The Gospel of Luke: The Birth of Jesus Foretold
Luke 1:26-38; Mark 6:1-4; Matthew 11:11; John 1:29-30 - The Angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she has been favored by God to bear His Son.
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 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; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 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. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:26-38 NASB1995
In looked for an appropriate image for this devotional, I stumbled across this painting. I absolutely love the imagery! Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was an African-American artist who created many paintings of Biblical scenes and other works that were beloved, particularly by critics in the art scene in France where he died. If you look closely, the light being that is the Angel Gabriel forms a cross with a shelf behind him. Mary is dressed typically for that period of time in a simple room in the neglected Judean town of Nazareth and is not wearing flowing royal blue garments nor does she have a halo. She is a young and devout Jewish woman (and virgin), engaged to a kindly older man named Joseph who is descended from the House of David according to Luke; Mary is being told at that moment that she will be blessed with the responsibility for bearing and raising the Son of God after a supernatural conception.
What a moment in history!! God is promising to come down and become human, to take on our sins and give us the gift of salvation and eternal life! He really, really loves His creation! Hope is on its way!
Thinking about this amazing event, what should we make of Mary, the human Mother of Jesus? I was raised in a Lutheran tradition. Although we briefly considered alternative paths (including Catholicism) when we returned to faith, we settled on a Protestant Lutheran tradition again. Our current church is non-denominational, but firmly based in the Protestant traditions and beliefs. So my analysis of Mary derives from what I believe and what Scripture tells me. Some of the thoughts in this devotional may offend those who are Catholic and I mean no offense. My intent is to place Mary in the appropriate place in this epic Gospel story, which is always centered on Jesus.
Mary found favor with God and was the first disciple of Jesus, raising Him in those silent years before He started His ministry and creating the foundation for what kind of Man He became. We should honor her for her devout faith and submission to the will of God and she is one of the most prominent of God’s humble servants (like so many other humble servants of God in Biblical history). In the miracle of the water-to-wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:5), Mary recognizes her Son’s ultimate authority and tells the servants to do whatever He tells them to do. Mary went on to have more children with Joseph, as clearly identified in several Gospel passages, in particular this one from Mark 6:
“Jesus went out from there and *came into His hometown; and His disciples *followed Him. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.””
Mark 6:1-4 NASB1995
We just finished reading the Epistle of James, identified as mostly likely being written by the same James mentioned in this passage and the half-brother of Jesus. There is no shame whatsoever in the thought that Joseph and Mary had normal relations after the birth of Jesus and produced His half-siblings. Some belief systems tell us that Mary was a Virgin her entire life and go even further to say that her birth was an “immaculate conception” (how does that work for her grandparents, for example?). Praying the Rosary is almost entirely constructed in prayers and hails to Mary and she is called the Queen of Heaven. Apparently, Mary is venerated and treated as the top intercessor between Catholic believers and Jesus; the saints can also fill this role. I perform intercessory prayer, but I pray directly to the Lord and don’t call on Mary or others to help. Jesus is the recipient of prayer and He is the intercessor between us and the Father (e.g., John 6:13-14), while the Holy Spirit intercedes by helping us know how to pray even when we can’t make the words work (e.g.,Romans 8:26). There is no doubt in my mind that Mary is indeed in Heaven and is likely honored as fully sanctified and even glorified, but she is there with millions of believers and disciples and martyrs of the faith who are also sanctified and glorified. The center of Heaven is always God’s throne with Jesus at His right side and the Holy Spirit indwelling in Believers.
In our many travels over the years, we have visited many cathedrals and churches and always admired the beautiful stained glass and artworks and amazing workmanship that created these sanctuaries. As our faith started to grow again, we noticed some things that were bothersome in some of the Catholic Churches. One beautiful cathedral we visited in Malaga, Spain, was startling. The entire main chapel was given over to the Incarnation with statues of Mary; several of the side chapels were also set up for praying about the various aspects of Mary. Jesus was relegated to only a couple of side chapels. We also visited a humble building near Ephesus, Turkey that has been described as Mary’s last home on Earth while she was under the care of the Apostle John and it has turned into a major shrine with crowds of people visiting and praying to her, convinced that Mary was caught up to Heaven at this place (like Elijah). That may, indeed, have happened, but there is no scriptural basis for that belief.
Mary is a human whom God favored to be the mother of Jesus, though a supernatural conception and a normal childbirth. Her humility and willingness to go through this experience, with all of the suffering that went with it, is worthy of emulation and praise, but not worship. Mary does not stand between us and our Savior. She is not a dispenser of grace, but a recipient of that same grace given to us. Jesus Himself elevated John the Baptist above Mary, then elevated the least in the kingdom above John:
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Matthew 11:11 NASB1995
John the Baptist also recognized that Jesus was the promised Redeemer:
“The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”
John 1:29-30 NASB1995
My next devotional will examine the visit that Mary makes with Elizabeth; it is thought that they were cousins and they rejoice in the plans that God will fulfill through them - Luke 1:39-45.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the humble human servants that You have chosen, like Mary, to be part of the story of our salvation through Jesus. Let us always keep Him in the center of our lives, while acknowledging that our faith owes a debt of gratitude to the disciples, Gospel writers, early church leaders, and people of faith who, through His power, bravely carried His word into the world. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org