“Jesus’ Birth Foretold”
Lesson Text: Luke 1:26-40
Background Scripture: Luke 1:26-45
Devotional Reading: Psalm 89:1-7
Luke 1:26-40 (KJV)
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
32 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:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 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.
36 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.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;
40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
To retell the story of the angel's announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God.
To follow Mary’s example of faith, humility, and obedience.
Always be ready and willing to trust and serve the Lord!
A generation ago, the "Destination Unknown" event was a staple on the church youth-group calendar. Only one or two leaders knew what the day held. The message that went out to everyone else was "Meet in the church parking lot at 9 a.m. Saturday. Wear old clothes and sturdy shoes; bring an old towel." The excitement came from the "unknown" aspect. This is what turned the ordinary into something mysterious, appealing to the teens' sense of adventure.
As we grow older, we realize that most of life is a series of "destination unknown" events. We make plans and pursue dreams, but often we end up in situations that we could not have anticipated. We sometimes wish that we could know what the future holds, hoping that such knowledge would give us an advantage.
Or perhaps we feel differently—that knowing in advance what is to happen would be overwhelming. Perhaps it is better for us not to know in advance the challenges and pressures that we will one day face. Life's "destination unknown" events compel us to trust in God. Our text today is a prime example of this truth.
Time: Around 6 to 5 B.C.
Place: Nazareth of Galilee and the hill country of Judea Author: Luke
The appearance of Gabriel to Mary in today's text takes us to the cusp of the watershed moment of biblical history. We can understand it better if we keep in mind some key elements of the Bible's story line. The angelic appearance occurred when Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. The Romans conquered Judea in 63 B.C.; about 20 years later, they consolidated their power further through King Herod the Great. He was a ruthless local ruler who cooperated with Rome.
The Romans were skilled administrators, but their rule over Israel was still oppressive. Most offensive of all, the Romans were pagans—worshippers of false gods. Roman rule meant that the injustice and moral evils of that empire were sustained by allegiance to false gods who represented that evil.
The Roman Empire was not the first pagan kingdom to rule over Israel, of course. Before Rome, the Greeks held sway during a part of the period of time between the Old and New Testaments. Before the rise of Greece, Persia was the great power. Before the Persians there were the Babylonians, and before them the Assyrians. Israel's history of being dominated by pagan empires went back many centuries.
Even so, the faithful of Israel clung to the ancient promise that God would not abandon His people. The God of all the nations of the earth had promised that He would restore His blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). He had promised to Israel a king greater than David, a king whose throne would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:12, 13; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Jeremiah 23:5-8). Through generations, God's people held fast to their hope in God.
An awareness of Jewish marriage customs in the biblical period will help us understand today's text. Marriages typically were arranged by families, with the input and approval of the prospective couple. Because the economy of the time was simpler, people were given responsibilities at what seems a young age to us. Thus, young women could be married as young as 13 years of age.
When a marriage was agreed to, the couple was considered legally bound, but they did not live together as husband and wife until the day of the marriage. On that day, the groom went to the bride's family's home, received his bride, and escorted her back to his family's home, where a feast of celebration was prepared. Prior to this wedding day, the groom and bride were forbidden to have intimate physical relations.
Humble Settings (Luke 1:26-29)
1. What was the significance of God sending the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth? (Luke 1:26)
The story of Jesus' pending arrival is preceded by the announcement of John the Baptist's in Luke 1:24, 25. Both are part of the same movement of God to bring His promises to fulfillment.
Both pregnancies are announced in advance by the same angel: Gabriel (compare Daniel 8:16; 9:21) who’s name means “strong man of God” or “God is my warrior.” Throughout the Bible, we see how God used, angels as one way to communicate with people.
Jesus' birth comes after John's, since the sixth month here refers to the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John. As the announcement will show, Jesus is to be far superior to John or any other person. John himself will say as much (see Luke 3:16).
Jesus' importance contrasts with the humble home of his parents. Nazareth is a small, insignificant town of low reputation (see John 1:46). It is located in Galilee, a region seen as less prestigious than Judea, where Jerusalem and the temple are found. The people in Judah disdained the Jews in Galilee and claimed they were not "kosher" because of their contacts with the Gentiles there (Matthew 4:15). They especially despised the people from Nazareth (John 1:45-46). As He has done throughout biblical history, God is at work among lowly, humble people to accomplish His purpose. In His grace, He chose a girl from Nazareth in Galilee to be the mother of the promised Messiah!
2. What do we find out about Mary prior to her encounter with Gabriel? (Luke 1:27)
Gabriel came to Nazareth to speak to a young woman named Mary (Luke 1:27). Though a teenager, she was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Unlike today, in those days engagement (betrothal) was as legally binding as marriage and could be broken only by divorce. It’s important to note that at the time Mary was a virgin. This means that she had never had intimate physical relations with a man. For instance, even though she was engaged to Joseph, Mary had remained morally pure by not being physically intimate with him. This engaged couple had sought to remain virtuous in their conduct with each other. The Virgin Birth is significant for several reasons. It emphasizes the deity and sinless of our Lord. Also, His miraculous birth was a sign that God would fulfill His promise to provide salvation for the lost. Moreover, the Virgin Birth heralded the arrival of the messianic age of redemption. In fact, all of redemptive history pointed to Jesus’ coming.
Luke noted that Joseph was a descendant of King David. This truth highlights Jesus’ regal position as the Messiah. Even though we know relatively little about Joseph and Mary, we can say they were people who trusted in God.
3. How did the angel initially greet Mary? (Luke 1:28, 29)
Gabriel declared to Mary that she was blessed with God’s favored presence. “Highly favored” (Luke 1:28) translates the same Greek verb that Paul used in Ephesians 1:6 to describe how the Father’s grace is “freely given” to those who believe in the Son. The idea is that God’s choice of Mary was an act of kindness, as is our salvation. Mary had done nothing to deserve God’s honor. She was simply the object of His unmerited blessing (v. 42). There are times when we may think that God cannot possibly use us in His service because we don’t have enough ability, education, or experience. But the account f Mary suggests otherwise. God is not limited by any human factor in choosing whom He wants to serve Him. The most important consideration is whether we are willing to trust and obey Him.
Luke did not hide the fact that surprise and fear overcame Mary. “Troubled” (v. 29) indicates she was both confused and distressed. We can only imagine what thoughts raced through the young woman’s mind. Perhaps uppermost would be the reason why God had decided to send Gabriel to her.
What Do You Think?
When have you seen God turn seemingly unfavorable circumstances into an advantage for His work? What does this say about how God may use you for that work?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Limited finances | Limited education | Limited physical abilities | Other
Surprising Announcement (Luke 1:30-33)
4. What astonishing message did Gabriel deliver to Mary? (Luke 1:30-33)
The angel responds to Mary's fear with the reassurance, and comforted her with words of hope. Gabriel wanted Mary to know that she had found favor with God. The angel calmed her anxious heart by revealing that the Lord would guide her during this amazing time in her life (Luke 1:30). In God’s eternal plan of salvation, a human mother would give birth to His Son. The Lord, however, did not keep this a secret. Rather, in specific, concrete terms, He revealed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior. Though Mary was a virgin, she would become pregnant and give birth to a son, whom she would name “Jesus” (v. 31), which means “the Lord saves.” “Jesus’’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Yehoshua’’ (or “Joshua’’). The Christ child’s name is especially significant, for it stresses the distinctive theological reason for His birth. He was sent by the Father to save people from their sins (see Matt. 1:21).
The great miracle of the incarnation was about to take place. In Old Testament times, the Father had spoken mainly through prophets. But now He would bring His message of redemption through His Son (see Heb. 1:2). The Savior would be conceived in the womb of a poor peasant teenager named Mary and experience a human birth. The clear message of Scripture is that the conception and birth of Jesus is solely the work of God. Human reason can never grasp the mystery of how God the eternal Son became one of us. All we can do is give Him praise for leaving the glory of heaven for a time so that we might be saved from sin.
Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be no ordinary person. As the “Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32), Jesus would have unequaled majesty and power (see Gen. 14:18-22; Ps. 78:35). The greatness of His sonship is evident by the fact that He would be given the Davidic throne. Unlike human rulers, whose reigns are limited in power and duration, Jesus would reign in a never-ending kingdom.
The angel’s words remind us of Isaiah 9:6-7, which reveals that Jesus is God’s anointed King in the line of David. There will be no limit to the authority, majesty, and power of the Messiah in His reign. In retrospect, we recognize that Gabriel’s declaration to Mary fulfilled the highest expectations of all godly Jews concerning the Messiah (see Luke 2:25). They could rest assured that Jesus would bring to pass all that God had promised His people. At times it’s easy for us to grow discouraged with life and begin to doubt God. That’s when Gabriel’s words to Mary can give us hope and strength. We know that the Lord will fulfill all that He has pledged to do in Scripture.
Unparalleled Explanation (Luke 1:34-37)
5. What was Mary’s question in regard to the angel’s declaration? (Luke 1:34, 35)
Mary understands that the conception the angel is describing will happen immediately, but she did not know how it would happen. So of all the questions that may be swirling in her mind, one is prominent. She believed the promise, but she did not understand the performance. How could a virgin give birth to a child?
The answer to Mary's question introduces something unprecedented: the promised child is to be conceived not by a union between a woman and man, but by the creative action of God's Holy Spirit. In keeping with the child's unique identity, He will have a unique beginning. For emphasis, the angel states twice that the child will be conceived by God's exceptional, miraculous, creative power. This one-of-a-kind action will affirm the child's one-of-a-kind status: He will be holy, distinctly set apart for God. The manner of His conception is fitting for one who is the Son of God.
Gabriel was careful to point out that the Baby would be a “holy thing” and would not share the sinful human nature of man. Jesus knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), He did no sin (1 Peter 2:22), and He had no sin (1 John 3:5). His body was prepared for Him by the Spirit of God (Heb. 10:5) who "overshadowed" Mary.
6. What other encouraging message did the angel give Mary about her cousin Elisabeth? (Luke 1:36, 37)
The angel ended his message by giving Mary a word of encouragement: her aged relative Elisabeth was with child, proving that “with God nothing shall be impossible.” The God who by His creative power can give a child to an elderly, childless couple can also give a child to a virgin. God gave a similar word to Abraham when He announced the birth of Isaac (Gen. 18:14). That our God can do anything is the witness of many, including Job (Job 42:2), Jeremiah (Jer. 32:17), and even our Lord Jesus (Matt. 19:26).
What Do You Think?
What example can you give from your life of the truth of verse 37? How can you use this experience as part of your witness?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Physical healing | Financial assistance | Job opportunity | Spiritual transformation | Other
Faithful Reaction (Luke 1:38-40)
7. What was Mary’s response concerning her future as told by the angel? (Luke 1:38)
Despite the uncertainties that lay ahead for Mary, she responded in faith rather than unbelief. She humbly put herself at God’s disposal. Even though Gabriel’s message was shrouded in mystery, Mary accepted it without hesitation. Mary surrender herself to God as His willing servant (Luke 1:38). Mary also said that she was willing to accept whatever God decreed. The young woman’s submission to God revealed her deep longings for His will to be done in her life. Mary’s words of affirmation put her in good company with people like Joseph, Moses, Abraham” David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Mary experienced the grace of God (Luke 1:30) and believed the Word of God, and therefore she could be used by the Spirit to accomplish the will of God.
What Do You Think?
What experiences in Mary's life might have helped her respond to the angel with humble acceptance? What does this say about how God may be preparing you for some act of service?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Family life | Social life | Spiritual life | Other
8. What did Mary do after the angel departed? (Luke 1:39, 40)
A short time after Gabriel departed, Mary made preparations and quickly traveled from Nazareth to an unnamed town in the hill country of Judea. This is where Elisabeth and Zacharias lived (v. 39). Mary possibly journeyed 50 to 70 miles by herself, which would have been a considerable distance for a single, pregnant woman in her day. Mary possibly went to stay with Elizabeth for an opportunity to reflect on all that was happening in her life. Mary comes into the company of the one person who can best understand her situation—her relative Elisabeth, also miraculously with child.
Now that Mary knew she was to become a mother, and that her kinswoman Elizabeth would give birth in three months, she wanted to see Elizabeth so they could rejoice together.
What Do You Think?
When was a time that a friend who had experienced a challenge similar to yours helped you get through that challenge? What did this teach you about how you could minister to others?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Job loss | Death of a loved one | Prodigal child | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God shows favor to the humble. (Luke 1:26-30; 1 Peter 5:5)
2. Jesus came to earth to be the Saviour of the world! This is the greatest news of all (Luke 1:31-33).
3. There is nothing impossible for God. (Luke 1:34-37)
4. When we say yes to God, we’ll discover that it’s the best decision we could ever make. We will never be disappointed in doing what He wants. (Luke 1:38-40).
God’s Unique Plan
Jesus' conception began the climax of God's saving plan. What God called Mary to do was unique. But the larger truth is that God consistently does His work through the seemingly weak. The child whom Mary bore was part of that pattern. Though all-powerful, He ministered among the weak and sick. Though without sin, He willingly associated with sinners (Luke 5:30-32).
We serve our mighty king not by lording it over people, but by serving them (Luke 22:25-27). We see God's kingdom advance not in the rich, powerful institutions of the world, but as the Spirit of God empowers His people from the inside. Like Mary, will we trust the God who issues the call?
Lord, today we submit ourselves to You and Your power at work in us. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Accept God's call.