Time for a King
Luke declares the purposes for his account of Jesus’ life and ministry. He indicates also that he sought source material in constructing this account – he was not an eyewitness himself. By his own admission, Luke tells Theophilus his account will be for the purpose of faith. He knows his recipient knows the story of Christ but understands the need for more orderly account in order to make better sense of the doctrine from the story. Luke tells the reader the hermeneutic he expects. His account is to be read as narrative theology.
God revealed himself in the Temple to a righteous priest and his wife. This is an important fact because it shows God’s desire to begin his Messianic revelation at the Temple to the Jews first. Zechariah is a Pharisee and served at the highest level of duty to offer incense before God. The formal occasion did not negate the righteousness of this family. While others may have worshipped without concern for God, under pretentious suspicion, Zechariah was not like one of them. Among the pollution of the Temple which Jesus confronts, God’s timing demands this revelation at the Temple. Elizabeth’s infertility did not negate God’s pleasure with her and her husband. God used her barrenness to highlight the birth of this child as a man from God. Like Hannah who bore Samuel though barren, Elizabeth births John though barren. The two precursors to the kings come as the children of barren women.
Zechariah’s faithlessness brings punishment in the form of being stuck mute He is unable to declare God’s glorious gift of the child, but prevails in doing God’s work nonetheless. The angel said God had heard his prayer and he would have a son. But the answered prayer of Zechariah hardly accomplished all that God had in mind. God’s timing when answering prayer accomplishes bigger purposes than we might suppose. Zechariah’s child will usher in the Christ. Though Zechariah’s prayer is the subject of the angel’s message, it is preparation for the Christ most important to the world. God answers prayers from a global perspective. He answers individual requests in concord with accomplishing salvific purposes. One should not consider the accomplishment of God’s work to render only personal results. God works to accomplish individual prayers in the course of advancing his global agenda.
The angel’s judgment on Zechariah did not hinder God from receiving glory. His silence led the people to the conclusion that he had seen a vision. Visions occurred at times when God pronounced judgment and hope for Israel. The people expected a Christ sooner or later. This first of signs represents the prophetic start of the Christ’s arrival. Zechariah knows this but to whatever extent, the temple court may not. The angel sealed the prophetic utterance because of Zechariah’s unbelief. Irony transcends the Lukan account and this is its first introduction. The prophesy given to one who ought to possess competent faith, enduring understanding of how God can accomplish the giving of a child to an old woman (say, Abraham and Sarah), fails to believe. Luke reveals the problem Jesus will have; those that do not believe, do not testify to God’s miracle. Luke makes a subtle judgment against the Jews’ lack of faith in God. If the most knowledgeable and educated fail in their faith, how will the people believe.
Zechariah completed his time of service in the Temple and then went home. Nature took its course and Elizabeth conceived John. She interprets the child as a removal of reproach in accordance with the prevailing understanding of barrenness during that day. God lays the kingdom foundation at the core of the Temple but the priests do not believe. Righteousness in accord with the Law did not produce faith enough to believe. Elizabeth honors God for the personal healing she received and the restoration of her honor, but absent from the praise these two offer God is the significance of the child according to the angel’s word.
Luke’s subtle judgment against Zechariah and Elizabeth, people of knowledge and religious prowess, contrasts with the faith of Mary and Joseph. John will serve as the “Elijah to come” by preparing the people for the Christ. John’s critical work is to lay the foundation of faith and repentance before the appearing of the kingdom. John eschatological job was to prepare to call people back to faith and holiness so the appearance of the Christ would not be a time of condemnation. John tilled the soil so the Christ could plant the seed and reap the harvest. Those John baptized indicated their readiness for the salvation of the Christ. In this way, even the pronouncement of the Prophet meant judgment for faithfulness or unfaithfulness. Zechariah and Elizabeth seem to miss the point John’s pronouncement indicates.
Laying the Foundation for God’s Kingdom
God lays the foundation of faith in Christ by fulfilling his promises from the past.
I. Introduction: What is the purpose of Jesus’ birth account? Observe the Christmas tree: its beautiful and decorated for attraction but it has origins both living and common. Luke tells a story set in unflattering times, low places, and lowly characters.
a. To supply the historic context for Jesus’ redemptive work
b. To affirm and increase faith.
II. Celebrate God’s historic work because it represents his sovereignty. Every structure has a foundation that forecasted the structure. The miracle of John’s birth prepares for even bigger revelation.
a. Zechariah confuses his inabilities with God’s ability and will
b. God answers the local prayers of his people in the context of his broad actions
c. Faithfulness allows us to become witnesses of what God will do.
III. Be prepared for faith with knowledge of God’s past working. Does God have a history of using the powerful, the government, the expected in order to accomplish world-change?
a. God kept his historic promise in a way none expected.
b. But what God did in history he repeats with someone who should have known of Abraham
c. God’s actions are timely to show this salvation is not man-made
IV. Conclusion: God works through subtle miracle that:
a. The faithful experience
b. The knowledgeable believe
c. The prayerful see answered
Time for a King
The angel Gabriel receives orders from God (divine passive) to go to Mary. God’s commission in this matter is an important part of the story because it indicates God’s direct and timely control of these events. History plods along but God’s interaction here is direct and intentional. That’s not to say his interaction in history is lesser at other moments but it is to say that the day of the Christ approaches and Luke describes God’s involvement actively and not passively. The angel appears to Mary in Nazareth. Luke lays the foundation for Jesus’ secret identity as a Nazarene.
Gabriel’s message is direct, affirming, and patient. He declares Mary the recipient of a great honor. She will bare the Christ child by visitation and conception through and by the Holy Spirit. Mary knows the child will be the Christ because “the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” Her only hesitation is the means by which this child will be conceived. Gabriel does not judge her question as he did Zechariah’s. The question she asks is different however in that she asks the means by which the child will come about rather than a sign that what the angel has spoken will occur. She asks a procedural question rather than a faithless question. Luke shows the faithlessness of the establishment more apparently here in that a woman – and one from Nazareth no less – believes a more outrageous promise than the priest. The priest had the precedence of Scripture through the testament of Abraham, Hannah, etc., but Mary has no precedence. Her faith in God is on display here. Luke begins his narrative describing that salvation comes by the obedience of faith in what God has said. The parallel passages pronounce this truth.
God works his great, providential, and unheard of plan through this insignificant woman. In intentional contrast with Zechariah, a prestigious, powerful, priestly, influential man, Mary demonstrates faith that God will accomplish this. She submits herself to God’s plan with no other need for explanation. God works in the small in order to accomplish the big. Her disposition toward God is focused on the small, personal work God will do in her rather than on the large and corporate work God will do on the earth. Her faith flows from the understanding that God is able to do all things. Her faith, required for all whether given big work or small, allows her to participate in God’s giant work.
Luke seems to neglect his condemnation of Zechariah’s faithlessness and Elizabeth’s shortsightedness and restores their testimony. Though Elizabeth and Mary meet, it is the babies that appeal excitedly for their mother’s to pronounce the power of God coming to earth. The voice of praise on the lips of women is one of Luke’s key features. It pronounces the lowly nature of the Christ’s circumstance, the absence of royal coronation, and the subtlety of the King’s arrival. Yet, the praise is no less important that flows from these two women. They speak the truth of what is to come. Their songs of praise extol the power of God, the Lordship of the Christ, and the prophetic hope for which the whole world awaits.
John leaps before the Lord because he senses pre-birth the holy injunction with which he must preach of the Christ. John’s testimony is the source of Elizabeth’s comment and the occasion for Mary’s Magnificat! The lowest of low, an unborn child, marks the coming of the Christ. God emphasizes the small at the greatest moment in human history. Humility is the key to focusing on the coming kingdom. The coming kingdom becomes blurred when we use it to elevate our pride, our efforts, our self-worth, or our spiritual condition.
The blurring of the Gospel occurs when we supersede its purposes with our prideful hopes of contributing to its power. Zechariah and Mary sit in contrast to each other. Zechariah seeks to add to God’s powerful proclamation a sign of assurance, while Mary accepts her inability to accomplish any of God’s plan and simply states “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said”. Pride always demands a sign in order to “make sure” we don’t lose face with our announcement of God’s plan. Effort always looks for a way to gain the secret praise for the work of God. Self-worth always hopes the events God works through us will highlight how important God thinks we are. Spiritual condition seeks to co-opt the work God does through us as a means of improving our spiritual standing with God.
Mary’s praise reflects the power of God at work in her and in the world. She, the lowest of low, carries the highest of kings. The connection between Mary’s song and Hannah’s song of 1 Sam 2 is undeniable. Though Mary’s song is laced with other psalms, scripture references and the like, the theological track is similar to Hannah’s song. Luke shows the Davidic link but instead of singing of the prophet to set the stage for David, Mary sings of the Lord’s promised one to Abraham. The hope of the generations now prepares to manifest and Mary sings to God the gravity of the moment. This son will be to her praise forever. Her use of fortune reversal is not a condemnation of the rich but an expression of the justice of God. She proclaims the unexpected nature of God’s work. She, not a royal woman, will give birth to the Lord’s anointed.
She also sees herself in the sweep of redemptive work God is accomplishing. Mary recognizes that God’s timing and message begins with her praise and adoration of his work. She believed God and this was her reward. Faith saves this woman.
Mary sees in the promise of Jesus and the confirming words of Elizabeth a profound truth. Elizabeth, the wife of a priestly man, receives a child that will serve the grand purposes of an even greater miracle of the Christ. She, a peasant woman, will enjoy the praise and blessing of all people who believe. Vs. 46-50 describe the Lord’s mercy, glory and magnificence. Mary exalts God because she gets to participate in his grand plan. Nowhere do we get the sense that she regrets her situation or languishes in confusion over the Lord’s work. She exalts God to get to participate. In the big moment, worked far beyond her control, she responds in praise and understanding. This is not a work she imagined or asked for but is glad to participate in. Zechariah and Elizabeth hoped and prayed for an answer from God but refused to believe when God granted their prayers..
Vs. 51-53 emphasize the small way God has accomplished his big work. The proud thought themselves worthy to participate in God’s plan. They met in the Temple and looked with doubtful eye on all matters happening around them. They were quick to condemn and slow to believe. Their pious waiting had turned to cynical skepticism. Their pride blurred their vision of the Christ. They emphasized big events and big signs. They couldn’t understand the Scripture correctly because they saw the external matters of apparent faith as more important than the internal humility of the heart. Mary claims God showed (aorist) strength in these events. The proud did not see the strength of God’s might, could not praise God for his actions, and were scattered away from God because of their thoughts.
To be “scattered in the thoughts of their hearts” refers to discord of their minds caused by God’s demonstration of power. God squandered their pride by dividing them according to what they will not believe. God’s power demonstrated in the events to come and the selection of Mary as the virgin bearer of the Christ does not accord with what all considered the prophetic mandate. Their religious practice needed the endorsement of God rather than their religious practice endorsing the work of God. When God shows up at their meeting, he is met with doubt because he doesn’t match their expectations. Their deepest thoughts and insights came to conclusions about how God must work. God caused these expectations to be scattered when faced with the smallness of the coming Christ.
God destroyed the might of the rulers by emphasizing a small “nobody” rather than a powerful king. Mary seems acutely aware of the implications of her selection. God honored the righteous rather than the powerful. The work God will do will not build on the power or system of human effort but will be the emergence of God’s own power in the system of men. God’s works are the product of his efforts, energy, and plans. Human efforts can erect physical thrones but cannot corner God’s efforts.
Vs. 53 describes the coming of Messiah as a time when the hungry are full and the wealthy go hungry. Their hunger grows from their spiritual emptiness rather than their physical lack. Jesus became hungry in the wilderness as a part of his tempting and yet declared that God was his sole source of satisfaction. Mary foreshadows that Messianic nature in this verse. She speaks of the coming spiritual harvest for the righteous believers. Those expecting to have their bellies filled will go about with their spirit famished. The rich emphasized the reward they received from God in monetary terms. The Messiah did not come to a wealthy woman but to a peasant who knew hunger.
Mary concludes her song by reflecting on the providence of this work. God remembered Israel mercifully rather than wrathfully. The work of God toward Israel was a gentle and merciful action rather than a harsh and judgmental peril. The proud, mighty, and rich deserved judgment for their predatory actions against God’s people. The poor could not trust the courts because the wealthy set the odds against them through bribes. Jesus’ arrival in small circumstances creates big problems for the theology of the powerful. Their lack of vision for what God does led them to reject the work God did.
Teaching Idea: God uses the small circumstances to accomplish his big spiritual plans.
I. Introduction: How do we see life the way God wants us to see it? You go to a 3D movie to see a 2D image in an illusory medium. 3D films are special effects not real 3D. Interestingly, however, a 3D show is called a “play” but it lacks the special effects that make a 2D film presented in the illusion of 3D more fun to watch. We prefer the illusion to the reality!
II. God has a Big spiritual plan of which we play an important role: not small roles or big roles – what do you think is your role in what God is doing?
a. He sends the Holy One of God, the Son of David, a King
i. Mary knows this is the Christ – human
ii. Mary knows the child is God – Holy One of God
iii. Mary knows his politics – a divine king
b. Mary’s power, politics, or origin are not of concern of God’s
i. Mary is not too small for God’s plan to get traction.
ii. Mary is not too insignificant for God’s plan to work.
c. John the Baptist isn’t too young to affirm Jesus is the Messiah – a small way to encourage a big event.
III. God’s big spiritual plan requires God’s big vision and results in God’s big glory. Winifred (Monk Boniface) chopped down Thor’s tree and made a political impression.
a. Three ways we obscure God’s big work with our big ideas:
i. Pride causes us to overstate our role or plan in what God desires to accomplish. I do my part and God does his…in that order.
ii. Self-assurance hinders us from allowing God to lead us to his vision. – God plans result in God displaying his effort, energy, and plan in our lives.
iii. Riches, or self-reliance, distract us from God’s ends and God’s means. Riches give us a starving man’s sense of being spiritually full. How much money do you need to get a better marriage? How much money must you spend to experience the Lord’s nearness.
b. We cannot manufacture the work of God in our lives
i. God has worked when the attitude aligns with God
ii. God has worked when the result is bigger than the energy you put into it
iii. God has worked when the spiritual begins to take the place of first importance in your heart.
IV. Work on the small matters of faith every day and respond to the Big works of God when they come. George Mueller believed that his work among orphans received funding through God’s provision rather than fundraising.
a. Be a truth seeker:
i. Love the Word
ii. Bend your expectations to God’s truth
iii. Allow the Word to break your dreams and remake them.
b. Identify God’s big work:
i. Identified by its consistency with God’s character
ii. Identified by its magnitude
iii. Identified by the fruit of the Spirit, sacrifice, and love
c. Join God in his efforts:
i. God’s big work is spiritually sized
ii. Man’s work is physically sized.
V. Conclusion: Good vision comes from a discerning spirit.