Layout
Discuss

Episode 13 - Announcing the Birth of Jesus - Opening Up the Gospels

In episode 11 and 12 we started looking at Luke chapter 1 and the story of the parents of John the Baptist. In this episode we’re going to follow Luke’s narrative and turn to the announcement of the birth of Jesus, which is so interwoven with the story of John the Baptist. We left off last time in Luke 1 verse 25. Elizabeth had just conceived, and Zechariah was still mute. That’s all we know about them until a few months later when Mary visits. We’ll look at that in the next episode. But today let’s keep reading in Luke 1, starting at verse 26: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 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.” Just as we saw with Zechariah and his encounter with Gabriel in the temple, Luke reminds us again that these events happened at a real time in history. He says it happened in the 6th month on the Jewish calendar, which would roughly correspond to August or September on our modern calendar. And just as with Zechariah, the angel GABRIEL is sent to Nazareth, a small despised village in northern Israel in a region called Galilee. A virgin named Mary and her soon to be husband Joseph both lived here. We know Nazareth was not looked upon with favor by the people of Israel. In John chapter 1 we see Nathaniel saying: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”. Think of a city or a town near where you live that people look upon with disdain or people say “wow, that place is bad, I’d never want to live there”… That’s the kind of town that God sent the angel Gabriel to. If we had lived in first century Israel at this time, already we’d be thinking – wow, why did God choose Nazareth? I certainly wouldn’t have… So we see a girl from this town of Nazareth whose name is Mary. Luke doesn’t say anything else about her besides the fact that she was a virgin and she was betrothed to Joseph. No lineage, no family, no special merit… Nothing. Now in August or September, Gabriel comes to Mary and the very first thing he says to her is that she is “highly favored”. Now think about this – she lives in a despised town, seems like she really has nothing going for her in terms of her family lineage, and seemingly nothing is special about her and Gabriel comes to her and says that she has God’s attention and favor. I mean, she probably was having a normal week, she had woken up that morning and it was just another normal day in town, and she had no idea that the living God’s eyes were upon her, searching her and evaluating her heart. And then all of a sudden Gabriel shows up in her bedroom. This is crazy! Again, this all highlights how God chooses and how radically different it is than how we would choose. Even Mary herself was confused by Gabriel’s words. Luke says that she was “troubled” and “tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Let’s ponder this for just a minute and think about what it tells us about God’s heart. He could have chosen His Son to be born into a well-respected family in the wealthy part of Jerusalem, he could have announced it to all the people of the city, to Herod and to Rome, but He didn’t. He chose Mary. While all those who were filled with self-importance and pride jockeyed for power in Jerusalem, the angel Gabriel was appearing to a young girl with no reputation from an obscure town. Even right at the outset, we see the theme of 1 Samuel 16:7 being so tightly woven into the story of the Gospels: “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV) Gabriel goes on and tells Mary that she will bear a son and that His name was to be called Jesus. His name, Yeshua, simply means “the Lord saves”. Thousands of other boys at that time in Israel would have been named Yeshua, or Joshua. His name brings to mind the two Old Testament figures named Joshua – first, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of Moses, and Joshua the son of Jehozadok, the High Priest in the temple after Israel’s exile. We’ll see that Jesus, Yeshua… Joshua… is often portrayed as the greater Moses, the one who will one day lead the believing remnant of Israel into their promised inheritance, and is also the kingly and priestly figure foreshadowed by Joshua the High Priest. Gabriel continues: “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.” There’s so much that’s being said in just these few sentences here. Of course Mary was Jewish and would have been very familiar with the promises of God in the Law and the Prophets about her nation and her people. Gabriel here is referring to a promise that God made to King David all the way back in 2 Samuel 7 and through Isaiah in Isaiah chapter 9. Let’s look at the passage in Samuel where the promise to David is made: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14) So from the very beginning, before Jesus was even born, Gabriel is telling Mary that the son she would bear would be the one who was spoken about in 2 Samuel 7 and Isaiah 9. He would rule over all Israel as the king from the city of Jerusalem, just like David did. We have to see this – Gabriel isn’t talking about a rule over Israel from heaven or even some spiritual reign here. He’s using very specific language that Mary was very familiar with and would have understood as a Jew – Jesus would sit in Jerusalem and rule over Israel from there, just as David did. But unlike David who died and his kingdom fell into ruin, Mary’s child would have a kingdom that would never end. The simplicity of this message can’t be overlooked. As we’ll see, the Gospels don’t alter this expectation of where Jesus would rule from – it was always going to be from the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. Again, the language is so specific – Mary would not have thought that the throne of David meant anything different than how it had been spoken about in the Old Testament and understood throughout Israel’s history. As we’re going to see in future episodes, the only thing that was incorporated into the identity of Israel’s king, the Messiah, was that he would suffer before his glorious kingdom would actually be established in Jerusalem. And it’s pretty obvious that Jesus didn’t sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem 2000 years ago and he isn’t sitting there right now. When Jesus returns, He will rule from Jerusalem and establish a kingdom that will rule over the house of Jacob forever. We’ll talk more about this as we go along and look at how the Gospels tell this story. Now just imagine what Mary was thinking about when she heard this. She was going to give birth to Israel’s king who would fulfill the promise that God made to David? Remember, Rome was in control of Israel at this time and Herod was ruling over Judea in Jerusalem. I’m sure she would have interpreted this as a very disruptive message. What would Herod and the people do when they heard that Israel’s king had been born? Now I just love Mary’s response to Gabriel. She said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She seemingly didn’t have unbelief, unlike Zechariah when Gabriel told him his wife was going to bear a child. Her lack of understanding did not inhibit her from actually receiving and believing the word of the Lord. Oh that this would be true of us as we read the Gospels and seek to believe everything they tell us! Gabriel goes on and says: 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. 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. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 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.” (Luke 1:26–38 ESV) So at some point after this, we don’t know when, the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and God’s power “overshadows” her. And we just really have to leave it there – scripture does not take us into the moment. Who knows what it looked like when a person was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and miraculously impregnated by the sinless Jesus who is divine. Rather than trying to reason and figure things out here, we’re just left to marvel and believe, just like Mary did. Gabriel mentions Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, the same Elizabeth that had miraculously conceived and was pregnant with John. This was to be a sign to Mary that Gabriel’s words to her would truly come to pass. Now what must Mary have been thinking here? My relative Elizabeth? Wow, she is kind of old, and I know they don’t even have a child of their own. And she’s pregnant? Wow! Well, how about a couple of points for meditation this week: – Ask the Lord about why he chose to visit Mary and be born through her instead of through some rich family in Jerusalem. – What would it have been like to be Mary on the day that Gabriel visited you? Would you have told anyone what he said after he left? There’s so much more to meditate on, so I’d encourage you to dig into this passage in Luke yourself. In next week’s episode, we’ll look at Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea.