Title: Nothing will be impossible with God.
Text: Luke 1.26-38
CIT: Very much the outline of Zechariah’s story, Mary’s has a visit from the angel, Gabriel; however, her response and her son are very different.
CIS: Luke’s desire is to demonstrate the grand difference between the forerunner and the Savior. Jesus out distances John for a reason. He’s the Son of God and He will save his people from their sins.
Introduction: Good morning, we’re in Luke 1; This is probably an odd question, but I’m guessing most folks have heard a sermon preached at Christmas time about Mary. But I’ll bet most folks haven’t heard a sermon dedicated to Zechariah; or Elizabeth; or even John the Baptist. At least not at Christmas; usually, these characters are footnotes as the focus is placed upon Mary, Joseph, The Wisemen, The Shepherds and of Course, Baby Jesus.
So, I’m guessing you’ve heard of Mary? I’m guessing everyone has; Begin 1st, by reading the text;
A basic outline for Mary is exactly the same as last week’s message for Zechariah:
- The Angel’s Appearance (11-12; 26-27)
- The Angel’s Announcement (13-18; 28-33)
- The Angel’s Answer (19-23; 34-37)
That’s interesting to me. Is this Luke’s plan? Did it come out this way because as a writer, he wanted to flow and symmetry? I wonder, because upon closer inspection we see some incredible similarities:
- He was troubled; v 12 She was greatly troubled v 28
- The angel said to him; v 13 The angel said to her; v 30
- Do not be afraid; v 13 Do not be afraid; v 30
- Will bear you a son; v 13 You will…bear a son; v 31
- And you shall call his name; v 13 and you shall call his name; v 31
- He will be great; v 15 he will be great v 32
- Said to the angel; v 18 said to the angel; v 34
- And answering the angel and answering the angel
said to him; v 19 said to her; v 35
- Gabriel…God…sent; v 19 Gabriel….sent…God; v 26
- And behold – this sign; v 20 and behold – this sign; v 36
Yeah, I think it is his plan. I think he wants to show how these two individuals work together, because they fulfill what was spoken of by the prophets. I read somewhere recently that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies as spoken of 500 years, 800 years, 1000 years, 2000 years before. But there is more here; I think Luke’s practice isn’t so much to see what is similar, but really to see the differences.
Look at the vast differences between these two passages:
- Elizabeth has a need – she’s desperate for a child, so that her shame might be taken away.
- Mary has no such need. Indeed, her situation is going to shame her!
- Three times the writer places emphasis on Elizabeth’s barrenness. (7a, 7b, 18)
- Three times the writer places emphasis on Mary’s virginity. (27a, 27b, 34)
- Gabriel encounters Zechariah in the holy of holies, just before the veil that separated the presence of God and the priest. (8-11)
- Gabriel encounters Mary when he travels to where she is – Nazareth (26). A place that is considered ‘insignificant, despised and unclean’. John 1.45-46; Can anything good come from Nazareth?
- Zechariah is a priest, selected by lot, that is to say, by God to serve in the Temple (v 5, 8).
- Mary is the lowest of the low. She is probably barely a teenage girl from Nazareth. There is nothing special about her – age, gender, maybe even her family heritage; yet she is the one favored by God.
- There will be what looks like similarities between John and Jesus, but, when it is said and done, Jesus will outdistance himself from John:
- John will be great before the Lord (15) vs. Jesus will be great – the Son of the Most High God (32); John will be great before him, but Jesus will be his son!
- John will be filled with the Holy Spirit (15) vs. Jesus’ conception will be the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit (35) John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, but Jesus will be of the Holy Spirit; John will be filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be holiness incarnate.
- John will go before Jesus in the spirit and power of Elijah; John will be a prophet and a priest vs. Jesus will be King in the line of David – he will be prophet, priest and King; (36)
This last point struck me; it really did – it caught me off guard; here’s what I mean: I’ve been amazed at how the 12 disciples were willing to die for their faith in Jesus. Chuck Colson really convinced me of this with the issue of Watergate; three men couldn’t keep a secret; If Jesus were false or fake, if they didn’t really believe him to be the messiah, if they had stolen his body – they would never have all agreed to the conspiracy. No way. They had their property confiscated, their lives threatened, then beaten, and eventually, they all died, except one. Surely one would have turned states evidence! I get that. But John the Baptist?
John the Baptist is Jesus’ relative. They’re cousins. John the Baptist runs parallel with Christ for such a short time. We’re talking months. Then Jesus rises in popularity and John doesn’t fight it. How can this be? Check it out, he’s been the man for a few months now. People are coming out to him in the wilderness in droves. Then, his disciples complain that more and more people are following Christ and less and less are following John. John shows incredible humility. This is the way it is supposed to be. He must increase and I must decrease. Listen, that’s not the way humans respond.
Ill.: I heard an interview with Jimmy Johnson this week. He’s the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys – super bowl champs in 92, 93. Then Jimmy left. What? He was asked why? He said one day he made a trade for Tony Casillas. It was a big deal. He walked down the hall to Jerry’s office and told the owner that he’d made the trade. Jerry hadn’t even heard of Tony Casillas. Less than two hours later, the coach, Jimmy Johnson hears Jerry on TV announcing this blockbuster trade he just made for Tony Casillas. As soon as Jerry gets back to his office, Jimmy comes down there and asks what just happened. Jerry said: there’s a lot of attention out there and I want to get some of it. Jimmy Johnson said he knew that it was just a matter of time and he would be gone. Jerry wasn’t going to share the spotlight.
Ill.: I think of Basketball – remember Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil? 3 championships in a row! They probably could have kept going, but neither one could let the other one take the credit! They blew up the team. Shaquille then played for the Heat, Suns, Celtics and Cavilers; honestly he just faded from the scene. I never even heard of his retirement. All because he couldn’t share the spotlight! He wanted all the credit.
App.: what will become of John, staggers the human mind. His willingness to let his cousin take his place in the spotlight and surpass him in popularity shakes us as we think deeply about it. It’s just not natural! I’ve seen this played out in the church and people don’t like someone else rising above them. Whether it is on the praise team or in the Bible Study class or the one who holds the power on a committee – people don’t like being one-upped.
I can see some of you disagree. Not you! You’re incredibly humble. If the Bible were written all over again, it would be said of you, that you are the meekest, must humble person on the earth. Have you ever thought?
- Why do the elders get to decide…
- Why do the deacons or why don’t the deacons…
- Why does she get a bigger, why does he get a better class room than me? One so close to the kitchen, so close to the bathroom – why do they get a bathroom in their class?
- Why does Venture get to…
- Why does Bridgemark have a…
- Why does she always sing on the praise team?
- Why does he always play on the praise band?
- Why does that committee get so much money?
- To quote Abe Lincoln: Why is this thus and what is the reason for this thusness?
- Why does KK get… or have… or need…
- Why does Wendy get…or have…or need…
- Why does New Beginnings Deaf Fellowship get or meet or have…
- Why didn’t they ask me to serve on that committee… why did they ask her or him be that representative or…?
Listen, you may not voice your objections to someone else’s success – but the fleshly part of us cries for some recognition and hates it when we’ve been upped by someone. Even if you’re someone who works behind the scenes, you still want the credit due you! Especially if we think we deserve that…whatever it is.
There are some similarities, but the differences are greater by far. John is filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth; But Christ is Holy. He is the Son of God. He will be King.
Here’s another stark contrast between the two stories:
- Zechariah responds in disbelief; 18-20
- Mary responds in belief; rd v 38; Lit.: Behold, the slave of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.
Exp.: you don’t see it in the English, but the Greek has word that appears in both v. 37 and v. 38; ῥῆμα; It’s translated: Nothing; the word ῥῆμα means word or thing; So lit.: No thing (event, matter) will be impossible for God. I like: No word, spoken by God will be impossible. Then she says: Let the word of God, that you have spoken happen to me.
There is some OT imagery here. Think of Sarah in her later years. God says: Nothing is too hard for God. Nothing. What He says – that is what will be accomplished.
There is still another difference:
- We mentioned Zechariah’s disbelief; but what amazes me is the focus on his righteous and blameless life. Things are right and he’s willing to enter into the holy of holies with a clean conscience. But when it comes down to it – he rebels. That’s what disbelief is – it’s rebellion. When God tells you something – and you don’t believe him – you’re rebelling against him. Think of the Hebrew Children coming out of Egypt, getting ready to enter in the Promised Land. Here’s where I’m going with this:
App.: Some people are happier with their rules and regulations than they are with simple obedience. We line up with the Religious Rulers of the Old Testament when we live by a standard and a system but not by a surrendered obedience. We go to church, Bible study, serve under the bridge and look down upon those who don’t meet our standard. That’s Zechariah – obedient, blameless according to the Law, righteous in his actions, but when it came down to it – he rebelled;
- Mary simply believed and obeyed; γένοιτό μοι; But, you may say the Bible doesn’t say she believed? Yes it does, Rd v 45
What does it mean to believe? Mary is a great example. It’s not about who has the best attendance or who memorizes the most verses or who gives the most money. It’s about a surrendered life that says: God, here is my life. I’m willing to be shamed for your glory. I’m willing to be used for your glory. I am your slave. γένοιτό μοι; Have your way in me!
*** Meghan O’Gieblyn: How do you sell God in the 21st Century: More Heaven, Less Hell. The Guardian – Liberal Newsmagazine. I was drawn to the article because of it’s title. Many of you probably remember my illustration a few weeks ago of the article recommending a Christianity without hell. I wondered if Meghan was commenting on that in any way. She doesn’t. Meghan is a former believer. According to her testimony, she got saved when she was 5. She doesn’t remember it though – all she knows is what her mother told her. Her struggle was and is over the issue of hell. No one could ever explain hell to her. She never really got over that: Why would a loving God ever send anyone to hell?
I would have stopped reading, but she began to really struggle with a particular issue, which she never resolves. She clearly understands the concept, but struggles with the reality. She participated in Street Evangelism as a student at Moody in Chicago. She traveled out to see what all the fuss was over this mega-church, Willow Creek. In her struggle with the doctrine of hell, she found it interesting that Bill Hybles never mentioned hell. She writes that she began to make it a game to watch him skirt the issue of hell. And it wasn’t just him, but the teachers as well.
Meghan was attending Willow Creek when 9/11 happened. She writes that Bill Hybels addressed the what had happened from the stage – and for the 1st time, she heard Hybels address evil.
I started my sophomore year at Moody in September 2001. The Sunday after 9/11, Willow Creek was one of many American churches filled with newcomers. I was eager to see how Bill Hybels would handle the event – whether he would demonise the enemy or invoke safe platitudes about the brevity of life. As it turned out, he did something completely different.
One of the biggest lessons of the past week, he began by saying, was that “evil is alive and well”. It was the first time I’d heard the word from his pulpit. He proposed that the evil we’d experienced was not limited to the men who flew the planes. He alluded to the terrorists’ accomplices and the people in other countries who were shown celebrating the tragedy. The pastor paused for a moment, and then said, “Let’s bring it close to home – what about the evil in me? Because boy, I felt it this week.” Hybels described his own anger when he was watching the news footage, his immediate craving for revenge. “What is it in us that makes some of us want others to pay a hundred times over for the wrong done to us?” he asked. “Well, that would be evil, and I felt it in me. Did you feel it in you?” With regard to the military response, he argued that Jesus’s teaching to not repay evil with evil was just as relevant at a national level. The vindictive rage we felt watching the attacks from our kitchen televisions was the same emotion that was creating hell all over the world.
At this point in her article, I think she misses the whole point of the message. She writes: I don’t know what prompted Hybels to diverge from the market-tested optimism that day, but it was a powerful sermon – people at Moody were talking about it all week. At the time, I didn’t appreciate just how radical it was. In speaking about his own capacity for revenge and hatred, he had opened up a possibility, a way of talking about evil that felt relevant and transformative. It wasn’t fire and brimstone; it wasn’t condemning the sinner as some degenerate Other. Rather, he was challenging his congregation to exercise empathy in a way that Jesus might have, suggesting that he among us without sin should cast the first stone.
Here’s what get’s me: Each of us has evil in us. That was my point earlier when I asked if you’ve ever felt bothered by being one-upped. If you’ve ever felt jealousy toward another or if you’ve ever coveted someone else’s position or place. In her article, she acknowledges the evil within. But, instead of seeing the salvation from this human condition she explains it away.
Part of what made church such a powerful experience for me as a child and a young adult was that it was the one place where my own faults and failings were recognised and accepted, where people referred to themselves affectionately as “sinners”, where it was taken as a given that the person standing in the pews beside you was morally fallible, but still you held hands and lifted your voice with hers as you worshipped in song. This camaraderie came from a collective understanding of evil – a belief that each person harboured within them a potential for sin and deserved, despite it, divine grace.
You see that last line – that’s where Meghan missed it. The Bible never teaches that we deserve divine grace. Instead, it teaches that because we’re evil, because we’re sinners, we deserve hell. Please don’t miss this: God is infinitely holy. There is no sin, blame, fault, or blemish in him at all. We are infinitely sinful. Just one sin separates us from God – so far that to explain it in earthly terms will limit that separation. God created a place of torment for those angels that rebelled against him. And, the Bible teaches as well, that the sin in us will be punished there, too.
That’s the whole point of the Christmas message! Listen to Matthew 1.18-21, where Gabriel appears to Joseph: 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
That’s the gospel message – not that we deserve the grace of God – but that in spite of what we deserve, God grants it.
Conclusion: Invitation to come to Christ