For no word from God will ever fail.
Luke has opened his well investigated and thought out history book with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth being visited by the angel Gabriel and told that they will have a baby in there old age. Elizabeth lived in seclusion for the first five months of her pregnancy.
This story commences in her sixth month.
Further biblical context includes the fact that Elizabeth is an Israelite and therefore of the nation that received promises from the God of the universe. In Genesis 3:15 he we are promised a child of Eve who would crush Satan’s head. Genesis 49:10 promised that someone from the line of Judah would someday come to rule over all the nations. Likewise, 2 Samuel 7 declared that the throne of David (and his offspring) would be established forever. Finally, Isaiah 7:14 predicts that the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).
The scene is set and the history predicted but will God fulfill his promises? Instead of childbirth we have seen evidence of barrenness. Instead of the strong line of Judah and the unstoppable heirs of David, Israel has a foreign king named Herod. And as for the virgin? A search through the Old Testament shows us that the virgin is actually Israel (Isaiah 37:22; Jeremiah 14:17; 18:13) and one of the final prophets declared ‘Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again’ (Amos 5:2).
This is another narrative and so can be broken up like Luke 1:5-25 with a beginning, problem, quest, solution, ending. It is a smaller story to the previous one and the bulk of it is of Gabriel speaking. Because of this, we can use the dialogue to divide the passage up like this…
- 26-28 God sends his messenger to a virgin
- 29-33 God’s message to the virgin
- 34-37 God assures the virgin
- 38 God’s word will be fulfilled
26-28 God sends his messenger to a virgin
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy…” Luke segues from the previous story to this one by placing this new story on the timeline of the pregnancy. We later learn that Elizabeth is literally related to the main character in this story (verse 36). Gabriel will also link the previous story to this one.
“God sent the angel Gabriel…” While Mary and Gabriel will speak to one another in this story, we see right from the beginning that God is acting – Gabriel is just a messenger and Mary is just God’s servant (verse 38). Note the frequency that God is referenced in this story and the abundant information we get about him (verses 26, 28, 30, 32, 35!, 37).
“…to Nazareth, a town in Galilee…” Luke simply supplies geographical detail here.
“…to a virgin pledged to be married…” This was like an engagement which could only be broken through divorce.
“…to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.” Luke has zoned in to Nazareth of Galillee, to a virgin pledged to be married, to a man named Joseph, who is a descendant of David. Up until this last statement, we are given potentially trivial points. The virgin will become important but at the moment, descendant of David is significant. The previous story came to a descendant of Aaron – a priest. Now we have someone in the kingly line.
“The virgin’s name was Mary.” Again, the word virgin is used. Becoming a bit more important now that it has been repeated.
“…you who are highly favoured!” This ought to be read as an act of grace rather than a point of praise for Mary. She is favoured because the Lord bestows favour on her. Rather than portraying how amazed the Lord is with Mary, we need to see that the greeting opens with three positive and reassuring statements: 1) Greetings, 2) you have received God’s grace, 3) the Lord is with you. Mary is the recipient of grace and not the giver of it.
So the scene is set and the characters are in play and the message being delivered from God looks to be a good one. But what will the details of the message be?
29-33 God’s message to the virgin
“Mary was greatly troubled…” Despite the clear opening sentences of peace, Mary is troubled and unsure. I suppose that this would be normal reaction to an out-of-this-world messenger!
“…you have found favour with God.” The word for favour here is more or less the root of the word for favour in verse 28 but is more often translated ‘grace’. The reason Mary ought not be afraid is because you have found grace with God.
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” Before we recall how this story ends, we need to remember that childbirth is a fairly natural thing for females. Not that it is without complications – there are mountains of complications – but no miracle is being announced just yet. The big news is that his name will be Jesus which means saviour.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” OK, now it is getting interesting. Mary’s son will also be the Son of God! ‘Most High’ is a way of saying God without naming him.
“…will give him the throne of his father David…” Now this child is announced to be a descendant of David. So Joseph was a descendant of David. Who is actually going to be this kid’s dad? One this is for sure, he will inherit the throne of David which was promised to last forever (2 Samuel 7).
“…he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever…” Here is an echo back to the Genesis 49:10 promise.
“…his kingdom will never end.” So, the theme of this promise is clearly that Mary’s son will be the king of Israel and that there will be no end to this kingdom. This is not unique to Jesus since David was promised the same thing. In terms of Biblical Theology, we are hearing the fulfillment of the promise made to David.
The question remains, who will father this child?
34-36 God assures the virgin
“How will this be…since I am a virgin?” Is this an odd question? I mean, she is betrothed and there’s no finality in virginity. But the question does help to move the story along to some amazing statements about the incarnation. I’m reminded also that Abraham and Sarah received the promise of a child and took it on themselves to make it happen. Here, we hear Mary, God’s humble servant, wanting to hear how God plans to fulfil this.
“The Holy Spirit…the Most High…the Son of God.” The Spirit of God and the Most High (whom Jesus will teach us to call Father but he is not the Father of Gabriel) will bring into human existence the Son of God. The word ‘incarnate’ means in the flesh and here we have the incarnation of the Son of God by the Spirit and the Father. Jesus did not come on his own. The Spirit did not send Jesus on his own. And the Father and the Son did not act in seclusion of the Spirit. This is God in action – three person no in unity. You may wish to compare a few translation to notice some trickiness with this verse but the differences have little impact.
“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” NIV
“therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” ESV
“Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God” NET
“Even Elizabeth…” Here is where Elizabeth’s link with Mary is made known and reading between the lines we see that Gabriel is offering Mary some human company to support one another in this miracle.
“…she who was said to be unable to conceive…” Mary will conceive even while still a virgin and even Elizabeth is going to conceive in her old age. People had concluded that Elizabeth was unable to conceive – that it was impossible and she had no hope. But God can work miracles.
“For no word from God will ever fail.” Many obstacles were against God providing an eternal kingdom descended from David and Judah but here we see God promising children to two ladies who should not have them. God’s word, his promises, never fail.
37-38 God’s word will be fulfilled
“I am the Lord’s servant…” Mary’s response is a model for us. God speaks and we listen and obey. God gives words of hope and salvation and peace and reign and justice and we respond in faith.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.” Again, we conclude a story with the words that show us it’s meaning. God is bringing his word to fulfilment and we can only thank God and pray that it happens.
God’s promises are sure. He has shown grace on us by sending his Son whom he promised from ages past. As the song goes, this is his only plan. All of scripture speaks of the coming of Jesus. It wasn’t til after he came that the pieces were seen in the light. The virgin predicted in Isaiah was no more than a metaphor for the nation of Israel, but we see that it was also a promise of a young girl in Nazareth to give birth to Jesus, the saviour of the world.
- List the promises of God which you hold dearly. Share how you reflect on them to grow your faith. Are there any of those which you struggle to believe?
- Knowing our place before God is an essential element to the Christian Faith. Are there ways you struggle to see yourself as God’s humble servant? Do you treat Jesus as your King? How does or should this be evident in your life?
- Pray through the passage, bringing to mind all the ways God has blessed this world and promises to in the future.
Prayer of the Week
Lord God, may you look on us with favour, generous grace, and love. May we respond in faith, love and obedience. Amen.