He could do the humanly impossible.  God gave the sign, not because Mary doubted, but to provide her an anchor for her faith.

            Gabriel then reinforces that point by stating that nothing is impossible with God.  In other words, everything is possible with God.  God's power knows no limits; it is not bound by the laws of nature that He created.  He can accomplish anything that is consistent with His holy nature and with His divine purposes.  Gabriel's reminder of what God had done in the past would reassure Mary of His power to keep His word to her at all times.

            Mary then expresses a profound statement of faith and trust in God.  I am the Lord's slave.  Her submission to God at this point is incredible.  Her humble response demonstrated her willing submission to God's unfolding purpose.  She saw herself as nothing more than His willing, humble slave. 

            At first glance that doesn't seem like much to us.  We are familiar with people who surrender to the ministry and go off to faraway places to serve and minister to and for the Lord.  At some level, we understand someone declaring that they are the Lord's slave.

            But when we look at the Christmas story in the Bible, we don't get the whole picture of what Mary went through after these events took place.  Even at the very moment that she is declaring her faith and trust in God, we can only imagine what is going through her mind as she contemplates how people are going to respond to her news.

            First of all there's Joseph.  She would have to face him first of all; he obviously knew the baby wasn't his.  Would he believe her story?  What if he didn't?  Would he divorce her?  Or worse yet, have her stoned for her obvious adultery?  She would have to face the stigma of unwed motherhood.  She came from a small village and we all know how things work in small towns.  Everyone would know what was going on.  There can be little doubt that for a long time she was the talk of the town and I doubt much if any of it would have been good and positive talk.  The town's people would have talked and gossiped about her being an unwed mother and they also no doubt would have accused her of committing adultery.  What else could it be?

            As she pledges herself to God's plan and purpose for her life, she must have also been fighting the natural human reaction of fear to what she was going to have to face once everyone found out.  But in humble obedient faith, Mary willingly trusted God to vindicate her and to take care of her and to see His plans and His purposes succeed.

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            I think that there are two main applications that we can take away from this passage of Scripture.  First of all, we need to believe in our hearts of hearts that nothing is impossible with God.  That means the flip side of that is true as well:  Everything is possible with God.

            We refer to this trait of God's as His being omnipotent:  He has "all power."  There is nothing too difficult for Him to do.  If it is His will; if it fits in with His purposes and His plans and is in line with the truth of Scripture, then God can do it.

            One example of this is found for us way back towards the beginning of the OT.  In Exodus, we find the story of God releasing His people from Egyptian bondage.  He had raised up Moses to lead His people out of slavery and into the Promised Land.  In Exodus 9, verses 15 and 16 we find what God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh. 

            Pharaoh believed himself to be a god and the most powerful person on the face of the earth, which he might have been.  But he was no match for God.  God could do and did do whatever He wanted with the Egyptian leader.  He had the power to bring about all of the plagues that He brought in order to show the kind of power He had and to bring His people out the way He wanted to bring them out.

            We see God's power elsewhere in Scripture.  He had the power to bring down fire and devour the altar Elijah had set up on Mt. Carmel when he was battling the Baal prophets.  God had the power to bring down the walls of Jericho with His people just marching and yelling.  He had the power to speak everything into existence during creation.  He has the power to work in a person's life, save their souls and forgive their sins.

            That means He has the power to deal with whatever it is that we're going through in life.  When we face the tough times; when we are dealing with difficulties and problems that seem too hard to handle; when we're being persecuted for our faith and when people are turning on us just because we love the Lord and uphold His truth, we need to turn to God.  I know that's one of those things we say all the time:  trust in God; turn to Him; rely on Him; let Him have control because He is big enough to handle it.  The danger with hearing certain sayings too much is that we become desensitized to the truth they contain.

            The truth is that we do need to trust God; we do need to rely on Him; we do to turn to Him and let Him have control because we can't deal with and handle the problems and difficulties that life throws at us.  But God can!  We don't always know what His will is or what is going to happen, but He does.

            Do you need strength today to deal with a financial crisis?  Do you need the strength to deal with a poor health diagnosis from the doctor?  God has the power to help you through those tough times.  Do you need strength to witness to a lost person you know?  God has the power and He has the strength to help you do what you need to do and to say what you need to say.  Is it a wayward child that has you down and in despair?  That's still something we're dealing with in our lives.  You may not know what to do or how to do it; you may not understand what to say or how to say it, but God does.  He will work in and through your life to work things out just the way He wants them worked out, not necessarily the way you want them worked out.  He gives us the power and the strength we need when we need it in order to advance His kingdom and to glorify His name.

            So put your hope and your trust and your faith in God.  He is big; as they say in Veggie Tales, bigger than the boogie man.  He is strong; He is powerful; He is able to do anything and everything.  So I encourage you this morning to start living your life like God really is all powerful; start acting like you really believe God can handle anything and everything that comes along in life.  Nothing is impossible with God.

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            The second point of application that we can take away from this passage is that we need to completely and totally surrender ourselves to God.  Mary gives us this great example of what it means to surrender to God.  She didn't know what was going to happen.  She didn't know exactly how God's plans and purposes were going to be carried out in her life.  But she did know and believe that God would keep His word.  She trusted Him and put all of her faith and hope in Him and in His Word.  That's surrender.

            The problem that most of us have when it comes to surrendering to God is that we like to call the shots ourselves.  We want to be in control.  We want to do what we want to do and we simply want God to bless our plans.  When it comes to how we use our time and how we use our talents and what we do with our money, those are all things that we want to control.  Sadly, most of us claim to be followers of Jesus, but we prefer that He follow us.

            We want to fit Him into our life and into our plans.  We think that it's OK to say, "No, Lord."  That's not even really possible.  If He's our Lord, we can't say no.  If He is Lord, all we can do is say, "Yes, Lord."  That's what lordship is all about:  giving Him control and simply obeying Him and doing what He wants us to do.

            Many of us are familiar with the OT verse from Samuel's encounter with King Saul when he disobeyed God.  1 Sam. 15:22.  What does God want from us?  Flashy shows of giving large amounts of money to the offering?  Grand gestures that point everyone's attention to ourselves?  No.  He wants us to obey Him.

            If we're going to obey Him, we're going to have to surrender our will to His.  We're going to have to get to the point in our lives where we can say with Mary, "I am the Lord's slave, may it be done to me according to your word."  That's what God wants.  He wants us to get to the point in our lives where we can truly say that, regardless of what the outcomes and the circumstances might be.  No matter how bad things might turn out for us from a worldly perspective, no matter how horrific the events of life may turn out as far as we're concerned, we just need to submit to God's authority; surrender to His lordship and do what He wants us to do.

            So what does God want you to do this morning?  Do you need to extend forgiveness to someone?  Do you need to reconcile a relationship?  Do you need to witness to someone?  Do you need to help someone out with some benevolent needs?  Do you need to get involved in some sort of ministry?  Do you need to get involved in some sort of missions work?  What is God leading you to do right now?  Whatever it is, simply say genuinely and authentically in your heart, "I am the Lord's slave, do with me what you want."

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            As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to surrender your life completely and totally to Jesus.  If you need to make some sort of public profession this morning as part of that commitment, we invite you to do that now as we stand and sing.

 

            Prayer.