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Highly Favored

December 10 2023

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

We’re looking for the heart of God in the Gospel of Luke. What is God like? What does God want? What does He want for us? What does He want from us? 

For Advent, we have gone back to the beginning of Luke. And today, we will read about the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. 

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  

Nazareth was a very unlikely place for God to initiate his plans. This town is not mentioned in the Old Testament. And according to Nathaniel in John 1, it had a poor reputation. It was a small town, with maybe 500 people. But this is where God chose to send Gabriel… 

27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  

Luke will mention the fact that Mary was a virgin three times! He wants to make sure we know it. Mary was a virgin. 

28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  

29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 

30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  

Twice, Luke uses the word “favor”. It’s actually the same Greek word we normally translate as “grace”. Mary is receiving something special that she had not earned and did not deserve.  

It’s also worth noticing that Luke does not describe Mary the way he described Zechariah and Elizabeth – as righteous and blameless, almost to make sure we know that Mary had not done anything to earn God’s favor. 

In fact, contrary to Catholic and Orthodox theology, we have no reason to believe that Mary was anything other than a sinner like everyone else on the planet. The idea that Mary was sinless or somehow not born with original sin is impossible to defend from the Bible.  

And it’s theologically important that she was a normal human being! Mary was just like everyone else, except that God chose her for a very special purpose. 

31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  

32 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,  

33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

This is a direct link to multiple Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah. And Mary obviously knows her Bible well enough that she doesn’t question it. What she questions is how it will happen, not from a place of doubt – but from a place of confusion. 

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 

35 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.  

In other words, God will make you pregnant – not your fiancé. Try to imagine being a teenage girl hearing an angel tell you that God is going to make you pregnant and that you’re going to give birth to the most important person ever! 

And before she even has time to consider that, the angel gives her more news: 

36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  

37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”  

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. 

Because most of us have grown accustomed to hearing about the birth of Jesus, we sort of take it for granted. We don’t stop to think about how strange this might sound to people who’ve never heard this story. 

In fact, for many people, the virgin birth is a barrier to belief. It’s too much. It’s too outrageous.  

But for me, it really strengthens my faith in the Bible. Because it’s so odd and so mysterious, but also so perfect in the way it fits the overall story. 

First, consider that Jesus had very humble beginnings. God invades the life of this teenage girl from some little town. Her fiancé is a quiet carpenter – a blue collar man. No doubt they were expecting a simple, ordinary life. No wealth. No fame. No power. Just a boy and a girl. Nothing special except their distant ancestry. But it’s perfect. 

Why? Because the human men who were responsible for writing all this down could not and would not have made this up. If you’re making this up and you’re trying to convince people that Jesus was the most important person who ever lived, then you wouldn’t make him a resident of a town like Nazareth… and you wouldn’t make him the son of a carpenter… and you wouldn’t make a teenage girl a central character… unless this is how it actually happened! 

Second, the virgin birth strengthens my faith because of how well it fits the redemptive plan of God as a whole. Why did God do it this way? 

The answer to that question is not as warm and fuzzy as we want it to be. It is easy, because of the way we celebrate Christmas, to miss the meaning of the virgin birth entirely. 

I want to share a quote by Scottish pastor Donald Macleod. He said: 

“The virgin birth is a sign of God’s judgment on human nature. The race needs a redeemer, but it cannot itself produce one: not by its own decision or desire, not by the processes of education and civilization, not as a cause of its own evolution. The redeemer must come from outside.” 

In other words, God did it this way because we are completely unable to produce our own savior. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And the entire Gospel story is wrapped up in that idea – that we cannot do for ourselves what needed to be done. God had to do it. He had to step in. 

But our redeemer also had to be a human for God’s plan to work. Only a second Adam could fix the problem caused by the first Adam.  

And so, in the brilliant, mysterious plan of God – He worked out a way for the redeemer of mankind to be BOTH God and man. 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 

Hail the incarnate Deity, 

Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, 

Jesus, our Immanuel. 

Mild he lays his glory by, 

Born that we no more may die, 

born to raise us from the earth, 

Born to give us second birth. 

Jesus was born to die in our place – and that only works if Jesus is both God and man. That’s how the virgin birth fits the plan. 

But the most important question this story raises is not “could this happen?” Instead, the most important question is this: “What if it did?” What if this really happened, as billions of Christians believe it did? What would it mean?  

It would mean what the angel Gabriel said it means. He tells us exactly what the birth of Jesus means. Look again: 

32 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,  

33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

It means a King has been born, that we are his subjects, and that we owe Him our absolute allegiance. Let me say it again because this is THE key point. Jesus is YOUR King! You owe Him your absolute allegiance. 

The world considers it outrageous that we think of Jesus in this way. But Mary’s humble obedience is a model for us. How did she respond to Gabriel’s unbelievable news? 

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

I am the slave of the Lord. Let it be. She fully submits. And that was not easy to do, under the circumstances. It was a very risky thing to do. If Joseph rejected her, she could have been stoned to death for adultery. 

In fact, we probably don’t give Mary enough credit in the Protestant Church. Catholics and Orthodox give her too much credit, but we don’t give her enough. Listen to this quote by J.C. Ryle: 

“No woman was ever so highly honored as the mother of our Lord. It is evident that one woman only out of the countless billions of the human race, could be the means whereby God would be ‘manifest in the flesh’ — and Mary had the mighty privilege of being that one.” 

She was, as Gabriel said, highly favored. And yet, we will miss the point if we don’t also see ourselves in Mary. She did nothing to earn that favor. And neither do we. 

Mary received this good news in faith and God’s Spirit came to rest upon her. Do you understand, that same reality is available to all of God’s children because of what Jesus accomplished? 

We receive the good news in faith and God’s Spirit comes to rest in us too! Remember, Luke also wrote the book of Acts. And what happens at the beginning of Acts? God’s Spirit comes to rest on the entire church! And did you know, that’s actually the last time Mary is mentioned in the Bible. She was with the other disciples. Her role in the story was completed at Pentecost! 

This is the promise to every believer in 1 John 4: 

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  

14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 

Christians experience a new birth that is really no less of a miracle than the virgin birth. What God did in Mary was a foreshadowing of what God does in every believer – new life in Christ, ordained by the Father, purchased by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. 

Will you submit yourself, in humility, to the rule of Christ in your life? Will you see it as an undeserved blessing that God would visit you and offer His Son? That Jesus died in our place and rose from the dead so that God could dwell with us and in us and promise to make all things new? 

Let’s thank Him and praise Him for the good news of the Gospel.