Grace For The Journey
We are going verse-by-verse through this Gospel of Luke and Monday we began to delve into the historical events as Luke unfolds them. The 400 years of silence following the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, are interrupted with a special delivery from Heaven. The Angel Gabriel leaves his post in the presence of God to visit Zacharias in the temple. He tells Zacharias that his barren wife Elizabeth, way past the age of childbearing, will in fact conceive and have a son. They are to name the boy John – John the Baptist. Zacharias is dumbstruck – literally – he is stricken with muteness because he did not believe the Angel. Elizabeth does in fact conceive and she is nearing her sixth month of pregnancy when Luke pauses the action there in Judah and tells us where this heavenly messenger, this Angel Gabriel, is going to go next.Recently, I read about Alexander the Great and his use of psychological operations. Alexander was not only a great warrior on the battlefield, but he was also a master of psychological warfare. On one particular occasion, Alexander’s army was engaged in a full retreat from the enemy. But before they made their retreat, Alexander employed a strategy for which he was well prepared. He had earlier instructed his men to construct oversized breastplates and helmets much larger than the ones the men used. The size of these breastplates and helmets would indicate that they had been worn by men some 7 to 8 feet tall. By leaving these enormous shields on the battlefield as they made their retreat, they left the impression that they were an army of massive giants simply regrouping for the next battle. When the advancing army then made their way to the battlefield, they would see the huge armor left behind, become fearful, demoralized, and stop pursing Alexander the Great.
Like a soldier pursuing Alexander the Great, we battle through this sin-cursed world, making significant headway and advancing forward with great strides only to be halted suddenly by an imposing, oversized piece of armor. We face a problem or a challenge that seems overwhelming and insurmountable. If we are not careful, we may become fearful, demoralized, and stop running the race of faith.
At times like these we must turn to
God and remember His almighty power.
He is bigger than that problem that seems
Like an oversized breastplate or helmet.
The Angel Gabriel makes a statement that is worth memorizing there in verse 37, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Gabriel reminds Mary – and us – that our God is omnipotent; all-powerful. He can do anything.
Now virtually anytime we begin speaking of God as all-powerful, or omnipotent, or if we say He can do anything, some wise fool invariably asks, “Well, can God lie?” Or, “Can God make the weather so that it is both raining and not raining at the same time?” And then we simply remind him that God has all power to do whatever He wishes and that He only does those things consistent with His creation and His character. God cannot be unloving because it is against His character and against His nature. God is not unjust, nor unkind, nor does He ever act randomly. But He has all power to do anything He desires and He will always act in a way consistent with His creation and His character.
I want us to take some time this morning to reflect upon the omnipotence of God, upon His nature as the all-powerful God. Blaise Pascal said, “The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost when thinking about it.” But we will think about it this morning as we make our way back through this passage.
I want us to think about some of the powerful work of God in this text and then, after we have gone through it, I want to share with you a few encouraging principles for application this week. First, I have divided the material into something of an outline to help us study the content. The first thing we see is . . .
I. A Powerful Visitation – Verses 26-30.
The powerful visitation, of course, is that of Gabriel, the angel. Verse 26 tells us that the Angel Gabriel goes to an obscure city of Galilee called Nazareth where he visits Mary. She is identified in verse 27 as, “a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.” The word “betrothed” refers to a relationship between two persons that was far more serious than our contemporary notions of “engagement.” To be betrothed to another meant that a young woman’s father had received the purchase price for his daughter from the young man’s father and a formal agreement was drawn up in writing that legally bound the couple to one another. Though not yet married they were considered husband and wife. If the woman were to have relations with another man, it would be considered adultery and the only way a betrothal could be broken was through divorce. Mary was no more than about 15 years old at this time, and was probably closer to 13, which was the normal age for betrothal.
Verse 28 says that the angel appears to Mary and says, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” That is, “You have been graced with a special privilege!” Of course, Mary will learn in a moment that the special privilege will be to bear Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but she does not know that now and right now she is a bit startled. Remember, the natural response in the Bible when one sees an angel is to be afraid. Verse 29 says when she saw him “she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.” Then Gabriel gives a little more information in verse 30. He says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Again, the idea is, “You have been graced with a special privilege, chosen to bear Jesus, the Son of God.”
Before moving on we must correct one faulty understanding of this powerful visitation. The Latin Vulgate translates verse 28, where the angel says to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one,” as, “full of grace” in reference to Mary. That is not what the text says, but that is how it is translated by the Vulgate. Most of you know that the Vulgate is used by the Roman Catholic Church and that the Catholic Church has extrapolated from this translation “full of grace” all manner of interpretation that is foreign to the Scriptures. Perhaps the greatest concern here is the statement of Pope Pius IX who proclaimed in 1854 that “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, (CCC, 491).”
The so-called “Doctrine of Immaculate Conception” refers not to the conception of Christ, but to the conception of Mary. Catholics believe Mary was sinless from the moment of conception and that she never sinned once in her entire life. So Catholics pray to Mary as she is “full of grace” and may dispense this grace to others. Well, that is not at all what verse 28 teaches. I do not want to belabor this point, but I do think it is important to at least address it so that we have some understanding of this when we interact with our Catholic friends.
But in our effort to “set the record straight,” we must not lose sight of Gabriel’s reference to Mary as one graced with the special privilege of bearing the Son of God. That is quite a privilege! And yet, this does not make Mary the object of our prayers and devotion. Furthermore, let us remember the words of Christ Himself later in this Gospel. Luke tells us a certain woman from the crowd raises her voice and says to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” And Jesus replies, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! (Luke 11:27-28).”
From a powerful visitation we learn about . . .
II. A Powerful Incarnation – Verses 31-33.
The word “incarnation” refers to the fact that God came to us and “took on flesh.” That is what the word incarnate means – God in the flesh. God came to us as the eternal Son of God and took on the flesh of humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. The Angel Gabriel says to Mary in verse 31, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.” The word was a common name in that day. It was the Hebrew short name for Yeshua or Joshua, or, “The Lord saves.” What was not common, however, was the five-fold description that went with this particular name found in verses 32 and 33, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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.”
If you compare and contrast this with what Gabriel said to Zacharias concerning the birth of John the Baptist, you recall that the angel said back in verse 15 that John the Baptist was to be “great in the sight of the Lord.” It was a qualified greatness. But of Jesus Gabriel says in verse 32, “He will be great.” This is unqualified greatness. And then you have these other descriptions that are unique to Jesus. He “will be called the Son of the Highest,” which is to say, “the Son of God.” And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, a throne upon which He will reign forever and of His kingdom there will be no end.
Time does not permit us this morning to review the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming future Messiah, of whose kingdom there would be no end. But I would encourage you to look in the margins of your study Bibles or at least later look up 2 Samuel 7 and Daniel 2.
We have examined a powerful visitation, a powerful incarnation, now thirdly we learn about . . .
III. A Powerful Explanation – Verses 34-38.
In verse 34, Mary asks Gabriel for an explanation. She asks, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Unlike Zacharias’s response from last time, which was something like, “I don’t believe it. Prove it!” Mary’s response has nothing to do with doubt, but everything to do with the manner of it. It was really more a biological question. “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The word “know” here conveys intimate knowledge. We might translate this, “How can I conceive a child when I have never been intimate with a man?” The powerful explanation follows in verse 35. The angel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that “the power of the Highest” will overshadow her. There is great mystery in that, but in essence, the angel says, “God will make this happen.”
It is not biological at all.
It is supernatural above all.
And then the angel says, “The Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Now that had to be a lot for Mary to take in! You are going to bear the Son of God and you will conceive Him in a most supernatural way. It is almost like, there is a moment of silence as Mary tries to absorb all this. It is almost like the angel wants to fill the silence and he just spells this out in verse 36 almost like, “Oh, by the way, your cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.” It is like a double-whammy!
Then the statement that encapsulates the power of it all in verse 37, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” A powerful explanation! Mary responds in humble faith in verse 38, and I love her reply, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed. In essence, Mary replies, “I submit to the will of God.”
Here is the proper response
For every child of God to
Everything God says to us!
Whatever God teaches us about serving and obeying Him: sharing our faith with others, being missional, giving, tithing, trusting, and waiting, that we would say, “Here is your servant. Let it be according to Your Word.”
Verse 37 is the hinge verse upon which Luke’s narrative swings. It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though way past the age of childbearing, conceives John the Baptist in her womb. It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that Mary may conceive the baby Jesus in her womb. It is because “nothing is impossible with God” that this baby to be born is no ordinary baby, but God incarnate, God in the flesh. All this because “nothing is impossible with God.”
Let me share with you four statements that follow from this truth. I hope they are helpful to you this week.
First, because nothing is impossible with God . . .
- There Is No Work So Difficult It Cannot Be Done.
This is first with reference to the work of God.
God can do anything He wishes. After God’s marvelous work of creation, the first time in Scripture we come across the statement is with reference to another miraculous birth, the birth of Isaac. Sarah laughs at the thought of having a child in her old age and the Lord says, in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” This thought is repeated in Job 42:2, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” and in Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”
God is omnipotent – He is all-powerful. He can do anything He wishes. By merely speaking the word, He calls all creation into existence. He places the stars in the sky and sets the planets in orbit. He causes the sun to rise and to set. He gives us the very air we breathe and blesses us with life. There is no work for Him so difficult it cannot be done.
But this is also with reference to work for God.
As we live for the Lord and endeavor to keep His will, He equips us with His power to carry it out. The Bible says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Because nothing is impossible with God, there is no work so difficult that cannot be done. Secondly . . .
- There Is No Promise So Wonderful It Cannot Be Kept.
Jesus says in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Paul is led to says in Romans 4:21, “What He has promised, He is able to perform.” There is no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept. Does it sound too wonderful that God has a plan for our lives? God is speaking to His people in Jeremiah 29. What He says to His people then applies to His people now, Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans of peace and not of evil, plans to give you hope and a future.” Nothing is impossible with God. There is no work so difficult it cannot be done. There is no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept.
Thirdly, because nothing is impossible with God . . .
- There Is No Burden So Great It Cannot Be Borne.
We live in a sin-cursed, fallen world. Sometimes we have trials and difficulties for no reason other than because we live in a messed-up world. It is not that there is anything wrong with us, or that we have angered God, or that we have sinned, but sometimes we have trials, burdens, and difficulties because we live in an imperfect world.
Paul had a particular burden he bore. He referred to it as his “thorn in the flesh.” No one really knows what it was, but he had prayed numerous times for God to remove it. God did not remove the thorn, but he said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.” There is no burden so great it cannot be borne. Paul saw the hand of God’s providence in his affliction. He believed God allowed this burden to draw him closer to God and make him stronger.
Remember from last week our definition of providence? The events of our lives do not happen by mere chance nor fate, but by our sovereign and loving Lord who is working out His perfect purpose and plan in our lives. Whatever you are facing this week, whatever trial, whatever affliction, remember there is no burden so great it cannot be borne. Nothing is impossible with God.
Because nothing is impossible with God, there is no work so difficult it cannot be done, no promise so wonderful it cannot be kept, no burden so great it cannot be borne; and, number four, my personal favorite, because nothing is impossible with God . . .
- There Is No Sin So Bad It Cannot Be Forgiven.
This is a blessing only for those who receive Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. To those who receive Christ by faith, the Bible says in 1 John 1:7, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” All sin. . . Not just some sin, but all sin.
Without Jesus I am without hope. I am in sin. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I am a sinner. I am short of the glory of God. I stand separated from God. He is separated from me because He is holy. I am separated from Him because I am unholy. If I die in this condition, I remain separated from Him and I spend eternity in separation in a place called hell.
But if I believe that this Jesus who is God in the flesh did what the Bible says He did, things will be different. I must believe that Jesus took the punishment I deserved by dying on the cross for my sins. I must believe He rose from the dead on the third day as victor over sin, death, hell, and the grave. I receive Him, I take Him by faith, as my Lord and Savior by turning from my sin and turning to Him and receiving Him as number One, as Lord of my life. If I do that, my sins are paid for in Him and I am then clothed in his holiness and righteousness. And this is a picture that never changes. I am forever “in Christ Jesus.”
There is no sin so bad it cannot be forgiven; no sin I have committed in the past and no sin I may commit in the future. The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, (continually) cleanses me from all sin – all sin – past, present, and future.
Why? Say it with me, “Because nothing is impossible with God!”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”