A Birth Announcement like No Other

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:06
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A Birth Announcement like No Other - Luke 1:5-38

PRAY: Heavenly Father, you alone sit enthroned above all that you have made. You are sovereign over us, and we accept your will for our lives. May you do with us as you please, and may our hearts respond with a humility that recognizes your grace to us and a willingness to be vessels for your good purposes. And teach us to trust in your power to accomplish your promises. We thank you for your infinite wisdom in sending Jesus to deliver us and restore us to relationship with you through faith in Him. Amen.
INTRO: “We’re having a baby!” … These are the ecstatic words of the elated young couple expecting their first child… or of the sweet little child announcing in super cute fashion that she is about to get another sibling! Yay! … I’ve heard similar words a couple of other times where the tone was actually quite different: Once it was panicked, “Ah! This is not what we were planning and we are not prepared for this. I am not prepared for this!” And another time it was almost in a stupefied disbelief, “What? We’re having a baby?! We didn’t even know we were pregnant!” :-)
When we hear those words “you’re going to have a child,” we know that our lives will never be the same. … There was once when those words were said that would change the course of history, and for those who respond rightly, he changes our lives for all eternity.
Turn with me in your Bible to the Gospel of Luke. In the first chapter of his gospel account, Luke goes all the way back to the beginning to not only the unique birth announcement of Jesus the Messiah, but even to the announcement of the forerunner, John the Baptist, who would prepare a remnant in Israel for the Messiah’s arrival.

Birth of John Foretold

We’re going to return and look more closely at Luke’s introduction to this book and consider some overarching themes after we come back from the holiday season to continue our series in Luke, but for now let’s go straight to the situation that sets up the birth announcements of John and of Jesus.
Luke 1:5–10 ESV
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
The Recipient and His Situation (vv. 5-10)
To give historical context, Luke references Herod the Great, who was tetrarch over Judea (under Roman rule) from 37-4 B.C. So this would be taking place very near the end of that timeframe.
Zechariah is a priest, one of many, who served in the 8th priestly division (that of Abijah), which was one of 24 divisions that each took rotations to serve for one week two different times per year (not including major sacrificial feasts, when it was ‘all hands on deck’).
We also learn that his wife Elizabeth is from the priestly tribe of Aaron as well. And we discover too that in spite of their faithfulness to walk in the commandments of God, they remained barren. - We are pulled in by sympathy with this couple. Because of their faithfulness to God, they no doubt wondered at their barrenness. But their plight is in fact proven to be in the providence of God’s plan for them, and in fact to play an important role in God’s plan to once again intervene and provide the people with a prophet.
What Zechariah is experiencing here is a once-in-a-lifetime privilege as a priest when he is chosen by lot to enter the holy place and burn incense (morning or evening temple offering, as it happened twice a day… this is probably evening) - As if that experience weren’t unique enough, he has a surprising encounter inside the holy place of the temple.
Luke 1:11–17 ESV
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
The Messenger and the Message (vv. 11-17)
An angel appears and startles Zechariah. This the normal reaction in the Bible to encounters with heavenly beings made visible.
While Zechariah and Elizabeth had likely prayed in the past for a son, the immediate prayer being answered is more likely the prayer that Zechariah would have been offering as a priest, praying for the redemption of Israel. Now he is told that God is beginning the answer to that prayer. And in addition, he will have a son!
Zech is instructed to call his name John , meaning “the Lord is gracious.” - John will be an important prophet. And to indicate this uniqueness, he will be set apart from birth from wine and other alcoholic drink, similar to those of Nazirite vow in the OT, but there’s not mention of not cutting hair here. What will make him even more unique will be the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit on him, even from BEFORE his birth.
What’s more, the angel says that John is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a prophet who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to preach repentance in Israel and to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
But like their great ancestor Abraham, Zechariah has his doubts:
Luke 1:18–20 ESV
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”
Zechariah’s Question and Gabriel’s Response (vv. 18-20)
Based on Gabriel’s reaction, we find that in the response there is a rebuke of Zechariah desiring a sign that is rooted in doubt—doubt based upon the fact that they are beyond normal child-bearing years. The angel Gabriel almost seems to bristle at Zechariah’s doubt, first stating his position and authority to bring this message.
And therefore the sign given to Zechariah is that he will be mute (which can mean mute and deaf, which may be the case here, considering also v. 62).
Meanwhile, the process of lighting the incense is really supposed to be rather quick, so those waiting outside for the blessing to come after are beginning to become concerned:
Luke 1:21–25 ESV
And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”
Fulfillment Begins (vv. 21-25)
The first evidence of fulfillment is in fact Zechariah’s inability to speak. Because of this, the people realize that he must have had a vision of some kind.
It seems that Zechariah completes his week of service before returning home to the hill country, and at some point Elizabeth becomes pregnant by her husband (Luke doesn’t indicate an exact time but it seems to be fairly soon thereafter). We are not told why Elizabeth keeps her pregnancy private (during the months when it would likely not be noticeable), but we do know that she praises God for his mercy to her in this way.
Again, Luke seems to most certainly drawing attention in this first part of the narrative to… the uniqueness of the recipients and their situation, to the uniqueness of the messenger and the message, to the uniqueness of the child’s life and purpose, and to the uniqueness of his conception. - But as we continue, we find that John’s birth announcement in fact forms a part of the bigger picture of the superseding uniqueness of the one whom this is all in preparation for. And so we come to the birth announcement of the Messiah.

Birth of Jesus Foretold

Here Luke gives us another time marker, almost certainly a reference the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, to tell of another birth announcement of yet greater significance:
Luke 1:26–27 ESV
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
The Recipient and Her Situation (vv. 26-27)
God sends Gabriel again… this time not to an important place on an important occasion, but to a humble place and to a humble young woman. - Nazareth was a place of no great consequence up in the northern region of Galilee. There we are told of a simple girl who is already betrothed in marriage to a man named Joseph. - We know that betrothal, legally promised in marriage, was much more binding than modern engagements because dowry’s were already paid and arrangements made to the point that it required a divorce to break the marriage. The part that had not taken place yet was the completion of the marriage in which (after about a year of betrothal) the man took the woman into his home to consummate the marriage and live together.
To be clear, not only does the Greek word here literally mean that this young lady was indeed a virgin, but the context in v. 34 will make that even more clear.
But first…
Luke 1:28–33 ESV
And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Gabriel’s Message (vv. 28-33)
Interestingly, although Mary was likely also startled at the angel’s presence (He tells her not to be afraid), Luke mentions that she is perplexed by the greeting. Gabriel addresses her as someone who is exceptionally favored by the Lord, and in her humility of state and of heart, she is genuinely astonished by such a reception.
If the greeting was surprising, then the message itself is even more shocking: You will conceive in your womb and bear a son. Call his name Jesus (meaning “the Lord is salvation”). Jesus will be the Messiah. - He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide one who would sit on the throne of David forever.
It’s quite evident that Luke here deliberately shows parallels and distinctives between the two accounts, between the two announcements. While John is described as great, and as a prophet before the Lord (prophet of the Most High in v. 76), Jesus is depicted as greater, as the Son of “the Most High” (which is certainly a semitic reference to God). - Our Bible translations here capitalize Son because we view this from a broad theological lens to include all that Luke teaches concerning the deity of Jesus. This is just the beginning of what will be made clear beyond a shadow of doubt:
The Virgin Birth of Jesus declares his deity (Luke 1)
He will be the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3) - Who can do that but God?
Jesus has power over the forces of nature (Luke 5 and elsewhere)
Jesus also claims the same power and authority as God:
Power and authority to forgive sins (Luke 5 & 7)
He declares himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6)
Jesus gives power and authority to his apostles over sickness and unclean spirits (Luke 9)
Jesus explains in Luke 20 that the Messiah is not only David’s son (descendant) but also David’s Lord
Jesus claims that people will stand condemned for rejecting him (Luke 9)
Jesus has special knowledge of and unity with the Father (Luke 9:48 and 10:22)
Jesus has authority to change the covenant, making a new covenant in his blood (Luke 22)
Jesus dies for sins not his own, he rises from the grave, and he ascends into heaven! As he does so, they worship Him!!! (Luke 24:52) - Not only that, but he promises to return in glory and collect all those who are His! (Luke 21:27-28)
(list credit: https://sovereignjesus.net/general-articles/deity-of-christ-in-the-gospel-according-to-st-luke/)
So not only is Jesus a familial manifestation of the God of the universe and the worthy recipient/heir of worship and glory, but Gabriel also tells Mary that he is the Davidic fulfillment of the one who will reign over the house of Jacob (that is, Israel), and that his kingdom will be eternal.
This announces that God is fulfilling his promises made to Israel. God is fulfilling his promises made through Israel. (Although it is not yet emphasized here… Luke, in his gospel, emphasizes the scope of salvation offered through Jesus, to Gentiles as well as Jews). For now Mary is meant to understand that he will be the promised Messiah of Israel… and Luke’s audience is meant to make the bigger connection to Christ’s Lordship over all.
And now Mary, as did Zechariah, asks a question… but receives a similar and yet different response:
Luke 1:34–38 ESV
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary’s Question, Gabriel’s Response, and Mary’s Response (vv. 34-38)
The spirit of Mary’s question must be different, because she is not rebuked in the least, as Zechariah was. Mary is not doubting the fulfillment, only the how, practically speaking. Furthermore, Mary appears to anticipate already that she will conceive immediately and wonders how that could be because she is indeed a virgin (not yet knowing a man, v. 34).
Gabriel’s explanation is that God himself by his power, through the Holy Spirit, will miraculously bring about conception. And that very thing will be an evidence of the uniqueness of this one… he will be holy, the Son of God.
And without any request for a sign, Gabriel offers confirmation through the evidence that Mary’s older relative, beyond child-bearing years, is now six months pregnant! - What seems impossible to man because of what we are used to in the natural world does not stop God. - Do you have a tendency to limit God’s plan and power by your own understanding and expectation?
J. Oosterzee - “The laws of nature are not chains which the Divine Legislator has laid upon himself; they are threads which He holds in His hands, and which He shortens and lengthens at will.”
This young woman’s response sets an example that we do well do meditate on further beyond our time this morning… - Her response of faith is just astounding—the humble acceptance of God’s will, to trust in the word God has revealed, and to respond with submissive obedience to be a vessel for him!
What about you? Is that how you are responding to God’s gracious revelation of himself and his desire for your life?

Responding to God’s Grace… and His Promise & Power

Is this how your heart is responding to God? [slowly]
God, we thank you for your infinite wisdom in sending Jesus to deliver us and restore us to relationship with you through faith in Him.
You are sovereign over us, and we accept your will for our lives. May you do with me as you please.
Shape our hearts to respond with a humility that recognizes your grace to us and grant us a willingness to be vessels for your good purposes.
As we aim to be your humble servants, Lord, teach us to trust in your power to accomplish your promises. You will do what you have said, for you alone are God.
To you alone be all the glory both now and for all eternity. Amen.
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