From fear to faith - Luke 1:26-38
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
98 years ago this month, in December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground.
As you can imagine, they were thrilled & they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas."
Katherine hurried to the editor of their local newspaper and showed him the message.
He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas!"
What stunning news! And yet he totally missed the significance human beings had flown for the 1st time!
Receiving surprising news can be hard to grasp or hard to accept.
Tonight as we continue our series looking at the opening chapters of the gospels we're going to hear what must have been the most phenomenal incident of hearing news the world has ever known!!
As Dr Luke begins his "carefully investigated", "orderly account" we are prepared for extraordinary happenings. A faithful Temple official has the angel of the LORD, Gabriel, appear to him to say that his now ageing wife, Elizabeth, after years of childlessness, is to have a baby! He's told that the boy, to be called "John" will have a vital role; to (1:17) "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." We're going to see something of this Lord whom the people needed to be prepared to receive. A Lord who would start life as a baby himself & whose birth would also be announced in a dramatic way;
You will see from the from the sermon notes that the second baby we hear about in Lk1, the one the 1st baby on growing up, will prepare the way for, is to be; the Son, Saviour, Sovereign;
1) Son; (Who is he?)
i) Human son.
Now & again you hear of a woman who is taken by surprise finding she is expecting a baby the Prime Minister's wife in her mid 40s is a recent public eg. Sometimes incredibly some women have discovered they are pregnant only as they start to give birth - they didn't know they had been carrying a baby for 9 months! (As the husband of a wife who is 7 months pregnant I find these incidents almost unbelievable). Well surely this famous account of the "annunciation" in Luke1 beats all of these stories.
In v27 we meet Mary, a young woman engaged to a man called Joseph. She was from an obscure town in the North Country (Nazareth in Galilee) & one day, minding her own business the angel Gabriel sent from God appears to her; v28 "Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you."
Well not surprisingly, when conformed with the messenger angel reflecting the glory of God v29 "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God - in God's grace his favour has been freely offered to you". The angel tells her: 31You will be with child and give birth to a son
Here was an apparently ordinary young woman in an extraordinary situation. She was engaged, to Joseph but she knew there was no way she could be pregnant she hadn't slept with Joseph or anyone else - & yet God's angel tells her she is going to have a son!!
Well this Son, we find later, is to be born in the conventional way. He was to grow into a real man who knew joy (10;21) & sorrow, felt compassion & grief (19:41), who got angry & felt astonished. A man who got tired, hungry & thirsty. Mary's baby was to be a human sonnot simply human;
ii) Divine Son
Mary hears the angel's message that's she's to have a baby but she knows her own sexual history & frankly she hasn't any, so she asks the angel; v34"How will this beI am a virgin?"
35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God".
Gabriel's answer to Mary's question, How can a virgin have a child is that God himself is going to do something; Luke describes in sensitive & careful words what has become known as the "virgin birth" or better the "virginal conception":
V35 "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, & the power of the Most High will overshadow you". The conception of Jesus in a virgin is due to the mysterious work of God by His Spirit.
Dr Bruce Franham puts it like this "At this moment in time God's HS so worked in Mary's body that fertilisation of an ovum occurred quite outside normal processes. From the beginning of the human race until then there had been genetic continuity. Now suddenly there is a discontinuity. Something new is happening. From that tiny speck is about to break out a power far greater than the mere splitting of an atom! Something has begun to happen which is both deeply human & deeply divine." (Farnham p12).
The conception of Jesus would be God's work "so", v35 continues "the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God". Here is the one (as we'll see in 2 weeks time) that was with God the Father in the beginning (Jn1:2) he is the eternal son of God. But in his entry into the world Jesus can be called v32 "Son of the Most High" & v35 "Son of God", because he was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary," as we say in our creeds. (p)
Since Sept 11th many people, including the Prime Minister, have been provoked to understand more about what makes people in the Islamic world tick. As followers of Jesus, Christians want to share his message with all peoples so it's worth being aware that talk of Jesus, as "Son of God" is a title misunderstood by many ordinary Muslims.
Commonly they think Christians believe that God mated with Mary & produced Jesus. This is a gross misunderstanding at many levels but particularly in that it downgrades Jesus. The term "Son of God" does not mean Jesus is the biological offspring of God like my daughters are of me or I am of Tony Brailsford from Sheffield.
No, Jesus is from the beginning of time divine; He is God the Son from all eternity, the 2nd person of the Trinity (as theologians put it).
That Jesus is the "Son of God" is essentially an analogy to represent their relationship. A parent child bond is the closest human comparison to express something of the relationship between Jesus & God the Father & it has resonance's in the OT as we'll see later, but we need to be careful in the words we use with Muslims. We will need to explain what the Bible means. And we will need to lead up to speaking in this way with other biblical terms that are less likely to cause confusion; prophet, forgiver of sins, king, messiah & so on.
Jesus as "son of the Most High" "Son of God" points us to the truth the rest of the bible makes clear; He is God himself come to earth as a human being. He is the divine Son.
It is beyond full human understanding that as Paul in Col. 2:9 puts it, all the fullness of deity should dwell bodily in Jesus, but it is fitting that the entrance gate to this mystery of God becoming a human being should be a virginal conception.
From time to time some jokers suggest that all this is a myth & not true historically but they fail to reckon with the fact that Luke is a very careful historian not a mythologist, his material is factual & objective, & if v32-33 are true, that Jesus is God the eternal son become the son of God on earth, then a miraculous conception is not unlikely!
We might find it hard to believe, but how do you think Mary felt?! Gabriel seems to expect her to find it hard, so he tells her of her relatives situation v36 "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God." Literally (No word from God will be impossible.) The angel in effect says; "Take courage Mary from the fact that when God says he is gong to do something it is possible look, he has just made it possible for elderly childless Elizabeth to have a baby albeit by a conventional conception God will do as he's said with you!!
This baby is to be human & divine, man & God both at the same time. [As Charles Wesley put it in his hymn; "God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man".] The implications of this are stunning. Here is a God who knows what it is like to be human he knows what it is, to live & breath, experience joy & sadness, friendship & betrayal, pleasure & pain. He has humbled himself to join us, become one of us!
Someone (JIPacker) has put it like this; "God became a human being;Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie & stare & wriggle & make noises, needing to be fed, have his nappy changed & taught to talk like any other childmore you think about it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in story books is as staggering as is the truth that God became a human being." Jesus is the human & divine son of God.
The baby is also the saviour;
If there's one thing we all have it's a name. Some of us are grateful to our parents for the name they chose for us, others of us feel we've spent a lifetime paying the price of their bad choice! There seems to be an increase in unusual names in the current generation of babies & toddlers at the risk of causing offence I shan't name any names but you can all think of egs!!
Mary's baby was to have a name a name chosen by God; v31 "You will be with child & give birth to a son (says Gabriel) & you are to give him the name Jesus"
This name is highly significant. It is a name full of promise. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means "The Lord saves". In Matthew's gospel we read of an angel appearing to the confused Joseph after discovering Mary is pregnant. The angel reassures him of the origin of the baby & tells him "you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). The implication of the meaning of the name are spelt out -
this baby is to be a saviour- a rescuer- one who will save God's people from their rebellion against Him.
This theme of salvation made clear at the start dominants the rest of Luke's gospel. Perhaps the key verse in the book is 19:10 where Jesus tells the despised tax collector Zacchaeus "For the Son of man came to seek & save what was lost".
Examples abound in Luke's book of where Jesus brings salvation-rescue to often unlikely people; the sick & suffering, the marginalised & outcasts, the poor & oppressed.
The book begins with news about a baby who will save, & it ends with the risen Jesus outlining the content of his churches message; 24: 45f "This is what is written; The Christ will suffer & rise form the dead on the 3rd day & repentance & forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning in Jerusalem."
This last week we've just started getting Christmas cards one of the most memorable I've seen in recent years is of a baby lying in a manger & on the Crib is written "Born to die". Jesus is the saviour, the rescuer You could in fact translate the name Jesus as "God to the rescue" & he rescues as he dies & rises bringing forgiveness of sins & therefore life in relationship with God.
Jesus is the Son, & the Saviour, there is finally, something else that is true about him, he is the
At a reception honouring a famous musician's [musician Sir Robert Mayer on his] 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her. Lady Cooper's failing eyesight prevented her from recognising her fellow guest until she peered more closely at the magnificent diamonds. Then she realised she was talking to Queen Elizabeth!
Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Cooper curtsied and stammered, "Ma'am, oh, ma'am, I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't recognise you without your crown!" Today in the Word, November 16, 1995, p. 23.
Mary's baby was to be born in obscurity & with no external signs of greatness & many did not recognise him - & yet Gabriel tells Mary v32 "The LORD God will give him the throne of his Father David, & he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his Kingdom will never end."
Some of us in our home groups have been looking over the past few weeks at the life of David the great King over God's people in OT times. We've seen how God worked his purpose out in David as his anointed one ruling over his people bringing many good things in his lifetime.
But a highlight has been seeing the way that God's promises to David look forward to another anointed one, another King, the messiah or Christ with an even more comprehensive & effective reign.
Let me read some words spoken to David from 2 Samuel 7 "When your days are overwill raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body & I will establish his kingdom...your house & your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever": 12,17
Jesus the Son of God the ultimate messiah, fulfils these words. He reigns as the sovereign King! In fact since his death & resurrection & return to heaven in glory he has a present reign now;
Gabriel says, "He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Do you see what this promise means? It means that Jesus is alive and ruling over his people at 7pm Sunday, December 2nd 2001. As the former Dutch Primer Minister Abraham Kuyper put it "There is no part of creation over which Jesus Christ does not say "Mine"!"
Do you believe that? Jesus, Son of God, Saviour, Sovereign of the world is governing just as realistically today as George W Bush or Tony Blair or Gerhard Schoeder. If Gabriel has spoken the truth, the issue in 2001, no matter where you live on this planet, is will you bow before the Kingship of Jesus? Will you obey the rule of his kingdom?
This King reigns now & he also has a future reign.
Today is traditionally called Advent Sunday. Christmas marks the 1st coming or arrival of Jesus, Advent running up to Christmas reminds us of the fact that one day Jesus will return to fully bring in his rule.
A few moments ago you may have been tempted to think, "If Jesus is ruling now, why does it not always seem like it? Well, the Kingdom of God in Jesus has begun with his life death & resurrection, though many refuse his rule & are currently given freedom to do so one day, however, at an unexpected time (12;46) Jesus will return "with power & great glory" (21;27) & all will acknowledge his rule.
Then all who are against Jesus' will be punished (19:27), all evil will be removed from God's world. Then all who have recognised his rule on earth will be fully rescued (21:28) & all creation will be transformed under his leadership.
[As we began singing this eve "Every eye shall now behold him, robed in glorious majestywho set at nought & sold himshall there true messiah see". Whereas "endless exultation" shall be the experience of his ransomed worshippers".]
What a warning for those who refuse him now & what a hope for those who accept him now!
Mary certainly received stunning news. And unlike the newspaper editor in the US hearing of the Wright brothers flight she didn't miss it's significance.
Whoever we are this eve; an experienced Christian, a Christian struggling to hold on, or perhaps someone trying to work out what Jesus is all about, we mustn't miss the significance. The news of this baby & what the angel said about him leads us to a response.
What is an appropriate response to this one who is the Son, Saviour & Sovereign?
We see it in Mary; V38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Humble submission that's the only fitting response to the Lord God & his eternal Son, the rescuing Saviour & the reigning Sovereign.
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