Luke 1:29-33 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.’”
God sends his messenger to speak to the virgin Mary in Nazareth. You can see how the fact that she was a virgin is underlined by its being stated in verse twenty-six, and repeated again in verse twenty-seven, and then Mary affirms it in verse thirty-four. She had not had union with Joseph or a Roman soldier or any boy of Nazareth. She was a virgin.
1. MARY WAS DEEPLY TROUBLED AT THE WORDS OF THE ANGEL.
Luke tells us that trouble and wonder filled Mary’s heart when she heard the message of God. That is not a popular emphasis amongst Christians today; “Once you hear the word of God you’ll be full of joy,” they say, and perhaps some are, but others are not. Wasn’t it C.S. Lewis who said that one consequence of saving grace was his becoming the most reluctant convert in England? When Mary heard the message from God’s servant “she was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” “How are you Mary? I hear God has personally spoken to you.” “If you really want to know, I feel greatly troubled.” What a testimony! We weren’t prepared for the word of God to make us feel like that. I have adapted some words of John Piper; “Grace doesn’t always come to us in attractive colours. Grace can perplex. Grace can frighten. The grace of healing may have the face of a bag of chemo and a tube running into one of your veins, or it may be a surgeon’s knife. The grace of patience may have the face of loneliness and suffering. The grace of humility may have the face of defeat. The grace of pastoring may have the face of stress. O how we need to learn from Mary not to lash out at God for the frightening forms of grace.” We often wonder at the works of God; just what will it mean that God has set his favour on us? What did it mean in April for three Turkish Christians working in a Bible distribution centre? It meant their horrible murders. What is this business of being highly favoured by God that it can leave us feeling so troubled, because there are times when it does.
Mary is mute with fear, but Gabriel knows the maelstrom of emotion that she’s in and God has told him to encourage the little girl. “Don’t be afraid, Mary.” He speaks to her by name full of concern for her, the God who does not break a bruised reed. The God who created the heavens and the earth is a personal God and one touched by the feeling of our infirmities. “Please don’t be afraid,” he says. Who are you dealing with? The infinite Lord of hosts before whom the cherubim hide their eyes and cry ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ Yet this God is concerned with the troubled heart of Mary of Nazareth. Finding favour with God doesn’t mean that there will never be times of overwhelming fear and wonder. Sometimes God gives us the wine of astonishment to drink and all our friends weep with us and for us as we’re staggering. Remember that fearful day in Job’s life when one horrendous calamity after another came crashing into his life. The favour of God doesn’t mean we’ll never wonder at what God is doing, but it does mean that God is always deeply involved at an emotional level with us. “Don’t be afraid – though you are scared stiff – you have indeed found favour with God. You really have; read my lips.” This close encounter with uncreated holiness is a time of the highest favour from God. The fearful providences we sometimes experience don’t mean that we’ve done something wrong; we have probably done something right. God judges that he can entrust us with these testings. They’re not punishment; they are often the beginnings of blessing.
Then Gabriel speaks to Mary and tells her what is going to happen to her; she is going to conceive a baby and bear a son; “You will be with child and give birth to a son” (v.31). The grammar of the phrase “be with child” can be present tense or future tense. In other words Gabriel possibly could be telling her that she was already pregnant – “you are now with child” – perhaps she was, but maybe the words were deliberately left open-ended to give time to let the extraordinary implications of his words sink into Marys’ mind and heart. In other words, Gabriel could have been overwhelmingly blunt, “You’re pregnant, Mary. You’re already bearing a son,” but he didn’t make it as stark as that, but he left her in no doubt whatsoever that imminent motherhood was God’s plan for Mary. Things would never be the same for Mary again after this encounter with God.
Certainly Gabriel didn’t plead for her to ‘please co-operate with God.’ It was never a question as to whether she’d agree to God’s favour and carry this child. The angels in heaven weren’t waiting on tip-toe to see whether or not Mary would go ahead and allow the conception to take place! There was no breathless wondering hush as the angel’s words hung in the air – “How will Mary jump?” Not at all! The coming of Christ and cosmic redemption and the new heavens and earth do not all hang on the alleged free will of Mary. It was a day of God’s power and so very effectually he made her willing to receive his word with thanksgiving – “My soul doth magnify the Lord!” Five minutes earlier her life was filled with all the details of surviving with her family in Nazareth. It would never be carefree in that way again, and Mary would have it no other way.
2. MARY IS TOLD FIVE THINGS ABOUT THE CHILD TO BE BORN.
i] Mary is told what her son’s name is to be.
“You are to give him the name Jesus” (v.31). Once again God has chosen the name of the boy to be born and simply informed the parent. The name ‘Jesus’ was a little later confirmed by the angel to Mary’s husband Joseph in Matthew chapter one and verse twenty-one, “you are to give him the name Jesus,” identical words to those already given to Mary, so there can be no mistake and no subsequent difference of opinion between husband and wife over the choice of name for their firstborn; neither of the fathers of Joseph and of Mary were to be commemorated in the naming of the child; ‘Jesus’ he will be called. This is the first time in Luke’s gospel for the name ‘Jesus’ to occur, but thereafter it will appear again and again in its 24 chapters, about 215 times all told, about nine times in every single chapter, and for two thousand years how sweetly the name of ‘Jesus’ will sound in believers’ ears, and it shall be so for ever and ever. This was God’s own choice of his eternal name.
Yet we have to remember that the name ‘Jesus’ was a common name amongst the Israelites. It occurs in the Old Testament in no fewer than four forms such as ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jehoshua’ and ‘Jeshua.’ In our Lord’s days there were many others called ‘Jesus.” There is actually a Christian with this name mentioned in Colossians chapter four and verse eleven, but since the beginning of the second century Christians ceased giving their children the name of their God. This name belonged to Jesus of Nazareth alone. The name means something like ‘Deliverer,’ ‘Saviour,’ ‘the Lord saves,’ or in the Old Testament ‘Jehovah is salvation.’ When Joseph was told that this was to be the baby’s name he was also given an explanation of the divine choice, “for he shall save his people from their sin.” The specific evil from which the bearer of this name will deliver his people is their wickedness. In other words Jesus is presented immediately to us as a spiritual Redeemer. He was not born of Mary for the reformation of Israel or to free his country from political slavery, but to deliver a people from their sin. Soon he is also to be called the Christ or the Messiah, in other words he is the anointed Jesus. While his work is to save, the endowment he receives to do this work is an anointing from God. He is the Anointed Jesus of Nazareth.
Before Gabriel speaks to Mary of Christ’s greatness and his royal dominion he wants her to know of the name her son shall bear, ‘Jesus.’ This is a divine name; it does not emphasise the humanity of Christ. The place-name ‘Nazareth’ emphasizes his humanity. ‘Saviour’ is a divine title; “Look unto me and be saved all the ends of the earth for I am God and there is none else.” Only God can save from their sin any person anywhere – to the very ends of the earth. No preacher; no baptism; no hands of a bishop on your head; no kneeling at an altar, no swallowing a wafer, no giving your body to be burned, no living on top of a pole for twenty years can effect deliverance from sin. God must save, and God alone, and that God has come in his Son whose name is Jesus. You know how people’s names in the Bible often had a special significance; they summed up the ministries and characters of the men who bore them. The name of the great prophet Elijah, who battled with the prophets of Baal, means ‘My God is Jehovah.’ Mary’s boy child was given this glorious name ‘Saviour’, and all the greatness and dignity of her son was going to be used in the work of redemption.
Remember the words of Peter in Act chapter four and verse twelve, “there is none other name under heaven given amongst men by which we must be saved.” How Peter stresses by an accumulation of phrases the utter exclusiveness of Jesus’ power to save. As Warfield points out, “First of all, there is the redoubled assertion: ‘in none other is there salvation,’ and then again that no one might miss it, ‘there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.’ Then there is the heaping up of clauses, in almost superfluous reiteration of the absoluteness of the exclusion of all but Jesus from the power of saving: ‘there is none other,’ there is ‘no other name,’ ‘under heaven,’ ‘given among men’ – as if it should be said, ‘Seek wherever men can be found, search to the utmost limits of the encanopying sky, – nowhere among men, nowhere under the stretch of heaven’s roof, will you find a whisper of another name in which salvation can be found.’
“And then, at last, there is the curious turn given to the phrase, ‘by which we must be saved.’ We weaken it vastly in our careless current reproductions of it, saying, ‘neither is there any other name under heaven given among men wherein we may be saved, -wherein we can be saved.’ Peter does not so phrase it. He says, ‘by which we must be saved.’ The accent of necessity is in it. It is not merely that we may be saved by Jesus, or that we can be saved by Jesus; but, if we be saved at all, it must be in him that we are saved. There is no possibility otherwise or elsewhere. And with the emergence of this vigorous ‘must’ at the end of the sentence the last hammer falls, the last rivet is clinched, and the last band of steel is fixed around this tremendous assertion of the exclusiveness of salvation in Jesus Christ alone” (B.B.Warfield, The Saviour of the World, Banner of Truth reprint, 1991, p.53).
The name of Jesus was inexpressibly precious to Peter, and it was inexpressibly precious to him because it was the saving name, the only saving name to the ends of the earth. Jesus’ unique office as the Saviour of sinners filled Peter as it fills us with unutterable joy. We have heard the joyful sound – Jesus saves! To sin-stricken men and despairing women there is no greater message, and what Peter declares is the same message that all the writers of the New Testament preached. To them all the gospel was Jesus himself, and where Jesus is not present the gospel is also absent. Salvation is found in Jesus only.
Why was Christianity singled out for violent and relentless persecution? In the liberal Greek world Theophilus (for whom Luke is writing this gospel) knew that the city of Athens was filled with temples, idols and gods as was every town and city in Greece. Why couldn’t Christianity find its own niche in such a religious world? The answer of course is that Jesus Christ couldn’t be considered as one among many gods, and following him was not one option among many competing lifestyles. He proclaimed himself to be the only Saviour and the only way to God. “No man comes to the Father but by me,” he said. It brought the early church ridicule and today the claim brings us contempt. It still has to draw persecution and fury as we wave before the watching world this banner with the words “Jesus Only” written upon it.
ii] Mary is told that he “will be called the Son of the Most High” (v.32)
All these titles that Gabriel announces distinguish Jesus, and this one is no different from the others, in other words, he is not the Son of the Most High in the same way as all his disciples are called “the sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). Gabriel is not merely pointing out to Mary that her baby is going to be like all the rest, as people claim erroneously today, “we’re all sons of God.” Let me quote to you the testimony of a demon inhabiting a man who was approached by the Lord Jesus and so was filled with terror. Luke chapter eight and verse twenty eight, “What have you to do with me, Jesus Son of the Most High? I beseech you, do not torment me.” That demon, like all his fellow demons, and Beelzebub himself, acknowledges that Jesus’ sonship is not like ours. He is God the Son, and so has both right and power to cast into the torments of the lake of fire all the hosts of hell. That authority is not yours nor is it mine; it belongs to the Son of the Most High alone.
The Most High has a Son, and do you understand the tremendous implications of that? I have often told you that our sons are all we are, exactly! I am not referring to their superficial likenesses such as the colour of their eyes and their stature whereby they seem like us in appearance, but in their very essence as human beings they are us in our solidarity as men. Are my daughters or your sons merely 90% human? When fathers stand in the maternity ward handing out their cigars and talking of the safe arrival of their sons does one boast to another that his child is 95% human, only to become crestfallen when another new father crows that his son is 98% human? No, never. Every son is 100 per cent human, he has a human body and a human soul and spirit, a human brain, a human conscience and the things of the law are written on his human heart, and he is made in the image and likeness of God. That is true for every single son of every single father. A son is everything his father is whether he is a genius or a handicapped child.
So the Most High has a Son and all that his Father is so is he! Jesus is as divine as God. His Father is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, and so is he. The Son is everything the Father is. He has deity; he has godhead; whatever constitutes divinity the Son has it. Whatever the Father is then the Son is that too. He has every single perfection of the Father; every attribute and characteristic of the Father the Son has it also. As the Son of the Most High he is almighty, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnicompetent. All those great words of theology we have to apply them to the Son if we apply them at all to the Father. He has the form of God, the image of God, the nature of God, the being of God, the names of God and all the prerogatives of God. He is the Lord of angels and is worshipped by them as much as they worship his Father. He performs all the functions of God. The Son of the Most High was the Maker of the heavens and the earth in the beginning. Without him was not anything made that was made. He is the working God, the involved God, the supervising God. He is not like his Father – as people say of one of our children that he is a ‘chip off the old block’, ‘just like his father.’ Jesus is not like God at all, he is God. He has the same nature as his Father, and the same essence, and the same being, and the same name, God.
So Gabriel worshipped him, and we worship Jesus too. My mind believes that he is the Son of the Most High; my heart believes it, and the moment I believe it my knees bend and my head bows, and I fall before the Son of the Most High. That moment I become his slave. I worship him and adore him. O for grace to love him more. I break forth into doxology, into wonder, love and praise. It is enough for me that Jesus is the Son of the Most High; then I surrender all to him. That is the supreme blessedness of Jesus Christ. I don’t insist on more than that before I serve him. I don’t say, “Well, make the hairs on the back of my head stand on end. Cover me with goose pimples, give me an electric current running up and down my spine, make me weep and laugh and dance and then I might condescend to bow. No. The moment I am told by a messenger from heaven that Jesus is the Son of the Most High I have to worship him. The moment I know that he is all that God is I must fall before him and cry, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.”
Think of all that glory that was hidden in a bump in a pregnant teenager. Our God contracted to a span! Consider that divine glory veiled in a baby sleeping in a feed trough in a manger in a stable. Think of it obscured by poverty, by being a refugee, by the Nazareth years, weariness, homelessness, powerlessness, friendlessness, pain, sorrow, crucifixion and death. Who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall? Who is he on yonder tree dies in shame and agony? ‘Tis the Lord O wondrous story. ‘Tis the Lord the King of Glory. ‘Tis the Son of the Most High.
iii] Mary is told that the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.
What was Gabriel now telling Mary? That her son was going to be the Messiah and the King of the Jews. To us these words may not be the most spectacular of the prophecies in our text but for Mary the words would be incredible – her son to be the Messiah? Her son to be great David’s promised son? The words of Gabriel were in fact announcing the fulfillment of a prophecy that had been made to David in the second book of Samuel. The prophet Nathan had been the spokesman for God on that occasion and as he spoke to David the Lord addressed these words to the king, “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever” (2 Sam. 7:12-16)
Notice three little similarities between these words to David and what Gabriel said here to Mary. Firstly, how the Lord Jesus is said to have David as his father both here in Luke and also in 2 Samuel. Then see also how Jesus is called Son of the Most High here in Luke while back in 2 Samuel God said of this Davidic king, “I will be his father and he shall be my son.” And finally notice how in Luke God’s messenger says that Jesus’ kingdom will have no end, while in 2 Samuel God’s messenger prophesied that the throne of the Messiah’s kingdom would endure forever. But notice one difference, that when God addressed the line of David he warned them that if the king on the throne did wrong God would punish him, but the Lord would still be faithful to the line of David. So king after king did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord and judgment came upon them and on the land. Our Saviour, however, did no wrong. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. How do we be sure of that? Didn’t Jesus have bad thoughts as we all do? No. We can ultimately be sure of Jesus’ perfection because of the resurrection. That was the great sign of the divine vindication of Jesus. God was saying by the empty tomb, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and there he exalted Jesus to sit on David’s throne for ever in heaven.
Let me give you further proof of the correctness of my interpretation in some words of Peter which he declares when preaching in Jerusalem at Pentecost. The coronation of King Jesus as prophesied by David is so important that it is referred to during the great Pentecost sermon used by God to convert 3,000 men. In Acts 2:30 he says to his fellow Jews so very clearly: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” Peter considered the resurrection and the ascension of Christ as the moment when Jesus assumed the throne of his father David. It was Christ’s investiture, beginning his reign of grace as the God-man. So the great prophecies of Isaiah was fulfilled, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder . . . And of the increase of his government and of his peace there will be no end, upon 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.” (Is. 9:6&7). The kingdom will spread from shore to shore. As Isaiah again prophesied, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” (Is. 11:10).
iv] Mary is told that her son’s kingdom will never fail.
“He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end” (v.33). Over whose house will he reign? The house of sinners. The house of Jacob the trickster and fraudster and deceiver. Jacobe was a sinner, but God makes himself known as the God of Jacob, and over his house he has set his Son to reign for ever. Are we even beginning to believe the implications of that word ‘reign’? It means that today in early June 2007 Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ is alive and has real authority over the whole world. He is governing just as really as President Bush is governing in the USA, and Mr. Putin presides over Russia. Tony Blair is coming to the end of his ten years in the United Kingdom, but Christ’s real reign will know no end. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He sits in the midst of the throne of God and does whatsoever he pleases. Everything is working according to his purposes. Not only Gabriel and all the angels who fly to do his bidding, or the saints in heaven who cast their crown before him lost in wonder love and praise. Not even the church militant here on earth fighting a good fight of faith and seeking fresh supplies of energy to serve him fully day by day, but our great King makes even the wrath of sinners be to his praise. The old Serpent and his angels are all engaged in this matter. That’s not their purpose. No, they think they are destroying the church but it is God’s work they are carrying on. When they crucified the Lord they had no idea that it was God’s purpose that his Son must die that death to save his people from their sin.
All the events that take place are under the reign of Christ. No loose cannon is allowed to disrupt and destroy our lives while Jesus merely looks on wringing his hands helplessly. Everything is under his control and all must work for your good. Every illness and heartache you endure, every loss you may meet with, every reproach you suffer, every shame that colours your face red, every sorrow in your hearts, every agony in your body, all the aching of your joints, every breakdown, and all your failures are decreed by this glorious King. Every change that you meet, fine weather and stormy weather, summer days and winter blasts, your ebbing and flowing, the energy of youth and the limping of old age, your liberty and your confinement are all traced upon our dials by the true Sun King. What blessings come to us from the reign of Jesus. What a harvest of blessing comes from this fact. He rules over heaven; he rules over the earth; he rules over the things under the earth. He is head over all things for the church. What could our King have seen in us to choose to become our Sovereign Protector?
It means that nothing can ever happen, however vast, however terrible, however dreadful, – nothing I say can ever happen that can shake the rule of Mary’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Our chief possession as believers lies there in that kingdom. There is our treasure and there will be our hearts also. If that kingdom is secure then all is safe. The lips of our blessed Lord once spoke these words, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the kingdom of God. Therefore whatever may be threatened, our highest, our best, our most vital interests are safe. If the very worst happens to a Christian, what then? If his life is taken away he is translated to be for ever with the Lord. You see, the Christian’s enemies cannot finally destroy him. When they’ve taken his life, they’ve not finished off Mr. Christian. They’ve simply finished with what they can do, but they’ve not finished him.
Men and women, the devil may roar but he cannot win. I would remark that Christian courage and fearlessness is a very profitable matter in every practical way. When men are frightened they tend to act in haste, and when they act in haste they can make big mistakes. When a man patiently knows that Christ is in control he doesn’t usually rush into folly. How calm Mary is in the opening chapter of Luke. Many absurd acts have been done under the influence of panic. How valuable in the hour of crisis is “presence of mind” trust, ability to weigh up the situation and handle it and act accordingly. Men and women, the very best “presence of mind” flows from the knowledge that we are under the rule of King Jesus and that rule will never end. Lose your head and you have lost the battle, lose your heart and you have lost everything. Oh to lay hold of the Isaac Watts’ confidence:
“Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run.
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore till moons shall wax and wane no more.”
Confidence in God leads to courage in life. We don’t know what awaits us in the coming days but we do know that God is with his people, and for that to be of value to us we need to know God as our living King. Then we shall not fear. As we read the book of the Revelation we know beyond dispute that the day is coming in which all things shall be shaken. We know that the glories of earth and its treasures will all melt away. We know that the very stars will fall from heaven. We know that terrible things are to come, but even then we will not fear since our God will be in complete charge. Oh men and women, some people live on fear, some people seem to be constantly looking for something to be afraid of. That is not the Christian point of view. That is not the way that Christians should anticipate this unknown future. The Christian view is given us in the words of the apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, “Whether we wake or sleep” (whether we live or die) “we are the Lord’s.” I know no softer pillow at night for anybody than that. If we die we shall be for ever with the Lord and to be with him is to be beyond the reach of all fear. The day will come when the trumpet will sound and the dead shall rise. The Lord’s children have no fear of the resurrection. They are secure in Christ. They have resources that the world knows nothing of and with those resources, they can go into the unknown future.
v] Mary is told that her son will be great.
We return to the beginning of verse thirty-two; “he will be great” and we have been describing to you in all the angel proceeds to say how Christ will certainly be great. He will be great in the journey he makes to that throne. Its climax would be his battle on Golgotha where the powers of darkness were defeated and the penalty for sin paid. As we look at that cross we say, ‘He shall be great.’
He will be great by his majestic resurrection, when on the third day he rose from the dead, having defeated the power of the grave. What a great triumph! He will be great in his exaltation to the throne of God, preserving his church through troubled times, answering the prayers of his dependant people, conquering sinners by the story of his love. He will be great when he returns the second time, to raise his people from the dead, and bring them into the new world. He will be great when he renews the sin-cursed universe before the wondering eyes of the redeemed and brings them into their eternal inheritance. He will be great in the songs of the redeemed as they know more and more of the fullness of God and as they experience in their hearts the increasing depths of his love, joy and peace.
But Jesus Christ won’t only be great in those general ways in the world to come, but he will be great day by day in the lives of all of us who are his people. As we face the most painful providences and are uncertain about the future, we must say to ourselves, ‘He will do great things for me and I shall be glad. He is able to bring good out of this trouble.’ As we look at situations about which we have prayed so often, we can remind ourselves that he is great in wisdom and power and he knows best when to answer our prayers. When we are concerned about the church and its prospects, we recall that the great helmsman of the church is a mighty Saviour. When we come to die, we can remind ourselves that he will be great in our resurrection and comfort ourselves with the certainty of that event, and until then he will provide for us in heaven.
Some of us are still unconverted, and you need to remember that Jesus will be great on the Day of Judgment. His great power will be seen in the perfect justice with which he judges the world and the condemnation he hands out. He has created; he can also destroy. Yet he would rather show his greatness in your salvation. In the name of the Great Son of the Most High I urge you to be saved!
3rd June 2007 GEOFF THOMAS