Motherhood: Woman of God, 30 December 2018

Motherhood: Woman of God
Series—Mary Christmas
Luke 2:21-52

Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

Big Idea: Moms—and Mary, in particular—do more than simply give birth.

Welcome to in-between Sunday. You know, that awkward time between Christmas and New Year’s. You’re not sure if the decorations should be up or down. Is it ok to still listen to Christmas carols? Half of the world seems to be on vacation while the other half tries to work amidst the gnawing sense that gifts need to be returned and hopefully there’s some deals on leftover Christmas stuff. The space between.

The same, of course, can be said about our place in history. Throughout Advent—the season of waiting and coming—we’ve noted how we look back at Jesus’ first visit to our planet and anticipate his return. We’ve between his first and second coming.

As humans, we tend to focus on milestones, significant dates, memorable times. We all have defining moments in our lives, but usually we are living between those occasions. For example, it’s probably not your birthday, but you had one this year…or will tomorrow.

It’s been said that fathers are celebrated once a year while moms have two holidays: Mother’s Day and Labor Day! Although we are months away from either, we’re going to look at the life of the most famous mom of all…Mary.

Her story began about nine months before the birth of Jesus, a day we celebrated last week, but her work was just beginning. She was the only person at both the birth and death of Jesus. We don’t have time to look at every mention of Mary in the New Testament, but we’re going to continue our study of the beginning of the gospel or good news of Luke in chapter 2 and see Mary the mother, a woman of God.

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. (Luke 2:21)

Jesus was the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “Yahweh is salvation.” It was a common name at the time, but note it was not chosen by Mary or Joseph, but rather Gabriel the angel. Mary and Joseph kept the laws of Judaism.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
(Luke 2:22-24)

Jesus was dedicated by His parents to the Lord using the offering of the poor, a pair of birds, though middle classes also made such sacrifices.” Fortunately for us, we do not have to slaughter animals in the process of dedicating our children to God, but this was the Old Testament Law.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. (Luke 2:25-26)

The common shepherds were the first to visit Jesus. Simeon, however, was a wise, godly elder empowered by the Holy Spirit which is significant, especially before Acts chapter two. He was given a promise by God, and the LORD always keeps his promises…and Simeon was no exception.

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: (Luke 2:27-28)

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Jesus was a Jew. His culture was Jewish, but his mission would include the Gentiles, a radical concept for Israel. All the nations will see God’s plan of salvation. The glory of Israel is the Messiah, the bearer of promise. Imagery from the prophet Isaiah is evident here.

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:33-35)

That’s not the kind of blessing I’d want to hear as a parent! This king will clearly be different than Caesar. Suffering has been a part of first-century life and not only will it not end anytime soon, Jesus will share in the suffering. The Messiah will live among his people. The kingdom of God will confront the kingdom of the world, and confrontation is never pretty.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

Like Mary, here’s another devoted, godly woman. Talk about surrender! She worshiped, fasted, and prayed night and day. That makes our hour on Sunday look so trivial.

I love that Luke included this widow in his account.

Luke has told us Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles. We have seen young and old in this story. The great thing about our faith is it’s available to everyone: boys, girls, men, women, black, white, brown, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Democrats, Republicans, …the story of Jesus can become anyone’s story.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:39-40)

Now we come to one of my favorite parenting stories in the Bible! There’s plenty of context missed in reading this story 2000 years later, but it’s astonishing on the surface. We jump forward twelve years.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:41-43)

This is the reverse of Home Alone! Mary and Joseph head home, leaving Jesus behind. Have you ever lost Jesus? It’s easy for us to get so busy and distracted that we’re not even aware we’ve left him. Perhaps even last week you left Jesus in the manger while you focused on the food, gifts, or even the family. It was his birthday, yet we opened the presents! When we’ve lost Jesus, we need to search for him in prayer, in the Bible…and not given up until we find him.

Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. (Luke 2:44-45)

Obviously, this wasn’t a three-person journey. People often traveled in large groups to avoid bandits along the path, among other things. This was an annual pilgrimage. But you would expect a “good” parent to know whether or not their twelve-year-old was with them on such a trip. It seems likely Mary and Joseph returned without the rest of the party, a potentially dangerous journey to a potentially dangerous city.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” (Luke 2:46-48)

Have you ever blamed someone else for your mistake? I love the humanity of Mary. She blames Jesus but she’s the one who left the city without her young son! I believe the Bible is true and it’s raw moments such as this that verify it for me. You can’t make this stuff up! For the record, Jerusalem is 90 miles from Nazareth.

I supposed Jesus could’ve responded by saying, “Why did you leave without me?” Instead, Mary’s perfect Son offers an even more radical reply.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49-50)

Mary had said, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you,” yet Jesus was focused on his Heavenly Father. Jesus knew his mission, even as a boy. He considered his time in the temple necessary. It will certainly not be his last visit there.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52)

Jesus was an obedient son. Of course! This would be the end of Jesus’ story from Luke until some seventeen years later.

Here again we see Mary treasuring all these things in her heart. She knew from before his birth this child was special. She was the mother of the Messiah. It’s hard to imagine the responsibility, the opportunity, the challenge, the blessing. Mary never forgot.

I want to briefly note two other motherhood moments as we conclude our series
Mary Christmas.

In the second chapter of John, Mary tells her son at a wedding, “They have no more wine,” prompting Jesus to miraculous turn about 150 gallons of water into the finest wine.

In the third chapter of Mark, we see Mary and Jesus’ brothers looking for Jesus. His response: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” It was not meant to slam his family, but can you imagine how they felt?

So What?

Moms, you can relate to Mary better than anyone. You know the joys and heartache of not only parenting but doing what only moms can do. We can only imagine the conversations she had with Jesus, the questions she asked, the haunting words of Simeon throughout His growth, and the mystery of His identity.

Parenting is really a stewardship. As humans, we often think things belong to us. That’s my car. Those are my toys. I give my money. This is my body. Those are my kids. The reality is everything we have is a gift on loan from God. The car might become totaled, the toys broken, the money lost, the body decayed. And even our children are not ours. This became especially real on my daughter’s wedding day. I was asked, “Who gives this woman to this man?” and I said, “Her mother and I.” Our girl was no longer ours, but now given to our son in-love.

Mary watched Jesus grow from a babe in a manger to a circumcised infant to a twelve year-old teaching in the temple to a miraculous wine-maker. She must’ve been so proud when he taught and amazed when he healed. I imagine she was offended when he redefined his family as whoever does God’s will. She was devastated when he was tortured and then executed on the cross, stunned when she found his tomb empty, and overjoyed to see him after the resurrection.

Such is the roller coaster of parenting…the roller coaster of life. 2018 was filled with many average, uneventful days. There were also defining moments—both good and bad, some expected and some surprising. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict 2019 will be the same! There will be highs and lows, ordinary days and extraordinary ones. We will have opportunities to influence what happens next year, but so many things are simply beyond our control.

For followers of Jesus, that’s ok. God is sovereign. God is in control. Nothing surprises Him. 2018 was not unexpected for God and neither will be 2019. Like a drone soaring high above a tour bus on the highway, God can see not only this moment but those behind and ahead of us.

We are in the in between—between the first and second comings of Jesus, between Christmas and New Year’s, almost between 2018 and 2019—but God is here…and there. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it (and I had several moments this year when it didn’t feel like it!). The Kingdom of God is advancing, even as the kingdom of this world continues to succeed.

As I wrap up my final sermon of 2018, I want to challenge you with two things:

Give thanks. I know, Thanksgiving was last month, but now is a great time to reflect upon God’s blessings. No matter who you are, there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful. Tomorrow at 7 PM we will gather together here and do exactly that. It will be a time of reflection, a time of sharing, an opportunity to testify of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I think you’ll be encouraged as you hear stories of what God this year in and through our church family.

Give yourself. Surrender. Let go and let God. This is a radical idea, especially in our culture where we think we’re in control of so much of our lives. As I’ve often said, Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He’s not looking for people to agree with doctrinal statements or impress others with their biblical knowledge. He showed us what it means to be human and asks for nothing less than total surrender. If you think Mary was offended when Jesus redefined his family, imagine how she felt when he said,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

Did Jesus mean we are to hate our family? Certainly not. He meant in comparison to our devotion to God, our love for our family and even our own lives must be minimal. He continued,

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27

He’s looking for 24/7/365 followers, men and women who have died to their agendas and surrendered to God’s will. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.” That means every day of 2019 belongs to Jesus. Every penny in your piggy bank, purse, bank account, and investment portfolio belongs to Jesus. Your plans for others—including your family members—belongs to Jesus. Your dreams for the future, your hopes for our church, your political preferences, and your talents belong to Jesus. Every second on the calendar is subject to interruption because it belongs to Jesus.

Today we close with a popular song many of us have sung countless times, yet putting the lyrics into practice is far more challenging—and rewarding—than simply singing, “I Surrender All.” I’m waiting for someone to write, “I Surrender Some” or “I Surrender All When I Feel Like It,” but that’s not what Jesus requires of His followers. He doesn’t recognize part-time disciples. He’s looking for people who are willing to count the cost, suffer, and be all-in, no matter what.

Mary was all-in. Mothers have to be all-in when they give birth, but throughout her life she was passionately devoted to God, a wonderful example for all of us. Simeon and Anna are also examples in our text of true followers of the LORD. Even at age 12 Jesus was committed to the Father’s will.

As we prepare for the new year, it’s my hope and prayer that we would passionately pursue God like never before—as individuals and as a family together—in 2019. Let’s resolve to know God better…and make Him known.

I Surrender All

Credits: some ideas from The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Birth: Woman of Danger, 23 December 2018

Birth: Woman of Danger
Series—Mary Christmas
Luke 2:6-20

Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

Big Idea: Mary was real, raw and dangerous…and so is King Jesus.

In January of 2003 the Discovery Channel began airing a show called MythBusters. It has continued as one if its oldest and most popular shows. Originally from Australia and now on the Science Channel, it has become a global phenomenon testing various popular beliefs and Internet rumors to see if they are true. The myths are ultimately rated “buster,” “plausible,” or “confirmed.”

It’s one thing to hold beliefs about sunburns, explosions, traffic patterns, or boarding airplanes. It’s quite another to entertain myths about the Bible and, ultimately, God. One of the most frustrating things for me as a follower of Jesus is hearing so-called Biblical quotes that are simply not, such as:

God helps those who help themselves.
Jesus turned water into grape juice instead of wine.
I’m good and, therefore, will go to heaven when I die.
Always pray with your eyes closed.
Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.
Suffering is always the result of sin since true believers are rich and healthy.
The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.

These are all myths. They are false.

This Advent season is filled with its own myths.

We’re in the middle of an extended series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems that she is possibly overrated by Catholics and underrated by us Protestants. She is arguably the most important female to ever walk this earth, not only for giving birth to Jesus but also for enduring the consequences of being pregnant out of wedlock, raising the Messiah, and witnessing His brutal death. She was specifically chosen by God to be Jesus’ mom for reasons we don’t entirely know, but good reasons nonetheless.

The center of God’s will is not the safest place to be, but often the most dangerous. Mary is often depicted as a sweet, innocent, almost angelic figure. The real Mary, however, was dangerous. She was dangerous to Augustus and Herod, claiming her son was born to be king. She had a dangerous mission that threatened the Jewish society and the Roman Empire. Rather than a somber-faced girl in a baby-blue robe, Scot McKnight says, “Mary was a muscular, wiry woman whose eyes were aglow with a dazzling hope for justice and whose body evoked a robust confidence in the God who was about to turn the world upside down through her son.”

To fully understand the story, we need to understand the context. We’ve sanitized the account, making it so quaint and comfortable. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than nativity scenes.

Unlike the myths of the season, Mary was real. Joseph was real. Jesus is real.

We’re using Luke’s biography of Jesus as our text this year, but the first two chapters of Matthew’s gospel or “good news” convey a less than idyllic scene surrounding the “silent night.” Joseph nearly divorces Mary, Herod is scheming, babies are slaughtered, Joseph and his family become refugees in Egypt, and people are waiting for the king to die. Have you ever seen those scenes on Christmas cards?

Caesar Augustus was literally considered “son of God” in the lineage of his dad, Julius Caesar who was officially declared to be a god. Augustus brought peace to Rome and was considered its savior. His rise was considered good news or “gospel.” Perhaps you’ve heard words like god, lord, and gospel in the context of church, but these were words used of this political leader, the worshiped king of the Roman empire.

Last Sunday we examined the first five verses of Luke chapter two, the journey to Bethlehem. Dr. Luke continues…

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

You’ve heard there was no room for them in the inn, right? There are actually two meanings for our English word “inn.” The first is a place you would stay, but the other is a guest room as translated here. There’s no innkeeper. It was likely Joseph and Mary went to a relative’s home. There’s nothing in the Bible about a stable or barn—just a manger. The manger may have been in an open-air living area like a patio. Many believe this was a house where people typically stayed upstairs with the ground floor used for animals…though there is actually no mention of any animals. The upstairs was probably full of people doing exactly what Joseph and Mary were doing—registering in the census. They’re likely in the bottom area of a full house. Baby Jesus may have been held by his aunts, uncles and cousins on his birthday.

Why does Luke mention the manger? It was a sign to the shepherds.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8-9)

Angels are often scaring people. I suppose if I encountered one, I might freak out a bit, myself!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Shepherds are not exactly common in our culture today, but in biblical times many cared for sheep. You might know the 23rd Psalm which begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The birth of the Good Shepherd—Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah—was announced to shepherds long before the news hit CNN or Twitter!

This is familiar language to the shepherds who knew Augustus as savior. They were now confronted with two kings; Augustus and Jesus. The conflict between them is beginning, between God and the powers of this world. Within a century or so, this baby would be so threatening to the successors of Augustus that followers of Jesus would be persecuted and martyred, simply for their faith.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)

Augustus didn’t exactly have angels announcing His birth.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15)

They needed to do something to respond to the celestial symphony! Here’s a tip: if an angel guides you to something historic, go!

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

Lowly shepherds were the first to meet the Messiah and the first to spread the word. We can’t imagine the significance of this news. The Messiah had been prophesied for centuries. It was a bigger deal than us waiting for someone to cure cancer…or for the Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns to make it to the Super Bowl! Generations had waited! The King of kings had arrived, but in the most humble, unexpected manner.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

These are common words in Judaism for thinking about events in one’s life so one could make sense of and narrate what God was doing in history. This wasn’t silent meditation, but rather reflecting to interpret. She was figuring out what God was doing in the world while people were singing and dancing and dreaming of the end of Augustus’ rule. She would tell the story orally, a tale of two kings. Much of what we read in the Bible most likely came from her lips.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

The natural response to an encounter with God is praise and worship. This is why we sing when we gather. This is why we give thanks. This is why we devote ourselves to God and His commands. He’s God and we’re not.

I often say the two most important questions in the world are

Who is God?
Who am I?

They are questions of identity. How you answer those two questions will impact everything you do and define who you are.

So What?

There are many myths about the Christmas story. Does it really matter if the manger was made of wood or rock? No. Is it a game-changer to have wise men or magi in the nativity scene or not? Of course not. Can we observe Jesus’ birthday on December 25 even if he was almost certainly born in the springtime? Sure.

Perhaps the greatest myth of all in the account of the birth of Jesus is that somehow the characters are super-human. They aren’t real. It’s fantasy. Jesus was God so therefore never pooped or cried, Mary floated above the earth like an angel, effortlessly giving birth without a whimper or tear. Joseph—well, Joseph just stood there watching while his wife and step son get all of the attention. The animals smelled like Febreze. The night was silent and perfect, tranquil and sweet.

But our understanding of Mary is important. She wasn’t an angel, hovering just above the ground. Nor was she a weak girl who disappears after the birth of Jesus—as we will see next Sunday. She was a gritty, godly young woman who encountered angels, brought God into our world, spoke out about injustice, and would experience the joys and sorrows of motherhood throughout the 33 years of Jesus’ life.

Our understanding of Jesus is even more important. His birth wasn’t a myth. You can visit Bethlehem today in Israel. He didn’t stay in the manger, meek and mild. His birth was highly unusual, yet the perfect fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies. And the birth was just the beginning. He didn’t stay the tiny, infant Jesus Will Ferrell prayed to in Talladega Nights. He became a man…but not just any man. The God-man. Jesus is fully human and yet fully God.

It might not have been a silent night, but there were no paparazzi or bloggers at his birth. Yet God came to earth, Emmanuel, God with us. The word “incarnation” is often used this time of year. It means to embody, to exemplify, to manifest. One of Jesus’ best friends described the incarnation of God this way:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)

The late Eugene Peterson used these words:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. (John 1:14a, The Message)

Christmas was just the beginning of the story. That little baby in the pictures came to live, teach, model for us what it means to be human. Then he died for our sins and failures, and rose from the dead

We often call this season “advent,” or waiting. Many of you are eagerly waiting and anticipating the opening of those gifts under the tree. Maybe you’re excited about being with loved ones. Perhaps you’re anxious about the loneliness, depression, or sadness you expect this Christmas. Regardless of your attitude toward Tuesday, I want to you to know we are waiting for something even greater than Christmas dinner or gifts from Amazon. We are waiting for the return of the King.

Today we stand between the first arrival of Jesus—as a baby—and the promised second coming of Jesus—as the King of kings and LORD of lords.

Christmas is not really about a baby or presents or even family. It’s about a dangerous woman giving birth to a dangerous man who would threaten the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. It’s not about us, but about God, his love for his creation, and his audacious plan to seek and save humanity from the curse of sin and death. Herod had every right to be threatened by the birth of King Jesus, even though he appeared tender and mild. For two thousand years, men, women and children have been given the opportunity to follow the kings of this world or King Jesus. Even today, we choose each morning whether we will be subjects of our desires or God’s.

Don’t buy the myth that Jesus is a fairy tale figure or some spineless wimp. He began a revolution of love that grows each day, leading a rebellion against fear, evil, and destruction. He sacrificed his own life to prove his love was real, and he’s inviting you to follow him.

There’s a popular Christmas figure called Elf on a Shelf. Don’t let Jesus be your God on a shelf…or baby in a manger. He wants to be your King, your leader, your LORD. And he’ll change your life if you let him. He doesn’t guarantee lollipops and rainbows, but He promises to never abandon you. He will be with you through life’s storms. He’ll give you peace, hope, joy, and love. It will be the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received.

Credits: some ideas from
The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Traveler: Woman of Perseverance, 16 December 2018

Traveler: Woman of Perseverance
Series—Mary Christmas
Luke 2:1-5

Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

Big Idea: Mary persevered through not only a difficult journey to Bethlehem but a life of trials and suffering.

I love to travel. It’s probably a trait I inherited from my mom who made sure my dad spent every vacation day away from home. No staycations for our family! I’m grateful for the memories created during our budget trips, whether they were with trains, planes, or automobiles.

Travel has changed a lot over the years. Flying was once a luxury only for the super-rich, yet earlier this month I saw flights for $20. Even simple road trips today would be the envy of any horse and buggy owner a century ago.

Today in our series
Mary Christmas, we’re going to examine what it really meant for Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, a blessed yet challenging role requiring tremendous perseverance.

Our text today is popular and relatively short.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)

Every ten years, our nation takes a census. It helps estimate the size and demographics of our population. In this passage, we see Dr. Luke informing us of a Roman census, no doubt used for taxation

It was customary for people to go to their original home. Where were you born? Imagine if the 2020 census required you to return there. If you were born in Toledo, no problem. If you were born in Alaska, that trip would be more daunting. Imagine if you no longer had family in Alaska. You had to not only get there, you had to find lodging.

Dr. Luke includes this detail because although Jesus was raised in Nazareth, prophecy clearly stated He would be born in Bethlehem, a real town you can still visit today in Israel.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Luke 2:4-5)

If you’re a pregnant woman today in Toledo, you have a variety of hospital options…and even some non-hospital options. You can choose to deliver at Toledo Hospital, St. V’s, St. Luke, or other local places. You can have your child at home. You could even opt to drive to U-M Hospital or some other regional center. My daughter chose to deliver our
granddaughter at a hospital 45 minutes from her home.

Joseph did not choose a journey to Bethlehem because of the fine labor and delivery professionals available there! He was required by law to go to his family’s hometown for this government registration. Mary just happened to be pregnant at this time.

We don’t know how far along in her pregnancy she was. She may have arrived well before her due date. What we do know is it was a long journey. It takes just seconds to read the account, but the trip took a little longer!

In case you were wondering, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. Of course Mary and Joseph were not crows, so they probably walked more than 90 miles—likely four or five days on foot. Maybe they had a donkey…maybe not. But imagine walking from here to Cedar Point…and even further…pregnant!

The Real Mary

Mary was not a weak, fragile girl as she is often portrayed. We saw last week how she was very smart, reciting numerous passages from the Old Testament in her Magnificat song. Her words were not merely worship lyrics, but radical declarations aimed at injustice. She was rugged and gritty. She was a woman of perseverance.

I learned this past week that the Hebrew word for perseverance comes from a root meaning “regular sacrifice.” It’s not once or twice or when we feel like it. To persevere in our faith, we have to regularly sacrifice our attitude, our time, our words, and our behavior.

In our November series, we talked about
When Life Get Hard. One of the most challenging yet hopeful verses we examined is in the fifth chapter of Romans. Speaking of the glory of God, it says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

Suffering produces perseverance.

Perseverance produces

Character produces

Her suffering began as a pregnant, unmarried teenager. The ridicule, the gossip, the rejection. Then there was the long journey to Bethlehem—without heated seats or a Bluetooth entertainment system! That suffering was probably just the warmup for the labor pains she would experience at Jesus’ birth, which were nothing compared to what would follow throughout her Son’s life…and death. According to Romans, the hope we all desire comes through suffering, perseverance, and character.

This “most wonderful time of the year” is the hardest time of the year for many of us. Empty chairs, maxed-out credit cards, divisive conversations, or unmet expectations can lead us to depression, discouragement, and temptations to give up.

I’m sure Mary wanted to give up at times.
I’m sure Perlean wanted to give up at times.
I know Jesus wanted to give up at times. He said so in the Garden of Gethsemane.

What about you?

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words many years after his birth:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

There are many words that describe Jesus in the Bible:

Good Shepherd
Great High Priest
Lamb of God
Light of the World
King of Kings

At this time of year, I think my favorite is Emmanuel. Prophesied in Isaiah and echoed in Matthew, Emmanuel means “God with us.”

No matter what you are facing today, you are not alone. It is my hope and prayer that our church family will surround you with love, encouragement, and support. But even if you find yourself truly apart from other people, you are not alone. God is with you. In his final words in the book of Matthew—the end of a statement we call the Great Commission—Jesus says,

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can claim the promises that God will never leave or forsake us. He is with us in the pain, the struggle, the fear, the trial.

Mary understands suffering and perseverance.
Jesus understands sufferings and perseverance, too.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus did not send someone to do the dirty work. He entered our world in the most humble manner and understands everything you are facing. And he will soon return, not as a baby but a King. Our hope is not in the economy, government, or entertainment, but in a new heaven and a new earth, new bodies, and eternity in the presence of Almighty God.

In the meantime, we are to persevere—one day at a time—making space for the Messiah in our hearts and homes, seeking his honor and glory in all things, loving God and others.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus tells a parable about wheat and weeds. He explains,

The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. (Matthew 13:38-39)

The instructions were to let them both grow together until the harvest. I’m taking some liberties here, but it’s as if Jesus is saying the Kingdom of God is here, but it’s not the only kingdom here. There is so much beauty, love, and grace in our world. A baby’s laugh, a stunning sunset, the singing of gifted musicians, justice being served, broken marriages mended, new jobs coming to town, families gathering for prayer…
Is there pain, evil, and loss in our world? Absolutely. The kingdom of satan is alive and well along with the Kingdom of God. That’s the tension. It’s not all good. It’s not all bad. I want to challenge you with a question as you persevere.

Where is your focus?

Is it on the wheat or the weeds?
Is it on the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world?
Is it on the empty chair at the table or the chairs that are filled with loved ones.

I don’t mean to minimize pain in any way, but simply to encourage you to count your blessings, to give thanks in all circumstances (not because of all circumstances), to focus on Jesus. He is with us.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

There are many of us who are hurting, grieving, and mourning. This has been a difficult year for our church family, but as I am reminded of the suffering, I’m also seeing the perseverance. I’m hearing stories of our church family loving one another.

This is the time of year when people think about presents, but I want to challenge you to think about presence.

Be with others.

Be present. Listen. Love. Encourage. Pray.

Mary was a woman of perseverance. She ran the race. She finished well.

It is my prayer for all of us that in good times and bad, in laughter and sorrow, we would remain faithful to God and one another. He is faithful. He is with us.

Credits: some ideas from The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Magnificat: Woman of Praise & Humility, 9 December 2018

Magnificat: Woman of Praise & Humility
Series—Mary Christmas
Luke 1:46-56

Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

Big Idea: Mary was a true worshiper, filled with praise and humility…and courage.

This will be shocking news to many of you, but I love music! It’s one of God’s most beautiful gifts. From the time I was brought home from the hospital to today, music fills my ears, my mind, my life!

The Advent season is one of my favorite times of year, not the least of which is because of the music. It’s the only time of year in which it is politically correct to sing about Jesus!

What is your favorite Christmas song?

I found an article that exposed many of the disturbing lyrics in popular songs. For example, in the “
Twelve Days of Christmas,” the true love would end up receiving 184 birds total. What would you do with 184 birds (I’d rather have the golden rings!).

In “
Santa Claus is coming to Town,” Santa is presented as a stalker, always watching if you’re good or bad. Creepy!

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” the singer hears the night wind and a little lamb talking to them. Hmm.

In “
We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” the tone is one of cheer and happiness…until the figgy pudding is mentioned. First they demand, “Bring us some figgy pudding” and then threaten by saying, “We won’t go until we get some!”

And let’s not even start with
“Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer!”

My favorite Christmas song might be
“O Holy Night.” Listen to these lyrics:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

There’s great power not only in lyrics, but music itself. In fact, hospitals today are not only filled with physical therapists and occupational therapists but also music therapists who play soothing music to promote relaxation and healing for patients. One writer said, “Music serves as the pinnacle of mankind’s culture, using words, phrases, sounds, tones, pitches, rhythms, and beats to establish both meaning and feeling.”

Of course, music is nothing new. One of my favorite stories is how some rabbis believe when God spoke creation into existence He actually sang it into being! That must’ve been an amazing song!

The Bible is filled with music, with songs. Psalms is known as the hymn book of the Bible. Moses sang in Exodus. Songs are mentioned in many books of the Bible. David’s harp caused evil spirits to leave King Saul (1 Samuel 16). I once heard a musician tell stories about playing worship music over sick people and witnessing their healing. Music is powerful.

We are in the midst of a series on Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a remarkable young woman, likely a teenager when she was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah.

As I mentioned last Sunday, while I believe Roman Catholics overrate Mary, Protestants tend to underrate her, some being afraid to even talk about her for fear of worshipping her as some have alleged Catholics of doing. We worship and adore God and honor Mary.

In addition to her own purity and devotion which led to her selection, she knew the scriptures and wrote one of the most famous songs in history. I don’t think it’s ever been on Top 40 radio, but two thousand years later people are still reading the lyrics and incorporating them into new songs.

We will look at this special song from Luke 1 today, a song called the
Magnificat, Latin for the first words of the song, translated “my soul magnifies the Lord.” It has been recited in churches, set to music by my favorite composer—Johann Sebastian Bach, whispered in monasteries, and chanted in cathedrals. It is one of the most famous songs in Christianity.

The book of Luke begins with an angel telling Zechariah his aged wife, Elizabeth, will have a miracle baby. Last week’s passage describes the same angel, Gabriel, telling Mary she will have a miracle baby.

Dr. Luke continues his biography of Jesus.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea,
where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:39-41)

It’s easy to dismiss this as background information, but Mary wastes no time making the 50-70 mile journey to Zechariah’s home. No car. No bus. No bicycle.

Virgin Mary is told by an angel she will have a baby. Such news was overwhelming in both positive and negative ways. Being chosen as the mother of God was the ultimate opportunity and responsibility, yet it came with unimaginable shame. Today, about 40% of US births are to unmarried women, but back then, the penalty for adultery was stoning!

Imagine the confirmation, though, when Elizabeth’s baby leaps and offers a blessing to her.

In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:42-45)

She’s not blessed above women, but among women…because of her faith, her belief in the LORD and His promises to her. They were big promises!

Last week I posed two questions:

What is God saying to you?
What are you going to do about it?

I believe when God calls you to do something radical—like plant a church or train for overseas missions…or carry God in your womb—He needs to make the calling clear. Some people think if God calls them to do something, everything will be easy, successful, and fruitful. Usually it’s quite the opposite, especially for a while. I’ve been privileged to meet prospective church planters, people who want to start a church from scratch. I look for a variety of skills and solid character, but I especially want to discern if this is their idea or God’s. When you want to quit—not if—you must return to the calling or you’ll throw in the towel. Sometimes God’s voice is quiet, but before you venture out on something big, it’s reassuring when the call is clear. I’m sure Mary was very encouraged by the supernatural experience and words of Elizabeth.

What follows is Mary’s response, her song, an incredible expression of praise and humility.

And Mary said: (Luke 1:46a)

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, (Luke 1:46b-47)

What does your soul glorify? What causes you to rejoice? Really.

At rock concerts, fans clap, cheer, and yell delighting in the musicians onstage. How can we worship the Creator of the universe with our hands in our pockets and a frown on our faces? Worship is much more than singing songs, but music is one, powerful expression of praise and adoration. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. I’m not suggesting you’re more spiritual if you raise your hands or that the music needs to be deafening loud, but does your soul glorify the LORD?

Mary was devoted to God.

Are you? Really? Her praise continues…

for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:48a)

This teenager realized she had no business bringing the Messiah into the world, but she humbly obeyed, taking on the very nature of a servant…just as her Son would do someday.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, (Luke 1:48b)


for the Mighty One has done great things for me— (Luke 1:49a)

Has God done great things for you? What?

holy is his name. (Luke 1:49b)

The most important word to you is your name. Perhaps no other word will more quickly grab your attention. Your name is special, and the name of the LORD is even more special. It’s so sacred, in fact, that to this day Jews refuse to speak the holy name of God for fear of taking it in vain or dishonoring it. It’s a Hebrew word we usually pronounce as Yahweh.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:50)

This is an especially wonderful promise. We tend to focus on our present world and its citizens, but God’s mercy and faithfulness can reach our kids, grandkids, great grandkids, great great grandkids…well, you get the idea!

This does not mean we need to be afraid of God, but rather see a relationship with the Creator of the universe as an honor, worthy of respect and reverence. Those who worship the LORD will experience His mercy.

God was devoted to Mary.

He is devoted to those who fear and revere Him. Mary then gives examples of God working on behalf of His people.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Mary is possibly referencing several different Old Testament passages of scripture, including 1 Samuel, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Ezekiel. Even as a teenage girl, she was devoted to the scriptures. In the absence of the YouVersion smartphone app or even a published Bible, she most likely was attentive to the rabbis in the temple who read from scrolls. For a fascinating study, look at the Magnificat echoes Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel chapter 2.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54-55)

God’s promises are timeless. Forever is a long time! Mary knew her history, and also prophecy concerning the future.

But Wait!

This isn’t just a nice praise song filled with up to twelve different Old Testament references. This was a radical song composed in the midst of Herod’s brutal rule. We’ve made the birth of Jesus this sweet, cozy story and even have a collection of pretty songs like Away in a Manger and Silent Night to serve as the soundtrack of the season.

But his song, the
Magnificat, is gritty. It’s actual quite radical. In the 1980s, the Guatemalan government banned any public reciting of it for being politically subversive. Months after Mary sang this song, Herod would slaughter every boy two years old and younger in Bethlehem for fear of this newborn King of the Jews would overthrow his rule. I bet you never sang a Christmas carol about that!

This song speaks boldly about injustice turned upside down, God entering our world to establish justice and remove unjust rulers.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Magnificat comes from the first line in the Latin translation, which literally means “my soul glorifies the Lord.” But what follows has been described as being to Mary’s world what “We Shall Overcome” was to African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.

This song was threatening to the proud in power…and liberating to the weak and hungry. Mary longed for a day when Herod the Great would be overthrown by a true king in the line of David. She knew what God had done in the past and prophetically declared hints of Isaiah chapter 11:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
…with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Both Mary and Isaiah declare so much about God.

He is merciful to those who fear him.
He will scatter the proud.
He will bring down rulers.
He will lift up the humble.
He will fill the hungry.
He will send the rich away empty.

Today, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s
wealth. If your annual income is $32,400 or more, you’re in the top 1%. You’d have to make more than $400,000 to crack the top 1% in the USA, but in the world, most of us are in the top 1%.

Suddenly this isn’t just a nice, ancient song, but a protest song with great relevance today. I want you to see Mary not as some weak, soft little girl, but rather a courageous woman who spoke out against the rulers of her day. He son would do the same—and it would get him killed.

Both Mary and her son, Jesus, were hardly passive, weak biblical characters. Instead, they were filled with grit, resolve, purpose, and passion. We’ll see more of that in the next few weeks or our series.

Our text for today concludes:

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:56)

What did they do for three months? What did they talk about? How did Mary’s parents feel about this visit? Was Mary kicked out of the house necessitating the stay? There are so many things we don’t know. But there’s plenty we do know.

So What?

Mary is a singer. She is a song writer. She is a student of the Bible. She is a worshipper. Are you?

We know the story. We know what happens…but she knows only what was told to her by the angel. This is a pregnant teenager in a culture that despised unwed moms. It may sound romantic to be the mother of Jesus, but she also would experience not only His death but threats to her own life. The awe and wonder of Gabriel’s announcement was surely tempered by the certain death of her own social standing. The humble, pure girl would be treated like a harlot.

When Mary conceived, the world was awaiting a Messiah to fix the brokenness caused by sin and death. Jesus failed to meet the expectations of the Jews, arriving not as a warrior king but a vulnerable baby. Rather than killing His enemies, He was killed by them and even prayed for them as He hung on a cross meant for criminals.

Advent is all about waiting. Mary did it. The Jews did it. Today we do it as we await His return. It won’t be as an infant so tender and mild but as the powerful King of kings and LORD of lords. During this time in-between, we remember His first entrance into our world, His accomplished mission on the cross, His triumphant resurrection, and His departure to prepare a place for us.

This season’s celebration is not simply about the birthday of the King but what that life means for us today—grace, forgiveness, life, hope, joy, meaning, purpose, and peace.

Mary was devoted to God.
God was devoted to Mary.

The question for today is

Are you devoted to God?

Are you a person of praise, singing of God’s goodness and faithfulness, or would people say you’re more of a whiner and complainer?

Are you a humble servant, willing to obey what God asks you to do, or would people say you’re more of a control freak, living your life for your own safety, comfort and pleasure? Humility is the natural result of knowing who God is. It’s not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

Are you a courageous person of conviction and passion, or do you do what’s safe and popular? Does your devotion to God waver when it’s not politically or socially correct?

I want to be more like Mary!

This hymn is not just about Mary, but about all who fear God, who revere God, who are devoted to God. They will experience His mercy and grace. God honors the humble and poor—not necessarily financially poor—but poor in spirit, the pious poor, those seeking God, pursuing God, desperate for God, devoted to God. Those who fear God know they are not in control. They are not better than others. They are not proud or self-righteous, instead aware of their need for God. As a result, God sees them, values them, and knows them intimately.

Devotion to God is not something we just do for an hour on Sunday, but rather a 24/7/365 way of life, regardless of the costs. Make no mistake, Mary suffered for her devotion to Jesus…and the suffering didn’t end after the labor of Jesus’ birth.

This season, I encourage you to look deeper into the story that changed the world…and that is still changing the world, one life at a time.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices / Fall on your knees!

Magnificat sung by Kathryn Brinkman

Credits: some ideas from
The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

Call: Woman of Obedience, 2 December 2018

Call: Woman of Obedience
Series—Mary Christmas
Luke 1:26-38

Series Overview: Mary may be the most underrated, godly character in the Bible (at least for Protestants!).

Big Idea: Mary is not just for Catholics, but an obedient girl who responded to the call of God.

What’s the greatest message you’ve ever received? Maybe it was a phone call. Perhaps it was a letter or e-mail. I love creative marriage proposals that involve scoreboard messages or airplane banners. Years ago, people were given information through Morse Code or telegram. Technologies such as Slack, Snapchat, texting, and Facebook Messenger can now deliver vital information instantly, around the world.

But what about an angel? Have you ever received a message from an angel? That would be unforgettable! Today we’re going to look at a very special call, a divine message that changed the course of human history.

Advent is here, that season of expectation and waiting, a time when we prepare for the observed celebration of Jesus’ birthday…and a time to prepare for His return at the second coming. The word “advent” is derived for a Latin word meaning “coming.”

It’s always challenging for preachers to prepare for Christmastime. What do we say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? The story is pretty familiar—manger, baby, angels, shepherds…

Today we begin a series entitled
Mary Christmas. It’s about the person I believe to be the most underrated character in the Bible—at least among Protestants…Mary, the mother of Jesus.

If you were raised Catholic, you know plenty about Mary, but my guess is if you were raised Protestant, like me, you may know very little about her.

Since I just lost some of you, allow me to give you an extremely brief lesson in church history.

Beginning with Abraham, God’s chosen people are the Jews. Jesus was born a Jew, expanded God’s Kingdom to include Gentiles, and the movement we know as Christianity was born. According to Acts 11:26, the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians at Antioch. Both the Roman Empire and the Jews were critical of Christianity. Nevertheless, it continued to grow.

In 312, Constantine became emperor and saw Christianity as a good way to unite the empire, allowing Christians the freedom to worship without persecution. Seven ecumenical councils debated theology. The church split in 1054, forming the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the Great Schism.

The Pope’s power grew, corruption increased, and in 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther protested the abuses of the Catholic leadership, signaling the beginning of the Protestant Church, now a third branch of Christianity that includes Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and the Christian & Missionary Alliance, among others.

Today we have Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, and Protestant Christians. We also have Messianic Jews who are Jewish people who embrace the New Testament and view Jesus—or Yeshua—as the Messiah. They’re on our team, too!

Church history lesson over!

Growing up, perhaps I didn’t know much about Mary—beyond the baby blue bed sheet she wore in the Christmas pageant—because she was too Catholic. Roman Catholics pray to Mary, including the famous “Hail Mary.” Whether they actually worship Mary is debatable, but suffice it to say, some Protestants are somewhat afraid of Mary because they associate her with Catholics.

As we will see, there are few people in history more godly, significant, and visible throughout the story of Jesus than his mother. We don’t worship her, but we can honor, appreciate, and learn from her life much as we do the lives of Abraham, Moses, King David, Peter, Paul, …and Mary! Scot McKnight says, “We are Protestants; we believe in the Bible; Mary is in the Bible; we need to believe what the Bible says about Mary.”

So while our focus this and every Sunday is ultimately Jesus Christ, we’re doing a character study on Mary, going verse-by-verse through the early part of the gospel—or “good news”—of Luke. Let’s begin.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The first verses of Luke’s gospel describe Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and a miracle pregnancy announced by the angel Gabriel, a baby who would be known as John the Baptist. Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel is sent to Mary, Elizabeth’s engaged but virgin relative, believed to be about fourteen years old.

Angels are real.
They are all over the Bible. They are created beings. They are spirits, though they sometimes take on a bodily form. Only two are named in the Bible: Michale and, of course, Gabriel. They are finite creatures who often serve as messengers. There’s no biblical proof for the existence of “guardian angels,” though God sends angels to protect people. We are not to worship or pray to angels. For more on angels, I did an entire sermon on them on Christmas 2016 that you can read or listen to at

In the first chapter of Luke, the angel Gabriel tells Elizabeth she will have a baby. About six months later, the angel Gabriel tells the virgin Mary she will have a baby.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

This is great new! First, the angel is very friendly. “Greetings.” Then Mary is told she is highly favored. Who wouldn’t want an angel to announce that to them? Then Mary is told the Lord is with her. That’s good, right? Yes, but…

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29)

She was greatly troubled at his words. That was the best part! She was so surprised by the messenger, though. Aren’t you surprised when an angel greets you?!?!? Let’s face it,…

Angels can be scary.
When they show up in the Bible, they frequently say, “Fear not.” This will not be Mary’s last encounter with an angel, but it is her first, and she was afraid.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

He repeats Mary’s favor with God. David is mentioned again…and Jacob, too. Gentiles tend to skip over these details, seeing them as unimportant facts, but as a Jew, they were significant. Prophecy clearly stated the Messiah would be a descendant of David. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the beginning of the people of Israel.

Matthew states it this way:

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose
mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16)

You’re getting all kinds of history today!

It may have been scandalous to highlight so many women in a genealogy, much less the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah. But notice the women included—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba…and Mary.

Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes. Ruth was a foreigner. Bathsheba committed adultery—or was a rape victim. It’s startling that these women would be specifically mentioned (since each man listed had a mom!).

The repeated phrase “The father of” shifts with Jesus since Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, but He was born of Mary.

For about 400 years God had been silent, the inter-testamental period between the old and new. Then the aged Elizabeth gets pregnant and now the virgin Mary is with child.

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

Very good question!

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. 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. For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:35-37)

It’s a God thing! This is truly one of the greatest miracles in human history. I’m guessing few people believed pregnant Mary was really a virgin, but she certainly knew!

God sent the angel Gabriel to send a message to Mary that should would mother the Messiah. It’s impossible to fathom what that meant, especially for a teenage girl.

We can’t do much about messages that are sent to us, but we can choose how to respond. What do you do when asked for help? Did you give on Giving Tuesday? Have you served at Cherry Street Mission, Rosa Parks Elementary, or another one of our partners in the community? What if God calls you to become a missionary overseas…or break off an unhealthy relationship? Mary offers the perfect response to God’s call.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

God wants servants. He doesn’t want friends or volunteers or fans. He’s not interested in people who give only when they feel like it. He wants servants. The Greek word for servant in this verse, doule, means female slave or bondmaid. We understandably wince at the word “slave,” but a slave or servant is in full submission to their master. Some people say like the idea of being a servant—until they’re treated like one!

When we call God “LORD,” we are saying He is the boss, He’s in control, He makes the rules, He calls the shots. Could there be anything more offensive to our individualistic, autonomous culture? Yet that’s what it means to be a Christian, to follow Jesus. It means full surrender. It’s not about God being your co-pilot, but rather letting Him “take the wheel” and lead your life. Period.

I think Mary was chosen by God to deliver the Messiah into our world because she truly had a servant’s heart. She didn’t understand how a virgin such as herself could give birth, but she didn’t object. I’m sure as she reflected upon the months and years that would follow, she grew wary, but nevertheless, she said yes to God. “I am the Lord’s servant.”

My prayer for everyone one of us—including myself—is that we would say, “I am the Lord’s servant.” That’s the proper posture before the Almighty. That’s the appropriate response to God’s call.

So What?

It’s a cool story, isn’t it? An angel tells this girl she’s highly favored and will give birth to the Messiah. This has huge implication for all of us since our LORD was delivered by Mary. But there’s something else I want you to know.

God still speaks today.

He might not use an angel, but He might! He speaks through the Holy Spirit. He uses circumstances and opportunities to get our attention. God communicates through nature and creation, through other believers, through music and prayer. And perhaps the most vivid way God speaks is through the Bible.

Are you listening?

I want challenge you with two questions:

What is God saying to you?

I’m discipling a group of men and I ask this question to them most every week. If they say nothing, I ask about their Bible-reading practices. If you don’t read the Bible, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear God speaking. Journaling, silence, and solitude can help discern what God is saying. Another useful tool is simply talking with a trusted follower of Jesus, sharing what you think God may be saying and asking for feedback.

What are you going to do about it?

God’s love language is obedience. As servants of God, we must be ready to respond to whatever He says.

Perhaps that very thought is frightening to you. What if He tells me…?

God is not mad at you. He’s not trying to harm you or make your life miserable. He’s a great, loving Dad who can be trusted. He wants what’s best for you. Really.

What is God saying to you?
What are you going to do about it?

My prayer for you and me is that we would trust and obey. He’s calling you to obey. He’s calling me to obey. Have you heard His voice? If not, perhaps it’s time to spend more time with Him—in prayer and study of His Word.

The Nativity scenes visible at this time of year remind us of the birth of Jesus, but He also received a call from God the Father. He was sent on a mission to die so that we might live. Mary said yes. Jesus said yes. What will you say?

Credits: some ideas from
The Real Mary by Scot McKnight

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.