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5. The Greatest Birth Announcement Ever: Unto Us A Son Is Given (Luke 1:26-38)

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In this Christmas sermon we will see that the virgin birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6-7. Our thesis for this sermon is that the truth of Messiah’s birth should conceive in us an appreciation for the sovereignty of God. Notice here the contrast of places where and people to whom the birth announcement of Jesus was made…

First, the birth announcement of Jesus does not take place where you would expect. It takes place in the region of Galilee - not in Judea, the centre of the promised land. Galilee was a territory overrun by Gentiles and was governed by Herod under whose government pagan temples were erected. Galilee was, therefore, despised by Judea, but it was to Galilee that the angel Gabriel was sent.

It takes place in the city of Nazareth - not Jerusalem, the city of the great king. Nazareth was set on a hillside at the foot of which ran the highway from Tyre and Sidon to Jerusalem, carrying Greek travelers and merchants and Jewish priests, many of whom would have lodged in Nazareth. With such a transient population, Nazareth became a corrupt town, a despised town. The contempt with which Nazareth was viewed was expressed by Nathanael when he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46).

It takes place in the privacy of Mary’s home. This was the place to which “the angel Gabriel was sent by God” (1:26) with the good news of the birth of the Son of God - not to the temple, the very dwelling place of God.

So, the birth announcement of Jesus does not take place where you would expect. And…

Second, the birth announcement of Jesus is not delivered to whom you would expect. The person to whom the angel Gabriel declared this good news was “a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph... The virgin’s name was Mary” (1:27) – not to the high priest, or to the governor of the land.

In summary, the contrasts between the birth announcement of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25) and the birth announcement of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38) could not be more obvious as to the places where they were made and the people to whom they were delivered. John’s birth announcement was in a public place, whereas Jesus’ birth announcement was made in private. John’s birth announcement was to an aged priest, whereas Jesus’ birth announcement was to a young woman. John’s birth announcement was in the revered temple, whereas Jesus’ birth announcement was in a despised town. John’s birth announcement prophesied of his greatness and power (1:15, 17), whereas Jesus’ announcement was marked by lowliness and meekness.

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (1:26-27). Mary was a virgin who was engaged (betrothed) to Joseph. Betrothal was as binding as a marriage contract in that Mary had entered into a formal, witnessed agreement with Joseph, and he had probably paid a dowry (financial gift) indicating his sincerity and commitment, but they were not yet married. Mary legally belonged to Joseph, which is why she is referred to as his wife, but the wedding would not take place until 1 year after the betrothal, at which time she would go to live with him.

Notice now the intimacy, manner and content of this momentous birth announcement…

I. The Angelic Salutation Of God’s Sovereignly Bestowed Favor (1:28-29)

“The angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you (1:28a). Mary was the recipient of God’s gracious favor. She is highly favored for the Lord was with her – i.e. she lived in the presence of God. Such is the high privilege and divine intimacy of the virgin Mary.

This is a word of encouragement and comfort that God was with her now and throughout what the angel is about to reveal. She lived in a corrupt, despised town but she kept herself from its impurities. Thus, because of her character, the favor of God was on her.

While we do not agree with the Roman Catholics’ veneration of Mary (1) that she was conceived without sin, (2) that she is held up as an object of worship, (3) that she is to be prayed to as a mediator between God and man on a par with Christ himself. Yet at the same time, we must admit that she was favored by God above all other women to be the mother of the Messiah. This was arguably the most coveted role of all for all Jewish women of all time, to be chosen by God to be the mother of our Lord.

Many women were in the messianic line, like Ruth and Rahab and Tamar and Bathsheba, but Mary was the “favored” one. One woman brought sin and death into the world at the beginning and one woman brought eternal life and light into the world at the birth of Christ. No wonder Mary is called a “favored woman”. But let us also remember that to the woman who said to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you!” (Lk. 11:27), Jesus replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28). That is a far greater blessing, for it has eternal reward. To “hear the word of God and keep it” means that you repent and believe the gospel, that you become a disciple of Christ, that such a relationship is more intimate and enduring than any family relationship, for Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). To become a follower of Jesus is to enter into a saving and eternal relationship with God.

Following the angel Gabriel’s announcement, Mary “was deeply troubled by this statement” (1:29a) - not troubled at the presence of the angel but at what he said. She is perplexed as she tries to grasp what is happening. She is perplexed specifically about the angel’s greeting. She is “wondering what kind of greeting this could be” (1:29b). What is God about to do?

Why would God bestow his gracious favor on her? God would bestow his gracious favor on her simply because that was His sovereign choice. Oh, we recognize Mary’s humble simplicity and selfless character, which undoubtedly were prerequisites for God’s favor. But ultimately, it was God’s sovereign choice to bestow his favor on her. Remember our thesis: The truth of Messiah’s birth should conceive in us an appreciation for the sovereignty of God.

Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of our Lord. Eve was the mother of all living; Mary was the mother of the Messiah. Eve gave birth to a murderer; Mary would give birth to the Redeemer. Hidden in the recesses of despised Nazareth, this beautiful young woman was set apart by God for this very purpose.

“The Lord is with you” (1:28b). God has always had his chosen servants, often the least likely in the most obscure places. And in the town of Nazareth, God comes to this simple, humble woman who evidently was walking in communion with God.

Such is the angelic salutation of God’s sovereignly bestowed favor. Then...

II. The Angelic Proclamation Of God’s Sovereignly Fulfilled Promises (1:30-34)

The angel addresses Mary’s evident fear with a repeated word of encouragement: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (1:30). This is why she can be calm, at peace, unafraid – because she has been graciously-favored by God. “Favor” is God’s gracious choice of someone through whom God does something special. “Favor” is what God does for someone out of his good pleasure. God’s favor is sovereignly bestowed - you can’t earn it and you can’t buy it. But why does the angel state this fact in 1:28 and also in 1:30?

First, the angel surely knew that the amazing news he was about to deliver required that he affirm Mary in her special place of God’s grace and favor. There was no other way to explain what he is about to say.

Second, the angel seems to anticipate Mary’s unspoken question, “Why me?” The answer is, “Because you have received God’s gracious favor. God has sovereignly set you apart for such a time and purpose as this. God has sovereignly chosen you. You are graciously favored by God.”

There is third reason why the angel repeats this statement. Here in 1:30, the favor of God is not on Mary because of who she was (as in 1:28), but because of what she would do. She had found gracious favor “with (lit. alongside, by the side of) God.” It wasn’t simply that God was with her as in 1:28, wonderful as that is, but that she had found grace “by the side of God” – i.e. in the fellowship of God, in such intimacy with God. She was in step and in communion with God. Thus, his gracious favor rested on her.

Then, the angel announces the birth of Jesus (1:31-33). This is the most glorious, yet mysterious, news ever declared. It is the purpose for which Mary had been chosen: “Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son” (1:31a). The long-awaited fulfillment of Isaiah’s declaration has come: “For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us” (Isa. 9:6). God is sovereignly fulfilling his promise made 700 years before.

“…and you will name him Jesus (1:31b). He would have the same name as the Hebrew name, Joshua. The connection with Joshua of the O.T. is clear. This Jesus who is to be born to Mary would be the fulfillment of the O.T. type in Joshua. Joshua was born in Egypt to save God’s people from slavery. He was born to bring hope to the hopeless, freedom to the slaves.

The angel now explains the person of Jesus: “He will be great” (1:32a). He would be inherently great; none like him before or since. He will sit on the throne of a great and eternal kingdom (1:33). John would be “great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15) but Jesus would simply be “great” in his own right. “He will be great” because he will be a great Saviour, because he has wrought so great salvation, because he is our great High Priest, because he will reign as our great King. “…and will be called the Son of the Most High (1:32b), just as Isaiah said, “a Son will be given to us.” He always was “the Son of the Most High” before he was born - one in essence with the Father (though distinct in person), the eternal Son of God, the one who enjoys an eternal relationship with God. But now he would also become known as such on earth among those who believe. He is to be recognized and worshipped in the church as “the Son of the Most High,” the Son of God himself. This phrase described a regal figure – a king was to be born, a regal son, the Messiah himself.

So the angel announces the birth of Jesus, explains the person of Jesus and ...

Then the angel explains the mission of Jesus. 32 The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (1:32c-33). Isaiah also said, “The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever” (Isa. 9:7). God is about to sovereignly fulfill his promise made to Isaiah. Not only is Jesus a potentate in his person but he will be majestic in his mission.

The time to which this prophecy relates is still future when Jesus, the great King, will take his rightful place over his people. Here there is a strong allusion to 2 Sam 7:12-16. In Jesus God sovereignly fulfills his promise to David – the promise of an eternal throne. Jesus’ kingdom would not be limited to the people of Israel, to the house of Jacob, to the nation who served under king David. His kingdom would be so much greater in scope and power and it would be everlasting in its duration. This is the kingdom rule of the promised Davidic son, great David’s greater Son. Jesus will be the fulfillment of all the Jewish hopes throughout all the years for a divine Ruler and Redeemer. The promised Davidic king is coming to his own and though they will reject him yet his reign will be forever – “his kingdom will have no end.”

Nothing can stop Jesus’ kingdom reign – not even crucifixion. His reign would become visible at his ascension and the sending of the Spirit in Acts 2, but the full manifestation of his kingdom reign is still future. All the kingdoms of the world will dissolve before his great and awesome kingdom and this conquering King. All the great empires and dynasties of history (Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Spanish, British, the Chinese dynasty, and the Russian empire) will be nothing in comparison to the worldwide kingdom of God.

Jesus’ kingdom will be all-powerful and eternal – “no end.” To His authority every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord Phil. 2:10-11). In that day, the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). And all this is announced at the birth of Jesus and is included and anticipated in our celebration of Christmas.

The angel’s mysterious announcement generates...

Mary’s monumental question (1:34). “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” Though she does not doubt the validity of the angel’s announcement, she questions how this can take place since she is a virgin. This is beyond her comprehension and experience and all the laws of nature. Biologically this cannot happen in her virgin state. And yet the angel’s announcement indicates an immediate conception and a birth taking place prior to Mary’s marriage.

The very question that atheists and liberals raise today to argue against the virgin birth was first asked by Mary. The difference is that atheists challenge the fact of the virgin birth but Mary was asking about the method. How is it possible for a woman to bear a child when she has not had a sexual relationship with a man?

The angelic proclamation of God’s sovereignly fulfilled promises (1:30-34) is supported by...

III. The Angelic Explanation Of God’s Sovereignly Life-giving Power (1:35-38)

Mary’s question has two aspects – biological and moral. First, the angel answers the biological question: “How can this be?” The explanation is that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (1:35a). The conception will take place by direct, divine intervention, not through normal biological means. “That’s how this can be, Mary! The Holy Spirit who was active in creation will be instrumental in your conception.” The Spirit who gives life will act in creative power to produce a child in a virgin. The One who created the world out of nothing will create life in a virgin’s womb. This is the sovereign work of God.

The “Holy Spirit will overshadow you,” envelop you as in a cloud where there will be no human observation or interference. You can’t explain this but it makes full sense to the renewed mind, that this was the only way for the Messiah to be born. Though this conception is beyond our ability to understand yet we believe and accept that this is the way (1) the Word was made flesh (Jn. 1:14), (2) a body was prepared for Him (Heb. 10:5), (3) He shared in flesh and blood like us (Heb. 2:14), and (4) He was made of a woman (Gal. 4:4). To try to explain how such a conception came about is beyond us; it is a divine mystery, the mystery of the incarnation.

So, this answers the first question, the biological question of how a virgin could conceive without the sexual co-operation of a man. But, what about the second question, the moral question? Now the angel answers the moral question: “How can this be?” Corollary issues that are inherent in this question are: How could the very Son of God be born and escape the moral depravity of original sin? How can the Messiah be born of a woman without having a sin-nature?

Without being asked overtly, the angel answers this moral question. Mary had asked the biological “how” question and the angel answered that: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” And voluntarily the angel also answers the moral question, the question that theologians would ask through the centuries. The answer is this: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God (1:35). The very same act by which the biological issue will be dealt with would also deal with the moral issue.

A direct consequence of Mary conceiving through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit would be that the child thus conceived would be “the Holy One.” The child thus conceived would be preserved from having a sinful human nature. He would be the very sinless “Son of God.” The same act of God that would cause the procreation would also preserve the child from contamination. The Holy Spirit’s role is evident at every step in the work of redemption. Here at Jesus’ incarnation and later at the atonement, where through the eternal Spirit Jesus offered himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14). Then, at the resurrection when He was made alive by the Spirit (1 Pet. 3:18). And now, as the present Comforter, the Spirit of truth (Jn. 14:17).

Praise God that, as Christians, we have been born again and given new life by the same Holy Spirit. We are empowered to live for God by the Holy Spirit. We are able to understand the Bible because of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. And we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

“That Holy One” indicates that Jesus would be set apart for God. He would be sinless from conception. He is the very Son of God, “the Son of the Most High.” He is the Davidic deliverer, the Messiah. Jesus is uniquely from God, sovereignly conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit upon a virgin, and, therefore, sinless. Jesus would not be formed in the womb by the union of a women’s egg and a man’s sperm and thus be born with a human sinful nature. The Holy Spirit would supernaturally implant the child in Mary’s womb so that the one to be born would be “the Holy One… the Son of God.” Remember: The truth of Messiah’s birth should conceive in us an appreciation for the sovereignty of God.

If there were questions still lingering in Mary’s mind, they are unexpressed. But the angel seems to anticipate them, answering them with a confirming sign. Though Mary does not ask for a sign, one is graciously given. “And consider your relative Elizabeth—even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless” (1:36). Notice the contrast here between John and Jesus. John is older than Jesus, but Jesus is superior. John’s birth is astounding, but Jesus’ birth is miraculous. John’s mother conceived in her old-age childlessness, but Jesus’ mother conceived in her youthful virginity.

It’s as if the angel says: “Do you wonder how this can be, Mary? Do you need help processing all of this, Mary? Well, your relative, Elizabeth – you remember, the one who has been barren all these years, the one who is now past her child-bearing age? Something miraculous has also happened to her, Mary. She has conceived a son and is already 6 months pregnant, despite her old age and life-long barrenness.”

Isn’t this an incredible act of God’s gracious favor toward Mary, that He would give visible, tangible evidence of his supernatural, reproductive power? The God who can cause a barren old woman to conceive can surely cause a young virgin to also conceive – “For nothing will be impossible with God” (1:37). Thus, the angel affirms God’s sovereign power to make both a barren old lady and a young virgin pregnant.

This should quell all doubts about the incarnation. We don’t understand it but God accomplished it! We may think it impossible but with God nothing is impossible. Here is the antidote for all doubts and fears and questions: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Science couldn’t bring this about, philosophy can’t explain it, but God did it.

We need to be convinced of the sovereign, life-giving power of God to do what is far beyond anything we can ask or think. We need to remember that the truth of Messiah’s birth should conceive in us an appreciation for the sovereignty of God, for with God nothing is impossible. The One who created the world from nothing caused a virgin to conceive by the Holy Spirit. Nothing is too hard for God, for which reason (1) there is no sin so bad that cannot be forgiven; (2) there is no heart so hard that cannot be softened; (3) there is no person so distant from God who cannot be brought near; (4) there is no trial so heavy that it cannot be sustained; (5) there is no promise so great that it cannot be fulfilled; (6) there is no barrier so strong that it cannot be overcome. For the Bible reminds us that “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9); and “If God is for us, who is against us?” ( Rom. 8:31). Well should we declare, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Let this principle, enunciated at Jesus’ incarnation, be continually before us. Let us take hold of it. Nothing is too hard for God! Someone has said, “Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence” (Ryle, Luke, 29). God knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust, and he graciously upholds our faith as He did with Mary here.

In response to the angels’ explanation is Mary’s acceptance of God’s will. “See, I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said” (1:38). These have to be some of the most precious words in the Bible. Mary willingly and immediately accepts and submits to God’s will, expressed in the angelic announcement, with total surrender, with complete submission, with full acceptance, with unquestioning obedience, with spectacular humility. It’s as though she says, “I don’t understand this. I’ve never experienced this before. I don't know why God would choose me. But nonetheless, let it take place just as you have said. I know this isn’t going to be easy. I know I will suffer from ridicule and shame. But nevertheless, may it happen to me in accordance with your word.”

We think of the honour it afforded her but what about the difficulties and challenges and shame? - the difficulties of her relationship with Joseph, the damage to her reputation, the rejection by the community, the test of Mary’s faith, the seeming impossibility that a virgin could conceive, that she could conceive by the Holy Spirit, that she would give birth to the Messiah. But despite this, Mary does not object or question. Instead, she accepts the honour along with all the difficult consequences. She submits to Gabriel’s announcement as “the Lord’s servant.” That’s how she viewed herself. This was her role – to serve God no matter what. She is God’s maidservant and thus she accepts and obeys God’s wishes. God can do with her as he wishes, despite all the potential difficulties that might come. She will take the risk. She will walk hand-in-hand with God. “‘May it happen to me as you have said’ - may it come to pass, just as you described it. I’m ready and willing to take on the task. I am God’s maidservant. May his word and will be fulfilled in me.”

May we be so willing to accept and submit to God’s will, to go where he leads, to do what he bids, to be who he wants us to be, no matter what. Let us bring captive every thought to the obedience of Christ. Let us be willing to say: “Here am I, send me... May it happen to me as you have said.”

Final Remarks

This then is the announcement and explanation of the birth of Jesus - the Child whom Isaiah said would be born, the Son who would be given, the One whose shoulders would bear the full weight of his government, the One whose government will bring peace without end, the One who will bring peace and justice forever, the One who would be born to a young virgin by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit, the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). This is the One who was conceived supernaturally, lived powerfully, died ignominiously, rose again victoriously, and is coming again majestically.

This is the child of whom Isaiah and Luke both spoke. And Luke’s record of Jesus’ birth - that is ridiculed by scientists, scoffed at by philosophers, and compromised by liberals - is the only rational explanation, one that is understood only by those who are born of God. You can’t explain it by naturalism, humanism, post-modernism, or rationalism. The Child who was born at Christmas is the coming King. The Son who was given at Christmas is the Saviour of sinners. He is the mighty God who is coming again to rule in righteousness. May we look for him at every moment, watching and waiting.

Related Topics: Christmas

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