For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the key characters of the Christmas story. And I’m not talking about Rudolph or Santa Claus – that’s a different story all together! I’m talking about the original Christmas story – the historic events that actually happened some 2000 years ago and are still packed with meaning and significant for us even today.
And I expect that most of us are familiar with the events of that first Christmas – how Jesus was born and laid in a manger – how the angels appeared to the shepherds and how the wisemen brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Those are all the traditional Christmas scenes that we sing about in our Christmas carols or we display in our nativity arrangements.
And of course, if you’re not familiar with those events, I’d invite you to come to our Christmas Eve service this Friday as those events will be the focus of our Christmas celebration.
But for our Sunday morning messages as Christmas approaches, we’ve been taking a deeper look not at the events of Christmas, but rather at the characters of Christmas.
We started by looking at Jesus Himself. Who is this baby who was born and was laid in a manger? And what is so significant about that child that we continue to celebrate his birth even 2000 years later!? To find those answers, we looked in the Gospel of John and saw that Jesus was not just an ordinary baby, but was in fact, the second person of the Godhead – the eternally existing Creator of the world – now born as a human being. He truly is Emmanuel – which means God is with us. And what’s all the more amazing is that He came to be with us so that we could be with Him for eternity.
Then last week we took a closer look at Joseph. We don’t read a lot about Joseph’s life in the Bible – he kinda comes across as a minor player in the pages of Scripture, but as we saw last week, Joseph really was a spiritual giant – truly a model of righteous character and faith in God. He is perhaps one of the best examples for us to follow in how to be a godly father and husband.
Now today we want to look at a third major character in the Christmas story – and that of course, is Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Like Joseph, she too, is a pretty amazing example of someone who displayed an absolute trust in God. When you consider all that she went through – especially considering how young she was at the time – her faith and obedience to God are truly remarkable. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I mentioned last week, when Matthew writes his Gospel and records the birth of Jesus, he focuses almost exclusively on Joseph. He begins with Joseph’s family tree, he talks about Joseph’s dilemma when he discovers that Mary was pregnant before they were married, and he records the four different visits that Joseph had from the angel. But he really doesn’t say anything about Mary.
In contrast to that, when Luke writes his Gospel, he hardly mentions Joseph at all. He focuses his attention primarily on Mary. And that’s why it’s so great that we have four different Gospels. Each Gospel tells the true story of Jesus, but they all tell it from a slightly different perspective. That really helps us get a well-rounded understanding of really happened.
And so now, having looked at Joseph through the eyes of Matthew last week, today we’re going to look at Mary through the eyes of Luke. So if you have your Bibles with you, you can turn with me to Luke chapter 1.
However, we’re not going to start at verse 1 because Luke doesn’t begin his Gospel with Mary – he actually begins with Mary’s relatives – specifically, a priest named Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth.
And I don’t want to spend a lot of time going through their story this morning, but let me just quickly summarize it for you so you know what’s going on when we get into Mary’s story.
Zechariah and Elizabeth have been unable to have children and the Bible describes them now as “both being very old.” Obviously too old now, to have any expectation of still being able to have children.
But one day, an angel named Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a baby and that their baby would be the one to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Of course, every Israelite had been waiting for the coming of the Lord for quite some time now. In fact, for the last several hundred years, God had promised through the prophets had that he would send a Messiah – a descendant of King David who would save the Israelites and would rule Israel forever!
So this was pretty huge news for Zechariah and Elizabeth – not only where they finally going to have the baby that they had always wanted, but their baby would prepare the way for the future King of Israel!
Oh and one more thing, their baby was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth – and his name was to be John – we would eventually come to know him as John the Baptist.
So with that as the backdrop, Luke begins to tell the story of Mary in Luke chapter 1, verse 26.
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.
Now if you were with us last week, most of this should be information that you already know. This is exactly what Matthew tells us when he introduces Joseph. Joseph, who is a descendant of King David, is engaged to Mary who, of course, is a virgin, since they are not yet married. The only new information we have here is the location. Here we see that Mary lives in a village called Nazareth in the region of Galilee.
Of course, this is exactly where Joseph and Mary will eventually make their home – but only after they spend some time living in Egypt hiding out from King Herod – as we mentioned last week. But again, that’s getting ahead of the story!
For now, one of the key things that we should make note of in these verses is that Mary is a virgin who is engaged to be married. Of course, this is significant to our story for many different reasons – but specifically for our study of Mary today, it reveals to us that Mary is still very young.
In those days in Israelite culture, most marriages were arranged marriages. And most often, these arrangements were made during the girl’s early teenage years. Some girls could be as young as 12 when they got engaged, but 13-15 would probably be more typical. And so while the Bible never directly speaks to how old Mary was at this time, based on typical cultural practices, most scholars put her in that 13-16 year old range.
Which is pretty shocking for us in our western culture today. We can’t imagine our daughters getting married at 13 or 14 years old – (we think 18-21 is still pretty young) but women being married at that young age was a pretty normal practice back in the ancient middle east.
And the fact that Mary was so young really makes Mary’s response to everything that happens all the more amazing! And you’ll see what I mean as we go along. Let’s keep reading as the angel Gabriel makes his visit to Mary – verse 28….
28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. Luke 1:28-29
I think this must be one of the greatest understatements of the Bible. I don’t know if ‘confused and disturbed’ fully captures how Mary must have felt when this angel just shows up and speaks to her.
I mean, when the angel showed up to speak to Zechariah in the verses just before this, he is described as being “shaken and overwhelmed with fear”. Later in chapter 2 when the angel appears to the shepherds outside of Bethlehem, they are described as being ‘terrified’.
So how is it that Mary is just ‘confused and disturbed’ when the angel Gabriel appears to her? Well, it is very possible that Mary was indeed terrified (because as we will soon see in verse 30, the angel actually tells her not to be afraid.) But in verse 29, the fact that Mary is “confused and disturbed” seem to be less about the sudden appearance of the angel and more about what the angel actually said to her. Notice it says “Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.”
Mary was confused and disturbed about what the angel just said – which was “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”
Immediately, Mary begins to wonder why was she was a ‘favoured woman’ and why in the world would an angel say ‘the Lord was with her’? Remember, she’s just a teenage girl. In her world, teenage girls didn’t get visits from angels or messages from God. That kind of stuff just didn’t happen! In her mind, there is no reason for her to be a favoured woman nor is there a reason for God to be with her!
From all the Old Testament stories she knew, anytime an angel said “God is with you” he was talking to a mighty warrior like Joshua or Gideon.
Just for example, think of the story of Gideon in Judges 6:12…
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” Judges 6:12
You’ll notice that sounds a whole lot like “Favored woman, the Lord is with you!” So why in the world would an angel say that to her of all people? She was no hero. She wasn’t about to lead anyone into battle. You see why she would be confused and disturbed.
But thankfully, the angel didn’t end his message there. He went on to explain in verse 30…
30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
This was an amazing message! It quickly became clear to Mary, that God’s role for her wasn’t to lead an army into battle, as perhaps she feared, but rather God’s role for her was to give birth the Son of the Most High – the Messiah who would rule Israel forever! What a privilege! And what a responsibility! And what an impossibility!?
Mary quickly realized that as an unmarried virgin, she wasn’t about to have any children anytime soon. And so we read in verse 34…
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” Luke 1:34-37
In essence, the angel told Mary that God was about to do the impossible! He was going to do an amazing miracle within her! Mary would have a baby simply through the power of God. And as proof of God’s ability to do the impossible, Mary could look to her relative Elizabeth who had just experienced a miracle herself! As everyone knew, Elizabeth was old and barren – but yet here she was six month’s pregnant. God can do anything! And then, to punctuate everything he just said, the angel concludes with this definitive statement: He says, “For the Word of God will never fail.”
If God says something is going to happen, you can be 200% sure that it will actually happen – no matter how impossible it seems – for the Word of God will never fail.
And that’s such a great reminder for us! Whatever God says is true – it will happen. God has both the will and way to make it happen – He knows all things and and He can do all things – so it will happen! The Word of God will never fail.
And this principle applies as much to us as much as it did Mary! Now of course, Mary had a fairly unique situation where she would really have good cause to wonder, how in the world is this possible? But we certainly have our own seemingly impossible situations that we have to wrestle through.
Maybe you wrestle with the questions of: “How in the world could God ever forgive me after what I’ve done?”
Or “How in the world can God ever fix this broken relationship?”
Or “How in the world can I gain victory over this persistent sin in my life?”
Or “How in the world will God take this awful situation and use if for good?”
Or “How in the world will God ever…. fill in the blank with whatever you’re wrestling with right now.”
But can I encourage you this morning that the Word of God will never fail! If God has said something in his Word, you can be absolutely confident that God will bring it to pass – no matter how unlikely or impossible it seems.
What seemed impossible in Mary’s mind was totally possible with God. In fact, from God’s omniscient perspective, it was already done! And that’s how God sees your situation too!
It’s already done! If God has said He’s going to do something – it’s already done! We just have to trust God and allow him to work everything out according to his will and plan! And I know that’s tough to do. We don’t have God’s omniscient perspective! All we can see is the here and now. All we can see is the impossible. But we just need to remember that from God’s perspective, it’s already done. The Word of God will never fail.
We just need to learn to trust and believe that. And Mary did!
This is probably the most amazing moment of Mary’s story. It’s verse 38….
38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Luke 1:38
Can you believe that!? Can I remind you once again that this is a young teenage girl. She has just been told that she is going to have a child out of wedlock – something that was totally scandalous in that culture. Because of what the angel had just told her, she would live the rest of her life as an outcast, to say the least! On top of that, she had no idea how her fiancé Joseph would react to all this. I mean, technically, if she was found to be with child – Joseph had the right to have her stoned for committing adultery. This truly was a life-altering announcement that the angel has just brought her! And what does she say?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
What an astonishing statement of trust in God! And what a contrast even to some of the other great heroes of the faith! We talked about Gideon being visited by the angel and how he got the same opening line “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you.”
But in his case, after God gave Gideon his “impossible” assignment, Gideon did nothing but protest and ask for sign upon sign upon sign that what God had said was actually true… And only after a long process did Gideon finally come to believe and trust God.
But Mary says right off the bat – “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
What a mark of incredible spiritual maturity!
And this from a 13-16 year old! I can’t speak for you, but I know that when I was 13-16 years years old, I had nothing like that kind of spiritual maturity!
Even now, if God were to give me life-altering assignment that would totally upend the future life that I imagined for myself – setting me as an outcast among my friends, family, and community – I’m not entirely convinced that I’d affirm the Lord’s will as quickly as Mary did! I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced!
But Mary didn’t even hesitate! She already had the kind of relationship with God that enabled her to fully submit to his will – even when she didn’t understand how it would all work out.
And this attitude of immediate submission and obedience to God is exactly what we saw in the life of Joseph too, remember? No protests, no excuses, no delays – just immediate submission and obedience to God.
It really is no wonder that God chose this couple to raise His Son, Jesus.
And it seems to me, as we have been working through these character studies recently, that if there is just one thing that God wants to see from us, it’s this same attitude of immediate submission and obedience to Him.
Before Christmas, we had been going through the book of 1 Samuel – looking at the lives of Samuel, King Saul, and David – and one of the key verses that we looked at speaks to this very issue. By now, it’s probably a familiar passage to you – 1 Samuel 15:22-23… Samuel says to Saul….
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
1 Samuel 15:22-23a
It seems there is nothing more pleasing to the Lord than our immediate obedience and submission to his voice!
And that really does makes sense. When we willingly and immediately obey the Lord, that shows that we trust Him. It means that we know Him well enough to understand that he loves us and wants the best for us. Our obedience is a reflection of our relationship with Him.
And so many people miss that. They try to “keep God happy” by doing good things. That was exactly what Saul was doing in 1 Samuel… Trying to keep God happy by offering sacrifices! People like that simply see God as some kind of policeman who’s job is to make sure people do more good things than bad things.
But that’s not what it’s about at all! God wants you to have a relationship with Him. He wants you to know him and know what He’s really like! And it’s our obedience to Him that truly shows the evidence of that relationship!
When we begin to understand how much God loves us and how much he wants good for us – we would be foolish to ignore the things he says.
As we get to know him more and more, we will become eager to obey Him and to submit to Him because even if we when we’re in a situation where we don’t understand how or why or what God is doing, we will be convinced that God is up to something great! He is going to do something good in our lives, because that’s just what God does!
And I think that’s the kind of relationship that both Joseph and Mary had with God. God had asked them to do something incredibly risky! Something that would have a significant and long-lasting impact on their lives! But they also understood that if God was going to make such an incredible ask of them, then He must be up to something amazing! Something really good was about to happen.
And so because they knew the character of God – they had no problem immediately submitting to his will and being obedient to his voice.
How about you? Do you know the true character of God? Do you have a personal relationship with Him?
In your life, are you beginning to understand how much God loves you and how much good he wants for you?
I don’t know what exactly God might be asking of you today, but I do know that your obedience to Him is a reflection of your relationship with Him.
Maybe for some of you, God is asking you to take the very first step of obedience. Maybe he’s inviting you to begin a real relationship with Him. To stop just ‘trying to keep God happy’ and begin to really get to know him and see what He’s really like. If that’s where you’re at today, I’d sure encourage you to take that first step – and if you’re not sure where to start, I’d love to help you do that! Come talk to me after the service – I’d love to help you begin this journey of building your relationship with God!
Or maybe for some of you, God’s asking you to do something different. Maybe something scary! Something that’s way out of your comfort zone. And if that’s you this morning, I’d just give you this encouragement: God doesn’t ask you to do hard things just to make your life miserable! God didn’t ask Mary to carry a child out of wedlock just to make her life misery. No – God was doing something good – something great! And the same principle applies to you. God loves you and wants what is best for you. If he’s telling you to do something, you can be sure that He’s telling you to do that because he loves you and he’s in the middle of doing something great!
Now we might not always see what that great thing is that God was doing, but because we know the character of God, and because we have the Word of God, (which as the angel reminded us will never fail) we can have absolute confidence that our best option is always to submit to and obey the Lord. Every time.
So I would just encourage you with that this morning. God is trustworthy. God is good. And if He’s asking you to do something hard or seemingly impossible – You can trust Him. You can know that that He is up to something really good – that’s just who He is.
And if you’re still not convinced of that, then I’d encourage you just to get to know Him. Spend some time reading his Word – talking to him through prayer – talk to some of these folks here and see what their experience has been with God.
And I am sure, that as you truly get to know who this God is, you’ll grow to love Him more and more – you’ll trust Him more and more – and you’ll be eager to follow his lead and experience his goodness!