JESUS, GODíS GREATEST GIFT

 

Week of December 24, 2006

 

Bible Passages:Luke 1:26-35; 2:4-7.

 

Biblical Truth: The birth of Jesus is special because He is Godís Son, the Savior.

 

Jesus is His Name: Luke 1:26-31.

 

[26]Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, [27]to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. [28]And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." [29]But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. [30]The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. [31] "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. [NASU]

 

The announcement to Mary has two key parallels. First, there is the parallel to Old Testament birth announcements. The account recalls Godís past great acts. Second is the parallel with the announcement to Zechariah [1:5-25]. The entire passage stands in parallelism to the earlier birth announcement, but the unusual nature of the birth and the future call of the child show that Jesus is superior to John. The mood of the passage is very different from the earlier announcement. In contrast to the public setting of the temple in the middle of Jerusalem, Mary receives her announcement privately in a village setting. Numerous themes dominate the passage: the simple form of Godís coming, the coming of the Davidic kingís reign, the fulfillment of Israelís hope, the creative power of God and His Spirit, the uniqueness and superiority of Godís son, the uniqueness of the Sonís birth, and the certainty of Godís word and power. Most of these themes focus on God and the figure of fulfillment, Jesus. There also are themes tied to Mary. Her example represents the humble acceptance of Godís word [1:38]. In addition, she pictures one touched by Godís grace.

 

[26]God commissions the angel Gabriel, who made the birth announcement to Zechariah, to deliver a similar message to Mary. Gabriel is sent from Godís heavenly realm to Mary. The visit occurs in the Galilean region, about 45 to 85 miles north of Jerusalem. About 30 miles in width, it contained within its borders the Sea of Galilee and was situated just north of Samaria. Contrast with the preceding account sets the announcementís tone. The previous announcement about John came to a priest in the midst of a public worship service at the high holy place of Israelís capital. The announcement about Jesus comes privately to a humble woman in a little rural village. Luke contrasts the greatness of the setting of the announcement about John with the simplicity of the announcement about Jesus. The tone of the setting of Jesusí birth matches the tone of His ministry. The great God of heaven sends the gift of salvation to humans in a serene unadorned package of simplicity.

 

[27]The angel appears to a young woman, Mary. Luke uses two simple descriptions of her. First, she is a virgin. Her condition receives confirmation in 1:34, where she confesses her lack of sexual experience. Matthew 1:23 agrees with this description of Mary. Second, Mary is engaged to Joseph. The phrase about betrothal is worded like Deut. 22:23 and refers to the first stage of a two-stage Jewish marriage process. The initial stage of engagement (or betrothal) involved a formal, witnessed agreement to marry and a financial exchange of a bride price. At this point, the woman legally belongs to the groom and is referred to as his wife. About a year later, the marriage ceremony takes place when the husband takes the wife home. A woman could become betrothed as early as age twelve but Luke does not give Maryís age. Mary is engaged to Joseph of the house of David. In 2:4, Luke also attributes Davidic background to Joseph. Thus it is clear that Luke derives the Davidic heritage of Jesus from Joseph, even though Jesus is not truly Josephís son. But this is not a great problem. Legally, since Mary at the time of her engagement is Josephís wife, any child born to Mary would be regarded as Josephís, if he accepted care for the child.

 

[28]Gabriel greets Mary and declares her a recipient of Godís favor. He appears to her in an unspecified indoor setting. He greets her with two terms that emphasize grace. Mary is addressed as the favored one! (literally, ďfull of graceĒ). In this context, Mary is the special object of Godís favor. Second, Gabriel assures Mary by promising the presence of the Lord God which emphasizes the certainty of Godís involvement with Mary in bringing forth a great child. Gabriel wishes to encourage Mary that God will be with her through all the events the angel reveals.

 

[29-30]Mary is perplexed by the angelís initial remarks. She begins to consider what is happening to her and ponders the angelís greeting. What was God going to do to her? The angel deals with Maryís concerned curiosity by telling her do not be afraid. This word of comfort shows that her curiosity about the greeting also caused her anxiety. Before turning to the discussion of the coming child, Gabriel adds one note of explanation to his call to be calm. Mary has found favor with God. As an expression of divine working, favor signifies Godís gracious choice of someone through whom God does something special. In the Old Testament, the phrase often involves a request granted on the condition that someone had favor with God. However, here this favor is announced without any hint of a request. It is freely bestowed. Mary is about to receive freely the special favor of God. She is a picture of those who receive Godís grace on the basis of His kind initiative.

 

[31]Mary now receives a specific word about the grace that God will extend to her. The first part of this announcement is in verses 31-33. Verse 31 predicts the birth of a child and verses 32-33 describes his ministry. The form of the angelic announcement that the virgin Mary shall bear a son follows the Old Testament pattern: Genesis 16:11; Isaiah 7:14; and Judges 13:5.

 

Jesus is Godís Son: Luke 1:32-35.

 

[32]"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; [33]and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." [34]Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" [35]The angel answered and said to her, " The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.[NASU]

 

[32]The significance of Jesusí birth is laid out in two stages. The early part of the announcement describes Jesusí future ministry and position. The two stages [32-33 and 35] of the description are divided by the question of Mary in verse 34. The Old Testament background to this announcement is strongly regal and Davidic, with much of the language having a parallel in 2 Samuel 7:9,13-14,16. The individual focus of the regal declaration parallels 1 Chronicles 17:11-14. Both 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 announce the Davidic covenant. Fulfillment comes in Jesus. Great when used by itself to describe someone refers only to God in the Old Testament. The name, Son of the Most High, occupies an emphatic position because it precedes the verb. It is simply another way of saying Son of God since Most High is another way to refer to Godís supreme authority as the Most High. Jesusí Davidic origin and His reignís permanence receive attention in the next part of the announcement. He is to receive the throne of His father David, a picture of majestic rule. The Davidic throne is clearly a regal image drawn from the Davidic covenantís promise of a son, a house, and an everlasting rule. A fundamental concept of Lucan theology is the kingdom rule of the promised Davidic son. The regal presentation of Jesus is foundational to what is said about the risen Lord and the message of the kingdom in Acts, a kingdom that has both present and future elements for Luke. With the coming of the king, the kingdom draws near. How this concept is presented and developed in Luke is key to understanding Lukeís portrayal of Godís plan. Luke clearly understands Jesus as the fulfillment of fundamental Jewish hopes for a ruler and redeemer. The ruling position and activity of Jesus in Godís plan is the fundamental point of the angelic description of Jesus.

 

[33]Jesus not only has a regal position, but He also has a realm and an everlasting reign. His position is ruler over the nation of Israel. The phrase house of Jacob is another way to refer to the nation of Israel. Jesus comes as King of the Jews, whether or not they recognize Him. How this theocratic relationship works itself out, how the nation responds to it, and how God deals with the response is another major burden of Lukeís work. The duration of Jesusí rule is forever. The idea of an eternal rule in the New Testament develops the promise of an eternal line of kings from the Old Testament. When the reign commences is not noted or explored here by Luke. Jesus in the announcement is simply presented as the Davidic son. Another major burden of Lukeís writings is to show how the Davidic ruler comes to have such comprehensive authority over all humans. Luke will develop this theme throughout his Gospel.

 

[34]Mary questions how this birth can occur, given that she is a virgin. She does not doubt the announcement, for she does not ask for a sign as Zechariah did. Rather she is puzzled as to how this birth can occur, a question that causes the angel to elaborate.

 

[35]Gabriel replies and proclaims direct divine involvement in the coming Davidic rulerís conception. The verse has a three-part structure: the divine work of conception comes in two parallel lines, while descriptions of the result and significance of that conception follow. This work parallels the reference in 1:15 to the Spiritís filling of Elizabethís womb. Godís Spirit is the active, life-giving agent. Such a reference corresponds with the Old Testament and Jewish picture of Godís Spirit. Jesusí birth will be the work of Godís creative power. The power of the Most High will overshadow Mary. Putting the parallel lines together indicates that Godís Spirit acts with creative power. The Creator God who brought life out of nothing and created humans from the dust is also able to create human life in a womb. Godís act involves His overshadowing Mary. This verb (will overshadow) in the Old Testament refers either to the Shekinah cloud that rested on the tabernacle [Exodus 40:34-35; Numbers 9:18; 10:34] or to Godís presence in protecting His people [Psalm 91:4; 140:7]. In Luke 9:34, the term refers to the cloud of the transfiguration overshadowing the disciples. Thus, overshadowing refers to Godís glorious presence before His people. The child produced by divine conception will be holy, the Son of God. This verse is one of the most Christologically significant verses in the book. The divine conception results (for that reason) in two descriptive terms being applied to Jesus: holy and Son of God. The first term (holy) has the basic meaning of being set apart either for special service or as pure from sin. Both apply to Jesus but probably it is the purity of Jesus emphasized here. Until this verse, Jesus is clearly portrayed as the Davidic son, the regal messianic figure in whom all Israel hoped. But does the addition of the title Son of God to the context make the passage explicitly contain more than a simple declaration of Jewish hope? The evidence for a deeper significance to the sonship reference is twofold. (1) The Holy Spiritís action on behalf of Jesus shows that His human origins are grounded in Godís creative activity: Jesusí superiority to John is grounded in a superiority of position and manner of birth, which is of a supernatural origin. (2) Verbally and linguistically there is a linkage between Son of God and Son of the Most High that makes them synonymous and points to a deeper role for Jesus than that of fulfilling the Jewish Davidic hope. Jesus is the Son of the Most High in contrast to John the Baptist, who is the prophet of the Most High [1:76]. Jesus functions as a son, while John functions as a prophet. So, Jesus as a result of Godís creative power comes as the Son of God.

 

Jesus is Godís Gift: Luke 2:4-7.

 

[4]Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, [5]in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. [6]While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. [7]And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.[NASU]

 

[4]The attention narrows specifically to the family of the child, Joseph and Mary. The reference to their going up from Nazareth to Bethlehem is natural since Bethlehem is at a higher elevation than Nazareth. If they bypassed Samaria, Bethlehem was some ninety miles from Nazareth and almost seven miles from Jerusalem. The focus of 2:4 is the Davidic connection, since Josephís Davidic ancestry is mentioned alongside Bethlehem as the city of David.

 

[5]Mary made the census trip with Joseph, despite her condition. The reference to Mary as engaged means that the marriage is not yet consummated and thus implies a virgin birth. Although the extent of her pregnancy is not given, her condition may suggest why she accompanied Joseph, since the birth of their child was near and she would want to be with her husband when the child is born.

 

[6-7] The birth of Jesus is told with simplicity. The birth itself is told briefly without any details as to why the couple stays in the stable. Luke describes Jesusí birth in very simple, unadorned terms. The setting presents a very humble beginning for the future messianic king. The newly born child is wrapped in swaddling clothes. The custom was to take strips of clothes and bind them around the child to keep the limbs straight. Swaddling prepares us for the shepherdsí recognition of the child [2:12], as does the mention of manger. The child is laid in a manger, probably a feed trough normally used for animals, since that is the normal meaning of the term. The animal room that Joseph and Mary found may have been either a stable next to the place of lodging or a cave, since the use of caves for stables was common. Ancient tradition associates Jesusí birth with a cave. A basilica was erected over a cave site in Bethlehem in the time of Constantine (fourth century), at the site of the present Church of the Nativity. The simple birth of Jesus Christ is somewhat paradoxical, since the Messiah is born in a room normally reserved for animals. A stable was the Messiahís first throne room.

 

The overruling providence of God appears in this simple fact. He orders things in heaven and earth. He turns the hearts of kings to do His will. He overruled the time when Augustus decreed the taxation. He directed the enforcement of the decree in such a way that Mary had to be in Bethlehem when the days were completed for her to give birth. Little did the Roman Emperor and his officer Quirinius think that they were only instruments in the hand of the God of Israel, and were only carrying out the eternal purposes of the King of kings. Little did they think that they were helping to lay the foundation of a kingdom, before which the empires of this world would all fall down one day. The heart of a believer should take comfort in recalling Godís providential rule of the world. A true Christian should never be greatly upset by the conduct of the rulers of the earth. He should see with the eye of faith a hand overruling all that they do, to the praise and glory of God.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††† Gabriel reveals two things about the identity of Jesus in verse 32. What is significant about these two things?

 

2.††††† Compare Maryís response to Gabriel in verse 34 to the response of Zechariah in verse 18. What is different about Maryís response that she receives no rebuke like Zechariah did in verse 20?

 

3.††††† Why is verse 35 called ďone of the most Christologically significant verses in the bookĒ?

 

4.††††† Why do you think Luke was so concerned to show the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant? Compare Luke 1:32-33 with 2 Samuel 7:9-16 and 1 Chronicles 17:10b-14.

 

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker Books.

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Norval Geldenhuys, Eerdmans.

Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker Books.