God Delights in Doing the Impossible
Plans and planning – are you any good at this? I don't really think it is a question of whether or not you plan but how well do you plan and for what. Some of us enjoy planning and will spend hours working out the best route to get to our holiday destination and what to do when we get there. We spend hours looking at which walks to go on, which stately homes to visit and which gardens to go and enjoy. Others are more "laid back" preferring, so they say, to "go with the flow". However, even they do some planning even if it still looks very disorganised to the rest of us. And the more important the activity the more attention we give to our plans – what bride-to-be imagines she can simply turn up on the day without any planning having taken place beforehand?
When we turn to the Bible we find that God works according to plans. He probably has an incredible number of plans that we know nothing about – after all he hasn't chosen to tell us all he could tell us – but he has told us about some of his plans as they affect us. His plan of salvation is a most wonderful and for us a most incredibly important plan. Luke is able to write his "orderly account" for his friend Theophilus because God is a God of order and has his plans.
God's great plan of salvation was first announced in the OT – indeed the very first reference to it came right at the outset as Adam and Eve sin and are cast away from the enjoyment of God's immediate presence. Throughout the OT the details of this plan were progressively filled in.
God worked in such a way that men and women would realise:
the mess they had got themselves into because of their rebellion,
their inability to get themselves out of that mess
their need of him to help them
God's plan of salvation focused upon a Saviour who would come to provide the salvation that was necessary.
The time had come for God's plan to be put into active mode!
We have already seen how plans were activated for the birth of this Saviour's forerunner John the Baptist. Now it is time to see how news of the Saviour's coming into the world was broken.
God sends Gabriel
Luke is an historian and not a story-teller. He is concerned to tell us what really happened and not to create some fictional tales. After all Elizabeth is already six months pregnant – that, humanly speaking, was unlikely but had happened now Gabriel has an even more extraordinary message to pass on.
But it doesn't start with Gabriel, it starts with God who sends him.
God sends Gabriel on a mission. He has to:
go to a particular place
speak to a particular person
and pass on a very particular message
Let's look quickly at this.
The place was Nazareth in Galilee.
And what a place it was! To the Jews of the day this was an awful place. For a start the region had come to be known as Galilee of the Gentiles and to a Jew little more needed to be said in order to dismiss the place. Indeed the presence of so many ungodly Gentiles had led many Jews to entirely abandon the place preferring to move elsewhere in order to avoid the negative influences. We see the same phenomena at work still today when places become run down and the living conditions are no longer deemed satisfactory – those who can move away to better themselves.
Nazareth itself was not held in any sort of esteem. Jewish attitudes to the town were to be seen by the question "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" No-one bothered to wait for answer.
But this is where God sent Gabriel because this was where Mary was.
God knew Mary was to be found and he wasn't worried by where she lived. Sometimes we may be tempted to imagine that we have to impress God for him to take notice of us. How wrong that is! God had chosen to show favour to Mary, her background didn't affect that one little bit.
There are lessons for us here:
God knows where we are and how to find us. God knows where you live and he's neither impressed nor put off by your background!
The person was Mary.
Gabriel is not sent to speak to everyone in the town but to one person in particular and he knows everything about this woman!
Her name is Mary and she is still a virgin. She has been betrothed to a certain Joseph the village carpenter but they hadn't yet gone through a marriage ceremony and weren't living together.
Both she and Joseph belonged to the royal line of the House of David. But hasn't the family line fallen upon hard times – of the royal family but just look where they're living. And while there is nothing dishonourable about manual work do we really expect to find a descendant of the famous King David working humbly as a chippy?
God not only knew where to find Mary he also knew all about her. He knows all about you as well, not just in general terms but in every detail too.
Some people look at the immensity of the universe and question why God should take an interest in a small planet such as earth. But the Bible tells us not only does God take an interest in planet earth but also about ordinary people who live in unimportant even despised places.
You should stop in amazement and worship this Great God who is not stand-offish but who knows everything there is to know about you.
The message that Gabriel was sent with was a message of grace to Mary. It was a message that contained some details that would apply specifically to Mary and to no-one else. But it was also a message that contained good news that would be relevant for millions more than just Mary because it focused attention upon the son she would bear – Jesus!
Gabriel comes to Mary
Angels are described in the Bible as ministering spirits who are sent to serve those who are to inherit salvation and Gabriel fits the description wonderfully well.
Although he is an angel and we are not the way in which he accomplished his ministry gives us a pattern we would do well to copy.
His previous mission had not been met with a particularly warm reception: Zechariah hadn't believed what he had said! But Gabriel is sent now on this new mission to Mary and his obedience is prompt. We would do well to react in similar ways – don't let disappointment and lack of success eat away at your readiness to serve God and do what he says!
He goes without hesitation to an ordinary unknown who hasn't done well in the post code lottery – let us ensure that any prejudices that we might have do not determine our service to the Lord. (James returns to this in his letter when he warned against showing favouritism to the well-to-do and putting down the poor man.)
In passing on his message he demonstrates sensitivity and compassion. Similarly our service of others should not be harsh, rude or insensitive.
Gabriel begins his message with greetings which merge into a description of the blessings that Mary enjoys – blessings of which she was previously unaware:
She is a favoured one ie. God has favoured her, God has been gracious to her. It is always a privilege when God chooses a person to be involved in his plans and the place Mary was about to fulfil in God's plan of salvation was a special one. But she is described as "favoured" – God is not rewarding her for something commendable in her life he is freely favouring her by his grace.
Secondly, Gabriel declares to Mary that the Lord is with her. What a blessing this is! The whole implication is that God is present to do good to the one concerned. God's promise to his OT people was that he would be with them and Moses dared not imagine life continuing were God to withdraw from the people. Do you think like this at all? What do you know about the presence of God in your life? Do you want to know it? Does it matter to you?
There comes something of pause now before Gabriel continues to speak to Mary.
He notices that Mary is somewhat taken aback by his coming to her and sharing such words with her. Although he had come carefully to her as a friend she had nevertheless reacted with some anxiety. She had not been expecting to hear anything like this and she was troubled by what Gabriel had begun to say to her.
Taking notice of her anxiousness Gabriel spoke again aiming to calm her fears.
Isn't there something for us to learn too from Gabriel's compassion? He isn't at all harsh but tenderly seeks to dissipate her fears as he carefully explains further just what it is he is talking about.
Is Mary worried? There is no need to be. He Gabriel has been sent to her not because God is displeased with her but because God is being gracious to her!
When we first begin to hear about the good news of Jesus Christ as someone explains it to us the message can be troubling – we are confronted with problems in our lives that need solving, correcting and we can interpret this drawing near of God in the wrong way. God draws near to show us Christ and not to condemn and destroy us though we all too easily imagine that he is somehow out to spoil our lives and we can react with fear. How good then to have a friend who encourages us that this is not so, that for us to hear the good news really is good news and if the diagnosis is bad that the remedy God provides is great effective in 100% of cases of those who will submit to his wise prescription.
Don't be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God! God is being gracious to you.
But what exactly does that mean for Mary at that moment? Gabriel presses on to tell her.
She's going to conceive
She's going to bear a boy child
She is to call her child Jesus
Her boy child Jesus will be great
He will be called the Son of the Most High
The Lord will give him David's throne and Jesus will reign forever and ever
The content of Gabriel's message is stupendous. The entire messianic hope of her people is going to be fulfilled through her, Mary, from backwoods Nazareth in Galilee.
This was what Gabriel meant when he spoke of Mary being favoured by God.
Remarkably, Mary did not reject what Gabriel said but she was perplexed.
God had long ago promised to send his Messiah to save deliver his people. Through their history he had in fact raised up deliverer after deliverer but being mere men they failed to secure the ultimate deliverance from sin that was so necessary. With each successive deliverer failing the longing increased for the One who was to come and not fail – the Messiah. And her people knew much about him who was to come because God had inspired his prophets to speak about him:
He would be great – he would come as a divine shepherd closely associated with God – he would be of the house and line of King David and upon David's throne he would reign forever and ever!
And now Gabriel is telling Mary that this is who her boy will be! And she takes it all in her stride. But she is perplexed by one detail and so she asks Gabriel for some further clarification .
Her response to Gabriel's words (see v.34) makes it plain that she didn't understand him to be making some promise concerning the fruitfulness of her upcoming marriage to Joseph! She seems to understand Gabriel as saying she'll become pregnant at once. And yet she was a virgin. How then could this be?
What a response of faith this is on Mary's behalf and what a good model she is for us. That her question was not a bit like the faithless question that Zechariah posed to the same angel some 6 months previously is evident from Gabriel's willingness to answer her. He detects not a trace of that unbelief which Zechariah betrayed and Mary is given the information she asked for.
How restrained and how delicately Gabriel explains to her what will take place. He talks with discretion and reserve: the Holy Spirit will come upon her, the power of the Most High will overshadow her, all will take place in such a manner that her child will be called holy – that is set apart for God - and he will indeed be called the very Son of God.
Gabriel's careful reserve is a million miles away from the language of Greek religion and mythology where the gods would frequently bed human women with hybrid heroes being the fruit of such sexual union. How different Gabriel's tone is! How pure and wholesome!!
It is almost then that it seems to come home to Gabriel the magnitude of what he is telling this young women in Nazareth. He is an angel of God used to standing in his holy presence. He knows that this God in Heaven does whatsoever he pleases and that nothing is impossible to him. And he seeks to encourage Mary not to baulk at the enormity, the grandeur of it all. So he tells her about her relative Elizabeth.
Mary would have known about Elizabeth and her barreness – how sad it was that she and Zechariah could have no children and now they were both so old! Well says Gabriel – she's already 6 months pregnant!! You thought it wasn't possible didn't you – ah, nothing is impossible with God.
And you see that really is the heart of the matter.
It is not about us doing impossible things – it is not even about us doing very difficult things in our efforts to try to please God! But it is about God doing wonderful things for us.
Mary couldn't do anything to make the words that Gabriel had been sent to share with her come true. But then God didn't expect her too – he was to be at work providing salvation, it was his work not hers.
And it remains his work not ours today.
Have you understood that? Have you grasped that?
Don't going about thinking that you have to make something of yourself before God will take notice of you. God knows all about you already. He knows where you live and he knows how to find you. He knows what your needs are and doesn't get confused as we so often do over needs and wants. God doesn't promise to satisfy your wants but he has done all that is necessary to provide for your needs and the greatest of all your needs is to be put right with him, to have your sin dealt with.
That is why this Gabriel was sent with such a message to Mary – it was all about the unfolding of that wonderful plan of salvation that God prepared because we are sinners.
Mary's Response and ours?
Mary heard God's word transmitted through the angel Gabriel and now having asked her questions, understood it – but she didn't stop with understanding she went on to commit her life to this God who had made his plans known to her.
In other words she believed and trusted.
And what about you?
You can't be part of God's unfolding purposes in exactly the way Mary was – her role was unique, and necessarily so – but just as Mary's attention was drawn to the Saviour to whom she was to give birth so is yours. What will you do with Jesus? Will you welcome him readily submitting to him in faith as Mary did?
It was a privilege that was afforded to Mary, a great blessing and honour, but it also came with its own troubles and difficulties. Being submitted to God didn't shelter Mary from all troubles in fact it exposed her to more. Give your life to God by putting your faith and trust in Jesus but don't expect it shield you either from the troubles of this life. But, and it is a tremendous but, you will be one of the favoured ones, you too will have found favour (mercy and grace) and the Lord will be with you.
May God grant us to respond in faith and may he deal graciously with us all.