Quite a few years ago, as I was getting ready to lead a late-night Christmas Eve service, I saw a young lady who was home from college approach me with a young man in tow. After she introduced us, he told me how excited he was to be there, and he was a Muslim. He said, “You know, pastor, we’re brothers! We really do believe the same thing, as far as I’m concerned.” It stunned me for just a moment, but then I responded, “It’s so good to have you here tonight, but we’re not brothers. However, I have some great news to share with you during the worship tonight!”
Have you noticed that in the name of open-mindedness, not wanting to be offensive, or perhaps the result of a sheer lack of knowledge, people will try to lump all the religions into one? They are all pretty much the same – love God, love neighbor. Why can’t we get along? The thing is, nothing could be further from the truth. An honest examination of them shows they are not even close to each other. One of the major sticking points is Jesus Christ.
What makes Jesus is so unique, like no other? This is what we have been talking about these days. In the first message of the series, we talked about how Jesus was promised like no other by the prophets. Today we see He had a birth like no other. This is the main idea we learn in Mary’s encounter with the angel, Gabriel, in today’s passage. Listen to what the angel said to Mary: “You will conceive in your womb a son . . . He will be great.”
In what ways will He be great? First of all, His name will be Jesus, meaning “God will save.” In other words, this child has a mission, and He seems to be connected to God.
Second, He will be called the “Son of the Most High.” This is how people will know Him. “Most High” is a term used for God in the Old Testament. “He will be the Son of God,” Gabriel says, “and He will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever. Of His kingdom there will be no end.”
We’re taken back to the promise God made to David that from his descendants kings would always be there to take care of Israel. Now we hear of a great King who is greater than any earthly king. He is forever, an eternal King, a King who has come to take over, to challenge the kingdoms of this world. He is the King above all Kings. All are to kneel before Him and pay Him allegiance.
“He will be called Son of God,” Gabriel continues. His birth will be unusual, a miracle! He will be born of a virgin, as we say in our Apostles’ Creed. It’s difficult to comprehend, isn’t it. We know how babies are made. So did Dr. Luke who recorded this for us. So did Matthew who also recorded the virgin birth. They knew full well how babies are made. Mary certainly knew how babies were made, and she asked Gabriel how this was going to happen. Listen to his answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, Mary.”
In the Old Testament, when people were called upon by God to do great things that were way beyond their capabilities, things only God could do, God would fill them with His Spirit – the prophets, the judges, even some of the kings. You’re going to be spirit-powered, Mary. “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” We get a picture of the creation story as the Spirit of the Lord moved over the waters, over-shadowing it. God is going create something wonderful within you by His power, not by nature’s power.
C. S. Lewis made this wonderful statement about the virgin birth. “Jesus was conceived when God took off the glove of nature and touched Mary with His naked finger. Thus, Jesus did not evolve up and out of history.” Someone once said, “Jesus is infinite and infant.”
“Therefore,” Gabriel continues, “this child to be born will be holy,” which means He is set apart for a purpose from all others. He is like no other. Gabriel finishes off by saying, “He will be called Son of God.” Amazing!
I love this statement by Peter Larson: “Despite our efforts to keep Him out, God intrudes. The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. Jesus entered our world through a door marked ‘No Entrance’ and left through a door marked ‘No Exit.’”
Then, as Gabriel is tying this all up, he says, Look at your cousin Elizabeth, Mary. She was unable to give birth, and now she’s six months pregnant. You want to know why? Because nothing is impossible for God!
I love that statement – Nothing is impossible for God! Think of the implications of this announcement, this story. Jesus Christ is like no other in that He is a unique event in history. Muhammad and all the other founders of other religions were born and pointed the way to God, but Jesus points to Himself. “I am the way,” He says. He is God, not the product of purely natural forces as we are. He is actually the intervention of God, our Creator, in history.
In the Christian faith, we talk about Jesus as being true man and true God. It’s important for the world to understand the way in which He is fully God and fully man. He’s not part man and part God. No. He’s true God, true man.
First of all, He is true man. He was a human being born of the virgin Mary just as our Apostles’ Creed says. This means He is like us in every way except He didn’t sin. He shared in the wholeness of life – its joys, its limitations, its pain, its frustrations, its frights, its tiredness, its growing up, its desires and instincts, and its life with God. He was born into this world as a baby and grew up in a home with all the trials of family life. He learned life through experience. He suffered and died just as we suffer and die. The writer of Hebrews says, “We have a great high priest in Jesus who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses” (4:15). He knows and understands what you and I go through as human beings. I find comfort in that knowledge.
A seminary professor once explained to me that Jesus is more than simply a man. He is so much man that in a sense, He is the only true man who ever lived. He exhibited the fullness of what God had in mind for humans as He lived out perfect obedience in a fallen world.
Jesus is true God – God in the flesh. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus said to His disciples. John said in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). He is talking about Jesus! Jesus is not just like God or imbued with the Spirit of God or someone behaving as a god. He is God – true God. He shares in the very being and reality of God. In Him we have God robed with humanity. God in the flesh.
Jesus reveals a truthful picture about God that we didn’t have. The invisible God has now become visible in Jesus. To look into the eyes of Jesus is to look in the eyes of God. To look into the heart of Jesus is to know the heart of God. Now we can know God – no more guessing. We can experience Him to the full because of Jesus.
Being true God then makes Jesus a perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins. It had to be a perfect sacrifice. Sin had to be paid for – our sin. We were separated from God, hopeless and helpless until Jesus came along.
Matthew tells us the name Jesus means He will save His people from their sins. He is the new Adam, the apostle Paul says. “For, as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience – perfect obedience – Jesus – many will be made righteous before God” (Romans 5:19). He is the sinless sacrifice as our true God – true man.
By the way, Jesus was born not only to save us from our sins, but also to reign over us as our King, to take over our lives, to rule over us that we might follow Him and live life according to His ways, His kingdom.
Put it all together – the wonderful conception of a baby from a virgin and the power of God, the titles and challenges of this King to all human empires – and you can understand why this story is so challenging and explosive. It is an amazing story! So the question is, What do we do with it? Luke put it in his Gospel account for a reason.
This announcement pushes the uniqueness and exclusivity of Jesus right into our faces. This is the Good News! God has stepped in our world to save us in Jesus. He is the one above all others. Now respond! Will you reject Him or receive Him as your Savior and your King? What will you do with this Jesus and the story we talked about today? He’s looking for a response from us.
As you are trying to figure out a response, I suggest using Mary as our model. After all, she is just like us. She has not met the earthly person of Jesus and neither have we. She is wondering about this as we would, and she receives a message about Him. It is the Gospel message telling who Jesus is and what He will do. Look at the wonderful way in which she responds.
First of all, she ponders. She uses her powers of reason. The Greek word used for pondered means, “logistical,” to use one’s logic and reason intensely. She thinks about it. She uses all her reasoning powers to figure out how this can be true. She ponders the evidence, weighs the claims being made. You can do the same thing! God has given you a good mind to think this through.
Mary had some doubts. She expressed them openly. She asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin.” She is leaving herself open for more answers. While there are different kinds of doubts, like dishonest doubt like when someone minimizes your statement calling it stupid and then walks away. They are being intellectually dishonest. There is also honest doubt. This person really wants to know, so they ask questions. The seek more information humbly. This type of doubt can actually grow you in your faith and make you stronger. I have people confide to me once in a while when they are having doubts. I tell them, That’s okay. As long as you pursue the answers to your doubts, God is more than able and willing to show you the answers. You will be all the stronger.
Finally, Mary surrendered in trust and in obedience. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according your word.” Her response is quite trusting and very courageous!
The society of her day wasn’t going to take Mary’s pregnancy very well. Her reputation could be trashed. She could face many hardships ahead and so many unknowns. She didn’t have the whole road mapped out for her, and yet she trusted.
Not only did she surrender and trust, but she also surrendered in obedience. She said, “May it be to me as you have said.” In other words, I am God’s instrument. Use me according to Your will, Lord.
She pondered her thoughts, she expressed her doubts, and she surrendered in trust and obedience.
This story is asking people like you and me to do the same thing. Think the news through (use your head) and ask your questions (information will be given; God will answer). Then surrender to Him in trust and in obedience. He who was born in this world wants to be born in you. He wants to give you a new birth with new life, a life run by His wisdom and His ways. A confident life that knows you are His forever and you can trust Him with your future.
It is a life that not only says I trust Him, but also I will obey Him in everything.
• Jesus, if you say I need to forgive as You have forgiven me, then I will be a forgiver and let go of my grudges.
• Jesus, if you say I need to be a person of integrity, a shining light in the darkness, no lying and cheating, then lying and cheating is out of bounds.
• Jesus, when You want to use me to touch someone else’s life, I will go.
Last month was the Super Bowl. The MVP of the game was Nick Foles, the quarterback for the Eagles. An amazing story came out about him the weekend after the big game. He had signed up to begin classes at a seminary after football is over. God had put it on his heart to be a pastor to high school kids. He sensed a nudge from God, and he is obeying it.
This is what God is looking for from each and every one of us – that we would trust and obey as followers of Jesus Christ. When you do, you will be blessed. You will be glad as you think this through, ask your questions, and surrender to Him. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer