He Who is Mighty has Done a Great Thing
I. The Announcement to Mary of the birth of the Messiah – 1:26-35
A. 26, 27 – Several interesting circumstances are observed by Luke.
- “In the sixth month,” that is, of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (cf. v. 36), Gabriel, the same angel that had announced the birth of the forerunner (1:11-15, 19), now announces the birth of the Messiah.
- The announcement was made in Nazareth, the town in which Jesus and his family would settle after his birth in Bethlehem and his return from the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:22, 23).
- The announcement of birth was made to a virgin. In Isaiah she was called a “young maiden,” interpreted by Luke as a virgin, as indeed was the case (verse 34; Matthew 1:18). Betrothals were made not on the basis of the individual desires of the couple but with participation, and often arrangement, of their families. The maidens were young so as to maximize the number of years of child-bearing and also to avoid the oppressiveness of unfulfilled sexual desire during the critical young adult years. Paul has this issue before him as he gives advice about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. See particularly verses 36-38.
- “Espoused,” or “betrothed,” that is, pledged to be married, in a sense legally married but not yet consummated. “Of the house of David;” It is important that the family into which Jesus was born was of the tribe of Judah and descended from David. [See Romans 1:3] Psalm 132:10, 11 says, “For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of your Anointed. The Lord has sworn in truth to David; He will not turn from it: ‘I will set upon your throne the fruit of your body,’” and again in verse 17, “There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.” Isaiah identified this promise with the giving of a child, even a Son upon whose shoulders the government would rest. This government would not end but would increase in its influence and eventually establish absolute justice forever. “Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end; Upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6, 7).
B. 28-30 – The announcement contained several assertions that puzzled Mary, for at this time what Gabriel said was cryptic to her mind. Her level of understanding would have to increase throughout her experience with this child (Luke 2:19, 35; 19:25-27; John 2:4, 5; Acts 1:4, 5).
- The angel twice indicates that Mary has been greatly favored by God, that she is the recipient of an unusually profound grace. This does not mean, as Roman Catholicism teaches, that she is a reservoir of grace to be given to others, but a recipient as a matter of the sovereign purpose of God.
- “The Lord is with you.” In what sense does the angel mean this?
- Certainly, she was convinced that the Lord was omnipresent and was always with her by virtue of his own nature. “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
- Also, she understood that as a member of the covenant people, she could say with confidence, “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11).
- What is left? Even as God’s progressive revelation of redemption singled out people for the special blessings of his presence, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, now he was with her in this next moment of redemptive purpose. Through Nathan the prophet, the Lord told David, “I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel: And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight” (2 Samuel 7:8, 9). This is a particularly special presence of God to a person through whom his eternal covenant of redemption will come to fruition.
- We see this reality of special presence for gracious purposes also in the promise of Jesus to his gospel presenters: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)
C. 31 – 34 – Mary was to be the woman through whom the Messiah would come. Genesis 3:15 has promised the destruction of Satan and his servants through the seed of the woman. The mystery of that phrase now becomes clear. “The seed of the woman” established the unbroken continuity with true humanity, but averted the connection with racial sin through the man: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. . . . through the offence of one many be dead, . . . by one man’s offence death reigned by one; . . . by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:12, 15, 17, 19). Several amazing incongruities were included in this announcement.
- She would conceive, but as of yet she was unmarried and had no child-producing relations with a man.
- His name would be Jesus [which like Joshua means Jehovah is salvation] and, though the son she bore would be her son, he would be called the Son of the Most High. The phrase “Son of the Most High” carried with it eternality. One that was a Son of the Most High meant that he shared the nature of the Most High. “Most High” in this context refers specifically to God the Father. The relation of Father and Son within the Trinity subsists in the eternal generation of the Son. This Son, therefore, already had the status and nature of Son prior to his becoming the Son of Mary. He must be an eternal person, divine in nature, and yet would be born and would be her son and a true descendant of David.
- This child would be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7: 13-16, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. . . . Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
- Her question, “How will this be” is not a request for proof as was the question of Zacharias; she needed nothing but the word of God that it would be so. Her question was one of puzzlement since she was a virgin and the announcement seemed to mean that this conception would take place immediately.
D. 35-38 – The angel condescends to explain to her how this amazing event of the Son of the Most High becoming her own son will take place. How will the one that already is Son in an eternal sense become a son in the temporal sense?
- “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” The impregnation of Mary occurred when the Holy Spirit came upon her. This was an act of creation in which her own egg was given vitality through a special operation of the Holy Spirit. As Son of Man, Jesus was truly a conceived, finite, creature. Human nature was produced at this moment of conception. At the moment of the Spirit’s coming upon her she conceived in her womb [cf. 31]
- A second thing occurred, however, at the precise time of the impregnation; that is, the power of the Most High overshadowed her. In verse 32. The angel had said, “He will be called the Son of the Most High.” This overshadowing by the Most High is a separate operation of God from that conceiving process involving the Holy Spirit but is an absolutely simultaneous operation. This is the activity of God the Father in a mysterious operation in which he overshadowed Mary with the person of his Son, eternally generated by his power. The Son, existing eternally as generated by the Father, immediately assumed this human nature created in time by the Holy Spirit into himself so that from the moment of conception “the child to be born was holy—the Son of God.” He was Son of God, not on the basis of the production of his human nature by the Holy Spirit, but on the basis of the overshadowing of the Father, the Most High, and the consequent voluntary assumption of the human nature by the Son. Also, it is interesting to note the knowledge that the demons had of this mystery when the Legion said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Luke 8:28)
- For this reason, the exclamation of Elizabeth carries depths of reality that cannot be plumbed. “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?” (1:42, 43). Mary indeed was the mother of the Lord. The line of a popular Christmas song has depth of insight, “Mary did you know that when you kissed your little baby you kissed the face of God?” The term Theotokos, which means God-bearer and is translated “Mother of God,” was quite controversial in the 4th and 5th The term, however, was intended to make a strong affirmation of the true unity of the person of Jesus the Christ. He was not two persons, one human and one divine, joined together only by unity of will. He was one person, both human and divine, so that it must be said that the baby to which Mary gave birth was God. This is the witness of the New Testament throughout, and its mystery is set forth with beauty and simplicity in our text for this week, and in the exclamation of Elizabeth.
II. The assurance to Mary through both circumstance and word. Verses 36-38
A. Gabriel then gave Mary the gladdening news of the conception that had taken place with her relative Elizabeth. This would encourage Mary in at least two ways.
- Although Elizabeth’s pregnancy was not without man, it came in a virtually impossible situation for “Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (1:7). Now the angelic news, “Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age” (36). When we observe events analogous to others that seem to strain credibility, the path to acceptance is made clearer. It is noteworthy that the angel’s doctrinal statement, “Nothing will be impossible with God,” (37) is applied immediately to the situation with Elizabeth to encourage Mary. She would reason from that theological truth and apply it to the news that had just been announced to her.
- The confluence of these events fit the pattern of prophecy about the forerunner and the appearance of the Lord (Malachi 3:1; 4:1). If the forerunner was soon to be born (1:13-17), then the Lord Himself must necessarily be right at his heels. In a way more intensely true than could ever before or ever again be meant by the sentence, “The Lord is with you,” was uniquely true of Mary. This was so with her that it might so with us; Emmanuel has come.
B. Mary expressed her full submission to the Lord and her willingness to receive all that God’s word through the angel had expressed, (Verse 38) “Let it be to me according to your word.”
- She knew that her life was the property of God; her existence served his purpose and she claimed no prerogative to craft her own future and establish her own significance apart from God’s sovereign will for her. God did not ask her permission but brought her into being for this very purpose. In innumerable contexts, the same is true of us all (cf. Galatians 1:15; Romans 9:17)
- The word of God had been brought to her. Her understanding of the special status of the Jews as a nation prepared her to receive this with cordial consent. Through their nation the Messiah would come for the blessings of all nations. Consequently, they had received his word of special revelation to give increasing clarity concerning that event of absolutely superlative importance. When she, the humble young maiden of Nazareth, proverbially unimportant as a place, received a visit from the angel “who stands in the presence of God” (1:19), she must receive that word as unerringly true in its content and absolutely requisite of her joyful compliance.
C. This time of deep remembrance of the incarnation should call us to several important resolutions.
- We must energetically pursue more profound repentance of all willfulness that establishes our desires as a more important criterion of action than the glory of God and his revealed will.
- The historical truth that the eternal Son took to himself our frail humanity confronts us with a seemingly impossible conjunction of attributes. In the incarnation we see eternity enmeshed in temporality and infinity inhabiting finiteness. In the startling reality that the Son of God had a mother we find omnipotence submitting to dependence. In his descent from a genetic line of sinners in need of righteousness, we view immutability and impeccability in the context of the necessity of increased approvedness of character; we find absolute holiness presented before the enemy of all holiness for a time of testing. To remove our shame and condemnation we encounter the blameless one embracing our blame. All these considerations should slay our spiritual pride and crucify our mental and intellectual reservations about any thing that the word of God declares to be true in the pursuit of the divine purpose of redemption.