RPM, Volume 17, Number 35, August 23 to August 29, 2015

Announcing the Lord's Coming

Luke 1:26-56

By D. Marion Clark


The last judge of Israel was Samuel. His mother, Hannah, had been barren. Finally, the Lord answered her prayers and granted her a son who was named Samuel. In gratefulness, she "lent him to the Lord," letting him grow up under the service of Eli, the priest of the Tabernacle. Samuel became judge over Israel, and eventually anointed the first king to rule over the land — Saul. Saul turned out to be a poor ruler and was rejected by God. But the second king…he was special. God sent Samuel to the small town of Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Though Samuel thought God's chosen would be the oldest son, he turned out to be the youngest (eight in all). As God told Samuel concerning the oldest, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. 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). Indeed, David was chosen as a man after God's own heart.

Years later, after David's throne had been established and the ark of God brought to Jerusalem, God sent the prophet Nathan with a message. He made a covenant with David, to make his name great and to establish his line on the throne of Israel. As he said, "And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:16).

All did not go according to expectation, at least those of David. Because of his own sins and those of his succeeding sons, there would be trouble. Israel would split into two kingdoms. David's house continued on the throne of the southern kingdom Judah, but their reigns were marked sometimes by righteousness and sometimes by wickedness. Eventually the northern and then the southern kingdom would be brought down. After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. there was no king to sit over a sovereign nation.

Despite this troubled progression of lineage, God's promise to David remained alive in the hopes and imagination of the Jewish people. For the promise of steadfast love to God's covenant people was intimately connected with his promise to David to keep on Israel's throne an anointed king from David's house. They hoped some day that one the anointed kings would be The Anointed. Do you know the Hebrew word for "anointed"? It is "masah" or "messiah." From David's line was to come the Messiah.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken (Ezekiel 34:22-24).

The day came when God sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Zechariah that his wife would bear a son who would be the Elijah foretold to return and prepare the way for the Messiah. Six months later he sends Gabriel to Elizabeth's cousin Mary to announce that she will give birth to that very Messiah.


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.

The same angel who appeared to Zechariah now appears about six months later to Mary. She is a young woman, probably about sixteen, who is betrothed (engaged) to Joseph. Unlike our modern engagement period, which has no legal significance, a betrothal was a legally binding contract. Their pending marriage most likely had been arranged by their parents. Mary's future is preset. She will fulfill the traditional role of a peasant wife and mother in a rural town of a territory far away from Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture.

Note the only characteristic mentioned about her fiancée Joseph. He is a descendent of David. For him, it is a nice little distinction to be able to claim, but it carries no outward advantage. He is a carpenter; fine work to do, but one that also marks him as belonging to the lower social and financial class.

28And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He 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, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Note first of all of what the angel says to Mary about her. She is address as "favored one," that is, she is favored by God. Again, he tells her that she has "found favor with God." This word for "favor" is the same for "grace." Mary is favored in that God has blessed her with his grace. The Lord, as Gabriel says, is with her. Indeed, this will take place literally when she becomes "with child."

Now note what the angel says about the child. His name will be Jesus; the Hebrew form is Joshua, which means "Yahweh saves." Then did you catch the statement, "the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David"? He is Jeremiah's Branch of David, Ezekiel's Shepherd Prince, and Isaiah's Son upon whose shoulders will rest the government of God's people. But the wonder of the nature of this child grows even greater.

34And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
35And 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 verse 32, the child is called "the Son of the Most High." He is no less the very Son of God. How much Mary understood, I don't know, but we now know that the angel meant no less than God the Son. See all three persons of the Trinity here. The Holy Spirit will effect the conception, bringing together two natures in one person so that the Son will possess fully his Godhood and his manhood. The power of the Most High (God the Father) will be involved. The mystery of the Trinity creates the mystery of the God-man, the Son of God who is fully divine taking on full manhood. Truly, this is mystery of mystery! This is the true magic of Christmas!

36And 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. 37For nothing will be impossible with God." 38And 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.

Consider now Mary's response to the angel Gabriel. How different she is from Zechariah. Think about this. Zechariah had prayed for a son. An angel meets him face to face and says that his prayers have been answered. What is Zechariah's response? "Prove it to me." Mary has not been praying for a child. The news of becoming pregnant would not have been a welcomed message. Her only question is how the pregnancy would come about considering that she was a virgin. That is a reasonable question. The answer is anything but reasonable, indeed, far beyond her wildest fantasy. And yet she replies with the perfect answer: "Whatever the Lord wants; I am his servant." Truly, God's grace was upon this young woman that she should possess such a purity of spirit.

God's grace was upon an older woman as well — her cousin Elizabeth.

39In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

We noted last week that Elizabeth's focus was on her own pregnancy. She rightfully rejoiced that the Lord had taken away her "reproach among people." Even so, her focus was shortsighted, for the greater news was who her son was — the Elijah sent to prepare the way for the Lord. But now we see her grasping this deeper, fuller knowledge.

Note how it happens. Her baby leaps in her womb. The first person that he points out the Messiah to is his own mother even before he can speak. Sometimes a kick is as good as a word! We see here the fulfillment of Gabriel's words: "he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (v. 15).

But Elizabeth also becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and turns into a prophetess. Three times she pronounces blessing, really, four times. The first is upon Mary that she is the mother of "my Lord." The second is upon her Lord, the "fruit of Mary's womb." The third is upon herself: "why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" She recognizes a greater blessing than a visit from her cousin who also is going to have a baby. She understands now the greater blessing of being in the presence of her Lord and his mother; and she understands now the blessing of who the child inside her is. It was not a coincident that he leaped at the moment of Mary's greeting. She bears Elijah who prepares the way of the Lord.

And then, mark the second blessing on Mary. This time it is for something notable about Mary herself: "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Blessed is Mary for believing (and not doubting as did her husband). I am reminded of the words Jesus said in response to Thomas after his appearance from the dead: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). And of Elizabeth I am reminded of what Jesus said to Peter when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, i.e. the Messiah. "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). Blessed is Elizabeth for true knowledge.

We then are given one of the most beautiful songs of praise in the Bible. Follow Mary's profound song of doxology. First, she praises God for his goodness to her.

46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

The blessing pronounced by Elizabeth moves her to see the blessing pronounced by future generations. Note what she picks up on, which will become the expanded theme of the song — God looks on her humble estate. That is, God raises her up from her humble estate and bestows blessing. Follow this theme.

50And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.

God's blessings now extend beyond Mary. By God's strength he brings down the mighty and exalts the humble. He fills the hungry and turns away the rich. It is not that God favors weaklings over strong people or poor over hungry, but that he favors those who fear him over those who are proud. Zechariah and Elizabeth were humble God-fearers, as was Mary. To such, God shows his mercy; whereas, to those who are arrogant and who spurn him, he brings them down.

Now comes the conclusion:

54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

God has shown mercy to the humble estate of Mary. He shows mercy to the humble, and he is about to show mercy to the humble estate of Israel through sending the long-awaited Messiah. Why does he help Israel? Because of the covenant that he had made out of mercy with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God does not forget his promises, even to a people who forgot theirs and proved themselves unworthy. God's mercy remains forever.

56And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.


Our lesson last week rose out of what the two main characters failed to grasp. Today, we would do well to learn from the profound insight of these two women — Mary and Elizabeth.

Listen again to Mary's response to mystery that she could not fully understand and to the role that she was to play: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

In her answer lies the key to human contentment and happiness. We spoke last week of our discontentment when trials arise, because, instead of looking at the big picture of God's redemption being played out, we think only about ourselves. Mary, as her song indicates, did look at the big picture, but maybe even better, she looked at her Lord. She is a servant of the Lord. She is in his hands; she lives for his glory. What more does she need to know when she knows him?

Bear a son out of wedlock? Okay. Bear the Son of God? If that is the will of God. What matters is to be in his will, to do his bidding. For that is the purpose of a servant — to serve one's master. And it is a delight to serve the Master whose will is moved by mercy and whose mercy is made certain in promises that cannot fail.

Can you say, "Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to his will"? That is what our Lord said to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not my will but yours be done." Such an attitude led to his achieving the greatest of all victories — the victory of redemption. What can you achieve if you have the same attitude as Mary? What can you achieve if you know your Lord, as Mary knew hers?

And then Elizabeth. Note again what she discerned about Mary: "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

Elizabeth discerned the single act that mattered — Mary believed her Lord.

Where the priest Zechariah, who had walked many years in righteous living, was found wanting — unflinching faith — the young woman Mary was found rock solid. It brings to mind Jesus' words that to those who have the faith of a child that the kingdom of God belongs. Mary was more than a servant of the Lord; she was his child, and she gave to her Father what every father desires most of all from his child — belief in him to know what is best and to do what is best.

Do you want to give a good gift to your Father in heaven and to your Savior Lord? Then believe and trust in your Lord. If you have never done so, what better time than now in this Christmas season to do so? If you are a believer in Christ, what better time than now than to turn over whatever trial you may be going through and say to him, "I am your servant; let it be according to your will"?

Is such a gift too hard to give? Then ask your Father to give the gift of faith. What better time than Christmas to receive such a blessed gift?

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