With God All Things Are Possible
The Hallmark Channel is constantly telling us that Christmas is a time for miracles. As we saw last week and as we will learn from the text in front of us this morning the first Christmas was indeed a time of miracles.
But the reality is, at Christmas time as well as the rest of the year we find ourselves in situations and circumstances that try our faith and call us to believe God in spite of what we are experiencing at that moment.
Last week I pointed out that Luke writes of the unbelief of Zechariah so that with the perspective of time and the testimony of Scripture we can shed unbelief and embrace belief. He writes so that our faith will be grounded in the historical record of God’s past activity.
Luke continues to do this as he records the account of a young girl named Mary who was used by God in a truly miraculous way.
LET’S NOT MISS THE POINT
It’s easy to take a text such as the one before us this morning and completely miss the point. It’s easy to take the Christmas story and to make the story about ourselves.
For instance, it would be very easy to read Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus and see the qualities in Mary that are admirable and use them as a basis to make her the hero of the story and then project those same qualities on to ourselves.
But as I reminded you last week the Bible is God’s story. The Bible is the telling of the activity of God. The Bible is the recorded account of history and how God works in history to achieve His eternal plans and purposes. The Bible is the written record of how God is directing the affairs of mankind to bring glory to Himself in the salvation of ruined sinners.
As John MacArthur writes; “There is nothing man-made about the Christmas story.”
Therefore, when we come to a text of Scripture as we have before us this morning we see how God uses individuals, many times the most unlikely individuals to accomplish His will.
Mary is not the hero of the story. She is the one being rescued by the hero of the story. God is the hero of the story.
The only reason that Mary as well as you and I need a hero is because we are in danger, we have an insurmountable problem that only God could solve. We are in a problem of our own making while at the same time we are incapable of extracting ourselves out of the mess we have made for ourselves.
So, what we have is an impossible problem solved in the most improbable way.
But that is not to say that there are not lessons to be learned from Mary. Mary teaches us how to respond when God works in our lives and places us in circumstances over which we have no control.
Mary teaches us how God views us, how God can work through us and how we can humbly submit to God regardless of what He is choosing to take us through.
Therefore, as we walk through the story of God’s activity in the life of this young girl I believe it would be helpful to ask ourselves if God was able to give Mary the strength to endure a once in history event what could God give us the strength to do. What could we do through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit?
THE DETAILS OF THE DRAMA
The details of the story are familiar to most if not all of us. Gabriel whom we were introduced to last week once again has been summoned by God to deliver another birth announcement.
This time instead of being sent to an elderly priest and his wife Gabriel is told to go to a young girl probably between the ages of 12 and 14. Luke again writing with the precision of the historian includes an important detail about this young girl. He describes her as virgin. She has never engaged in any kind of relations with a man.
She is in a relationship with a young man named Joseph. In that culture a young man and a young woman would have something like a yearlong engagement. It was a period that provided each of them time to prove their loyalty and fidelity to one another. It was a period where they were to remain pure, and even though they were not married if either of them strayed and were unfaithful it was considered to be adultery.
It is to this young virgin girl that the angel Gabriel appears. Luke give us another time frame another point of historical reference as to when Gabriel appeared to Mary. He says that the angel came in the sixth month - which is a reference to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
One day as Mary was in the midst of her daily routine Gabriel comes to her and he greets her.
If you remember Gabriel didn’t say anything to Zechariah. He waited until Zechariah spied him. But in this case when he appears he immediately speaks to Mary. He greeted Mary by saying to her “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
The significance of his words can only be properly understood in light of who the greeting was given to. It was given to Mary, a young girl of no special significance. She lived in a town of no special significance. Kent Hughes said Gabriel comes to this young girl who “is a nobody in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.”
Yet it was to this nobody in a nothing town that God was about to give the greatest honor, to be the mother of the Messiah, to give birth to Jesus who would be the salvation not only of Israel but of people of every nationality.
Gabriel tells Mary that she is a favored one. To be a favored one means to experience from the hand of God undeserved kindness. If you are a Christian, if you are in Christ you have something in common with Mary, you too are “a favored one”.
Through Christ you have experienced undeserved kindness.
Mary teaches us that God grace is for the lowly, it is for the least among us. Remember the words of Paul that God doesn’t choose many of the mighty or the noble. And we see this reality in the life of Mary God giving grace to the lowly.
When God blesses us, he does so not because we deserve it because we don’t. No he blesses us because of His grace.
Like Zechariah, Mary was also troubled by the appearance of Gabriel. But she did something that Zechariah didn’t. She kept her wits about her and Luke says that she “tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
In other words, she was trying to figure out what was going on, she was trying to understand what was happening. Remember there had been no word from God for 400 years until Gabriel appeared in the Temple. But Mary wasn’t aware of that. All she knew was there had been no word from Heaven for centuries and now there is an angel standing in front of her greeting her and telling her that God is with her.
Just as Gabriel did with Zechariah he offers words of assurance to Mary. He tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favor with God.”
Now the favor here is different from being a favored one. The favored one is the one who has received undeserved kindness from God. To find favor with God is to be the recipient of God’s undeserved grace. Either way Gabriel wanted her to know that she had nothing to fear.
What was true for Mary is true for all of us as God’s children. As I said last week let’s not sugarcoat this story because it’s Christmas time. Life was about to become very difficult for Mary. She was about to enter into a lifetime of trials, endless gossip and innuendo. How would she be able to cope? How would she be able to bear it? How would she endure and still experience joy in her life?
Through the knowledge that she was favored by God and that God had shown favor to her. In the struggles and trials of our lives we must fight the unbelief, the whispers of our own mind and the innuendo of Satan as he tells us that surely, we are not one of God’s children. If we were then why are we suffering so? Why would a Father who says he loves you let you go through this? Does your Father really love you if he lets you suffer so? Fight the unbelief. Call to mind that you are highly favored in Christ and that in Christ you have been shown mercy and grace.
Despite the Gabriel’s reassurance Mary was still troubled and therefore he did not keep Mary waiting. He immediately makes to her the greatest of announcements.
I pray that we don’t let our familiarity with the words of Gabriel rob us of their significance and joy. Here is the greatest news that Mary or you or I could ever hear.
“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.””
(Luke 1:31–33, ESV)
Mary, you are going to have a child, but he will not be just any child. His name will be called Jesus - which means God saves. And this child will be great - even as a child Jesus was great.
Remember Gabriel told Zechariah that his son John would be great before the Lord, but Jesus would be great. No qualifications! Everything about Jesus would be great!
One commentator writes: “In the Old Testament, whenever this word is used without qualification, it almost always refers to God himself. God’s wisdom is great; his works are great; his power is great; his mercy is great (e.g., Ps. 92:5; 103:11). So great is God’s greatness that he alone deserves to be called “great.” By saying that Jesus would be great, therefore, Gabriel was testifying to the deity of Jesus Christ. No one is greater than he is. Jesus is great in wisdom, great in power, great in love, and great in the majesty of his divine being. His greatness is the greatness of God.”
Not only would Jesus be great, he would be a king, he would sit on the throne of King David and that he would rule over the house Jacob and that the kingdom over which he would rule would be an eternal kingdom.
This was no ordinary child. There was nothing ordinary about him. Especially how he would come into the world.
How did Mary respond? She responded in belief. She responded with belief. In verse 34 she said
“And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?””
(Luke 1:34, ESV)
With the unbelief of Zechariah fresh in our minds we may think that she is responding in the same way. But she isn’t. The response of Zechariah was “How shall I know this?” That was a response of doubt not trust. That was a response of unbelief not belief.
But Mary has no doubt that what Gabriel said was going to happen, she just wanted to know how it was going to happen.
What Gabriel says next was an explanation to her and to us but they were more than words explaining how she would have a child, they are also words of tremendous comfort for her and all of God’s children.
“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.” (Luke 1:35, ESV)
Do you see what Gabriel does? He points her right back to God. He tells her that the Holy Spirit will be at work in her life. But there is more - that the “power of the Most High will overshadow you;”
When you go on to read Mary’s words of praise later in the chapter it becomes evident that she has a working knowledge of the Old Testament. Therefore, when she hears the words “the power of the Most High will overshadow you her mind would be drawn back to the Old Testament.
God was often referred to in the Old Testament with the title “The Most High” a title that depicted the sovereignty and the power of God. Most High was the omnipotent ruler of heaven and earth.
It was by the working of God the Holy Spirit through the power of the Most High God maker and ruler of heaven and earth that she would conceive this child, this Holy child, the Son of God.
We mustn't downplay the role of the Holy Spirit. He is constantly at work, He was at work in creation and He continues to work today.
Philip Ryken writes in his commentary on Luke 1: “This language echoes the Old Testament and reminds us that the Holy Spirit has been actively involved in everything that God has ever done. The Spirit was present at creation, when he overshadowed the waters of the earth (Gen. 1:2). The Spirit was there at the exodus, when he overshadowed the tabernacle in a cloud of glory (Ex. 40:34–35). Later the Spirit would overshadow Jesus, anointing him for his earthly ministry. It was by the Spirit that Jesus made atonement for our sins (Heb. 9:14), and by the Spirit that he was raised from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Then Jesus sent the Spirit to overshadow the church (Acts 1:8); it is by the power of his presence that we serve Christ today. The Holy Spirit has been overshadowing God’s people from the very beginning, working with the Father and the Son for our salvation.
But no work of the Spirit is more miraculous than the work he did in Mary’s womb, enabling the virgin to give birth to the Son of God. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is one of the essential facts and great mysteries of the Christian religion. If we deny this, we deny the faith.”
Just in case Mary still need some help believing Gabriel gave her a verifiable sign that what she has just heard is true. He tells her that Elizabeth, the elderly woman who had been barren all of her life is now in the sixth month of her pregnancy.
Let’s think this through, what Mary has just heard, no one else before or since had ever heard. A virgin was going to give birth to the Son of God. Mary just so you know for sure that what I said is true you can pay a visit to your relative Elizabeth and by this time you will be able to notice that she is expecting a child of her own.
And then comes the words that sealed the deal.
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:37, ESV)
If God was capable of making a virgin give birth, then surely, He is capable of handling whatever difficulties we find ourselves facing. J. C. Ryle said, “A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace.”
Let that sink in. “For nothing will be impossible with God” and “A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace.”
At this juncture it would be helpful if we all would ask ourselves if there is anything in our lives that seems impossible?
- Will I ever get these kids raised?
- Will I ever get to a full night’s sleep again?
- Will I ever be rid of this sin that I’m so ashamed of?
- Will I ever have joy again?
- Will my career ever go anyplace?
- Will my ministry ever amount to anything?
- Will the one I’ve been praying for ever come to Chris?
- Will my loved one ever be healed?
Though I can’t give you a specific answer to your question I can say to you with full confidence that nothing will be impossible for God.
The question for you is “Do you believe this?” I don’t mean sit in church on Sunday morning and shake your head yes you believe it. I mean in the dark times, in the times of frustration and failure, in the times of sorrow and pain do you believe it?
Do we as a church believe that with God nothing will be impossible?
What Mary says next should reflect our attitude as believers.
“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.” (Luke 1:38, ESV)
That was Mary’s confession of faith and I pray that it is your confession of faith. I pray that it is our church’s confession of faith. Lord I am your servant, let it be to me according to your word.”
Belief, submission, trust, confidence. Mary displayed all of those in her response. Mary’s belief made a real incredible difference in her life.
Ryken says “All she needed to know was what God wanted her to do. Once she knew, that was enough for her; she was ready to do it!”
“How rare it is to find someone who is willing to trust God for the impossible and then obey him without hesitation or qualification. Even some of the great heroes of the faith tried to wiggle out of doing what God said. Think of Moses, who asked God to send someone else to lead the exodus (Ex. 4:13). Or of Gideon, who said he couldn’t deliver Israel because he was the weakest man from the weakest tribe (Judg. 6:15). Or of Jeremiah, who said he was too young for the job (Jer. 1:6). But Mary was a woman of great faith. She understood that once we know what God wants us to do, any delay is a sign of unbelief.”