The Birth of Jesus Christ Foretold
[Luke chapter 1, verses 26-56]
Today we will take up where we left off last week in our in-depth study of the Gospel of Luke, beginning at verse 26 of chapter one. As we begin, the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus’ predecessor, has just been foretold, and the Temple priest Zechariah has been rendered mute by the archangel Gabriel for hesitating to believe what Gabriel said about Zechariah and Elizabeth conceiving because he thought they were both too old. So, while Zechariah and Elizabeth were coping with his inability to speak, we find the archangel Gabriel busy visiting the future mother of our Lord and Savior.
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a woman 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 will 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 can this be’, Mary asked, ‘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.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant’, Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said’. Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1, verses 26-38)
The 4,000 year old Hebrew calendar is considerably different from the one we use today. Although there are similarities, the Hebrew New Year starts in our month of March, and there are usually 30 days each month. So we can conclude that Gabriel’s visit to Mary was sometime in September, although I can only speculate about the date. Mary and Joseph were by all accounts very devout Jews, and so was Jesus during his entire life. Interestingly enough, since our Lord and Savior was evidently conceived sometime between early September and mid-October, that would mean Jesus must have been born sometime during our month of July. I remember when I was very young, I wondered around Christmas time how the poor baby Jesus, along with his parents, survived the late December cold sleeping in that barn, with the infant Jesus lying in a manger in freezing temperatures. Well, the answer is [1st] they weren’t cold at all, and [2nd] it was summertime. Christmas in December is a human invention of the emperor Constantine from around the year 300AD, when he consolidated the pagan holidays with the religious ones into the calendar we use in modern times.
Joseph, the man who was Mary’s husband and who raised Jesus (talk about being held to a higher standard!), was a descendant of King David of the Old Testament (see Matthew chapter one for the genealogy of Jesus). Further down, Mary had “found favor with God”. The Bible doesn’t specify anything Mary had done to earn this favor, and maybe that’s the whole point of this part of it. Nobody can “earn” favor from God, as if God owed them something. God doesn’t work like that. Christianity teaches that only by the blood of Jesus, which he shed on a cross for each of us, can we be saved. God sent his only Son Jesus to save us because without Jesus no one would be able to stand in God’s presence. Everyone would perish, and without exception! So Mary did nothing by herself, but I think since she was carrying the infant Jesus in her womb, the very presence of the unborn Christ very likely saved Mary from any judgment by God, since the unborn Jesus and Mary were already one physically as well as in spirit.
“…he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” What was the angel talking about here? He was referring to the very beginning of what we call Judaism today, going all the way back to Abraham in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. Abraham’s two sons were named Jacob and Esau (for the complete story, see Genesis starting at chapter 17). To make a long story short, Jacob became the father of what later became the Israelites, the people who built Jerusalem, and whose descendants live in modern Israel today, as well as the US and other countries too. Esau, on the other hand, became the father of what became the Arab nations in the Middle East that we know today. So the entire conflict in the Middle east between Arab and Jew originated from within the same family! Now you know why the wars in the Middle East never end. It all stems from a domestic dispute from roughly 3,500 years ago! There’s one other thing I want to point out here. Unlike Zechariah, Mary took the angel at his word. She was obedient, not only because she was told to, but because she wanted to. Mary embraced her destiny wholeheartedly, something we can all take a lesson from. And now let’s continue where we left off, beginning at verse 39.
“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 has 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!’ 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 innermost 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.” (Luke 1: verses 39-56)
Like our initial study of Luke’s gospel from last week, we have another example of the Holy Spirit being mentioned approximately 33-34 years before the Day of Pentecost (see Acts chapters 1 and 2 for the full story of Pentecost). “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Not only was Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of our risen Lord, but the baby she carried was filled as well. That baby was none other than the unborn John the Baptist (more about him later in this series). Then Elizabeth said, “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!’” From Elizabeth’s exclamation to Mary, we can clearly see that when God says he is going to accomplish something through yourself, which can and does happen to believers, you may as well go ahead and believe it because it is definitely going to occur! When Zechariah was rendered unable to speak in last week’s study, we saw what can happen to those who do not believe God when he speaks to them. Moreover, He does not have to speak audibly for any of us to hear him. His Spirit speaks to our spirit in a small, still voice that we must be very quiet to hear. Otherwise, the Spirit of the Lord gets drowned out by our own voice, and that’s never a good place to be.
“ 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…” God is always mindful of the humble state of all His servants. “Those who exalt themselves”, Jesus said, “will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.” If you put yourself first in this life ahead of everyone else, you will be last in the life to come, and the reverse is equally true. Mary knew the primary reason she was chosen by God to carry the unborn baby Jesus in her womb was because of her humble circumstances, and because she carried herself well and admirably in spite of what must have been a really difficult life, especially by modern standards. Still, Mary chose to embrace her circumstances and her calling, and that’s the rest of the reasons God chose her to begin with. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” Once again, the word ‘fear’ is not really the best translation of that sentence from the original Hebrew or Greek; fear of the consequences of disobedience to God, or having a deep reverence for God, would be the more accurate translation. But the payoff for deep reverence for the Lord is mercy – limitless mercy! That’s what the blood of Jesus represents, as we will see when we get deeper into this study of Luke’s gospel.
“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.’” Here it is again – down go the proud and up go the humble. Mary, rather than being proud of herself at being chosen to carry the Son of God until birth, gives all the credit to her ancestors, “ remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever”, a clear reference to her impending marriage to Joseph. The ‘Kingdom of God’ is quite the reverse of humankind’s ways of doing things here on earth. The high and mighty rule with an iron fist globally, while some of the nicest and most humble people live in little apartments, small nondescript houses, and even in tents and shanties, or vehicles of various types. The harder and meaner you are, the richer you get in this life, but not so in the next. That’s why economic inequality has become such a problem in modern times. The top 1% has hoarded the overwhelming majority of the wealth for themselves, at the expense of everybody else. Fortunately for humankind, this situation is about to change, but the 7-year Tribulation period prophesied in the Bible (see the Books of Daniel and Revelation) will have to come first, and that has not yet started. So, until next week, keep Jesus in your heart and mind. When we return, we will complete our study of chapter one of Luke’s gospel.