May 28, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Luke: The Gospel for Everyone
When God Intrudes
Introduction and offering:
Have you ever been intruded upon? Someone shows up unexpectedly and uninvited and interrupts what you’re doing.
ILL: A few weeks ago, Laina and I were at the Oregon coast in the little town of Manzanita. I was busy working on some long term planning when there was a knock on the door. No one ever knocks on our door in Manzanita. It was a young man selling cleaning solution, and he immediately launched into a high speed sales pitch. It was an intrusion. I didn’t want to be bothered and I sure wasn’t shopping for cleaning solution! So honestly, I was irritated and tempted to tell him to get lost. But he was working so hard that I decided to listen to his pitch—and I bought 3 bottles of his product! I know what you’re thinking…
It gets worse. He stopped by an hour later and asked to use my phone to call his boss who had dropped him and several others off and then disappeared. I let him use my phone, then, since it was cold and raining and getting dark, I offered to drive him to the grocery store to meet his boss. On the way, we saw and picked up 3 of his coworkers. While waiting for the boss to arrive, they needed to deliver some product to homes, so I drove them around Manzanita, dropping off cleaning solution for an hour. These kids were from Detroit, New Jersey, Chicago and LA. They had stories! I got more than cleaning solution—I had an adventure, made some friends and I got a story to tell you!
So, let’s be honest. Do you like it when people intrude? No. So, what about when God intrudes? How do you feel about God inserting Himself into your life and messing with your plans? That’s what happened to a young woman named Mary; we’re going to see how God intruded into her life in a big way and how she responded.
Welcome to our Summer Bible Series in the gospel of Luke. Today, we’re going to read Luke 1:26-45 which predicts the birth of Jesus. Here’s the story:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
We’re going to talk about 3 things: the miracle, the confidence and the response.
- The miracle: God invades our world.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (we talked about how that happened last week), the angel Gabriel appears to a young woman named Mary in the tiny village of Nazareth. Nazareth was such a backwater that later (in John 1) when Nathanael hears that Jesus is from there, he exclaims, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Evidently, Nazareth wasn’t a place you wanted to be from. Evidently, God didn’t care! As Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 1:27–28 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.
Foolish, weak, lowly and despised—that might have been a good description of Nazareth. That is where God chose for His Son to be raised. God is full of surprises!
Mary was a virgin and was engaged to be married to Joseph. The angel greeted her and then told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, whom she was to name Jesus. Jesus means “The Lord saves” or “God to the rescue!” Matthew tells us why He was named Jesus:
Matthew 1:21 …you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
Name him Jesus—The Lord Saves or God to the Rescue—because He will save us from our sins. This is no ordinary child! In fact, Gabriel says five stunning things about Mary’s child:
- He will be great.
- He will be called the Son of the Most High.
- The Lord will give him the throne of His father David.
- He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever.
- His kingdom will never end.
To any Jew living at that time, all this could mean only one thing: this baby is the long awaited Jewish Messiah and the Son of God! We’re so used to the story that it doesn’t faze us, but to Mary this would have been dazzling news—absolutely breath-taking.
But Mary has a practical question: “How will this be since I’m a virgin?” Remember, all Gabriel said was, “You will conceive and give birth to a son.” No mention of Joseph. I think Mary asked the question for clarity, and I think what she expected the angel to say was, “Oh, you’re getting married soon, and you and Joseph—I forgot about Joseph—sorry about that—you two will, you know, conceive this baby.” That’s what Mary expected.
But what Gabriel said was very different.
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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.”
This baby will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph is not part of the equation! But this is not some crude story of the gods coming down to have sex with humans. In fact, the text carefully avoids any hint of sexual contact. Mary is a virgin, and will still be a virgin after she conceives. God doesn’t have sex with her. Instead it says that the Holy Spirit will come on her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her. These two phrases are typical Hebraic parallelism: two ways of saying the same thing.
The Holy Spirit will come on her. This is the same language used in:
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…
Just as the Holy Spirit came on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit would come on Mary. God’s presence and power would fill her!
The power the Most High (the Holy Spirit) will overshadow her. This word, “overshadow” is used 4 other times in the New Testament. Three of them are at the Mount of Transfiguration (in Matthew, Mark and Luke on your outline). For example:
Matthew 17:5 While Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
The bright cloud of God’s presence covered or overshadowed them. So it’s not describing a sexual encounter between God and Mary, but the power of God touching Mary and producing a miracle. God invaded our planet through Mary’s womb.
The virgin birth is problematic for many people. Why?
First, we have the problem of legend. Some Biblical critics reject the idea of the virgin birth and believe the biblical authors were simply borrowing from ancient legends about the gods having sex with women. However, there are no legends of virgin births; in the legends, the gods actually have sex with women. Here, there is no hint of sexual contact. God’s power overshadows Mary and creates new life in her womb. And as we saw in the first few verses of Luke, he insists that this is a true story and has eyewitness sources. And it’s entirely possible that Mary was one of those eyewitnesses.
Second, we have the problem of miracles. Simply put, a virgin birth is impossible. Or at least, it was then. I suppose now with in vitro fertilization, a woman can conceive without ever having intercourse with a man, so I guess it’s possible now. Of course, that makes me think that if we can figure out how to make a woman pregnant without intercourse, it shouldn’t surprise us that God can!
The problem for many people is simply that the virgin birth was a miracle, and they don’t believe in miracles. In fact, many people dismiss the Christian faith precisely because of the miracles. Here is their reasoning.
- There is no God, there is only matter.
- The material universe runs on inviolable laws of nature.
- Miracles are violations of the laws of nature and are therefore impossible.
- Since the Christian faith claims to be miraculous, it must be false.
Of course, the whole argument rises and falls on the first assumption: there is no God. If there is a God who is the Source and Lord of all creation, then He must be able to intrude as He wills. What seems miraculous to us is simply God interacting with His creation as He chooses. If God is there, miracles (as we call them) are to be expected.
Third, we have the problem of nervous Christians. I understand unbelievers rejecting the virgin birth, but I’m amazed when Christians nervously back away from it. One well-known pastor/author recently wrote that we don’t need to believe in the virgin birth to be Christians. I understand his point theologically—it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament other than here in the birth narratives. But both birth narratives—Matthew and Luke—clearly state that this is a virgin birth. The early Christians universally believed in the virgin birth and the early creeds all affirm it. For example, the Apostles Creed begins:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Yet many modern Christians are nervous about the miracle of the virgin birth. If the miracle of the virgin birth bothers you, what do you do with the incarnation: that God became a man in Christ? Or with the resurrection? Isn’t it interesting that the life of Jesus is bookended by two miracles: his virgin birth and his resurrection. Peter Larson wrote,
“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.’”
So here, Luke confronts us with a miracle: a virgin conceives and gives birth. God intrudes. He invades our world and upsets the status quo. He picks an unknown young woman in a backwater village with a bad reputation, and decides to enter His own creation through her womb.
This is the miracle: God invaded our world.
- The confidence: Nothing is impossible with God.
Gabriel breaks this amazing news to Mary. I imagine it would be unsettling, to say the least. So he follows up with a word of encouragement, designed to give Mary confidence.
36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
The NIV is the only major translation to render v. 37 that way. All the others say, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
What’s going on? Gabriel is reassuring Mary, building her confidence and faith. When facing something this big, a little confidence helps!
ILL: When I had prostate cancer back in 2006, I quizzed my surgeon about his success rates. There were three numbers I wanted to know. First, clean margins. How successful are you at getting all the cancer out? That’s the big one. Second, continence. What percentage of guys that you operate on are continent after surgery—able to control their bladder? I didn’t want to wear diapers the rest of my life. (Walk story?) Third, impotence. What percentage of guys that you operate on are able to enjoy sex with their wives after surgery? I don’t mean immediately after! (Wake up story?) He had great numbers on all three—I was encouraged; I had confidence in my surgeon.
But he took it a step farther. He gave me the names of some patients and encouraged me to call them and ask questions about their experience. He wanted me to go into surgery with confidence.
I think that’s why Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth. He wanted to increase her confidence in God. And just like I made those calls, Mary paid Elizabeth a visit.
Luke 1:39-45 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Do you think that boosted Mary’s confidence that God can do anything? Nothing is impossible with God! Let’s say it together: Nothing is impossible with God.
Mary would have known that quote comes from the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18. An angel tells Abraham that Sarah will get pregnant and have a baby. She’s 89! He’s 99! Sarah overhears this and laughs out loud. How many of you ladies wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry? The angel heard Sarah laugh, and said:
Genesis 18:14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
And of course, she did. Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to Isaac. Nothing is too hard for the Lord! Mary knew that story and knew that verse, and now the angel Gabriel says it to her. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. I love how the New Century Version translates it:
Luke 1:37 God can do anything! (NCV)
Would you say this with me. Nothing is impossible with God. God can do anything.
I like to tell people that God can do anything, but He doesn’t do everything. I can’t make God do something, or even predict what He’ll do. But I can ask. And I can ask with confidence, knowing that nothing is impossible with God.
Where do you need God to intrude in your life? Where are you facing the impossible? Let’s ask Him to help us.
Let’s say it one more time: Nothing is impossible with God. I hope that gives you confidence to ask boldly, and confidence to trust God’s word to you.
Finally, when God intrudes in Mary’s life, she responds—and it’s an amazing response.
- The response: I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be!
Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
God intruded into Mary’s life and she said yes. And it was a remarkable response because it was a risky intrusion.
First, there was the risk to Mary’s marriage. What will Joseph think when she turns up pregnant? Well, that’s pretty obvious. What would you think if your fiancé turned up pregnant and you knew you hadn’t been with her? You’d assume she was unfaithful and you’d end the engagement. That’s what Joseph assumed and that’s what he did.
Matthew 1:18–19 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
By saying yes to God, Mary risked her marriage, her future. There were no social safety nets in those days, and being a single mother was a guaranteed path to poverty and shame. Happily, God intervened and spoke to Joseph as well (that story is in Matthew 1), and he too said yes to God and agreed to marry Mary and raise her son as his own.
But when Mary said yes to God, she had no knowledge of how Joseph would respond. The only thing she knew is that she was risking her marriage. She said yes anyway.
Second, there was the risk to Mary’s reputation. Even if Joseph married her, he was marrying a pregnant woman, which meant everyone would assume that she had slept with someone: either Joseph or another man. Her reputation would be ruined. In her small village, she would forever be “that woman”—that woman with loose morals, that woman who slept around.
By saying yes to God, Mary risked her reputation. And as far as we know, she probably had to live with that scandal for most of her life. She said yes anyway.
And when Mary said yes to God, she probably had no idea that she would eventually be revered the world over!
In the Catholic Church, Mary is called “the Mother of God” and is believed to be a perpetual virgin. Protestants (like us) politely disagree and think that’s taking it a little too far. The Scriptures don’t say that Mary remained a virgin. She married Joseph and they had other children after Jesus. Her neighbors in Nazareth said of Jesus:
Matthew 13:55–56 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Mary had other children; Jesus had brothers and sisters. While we don’t take veneration of Mary as far as the Catholics do, we certainly honor her for her courageous role in the story. Tim Keller calls her “the first Christian,” the first one to believe the good news that Jesus is God’s Son, our Savior. And I think we can emulate her response to God’s intrusion.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Here I am, Lord. Do what you want with me.
We often say that the heart of a servant says, “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.”
ILL: On Wednesday, we celebrated the life of Chuck Whitman in a memorial service here at Life Center. Chuck came to Jesus later in life. He grew up an orphan in New York City in the 1930’s and 40’s; entered the Navy when he was 18 and served our country for 20 years. While in the Navy, Chuck boxed and rode bulls in the rodeo.
For the last 25 years, Chuck worked as an auctioneer for the Northwest Dealers Auto Auction. Several believers who worked there were instrumental in bringing Chuck to Jesus, and to Life Center.
Chuck jumped in with both feet. He said yes to being a greeter. Almost every Sunday you could find him manning the southside doors with a big smile. I found out that Chuck was usually the first volunteer here every Sunday morning. He’d come early and have coffee and donuts with Scott and Gary and Vince. Chuck sat right down here and after the 9 am service, he would make a beeline for me. He’d be the first person to shake my hand, and he’d tell me what spoke to him—and maybe what didn’t.
Chuck not only said yes to serving. He said yes to giving. Tim Johnson told me that a few years ago, at a men’s breakfast, Chuck came to him fuming. “I don’t like this tithing stuff. It makes me mad. I don’t want to do it.” Tim said, “Ok Chuck,” and let it go. A few months later at another men’s breakfast, Chuck approached him again, still mad about tithing. Tim said, “Why don’t you just pray about it, Chuck?” Chuck said, “I don’t want to pray about it; I already know what God will say!” Eventually, Chuck got to “yes.” He told his friend Bob, “I started tithing. 4.5%. It was awful.” Then later he told Bob, “I gave the whole 10% this month. It was terrible.” And then later he told Bob, “I’m still tithing, and I’m starting to like it.”
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Yes Lord, to anything, anytime, anywhere.
I love Chuck’s story because it’s like so many of our stories. We come late to the party, and we’re dragging our feet. God intrudes and asks us to serve or to give or to love or to forgive—and we don’t want to at first. But eventually we get there. And we discover the life, the joy we’ve been looking for. The life you’re looking for is on the other side of yes. Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.