Lasting Truths

Secular people may celebrate the Christmas season, but it is the celebration of time off from work, participation in parties, and indulgence in materialism. Yet for believers Jesus’ birth has great significance. It has eternal implications. His birth signaled God’s acting to save us from our sins. Christmas is the celebration of God’s best gift.

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The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would have a son who was to be named Jesus. Mary asked how she as a virgin would have a son. Gabriel gave a fivefold description of Jesus and explained that Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit and would be the Son of God. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to register for a census. While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Jesus Is His Name (Luke 1:26–31)

What was the setting for these verses? Who were the personalities involved? In what sense was Mary blessed? What is the significance of the name Jesus?

This announcement to Mary took place in the sixth month. This reference refers to the time since the events described in verses 5–25, which tells of the announcement to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would have a child in their old age. Elizabeth did conceive and was in the sixth month of her pregnancy when the events of verses 26–31 took place.

The site of the announcement to Mary was a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. Neither Galilee nor Nazareth had good reputations among the Jews of Judea, an area containing the holy city of Jerusalem and the holy place of the temple. For one thing, Galilee had a higher proportion of Gentiles, and Nazareth did not have a good reputation even among Galileans. Nathanael asked, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). During Jesus’ ministry, He was rejected by the people of His hometown synagogue (Luke 4:16–30). Yet this was the home of Mary and where she was told of the birth of Jesus.

The announcement to Mary was made by the angel Gabriel. He was the same heavenly messenger who announced John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah (1:19). The announcement to Zechariah occurred in the temple and the announcement to Mary was in Nazareth, but the same angel delivered both messages. Gabriel told Zechariah who he was: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19, ).

Who were the personalities of these verses? The main human in the story was Mary. We don’t know her age. She could have been in her teens. We are told that she was a virgin. This is the Greek word parthenos, which refers not to a young woman but specifically to a virgin. And we are told that she was espoused (“engaged.”) to a man called Joseph. “To them a marriage consisted of three phases: engagement, betrothal, and marriage. The engagement usually took place between children, and was arranged by the parents or a professional matchmaker. When the engaged couple approached marriageable age, the girl could reject the arrangement. But once she consented the betrothal took place and was binding upon her. Usually a year intervened between betrothal and marriage.… It was during the period between betrothal and marriage that the angel appeared to Mary.”

Joseph’s story is found in Matthew 1–2. He was a good man in the best sense of the word. He came into Luke’s account in 2:4–7. He was the protector of Mary and of Jesus after His birth. Mary and Joseph were not wealthy or prominent people, but they were people of genuine faith in the Lord. The same was true of the four older people in Luke 1–2: Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Anna. They were the salt-of-the-earth kind of people who worshiped and served God. They stand out in sharp contrast to the religious leaders of the day. When God wanted to send His Son into the world, these genuine people were the ones to bring Him and to welcome Him. We can add the shepherds to this list.

Of course the most prominent figure in the story is Jesus. Even before He was conceived and born, He is what it was all about. He dominates the interest of the Christian. Wouldn’t it be great if He dominated the interest and devotion of people at this season when we celebrate His birth?

Verse 28 records the angel’s greeting to Mary. He said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee (“Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you,”). The oldest manuscripts do not contain the word, blessed art thou among women, although these words are in verse 42. These words have been understood in two contrasting ways. One view sees Mary as filled with grace so that she can transmit it to others. This makes her more than a recipient of grace but a source of grace which she can dispense to others. The other view sees her not as the giver of grace but as a humble recipient of grace. Herschel H. Hobbs wrote: “In the Greek ‘Hail, highly favored,’ forms an alliteration (chaire kecharitomene). The latter word is a perfect passive participle meaning that she had been fully endowed with grace from God. In the Vulgate the Latin words are gratis plena. One recognizes this as the first phrase in the Ave Maria, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace.’ Plummer points out the indefinite nature of gratis plena. It is wrong if it means ‘full of grace, which thou hast to bestow.’ It is right if it means ‘full of grace, which thou hast received.’ Mary is not the dispenser of divine grace. She herself had received grace in that she had been chosen to be the mother of Him through whom God’s grace is extended to lost men.”

Mary’s response to the angel’s words was to be troubled (“deeply troubled,”). She was wondering what kind of greeting this could be. Gabriel’s response was typical of so many biblical encounters with supernatural beings. He told her, Fear not. Mary’s initial response to the angel and his words was the same as Zechariah’s. Both were troubled and afraid (v. 12). But Mary seemed to be troubled more about the angel’s message than the angel himself. She was “wondering what kind of greeting this could be”.

Verse 31 is the first clear signal of the extraordinary role that Mary was to play in the saving work of God. She was going to conceive and bear a son. She was told to call his name JESUS. Just as Gabriel had told Zechariah the name of his son (v. 13), so he told Mary the name of her child. An angel told Joseph the same name, and Matthew explained the reason for the name: “Call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). In the Bible names have great significance. The name Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Joshua. Both names mean “the Lord saves.” Jesus said that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). From before His birth His mission was seen in His name.

At the time neither Mary nor Joseph fully understood the full implications of the name, but because of the cross and resurrection and because of our own experience, believers know that Jesus’ coming was to offer Himself as Savior from sin. When you are caught up in the swirl of giving and receiving Christmas gifts, take time to thank the Lord for His greatest gift, the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

What are the lasting truths of Luke 1:26-31?

  1. Mary was the recipient of God’s grace in being named the mother of the Savior.
  2. She is not nor was intended to be the dispenser of grace.
  3. Jesus alone came to be our Savior.
  4. God uses ordinary people of faith to bring in His kingdom.

written by Robert J. Dean

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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