God’s Glorious Messenger (1:26-30)
His Angels Declare His Word
Gabriel was sent a second time, to make a more important announcement. Of the birth of the Savior of the world, the incarnation of the eternal Word, we cannot form a sufficiently high consideration. If we did, we should feel more affinity with Gabriel’s joy and wonder when he approached Mary. His “Hail, highly favored of the Lord,” and “Blessed are you among women” indicates the angelic amazement at these events. Although the promises of redemption did not apply to the fallen angels, for they were forever excluded from the hope of mercy, what God would do to save fallen man, the One through whom he would save sinners, was a subject of vital interest to the elect angels. Remember that we were made a little lower than the angels, that our safety is committed under God to them, and that they were attendants of God at Sinai when he gave the law. Always they are flying or standing to do God’s will, to declare his word as emissaries of the Most High, and to guard the heirs of salvation.
He Always Keeps His Promises
To the house of David Gabriel was sent. Joseph was a direct descendant of David as the genealogies in Matthew and Luke make clear. David’s house was by this time fallen into seemingly irreparable ruin and shame. All that remained of its former glory was like a “shoot out of the dry ground,” as Isaiah said would be the case. But God always keeps his promises. Matthew records that when Joseph learned Mary was pregnant – they were engaged but had not consummated their union – and thought about putting her away quietly, the angel of the Lord, likely Gabriel again, came to show him a different course! His greeting to Joseph was, “Son of David” (Matt. 1:18-20). How this must have arrested Joseph’s attention! This is how an angel greets me? When has “house of David” for centuries been anything but a term of derision? Heaven never forgets our true destiny and God’s promise. Men quickly forget, but God never forgets. This is the firmest foundation of our faith, when our lives seem to be worth little to the world, when God’s church is despised or persecuted, and when our hearts labor under heavy burdens. God is faithful. Not one word of all his promises can fail to come to pass (1 Kings 8:56).
His Grace Elevates the Lowly
There may be many obstacles, apparently insurmountable obstacles to God’s promises being fulfilled. A village in Nazareth? What good ever came from there? A virgin, a young, inexperienced girl? As we see in the birth announcement to Zacharias, God rarely does anything great to further his kingdom through those who think they are something or have the world at their feet. The proud he knows at a distance, for he hates all pride as a lie about man and an insult to his holiness. To Mary, Gabriel greets her as highly favored. Favored is “grace;” Mary is the recipient of God’s deserved kindness. Thus, while we must recognize that God uses the lowly, foolish, and despised in the eyes of the world to accomplish his purposes (1 Cor. 1:28-32), that he often chooses means so weak that it is more likely for an ant to move a skyscraper than for anything good to be accomplished in the ways he chooses, nevertheless, it is all of his grace. Mary was not highly favored because she was worthy in herself but because God chose her in his grace. His grace, as we shall see in her Magnificat (1:46-55), led her to become a careful student of God’s word and a firm believer in his promised redemption. We must learn from Mary’s example never to turn from the old paths of God’s truth, never to seek a way to promote his truth in the world that will obscure the lowliness of the cross, and never think that God’s purposes are accomplished through worldly means. What he does in his secret counsels is his business (Deut. 29:29). What he tells us is to trust the foolishness of preaching, to bear our cross, to keep away from evil, and to be renewed in our minds by his word. The world looks upon these as ridiculous. His grace teaches us to give a very different evaluation, and those who most profit in these hated paths are most ready to be used by him.
Salvation by the Son of God (1:31-33)
His Name: Jesus, Yahweh is Salvation
After calming her fears by reminding her of God’s favor, Gabriel revealed the purpose of his visit. You are going to conceive a son in your womb, and his name will be Jesus. This name means “Yahweh is salvation.” Or as the angel said to Joseph, “And you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Thus, with the first messages of Messiah’s arrival, it is clear that he is coming into the world of sin to save sinners by dealing with sin. Sentiment, moral example, teacher of a new religion – by all these Satan sidetracks and deceives men about Jesus Christ. His name tells us who he is and what he came to do for us – save us from sin. And whatever else he may do and be for us, without this, all is in vain. He must deliver us from the bondage of our sins, remove the barrier between the holy God and sinners, and provide satisfaction for sinners to the offended justice of God. This is the great evil we cannot escape, the soul cancer we cannot eradicate, the poison spring from which all the evils and miseries of the world boil and consume everything. Jesus Christ alone deals with sin. No one else claims to do so, because no one else can do so. Gabriel’s revelation of the personal name Jesus is one of the most important moments in the history of the world. Would not Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have thrilled to learn his name? And David and the prophets? Let us cling to this name. How false and vain are all the other world religions and philosophies! None sees man’s sin, none identifies his heart rebellion as the source of all the evils in the world. Of course they cannot, for all men are dead in sin. If there is any hope for our race, it must come from heaven. We cannot even see our true problem. Only Jesus.
His Greatness: Son of the Most High
He will be great! He will be called “the Son of the Most High.” He will not become that Son, as early adoptionists claimed; he will be recognized as the Son of the Most High. Despite his lowly origins, the mantle of servant he will assume, the cursed death he will die, men will come to see him for what he is: the Son of God. And notice that the greatness comes right after the naming. He will be great and recognized as the Son of God because he will save men from their sins. Politicians focus upon circumstances, tell us that our problem is not enough money or that others have more. Social revolutionaries only feed the fires of discontent and wind up enriching themselves. These would-be saviors never do us any good because they begin with a false diagnosis of man – not sin, but discrimination; not sin, but oppression; not sin, but poverty. No, you are a good person, but you are not allowed to be who you really are, and thus mean people hold you back. With this one name, Jesus, Gabriel exposes all of these men and women as fools and liars. Our problem is that we are rebels against God. We have sinned against his majesty. We have broken his law. We cannot stop sinning. Who can deliver us? Only one, Jesus the Christ, the great One from God, the Son of the Most High, sent into the world through the lowly virgin.
His Royal Dignity: Throne of David
As lowly as he is, he will have a throne. God will keep his promises to David. David’s Lord, the eternal Son of God, will also be David’s son, and sit upon the throne of his father (Ps. 110:1-3). Redeeming his people from sin, he will also be the mediatorial king promised to David and revealed to the prophets (Isa. 9:6-7; 11:2-9; Dan. 7:13-14). He does not need or seek this throne for himself; he is the Son of the Most High God; he will sit upon this throne for us, to bring the blessings of salvation to us and to all the nations. There will be no end to his kingdom. It will increase until his reign is the highest mountain (Dan. 2:44-45) and brings salvation to all the nations – a reign of Jesus – of the sin-killer. Never are we permitted to separate these – Jesus and King. His is not a kingdom of human pomp, raw power, and political maneuvering. He rejected all this when later it was offered to him by the Jews; he rejected it when standing before Pilate. My kingdom is not of this world; my authority is from heaven. No man will put a crown upon my head, but my Father, when I make my soul an offering for sin, take the lowest place of a servant, and give my back to the smiters. He is the King who kills sin; he is given dominion because he offers one sacrifice for sin forever, puts away sin by sacrificing himself. A strange king is this Jesus; a strange kingdom to Pilate and all after him. But a jarring one; Pilate heard but a smattering of these claims and felt like all the marble and miters of his office were worthless trifles in comparison to what this already bleeding king possessed.
Salvation by the Power of God (1:34-37)
Conceived by the Power of the Holy Ghost
None but the Son of the MOST HIGH GOD can deliver us from sin. Everything in Gabriel’s announcement, therefore, stresses the omnipotence of God. If we had the barest sense of how far we have fallen short of God’s glory and how unable to please God in any way (Rom. 8:5-6), if naturalistic religion had not utterly infiltrated and deceived our race, then things like the Virgin Birth and the incarnation of the Son of God would be received not with skepticism but with relief. How else can we be saved but by God coming down to us? We certainly cannot mount up to him, but it remains one of the great evidences of the blindness of many that they shall be able to make everything right with God at the end. Odd that blind seminary professors and slick preachers will smile with condescension at those who are still so primitive as to believe in the Virgin Birth, but they embrace without batting an eye the idea that man can save himself. Show us one. Show us one wandering sheep that has come home to God under his own steam, one sin-enslaved blind man who has repented without supernatural regeneration and fear of divine judgment. Show us one. Show us one sinner who has made atonement for his soul to God and given indisputable proof that God has accepted him. Bring him forward. Until then, we shall hold fast to the ancient conviction that we are saved by the power of God alone, that salvation is completely monergistic, and that if left to ourselves, we shall never choose God, submit to God, or obey God, but remain rebels against his word.
Born Holy and Called the Son of God
Mary’s question in verse 34 is delicate, but not delicate in the way we might think. She was not being prudish about sex. For my part, I take it that she knew Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Her question was more one of amazed How? How me? What is going to happen to me? Some have thought that Mary may have inferred from the angel’s words that she would become pregnant immediately. What is certain is that there is not a hint of rebuke in Gabriel’s answer, which shows that her question did not stem from unbelief or from unwise curiosity about God’s ways. If I am to provide the womb of the Messiah, if the Son of the Highest is to partake of me so intimately, can you help me understand? Gabriel’s answer is simply that the power of the Holy Ghost will come upon you. God does not need the normal means of conception to bring forth his Son from you. In fact, it is necessary for him to be born in this way, so that he does not partake of Adam’s sinful nature and so that it may be very clear that while he is a man, he is also the Son of God. He will be a true human being, but not from man in the usual sense. All that is from man is polluted beyond hope of recovery, and salvation cannot come from this polluted spring. Ah, how we must remember this at all times, about everything. God must exert his power to deliver us from the bondage and pollution of sin. Ours is not a religion of “I’ll do better tomorrow,” but of the omnipotence of God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The incarnate Son of God can deliver us. If he does not, we cannot be saved.
Nothing Impossible with God
To drive this point fully home and direct Mary’s attention to the wider sphere of what God is doing, the Scriptures (Malachi) he is beginning to fulfill in addition to those that pertain to her (Isaiah), Gabriel tells Mary that her barren cousin Elizabeth is also expecting. Mary’s heart must have leapt at this. From her following song of praise, she knew the Scriptures very well. She was also a reflective young woman. Two things, therefore, were communicated to her by Gabriel’s words. First, God’s word of redemption was already in process, and clearly there is a near time window for these things to occur. Second, it would all be by God’s power. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Again, Mary must have thought – so the Lord has joined me to his great work two millennia ago; he said the same thing he said to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:14). God does the humanly impossible by saving man at all. Then, to confound the wisdom of the wise, he saves men in ways that man cannot conceive or execute. Salvation is all of God. He will receive all the glory, and he will not share it with another (Isa. 42:8). When the church remembers the angel’s words again and recovers a purer faith a humbler, more trusting, and God-dependent faith, our prayer meetings will be overflowing, for we shall labor under the strong conviction that only God can save sinners, open blind eyes, turn back his enemies, change depraved hearts, preserve believing hearts. She shall more earnestly pray for his power to work through the word, so that his church is gathered, sinners converted, the saints built up, and the church faithful to her commission to be the pillar and ground of the truth. And personally, each one of us will be more settled, as Mary was, by these words. Salvation, the conversion of the world to Jesus Christ, the overthrow of the devil and exposure of his schemes, the sanctification, unification, and preservation of the church, these are all in God’s hands. Our faith is in God’s hands. Our lives are in God’s hands. God is all in all. There is no else to save us: “no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; none beside me” (Isa. 45:21).
He is the one who forgives our sins, establishes justice in the earth, and builds up the church. It is God’s power. Ours is a power religion, but God’s power, not man’s; God’s power not controlled by man, but God’s power exerted in us through lowly means, like the Virgin’s womb. Let us learn to respect God’s power, to depend upon his omnipotence exercised for us. When we find ourselves unable to move forward, feel swamped with guilt, wonder about the future of the church, or fear for our own futures, let us remember God’s power. Let us remember Gabriel’s visit to this lowly girl. What! Salvation will come through her? His coming and announcement that day was more important than what was occurring in the palaces of Caesar Augustus or King Herod? Absolutely. What men think important is usually of very little importance. What men highly esteem is usually an abomination to God (Luke 16:15).
Salvation Embraced by Mary’s Faith (1:38)
I Am the Lord’s Servant
This settled Mary. Is this possible? Out of nowhere, the angel appeared, and she is settled by him quoting from Genesis – which, by the way, should give us a deeper reverence for the first book of Scripture! It is the subject of many attacks from the devil and the embarrassment of many who profess friendship with God, but Gabriel quotes it verbatim as the very word of God. Let us be very careful that our fear of accepting the historicity of the creation week because we cannot understand all its details is not utterly condemned by the faith of this poor village girl! I am your handmaid, Lord, which is simply another way of saying, “I am your servant; do with me whatever you please. I do not need to have all my questions answered.” And why could Mary move here so quickly? Because God revealed his power to Mary’s heart. And this same settled peace must come over each one of us, here, this morning, when we come face to face with God’s omnipotence, exercised for us through the covenant of grace, the same power that was at work in Christ when his Father raised him from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). Here is the way to a settled heart – when everything in us screams “IMPOSSIBLE,” faith comes back and says, “God’s power. Trust him.” And if this was God’s settling response in the most important announcement every made, about the most important person ever born, then we can be certain that it will settle us in everything else (Rom. 8:32).
May His Word to Me Be Fulfilled
“Be it unto me according to your word.” I cannot think of a more beautiful, more personal, more transfixing confession anywhere in Scripture. Mary’s entire life is now revealed as the very centerpiece of God’s redemptive purposes, tied all the way back to his original announcement of the gospel in Eden (Gen. 3:15), the heart of the covenant with Abraham, the Son of God and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant carried in her womb, and her only response is, “May your word be true!” “Let it happen!” Mary understood little else at this moment. How this would change her life she could only faintly conceive and had no time to consider. But all the old covenants, the promises, the hopes, and the prophecies, she was suddenly part of the desire of the nations (Hag. 2:7) – or better, he was part of her! Like her father Abraham, “She did not stagger at the promise of God through unbelief.” And it was staggering! If we perceive it rightly this morning, it remains staggering, utterly overwhelming what God has done for us in his Son. We still ask, “How can these things be?” Can I really be saved, forgiven of all my sins, reconciled to the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God? Can I be an heir of heaven? In this world of confusion, am I built upon the Rock of Ages? Does the same living water that kept Israel alive in the wilderness keep me alive? Am I the temple of the Holy Ghost? Have I really been washed in the blood of the Lamb, with God reconciled to me, no condemnations against me, nothing but love surrounding me? Mary will think about these things over the next months and years, over the rest of her life, but for the moment, all was clear to her. God had spoken. Whatever her questions, the challenges before her, what others would think, God has spoken. I am yours. Do with me what you will.
Come here this morning. Come with Mary before the word of God. Her Son has come, and the world has never been the same. He is now raised and exalted, but his sacrifice will still cleanse you. Come; come now. He will help you; he himself is the greatest testimony to the power of God and that God never expects you to save yourself, help yourself, work through your problems yourself. He will help you. With us, even the easiest step in the way of service to God is difficult, and we often find it impossible and stumble. With God, there is omnipotence aplenty to help us, and now in Jesus Christ a covenant of grace sealed with his blood to guarantee that help. Say with Mary, “Lord, I am your handmaid; I am your manservant. All I ask is for you to fulfill your word in my life. I will trust you. Help me to depend upon your power alone. If we pray this sincerely, God will work for us, as he did for Mary. He will show the fruits of godliness that comes through building your life upon his resurrected Son. He will work in you by his great power to accomplish the otherwise impossible. Let us trust the Lord, build upon the rock of his word, and let nothing plug our ears from hearing and obeying his living voice.