In our ongoing series of devotional studies in the Gospel of Luke, we come now to the record of what is perhaps the most amazing miracle imaginable. I am referring, of course, to the divine implanting of a foetus in the womb of a virgin.
Almost more than what is normal, worshippers of God are confronted here by God’s sacred text is the choice between scepticism and belief, the choice between a ho-hum familiarity and an amazement that deepens devotion. We do not want familiarity to breed the contempt that it so easily does. And so let me remind you that we are dealing here with a historical record as I ask you to turn your attention to Luke 1.
The Ministry of Gabriel
Thus far in this orderly account that Dr. Luke has researched and compiled for us, we have seen the angel Gabriel bring one woman great joy with the news that, in her barrenness and old age, she would have a baby. This woman, Elizabeth, was now six months pregnant, and her husband (Zechariah) had been unable to speak a word to her in all this time. He was mute as a rebuke for his unbelief. But Elizabeth’s circumstances had put a smile on her face, and a deep sense of relief. Her social standing had changed; she was no longer seen by the community as being under divine punishment. The reproach of childlessness had kindly been removed by God.
The angel Gabriel had previously come from the presence of God (v. 19) and spoken to another human being. This time, it was a young girl, a nobody in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere! At this point, many of us, including members of BBC—who are nobodies living in Alberton, a nothing city, on the southern tip of Africa—ought to sit up and take notice.
This particular young Jewish peasant-girl, probably only 13 years of age, was going about her business, preparing for her upcoming wedding to a young man called Joseph. Besides her age (13), her marital status (single, but engaged), and her social significance (a mere teenager in a place like Nazareth), the most important fact about her is that she was a virgin. God broke into her world uninvited, and it is amazing that He did so, because there was nothing remarkable or unusual about her.
Before we speak further about young Mary, let us pause to take on board that devotional lesson: God has an agenda, we are His creatures, and He comes into our experience of reality to do His thing. It is God who determines the circumstances and the facts of our lives. It is God who determines the circumstances and the route of our journey. The sovereign God, the Creator of the universe, came into Mary’s life, uninvited, unsought and burdened her with blessing. His action in her life was inconvenient (and somewhat embarrassing), but this was part of His all-wise and righteous, gracious plan. Often God’s intrusion into our lives is inconvenient, but it is always righteous and loving.
The Significance of Mary
So, this all-wise God, according to His agenda, came into Mary’s life with news about a baby that she would bear. Before we speak about this baby, let’s confront the elephant in the room regarding Mary’s status in our own day.
There is a section of the Christian church whose teaching actually makes it less than Christian. People who follow the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church believe certain things about Mary that must be seen for the heinous error they are. Where the sacred text seems to go out of its way to keep the emphasis on God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Roman Catholics go out of their way to put the emphasis on Mary (the creature). She was clearly an ordinary person (a sinner) from a nondescript place (Nazareth), and although she was a virgin, she was not sinless! In fact, in the very next passage she admits her need for a Saviour (1:47).
The triune God, in devising the plan of redemption in which the second person of the Godhead would come to earth as a human being in order to live, die and rise again (righteousness, redemption, justification), needed to be born out of a woman in order for Him to be fully human (a necessary aspect of our salvation—Jesus was a real man, but at the same time God). For this purpose, God chose Mary, not because of anything special about her, but simply because He needed a vessel, a woman, to give birth to the Messiah. There was nothing special about Mary. She lacked anything that would speak of greatness—that’s the very point! She was quite ordinary.
We must see the error of a religious establishment that has elevated this ordinary sinner to a status that undermines the very work she was assigned to do. She was simply the recipient of God’s unusual and unique grace. Jesus could only come out of one woman, and it was Mary who was chosen. She was not special in any way. Yes, she deserves a special place of honour amongst women in that she was unique (Jesus could only have one mother), but she was not sinless. She was not the dispenser of grace, but the recipient of grace. She is not to be prayed to as if she can intercede or mediate for sinners, for there is only one meediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. She did not continue to be a virgin, for Jesus had half-brothers and sisters. She was not assumed into heaven! She is not to be worshipped or venerated in any way (this is nothing less than idolatry!). Let these facts resonate in your mind as you ponder texts just like these.
People in the days of Jesus wanted to elevate Mary. They said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (Luke 11:27). But Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (v. 28).
Yes, Mary did respond well to the news of the angel. She did show great courage and humility to simply say, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” We should be challenged by such humility and submission!
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
But let us move from the lesser to the greater. Let us move our attention from the creature Mary to the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. But before we do that, note one further devotional lesson here with reference to Mary: Is it not amazing that God was willing to give to Mary the sign; namely, that her relative Elizabeth, that barren woman who was beyond childbearing age, was already six months pregnant! Imagine what that meant to this young woman: Her relative was also the recipient of amazing grace, and as we will see in our next study, Mary was able to go off and spend three months with her.
Is God not kind to remind us, who face all kinds of obstacles and frustrations in life, that nothing is impossible with Him? We who live in a broken world need to be encouraged by God—do we not?–that nothing is impossible with Him. He can cause barren women to bear children. He can cause a virgin to conceive. He can cause the unemployed to be employed, and those at enmity to be reconciled. God can bring marriage partners our way, and get us through exams, and help us pay off our economic debts, and break droughts, and heal diseases.
But how did He cause this virgin to conceive? This is where our attention must settle on God the Holy Spirit. The sacred text tells us in v. 35 that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, the power of the Most High overshadowed her, and she conceived the baby Jesus in her womb. There is great mystery here.
But we must appreciate the power and the work of the Holy Spirit specifically in this mystery. True believers must make every effort to appreciate the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit, because at every step in the great work of man’s redemption we find the Holy Spirit mentioned.
Did Jesus die to make atonement for our sins? Hebrews 9:14 says that it was “through the eternal Spirit” that He “offered himself without blemish to God” in order to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Did Jesus rise again for our justification? First Peter 3:18 says that He was quickened by the Spirit.
When Jesus ascended to His Father, He sent to Comforter, the Holy Spirit to us.
The Person and Work of Christ
So, these text verses before us focus our attention on Mary, and then on the Holy Spirit, but finally we must take note of what these verses tell us about the person and work of Jesus. The Holy Spirit would want us to move our attention from Himself to Christ. He has the ministry of elevating Christ Jesus and taking what He did and applying it to us.
Notice five things that the angel said to Mary about the baby she would bring into the world. If we take note of these things, we will be where we ought to be: worshipping at the feet of Christ.
First, His name would be “Jesus” (“God saves”) because He would save His people from their sins. As the angel later said to Joseph, who battled with Mary’s assertion that she was still a virgin, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Second, He would be great—the greatness of God—great in wisdom, great in power, great in love, great in majesty, great in His deeds. John would be great before the Lord (v. 15), but Jesus would be great—full stop. He would be the greatness of God incarnate. People would recognise His greatness and commit themselves to it. They would be thrilled with it, and would take His very name—Christ—to apply to themselves. That is, after all, what the name “Christian” means: one who is like Christ.
Christians are eager to take Christ’s righteousness as their own. They are eager to identify with Him in His death and resurrection. And they are eager to do so because He is the very greatness of God.
Third, part of His greatness would lie in His humility. He would be born in humble circumstances and would grow as a child into adulthood under the authority of His earthly parents. What mystery there is here! If we were forced to concoct our own story of a Saviour sent into the world, how many of us would begin our tale with the Saviour being born in a manger and growing up in submission to human parents? Would we think of the very Creator being formed inside one of His creatures, willing to humble himself as if He was simply another part of the creation? This is truly an incredible account!
Fourth, He would be the Son of the Most High—He was the God-Man—both the Son of Man and the Son of God. He is absolutely unique! This mysterious and beautiful relationship between the visible Son and His invisible heavenly Father was affirmed at His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Is this not exactly what we need in order to be reconciled to God? Do we not need a man, who can identify with sinners, but who Himself is without sin? Do we not need a man who would fulfil all righteousness on our behalf, and secure God’s favour by His life? That is who Jesus Christ is! As the God-Man, He, as it were, takes God by the one hand and man by the other and joins the two in reconciliation. What a Saviour we have! What a gospel is God’s! Let us love Christ for this!
Fifth, He would be a king in the line of David. He would rule in majesty and there would be no end to His kingdom.
We can be linked by faith to this king. We can know for certain that we are linked to the winning side. We can live in a broken world, but because of God’s gracious dealings with us as we hear the gospel and as faith is created by grace in our hearts, we can latch by faith to this great Christ, whose kingdom will never end.
All the love that the Father has for Jesus can be lavished on us—not because who we are, but because of who Christ our Saviour is!
These verses present us with comforting news. God is involved with us; nothing is impossible with God.
These verses present us with challenging news. Do you believe these historical facts about a virgin birth and a unique baby? Your eternal destiny depends on your response to this news.