* * * *
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her”—Luke 1:26-38.
Where in all literature would you find anything more beautiful than this story? —a story which is all the more delightful because it is true. The world had been waiting for a number of millenniums for the fulfilment of the primeval prophecy that “the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.” The expression there used is itself remarkable. Every other child born into the world, save our Lord Jesus Christ, has been distinctly the seed of the man. He alone was the Seed of the woman. Although truly the Seed of Abraham, through whom all nations of the world were to be blessed, and the Son of David, destined to rule in Zion and bring blessing to Israel and the nations, Isaiah predicted that He would be born of the virgin mother. Thus He was the Seed of the woman in an absolutely exclusive human sense. He had no human father.
Luke, who is always very particular about dates, tells us that it was in the sixth month that the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to reveal to a virgin of the house of David, espoused to a man named Joseph, who was also of David’s line, that she was to be the destined mother of the Messiah. It was, of course, the sixth month after the announcement of the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist, which had been made to Zacharias in the temple.
In connection with this annunciation, let us notice four things, in particular: First of all, the angelic messenger himself. There are only two elect angels mentioned by name in Holy Scripture, Gabriel and Michael. Michael is the archangel. Men talk of archangels. Scripture never uses the plural in this case, but tells us of only one archangel, Michael, the great prince, who stands for the children of Israel; that is, he seems to be their protecting guide in large measure. Gabriel appears to be the messenger of the throne. It was he who revealed the counsels of God, in regard to the coming of Messiah, to Daniel. He told Zacharias that he was to be the father of John the Baptist. And here we see him appearing to Mary making known to her the glad message that she was chosen of God to be the mother of the Saviour. I might say that in the books known as the Apocrypha—which should never be included in the canon of Scripture— we do have names given to other angels, as for instance, Raphael and Uriel, but only the two I have mentioned are spoken of by name in the inspired writings.
Then, in the second place, notice who it was whom God chose to be the mother of the humanity of His blessed Son. She was a pure virgin of the house of David. Thus the One born of her would be in very truth great David’s greater Son. It is very evident that Mary was chosen, not simply because she was a virgin, but because of her deep spirituality and her subjection to the will of God. When He chose a young woman for the high honor of becoming the mother of the Saviour, He did not take some frivolous worldly girl, living in carelessness and enjoying a butterfly existence. He chose a pious, lovely, young woman, who delighted in doing the will of God and ever sought to be subject to His Word.
Then note what is written concerning him who was to head up the little household in Nazareth. This virgin was espoused to a man evidently much older than she, whose name was Joseph, and he came also of David’s lineage. In fact, according to Matthew’s Gospel, it is evident that the throne rights were his, and yet he was living in obscurity, earning his way as a carpenter. Everything was out of order because Israel had drifted away from God. They were in subjection to the Roman authority, and the son of David moved about among them unknown and ignored. He was not himself to become the actual father of Jesus; but he was to be recognized legally as His father, because he married the virgin before her wonderful child was born, thus giving her the protection of his name.
In the fourth place, we note the colloquy between Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Appearing suddenly before her, evidently in her own home—of which, however, we know absolutely nothing so far as the Scriptures are concerned, although tradition has invented a great many stories about that home which are absolutely unproven and therefore unreliable—the angel greeted her with these striking words: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” We, of course, have our conventional ideas of what an angel looks like. Scripture does not give us any very definite description of one of these heavenly messengers. In fact, their general appearance, according to the Old Testament, was that of men of noble and superior character. Though they do not actually possess material bodies, they can evidently assume them at will. We need not suppose that Gabriel appeared to Mary glorious, winged creature. That is largely artists’ imagination. But whatever form he took, his declaration must have been an astonishment to the Virgin. We are told that “when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” Apparently stricken dumb for a moment by her amazement, she waited for further word from her heavenly visitor. Then, we are told, the angel said unto her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.” “Favor” is “grace.” Let us never forget that Mary, beautiful and lovely as she must have been, was nevertheless born of a sinful race and needed a Saviour. She acknowledged this in the Magnificat which she uttered later on, when she said, “My soul doth rejoice in God my Saviour.” She had found grace with God. In other words, she was saved by His grace, sustained by His grace, and preserved by that grace to be the suitable mother for the Son of God in His humanity.
The angel Gabriel continued speaking: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” This was a full Messianic declaration in keeping with the many wonderful prophecies that had been uttered concerning the coming Redeemer centuries before.
It is important to understand that the Lord Jesus actually partook of the substance of the Virgin. Some have supposed that this could not be without His participating in sinful human nature. But the Spirit of God took care of that, as we shall see further on. The important thing to notice here is that there was an actual conception, and that involved an absolute impregnation. Jesus, whose name means Jehovah, the Saviour, was to be actually of the Virgin’s substance as to His humanity, with which His true Deity was to be united in such a way as to make one Person with two natures—the human and the divine. He was to be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord Jesus is the Son in several different senses. As to His Deity He is God the Son, one Person of the Trinity, co-equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, from eternity. Having linked His Deity with our humanity in incarnation, He became as man on earth the Son of God or Son of the Highest, having no human father. Then again, in resurrection He is saluted as the Son of God, the firstborn from the dead. To Him the Lord God, the Eternal Father, will give the throne of His father David; that is, David was in this sense the father of Christ’s humanity, which would not be true if Jesus had not been an actual partaker of the human nature of the Virgin, who came of David’s line. As such He is destined to reign over the house of Jacob forever, and to establish that everlasting kingdom to which all the prophets give witness.
One can well imagine the perplexity and wonder of the blessed Virgin when this announcement was made. In her beautiful simplicity she asks, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” It was not lack of faith that led to such a question. She does not here take her place with Zacharias, who inquired, “Whereby shall I know this, for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years?” On his part it was unbelief that prompted the question. On the part of Mary it was the desire for enlightenment. The angel made all clear in his answer when he said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that Holy Thing (or One) which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Unbelievers have said it is impossible to accept the Bible teaching of the virgin birth because it involves a biological miracle. What it really involves is the omnipotent power of God, and the reverent believer can accept this without hesitation.
Some opponents of the truth of the incarnation have even gone so far as to declare that the story of the virgin birth is not peculiar to Christianity, but that in the myths of the heathen gods we have many instances of virgin births. This, one can unhesitatingly deny. There is no comparison between the sweet, pure, lovely story that we have here, and the vile, lewd stories of the heathen mythologies. What some have presumed to call virgin births are the very opposite. In these stories certain gods are represented as lustful, licentious beings. They are pictured as falling in love with some earth-born maiden, assuming a human form in order to seduce her, as a result of which she becomes the mother of a demigod. Surely there is nothing in these corrupt tales that can be linked in any proper sense with the story of the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we simply have the Holy Spirit of God producing, by divine power and creative energy, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin. When He came into the world He was to be known, therefore, as the Son of God. He who had been from eternity God the Son, became in grace as Man, the Son of God, that He might be our Kinsman-Redeemer.
In order to confirm the faith of Mary, Gabriel then gave her the surprising information that her aged cousin Elisabeth had also conceived a son in her old age—though this was according to the natural order—and that it was now the sixth month with her, who was called barren. The explanation of all this is given in verse 37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
In charming simplicity and in marvelous devotion to the will of God, Mary answered, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” How much she, as a young virgin, understood of the shame to which she would be subjected by an unbelieving world, because of the peculiar circumstances in which she was soon to be found, we do not know, but she accepted all as from God and bowed in submission to His will. Remember, she was already engaged to be married. She must have wondered how she could ever explain what was soon to transpire, to Joseph. We know from Matthew’s Gospel something of the grief and perplexity that Joseph himself actually went through when he learned that his affianced bride was already pregnant. Her condition apparently suggested a sad deviation from chastity, for which, according to the law, she could have been stoned to death. But Joseph loved her and was studying how he might hide her away privately until her child was born, in order that she might not be put to public shame or exposed to danger of death. But the angel messenger appeared to him in a dream, clearing up the mystery, and he accepted his responsibility in a wonderful way.
Mary must have foreseen some of these things, but doubtless did not enter fully into what she would be called upon to pass through. But since God had revealed His mind, she was ready to accept His will without rebellion or hesitation. In this she became an example to us all. The only truly happy life is a life lived in subjection to the will of God. To be able to say from the heart, “Be it unto me according to Thy word,” means lasting blessing and abiding communion with God.
Having made known his mission, the angel, we are told, departed from Mary and left her to await the fulfilment of his words.