Tuesday, December 23, 2014
"The Power of the Most High" Sermon: Luke 1:26-38
“The Power of the Most High”
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.