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YOU WHO ARE HIGHLY FAVOURED!

Luke 1:26-1:56
Key Verse: 1:28

Last week we thought about an old couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and John the Baptist whom Elizabeth was going to bear. Today’s passage is about a young girl Mary and Jesus whom Mary was going to bear. Mary can be the most beautiful woman throughout history, not just because she was the mother of Jesus but because of her obedience to God. Today’s passage includes her act of faith as well as her obedience, and her song of praise to the Lord God. We can also think about Jesus, the Son of the Most High. All these can come up as one thing, God’s favour upon Mary. Our God is the God of favour. Those who know this God are truly blessed. May the God of favour be shown to us.

First, God’s favour upon Mary (26-38). Look at verse 26. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee.” “In the sixth month” is six months after God had sent the angel to Zechariah. So it is also six months after Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Here we can sense God’s time. God’s timing is moving forward. Now it is six months closer to the time of the Son of God’s coming into this world. God is sensitive and punctual to his time schedule. He is the God of eternity beyond time, but he works in time and history.

At this specific time God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. God does not show his special concern to a certain town. God is not interested in town itself. God sent his angel to Nazareth, because someone who drew his attention was there. That person was a country young girl, Mary, a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. We can imagine her joy and happiness as one who was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of David, in God’s providence. It must have been the happiest time in her life full of beautiful dreams.

How did the angel Gabriel approach Mary? Look at verse 28. “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” The word “favour” can be an ordinary word. But in Luke’s gospel the word “favour” is used very carefully and meaningfully. As we studied last week, when Elizabeth could have a child miraculously in her barren state, she said, “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people” (1:25). Elizabeth did not think that she deserved God’s favour or God was obliged to show her his favour. Elizabeth was so moved by God’s favour and made this confession. At the time of Jesus’ birth, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests” (2:14). God’s peace to men through his Son Jesus is his favour. When Jesus began his messianic ministry from Nazareth, Jesus read the words of Isaiah to teach the meaning of his coming, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (4:19). In the Old Testament, the Year of Jubilee was proclaimed every 50 years. In the Year of Jubilee each Israelite was to return to his family property and each to his own clan, all the Israelite slaves were released. But through the coming of Jesus the year of eternal Jubilee, the year of God’s favour came once for all.

The angel said to Mary, “You are highly favoured.” We know that God’s does not show favourtism. Yet, he shows his favour to specific persons according to his sovereign will and pleasure. The angel did not says, “You will be highly favoured. The Lord will be with you,” but “You are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” This was before Mary’s response. This was the angel’s greeting to Mary, one-sided, different from our greeting, “How are you?...I am fine…Thank you. And you?” The greeting was very unusual. So Mary was greatly troubled at this greeting, and could not say, “Thank you for the favour.” We all like to receive favour. But at this point of her life, she did not need anyone’s favour. Joseph’s favour for her was enough. Because of that she was also troubled. At her troubled mind, she wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

Then how did the angel Gabriel respond to her? The angel did not explain right away what kind of greeting it was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.” The angel seemed to be impolite, rude. The angel seemed to say the same thing repeatedly, “You who are highly favoured!” and “you have found favour with God.” Here we see that God’s favour is irresistible. God’s favour is the immeasurable grace of God.

Then what is God’s favour for Mary? The angel explained this: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” God’s favor for Mary was that she would bear a child Jesus before her marriage and she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High. What a favour! This favour of God is truly amazing. This favour was so great that later Elizebeth said when Mary visited her, “Why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” No human being would fathom this favour of God upon Mary.

The greatness of God’s favor upon Mary is directly related to the greatness of Jesus. Who would the child she was going to have be? The angel said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” In the previous passage the angel Gabriel said that John would be great in the sight of the Lord. Yet, John’s greatness would not be compared to the greatness of Jesus. The disciples who in despair were going to Emmaus after Jesus’ death on the cross remembered that he was powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. At his word demons were trembled and driven out. Any and every sickness was cured, even leprosy. He raised the dead. The storms of the sea obeyed him and became still in a moment. He spoke the words of life. Those who heard his word were moved from death to life. People of low rank like the temple guards confessed before the chief priests and Pharisees, “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” when the guards were asked, “Why didn’t you arrest him?” People of high rank like Pilate were shaken and shuddered before him. Pilate could not judge him properly. Rather, he seemed to be judged before him, who spoke the truth. John the Baptist once said that Jesus was from above, while he was from the earth. Jesus’ greatness does not rest on human greatness. It is divine. His greatness of divineness was proved through his resurrection from the dead.

The angel continued, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.” Daniel, when he was in exile in Babylon, saw a vision of a rock smashing a statue made of gold, silver, bronze and iron into pieces and the rock becoming a huge mountain and filling the earth. This was the vision of Christ Jesus’ kingdom destroying all the earthly kingdoms and becoming one eternal kingdom (Da 2:31-45). Jesus would be God’s anointed eternal king and his kingdom will be forever. Even the Roman Empire would be gone. But the kingdom of Jesus would never end, although his kingdom had not started visibly at that moment.

Mary must have been overwhelmed by the angel’s message. However, she had one scientific question and asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” What she heard from the angel that she as a virgin would have a child was different from what she had learned from her biology class in her high school. She questioned, not out of doubt, but genuine curiosity. At this the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Scientific questions can be answered through the work of the Holy Spirit, that is the power of God. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is the key to all such questions. Then the angel told Mary one example of the power of God, the work of the Holy Spirit: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren in her sixth month.” The work of the Holy Spirit cannot be explained fully by the visible work, but the visible evidence helps to understand the powerful work of God. The angel concluded, “For nothing is impossible with God.” This was the perfect, concise answer to Mary’s question.

Mary finally responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to be as you have said,” Then the angel left her, fulfilling his mission. In this way Mary accepted God’s favour. She could know who God is and find who she is before him. Humanly speaking, she was the one who was engaged to a man Joseph. According to Jewish custom engagement was tantamount to marriage. So she was a wife of Joseph her husband (Mt 1:19). When she said, “I am the Lord’s servant,” she did not know what her future would be. According to Matthew’s gospel Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly, when she was found to be with child. When she said, “I am the Lord’s servant” and accepted God’s favour, she entrusted her marriage and everything in regard to her future into the hands of God. It was certain that when she accepted God’s favour, it meant giving up Joseph’s favour. Accepting God’s favour was costly. Also, as soon as she was found to be pregnant before her marriage in that legalistic Jewish society, she would be the object of criticism and ridicule and scorn, and even stoned to death. So how her family members and relatives would think of her was a huge thing for her to handle. Then how could she make such a decision to accept God’s favour? Such human things did not make her blank. She made a decision based on the words of the Lord through the angel Gabriel. It meant the word of God was bigger than anything else in her heart. God’s favour through the angel’s message was occupying her heart more than any other things. God’s words were true to her. So in the end she could not reject God’s favour. Rather, she willingly accepted God’s favour, knowing who God is, who is the Lord, and finding who she is, who is the Lord’s servant.

Here we learn more about God’s favour. Humanly speaking, Mary had many qualifications to receive God’s favour. She was pure-hearted and obedient. Yet, we know that no one is qualified to receive the favour of the holy God. It is God’s favour that he chose one young woman Mary among so many women in the world. There are many parallels of God’s choice. God chose one old man Abraham among so many people in the world to begin his redemptive work and history. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). God’s choice and God’s favour go together. God chooses a certain person to show his favour. And God’s choice or God’s favour is right and true. It means God’s favour is not to ruin one’s life but to make it true and fruitful in a lasting sense. God’s choice is also in the eternal plan of God’s salvation for mankind. So God’s faviour is to be accepted. Of course, Mary had a freedom to reject God’s favour, so has everyone. But if one exercises his or her freedom in a right way, God’s favour is guaranteed to be accepted. For God is true, his favour is true and those who accept it become true.

God calls his servants in each generation. God’s favour for Mary was unique in that she would be the mother of Jesus. God’s calling is specific. However, fundamentally God’s favour is the same. It is to serve the eternal king Jesus and his never-ending kingdom. And so it is for the true and fruitful life of those who are to receive his favour. Accepting God’s favour requires personal decision of faith and obedience based on the words of God. God’s words are the anchor to our souls. May Mary’s decision and confession of faith, “I am the Lord’s servant” be ours and may the words “you who are highly favoured” be true to each person here, although it is costly.

Second, Mary’s spiritual battle to bear God’s favour (39-45). Look at verses 39,40. “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.” When Mary made a decision of faith to accept God’s favour and obey God, it was a declaration of war toward Satan. A spiritual battle began in her life. We feel a battle sense in Mary’s action of getting ready and hurrying. Sometimes we should be patient and enduring. Sometimes we should be hurry and prompt in the spiritual warfare. Satan was seeking for a moment to give Mary a strong blow and knock her down. Of course, she believed that the Lord was with her. But also she knew to whom she had to go for spiritual help and encouragement at this situation. She did not go to Joseph to get his sympathy and understanding. No, not at all. She went to Elizabeth to see God’s work in her and receive a spiritual advice. From Nazareth in Galilee to a hill country in Judea, it was a far distance with about three days’ trip by walking. Yet Mary went there. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!...Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Elizabeth poured out the words of blessing on Mary, confirming that her decision of faith was a right one. At the time of spiritual battle or spiritual crisis whom we visit is critical.

Third, Mary’s song of praise (46-56). After hearing Elizabeth’s Spirit-filled counseling, Mary burst out the songs of praise: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call be blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” Mary’s song of praise was from her soul and spirit, full of joy and thanks. Her song was focused on the Lord, God her Savour. She knew her humble state and deeply realized that the Lord God is mighty and holy and he has done great things for his humble servant like her. And she had the assurance of blessedness throughout generations. Her eyes were open to see the mighty and holy God very personally and also widely open to see God’s way of working in history: His mercy extends to those who fear him from generation to generation, and he scatters those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things, while brings down rulers from their thrones and sends the rich away empty. She also came to have eyes to see God’s redemptive history through Abraham and his descendants.

Thank God who is the Lord, mighty and holy. Thank God for our eternal king Jesus and his kingdom that never ends. May we respond to his favour in a right way as Mary did, and live as his favoured one and his servant in this generation.

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