Luke 1:26-56 – Jesus' Birth Foretold

Luke 1:26-56 continues our journey through Luke’s infancy narrative.  There are two scenes and three sections that make up this set of verses.

  • First, we see Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her she will give birth to the heir of the throne of David.  – Luke 1:26-38
  • Second, Luke records Mary’s travel to Judea from Galilee to visit her relative Elizabeth who is pregnant with JtB (see last week’s post) – Luke 1:39-45
  • Finally, in response to these events, we hear Mary’s song of worship to the Lord for the things that have taken place. – Luke 1:46-56

Luke 1:26-38 – Gabriel’s Second Task
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Our last passage left off with Elizabeth remaining in seclusion for five months.  Our current passage picks up by saying, “In the sixth month…”  This likely refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  It is at this time that God sends Gabriel to go tell Mary she will soon bear a son.  Just as in our prior passage, Gabriel’s presence frightens the recipient of his message, but Gabriel eases Mary’s fears just as he did for Zechariah.  Except with Mary instead of affirming that Mary’s prayer had been heard (how could she have known to be praying for such an event as is going to be told?), Gabriel simply says that Mary has “found favor with God.”  In contrast to the vision to Zechariah which was in the Temple and attested to by many worshippers, Gabriel now goes to the small town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee.  Luke needed to indicate the region because his readers probably hadn’t heard of Nazareth.  Another contrast is that in the prior passage, Gabriel was sent to the father to be, Zechariah, here we see Gabriel going to the mother to be.  Is there any significance to this?  Well maybe just to say that in the parallel Old Testament accounts of angelic visions accompanied by a miraculous birth, this was the norm.  All of these miraculous births resulted in an individual who would be used to begin something significant in the history of God’s people.  Isaac became the father of Israel, Samuel heard from God in a time when “the word of the Lord was rare,” Samson was used mightily against the Philistines.

The most significant contrast to our prior passage is that Gabriel is now speaking to an unmarried virgin.  While she is pledged to be married, the marriage is yet to be consummated.  This event is unprecedented within and outside of Scripture.  As Bock puts it in his commentary, “The birth is often rejected because of presuppositions about limits of God’s activity in the world.  Though it is true that outside of Matthew and Luke the NT does not address this issue [of the virgin birth], no adequate explanation for the origin of the concept, outside the event itself, has been posited.”  What you think about this passage really comes down to whether you believe the Bible is a reliable record of historical events or not.  If you believe that “God’s activity in the world” is limited by the laws of nature, then there is no way for you to believe the Bible gives an accurate representation of historical events.  This is especially true as we continue to study through Luke’s gospel and examine the miracles that Jesus performs throughout his ministry climaxing with His resurrection from the grave.  In fact, if you deny God’s ability to break the laws of nature as we understand them, you might as well cut out half the pages of your Bible and put it on your shelf next to [insert your favorite self-help or leadership book here].  One thing is clear, Luke is communicating to us that Jesus was conceived in the virgin Mary.  When she asks, “how will this be?” Gabriel does not use any language suggesting that a sexual act by God or by man will proceed the conception.  He simply says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  Just as God created the world ex-nihilo, out of nothing, in our passage Gabriel is telling Mary God will provide within Mary all that is necessary for conception to occur without any sexual act.

Simply by comparing the means of birth between JtB and JC, we perceive that Jesus will be superior to John.  However, within the announcements themselves we also see an elevation of Jesus as compared to John.  First is a slight but important distinction, Jesus will BE Great; John will be great in the sight of the Lord.  John’s greatness is based on the Lord’s approval whereas Jesus’ greatness is within himself.  Second, whereas John will return many of the people of Israel back to the Lord their God, Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  John’s role is to turn the people back to the Lord in repentance, Jesus’ role is to lead them as their King.  While John is given the mantle of Elijah, Jesus is given the mantle of David.

It seems natural to me as someone who believes Jesus was fully God and fully man to read that belief into the emphasis of this text.  However, Bock actually argues the emphasis in this announcement is on Jesus’ taking up the Davidic Throne.  That is not to say the announcement disregards or denies Jesus’ nature as God, but it simply a matter of emphasis.  The announcement does say “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever,” however Bock’s argument does make sense of some of Mary’s later confusion over the nature of Jesus’ ministry.  It seems that Mary may not have understood from the get-go that Jesus was divine regardless of the divine nature of the conception.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I think of that, Luke’s record does seem to describe him in a divine manner, but again I wasn’t there experiencing it the way Mary was.  Mary was in a culture which had an expectation of a Messiah who would save God’s people, Israel, from the grip of the Romans.  However, God had bigger plans than overthrowing nations, he was about overthrowing the idols in the hearts of men.  One question concerning the Davidic nature of Jesus’ coming is that the announcement indicates Joseph is the descendent of David, not Mary…so, how is Jesus of the line of David if he was not conceived by the union of Joseph and Mary.  According to Luke 3:23, Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.”  Bock explains, “legally, since Mary at the time of her engagement is Joseph’s wife, any child born to Mary would be regarded as Joseph’s, if he accepted care for the child.”  It is clear from both Matthew and Luke that Joseph did indeed accept care for Jesus.  Jesus clearly receives his Davidic line from Joseph as it is explicitly stated within the announcement passage.  Some argue Mary also has a Davidic lineage, but such an argument is unnecessary.

Luke 1:39-45 – Mary’s Sudden Vacation
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,  where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” 

Immediately following her conversation with Gabriel, Mary leaves Nazareth to visit Elizabeth.  However, Elizabeth doesn’t simply live across the street.  She lives 80-100 miles away in the region of Judea.  That means that Mary probably journeyed anywhere from three to five days to get there.   Of course, she is doing so with good reason.  Gabriel just told her she will be giving birth to a son despite the fact that she is a virgin, and as an assurance to her Gabriel told her of the miraculous birth story that Zechariah & Elizabeth were experiencing.  In light of such news, this long journey is certainly worth it.

What happens when Mary arrives at Zechariah’s home is much more than Mary could have ever expected would occur.  I imagine Zechariah going about his business in his home while Elizabeth is resting when Mary walks up to their door.  Mary greets them verbally because I assume they didn’t have a doorbell.  As Mary greets Zechariah and Elizabeth, two things happen simultaneously: JtB “leaps” in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now, I’m not sure what kind of leaping you can do inside the womb, but whatever the case it is clear JtB made a distinct movement upon Mary’s greeting.  My wife tells me from the 23rd week of the pregnancy on babies have the ability to respond to sounds outside of the mother…she knows this topic well.  This movement speaks to what was prophesied concerning John, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth.  While this movement occurs Elizabeth is led by the Holy Spirit to speak a blessing over Mary for her belief that God would work such a miracle in her.  Interesting, in her blessing he says, “why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Not only is it revealed through Elizabeth that Mary is with child, but she also refers to Mary’s child as Lord.  In the Spirit she recognized that Jesus is the promised Messiah and heir of David’s throne.

Luke 1:46-56 – MaryMary!
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,  for the Mighty One has done great things for me– holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful  to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”  Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

As a response to all that she has just experienced, Mary breaks out into a song of exaltation to God.  Some will know the reason I titled this section MaryMary, but for those who don’t I provide you with this classic MaryMary song.  Gotta love MaryMary! 🙂  During our Bible study, Kristy pointed out how it is cool that Mary not only exalts God for remembering her in her “humble state,” but also that she is praising God on behalf of the people of Israel.  God is doing a great miracle in Mary and in Jesus He is bringing about the fulfillment of His Covenants with the people of Israel: Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12 & 15), Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19 & Deuteronomy 4) and Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7 & I Chronicles 17).

In addition Mary shares some great truths about God in this song:

  • God’s mercy extends to those who fear Him in every generation.
  • God is actively at work in our world which is clearly demonstrated through Mary’s experience.

Mary also speaks to some things that we will see reflected in Jesus’ ministry throughout the book of Luke:

  • Jesus will scatter those who are full of pride.
  • Jesus will bring down rulers and lift the humble
  • Jesus will fill the hungry with good things
  • Jesus will send the rich away empty.

There are two things which stand out the most to me as I reflect on this passage:

  • God is in the business of doing the impossible (Luke 1:37).  No matter how challenging the circumstance you are placed in, you can trust in the Lord’s provision.  Mary faced a road of ridicule  because she was going to be pregnant before her marriage was consummated.  Unlike Zechariah, her vision was not witnessed by a great crowd at the Temple, but in a small village in Galilee.  So, many would likely scoff at her and not believe that she too was visited by Gabriel.  Mary believed Gabriel when he said, “nothing is impossible with God.”  When God promises something to you, you can trust it will come true despite how the world interprets the circumstances.
  • God is faithful to fulfill His promises.  For 400 years there had been no prophet to Israel, no word from the Lord, no clear direction as to how the Israelites were to deal with the empire of Rome that ruled over them, and now a shift is occurring.  Two promised children are on the way.  John the Baptist is coming to prepare the way for the Lord.  Jesus, fully God & fully man is coming as Messiah to fulfill God’s promises to Israel.

This week in our community group we prayed for the following:

  • New Beginnings Community Church in Clearwater
  • Sunnybrook Christian Church in Stillwater OK
  • Armenia

God bless!

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