The Setting: A Birth Announcement before the Wedding Announcement (Luke 1:26)
In the prior section, Zacharias is visited by the same angel who told him he would have a son named John. Six months later, Elizabeth is dispatched to see Mary. We have a barren old woman, six months pregnant, and she goes to visit her relative Mary, who’s also with child. Several parallels are fascinating in this text:
- We have a priest named Zacharias and a peasant named Mary.
- We have a prominent temple complex where Zacharias is and an obscure Galilean village where Mary lives.
- We have an announcement to a childless old man. Then we have an announcement to a virgin girl by the same angel.
- We have a royal priestly line in Zacharias and a humble agrarian line in Mary.
Genesis 16:1, Judges 13:5, and Isaiah 7:14. Nothing in the Bible is, “oh, by the way,” everything in scripture is deliberate and intentional. We’re supposed to pay attention when an angel shows up. So the announcement parallels are an important part of our text.
The People: Joseph and Mary (Luke 1:27-28)
In verse 27, we’re told about Joseph, whose name means “he who adds or may he add sons.” We’re told here he is the son of David. Descendants of David refer back to Joseph to show that Jesus was the Son of David via Joseph, who would act as the legal father. The Old Testament’s sonship promise is noted in 2 Samuel 7:8-16. As the Son of the Most High, Jesus would take on a special relationship with God: once His kingdom is established, it will never end.
Next, we’re introduced to Mary. The word used for virgin here means an unmarried girl. It could be ascribed to a girl as young as 12, which is why most believe Mary was in her teens. We need to understand that a betrothal is more than an engagement and less than a marriage. A Jewish betrothal lasted about a year and involved two steps.
One was a dowry or payment, and the other was this year-long waiting period. During the betrothal, they didn’t live together. If the husband died in a betrothal, even though they weren’t married and consummated, she was considered a widow.
What About Mary?
Church history is divided in the theological understanding of Mary and her role. The early church and the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, believed the virgin birth meant she was the perpetual virgin Mary, and they carried on that view for a long time. There are many passages in the New Testament, like Matthew 12:46, where Jesus has brothers and sisters. The idea in the early church was that even though she bore this child, she physiologically never changed.
How could Messiah be born of a sinful human mother? That would make Him a sinner. Depending on your view of depravity and how it is “transmitted,” some believe that it is the seed of man that passes on sinful nature. Remove the man, remove the sinful nature. But what of Mary’s father?! Still, others explain away any notion of a so-called virgin birth; they see it as allegory, illustrative; it was a literary picture, more than a parable, less than a literal account.
And throughout biblical history, Ignatius faced what was called the docetic problem. He thought Jesus wasn’t truly human. So they denied the humanity of Jesus, and they had some creative ways around that. Augustine said that Christ’s redemption is what we’re given as sinful people, but this was inherited at conception.
Augustine’s views carried through most of medieval Christianity. All are sinful and need Christ’s redemption. We inherited that sin via the act of conception. For Christ to be Savior—he had to be sinless—not conceived by man.
Protestant Orthodoxy saw the indisputable proof of Christianity in the miracles of Jesus. It is here that He proved His fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The virgin birth is seen as the biological miracle and fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. They held that if you deny the virgin birth as a miracle, you deny the divinity of Christ.
Matthew and Luke are the only two gospel writers who talk about her being a virgin before giving birth. We interpret this to mean she conceived the pregnancy of Jesus apart from the involvement of a man. Technically, we could refer to it as the virgin conception because this is the miracle aspect.
Jesus was divine because He was divinely begotten. So the function of the virgin conception is the idea that Mary couldn’t be a good enough person for God to pick her.
The Angelic Announcement (Luke 1:28-30)
Gabriel bids her ‘hail favored one.’ Mary is honored this way because she has found favor, not because she is sinless. Unfortunately, Roman Catholic commentators make her into a super saint. This is a problem because this isn’t taught in scripture. Mary was given grace, but she could not dispense it. Demonstrating grace on a person is common in scripture—for example, Genesis 6:13, Exodus 33:17, Judges 6:12, Ruth 2:4, and Ephesians 1:6.
Jesus was a common Jewish name that means Yahweh saves. It was widespread until the second century A.D. After that, both Jews and Christians ceased to call their children by that name. Luke 1:17 tells us that John will go before Jesus in the power of Elijah. Luke 1:32 tells us that Jesus will be great and called the Son of the Most High and reign over the house of Jacob forever.
The Angelic Elaboration (Luke 1:34-38)
Mary’s perplexity arises from the fact that she has had no sexual relations with a man, which would yield a conception. The angel elaborates in verse 35 that the child will be conceived without human agency. Something is going to happen that has never happened before. The phrase “come upon,” also used in Acts 1:8, holds the idea of covering or overshadowing. The angel gives her confirmation that the Lord is able. If God wants something to happen, it’s not impossible.
A Unique Birth, a Unique Child.
This King will come from a lowly peasantry woman and a kingly priestly lineage. He will be fully God and fully man. The King is every man’s King, not just the nobility. His birth will be a surprise in more than just conception. If the biblical claims are valid, Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5 are true. This is cause for great joy in a corrupt, fallen world. We have a unique birth and unique child who will save us from sin, damnation, and the consequences of not knowing Him.
An Unusual Girl and an Unusual Mother.
On the one hand, it’s wrong to view Mary as a super saint. It’s wrong to look at her as a sinless girl that God picked because all the others were sinners. It is noteworthy. However, the text says she kept herself a virgin. Though it wasn’t as insane as today, there were reports of sexual perversity. Now, it is prudish to consider remaining pure until marriage.
Every sin is an illegitimate means to a legitimate end. God has designed a wonderful, satisfying, sexual, intimate relationship far beyond the moment between a husband and wife for all their married life. And you substitute it, and you smear it, you squander it with pornography, with living together, with sleeping around, hooking up.
You have to decide to trust Christ or your way. Do you trust Him to save you from your sins? Do you trust Him that He’ll bring you to His eternal kingdom? Then why would you dabble in something that He says is wrong?
Mary is a willing servant and an example of faithful obedience. God loves the humble-hearted but opposes the proud. Spiritual greatness is not a matter of social status, educational achievement, position, or power. It is a matter of the heart. This is the cause for joy.
A Unique Father and a Unique Family
Jesus’ own family did not understand or believe Him. Matthew 3:20-21, 31-35 Jesus’ family are those who believe Him and do the will of God. This is a cause for great joy. When we believe in Him, we become part of the family of God.
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