What does God expect of you? Each of us has been created by God for a purpose (Rom. 8:28), 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. What 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 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 understating of who God is, and what His expectations are. The scriptures show God as a loving and Holy God who does not condone sin, nor allow it in His presence, yet he loved 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 ourselves. And, if 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. Often we 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 parent the Savior. This scripture passage of this study is one of the gospel accounts of this event.
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 virginís 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 simple and sincere 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 whose 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, 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" (Isaiah 7:14). However the passage we are about to study will clearly show in her own testimony that she had "never known a man" (1:34).
Other internal evidence as to Mary's virginity are 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 (Deut. 22:23). The espoused were not allowed to ďdateĒ as is done in todayís culture. Any instance of their communication was always closely monitored by relatives, lest any of many religious traditional rules would be broken.
Mary was just a simple country girl who loved the LORD. She had no credentials to place her in society, and she had no theological training. Note that to be used of God one does not require advanced degrees in doctrine or even knowledge of a lot of scripture. What does God need in us for him to use us? Mary had a humble and simple spirit that was open to God's will in her life. When open to His will, she was able to be used.
A SINCERE FAITH
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. What did Gabriel say to Mary when he first appeared? 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. He greeted her with a word of respect and dignity, 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 a little 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 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.
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 she has found with God. 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 a preacher? Did she dedicate her life to serving others in the name of God? Had she brought hundreds of others to faith? Was she even a full time minister? Favor with God is not found in what we do, but in who we are when we submit ourselves fully to His Lordship. This is a decision of the heart, not a fabrication of the hands. The favor found in Mary was due to the spirit in her heart, one that loved God without pride or pretentiousness. It was time for God to fulfill His promise to come 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 Godís 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. Those who adhere to this doctrine often feel that they must do some great accomplishment, often involving great pain or sacrifice, to obtain God's favor. This act 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 see that God rewards those who love Him and are faithful to Him (Heb. 11:6). God is not looking for acts of sacrifice, but rather for a heart that loves 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 Godís condemnation.
Mary did no great thing. Mary paid no penance. Mary was simply a back-woods country girl from a common and despised village; a women of the lowest Jewish social stature. Mary simply loved God. Mary also happened to be a direct descendent of King David, as was her espoused Joseph.
A SPECIAL TASK
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? If these were the only words that the angel actually said, she might not be too concerned about the prophesy 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 annunciation was to prepare Mary for this miraculous event, and he would leave no doubt in her mind concerning the nature of this conception. She is going to conceive and give birth to a son. The Greek 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 prophesy of Isaiah.
The immaculate conception also illustrates and validates the miraculous creating 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 Jesus. Yet, both of these are examples of miraculous conceptions of individuals who would be particularly called out for Godís purpose. Isaac would father the nation, and John would become the last of the great prophets of God 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, Godís humility was even greater than this. The conception to a poor Jewish virgin also starts Jesus off at the very lowest point on the cultural ladder possible. 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 a most degrading slur in their culture, announcing to everyone forever that he is the product of an unwed mother. 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 of Isaiah who states that there would be nothing characteristic about him to attract attention to himself (Isaiah 53:2). He comes from a plain background, of plain people and even has a plain name. He was plain in appearance. Jesus started with no social advantages at all.
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 reveals something specific to Mary about the child she is to have. What is it?
The name, "Son of Highest" was a name given to the coming Messiah. The angel states that her son will be that Messiah, and clarifies 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 at this point, an eternal throne is not the current political throne tenaciously held by the Herodians. The new Throne of David would not be of this world, but would identify the authority of God in heaven, an authority that is indeed eternal. Women in their culture knew that the Messiah would come into the world through a human birth, and many a young woman probably wondered if she might be the one to give birth to this child. Young women would have viewed the prophesy as an historical lottery wherein many may have speculated what life would be like if they were the one who was chosen. Mary now understood clearly that she was this chosen one.
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. So, despite the dynamic form of the message, Mary still had doubts. Is this a reasonable point upon which to find doubt? Of course. How many immaculate conceptions are you aware of? How many women do you know who have had children without the advantage of male assistance? There are other examples of miraculous conceptions in scripture, but none quite like what Mary was to experience. Biologically, that which Gabriel is announcing is 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.
Some misinterpret this segment of scripture and try to explain away the miracle by saying that verse 35 refers to her having relations with a physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit. 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 of the pagan teachings are followed today.
What was Mary's response to this fantastic message?
A SUBMISSIVE HEART
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
The Greek word Mary uses for servant, doule is the feminine form of doulos, or bondslave. She affirms that she is totally under the authority of God to do anything He calls her to do. God knew the heart of Mary and knew of her faithfulness to Him. As dramatic as this request of Mary was, she was totally committed to fulfilling God's will for her life the moment she understood that will.
The apostle Paul referred to himself by this same term, and as he established the office of a deacon he used the same term for that office. This concept of a bondslave loses some of its meaning in today's culture. The word had to do with one who does menial tasks, such as waiting on tables. Consequently, a reasonable metaphor in today's culture may be a waitress at a restaurant. The waitress (or waiter) is entirely dedicated to meeting the needs of the one being served. Though the doule may make suggestions, all authority is held by, and all decisions are made by the one served. This concept of humbling one's self is contrary to our natural bent to self-centered pride that demands that we be the one in charge. We want to be the one in charge. We want to be the one who is in control and makes the decisions. However, the doule or doulos has no such authority. It is only when we can step off of the throne of our own lives and circumstances and give that position fully to the LORD that we become useful to God. God has called us to serve Him in the spirit of a doule or doulos. We are called to serve one another in this same manner.
What would your response be if God calls you 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 doubt and rejection, what are some of the things that stand in the way of your obedience? When called by God to ministry, many argue that they are not talented enough, or skilled enough, etc. Scripture repeatedly shows that God uses average and untalented people to do His work. God does not "need" our goodness or our skills. All God needs is a willing heart that can be used by Him. Such an application removes the sin of pride from the setting, 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. Even though her faith in God was unchallengeable, it was still about thirty 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 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:
- Pray for forgiveness as we repent of our self-centered and prideful ways.
- Pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit's leadership.
- Pray that we will see his will for us.
- Pray that our priorities will shift toward God's will.
- Make a true commitment to the LORD to be His bondservant.
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.