Week of December 25, 2016
The Point: Jesus is the ultimate Word from God who brings salvation.
God’s Steadfast Love: Psalm 119:41.
 Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise.
“ This verse is a prayer of deep anxiety, large desire, simple faith! It is a sinner feeling his need of mercy (steadfast love), of abundant mercy – mercies for every moment, looking for them only in the Lord’s salvation, to be dispensed according to His word. Out of Christ we know only a God of justice and holiness. In Christ we behold a just God, yet a Savior, and in Him steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other [Ps. 85:10]. Therefore general notions of mercy without a distinct apprehension of salvation have their origin in presumption, not in warranted faith. For can there be any communication of mercy from an unknown God? Can there be any communion with an angry God? Can we conceive the moment, when this prayer is not suited to us? How can we be at any moment safe or happy without the spirit of it? To walk as a saved sinner, accepted in the Beloved, conformed to His image, devoted to His service, sealed for His kingdom – that is, or should be, the sunshine of every day. Let this prayer live in the heart. Carry continually to the Lord the cry for all His mercies – specially for that, which is the seal and crown of them all – His salvation. This prayer, however, is peculiarly suitable to the believer, longing to realize that which sometimes is clouded to his view, his personal interest in the Lord’s salvation! It must come to me; or I shall never come to it. I want not a general apprehension – I am not satisfied with the description of it. Let it come to me. Let Your mercies be applied, so that I can claim them, and rejoice in them! I see Your salvation come to others. Who needs it more than I! Let it come also to me. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. keep steady my steps according to your promise and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts [Ps. 119:132-134]. Now, are we seeking the assurance of this salvation? Are we waiting to realize its present power, saving us from sin – Satan, the world, ourselves – and blessing us in Christ with every spiritual blessing [Eph. 1:3]? Should a trail of faith and patience be ordained for us, yet in the end we shall find an enriching store of experience from His wise dispensations. That He has kept us from turning our backs upon His ways, when we had no comfort in them; that He has upheld us with His secret supplies of strength – is not this the work of His own Spirit within, and the pledge of the completion of the work? That He has enabled us, against all discouragements, to continue instant in prayer, is surely an answer to that prayer, which in our apprehensions of it, had been cast out. That in waiting upon Him, we have found no rest in worldly consolation, is an assurance, that the Lord Himself will be our soul – satisfying and eternal portion. And who is there now in the sensible enjoyment of His love, who does not bless that Divine wisdom, which took the same course with them that has been taken with us, to bring them to these joys? When did a weeping seed time fail of bringing a joyful harvest? But let not the ground of faith be forgotten. According to Your word, that it shall come fully, freely, eternally to him who waits for it. You meet him that rejoices and works righteousness; those that remember You in Your ways. Many, indeed, are satisfied with far too low a standard of spiritual enjoyments. It is comfortless to live at a distance from our Father’s house, when we might be dwelling in the secret of His presence, and rejoicing in the smiles of His love. But let us not charge this dishonorable state upon the sovereignty of the Divine dispensations. Let us rather trace it to its true source: lack of desire, lack of faith, lack of prayer, lack of diligence. What infinite need have we of heavenly influence! What gracious encouragement to seek it! The way was blocked up; mercy has cleared the path, opened our access. Earnest prayer will bring a sure answer. The blessing is unspeakable. Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise.” [Bridges, pp. 76-78].
Angel’s Announcement to Mary: Luke 1:30-35.
 And the angel said to her, “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.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  And the angel answered her, “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. [ESV]
“The Angel’s Announcement. What the angel said to Mary was meant to be reassuring, yet Mary was still troubled . Naturally Mary wanted to know what this meant. What was happening? Why was an angel talking to her? What had he come to say? Gabriel did not leave Mary in suspense, but followed his greeting with an announcement. The announcement – which came in two parts because it was divided by Mary’s question in verse 34 – began in verses 30-33. With these words, the angel announced the greatest event in human history: the coming of the Son of God. First Gabriel told Mary not to be afraid, because she had found favor with God. God was showing unmerited favor to Mary; by His grace she would give birth to a son. Then Gabriel proceeded to explain the significance of this child, telling about His person and work. Who was he? What would he do? The angel told Mary to call His name Jesus, which means “God saves,” or “the Lord is salvation.” This was the first hint that Jesus would be the Savior. He would bring salvation to sinners by dying on the cross in shame and then rising again in glory. Even from the announcement of His birth, His name testified to His saving work. Jesus is the salvation of God. Next the angel said that Jesus would be great. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he said that John the Baptist would be great before the Lord [1:15]. But Jesus is the Lord, so when Gabriel said that He would be great, he did not limit His greatness in any way. Jesus is great. In the Old Testament, whenever this word is used without qualification, it almost always refers to God Himself. God’s wisdom is great; His works are great; His power is great; His mercy is great. So great is God’s greatness that He alone deserves to be called “great.” By saying that Jesus would be great, therefore, Gabriel was testifying to the deity of Jesus Christ. No one is greater than He is. Jesus is great in wisdom, great in power, great in love, and great in the majesty of His divine being. His greatness is the greatness of God. Already we see the strange juxtaposition of meekness and majesty that define the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He was born in the humblest of circumstances. While on earth He suffered the humiliation of poverty, loneliness, homelessness, rejection, persecution, and torture. Jesus humbled Himself to the very death. Yet He was still the divine Son of God, and God exalted Him back to greatness by raising Him from the dead. After testifying to His greatness, the angel said that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High . Gabriel used similar terminology a few moments later, calling Jesus the Son of God . The Most High was a favorite expression of King David, who used this title to praise the Lord. Here Gabriel identifies Jesus as the Son of the Most High God. What joy it must have given Gabriel to announce this mystery for the very first time, declaring that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, the divine Son of God. Gabriel also said that Jesus would rule in majesty, sitting on the ancient throne of David . Long ago God had promised David that his son would have a kingdom that would never end: I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. … Your throne shall be established forever [2 Sam. 7:13-14,16]. These ancient promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who is the son of David and Israel’s eternal King. This was the angel’s announcement: Mary would give birth to a son named Jesus, who would be the great Savior and the Son of God, the most powerful ruler in the history of the world. Do you trust the angel’s promise? It was written so that you would know for sure – so that you would believe in Jesus as your Savior, worship Him as your great God, and serve Him as your everlasting King.
Mary’s Question. Mary believed the angel’s prophecy, but she still had a question: How will this be, since I am a virgin? . Mary obviously understood the angel to say that her child would be conceived before she got married. Since she was a godly woman, Mary was saving herself for marriage. She was preserving her sexual purity as a prize, the way every woman should. But this raised an obvious question. How could she conceive and bear a son if she had never been with a man? Mary did not ask this question in unbelief. Here Luke is drawing a clear contrast between Zechariah’s doubt and Mary’s faith. When old Zechariah received the promise of a son, he asked, How shall I know this? [1:18]. He wasn’t sure whether to believe the angel or not, so he wanted some kind of confirmation. Mary asked a completely different question: How will this be? [1:34]. In other words, she wanted to know how it would happen. Unlike Zechariah, she believed that the angel’s promise would come true. But she was still curious to know how it would happen, and perhaps to know whether there was anything she needed to do. It was a good, honest question, and Gabriel gave her the answer, as well as a sign to confirm the promise [35-37]. As a good historian, Luke gives us the facts: Mary’s son would be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is factual history, and what the facts declare is one of the most stupendous miracles God has ever performed: the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Mary asked the same question that people still ask today: How can this be? How can a woman become pregnant without having sexual relations? The answer is very simple – if you believe in the power of God. The answer is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is the miracle of the virgin birth that Christians have always confessed. Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. This language echoes the Old Testament and reminds us that the Holy Spirit has been actively involved in everything that God has ever done. The Spirit was present at creation, when He overshadowed the waters of the earth [Gen. 1:2]. The Spirit was there at the exodus, when He overshadowed the tabernacle in a cloud of glory [Ex. 40:34-35]. Later the Spirit would overshadow Jesus, anointing Him for His earthly ministry. It was by the Spirit that Jesus made atonement for our sins [Heb. 9:14], and by the Spirit that He was raised from the dead [Rom. 1:4]. Then Jesus sent the Spirit to overshadow the church [Acts 1:8]; it is by the power of His presence that we serve Christ today. The Holy Spirit has been overshadowing God’s people from the very beginning, working with the Father and the Son for our salvation. But no work of the Spirit is more miraculous than the work He did in Mary’s womb, enabling the virgin to give birth to the Son of God. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is one of the essential facts and great mysteries of the Christian religion. If we deny this, we deny the faith. According to Luke, Mary had a child before she had intercourse. Do we believe this, or not? If we say that Jesus was not born of a virgin, then either we believe that Mary was sexually immoral, or that Luke was a writer of fiction, or both. In any case, we defame the character of these godly people and contradict the plain teaching of Scripture. Even worse, we deny the deity of Jesus Christ, because it is His conception by the Holy Spirit that makes Him the holy Son of God. Jesus had to be born of a woman to be a man. But if He had been the physical offspring of Joseph, then He would have been nothing more than a man. His virgin birth, His divine conception by the Spirit – these things were necessary for His incarnation. Only the virgin birth preserves the humanity and the deity of Jesus Christ. His conception by the Spirit points to His deity. His birth from a woman points to His humanity. One person, two natures – a divine nature and a human nature. And because He was conceived by a unique creative act of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was not corrupted by the guilt of Adam. Fallen humanity could not produce its own Savior; He had to come from somewhere outside, by way of divine initiative and intervention. Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world as the perfect Son of God, born without sin. Is there anything in your life that seems impossible? Perhaps it seems impossible for your great sin to be forgiven, especially after all the times you have tried not to do it again, but failed. Perhaps it seems impossible for your family to be restored after all the heartbreak and for joy to come again. Maybe it seems impossible for your physical and financial needs to be met, or for your work, your studies, or your ministry to succeed. It may seem impossible to endure the suffering that has come into your life, or for someone you love to come to Christ. But the Bible says, Nothing will be impossible with God. He is the God of the virgin birth! There is no sin He cannot forgive, no relationship He cannot reconcile, no problem He cannot resolve, no need He cannot meet, no ministry He cannot bless, no grief He cannot comfort, no life He cannot reclaim, no sinner He cannot save. The God of the virgin birth is the God who makes all things possible.” [Ryken, pp. 31-37].
Questions for Discussion:
- What a great prayer we find in Psalm 119:41. If you are a believer, you have tasted God’s steadfast love and His great salvation. But we should never be satisfied with only a taste. We should daily join with the Psalmist in his prayer for a deeper and richer experience and understanding of God’s steadfast love and salvation. Bridges writes that our experience and understanding are negatively impacted by our lack of desire, faith, prayer, and diligence. As we celebrate this day the supreme gift of God’s steadfast love and salvation, may we renew our commitment to grow daily in our desire, faith, prayer, and diligence for a growing experience and understanding of God’s steadfast love and salvation.
- What was the difference between Zechariah’s question [1:18] to the angel and Mary’s? Why was Zechariah rebuked for his question and Mary was not?
- Ryken writes: “The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is one of the essential facts and great mysteries of the Christian religion. If we deny this, we deny the faith.” Why does Ryken place such importance upon the Virgin Birth? What does he say would be the result if the Virgin Birth is not true?
An Exposition of Psalm 119, Charles Bridges, ebook.
Luke 1:1-9:50, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.
Luke, vol. 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishing.