Teaching series from Luke

Jesus' Conception

Luke 1:26-56

Teaching t20251


Briefly reiterate the purpose of Luke: to help people make an informed decision to follow Jesus as humanity’s Savior by giving them accurate information about his unique life.

Jesus’ unique life began (humanly speaking) with his unique conception.  Luke records more about Jesus’ birth (conception, pregnancy, actual birth, post-natal events) than any other gospel author.  He evidently got much of his information by interviewing Mary herself.  The passage we’re covering this morning records how Mary learned that God had chosen her to be Jesus’ mother, and how she responded to this opportunity.  Let’s look at it, and then we’ll consider its application to our lives.

The atypical event

This event is studded with atypical elements.  This shouldn’t surprise us, since God is doing something unique—having his divine Messiah enter the human race.  Let’s see how he does this.

There are four very atypical elements in this pregnancy announcement.  See if you can identify them (read 1:26-38).

Of course, it’s pretty atypical to have an angel appear to tell you about your pregnancy!  And unlike fairy tales, in which this sort of thing is more normal, Mary’s reaction shows that it wasn’t any more normal for her than it would be for us.

Then there is that fact that this pregnancy is preceded by another very atypical pregnancy.  Six months earlier, the same angel had appeared to Mary’s relative (Zacharias) to announce that his wife Elizabeth (barren and post-menopause) would become pregnant (by Zacharias), and that their son would play a unique role in God’s plan.  He would be a mighty prophet who would personally introduce Israel’s long-awaited Messiah.  This son’s name was John, and he became known as John the Baptist (not because he was a Southern Baptist, but because he called on all Israelites to get water baptized as a way of acknowledging their need for God’s forgiveness).

Then there is the completely atypical fact that Mary’s baby would be conceived by God’s Spirit without the agency of a human father.  Even though Mary was probably no more than 14 years old, she understood the facts of life—she was a virgin, she and her fiancée weren’t having sex—so how could she become pregnant?  Gabriel answers with a rudimentary lesson on the philosophical plausibility of miracles: God, who created both the physical universe and the laws of nature, can also temporarily suspend them to accomplish his redemptive plan for humanity.  He has recently supernaturally enabled Elizabeth to conceive by having sex with Zacharias, and he can supernaturally enable Mary to conceive without having sex at all.

Finally, there is the atypical fact that Mary’s pregnancy is the fulfillment of an Old Testament messianic prophecy.  1:27,32 repeat that Mary’s child will be the Messiah, long-awaited descendant of David who could be identified by the fact that he would be born of a virgin (briefly quote and explain Isa.7:14).

Mary’s visit with Elizabeth includes a couple more atypical elements.  See if you can identify them (read 1:39-45).

Elizabeth’s child leaped in her womb the exact moment Mary arrived.  Perhaps the movement of her baby was so unusual that this was too unusual to be a coincidence.  More probably, Elizabeth had been told (by Gabriel? God?) that this would happen.

Elizabeth was filled with God’s Spiritenabled to utter a prophetic statement that her younger relative had the unique privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.

Mary’s response is also atypical—she also utters a prophetic statement of thanksgiving and insight into the uniqueness of her baby.  Read 1:46-56. 

Many of the world’s powerful people will reject him because of their pride, and miss the blessing he offers (1:48-53).  But many of the poor and powerless will humbly receive him and be blessed and exalted by him.  Mary rejoices that she is one of the humble, lowly people to whom God has given a great privilege.

Her son will be the fulfillment of the promise that God made 2000 years earlier to Abraham (1:54,55; Gen.12:3)—that one of his descendants would make God’s blessing of salvation available to every ethnic group.

The typical pattern

So on one level, this is a unique event that understandably involves many atypical details that you and I may never experience in our lives (repeat elements?).  But on another level, there is a pattern in this event that is utterly typical of the way God works with all of us.  This pattern is repeated all over the Bible—both through narrative about individuals and through teaching to this effect.  This pattern contains 3 elements.

The first element is that God discloses a portion of our role in his plan, and calls us to embrace it by  a step of faith.  God has a plan to rescue humanity, and he has chosen to accomplish his plan through normal people like you and me.  In various ways, at the right time, he communicates that part of our role that we need to know about right now.  In this case, he sent Gabriel to tell Mary that he had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.  When he does this with us, he will communicate personally—and it will always agree with his Word (examples later).

The second element is that this step is scary, and it requires a decision to actively trust God.  What a mixture of emotions Mary must have felt when Gabriel told her this!  One the one hand, she felt amazement and excitement about this opportunity.  But one the other hand, she felt real fear.   Her role in God’s plan would bring big changes into her life—changes that she was ill-equipped to deal with (jeopardize engagement with Joseph; scandal with friends and community; etc.).  God never apologizes for this—he feels that the privilege outweighs the inconvenience, and he promises to provide what we’ll need to play our part.  God precipitates a crisis of decision: “Will you respond to my invitation by trusting me and taking this step, or will you refuse and forfeit this opportunity?”  Mary’s response is exemplary of the response God desires (1:38)—she actively embraces this role, and asks God to work through her to advance his plan.

The third element is that taking this step results in experiencing confirmation, awe, and joy.  You can see this so clearly with Mary after she embraces God’s role.  She experiences conformation of her role through her visit with Elizabeth.  And when she prays, her prayer is full of awe that God would use her in this way, and the joy/thrill of being used by God (1:46-49).

By the way, I know that it sounds strange to speak positively about being “used by God.”  It’s because being used by anyone else is a total drag (EXAMPLES).  But because God made you for himself, and because he loves you and wants your good more than anyone else—being used by God is the most freeing and wonderful experience you can have!

Application examples

Let’s spend the rest of our time talking about examples of how God will follow this pattern in your life.  Chances are, you’ll relate to at least one of these examples—either because you’ve experienced them in the past, or because God is doing this right now!

“I want you to ask Jesus to come into your heart.”  The Bible says this role is one that God wants each and every one of us to play.  Jesus died for your sins so he could forgive you, and was raised from the dead so you could know his love personally.  I am certain that God is personally giving this invitation to many of you right now.  How will you respond?

I vividly remember how I felt when I heard God calling me to receive Christ.  I was so conflicted—excited by the hope that my broken life could have a new start, but also resistant to admitting to him that I needed this, and afraid of how he might change my life.  All I can tell you is this: I am so glad I responded to this invitation!  When I said “yes,” Jesus came into my heart and showed me he was real.  And in the years since then, I have experienced the awe and joy of knowing Christ over and over again—and it never gets old!  Maybe today is the day that you should respond to this invitation...

“I want you to give your whole life to me and my purpose.”  This is usually a step God calls you to take some time after you receive Christ.  He gives you some time to experience how good and wise and reliable he is—and then he issues this call to “sign over the title deed” of your life (BODY; RELATIONSHIPS; PLANS; POSSESSIONS; etc.) so he has free reign to direct your whole life.  This is scary, because it requires giving up a greater measure of control over your life—but he just says: “I’ll take care of you, and you will discover that my direction of your life is good and well-pleasing and perfect.  So what do you say?”  God called me to do this about two years after I met Christ, and I remember it vividly also, both because I realized at the time how important this was and because I have been awed by what he has done through my life since then.  What about you—is God calling on you to do this?  How will you respond?

“I want you to share my love with this person who doesn’t know me.”  If you stay in close personal touch with Jesus, you will experience this call many, many times.  This is a huge part of what makes following Jesus such an adventure.  On any given day, he may call on you to do this with different people and in different ways (MANY EXAMPLES.  It’s always scary, for a number of reasons—you don’t know what will happen, spiritual resistance, can’t control the situation, etc.  But if you want to experience real awe and joy over seeing the living Jesus working through you, tell him you’re always on-call and ready for orders on this!

“I want you to help this person who does know me.”  This may mean speaking a word of encouragement, or it may mean speaking a word of rebuke.  It may mean responding to someone who asks you a question before or after a meeting like this, or it may mean initiating contact with someone one-on-one.  It may mean helping someone in a very practical way, or it may mean explaining a difficult Bible passage.  It may involve helping in a way in which you feel competent, or it may involve helping in a way that you feel inadequate.  The point is that you are ready to serve and willing to trust God’s direction.  If you do this, you will experience the joy and satisfaction of being used to strengthen the people of God.

“I want you to pursue this new path of serving me.”  As you pursue this way of life, God may call you serve him in ways you have never served him before.  He may call you to serve in a similar way, but with greater responsibility.  He may call you to share his love with new groups of people who don’t yet know him.  He may call you to strengthen his people in a different part of the world.  I find this part very scary, because I like familiar routine.  But trusting God’s guidance in this area has resulted in some of my most exciting and satisfying experiences!

I believe that God is issuing you at least one of these invitations today?  What is it?  How will you respond