Mary's First Lesson in Discipleship (Luke 1:26-38)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Text

Luke 1:26-38

[26] In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, [27] to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. [28] The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

[29] Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. [30] But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. [31] You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. [32] He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, [33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

[34] "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

[35] 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. [36] Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. [37] For nothing is impossible with God."

[38] "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

 


Exposition

There are many viewpoints from which we could study the story of the angel's announcement of Jesus' birth. For example, we could examine what it tells us about Jesus: that he will be the Messiah, the heir of David's ancient throne (1:32), that he is of both divine and human origin (1:35), and is both figuratively and literally God's Son (1:32, 35). But I'd like to examine it as a lesson in discipleship, as a window into Mary's soul. She was Jesus' first disciple, if you think about it. What motivates her response to God? What is our response as disciples when God asks something difficult of us?

The passage tells us four things about Mary: The facts of Mary's life, the fear in Mary's heart, the wonder in Mary's mind, and the submission in Mary's spirit.

The Facts of Mary's Life (1:26-28)

"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'" (1:26-28)

The Angel's announcement takes place six months after Elizabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist. Mary lived in the village of Nazareth, in the hilly area southwest of the Sea of Galilee. We're also told that Mary was a virgin, betrothed but not yet married. This gives us some clues about her age, since we know from contemporary sources that young women often were betrothed for a full year before the actual marriage ceremony took place, and that she was probably a very young teenager.[1]

Her husband-to-be is Joseph, who is a descendent of Israel's greatest king, David. Mary's ancestry is more complex. We know that Mary's relative Elizabeth was a descendent of the original high priest, Aaron, of the tribe of Levi (1:5). But Mary also may be a descendent herself of David of the tribe of Judah on her father's side (1:32), and Luke's genealogy (3:23-38) may actually trace Mary's lineage, though this is disputed. [2] What fascinates me, however, is Mary's interior life.

The Fear in Mary's Heart (1:29-30)

"Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.'" (1:29-30)

As a teenager, Mary is quite taken aback by the Angel Gabriel's words: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Luke says that Mary was greatly troubled. The Greek word is diatarasso, which means to "confuse, perplex."[3] Gabriel counters with the words "Do not be afraid, Mary," using the word phobeo, "to be in an apprehensive state, be afraid, become frightened,"[4] (from which we get our English word "phobia").

Was Mary afraid? Whenever we meet something new and strange, we get confused. The patterns we're used to are disrupted, and little alarms go off in our head. That's the way God made us to respond to change; it's a kind of built-in conservatism and defense mechanism.

But while this alarm system that Mary felt is normal and healthy, there is a dangerous -- and sinful -- kind of fear that can grip and control us. People often live in fear of death, fear of a spouse leaving, fear of sickness, fear they won't be able to pay their bills. When fear lives in us, as opposed to being a momentary reaction to something new, we become warped. We respond to situations out of fear rather than out of faith and make pretty poor disciples. We must resist entrenched fear for it is the breeding ground for unbelief; it must not control us. When we study our passage, we see that Mary accepted the angel's "Fear not" at face value.

The Wonder in Mary's Mind (1:31-34)

"'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 give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'
'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'" (1:31-34)

Gabriel explains that Mary will become pregnant and give birth to Jesus, the Messiah. Consider her question: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Mary's words in Greek don't use the word for "virgin" (parthenos, 1:26), but translated literally are: "... seeing I know (ginosko) not a man...." (1:34, KJV). What does she mean? (1) This couldn't happen because I'm not intimate with a man; or (2) How will God accomplish this, since the normal means of pregnancy isn't available? What the Angel announced was supernatural. A miracle. The response can be either (1) miracles just don't happen, so prove it to me (1:18), the response of unbelief, or (2) Wow! That's amazing! How will it happen? the response of wonder and faith.

Some people say we shouldn't question God, but Mary did. She asked "How?" Questions cause us to grow and learn. Questions stretch our minds and hearts and increase our understanding. Questions and the exploration for their answers contribute to our faith, even if the questions themselves may ultimately go unanswered. Mary's question arose from faith, not doubt. What would your response to the Angel be? Faith or unbelief?

The Submission in Mary's Spirit (1:35-38)

"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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.'
'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' Then the angel left her." (1:35-38)

Every time I read Mary's response to the Angel's announcement and explanation, I am awed: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." Here is a teenager facing misunderstanding and rejection from her family, her betrothed, and her townspeople. And yet she agrees. Mary affirms the bedrock truth that undergirds our discipleship: "I am the Lord's servant." After all is said and done, after we have explored all the possibilities, we still must decide: am I a servant or a master? Is my allegiance to the Lord or to my own desires?

Sometimes it takes great turmoil in our souls to come to the place of submission, but come to it we must. Even before Jesus was conceived, Mary was faced with the decision: Will I obey and make way for this King? or Will I take the easy way that avoids difficulty and pain? To her everlasting credit, Mary's response of faith is what our response must be: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."


Prayer

Lord, do you ask of me a hard thing? Help me to count it an honor to be your servant, and an honor to be asked to serve you in a particular way. Help me to serve with joy and not with a grudging or complaining attitude. Help me to be a servant of whom you can be proud. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.


Key Verse

" 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' " (Luke 1:38)


Questions for Discussion

  1. What was different about Mary's "How?" question (1:34) to the angel from Zerchariah's "How?" question (1:18)? Why was Mary rewarded and Zechariah disciplined?
  2. Secular people often make fun of the virgin birth. Does this passage actually teach that Jesus was born of a virgin? If so, why is this important to our understanding of who Jesus was and is?
  3. Why is Mary frightened? Is her fear reflective of unbelief?
  4. Why is it so hard for us to accept being a servant? Why do we have such trouble being submissive to God?
  5. Have you had any experiences where God has taught you to be a willing servant?


References

Common Abbreviations http://jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm

  1. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Fortress Press, 1969, translated from the third German edition, 1962), p. 365, cites Strack and Billerbeck (II, 374), that the usual age for a girl's betrothal was between twelve and twelve and a half. He cites M.Ket. v.2 that the marriage itself ordinarily took place one year after betrothal.
  2. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, "Mary," ISBE 3:269-273. The issue hinges on whether "of the house of David" in Luke 1:27 goes with "virgin" or "Joseph." See also Luke 1:32 and Acts 2:30, which seem to indicate a physical descent from David.
  3. BDAG 237.
  4. BDAG 1060-1062.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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