Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg
26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And 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 call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to 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. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
What we most often call the virgin birth is more accurately called the virgin conception. This account gives us the details of who and what was involved in the virgin conception of Christ as does Matthew’s account. Mat 1:18 says specifically about the virgin conception, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”
However, the birth of Jesus can also be called the virgin birth based on Mat 1:25 “but [Joseph] kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” In other words, Mary and Joseph did not have sexual relations before Jesus was conceived nor before Jesus was born.
But what is most important in the angel’s message to Mary is that Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, secondly, what he would become as a result, and third, how it would affect us. So let’s look at this passage to see what it tells us about God and what it tells us about ourselves.
It tells us two primary things.
- God takes the initiative in our salvation
- We should respond in faith and obedience
To discover how God takes the initiative in salvation let’s look at three things found in this passage:
- What he has done in the virgin conception
- For whom he has done it
- How he has done it
- God takes the initiative in salvation (specifically in the virgin conception)
1.1 What He has done – what actions he has taken (in general) to effect salvation
God sent a messenger, God sent the means, and God sent the Messiah
- God sent a messenger – the angel Gabriel – to communicate the good news of the coming Savior
- Verse 26 tells us, “the angel Gabriel was sent from God” to Mary to tell her of the upcoming conception and birth of Christ and how she would participate in it
- God had previously sent Gabriel to Zechariah to tell him that his prayer had been answered and that he and his elderly wife Elizabeth would conceive a son, and should call him John. Luk 1:11 calls him “an angel of the Lord,” so we conclude that he was sent from God.
- Later, “an angel of the Lord,” presumably Gabriel once again, visited Joseph according to Mat 1:(20-21) to give him the same news that had been given to Mary. We conclude that he too was sent by God.
- God sent the means – the Holy Spirit – to effect the conception and sanctification of the Savior
- Verse 35 says, “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”
- God sent the third person of the trinity to be the efficient cause by which the conception and sanctification of Christ would take place
- Isa 48:16 ESV tells us that God sends the Holy Spirit. “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.
- As does 1Pe 1:12 ESV, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
- God sent the Messiah – Jesus – to be the Savior
- Verse 32-33, “you will conceive…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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
- God sent the second person of the trinity to be the redemptive sacrifice for the sins of mankind
- John 3.16 confirms this, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life ;
- As does Gal 4.4 “When the fullness of time had come God sent forth his son… to redeem those who were under the law…
- This passage tells Mary and us who the child would become
- He will be great
- 32 He will be great,
- The implication is that he will be the greatest of all
- He will be holy
- 35 …therefore the child…will be called holy…”
- He will be the righteous branch of Jer 33:15 ESV 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous aBranch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
- He will be the Son of God
- 35 therefore the child to be born will be…the Son of God.
- Many are called sons of God in Scripture, but he will be a unique son of God.
- He will be the Son of man
- 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
- As the son of man, he will be the offspring of Eve in Gen 3.15 whose heel is bruised by the serpent, but who bruises the serpent’s head, and he will be the one coming with the clouds in power and glory on the last day in Daniel 7.13
- He will be a king
- He will have a throne
- 32 …the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
- He will reign
- 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob
- He will have a kingdom
- 33 and of his kingdom
- He will live and reign eternally – he will be the eternal king of kings
- 33 and he will reign…for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
- Implications of living under Messiah’s rule
- Because he is great, he is greater than our enemies
- Because he is holy, he will make righteous judgments. He will always be fair.
- Because he is the Son of God, he can bear the weight of our sin
- Because he is the Son of man, he can assume our guilt and pay for our sins
- Because he is the king of kings he wields ultimate control, authority and presence in the universe and in our lives. Therefore, he will protect us from our enemies, he will guide us by his word, he will be with us in every situation, and he will do so forever
- Why wouldn’t you want to serve such a benevolent king?
- He will have a throne
We’ve looked at what God has done to initiate salvation.
Next, let’s look at the recipients of God’s initiative in salvation
1.2 For whom He has accomplished – or to whom he offers the gift of salvation (in general)
God offers salvation first,
- To despised people
- Verse 26 “…the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth
- From his announcement to Zechariah on the temple mount, the angel travels to Nazareth in Galilee, far from the religious center of power in Jerusalem, and far from the political center of power in Rome
- It is considered insignificant, despised and unclean (cf Isa 9.1; Mat 4.13-16; Luke 22:59; 7.4; Acts 2:7)
- For example, Nathaniel said to his brother Philip after he had told him about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1.46)
God offers salvation second,
- To disenfranchised people
- Verse 27 “the angel was sent…to a virgin…and the virgin’s name was Mary.”
|Women’s status and freedoms were severely limited by Jewish law and custom in ancient Israel, as in essentially all other cultures at the time. Generally speaking:· most were restricted to roles of little or no authority,|
|· they were largely confined to their father’s or husband’s home,|
|· they were considered to be inferior to men, and under the authority of men — either their father before marriage, or their husband afterwards.· were not allowed to testify in court trials.
· could not go out in public, or talk to strangers
· when outside their homes they were to be doubly veiled
· “They had become second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves.” 1
Third, God offers salvation
- To favored people
- Though Mary was from a despised community and though she was disenfranchised person
- She found favor with God – the angel reiterates it twice in verses 28 and 30
- 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”
- 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
- Another translation for favored is “woman richly blessed.”
- Though she was considered among the “little people” she was appointed for divine favor
- Later, Mary would offer to God a song of praise for his favor, 48 “for ahe has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for ahe who is mighty has done great things for me, 52 he has exalted those of humble estate…”
Do you feel despised, insignificant, or disenfranchised by the world? God offers you his favor through faith in his son Jesus. Story of Lutheran chapel – seemed like a bunch of misfits. I didn’t know 1Co 1:26-29 ESV at the time, 26 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; bGod chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
We have looked at what God has done to accomplish salvation, and to whom God offers salvation, but like Mary, we want to know
1.3 How He has done it – the means by which he effects specifically the virgin birth
Mary, in her perplexed state, asks the angel how this could take place since she was a virgin and has never had sexual relations with a man (verse 34). In contrast to Zechariah who asked a similar question and was struck dumb as a result, Mary’s question gets an honest answer from the angel. The angel senses a difference between her question and that of Zechariah like a mother senses the differences in the the tone of her child’s voice. The angel senses that it is an honest question coming from faith, in contrast to the unbelief of Zechariah. She is saying in other words, “I believe, but tell me how God will do this?” The angel tells her that it will be accomplished
- By the Holy Spirit in three ways
- By his miraculous power
- By his sanctifying power
- By his omnipotent power
Let’s look briefly at the Scriptural support for all three, then look at the doctrinal importance of the virgin birth
The Holy Spirit is the effective cause of the virgin birth
- His miraculous power
- 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… 35 …”The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
- This is not your run of the mill conception. No man is involved. Miraculously, the Holy Spirit will conceive a child in Mary’s womb.
- His sanctifying power
- 35 …therefore the child to be born will be called holy…
- The child will be called holy – will be preserved from original sin, and from the sins of the flesh – by the same Holy Spirit
- His omnipotent power
- 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
- The Spirit’s power is omnipotent. It can accomplish anything God wants – the conception of a son to a barren women as in Elizabeth’s case, or the conception of a son to a virgin woman in Mary’s case
Now let’s look at
- The doctrinal importance of the virgin birth (thanks especially to Wayne Grudem, bit also Robert Reymond and Louis Berkhof’s systematic theologies)
- It shows that salvation must ultimately come from the Lord.
- As God promised that the “seed” of the woman (Gen 3.15) would ultimately destroy the serpent, so God brought it about by his own power, not mere human effort
- The virgin birth of Christ is an unmistakable reminder that salvation can never come through human effort, but must be the work of God himself.
- Our salvation only comes about through the supernatural work of God, and that was evident at the very beginning of Jesus’ life when “God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal 4.4-5)
- It made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person.
- This was the means God used to send his son (John 3.16 “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him may have everlasting life ; Gal 4.4 “When the fullness of time had come God sent forth his son… to redeem those who were under the law…) into the world as a man.
- Jesus’ full humanity is evident to us from the fact of his ordinary human birth from a human mother, and his full deity would be evident from the fact of his conception in Mary’s womb by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.
- It makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin.
- All human beings have inherited legal guilt and a corrupt moral nature from their first father, Adam.
- But the fact that Jesus did not have a human father means that the line of descent from Adam was partially interrupted.
- Jesus did not descend from Adam in exactly the same way that all other humans have descended
- This does not mean that the transmission of sin comes only from the father
- We can explain that he did not inherit sin from Mary not because Mary was sinless – as some suppose – we can only say that the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary must have prevented also the transmission of sin from Mary: “the HS will come upon you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy.”
Let’s look finally at
- Our response to the message of the virginal conception of Christ
The close parallels between this story and the story of Zechariah’s meeting with the angel in Luke 1:11-20 invite us, in fact, demands, that we compare the two passages.
Zechariah and Elizabeth, now past child-bearing age, had prayed for a child because she was barren. Like his visit to Mary, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah. But to him, it was not in a humble village, but in Jerusalem while he was serving in the holy place in the temple as high priest. Gabriel announced another upcoming birth. He told Zechariah that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a child who should be called John, which means favored one.
Both Zechariah and Mary had similar first reactions to the appearance of Gabriel – fright and astonishment – to which the angel replied, “Do not be afraid.” However, the questions they asked the angel in response came from very different places in their hearts. It is difficult for us to discern the difference from the actual words – they both asked in so many how can this be? But like a mother can sense a the difference between a bad attitude and a good attitude by the tone of her children’s voices, the angel was able to sense that Zechariah’s response came from unbelief while Mary’s came from faith.
As a result of Zechariah’s unbelief, he was struck dumb for the entire term of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary, on the other hand, because of her faith, was given a clear answer by the angel – that this would take place by means of the Holy Spirit – and that her barren relative Elizabeth too would also conceive in her old age – to which she further replied, “I am the Lord’s servant, let it be to me according to your word.”
She said – in other words – I do trust in God, and because I am his servant I am willing to make myself available and to cooperate with whatever he is calling me to do. Those are words of faith and trust in a mysterious, surprising, miraculous, omnipotent God.
Both Zechariah and Mary were favored by God. The difference between them is that Zechariah was forced by his own unbelief to participate in God’s favor from a distance, so to speak, for the first nine months, while Mary, because of her ready faith, participated in God’s favor from the very outset. Zechariah remained dumb while Mary sang a song of praise to God her Savior when she arrived at Elizabeth’s home.
Is there some way that you think God’s word is inviting you to believe in him, something he is inviting you to participate with him in, but you are putting him off because of your unbelief? Is there something that seems too hard to believe? Don’t be like Zechariah. Don’t cause God to put you on hold. Be like Mary. Join into what God wants to do in you and through you. You may feel fearful. You may not be able to figure it all out with your mind. But you can place your trust in a miracle-working, omnipotent God who can work out all the details in his way and his time.
What difference does it make to believe the virgin conception of Christ? It is an important evangelical belief, but not considered essential for salvation. What is essential for salvation is believing that Jesus is God who has come in the flesh to give his life as a ransom for your sins. Believing that your good works cannot please God and get you into heaven – only Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection on your behalf can earn God’s favor. In order to receive God’s favor – his gift of salvation – you must turn from trust in yourself, to trust in Christ. Then you can begin a whole new life – an eternal life – right now – with an eternal inheritance kept in heaven for you.