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Mary's Faithful Response

Faithful Response to Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Exploring how Mary's response to Gabriel teaches us to be faithful to God.

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Introduction

Now you’ll remember that last week we started out our Christmas mini-series by talking about Joseph’s faithful response to his visit from an angel. This week we’re actually going to jump back in time a little bit and talk about how Mary serves also as an excellent example of how to faithfully obey the words of God.
See the angel visited Joseph in his dream after Mary had been “found to be pregnant.” In other words, probably after she was already pregnant and likely even showing.
Mary on the other hand was visited before she was pregnant. We read the story in
Luke 1:26-38, 46-55
Luke 1:26–38 ESV
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered 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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:46–55 ESV
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
So in Luke’s Gospel the announcement and birth of Jesus is sort of intertwined with the announcement and birth of John the Baptist, who was born to announce the coming of Jesus. So when this passage begins with “in the sixth month,” it’s referring to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which the previous verses had just finished discussing. So that means John and Jesus are only about six months apart in age.
So it’s at this point that Gabriel shows up. Now Gabriel is one of only two angels in the whole Bible that are identified by a proper name. His name means “God is my strength,” and this is the same angel who announced the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth six months before. It’s also the same angel who interpreted the vision of the prophet Daniel in Daniel 8:15-16
Daniel 8:15–16 ESV
When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.”
There are a few interesting writings outside of the Bible that talk about Gabriel, but this is all we get from the inspired word of God about him, that he’s a heavenly messanger who has appeared more than once with news about the coming Messiah.
This time he’s come to tell Mary that she will be the mother of this Messiah. Now something about the way that he announced this must have made clear that he meant immediately. If he was simply saying that she would one day give birth to a son there wouldn’t be anything miraculous here. She was a young healthy bethrothed woman who had no reason to think she was barren. So when she responds with confusion, we have to conclude that the angel made the immediate nature of this miracle clear to her.
Mary then understandably responds with amazement saying “how will this be, since I am a virgin?” and so the angel informs her that the Holy Spirit will conceive miraculously within her, and that her son would be “the son of God.” And as an already fulfilled example of God’s miraculous hand he points Mary to Elizabeth her relative who has become pregnant in her old age.
So Mary is given a lot of news to process here. Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. This might be more difficult for us men, but imagine an otherwise probably ordinary day being interupted by this miraculous moment. How do you think you would respond to this kind of news?
Well I believe that the response of Mary when this happens can also serve as a great example of Biblical faithfulness for us today, just as Joseph’s example did last week. We learn from Mary that:
God’s Grace Should Inspire Humility
God’s Grace Comes With Challenges
God’s Grace Makes All Things Possible

1. God’s Grace Should Inspire Humility

Now I’m not one to throw shade at other churches, but there are some out there who’ve maybe made a bit bigger a deal about Mary than is really warranted. No one here is surprised by that I assume? Here is a prayer that is sometimes prayed to Mary.
O Mary, Mother of God, as you are above all creatures in heaven and on earth, more glorious than the Cherubim, more noble than any here below, Christ has given you to His people, firm bulwark and protectress, to shield and save sinners who fly to you. Therefore, O Lady, all-embracing refuge, we solemnly recall your sweet protection and beg the Christ forever for His mercy. Amen.
In case you missed it, at the end of the prayer they’re suggesting you ask Mary to beg Christ for mercy on your behalf. Some believe that Mary as Jesus’ mother has authority to tell Him who to forgive and He has to do it. That’s a bit of a crude way of putting it but that’s a thing. Some even believe that Mary was immaculately conceived, or in other words was born miraculously without sin.
This is not the picture that we get from Luke here, nor does Mary seem to have any idea like this about herself.
The closest we get is from the blessing of Gabriel when he greets her. He says “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” This phrase “favored one” could be taken to mean that she is favored because of some righteous quality that she has, that she is chosen by God for her merit perhaps.
This however is not the meaning of the text. When Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favor with God, he means that this very announcement is God extending to her favor. In other words she has not earned some title from God, she has been gifted an amazing role in the salvation that God is bringing.
The fact of the matter is that Mary was just an ordinary girl in an ordinary world. In fact, in the first century women were most often married when they first reached sexual maturity, meaning that Mary was at most a young teenager at the time of this story. She was also very likely illiterate, and only knew what scriptures she had been taught at home and in synagogue.
She also came from the town of Nazareth, which I can’t describe any better than Kent Hughes in his commentary on Luke:
"Nazareth, a shoddy, corrupt halfway stop between the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, was overrun by Gentiles and Roman soldiers. When guileless, straight-talking Nathaniel mentioned Nazareth, he said, “ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ ” (John 1:46), implying that it was miserably corrupt. By consensus, Nazareth was not much." R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 28–29.
Remember that God could have chosen anyone from the line of David to be the mother of Jesus. I’m sure there were a few well off intellectual girls with good reputations living in palaces that could have been chosen by God to bear the Messiah.
Yet God chose Mary, a young girl from a despised small town.
Even Mary was surprised at this choice, showing her ordinary nature. If she had been miraculously born and completely sinless, I don’t think she would have been surprised to be greeted by an angel and called favored by God. Perhaps instead of being “greatly troubled” and “[wondering] at the greeting,” she would have said “I was wondering when you’d show up.”
So Mary, knowing her meager estate and that she was a lowly sinner just like us reacted the way anyone should when God gives them grace or favor. With an attitude of humility. Both in her response to the angel and in her song of praise later Mary calls herself a δούλη, which means “female slave.” Most modern translations say “servant” but I like the original grittier translation of the word. How much more lowly can you get?
The humble response of Mary to God’s call on her life is proof that she understood the truth that God’s grace is unmerited, or in otherwords it’s a free gift that we cannot earn.
God chose this humble obedient woman because
1 Corinthians 1:27 (ESV)
...God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
Those of us who serve in ministry and especially in leadership would do well to remember that principle.
So when we look at Mary meek and mild, we should see her humility and view her as an inspiration. We should seek to emulate her in this humility. Even though she started from a lowly place, she could have used this news to inflate her opinion of herself. She could have said, “wow, I must be special to be chosen.” Though she did say “all the generations of the world will call me blessed,” it’s more a statement of the blessing she received and not of her quality. Instead she as I’ve already said called herself a slave.
But though she may respond with humility and praise we can’t help but notice that what the angel is asking of her is no easy task. Which leads us to point number two:

2. God’s Grace Comes Also With Challenges

Let’s take a moment to consider like we did with Joseph, what exactly is the angel asking of Mary? If we consider this than we see that although Mary would receive a great honour to serve God as the vessel through which His Son is born, and although one day all generations would call her blessed, in the meantime the angel was asking Mary to take on a lot of risk and a lot of difficulty.
You may remember from last week’s sermon when we talked about Joseph, and the punishment he could have sought for Mary when he suspected her of adultery. Mary would have known full well about this possibility. Think about this, the angel never reassures Mary that Joseph will be told what is going on. Gabriel never says “and don’t worry, we’ll send an angel in a dream to explain this whole thing to Joseph.”
Now maybe Mary knew Joseph well enough to know that he was a righteous and merciful guy who probably wouldn’t have her stoned to death, but also, maybe she didn’t. Who knows how well they knew each other. It was an arranged marriage after all. While that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have known each other before, Nazareth is a small town after all, it also means that the only prerequisite to them getting married was that their parents knew each other.
So when Mary is told this by the angel she must have had in the back of her mind the possibility that she could legally be killed because of supposed infidelity, and even if not killed very likely divorced. Even if Joseph didn’t divorce her she would be publicly shamed and ridiculed. How many of the people of Nazareth do you think actually believed Mary’s story? A lot of people today don’t believe it and the Nazarenes didn’t yet have the benefit of seeing the miracles and resurrection of Jesus to back up the story.
Not only is she taking these challenges along with her blessing, but even the blessing itself comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure. I mean, how many of us in this room are parents? I know that I’ve had moments holding Owen where I’ve thought to myself “how am I allowed to be in charge of this little guy?” Where I realize the immense influence and responsibility I have over him, and how God has intrusted me with his care and left it largely up to me and Katie to shape the person he’ll one day grow to be. Now while I love Owen and I’m very proud of him, he’s just an ordinary boy. Mary has to hold her growing belly knowing that she’s been given responsibility to care for and nurture the “Son of the Most High.”
This is not surprising, as this is God’s Modus Operandi. Think about all the people that God blessed and called to ministry and what happened to them. Most of the prophets and apostles were martyrs. They died violent deaths as a result of God’s call on their lives. Job saw both the abundant grace of God and extreme destitution.
So we shouldn’t be surprised as followers of Christ if we like him are rejected and scorned by men. In fact, Jesus promised as much in John 16:33
John 16:33 ESV
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
So how then does Mary so boldly say along with many of the saints who came before and after her “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”? She can say this because she trusts God. There’s the lesson for us in her example. When hard times come and God calls us to face challenges and hardships we have to lean on a foundation of trust and knowing in the words of Romans 8:28
Romans 8:28 ESV
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
In fact we know from Mary’s song of praise later on in this same chapter that she trusts God because she knows His character and what He’s done for her and others in the past. Let’s jump down to verse 46, we’ll read Luke 1:46-55
Luke 1:46–55 ESV
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
So we learn from the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary that God’s Grace Should Inspire Humility, and that God’s Grace Comes Also With Challenges. But we can trust in God through those challenges in part because of the third lesson of this story.

3. God’s Grace Makes All Things Possible

We read in Verses 36-38 Luke 1:36-38
Luke 1:36–38 ESV
And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
When Gabriel came to Mary he came with an impossible message. Mary would conceive and give birth as a virgin. This is not as we well know the ordinary course of things. Mary is amazed and asks how this will happen, and the response of the angel after explaining that the Holy Spirit will conceive the child is to give her the testimony of her relative Elizabeth as an example of God’s power and faithfulness to do what He has promised to do.
Now Elizabeth according to Scripture was “advanced in years.” We don’t know her exact age, but it’s pretty safe to say that she was old enough that she and her husband Zechariah could be confident that their childbearing days were over. We know that women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have and that the time eventually comes when they’re all gone and you can no longer naturally conceive. So the birth of John the Baptist is proof of God’s hand at work in the lives of Elizabeth and Zachariah.
This is proof, along with what God will do through Mary, that according to Gabriel shows that “nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary responds to this assurance by saying “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Did you catch the wordplay there? No? Perhaps because it’s lost in translation. See the phrase that the ESV translates as “nothing will be impossible with God” Would actually be literally translated as “every word of God shall not be powerless,”
Or in other words the angel says “every word of God shall not be powerless” and Mary replies “let it be to me according to your word.”
I remember I was helping with a children’s program at a summer camp a few years ago and we were going through some of the more famous stories of the old testament, you know, as children’s ministries do, with a focus on how God faithfully kept his word throughout the old testament. Every story had the same moral, and the woman who was teaching the material to the kids would always have them say along with her, “God always keeps His promises.”
I don’t know, maybe we should start saying that together too. Would that be a little bit much? Maybe. But if we really think about those words they’re just plain amazing words. God always keeps His promises. God always keeps His word. We can trust Him to do what he has said He will do.
This fact is what inspires Mary’s praise, you’ll remember from her song we read earlier that she praises Him based on His track record, how He has done great things for Mary, how He will do great things for everyone and how He has done great things for the people of Israel. So too we should look reverently back on God’s history of keeping His word to encourage ourselves in the knowledge that “God keeps His promises.”
And what amazing promises they are! Promises like:
- If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved
Nothing Can Seperate Us from the love of God in Christ Jesus
- And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for [Jesus’] sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
That Jesus will one day return to judge the living and the dead
And so on and so on. I challenge you to look up all the promises God makes to us in Scripture and try not to be encouraged. That’s one thing that certainly is impossible!

Conclusion

So when you see manger scenes, or images of Mary riding pregnant on a donkey, or hear this story read at Christmas time I want you to remember the three things that we learn from Mary’s example and from her faithful response to the angel of the Lord.
God’s Grace Should Inspire Humility
God’s Grace Comes Also With Challenges
God’s Grace Makes all Things possible
These are life changing lessons. If we learn well that God’s grace should inspire humility than we will gladly serve others, knowing that we are ordinary everyday sinners who have received the undeserved grace of God. If we learn well that God’s Grace Comes Also With Challenges than we can endure hard times knowing that God is with us through them and has given us what we need to endure them. And if we learn well that God’s Grace Makes All Things Possible than we can embrace impossible visions for ministry. We can step out boldly and share the gospel without fear. Most of all we can know that God can save even lost hopeless sinners like you and me.
Let’s read the first three verses of Mary’s song of praise together to close:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Let’s pray.
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