Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reformed Wisdom

John Calvin on John 1:13 --

"Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed — that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them."

Monday, December 29, 2014

"In the Beginning" Sermon: John 1:1-5

“In the Beginning”

[John 1:1-5]

December 28, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            With the help of God, we are beginning a look at the Gospel of John this morning.

            John begins his Gospel, “In the beginning.”

            Does that phrase ring any bells for us?  Did John begin his Gospel in this way to remind us of something – to get us to think of something else?

            The use of this beginning is not an accident, but the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Who, at the very opening of this Gospel wants us to remember something:

            Genesis 1:1-2:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV).

            Near the end of John’s Gospel, he tells his readers – us – why he wrote his Gospel:  “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV).

            John wrote his Gospel that we would believe thatJesus is the Christ – the Messiah – the Savior that God sent, and that He is the Son of God – that He is One of the Divine Persons of God, and that by believing in Jesus, the Incarnate God, we might have salvation through Him – true and eternal life.

            We need to keep that in mind as we go through the Gospel of John – everything that John wrote was so his readers would be convinced that God came to earth in the person of Jesus – God with us – the Only Savior – and would believe in Him savingly.

            And he purposefully begins his Gospel with the words, ‘in the beginning,” so we would be reminded of the opening words of Genesis.  He wants us to remember something – to understand something right from the beginning of his Gospel.

            Again:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV).

            So, what is Moses telling us that John wants us to remember?

            First, all the created stuff has a beginning. The Creation does not have an eternal past.   Time and space and creatures and all the stuff that exists began at a certain time.

            Second, God existed before space and time and creatures and all the created stuff came into existence.  There was a time before creation when there was only God.

            And third, God existed with God the Holy Spirit before anything else existed.  (We’ll learn more about God the Holy Spirit as we go through the Gospel of John, but, let us just note that Moses records that He was before the Creation was called into being.)
            
            So there was a time, so to speak, before the creation, when there was God and God the Holy Spirit – a time when there was only God Alone

OK?

With that in mind, John continues:
            
             “In the beginning was the Word,”
       
              John tells us, first, this morning, that the Word existed before the beginning.  In the time when there was only God Alone, the Word was there.
     
              And we quickly move on:

“and the Word was with God,”

Second, the Word is distinct from God.  Just as we see in the opening words of Genesis that there is God and God the Holy Spirit, we see that there is also the Word.

“and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”

Third, the Word is God and was with God from before all things.

Now, so there is no confusion, as we go on in the text of John, he explains that the Word is God the Son, Who incarnate in the person of Jesus.

And so, we have the Doctrine of the Trinity presented in the opening words of John:  there is One God, and God exists in Three Persons, simultaneously, while remaining One God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This truth is outlined very carefully in The Athanasian Creed, and I encourage you to turn to it in the pink book in the pew.  I am going to read the first section of the creed for us, and it may help for us to look at the words as I read them:

“1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith;

“2. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

“3. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

“4. Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

“5. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

“6. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

“7. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.

“8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

“9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

“10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.

“11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.

“12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

“13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.

“14. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

“15. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God;

“16. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

“17. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord;

“18. And yet they are not three Lords but one Lord.

“19. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;

“20. So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.

“21. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten.

“22. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten.

“23. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

“24. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits.

“25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.

“26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.

“27. So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

“28. He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity” (https://www.ccel.org/creeds/athanasian.creed.html).

John wants his readers to begin with the understanding that there is only One God.  And before the Creation, only God existed Alone.  And God exists in Three Persons:  Father, Son (the Word), and Holy Spirit.  The Persons are distinct, but They are the same One God.

John wants his readers to understand that Jesus the Savior is both fully human and fully divine, and the Savior had to be to be able to save all those who would believe.  (We’ll see more about this as we go along.)

John did not want his readers to be confused and think that there was more than One God, or to think that the Father or the Spirit incarnate in the person of Jesus.  And he wanted his readers to understand that all Three Persons of the Godhead function in all things, at the same time, but with different emphases.

As he continues:

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Fourth, everything that is was created through the Word.

As we put this together with Genesis, we have God the Father creating everything that is, through God the Word, superintended over by God the Holy Spirit.  All Three Persons of the Trinity created everything that is.  The One God created everything that is.

Paul tells us, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:15-20, ESV).

Paul affirms what John is arguing – that the Son of God created everything that is, and adds that He sustains their existence as well.

Now, since we have brought this passage in, we need to note that our Mormon friends and our Jehovah’s Witness friends will use this text to deny everything we have just said.  They argue that this proves that the Word – the Son – is not the One God, but the first creation of the One God – since Paul writes that He is “the firstborn of all creation.”

We don’t have time this morning to launch a thorough argument against these heretical religions, but let us just note that Paul continues by saying that the Son is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”  The point that Paul is making is not that the Son is a created being, but that the Son is the highest ranking being – and that is because He is the One God.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Fifth, the Word – the Son of God – is the Giver of Life.

All things that have life were given life by God.  As Paul said just a moment ago – all things were created through the Son and He sustains them.  We have life because God willed us to life, and we continue to live, because God keeps us living.

Paul explains:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’  Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:22b-34, ESV).

Paul quotes the Greek poets and says that they got it right – in God we live and move and have our being.  God – this God Who came to earth in the human person of Jesus – is the God Who gives us life and being and allows us to continue to live.

And not only physical life, but spiritual life – for the Word is the Light.  We are enlightened by God in the Son.  It is only when the darkness of sin and disbelief are expelled from us that we can believe and receive Jesus as our God and Savior.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

So, fifth, the Word is the Giver of Light.

As Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6b, ESV).

            In other words:  it is absolutely impossible to come to God – to be right with God – except through Jesus Alone. 

            Jesus claims to be the Light out of the darkness, the Way to the Father – and He says there is no other Way – there is no other Light that will expel the darkness.

            So when people say they believe there are many roads to God – or that we all believe in the same God – Jesus is saying, “No.”  We either believe in Jesus – and thus we know God and are made right with Him, or we do not – there is no other way.

            The darkness that Jesus expels – the darkness that cannot overcome the Light – is sin and all of its results.

            Consider a dark room – flip on the light, and what happens?  The darkness cannot overcome it – it flees away.

            When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” He does not mean that only some people come, He does not mean that only a few people come, He does not mean that only sincere people who seek really hard come – He means “no one.”

            We live in a time when a so-called “tolerance” is at a premium.  We are told that it is wrong to say that anyone is wrong.  We are told that the truth is that everyone’s “truth” is right.  Everyone should be on the team.  Everyone should get an award.  The only thing that we should not stand for is someone saying, “this is the only truth.”  But that’s what Jesus says – He is the One Light Who the darkness cannot overcome, because He is God the Word.

            John said he wrote his Gospelso that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV).

            To begin, John tells us that there is One God, and He exists in Three Persons:  the Father, the Son – the Word, and the Holy Spirit.

            As God, the Son created everything that is – just as did the Father and the Holy Spirit.

            The Son is distinct from the Father, as is the Holy Spirit, but They are the Same One God.

            Physical and spiritual life are given to us by God the Son, and there is no way to be right with the Father except through the Son.

            This is where we begin – understanding that the Scripture teaches that God is a Trinity – One God in Three Persons.  God is One Being, but carries out His Will in Three Persons.  The Son – the Word – is the Only Way to salvation.  God the Son became a human being on that first Christmas to be the Only Way of salvation.

            Ponder these things and understand that it cannot be true that both Jesus is the Only Way of salvation and there are many ways to salvation.

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we hear Your Word tells us that there is One God, and the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.  We understand that John is showing us that Jesus – the Word – is God – and human – and must be for Him to be our Savior.  Help us to hold these things in our mind and stand for Jesus as the Only Life and Light.  For it is in the Name of the Only Savior, our God, the Son, we pray, Amen.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sunday's Sermon

Where shall we go after the book of Philippians and the traditional Christmas texts?  It seems good to the Holy Spirit and me to move to the book of John.  With that in mind, D.V., I will begin preaching on John this Sunday:

12/28/14
 John 1:1-5  "In the Beginning"

May God be pleased to use our hearing of His Word preached, through the application of the Spirit, for His Glory, and for our joy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Good News of Great Joy" Sermon: Luke 2:1-14

“Good News of Great Joy”

[Luke 2:1-14]

December 24, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            The angel, Gabriel, had come to Mary and announced that she would give birth to the Promised Savior – that God Himself would cause her to become pregnant – as a virgin – and bear the Incarnate Son of God.  And they lived in Nazareth in Galilee.

            The problem was that the prophet, Micah, said that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem in Judah:  “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV).

            If the birth of Jesus was a conspiracy, Mary and Joseph would have to have found a reason to move that wouldn’t be questioned, so the Baby would be born in Bethlehem.  But it was not a conspiracy, and, as Daniel said, God moves men and nations to suit his purposes:  “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.  He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).

            And so we read:

            “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

            This is the Hand of God – the Hand of Divine Providence – that moves all of history to accomplish God’s purposes.  God has not left us to our own devices, but is intimately involved in everything that happens – even in seemingly small things – like guiding a pagan nation to conduct a census which would make Mary and Joseph move to Bethlehem – where the Christ-Child was prophesied to be born.

            As we read through the Bible, we see God moving all things to bring His plan to the end for which He intends.  God moved you and me to be here this evening – God is moving in our lives right now to accomplish His purposes.  Have you ever looked back at your life and thought, “If I hadn’t done this, I would have gone here, and this wouldn’t have happened, and I wouldn’t have the result I do now”?

            Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).  If we love God, if we are called according to His purposes – all things are working together for our ultimate good.

            The nation of Israel was conquered by the Roman Empire, and they decided to take a census, which sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, so the prophecy of the birthplace of the Savior would come to pass – for our ultimate good.

            That is not to say that everything that ever happens to us, we would consider “good,” or that we will enjoy every step along the way – we know that’s not true.  There is pain and suffering in the world and in our lives – for sin, as the result of sin, and for our discipline.  But – ultimately – all things are working together for the good of we who believe in the Savior – who love God – who are called according to His purposes.

            And, so, for the good of all those who  love God and are called according to His purposes, God sent the Roman Empire to conquer Israel and to have Quirinius call for a census which would send Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy of the birth of the Savior.

            At the time that Mary was giving birth to Jesus, we read:

            “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.”     

Shepherds – those filthy, smelly people, whose word was almost as unreliable as women’s – so the culture said – were out in the fields with their sheep – they were out doing their job.  And suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared and the sky filled with the Glory of the Lord, and they were terrified.

            Rightly so, don’t you think?

            Not just because seeing an angel appear was a frightening event – not just because he appeared suddenly – not just because they wouldn’t have known if the angel came to kill them or bring them news or something else – but because the Glory of the Lord filled the sky – that Glory which caused the prophet Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV).

            Isaiah’s response is telling – the Glory of the Lord – the Holiness of God – causes the Creation to shake – and it causes those who have committed rebellion against God to shake in fear.  As Daniel said just a minute ago – God dwells in light, and He knows what is in the darkness.  The darkness runs and hides from the light, and humans with darkness – with sin – in them – cry out in fear.
            
             But the angel quickly comforted them:

“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

What is “good news of great joy?”

If you were a millionaire and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be of great joy, because you already have so much.

On the other hand, if you were unemployed and you won a thousand dollars, it would be good news, and a great joy.

Similarly, if you were a millionaire and lost a thousand dollars, it would be bad news, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a great disaster.

But, if you were unemployed, and you got a bill for a thousand dollars, that would be bad news, and a great disaster.

So, the goodness of the news and the greatness of the joy relates to the badness of what bad news would be, and the greatness of what a disaster would be.  Right?

So, the further you were in debt, the more the thousand dollars would be worth – the greater a joy it would be.  (We’re talking in general terms.)

What would be such good news that it would be a great joy to every type of person in the world?

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah God.

The shepherds surely knew from attending worship in the Temple that they needed a Savior – they were at odds with God due to their sin – and they understood that the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – was not going to be enough in the long run.  And if we take our sin seriously, we understand that nothing we do or try to be will ever be enough to make us right with God.

So, the announcement that the Savior God had been born – that the Way to be right with God had been born – would be good news of great joy to everyone who recognized that he was not right with God and couldn’t become right with God on his own.

God judges all mere humans in these words:  “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:  ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.  Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.  The venom of asps is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.  There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9b-18, ESV).

That’s pretty bad news – isn’t it?

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:18-21, ESV).

Anyone who is not right with God will be condemned.  And Jesus – with the rest of Scripture – says the Only Way to be right with God is through faith alone in Jesus Alone as Savior – the Messiah God – the Christ.

The bad news is that all mere human begins are against God – which is the worst of all bad news, because God is against those who are not right with Him – and the end of those who do not get right with God is condemnation fitting the crime of rebellion  against God.

But the angel told the shepherds that there is good news – the best news there could ever be – for every type of person on earth – shepherds and kings – men and women – Jews and non-Jews – which is a great joy – what greater joy could there be than to be saved from the Wrath of God and be made right with Him?  The Savior has been born!

The problem with many people is that they don’t understand the bad news – God requires us to be holy as He is holy – and if we are not, we will be justly condemned.  But the news is even worse – as we just heard – we can’t make ourselves right and we don’t even want to be right – we are happily in rebellion – in sin.

The problem with many people is that they have heard that God is love, and they believe that they are pretty good people, so God will be grateful for being the their best they could be on their own.

The problem with many people is that they not only don’t believe they’re that bad – they don’t believe that God is that Holy.  They haven’t been confronted with the Glory of God that makes them cry out, “Woe is me!  A sinner!”

I hope you have received Jesus Alone by faith alone – the One Savior.  If you have not – know that you are in desperate need of being saved from the Wrath of God for your sin.  God is Holy, and being good enough is not good enough for God.  The only hope for any person is to receive and believe the historical work of the Savior for all those who will ever believe.

If you have received the Savior – if you can feel the great joy that would have welled up in those shepherds as they heard the good news announced to them – that caused them to run to the manger and then run to tell everyone they could find, then you are now one who has the Gospel and the Glory of God in you – in your earth vessel – in your jar of clay – for others to see.  Don’t hide the Light!  Go beyond, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and explain why this good news is of great joy – explain what Jesus did on earth and why that is good news of great joy – why He is the Only Hope of anyone who will believe.

The angel told the shepherds where to find Him:

“’And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

As we remember God’s birth – His Incarnation – in the person of Jesus – as we consider what God did to save us – as we think about this good news and find ourselves filled with great joy – let us take every opportunity to tell others the good news that they may be filled with great joy.

Let us pray:


Almighty God, we thank You for loving the world and sending Your Son to become a real human being to live among us, die, and rise again that we would be forgiven and made righteous – that we would be right with You eternally with You in Your Kingdom.  Forgive us for our sin, and let God the Holy Spirit embolden us and give us the words to speak so all the world would know this good news of great joy.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Worship

Join us this evening at 7 PM for our Christmas Eve worship service!  We hope to see you then.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"The Power of the Most High" Sermon: Luke 1:26-38

“The Power of the Most High”

[Luke 1:26-38]

December 21, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            When we say The Apostle’s Creed, we confess that we believe “in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”

            What do we think that means?  Do we believe it?  Does it matter?

            The big problem for many people is that we say that Jesus was born of a woman who was a virgin – someone who did not have sexual relations prior to His birth.  How does someone who has never had sexual relations become pregnant?

            Now, there are scholars who will point to the fact that the word that we translate “virgin” in verse twenty-seven can be translated as “unmarried,” “maiden,” or “girl.”  Some scholars argue that that text is not telling us that Mary had never had sexual relations, but that she was a young, unmarried woman.

            What they will neglect to tell us is that the word that is translated “virgin” in verse thirty-four is a different word, and the verse literally says, “How can this be, since I have never had sexual relations with a man.”

            So, we with the historic Church are confessing that Mary never had sexual relations with a man prior to Jesus’ birth – the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary was a miracle.

            With that in mind, let us consider why this matters and how it happened:

            “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.”

            In the sixth month – of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy with John the Baptist, God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Nazareth in Galilee to a woman who was betrothed – legally engaged – (breaking off an engagement in ancient Israel required a divorce – engagement was legally binding) – to a carpenter who was of the house of David – he was a member of the royal line.  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.’”

Why was Mary favored?  Did Mary do something to earn the right to bear the Savior?

We must be careful as we look at Mary not to elevate her to the status of a goddess or co-redemptrix.  Yet, we must also be careful not to dismiss her as though she didn’t matter in the grand picture of God’s plan.

Mary was favored by God because God chose her to be the mother of her Incarnate Creator.   Mary was a faithful and pious Jew who believed in the Promise of God to send the Savior, and – as we see in this text – humbly and quickly – received the Will and Word of God, but she was a sinner, just like every mere human being born after Adam.

We ought to esteem Mary for her obedience and service, giving thanks for her as the woman God chose to bear His Son, but she is not a goddess and she does not earn us our salvation.  Mary was saved through faith alone in her Son, Jesus.

Mary was favored by God because He chose her to fulfill the prophecy:  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV).

Mary was favored by God because He chose her to provide the human flesh, nature, and will of Jesus through her, and to raise Him, with Joseph, as God has instructed parents to raise their children.

Mary was favored by God to be the one to bear Immanuel – “God with us” – in the person of Jesus – “God will save us.”

And so, Mary was favored by God by giving birth to the Son of the Most High – the Son of God – in the flesh.  (Remember, the Son of God always existed, but He was enfleshed through Mary – He became a human, while remaining God, through Mary.)

And Mary was favored to give birth to the rightful heir to the throne of David – which He inherited through His human father, Joseph, who was of the tribe of David.  And He would not just reign for a human lifetime, but He would be the final and perfect fulfillment of the King of Israel, Who would reign throughout all of time and space, as the prophet Daniel prophesied:

            “And to [the Son of Man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14, ESV).

            Remember, Jesus’ favorite name to call Himself was, “the Son of Man,” (which we looked at a few weeks ago).  God the Son in the flesh is the Son of Man – Jesus is the Sovereign Ruler over all of Creation forever and ever and ever.

            Mary was chosen to be the mother of this Son – that is why she was called, “favored.”

            Much like Colombo, Mary had “just one question”:

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

            Here we see the strength of the faith and belief of Mary in the Word of God:  she didn’t have questions about God becoming a human being.  She didn’t have questions about how Jesus would rise to the throne of David while Israel was occupied by Rome – much less how He would reign forever.

            Her question was one of simple biology:  “I have never had sexual relations with a man, and I do not intend to until after I am married, so how will I become pregnant?”

            All the rest of the questions had their answers in the Law and the Prophets – in the fulfillment of the Promise of God to send a Savior to make His people right with God.  The only answer that was not in the Word of God was how someone could get pregnant without having sexual relations!

            Oh, that we would have the faith of Mary in the Word of God!  If God said it, that settles it – there is no question that it is true and so and will come to pass exactly as God has said.  If God said it, we are to believe it and obey it.

            Do we believe and obey, or are we full of doubts?  Ask God to rid you of your doubts and embrace the Whole of God’s Word as True.  And if you have questions, raise them, let us work together to learn the Word of God and say, “Amen!” to every word.

            So, what did the angel tell Mary?  How does the biology work?

            “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.”

            The angel told her that God the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the Power of the Most High – the Power of God – would overshadow her – the Power of God would come to her – the Power of God would rest on her.  God in His Power would cause her to become pregnant.

            And since the child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit by the Power of the Most High God, Jesus would be holy – He would be sinless and able to keep God’s Law perfectly.

            What is the angel explaining?

            Jesus, the Son of God, the Promised Savior, had to be a real human being and live under God’s Law in order to be our Substitute before God – and – He had be to God in order to be our Substitute to receive the punishment for our sin and survive.  Jesus had to be a real human being to be the Substitute before God for all those who would ever believe, but He could not be born with Original Sin – with the inclination to sin – like every mere human being after Adam, or He would be a sinner and unable to save us.

            Do we understand that?

            Jesus had to be a real human being in order to take our place before God – to be our Substitute and save us from the penalty for sin that we all deserve.  Jesus could not be an angel or a goat or anything other than a human to be a substitute for humans.  But, He also had to be holy – He had to keep God’s Law perfectly and never sin, so He could transfer that credit of a holy life to all those who believe, so God would see us as holy – as righteous.

            Jesus also had to really be God; otherwise, He would not survive the Hell He suffered on the cross for the sins of everyone who will ever believe, so He could transfer that credit of sinlessness to us, so God would see us as sinless.

            The only way a person can be right with God is to keep God’s Law perfectly and never sin, but all mere human beings are born sinners, and we cannot survive the penalty for our sin – there is no place where we pay for our sins over centuries and work our way to heaven.  We live and we die and we either enter Paradise with Jesus or we suffer the just penalty for our sin.

            Now, some crass people will say, “Oh, so you’re saying that God had sexual relations with Mary, just like the Greek and Roman gods supposedly did.”

            No.  God is not a human.  And only God the Son has a human body.  The conception of Jesus was accomplished by God’s Power causing the egg to be fertilized without sexual relations.

            And we might say, “Well, that doesn’t really explain how God did it.”

            The angel said:  “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.”

            As a sign of God’s ability, Mary’s cousin – barren, old Elizabeth – was six months pregnant with John the Baptist.  Elizabeth who by her life-long barrenness and advanced age never expected she could bear a child was now pregnant – in her sixth month – because God opened her womb, so she would bear John the Baptist.  And you can read of how Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and their amazing conversation.
            
            The point is:  nothing is impossible with God.  If God wills it, it shall be done.  God cannot be kept from accomplishing His Will.  All that God has planned will come to pass, exactly as He has planned it.

“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.”

Mary humbly received the Word of God – even though she didn’t understand it all – she couldn’t have – but she received it and obeyed.

So, Mary not only knew the Word of God and believed it, but she obeyed it, even when she didn’t understand it all.

What a challenge to us:  will we read and hear the Word of God and obey, even if we don’t understand everything about it?

Mary was favored by God to bear the Son of Man – the Son of the Most High – Jesus – God Incarnate – the Only Savior.

She humbly received the Word of God – she received it by faith and “pondered all these things in her heart” as she sought to understand.

She humbly received the Word of God – she received the Word that God would accomplish His Promise by causing her to bear a Son, even though she never had sexual relations with a man – so He would be the Savior of all those who would ever believe.

She humbly received the Word of God – and she obeyed God’s Word – even when she didn’t understand – because she knew God well enough to trust Him and believe that nothing that God set to do was impossible for Him.

What about us?

Paul tells us that we who believe are favored by God:  “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:1-7, ESV).

We who believe – through the miracle of God’s Saving Grace which caused us to receive Jesus by faith alone – bear the glorious Gospel in these frail bodies, so those who believe would recognize that the Power of the Most High is God’s and not ours.

The same Power of the Most High Who caused Mary to bear our Savior – the Son of God – in human flesh – now shines in our hearts that others would not turn to us, but would receive the Savior Whose birth we celebrate.

Let us pray:


We pray to You, O Most High, and give thanks that You favored Mary and each of us who believe in the Savior.  We thank You for enabling us to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ by faith alone, to seek to understand, and for the trust to believe and obey, even when we don’t understand.  Humble us and use us – like Mary – that You would receive all the glory.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.