Have you ever gotten the chance to meet a celebrity? Have you ever bumped into someone that you thought might be a TV personality? You watch them at a distance, too timid to ask, but you are just sure “it is them”! One of the most vivid images of my youth was a time I was watching a black and white television set, and viewing a group of teenagers inundating the singing group, the “Beatles”. People were screaming as though the building was on fire, and some even passed out as they passed by! Meeting celebrities must be an experience that some are overcome by!
Today, we want to share a story about a celebrity meeting of the strangest and most fantastic kind. It comes from the beginning of the New Testament, from the Gospel according to Luke, beginning in the first chapter of that story. It strikes me that each of the four Gospel accounts open differently, but they all do exactly the same thing – tell the story of how God put on human skin and met a variety of people among His creation. He went about doing good, but brought out the barbarism and inhumanity that came as a byproduct of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. In this lesson, we want to focus on the one human being that He knew most intimately of all in human history – the young woman who carried Messiah in her womb. Her story doesn’t begin exactly like any other, for no one on the planet would ever experience God the way she did. Yet, the meeting between her and Jesus, in other ways, is very similar to the ways we all meet Jesus. Not only that, but her life journey is not dissimilar to ours.
Key Principle: Our walk with God is a journey, each step defined and explained by God’s Word.
Think of it this way. Our journey with the Savior usually takes place in six stages:
• First, we meet someone who is a messenger of Jesus. They show love and a stability that is uncommon. We are attracted by the nudging of God’s Spirit, though we don’t know that is what it is that drives us to look more closely. They are our burning bush, and we must draw closer to see what empowers them. We call that PRE-EVANGELISM.
• Second, we hear words that don’t initially sound familiar to us. They speak of God’s love and favor for us, and we want to believe that it is so – He Who created us truly DOES care. We don’t want to live life without Him, and the enveloping of His love. We call this our GOSPEL ENCOUNTER.
• Third, His messenger makes clear what He wants – surrender. God never invites us into His Kingdom on our terms. We need not pay to enter, but we must stop resisting His right to be the King. God isn’t hoarding rebels for Heaven, but refugees. We must recognize His Sovereign right to rule – not only the universe – but our lives. We call this the POINT OF DECISION.
• Fourth, we respond by yielding to Him. We see His care as a GOOD thing, and His rule as a POWERFUL lifting up of our broken lives to restore us. We call this practicing FIRST STEPS as disciples.
• Fifth, we learn to celebrate His work in us. We enjoy praise, and we exalt in His use of our body, life and choices. We learn to stop clinging to controls and enjoy when He does through us what we could never do alone! We call this growing in WORSHIP.
• Sixth, we let Him lead us through the hard times, and trust that He knows what He is doing. As the path of life unfolds, we learn that God’s plan for us isn’t always sweetness and light, but includes His patience toward evil and allowance of pain. Hard experiences befall our lives and those around us, but we learn to lean and to trust in the face of it all – until we are gathered in His arms at the end of our days. We call this THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
Let’s look at the journey of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and compare it to the stages of our own journey with Jesus.
I recognize that our walk won’t be exactly the same. Mary delivered a baby that grew up and delivered her from sin. She tenderly counted the fingers of hands that would one day feel the pain of nails piercing them for our transgressions. At the same time – not everything was so unusual… Remember the first stage of meeting Jesus in YOUR LIFE? For most of us it is like that of Mary – it began when we met someone who was a messenger of Jesus. Before we could hear the Gospel, we needed to see the love of someone who KNEW GOD WELL. God’s Spirit pricked our hearts with the reality that we were encountering someone with an answer to nagging questions that we couldn’t shake – “Why are we here? Does life have a purpose? Can I know what that purpose truly is?” These are the moments drawing us to Jesus and His message, and it is a time called PRE-EVANGELISM.
First, the pre-evangelism: Meet a young woman living in a small, poor village in the Galilee.
Let’s look at the example from Mary’s life. The description of Dr. Luke from his writing is small, but rich:
Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord [is] with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at [this] statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
The text helps us understand the young woman, and her walk in life. We learn four important factors that help explain the story, and “add meat to the bones” of the account.
• Mary was a virgin (1:26-27). Her experience with a man was limited to a distant glance. She wasn’t naïve, because the agricultural life of a villager of the time was openly exposed to biological processes – as those who grow up on a farm can attest. The process of bearing a child was no mystery to her – it was a future hope when the time was right according to God’s law. Because of the day in which we live, perhaps we should also make clear that she was not feeling “left behind” other “more adult women” of her day. She looked forward to the opportunity to raise children – as women of the period, like her cousin Elizabeth did. Bearing a child was one of the highest stations for a woman in the Bible. It was not a quaint decision of a woman who “couldn’t qualify” for the rigors of the working world. It WAS her significant dream of work – and she longed to perform the work of bearing and raising a child.
• Mary was engaged (1:27). In Mary’s case, it just wasn’t time yet for bearing a child. She understood the Biblical pattern: marriage commitment, then family blessing. She required a man to leave his father and mother and bring her to his own built and established home – so that he could become her husband. She was close to having the longing for a child fulfilled in her, and probably anxious about many things. What kind of husband would Joseph be? Would she bear him healthy children? In a world of high infant mortality rates and high rate of mortality among child bearing women – they faced this joy with a much greater concern for their own strength. Many women died in childbirth – something that we have thankfully almost forgotten. Let me suggest that she was excited, but also probably somewhat apprehensive.
• Mary was favored by God (1:28). Like children of believing families through the ages, she had always heard about “the things of the Lord” from as far back as she could recall. One of her earliest memories was likely drawn from a Biblically commanded feast, with the joy of her family gathered near. She knew simple village life in the Galilee, surrounded by families of religious Jews that viewed the passing Gentile caravans from a distance. The messenger told her of God’s favor on her life, and she heard with JOY that her Creator was not a STRANGER.
I cannot let the opportunity pass when I read the words of verse 28. Do you recall when you first heard that God truly loves you? I don’t think there is ANY MESSAGE in the world more important to hear and grasp. Without understanding God’s love, we have no basis for eternal hope. As a thoroughly depraved individual, it is hard for me to grasp how God could love me, care for me, and WANT a relationship with me. That message puzzled Mary, and it still puzzles me.
It still doesn’t often get the headlines in the news of the church, either. We are fast becoming a people driven by the latest outrage – and wrestling with our response to it. We forget the most amazing truth is still ours – the Creator loves us. He KNOWS us. He NOTICES our life. While pausing the story, let me take a step even further from the ancient world into our world. We not only FORGET God’s love – we forget to communicate it.
Bret Trotman shared a selection from Soul Talk, by Dr. Larry Crabb a few years ago: “”Which is worse? A church program to build community that doesn’t get off the ground or one person sitting every Sunday in the back of the church who remains unknown? A Sunday school class that once drew hundreds but has now dwindled to thirty or a Sunday school teacher whose sense of failure is never explored by a caring friend? A family torn apart by the father’s drinking, his wife’s frustration, and their third grader’s learning disabilities or a self-hating dad, a terrified mom, and a lonely little boy, three human beings whose beauty and value no one ever discovers? A national campaign that fails to gain steam for the pro-life movement or a single woman on her way home from an abortion clinic in the backseat of a taxi, a woman whose soul no one ever touches?” We may notice the unknown pew sitter, we may wonder how the teacher of the now small class feels, we may worry over each member of the torn-up family, and we may feel for the guilt and pain of a woman who has ended her baby’s life. But we do what’s easier. We design programs, we brainstorm ways to build attendance, and in our outrage over divorce statistics and abortion numbers we fight for family values. These are all good things, but [NOT WHEN] we don’t TALK to the pew sitter; or ASK the teacher how he’s feeling; or INVITE the dad to play golf, or take the woman to lunch, or invite the little boy to play with our children; or let the young woman know we CARE about her soul….That response to hurting people, I would label disunity. Disunity is not just fighting over personal preferences. It’s not just leaving the church because someone hurt your feelings. It’s not just gossip that tears down other members of the body. It’s leaving needs unmet. It’s failing to love people the way God would have us love. Unity is lived out in caring concern for others.” (From sermon central illustrations, adapted).
• Mary didn’t expect special things from God (1:29). Go back to Mary’s inner turmoil concerning the angel in verse 29. The text reminds: “But she was very perplexed at [this] statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” She may not have been a “woman of the world” with extensive social interaction, but she never heard anyone offer a greeting like this one. I suspect it was because the message was so hard to grasp. You see, Mary possessed no spirit of entitlement. She didn’t think of herself and anything special. She did right, and she was happy to do it – but she didn’t think that was particularly rare. On occasion, someone will do an uncommon act and be thrust in the “public eye”. I can think of numerous examples. The ones I draw particular JOY from are the ones where the recognized person offers some variety of saying like: “Hero? I am no hero. I was just doing what I hope anyone would in this situation!” That was Mary. She lived her life well, but didn’t expect a special reward or recognition for doing the decent thing.
Mary was met by a stranger that carried a message from God. The words were loving, and the messenger communicated clearly, and with grace. Don’t forget that is ALWAYS how the love of God and the saving message of Jesus moves out. People know YOU before they know the Jesus you serve. Be the example of a believer, and you will do the work of leading others closer to Jesus with your life. Pre-evangelism is about showing genuine love to another – not to win them to Jesus – but because Jesus made them. They aren’t an agenda or a ministry – they are a human being and as such deserve love, care and compassion.
Second, the Gospel Encounter: Watch Mary engage the strange messenger.
As Mary listened, the messenger took the next step in the encounter – the presentation of the Gospel. Jesus and His salvation was being presented to Mary. The GOOD NEWS of the Rescuer was as startling to Mary as it was when it was presented to you and I. Listen to her GOSPEL ENCOUNTER:
Luke 1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
• Mary felt apprehensive about flattery (1:30). Notice that Mary was afraid. I suspect that some of the fear was wrapped up in her query about the identity of the messenger. Part of the fear probably related to the unexpected message that God favored her. Part of the apprehension was likely related to the embarrassment to being so directly congratulated when she didn’t feel particularly deserving of such a compliment.
• The message was not unknown – but seemed misplaced (1:31-33). Unless Mary’s family hadn’t told her ANYTHING about their faith – she knew about the promise of the coming King to redeem the Jewish people from their sorry state. When you look closely at the verses, some of the promises of the King were enumerated:
He will be called “Savior” or “Rescuer”. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 to crush the head of the enemy through the womb of the woman. “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
He will be exalted. The “greatness” is likely a reference to Isaiah 9:6-7, as in being distinguished in power and wisdom. 9”6 “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.”
He will be called the Son of the Most High God. The one who started that rumored title from Gabriel’s mouth, later fueled it from Heaven when in Mt. 3:17 God said: “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
He will sit on David’s throne. The promise to David was a perpetual inheritor if the kings followed God, as in 1 Kings 2: [Do these things] 4 “and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’”.
He will have an unending dynasty that restores the household of David in Judah. This sounds like the reference of Isaiah 9:7 “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Mary wasn’t mystified by the promises – she knew them. What was a mystery to her was clear by what came out of her mouth next…
• The method was a puzzle (1:34-37).
In Luke 1:34 it records: “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” There isn’t anyone who would have heard this and WOULDN’T have had this question. It is reasonable, logical and necessary for Mary to have an understanding. She wasn’t resisting the WHAT of the message of God, she was questioning the HOW of that message.
Third, the Decision Point: Mary gave God her life.
The stunning point of the narrative is that this young woman named Mary appears to have already decided that God’s message was FINE WITH HER. The messenger made clear what God wanted – surrender of her body for God’s use. The angel explained that God’s Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that she would be with child without any human agency. God offered both a TRUTH, and the EVIDENCE to back it up. The simple TRUTH was this: This wasn’t hard for God. The evidence was that even her old auntie Liz was in her sixth month with child.
The fact is that God wants to be able to use us, our bodies, our hands, our feet, our choices, our lives. He invites us to surrender them to both His care and His use. We must remember it again and again: God never invites us into His Kingdom on our terms. Though entrance to eternal life has been fully paid by Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, we cannot come into a right relationship with Him while resisting His right to be the King, and insisting on our own way. God isn’t hoarding rebels for Heaven, but refugees. God calls people who AREN’T MAKING TERMS, aren’t justifying their desires and making them equal to His Word… God calls people to a POINT OF DECISION about HIS SOVEREIGN RIGHT to rule their lives, change their nation, make or break their reputation, endanger their most treasured relationships, cause people around them to doubt their integrity… ALL OF THAT.
Why do we think God cannot call His church into a time of persecution and struggle? Is He not the same God Who called Mary into a position of public disgrace?
Yet, look at her response, because it is touching…
Luke 1:38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary saw herself as a SLAVE of the Most High. There was no arrogance, nor any talk of her personal rights. There was no dispute over God’s plan and her plan. His plan was the ONLY plan she wanted. Her response was simple, precious, difficult, painful obedience – I am God’s to use as He will. There is the whole struggle from the Garden in a nutshell. God sets the parameters, I live in them and serve His purpose. Adam and Eve wouldn’t… and people wouldn’t today without the intervention of God in their lives. How offensive is this truth of surrender to the modern mind! How degrading to be used in the thoughts of our lost friend. They cannot imagine the appeal of this to those whose heart beats to serve our Savior. We sing of surrender! We ask ourselves, what higher use for a man or woman is there than to be a precious tool in the hands of the Magnificent Creator? Mary KNEW IT. She understood the impulse to surrender.
Fourth, her Initial Steps begin: Mary learns from a mentor and friend.
No sooner had she surrendered to God’s call, when she began her FIRST STEPS as a follower of God. Do you remember that time! You had MUCH ZEAL but LITTLE KNOWLEDGE. Off she went on a quest to visit her auntie Liz, and see the miracle of the barren woman now growing with a child within.
Luke 1:39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed [are] you among women, and blessed [is] the fruit of your womb! 43 “And how has it [happened] to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 “And blessed [is] she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.“
Did you ever wonder WHY this trip is recorded? Do you think it was simply to tell the story of John’s womb flipping worship? Let me bother you with a thought. Where could a young woman who was unmarried travel ALONE? The best answer I can offer is “Nowhere!” What if she WAS NOT ALONE on the journey? What if she had company with her for this encounter? Could the story have helped settle her reputation in the family when another observer reported that she met Auntie Liz and heard the prophetic voice of the older woman exclaim the child within Mary to be exactly what Mary reported to her family – a child from God begotten by the Spirit?
Scripture says that Elizabeth greeted her and the Spirit empowered her voice. She told Mary:
• You are blessed and so is the One inside you!
• I am humbled at your visit and the baby within me is excited!
• You have done right to listen to the Lord’s message.
Liz knew that what Mary was doing was not easy. She learned about shame the hard way – through YEARS of celebrating the births of OTHER WOMEN’S CHILDREN. Her prayers and longings went UNANSWERED through her whole naturally fertile life – and THEN God acted. Then God heard her cries in the night. Mary did right by going to her home and hearing from her lessons. We need that kind of support to grow up in the faith.
Fifth, Praise rises: Mary shares a heart of worship!
I cannot do justice to “The Magnificat” – the celebration that poured out of Mary when she was encouraged by the words of Auntie Liz. I can only say that believers that surrender and begin to grow, learn the JOY of WORSHIP. Mary answered Liz with a beautiful reply:
Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered [those who were] proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from [their] thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.” 56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and [then] returned to her home.
So much more should be said about that song, but we must move swiftly to the final stage of her encounter with God in her life… for it is the one that many of us are living in right now…
Sixth, the Christian Walk is traveled: Mary followed God’s plan for her.
God lead her through the hard times, and she continually learned to trust that God knows what He is doing. The path of life unfolded, and this CHRISTIAN LIFE brought joy, but also pain. It brought satisfaction, but did not eliminate uncertainty. There was an uncomfortable journey to a less than receptive extended family for an uncomfortable birth.
Luke 2:1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
There was the strangeness of visitors and their kind but unusual words…
Luke 2:17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.
There were the hours of watching the baby breathe, of counting the little fingers and toes, of checking skin temperature and bundling to keep Him warm in the cold. Think about what she pondered…
• Did she wonder if those were the hands of a King?
• Did she recognize as she taught the boy to speak that He was the very Word of God?
• Did she wipe the tears from a little boys eyes and blood from his skinned knee and really know the preciousness of the blood she dabbed?
• Did she comb his hair and know that it would shine brightly one day when He sat again sit enthroned above the angels, with myriads shouting His name?
• Did she know as she weaved a tunic for her child that He would one day wear the white linen of Heaven?
• Did she scrub his little body knowing that she would do so to bury Him later… and wash His feet, and know how hard His journey would be, and how excruciating the nails would be that one day were destined to pierce Him?
She would SEE His painful sacrifice. The Gospels record that she was not spared this horror…
John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, … 25 …. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!”
Her life of following God didn’t insulate her from PAIN, LOSS and HEARTBREAK. It did help her to rest in God’s hands when life’s crushing blows would have beat her down. Mary saw her Son doing what she had done long before…Surrendering a body to God’s use to fulfill God’s plan.