"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: AJBT. Luke 1:26-38. Submitting to God
Date: December 21st 2016
The American Journal of Biblical Theology
Volume 17(52), December 25, 2016.
Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter
What does God expect of you? Each of us has been created by God for a purpose, and while we are living we take up space, use up resources, and affect the lives of others. It is God's purpose that people would turn to Him in faith and obedience. The one characteristic that separates one who believes in God (as Satan does,) and one who has a saving relationship with God is the decision to follow God as one's own personal LORD and Savior, a decision that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and available because of the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross. When we consider what Jesus did and who He is, there is little rational response other than to give our heart and lives to Him. So, with lives so submitted to God, again, what does He expect of us? Obedience refers to a willful submission to His word and a sensitivity and responsiveness to the Holy Spirit. Events continue to unfold in our lives where our response is predicated by our faith. Our faith shapes our responses, and as we interact with the events of this world, God expects us to do so with an appreciation for and an anticipation following His will.
Do you feel that God has personally called you to be obedient to him? If you have never come to the point in your life where to you have turned to God in faith, through Jesus Christ, you may have a very different understanding of who God is, and what His expectations are. The scriptures illustrate God as a loving and Holy God who does not condone sin, nor allow it in His presence, yet He loves those who sin (all people) enough to provide a way for people to have a relationship with Him. If God is God, then it is He who is sovereign, not we ourselves. And, if it is He who is sovereign, then it us up to us to be alert to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and circumstances, remaining ever-ready to respond When God provides opportunities for us to be used by Him.
What is it that God wants you to do for Him? Certainly, we see that God calls upon His people to love Him, obey Him, listen to His Spirit & respond to Him on a continuing basis. We often must make decisions that have a direct impact on God's purpose in our lives; to decide one course of action can be to go against what we clearly know is God's will.
How easy it for you to say "yes" when God calls you to respond to Him? The scriptures illustrate many circumstances where people were called upon to make difficult decisions in order to follow God's will. Arguably, one of the most difficult was made by Mary and Joseph when they were called upon by God to serve Him as parents of the Savior. This scripture passage of this study is one of the gospel accounts of this event.
Luke 1:26-27. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
We may sometimes overlook the significance of Mary in God's revelations of Himself and His purpose to mankind. Jews historically knew through written prophesy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, and that woman would be blessed by God. Mary was a poor peasant girl who lived in a community of little means. She also had tremendous faith in God. Since women were not allowed to be trained in doctrines of the faith, it stands to reason that her faith was based on a belief in God and a true heart-felt desire to be obedient to Him. Who better for God to bless than one who has faith in Him and trusts Him?
Who can God make the best use of: someone whose belief is based on doctrine, or someone who's belief is based on their love for God? It was God's plan that He would enter the world in the lowest social state possible, completely humbling Himself before the people He created. The setting presented by the engagement of Mary and Joseph in such a "backwoods" town was the perfect situation for the birth of the Savior.
It is extremely important to understand that Mary was a virgin. Some have argued that the prophesy of Isaiah that refers to the virgin who would bear a son is unclear as to whether the one described is a virgin or simply a "young woman". However the passage we are about to study will clearly show in her own testimony that she has "never known a man". The evidence of her state validates the voracity of the prophecy.
Other internal evidence as to Mary's virginity is compelling. Herein she is described as "espoused" to Joseph, a state of agreement between the families that the two would soon be wed. The rules of their culture were strict concerning the behavior of an espoused couple. Were Mary to become pregnant during this period, both she and her betrothed could be put to death. The espoused were not allowed to “date” as is done in today’s culture. Relatives closely monitored any instance of their communications lest any of many religious and traditional rules would be broken.
Mary was just a simple country girl who loved the LORD. She had no credentials to place her at anything but the lowest level in society, and she had no formal theological training. Note that to be used of God does not require advanced degrees in doctrine or even a deep knowledge of biblical scripture. What does God need in us for Him to use us? We find in Mary a sincere, humble, and simple spirit that was open to listen to God's will in her life. When open to His will, she was able to be used.
Luke 1:28-29. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
To this point in history we are aware of Gabriel appearing at least four times. He appeared twice to Daniel, once to Zechariah, and now to Mary. He will also appear to Joseph. In most instances of the presentation of an angel, the first words are intended to comfort a frightened witness. However, this angel opens with a quite different greeting. Women were not approached by men in her culture, and were certainly not greeted in the celebratory nature that the angel displayed. The angel greeted her with a word of great respect and dignity that is not typically afforded to women, and then told her that she was one who greatly pleased the LORD because of her faithfulness to Him. Her response is quite reasonable. She would have known of the historical examples of individuals who were visited by God's messengers, but certainly would never expect to witness such a visitation herself. The nature of the statement made by the angel made the encounter that much more frightening and perplexing to this humble girl. Certainly, she questioned in her mind why this angel would come to her and greet her in this manner.
Luke 1:30. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
Her confusion was evident to the angel who then repeated his statement more clearly, stating specifically of the favor that the LORD has found in her. Consequently, the angel would put Mary's heart at ease, alleviating any fears that she had done something wrong that would bring the wrath of God down on her.
Why did Mary find favor in God? Did she search the scriptures in order to become a doctrinal expert? Was she ministering to others as a preacher or missionary? Did she dedicate her life to serving others in the name of God? Had she brought hundreds of others to faith in the LORD? Favor with God is not found in what we do, but in who we are when we submit ourselves fully to the Lordship of God. A favorable relationship with God is found in a decision of the heart, not a fabrication of the hands. The favor found in Mary was due to the sincere and submissive spirit in her heart, one that loved God without pride or pretentiousness. It was time for God to fulfill His promise to come to earth in a substantive way, and provide a means for the salvation of His people from their sins, and as He considered Mary, He found the woman who could mother such a child.
Those who misunderstand the person of Mary often miss the concept of God’s grace. Some would worship Mary, citing what seems obvious: that she must have been a wonderful and sinless woman, the best who ever lived, and by her goodness she deserved this, the greatest reward any woman would ever receive. This misunderstanding promotes a doctrine that equates goodness with the receipt of grace, a goodness that comes from doing great and godly things. Some people often feel that they must perform some great accomplishment, usually one that involves great pain or sacrifice, to obtain God's favor. This form of action is referred to as "penance." Penance became a requirement of the faith in the middle ages and continues today in the hearts of those who try to purchase grace by their actions. However, we observe that God rewards those who love Him and are faithful to Him. God is not looking to us for acts of sacrifice, but rather for a heart that loves Him and seeks to serve Him. We cannot work our way into God's acceptance, nor work our way "into heaven." However, we can love our way into God's acceptance by loving Him and seeking Him in our lives. Great things only serve to puff up our own pride and give us a self-appointed authority over God by demanding from Him what we think we deserve. Since all people have a sin nature, the only thing that we truly deserve is God’s eternal condemnation.
Mary did no great thing. Mary paid no penance. Mary was simply a back-woods country girl from a common and despised village who had no social stature. Mary simply loved God.
Mary also happened to be a direct descendent of King David.
Luke 1:31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
If Mary considered the first statement from the angel to be strange, imagine her response to this statement. How would any woman respond to such news? If these were the only words that the angel actually said, she might not be too concerned about the prophecy of conception, for she was betrothed and would soon be wed to Joseph. Surely she could experience such a conception soon after their marriage.
However, the purpose of the visitation was to prepare Mary for this event, and the angel would leave no doubt in Mary’s mind concerning the true nature of this conception. The name, "Jesus" was a very common name in her culture. Meaning "salvation" or "God saves," it is a clear presentation of the task of the Savior. In the Hebrew, the name is "Y'shua", or "Joshua."
What is significant about Jesus being born of a virgin? First, the Immaculate Conception fulfills the content and context of Isaiah’s prophecy. Second, The Immaculate Conception also verifies the miraculous power of God. The conception of Isaac and the conception of John were equally miraculous, though we probably do not consider them in the same thought of that of the Christ child. Yet, both of these are examples of miraculous conceptions of individuals who would be particularly called out for God’s purpose. Isaac would father the nation of Israel, and John would become its greatest prophet who would point people to the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.
One would think that coming from a country girl in a despised back-woods town would define Jesus at the lowest state in the social ladder. However, God’s purpose of humility was even greater than this. The conception to a poor Jewish virgin also started Jesus off at the very lowest possible point on the cultural ladder. Considered a fatherless child from birth, Jesus would become known as the "Son of Mary," not the "Son of Joseph" as was the custom. This name would be one of the most degrading slurs in their culture, announcing to everyone forever that he is the product of an unwed mother. The English word, “bastard” carries the identical definition, connotation, and degradation. Jesus would be born without means or position of any kind. He would never be able to own land, and any other of such lineage would find it difficult to find anyone who would give him enough respect to function normally in society.
Another prophesy that is often overlooked is that of Isaiah who states that there would be nothing characteristic about him to attract attention to himself. Jesus came from a plain background, of plain people, is of plain appearance, and even has a plain name.
Luke 1:32-33. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the LORD God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
So much for His plainness. Here the angel revealed something specific to Mary about the child she is to have. The name, "Son of the Highest" was a unique name, given only to the coming Messiah. The angel stated that Mary’s son will be that Messiah, and clarified it by referring to the throne upon which He would stand, a throne that is eternal. There is absolutely no doubt that Gabriel is referring to the prophesied Messiah.
Consequently, though Mary might not fully understand the meaning of the throne at this point, an eternal throne is clearly not the current political throne tenaciously held on to by the Herodians. The new Throne of David would not be of this world, but served to identify the authority of God in heaven, an authority that is eternal, indeed.
Luke 1:34-37. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37For with God nothing shall be impossible.
Mary shows that she fully understands the content of the Message, but there is a shadow of doubt here. With all of the talk of the throne, Mary is still focused on this issue that is paramount to her: pregnancy. It is evident that there was no question that the angel communicated to Mary that she would conceive this son without the benefit of Joseph or any other man. So, despite the dynamic form of the message, Mary still had significant doubts. Is this a reasonable point upon which to express doubt? How many such immaculate conceptions are you aware of? How many women do you know who have had children without the advantage of male assistance? Biologically, that which Gabriel is announcing is absolutely impossible. The angel's answer to Mary is simple: with God there is nothing that is impossible.
Mary has a lot to consider. Suddenly her world was turned upside-down, as she is transformed from a poor and simple Jewish girl with her future with Joseph relatively common and well defined, to the very alone and scared adult mother of the promised Messiah.
Note that the angel also let Mary know that she would become filled with the Holy Spirit. Some misinterpret this segment of scripture and try to explain away the miraculous pregnancy by holding that verse 35 refers to Mary’s having some form of contact with a physical, biological, manifestation of the Holy Spirit. To hold to this idea might serve to eliminate the need for a miracle. However, note that the contact referred to here is made by the Holy Spirit, who is spirit, not flesh, and the life-giving event is described by the angel as being based upon the creating power of God. If this traditional heresy was based in fact, the discussion of impossibility would not have been addressed.
To explain away the Immaculate Conception is to deny the power of God that is evident in this event. God gives life, restores life, and takes life. The tradition of physical relations with "gods" was the norm in ancient pagan religions, and any application of this doctrine to this event is as baseless as the existence of such pagan gods. Still, many pagan teachings are followed today.
What was Mary's response to this fantastic message?
Luke 1:38. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the LORD; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Her self-description as the “Handmaid of the LORD” is a very specific reference and reveals much concerning her response. The knowledge that the Messiah would be born of a virgin was well known, so much so that young girls would often talk of the prophecy and wonder, “Could she be me?” Consequently, even this cultural phenomenon served to prepare Mary for this moment, though this experience was probably nothing like she or any of her peers could have perceived.
The Greek word Mary uses for servant, doule is the feminine form of doulos, or bondslave. Mary affirmed that she is, by her own choice, placing herself totally under the authority of God to do anything He calls upon her to do. God knew the heart of Mary and knew of her faithfulness to Him. As dramatic as this request to Mary was, she was totally committed to fulfilling God's will for her life the moment she understood that will.
What would your response be if God were to call you to move far out of your "comfort zone" and into an area of service that is radically different than where you are now? Are you God's doule or doulos? Are you willing to subject yourself to God's authority to the point of being a doule or doulos? What changes have to take place in your life?
If your response is one of disbelief, doubt, rebellion, or rejection, what are some of the things that stand in the way of your obedience? When called by God to minister to others, many argue that they are not talented enough, experienced enough, or skilled enough, etc. Scripture repeatedly shows that God used average and untalented people to do His work. God does not "need" our goodness, our talents, or our skills. All God needs is a willing heart that can be used by Him. Such an application of submission removes the sin of pride from the context of obedience, and when God's work is done, the individual cannot point to his or her own ability as the foundation for God's work.
Are you, even now, saying "No" to God? Or, are you exactly where God wants you to be as you are engaged in His kingdom work? Most likely, we tend to allow the events that form our interaction with this godless world to diminish the excitement of our salvation, and are ready with a litany of excuses and rationalizations that we can use as weapons against the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit. Mary recognized God as her LORD, and by so doing was ready to submit to His will in her life, and as a result of that obedience, she had one of the most astonishing and significant ministries of any created person: she was the mother and parent of the Savior. She was with Him from His birth to His death and resurrection. There was no person on earth who was as close to the Messiah as Mary. Even though her faith in God was unchallengeable, it was still about 30 years later when she realized that Jesus was not only her son, but also her Savior, and that through Him her own sins could find forgiveness. Even Mary needed Jesus as her Savior and her LORD.
As we look at our own lives, and observe the few short years that we have to spend on this side of the "Jordan River," let us consider our willingness to follow God's call in our lives. There are some constructive and specific actions we can take:
Then, understanding God's will, pray for the strength and guidance to turn from our sinful and self-centered lifestyle that so diminishes our service to God, so that He can use us in new and exciting ways as we walk with Him and are actively engaged in His kingdom work.
Then, understanding God’s purpose and will in our lives, let us, like Mary have enough faith in God to trust Him, and to serve Him as He would desire. Like Mary, one who is submissive to God’s call will be blessed in unimaginable ways. This is a blessing worth seeking.
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