Celebrate Jesus at Christmas

Luke 1: 30-35,38,46-49; 2:4-7

[Some verses necessary for context also will be included]

 

Tom J. Nettles

 

 

I.                    The Announcement to Mary of the birth of the Messiah – 1:26-38

A.     26, 27 - The same angel that had announced the birth of the forerunner (John that would be called the baptizer, now announces the birth of the Messiah. Betrothals were made not solely on the basis of the individual desires of the couple but with participation, and often arrangement, of their families. The maidens were young so as to maximize the number of years of child-bearing and also to avoid the oppressiveness of unfulfilled sexual desire during the critical young adult years. It is important that the family into which Jesus was born was of the tribe of Judah and descended from David. [See Romans 1:3]

B.     28-30 – The angel twice indicated that Mary has been greatly favored by God, that she is the recipient of an unusually profound grace. She is not a reservoir of grace to be given to others, but a recipient as a matter of the sovereign purpose of God.

C.     31 – 34 – Mary was to be the woman through whom the Messiah would come. Genesis 3:15 has promised the destruction of the serpent and his servants through the seed of the woman. Several amazing incongruities were included in this announcement.

 

1.      She would conceive, but as of yet she was unmarried and had no child-producing relations with a man.

 

2.      His name would be Jesus [which after Joshua means Jehovah is salvation] and, though the son she bore would be her son, he would be called the Son of the Most High. It is also true, that he would be the one that would fulfill God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16. The phrase “Son of the Most High” carried with it eternality. One that was a Son of the Most High meant that he shared the nature of the Most High. He must be an eternal person, divine in nature, and yet would be born and would be her son and a true descendant of David.

 

3.      Though born so lowly, he would rise to the estate of royalty of a sort that would never end. The obvious implication is that there could be no other king after the appearance of this one. To reign over the hoe of Jacob cannot be isolated in this context to mean only the Jews, but must be expanded to mean all the people of God of all ages. This would be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In the temple, Simeon spoke by revelation that this child was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32).

 

4.      Her question, “How will this be” is not a request for proof as was the question of Zacharias; She needed nothing but the word of God that it would be so. Her question was one of puzzlement since she was a virgin and the announcement seemed to mean that this conception would take place immediately.

 

D.     35-38 – The angel condescends to explain to her how this amazing event of the Son of the Most High becoming her own son will take place. How will the one that already the Son in an eternal sense become a son in the temporal sense?

 

1.      The impregnation of Mary occurred when the Holy Spirit came upon her. This was an act of creation in which her own egg was given vitality through a special operation of the Holy Spirit. As Son of Man Jesus was truly a conceived, finite, creature. Human nature was produced at this moment of conception. At the moment of the Spirit’s coming upon her she conceived in her womb [cf. 31] This was not the event, however, that gave him the title “Son of God.”

 

2.      A second thing occurred, however, at the precise time off the impregnation; that is, the power of the Most High overshadowed her. This is a separate operation of God from that conceiving process involving the Holy Spirit. This is the activity of God the Father in a mysterious operation in which he overshadowed Mary with the person of his Son, eternally generated by his power. The eternal Son of the eternal Father immediately assumed this human nature into himself so that from the moment of conception “the child to be born was holy—the Son of God.” He was Son of God, not on the basis of the production of his human nature by the Holy Spirit, but on the basis of the overshadowing of the Father. This very person who truly was son of man by nature also was, in that same person, the ever-existent, omnipresent, omnipotent, self-existent

 

3.      Gabriel then gave Mary the gladdening news of the conception that had taken place with her relative Elizabeth.

 

II.                 41-50 - Elizabeth and Mary rejoice in the redemptive events in which their lives have become so entwined.

 

A. Verse 41 – This verse shows an amazing concurrence of witnesses to the wonder of the reality that has now come to pass. Mary, now pregnant, has gone to visit Elizabeth. The one, yet unborn, that is to witness to the coming of the Christ and is to baptize him senses even in the womb the presence of his master and creator, the one who comes after him and yet is before him, and leaps in the womb for joy. Elizabeth, being filled with the Spirit gives an utterance that is inspired.

 

B.  Verse42 - By revelation she knew that Mary had been selected to bear the child that would crush the serpents head.  

 

C.  Verse 43 - Elizabeth calls Mary, “The mother of my Lord.” This concept that Mary is the Mother of the Lord, or in historically important language, the Mother of God, does not mean that Mary should be elevated beyond the stature of a sinner in need of salvation. In fact, this entire episode led her to rejoice “in God my Savior.” The significance of the phrase, “Mother of my Lord,” is that the single person to be born of her was both God and man. Jesus was not two persons, one human and one divine, but was one person uniting two distinct natures. This is the mystery of the incarnation, a manifestation of the wisdom and power of God, but no mere display of mystery, rather the necessary manifestation of the single person that can save fallen creatures.

 

D.  Verses 44, 45 -  Elizabeth recognized that her own child already had begun his role of perfect submission to this calling to announce, to point, and to be glad when the bridegroom comes; she was filled with joy at perfectly content with the superior role to which Mary had been called and thankful for the grace that generated Mary’s faithful acceptance of the message of Gabriel. Every time anyone has faith we can say “Blessed is he/she who has believed,” for faith has been granted to us [Philippians 1:29].

 

E.  Verses 46-50 - Mary had no haughtiness about this, but knew that she was a recipient of particular grace as a representative of the spiritually bankrupt that Christ had come to save. Her song focuses on the elevation of the simple, outcast and downtrodden  He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (1:52). Luke, as a Gentile, gives particular attention to this theme of the inclusion of those that are apparently outside the temporal favor of God. Jesus gives special attention to the poor [1:48ff; 2:7ff; 4:18; 6:20ff chh 14, 16, 18, 19], tax collectors [chh 3, 5, 7, 15, 18, 19], Sinners [5, 7, 15, 19, 23] Samaritans [9, 10, 17], Gentiles [2:32, 7:1-10, 24:47]and Women [1, 4, 7:11-17, 36-50; 8; 10; 13, 18; 21; 23; 24]

 

1. “My soul magnifies the Lord.” From her innermost being she sensed the weightiness of this event and that it would be the culmination of the prophetic stream from centuries past. That these eternally-decreed events that would issue in the display of the glory of God in all his moral attributes should begin their manifestation in her body as the mother of the man that was God raised her sense of worship as well as gratitude to new heights.

 

2. She saw this as a double-grace, for not only was she the God-bearer, but the child so conceived would be her savior. She did not live under any delusion that God’s choice of her for this meant that she was sinless or not in need of the same salvation common to all that come from the seed of Adam. Her son would be her savior; for her he would die, for her he would be raised from the dead; for her he would intercede; for her he would be the mediator and she would share none of these unique qualifications or functions.

 

3. As in all cases where God chooses a sinner for the advancement of his redemptive purposes in the world, it becomes a source of amazement. She knew her estate was humble. There was nothing about it that had intrinsic glory or worthiness, but all the glory would have to be God’s. Paul was amazed that he as the chief of sinners became the proclaimer and perhaps the main conduit of revelation concerning the character and application of the gospel. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

 

4. This also meant that future generations would know that in these events infinite blessing came to the world. The savior actually was born in a particular time and place, in lowly circumstances, with a young Jewish woman as his mother. The confession of the reality of this birth necessarily involved confessing that he had a particular female as the one in whom his human nature truly was conceived. Her name, therefore, is included to ascertain the church’s confidence that he was truly born in time and space and that of Pontius Pilate is included to affirm the equally historical phenomenon of his death in the church’s common confession, which from century to century is recited in churches of all denominational commitments: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

 

5. “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” When one who is exalted in importance and powerful in influence stoops to take notice of and give encouragement to one that is virtually a nobly, it is a matter of amazement. How much more astounding is the reality that “he who is mighty” would do great things for such a person as Mary. She also indicated her knowledge that he did this for his own holy purposes, to express that his power, mercy, and wisdom are holy attributes.

 

6. Verse 50 emphasizes the continuity of this kind of favor, a mercy that comes to those that have a proper fear of God. It goes from generation to generation. No generation will ever arise that is elevated above the need for mercy and none is ever exempt from the lovely and rationally certain duty of fear of God.

 

III.               Luke 2:4-7 – Here we see the historical unfolding of the events that had been announced just nine months earlier.

 

A. verse 4,  It happens so that Jesus is enrolled as it were in the family of Joseph and thus a descendant of David (“of the house and lineage of David” born in the city of David, “Bethlehem.”) This enrolment guarantees that Jesus was recognized as a descendant of Joseph by the Roman state and was also of the house of David through his son, Nathan (Luke 3:31) but also with some connection through a branch in the family tree with Solomon (Matthew 1:6, 7). The legal status of Christ as a descendant of Judah and David in thus secured. This is all that is necessary for prophetic fulfillment, but Romans 1:3 seems to indicate also that Jesus descended biologically from the tribe of Judah through David.  We know that Mary was a relative of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36) who was among “the daughters of Aaron,” that is of the tribe of priests. It is at least possible, even probable, that their mothers were sisters. Elizabeth married within her tribe, a Levite named Zechariah; Though it is merely speculative, it seems likely that Mary’s father was of the tribe of Judah and had arranged this marriage (Mary had “been betrothed to Joseph” probably in a legal pledge between the two families). The description of Joseph (“a just man” Mt. 1:19) as well as of Elizabeth and Zechariah (“righteous . . . walking blamelessly”) indicates a high degree of familial piety in both families at least two generations back and would have predisposed the fathers of Mary and Joseph, both of the tribe of Judah, to make this arrangement. It was clearly not for the purpose of monetary gain, or increase of social status, so must have been on the basis of mutual trust in the pious and godly training present in both families. These two sons of Judah would have been pleased to bring their children together under such circumstances.

 

B. verse 5 – Here, in this simple statement, we see the humble submission of both Joseph and Mary to the marvelous and truly wonder-filled circumstances that have produced this shameful impression that Joseph is protecting one to whom he is only betrothed but is nevertheless on the verge of the delivery of a child. Jesus submitted himself to this appearance and even the scandal of a rumor following him through his life (John 8:41, 42)

 

C.  verses 6, 7 – This continued interaction between tender piety and enforced lowliness is seen in the event of the delivery. Mary gave birth and then, she herself swaddled the new-born child. They had arrived too late (the travel was slow with a woman due at any time) to get proper lodging, but someone had provided at least shelter with the accommodation of what could become a makeshift crib, the feeding trough for the animals. In worldly possessions he would rise no higher, for “foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

 

D. What we observe here, not only is the humiliation of the glorious but the Enrichment of the ordinary. When Mary wrapped Jesus in strips of cloth, he had exchanged the unviewable glory of his intrinsic holiness and excellence and essential omnipotence for the bands of cloth used to give warmth and a feeling of security to a new-born utterly dependent human child. When she laid him in a manger, Jesus’ own birth would reinforce his message of “Take no thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat etc.” In his birth, all that he had was on short loan from others and not his at all. The entire affair of bringing him safely into this world was a matter of divine providence.

 

E. Note: No amount of earthly status could add anything to the intrinsic glory of Christ; he needed no external trappings to exalt him and he came as an act of pure grace; this is emphasized by the sheer glorylessness of his external circumstances in entering the world. It is one element of Jesus’ being a stumbling block that so inglorious a setting was given the Messiah. Note the irony of the later observation, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

 

IV.              Application

A.     When God moves in regenerating grace on the minds and hearts of sinners he brings to pass their willingness to endure all things for the sake of his glory. Repentance from sin and faith in Christ involves an absolute abandonment of any claims to personal rights, either temporal or spiritual, before God.

 

B.     God’s control of history to manifest his character through the covenant of redemption involved the entire genealogical scrutiny of Israelite culture, the political arrangements of Rome in governing the individual regna of subject people.

 

C.     All the particular Providences of our lives are subdued to that same purpose of magnifying the wise provisions of the covenant of redemption.

 

D.     Greatness is directly proportioned to the knowledge of God through Christ’s redemptive work – interpreters that represent Luke as uninterested in atonement should see this in relation to Lk 22:14-20, 37; 23:47; 24:25-27

 

E.      God’s power and wisdom have full display in all the events that lead to and in the final consummation of the Christ’s redemptive work.