Luke 1:26-27 - Protection of the Unborn Child: A Meditation on the Incarnation of Our Lord
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.Luke 1:26-27
‘Jesus is Himself the greatest miracle of them all’, writes B.B. Warfield. The fact that the Son of God entered into our humanity in order to be our Mediator is central to all that we believe.
We might note in passing that when it comes to the birth of Christ, we do need the perspective of all four Gospels. We need John to remind us that Christ had life and existence before He had life and existence in this world. He was God’s Son before He was Mary’s, the Only-Begotten One before He was the Incarnate One. The darkness of her womb only eclipsed His glory; it did not obliterate it. He was in the beginning, not just in the beginning of the New Testament story.
But we also need Mark to tell the Gospel story without reference to the birth of Christ at all, to remind us that the birth was not the primary thing. Mark simply says that Jesus ‘came from Nazareth of Galilee’ (Mark 1:9). We do worship at the manger, but we don’t stop there. The fact that the Son of God had a human body is exceptionally wonderful, but it was a body prepared for Him in order that He might offer it up as a wonderfully exceptional sacrifice to God. Mark reminds us that we need to make more of the death than the birth: man is not redeemed by incarnation alone.
And we need Matthew to tell us the story from the point of view of Joseph. His soon-to-be teenage bride is pregnant. He must surely break the betrothal arrangement! He will abort his dreams so that Mary can keep her baby. What a decision! How different to modern man and woman, who often abort the baby to keep the dream. Yet Matthew reminds us of the importance of Joseph’s place in God’s plan, of how the angel assured him that this is how it must be, and of the remarkable care and responsibility he shows towards his new family.
So it is left to Dr Luke, the great New Testament historian, to bring us behind these events and to tell the story from the point of view of Mary, and how the pregnancy occurred in the first place. She is an ordinary Jewish teenage girl, called by God for an extraordinary divine service.
Luke draws our attention to several things:
These events happened ‘in the sixth month’, that is, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. For five months Elizabeth, who herself had received an angelic announcement concerning her son, John, had been confined to her home. Now the news comes to Mary concerning her son.
Surely Luke intends us to see how all of this took place according to God’s sovereign and definite plan. These events were no accidents of history. They were the result of intelligent design.
Indeed, Paul says it was ‘when the fullness of time had come’ that ‘God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law’ (Galatians 4:4). The world was ready; Palestine was ready; Mary was ready. The ‘sixth month’ was the pivotal point of history, when the Lord of Providence became subject to the dictates of Providence.
But it meant more: John had to be born first. He was the last of the prophetic line, the greatest ever born of a woman. He was the designated forerunner of Jesus. What Gabriel told Mary, John was to tell the world: the Saviour was coming.
John was going to deliver the great statement,
After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.John 1:30
As the unborn child is the root and offspring of David, so He is predecessor and successor of John.
The Spirit of Christ was in John, as in all the prophets, testifying of the sufferings of Christ and subsequent glories. Little wonder that at the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth should feel her unborn son leap in her womb. Full of the Spirit since his earliest days, John could not but dance in the presence of the One concreated in holiness by the Spirit’s power in the womb of Mary.
It was no ordinary messenger who announced the forthcoming birth. God sent Gabriel to Mary, as he had sent Gabriel to Elizabeth.
Indeed, He had previously sent Gabriel to Daniel in the Old Testament, saying to him concerning the vision he had seen, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17). Gabriel had also been sent to Daniel as Daniel had prayed for exiled Israel. Interesting, now, that Gabriel should bring the message which would seal up all visions.
Now Gabriel comes to Mary, to inform her of the end of the message he had begun to tell Daniel, to finish what he started, and to explain that at last the hope of all nations is to be conceived in Mary’s womb. This great messenger, always sent with good news to God’s people, comes with choice news to a choice person. Gabriel, the servant of God, becomes Mary’s friend. Heaven’s herald announces earth’s hope.
The announcement of the imminent birth of the Saviour was not made in the heights of the most famous city in the world, nor amid the din of the crowd. It was ‘to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth’ that the angel came. Cynically, Nathanael would later ask,
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?John 1:46
And the Pharisees would goad Nicodemus with the retort:
Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.John 7:50
Yet it was out of Galilee that the great prophet was going to come, out of the obscurity and darkness and hiddenness of a small corner of Nazareth. In the same way, out of Bethlehem, ‘too little to be among the clans of Judah,’ would come forth ‘one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days’ (Micah 5:2).
As Joseph Hall puts it in his Contemplations, ‘He that fills all places makes no difference of places; it is the person which gives honour and privilege to the place, not the place to the person’. Mary is not lost to God’s eye while in her small corner; quite the opposite – she is richly blessed there. God comes to her and makes Galilee a holy land for her.
We too may find God’s blessing in the most obscure places – in Ephrathah, or in the fields of Jaar (Psalm 132:6). And we may also dream that in the obscure corners of our land and of our church, God will find a means of securing the success of His cause, by calling a minister here, a missionary there, by establishing a witness in this corner and that place.
Which brings us at last to the woman He chose, to Mary. She is described both as a virgin, and as betrothed to Joseph. Both elements of the description are important.
She was a virgin; by her own admission she did not know a man (Luke 1:34). The fact that a young, unmarried woman became pregnant would later lead to the taunt of the Jewish leaders against Jesus: ‘We were not born of sexual immorality’ (John 8:41). Mary would carry that stigma to her grave. She was not sinless – she knew that only too well. But in God’s common grace, she had been kept from premarital relations with any man.
In other words, whatever there had been in Mary’s past, there was no sexual immorality, not then, and not now. The Son of Man would be born without becoming the son of any man. He would take human nature, without human corruption, and without human begetting. Like His spiritual brothers and sisters, He would not be born of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). Warfield again: ‘Born into our race He might be and was; but born of our race, never’.
God’s power would bring a new element into Mary’s life situation, supernatural intervention leading to virginal conception and to ordinary birth.
As Gabriel explains, nothing will be impossible with God.Luke 1:37
And as a result, He will take His human nature from His mother; to see Him on the street, you would never conclude He was the Son of God, but you could easily see, in His eyes, in His laugh, in the way He turned His head, that He was Mary’s son.
But the betrothal is also important. She was a virgin betrothed. The marriage bond would not be violated. It would guard the virginal conception. She would conceive before marriage, yet marry as a virgin.
From the outset, then, the holy one in her womb will ensure that the law of God is exalted, and its precepts honoured: ‘the Lord was pleased for His righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious’ (Isaiah 42:21).
And it is for the sake of magnifying the law that Mary will not remain a perpetual virgin – but her firstborn son will. His obedience to the Father will mean that the son of the virgin will die a virgin, in order to save His bride.
In God’s good providence, Mary is betrothed to Joseph, and thus her son is descended from David on both sides of His family line. As Mary sings, this was the mercy God had covenanted to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:55), promising that kings would come from him, and his descendants would be blessed. Drawing much on Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2), full of Christ as the root of David, Mary now sings of Christ as the offspring of David, on whose royal head David’s crown would be borne.
The ancient creeds would describe Mary as theotokos – the bearer of God. Mary is God’s mother in a double sense – as the one He chose to be mother of the man Christ Jesus, and as the one who bore in her womb the Son of God, according to the great trinitarian statement of Luke 1:35:
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.
We do not wish to exalt Mary to unbiblical and unreasonable heights, but we affirm her great statement: ‘generations will call me blessed’ (Luke 1:48). And blessed she was, as her womb became the first theatre for the active obedience of Christ, anticipating the womb of the grave as the last theatre of His passive obedience.
But more than this, I think we are meant to see in Mary a picture of the church, of whom Isaiah said that ‘the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married’ (Isaiah 54:1). What is impossible with men is possible with God still, and the church of the twenty-first century, often bemoaning the barrenness of her spiritual womb, may yet break forth into singing and cry aloud, when, like Mary, Zion will be in labour and bring forth her children (Isaiah 66:8): born, like Jesus, not of the will of man, but of God.