2008 Christmas I: Favored by GodNovember 30th, 2008 • Posted in Christmas, Messages/Sermons • 2,876 views
2008 Christmas Lesson 2
THE BIRTH OF JESUS FORETOLD
(Favored by God)
Key Verse: 1:29
“The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Every Christmas, we hear many beautiful performances of Handel’s “Messiah.” The father of this great musician was a successful barber-surgeon. So everyone assumed that young Handel would follow the family trade. However, the young man was more interested in music. His father didn’t like this idea because he thought that musicians were nothing more than “vagabonds.” He wanted his son to study law. When Handel was about seven years old, the Duke of Weissenfels happened to hear him playing the organ and was quite impressed by his genius performance. So he encouraged Handel’s father to develop his son’s obvious talent. Since a Duke’s request was not to be taken lightly, Handel’s father reluctantly let his son take music lessons while he hoped that his son’s love for music would go away. But his son’s passion for music only grew, and he became one of the most celebrated musicians in history. Handel enjoyed quite an easy and luxurious life until he made some bad business decisions and became the target of jealous and less-talented musicians. His health failed and his creditors threatened him with imprisonment. He almost gave up his music career, yet from this valley of despair came his great work, Messiah. George Friedrich Handel believed that his music was a gift from God and composing was his calling. Unless Handel followed his calling from God, it is possible that we would not be able to hear a “Hallelujah Chorus” during the Christmas season.
Everyone has a calling from God although many people blindly reject it. We see Mary in today’s passage also had a calling from God to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah of the world. Although she was considered to be God’s most favored one, it was not easy for her to live up to God’s calling. In Christ, we are all highly favored. But some of us don’t really feel that we are highly favored because we don’t understand what it means to be favored by God. Let’s think about what it means to be favored by God.
FIRST, “GREETINGS, YOU WHO ARE HIGHLY FAVORED! THE LORD IS WITH YOU.” (26-33)
Look at verses 26 and 27. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Six months earlier, the angel Gabriel had visited Zechariah while he was serving the Lord in the Temple and told him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son in her old age and name him John. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a miracle, something too good to be true. She was overjoyed and said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (25)
Six months later, God sent the same angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, which was located about 70 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. Nazareth was quite different from Jerusalem not only in size but also in religious and cultural background. Unlike the Jews in Jerusalem, due to Gentile influence, the Jews in Galilee were not as strict in their observances of the Law of Moses and the traditions of the elders as the Jews in Jerusalem. The Jews in Jerusalem therefore despised the Jews in Galilee, considering them too liberal to be accepted as God’s chosen people. Nazareth especially was considered one of the most infamous towns in Galilee. They said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (Jn 1:46)
Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. Look at verse 27. Luke introduced Mary as a virgin by repeating the word “virgin” twice. This reminds us of the prophetic description of Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin with a child. At that time, Mary and Joseph were engaged. The name “Mary” is equivalent to the Hebrew name “Miriam”, meaning “exalted one.” Her fiancé Joseph was a carpenter. Yet Luke introduced him not as a carpenter but as a descendant of David, evidently because of the messianic promise made to the house of David. (2 Sam 7:12-14; Ps 89:3-4, 28-29; Isa 9:7; Dan 7:14) At that time, when two people were engaged, they were considered to be a married couple, husband and wife, even though they lived apart and didn’t have sexual relations. Only divorce or death could break the engagement.
Look at verse 28-29. When the angel went to her, he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored The Lord is with you.” When Zechariah saw the same angel six months earlier, he was startled because of sudden appearance of the angel. But Mary was deeply troubled not because of the appearance of the angel but because of the content of his greetings: “Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.” (28) If she were familiar with the stories of the Scriptures, she should’ve sensed that “You who are highly favored and the Lord is with you” may mean that she had a special calling from God. For example, in the book of Judges God called Gideon for a special mission to save the people of Israel by sending his angel who said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” At that time, since the people of Israel had been impoverished and ruled by the Midianites, Gideon had a lot of questions in his mind concerning the political, spiritual and socio-economic situation of his nation Israel. So he replied to the angel, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” It seems that Gideon had been discouraged and confused about everything, about his life, his family and his nation. He was saying, “Lord, what’s going on? I’m so confused.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Gideon! Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14) Wow! Gideon thought that he was totally helpless to do anything. Yet, the Lord believed in Gideon and said, “Gideon, go in the strength you have.” The Lord encouraged Gideon not to remain discouraged in the time of adversity but to maximize his gift and potential and serve the nation. But Gideon asked, “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:14) Gideon felt very negative and insecure about himself. Yet, the Lord said him, “I will be with you” and predicted the great victory for him and through him. (6:16) Gideon was an ordinary young man. But he became a great warrior who brought joy, peace and prosperity to the nation Israel because he accepted and followed God’s calling, trusting that the Lord would be with him no matter what. This is a very inspiring story.
But what special mission would God have in mind for a young lady who had been just engaged? The nation Israel was in big trouble politically, economically and spiritually. Mary was just a young girl in a small town in Galilee. Look at verse 30-33. The angel said to the troubled girl, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” The angel’s words again remind us of Isaiah 7:14, which reads, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” The fact is that Mary would not only bear a son but her son would be someone special. The name “Jesus” is equivalent to the Hebrew name “Joshua” meaning “Jehovah saves” or “the Lord saves.” Yet, the name “Jesus” was a common name in Israel in those days, like John, James or Joseph. However, this child would be named “Jesus” because he would save his people from their sins. (Mt 1:21)
Luke introduces Jesus in more detail in verses 32 and 33. Look at verses 32-33. “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 forever; his kingdom will never end.” Like John the Baptist, Jesus would be great. But unlike John the Baptist, Jesus would be divine, the Son of God – the Most High. (Gen 14:18) According to Jewish tradition, a son is a copy of his father. And the term “the son of” refers to the one who possessed his father’s qualities. Therefore, Jesus, the Son of God, would be the radiance of God’s glory (Heb 1:3), representing the exact image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15).
This Jesus would also be the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is the king who would rule over his kingdom and his people with love and justice forever and ever as it had been prophesied in various Scripture verses, such as II Sam 7:12-14, Psalm 89:3-4, 28-29, Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 7;14 and Micah 4:7. However, due to the abusive power and authority of many kings and rulers in history, when we hear the term “king” or “ruler”, we might feel uncomfortable. But Jesus’ kingship is different from that of worldly kingship. The Prophet Isaiah describes in Isaiah 40:11 this king as one who tends his flock like a good shepherd, who gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them close to his heart, gently leading them. During his ministry on earth, Jesus served and healed the broken hearted people, their body and soul. He suffered much and was crucified in order to fulfill God’s covenant for our salvation. Through Jesus’ life of suffering and death on the cross, we see God who suffers and redeems us from our sins. When we think of Jesus, the crucified God, we may wonder how such weak kingship can achieve anything in a dog-eat-dog world. Jesus’ kingship sounds unrealistic. But that’s exactly the way God wanted to carry out His redemptive plan for the lost world. The prophet Isaiah described Jesus’ kingship by saying, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) The angel Gabriel had just announced the coming of the Messiah and Mary had been chosen to be the mother of this great Messiah, the Incarnation.
SECOND, “I AM THE LORD’S SERVANT. MAY IT BE TO ME AS YOU HAVE SAID.” (34-38)
What was Mary’s response to the angel’s words? Look at verse 34. “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” Mary, unlike Zechariah, did not fall into doubt about the birth of the Messiah. However, she was confused about her possible pregnancy since she would not have any sexual relations with any man to have a child. In fact, her question reveals her deeper desire to know God’s truth and His will. At that time, engagement often took place shortly after puberty. So Mary may have been a young teenager at that time. In her young age, she could have many questions.
When a five or six year old boy and girl ask some theological questions, we think that they are very cute, spiritual and even genius. But when they grow older and still ask similar questions, we tend to think that they are rebellious or even proud. But that’s not really true. Asking questions is an important way of seeking God’s truth. We are created in the image of God. Some people stop asking questions about God’s truth, thinking that good faith is just to believe and ask less or no questions at all. One of the essences of God’s image in us is the fact that we think critically. Therefore, if we stop thinking critically for any reason, we may not have any more questions to ask and even cease to be human. If we just follow our traditions or good doctrines without critical interpretation, we can become like old wineskins, which cannot hold new wine, which is the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, critical thinking brings us to a better and deeper understanding of God’s truth and prepares us for the continuous and transforming work of the Spirit of God.
There was a man who owned a parrot with an acquired vocabulary of cuss words from a previous owner. It was embarrassing. A woman in his congregation suggested a remedy. She would put him with her well-behaved parrot, since her female parrot said nothing except, “Let us pray.” The birds were put together. The pastor’s bird took one look at the lady parrot and chirped, “Hi Toots, how about a little kiss?” Instead of saying “Let us pray,” the lady parrot responded gleefully, “My prayers have been heard!” Normally parrots don’t have critical thinking. They only repeat the same words over and over. We should be better than parrots. Hebrews 11:6 reads, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” True faith requires us to listen profoundly, think critically and live faithfully. That’s what most great men and women of faith did.
How did the angel respond to her question? The angel didn’t rebuke her for asking questions. Look at verse 35. “The angel answered, ‘My dear! The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Here, the angel Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would be the enabling agent who would make Mary’s virgin conception possible. The Holy Spirit would overshadow Mary with His personal presence. When we read Exodus 40:35, God settled upon the tabernacle in the wilderness, filling it with His presence mostly in the form of cloud. That’s overshadowing. Also when Jesus was with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, the cloud enveloped them. That’s also overshadowing. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit would enable Mary to have a child. Luke who was a medical doctor was one of those who were skeptical about such a birth. He must have had a medical understanding of the birth process as most doctors have. Yet, he is the one who recorded the angel’s message about the virgin birth of Jesus.
Look at verses 36-37. “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” Some of us who have been educated in science tend not to believe in any miracles or anything unscientific, especially the idea of the Virgin Birth. But as the angel said, if God Almighty created the heavens and the earth, is anything too hard for him? Of course not! Nothing is impossible with God.
Look at verse 38. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” Mary could submit to God’s will because she knew that her life did not belong to herself but to God. She could accept and follow God’s will even though it meant much suffering and misunderstanding, because she believed that the Lord would be with her always.
What does the angel’s greetings to Mary mean to us? “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” God’s favor to us is the grace of great salvation, which is far greater than we can ever imagine. We can only give thanks and praises to God that we are welcomed and fully accepted as God’s children just as we are. We are being transformed in the beautiful image of Jesus Christ through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and will inherit eternal life in His kingdom forever and ever. It is God’s one-sided grace, which is called the glorious grace, which God has freely given us in Jesus Christ. God’s favor through Jesus Christ is something too good to be true. But it is our reality. Nobody deserves God’s favor. God’s favor does not depend on our behavior, whether good or bad. We can only give thanks and praise to Him for his glorious grace in Jesus Christ. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God will fulfill his purpose in and through us. The bottom line is “Do I believe that the Lord is with me?” Theoretically, yes. But practically, we are not sure. The fact is that most of us feel insecure, depending on our circumstances. But we must remember that when the Lord says to us, “I will be with you”, he really meant it. He is with us no matter what. As he promised us in Matthew 28:20b, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We may not be as gifted or talented as Handel or powerful like Saint Paul. But we must know that each of us has special calling from God. No calling from God is too small. What we can do may be very limited due to our circumstances and weaknesses. But God’s grace can fill the gap. God wants us to maximize our capability no matter how small it may be. We can make a difference if we live up to God’s will. When we accept God’s will, we must also believe that God will also enable us to live up to His call. Hudson Taylor wrote, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” May the Lord help us to renew our faith in God’s sovereignty and His good will upon our lives and be able to confess, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” May we also share God’s favor to us with our loved ones, friends and neighbors this Christmas season. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
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