Jesus the Savior: The Annunciation | Luke 1:26-38
Brian Hedges | December 13, 2020
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to Luke 1.
Many of us will remember that at certain times in our lives we received news, maybe really momentous news, world news of some kind, and we remember even where we were at that moment. Some of you are old enough this morning that you remember hearing of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. That was a few years before I was born, but I do remember January 28, 1986, sitting it an optometrist office, when I saw the news on the television that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. Probably many of us remember where we were on September 11, 2001, with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Maybe you remember the first time you heard something about the coronavirus in March of this year. I remember on March 8 of this year attending Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, being played at the DeBartolo Center of Performing Arts. It was the first time I saw someone wearing a mask, and I thought that was kind of curious. I knew that there was this virus out there; and by the next Sunday, the world had changed. We’ve all experienced this, where we have received world-changing news, and we remember the moment in which we received the news.
This morning we’re looking at the announcement of world-changing news that was received by a teenage girl in Galilee in the year of our Lord’s birth. We’re looking at Luke 1:26-38. This is our Advent series this year. We’re continuing on with our study in these two chapters in the Gospel of Luke. Really, the theme of this series is Jesus the Savior, and we’re looking at the events leading up to and including the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today we come to what has been called the annunciation. It’s really the message of the angel to the virgin Mary, telling her that she was to bear the Christ child.
Of course, we know this isn’t the first announcement that was made that a child would come. If you go all the way back in the Old Testament to Genesis 3:15, an announcement was made, a promise was made. In fact, this was made to the serpent, if you will remember, where the Lord said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
Well, now the offspring of the woman has come. It’s the fullness of time, where God the Son would come and would be born of a woman, and that woman would be the virgin Mary. That’s what we’re going to study this morning, Luke 1:26-38. Let me begin by reading this passage to us, and then we’re going to kind of organize things in three categories this morning, three lines of thought to help us understand this passage. Luke 1:26-38:
“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. 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.’
“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’
“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. 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.’ 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.”
This is God’s word.
This is a stunning announcement. We have to remember that this was a surprising event in the life of Mary. She’d never seen an angel before, and in fact, apart from the angelic appearance to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, which we saw last week, there had been no voice from God from heaven, no messages from God, no angels for 400 years. The appearance of angels was not a common occurrence, even in the Bible, so Mary is stunned and shocked by this news, and yet, as we see, she receives this news and trusts in the word that has been delivered to her.
It’s a beautiful, simple little narrative here, but within it are packed riches of theological truth and practical application. I want to point out three things, three lines of thought, and I’m really just going to give you three key words and organize everything under these three key words. The words are: incarnation, identification, and imitation.
I want us to consider some thoughts about the incarnation of Christ (that is, the truth that God the Son became flesh, was incarnate among us), then I want you to see the identity of Christ (how he is identified here in this passage), and then, with Mary as our model, I want us to see three things that we need to imitate from her life, three things we can imitate in our own lives. We’ll end with application.
Number one, let’s think about the incarnation of Christ. When we think about the incarnation, we are of course thinking of this mystery, the mystery of the word who became flesh. “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” We just sang it, didn’t we? This passage teaches us some things about the incarnation.
(1) It shows us the humility of the circumstances of Christ’s incarnation. Of course, anytime we’re thinking of the incarnation of Christ we’re thinking about the humiliation of Christ, to use the theological word. Christ humbled himself and became obedient, he became one of us, he took on human flesh (Philippians 2). We see that here in the very humble circumstances in which Jesus was born, the very family into which he was born.
You see this especially in verses 26-27. “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. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Notice that the angel is not sent to some queen or some princess or some nobleman’s daughter in Jerusalem, much less Rome, the capital of the world at that time, but to this little backwoods village of Nazareth in Galilee.
This was not one of the more reputable parts of the people of God of ancient Palestine. You’ll even remember that when Jesus began his earthly ministry and Nathaniel, who became one of his disciples, learned about Jesus and learned that Jesus was the Messiah, he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yet this is the town in which Jesus was to be born, and he’s to be born into this humble, poor family. At best they were a working-class family, and based on the offerings that they make in the temple in Luke 2 they were actually using the offerings designated for the poor. So they were not wealthy. Jesus was born in very humble circumstances.
It just reminds us of this principle in the kingdom of God that God displays his power through the weak and the lowly things of the world. Do you remember 1 Corinthians 1, the words of the apostle Paul? “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” Why? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” This is the way God works, and we see it especially in the incarnation, the humility of the incarnation.
(2) We also see something here of the mystery of the incarnation, the mystery especially of the virginal conception of Jesus Christ. One of the basic fundamentals of the faith is what we usually call the virgin birth of Christ. It might better be called the virginal conception of Christ. You see that emphasized in a couple of places in the passage.
In verse 27, the angel is sent to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph. It says the virgin’s name was Mary. In verse 31, the angel tells her that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, and in verse 34 she asks a question: “How will these things be, since I am a virgin?”
The word that is used there for “virgin” simply means an unmarried woman who has not had sexual relations with a man. The word is never used to speak of a married woman. It’s very clear here that Mary was a virgin. We should do away with the thought that, “Oh, these were premodern times and people thought Jesus was born of a virgin because they didn’t really understand how children are born.” No, Mary’s not stupid. She knows how children are born, and she knows that even though she’s betrothed, she’s not yet been with a man, and so she’s mystified by this announcement that she will be carrying the Christ child.
Of course this is, again, a fulfillment of prophecy. You remember the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:14, said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Now, there’s a mystery to this. How is it that Mary the virgin could conceive a child? Mary asks that question herself in verse 34, and I want you to notice the answer in verse 35. It says (this is the angel speaking), “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.” Very simply, we believe that Jesus was conceived by the virgin Mary because of and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, the language that is used here has no sexual undertones at all. It’s rather language from the Old Testament, this language of overshadowing. New Testament scholar Darrell Bach observes that “overshadowing in the Old Testament refers either to the shekinah cloud that rested on the tabernacle…” Remember when the glory of God came down in Exodus 40. “...or it can refer to God’s presence in protecting his people.” It’s used that way in the Psalms, Psalm 91 and Psalm 140. There’s also an allusion here to the creation narrative, where the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters, brooding, as it were, over the face of the waters, this primordial chaos before the orderly account of creation in Genesis 1.
Here, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, because this is the dawn of new creation, as the Spirit miraculously creates from her flesh, from her substance, creates the human nature of Jesus that is united with the eternal Son of God. This is the mystery of the union, the two natures of Christ; his divine nature, his human nature, united in the incarnation.
You might ask, “Why is it so important for us to even understand these things? This seems kind of arcane, this seems kind of advanced theology. Why is this important for us?”
That’s a great question to ask; you’re not the first question to ask it. The Heidelberg catechism actually asks this question. It asks about the importance of the virgin birth of Christ. Here’s the question, question number 36: “How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?” Think about that for a minute, and I wonder how you would answer that question. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
Here’s the answer: “He is our mediator and in God’s sight he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness my sinfulness, in which I was conceived.”
Here’s why it was important. It was important because every other child that has ever been born in the history of the world was born and was conceived in sin, because of Adam’s sin. You remember how David, in Psalm 51, said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” But Jesus, uniquely the only one conceived not in sin, but conceived through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, conceived as having a genuine human nature but without having a fallen nature, without having a sin nature. That’s why the angel says, “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 human nature of Christ was sanctified by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary so that he can cover us with his innocence and his perfect holiness. We dare not do away with the virgin conception, the virginal conception and birth of Jesus Christ. It’s an essential building block to our faith.
The incarnation. There is much that we learn about the incarnation in this passage.
The second key word is identification. Have you ever been in a situation where someone asked you for proof of identification? You have to produce a driver’s license, or maybe you’re trying to get your driver’s license and you have to produce a birth certificate, something that verifies who you are, what your name is, what your identity is.
Well, in this passage you have the identification of Christ, you have proof of identification, given through this divine message from God through the messenger, this angel Gabriel.
It’s amazing, everything that is said here about the identity of Christ, just packed into a few brief verses. You see it, first of all, in verse 31. What I want you to notice here, the underlined words, are names of Christ or things that point us to different aspects of Jesus’ identity.
(1) First of all, in verse 31, we see that his name was to be called Jesus. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Now, the name Jesus, Yeshua, was a very common name in that time. It was basically the name Joshua; lots of children were named Joshua. But it did have a specific meaning, and there was a reason that the Christ child was to be named Jesus.
We have that given to us in a parallel passage, in Matthew 1. This is when the angel appears to Joseph, who is betrothed to Mary. The angel tells Joseph that Mary has conceived this child and tells him what the name is to be. This is Matthew 1:21. It says, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” because the name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” It just shows us that Jesus is the Savior, and, as I’ve already pointed out in this series, this is one of the themes in the Gospel according to Luke: salvation. In fact, we’ll see in Luke 2, when the angels make their announcement to the shepherds, do you remember what they say? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Do you remember how Jesus himself defined his mission in life? Luke 19:10, he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This is crucial, understanding the identity of Christ as the Savior.
(2) Secondly, we see here that he is the Son of the Most High. Look at verse 32. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
“Most High” is a name for God. In the Old Testament, it would have been El Elyon, the Most High God. Here Jesus is said to be the Son of the Most High God. This is probably an allusion to Daniel 7, where Daniel the prophet had a vision, a vision of the Ancient of Days enthroned, and the Son of Man who ascends on the clouds of heaven and is seated there with the Ancient of Days and is given dominion and glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. It says, “His dominion is an everlasting kingdom which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” There’s probably an allusion to that in this name given to Jesus, the Son of the Most High.
(3) Of course, this alerts us to the fact that Jesus is enthroned as a king. You see that in the words related to “kingdom” here in verses 32-33. “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.” Here there’s a reference to 2 Samuel 7, with the Davidic covenant, where God made this promise to David that one of his offspring would sit on his throne and rule over his people forever. We’re seeing here that Jesus is that king, he is this Son of David, he is the Messianic king, he is the Christ, he is the one who receives this kingdom from God and who will reign over that kingdom forever.
(4) Finally, one more thing you see about Jesus’ identity is in verse 35, and here it’s the name Son of God. I’ve already read the verse, but let me read it again. “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.’” This means nothing less than that Jesus was the very Son of God, he bore the nature of God, he is the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Son of God.
You put all those names together, and what we learn here is that Jesus is Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Savior. Any of you have a fish symbol on your car? You’ve seen how Christian sometimes use the fish symbol, the ichthus. Do you know where that came from? In the first century, believers used this symbol for fish (the Greek word for fish is ichthus) because the letters of that word formed the acronym of various names of Jesus. When you put them together into English it’s this phrase, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." Well, you have it all right here in Luke 1. This is who he is. He is Jesus the Savior, he is Jesus the Christ, he is King, he is the Son of God, the Son of the Most High. He is the Savior of the world.
This is his identity, and it beckons us, it call us to worship him. We’ve seen something about his incarnation, secondly his identification.
I want to end with some application as we think about our imitation of Mary in this passage. May is a unique figure in the history of the church. She’s the only one who was chosen to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, but there are features of Mary’s character that are here in this passage that are worthy of our imitation. In fact, some preachers have called Mary the first Christian, or the model disciple, because of how she responds to this message. I want you to see three things, and I’ll just word these in exhortations for us.
(1) Number one, receive the grace of God. You see this in verses 28-29. “And he came to her [that is, the angel came to Mary] 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.’”
Now, I want you to underline in your mind the words favored (“Greetings, O favored one”) and, “You have found favor with God.” That’s the word grace. She’s found grace with grace. She is literally ingraced. Here’s Mary, who is a recipient of the grace of God.
Now, it’s important that we translate and interpret this correctly. All of us have probably heard the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” That’s actually a mistranslation. It comes from these verses, but it’s a mistranslation based on the Latin Vulgate. But that’s not what this passage is saying. This is not in any way adoration of Mary, and it’s not pointing to Mary as a dispenser of grace, as a source of grace; it’s rather a greeting from the angel to Mary, who has received grace. The right translation is, “Greetings [or salutations], O favored one, O recipient of grace, O one who has received grace; the Lord is with you.”
It’s a reminder to us that Mary, though she is unique in the history of the Christian church as the mother of our Lord, she was still a sinner, she was still someone who needed a Savior, she was still someone who needed grace, and she received that grace from God, as we’re going to see next week, when Mary prays or she sings to the Lord in the Magnificat, the song of Mary in Luke 1. She says, “My soul rejoices in God my Savior.” She knew that she needed a savior, and here she is, one who is a recipient of God’s grace.
Now, the grace that she received in some ways was unique, this favor to be chosen to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the greatest grace that she received is the grace that is offered to every one of us in and through Jesus Christ, and in our own way you and I are also called to receive Christ into our hearts and lives.
Do you remember these words from the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? One of the verses goes like this:
“O holy child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in;
Be born in us today.”
Mary literally carried the Lord Jesus within her womb and delivered him, but you and I are called in a spiritual way to have Christ formed in our hearts and lives. He is to be born in us. We are to be born again in and through him. We are to have Christ in our hearts, and that’s the call of the gospel, is to receive Christ, to receive the grace of God that is given to us through Christ.
One of the things for us each to ask this morning is, “Have I received God’s grace? Have I received Christ into my heart and into my life? Has Christ been born in me?” Receive the grace of God.
(2) Secondly, trust in the power of God. You see this in verses 34-37. Mary receives this message, and she’s absolutely bewildered. She’s told that she’s going to have a child, she’s not married, she’s just a teenage girl; she’s betrothed, but it is some time before she will be married to Joseph, so she’s mystified by this. She asks a question in verse 34.
“Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ 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.’” We’ve already considered that. But then notice what else he says in verses 36-37. In verse 36 he gives her a sign. He says, “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.”
One of the reasons why John the Baptist, the child of Elizabeth and Zechariah, was given to them in old age was to serve as a sign for Mary! The fact that here is Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant even though she’s an old lady, even though she’s a senior citizen, she’s carrying a child, it’s a sign to Mary that this message she’s receiving from the angel is not some delusion in her mind, but it’s something that is actually true. If God has performed a miracle in the conception of John in the life of Elizabeth, then surely God can perform a miracle in her life in the conception of Jesus.
Then notice in verse 37 you have this simple statement, but so pregnant with meaning. It’s a statement that echoes another story from the Old Testament. Verse 37 says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
As we’re going to see next week, Mary was steeped in the Old Testament. Her song is full of Old Testament allusions. She knew her Bible well. I think she would have caught this, it would have resonated with her, this statement, “For nothing will be impossible with God,” because it is a direct echo of Genesis 18, where the father and the mother of the whole people of God, the whole people of Israel, Abraham and Sarah, are told by these visiting angels in Genesis 18 that Sarah, in a year’s time, is going to bear a child; and she’s an old lady at the time. Right? She’s a senior citizen.
When she overhears it, she laughs. Do you remember this? She laughs in her tent. And the Lord says to Abraham (this is Genesis 18:13-14), “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord?’” Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Nothing is too difficult for God. Nothing is impossible with God.
What Mary here is being pointed to is the power of God, and she’s being told to trust in that power.
Now, there’s application for us as well, brothers and sisters, because you and I, in our lives, will regularly face things that seem like impossible situations, where the only answer is the power of God, the only answer is, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I want to read something to you from the 19th-century Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle, James Ryle. Ryle wrote commentaries on all the Gospels, and I’ve been reading, in preparation for this series, his expository thoughts on the Gospel of Luke. I read this; I thought it was so good, so helpful, I want to share it with you.
Ryle says, “Among the many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.”
Then he gives examples of how this works out. “There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned; the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin. There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed; the heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh. There is no work too hard for a believer to do; we may do all things through Christ strengthening us. There is no trial too hard to be borne; the grace of God is sufficient for us. There is no promise too great to be fulfilled; Christ’s words never pass away, and what he has promised he is able to perform. There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome; when God is for us, who shall be against us? The mountains shall become a plain. Let principles like these be continually before our minds. Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”
Some of you right now are facing things. You’ve committed sins that you feel like can never be forgiven. Nothing is impossible with God.
You have children or siblings or family members or close friends who are so hardened to the gospel you think they could never be saved. Nothing is impossible with God.
You are facing a trial that you don’t know how you’re going to get through. Nothing is impossible with God.
Trust in God’s power. Trust in God’s power. Rest your head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.
(3) Receive the grace of God, trust in the power of God, and then, number three and finally, submit to the will of God. Again, Mary is a model disciple, and you see it in verse 38. “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.”
What an amazing response! You think about what this meant for Mary. She receives this message. She’s probably only 13 or 14 years old. She’s a teenage girl, and she receives the message from this angel that she’s pregnant, and she is going to bear a child. She has to tell her parents, and she doesn’t know whether they will disown her or not. What is Joseph going to think? Is he going to break the engagement? Is he going to legally divorce her, as was his right to do? Is she going to be ostracized from the community? Is she going to be excluded from synagogue? What are people going to say? What are people going to think?
She is incredibly favored by God to receive this blessing, but no one is going to understand! How does she respond? “I am your servant, Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She submits to the will of God.
Brothers and sisters, this is the most basic response of a disciple, is to submit to the will of God, to submit to the word of God. All of our problems occur (all of our real problems) because and when we refuse to submit, but when we submit, when we take our place as servants of the Lord, then we’re really following him, we’re really disciples.
There’s one more incident in the Gospel of Luke that I want to relate to this morning that relates to Mary. Some of you maybe will remember this passage in Luke 11. Jesus has been speaking, and a woman shouts out from the crowd, and this is what she says. I’ll just read the passage, Luke 11:27-28. “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’”
Now, it’s true, the virgin Mary was blessed. She was highly favored by God. But there is a blessing for every believer who hears and who keeps the word of God, who submits to the will of God, who responds to the gospel, who receives this grace, who trusts in God’s power, and who submits to God’s will. Does that describe you this morning? When you think of this passage, can you see yourself in the response of the virgin Mary? When you consider the wonder and the mystery of the incarnation, when you consider the majestic identity of Jesus Christ the Lord, is your response one of faith and of trust in him? I hope it is, and if it never has been, I hope it will be today. Look to him, trust in him, receive his grace, trust his power, submit to his will. Let’s pray.
Gracious God, we thank you for your word. We thank you for the beauty and the simplicity of it and yet the depth of truth that it holds for us. We pray that by your spirit you would apply these things to our hearts and to our lives. Lord, give us insight and understanding in to the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of the incarnation, that God became flesh and dwelt among us. Lord, especially this morning, give us believing, trusting, submissive hearts. Help us be like Mary, model disciples who submit to your will. Help us, Lord, to receive Christ into our own hearts and lives. May he be formed in us this morning.
As we come to the Lord’s table, we ask you to prepare our hearts to receive it, and in receiving the elements to receive Christ and Christ’s grace through faith. Help us to embrace him this morning with all that we are. May our souls be nourished and strengthened as a result. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.