Mary believed the angel’s word—Luke 1:38

“I’m here! The Lord’s servant! Let it happen for me just as you have said!” (Luke 1:38). That was Mary’s response of faith to an astonishing message from the angel Gabriel.

Literally, Mary says, “May it be with me according to your word.” This is only the second time in this Gospel that Luke has used this Greek term for “word” (rhema); the first was in the preceding verse: “For nothing will be impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37), or, “For no matter [rhema] will be impossible with God!” This announcement closely echoes God’s promise concerning Sarah’s birth of Isaac, in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament: “There is no matter [rhema] impossible with God” (Gen 18:14).

No matter will be impossible with God; Mary embraces instead the matter or word that God has spoken. Mary had wondered at Gabriel’s greeting (Luke 1:20) and questioned how such a thing could be, since she was a virgin (1:34). That is, her conception was inconceivable. But as her son will later explain, what is impossible with people is possible with God (18:27). The maker of heaven and earth is not subject to the patterns of existence with which we mortals are familiar. She believes the unbelievable, and God does what he has promised.

By contrast, Zechariah, the respectable, aged priest serving in the temple, gets in trouble because he did not believe the angel’s “words” (Luke 1:20). Luke uses a different term for “word” here, but they were often interchangeable. God fulfills the promise anyway, but Zechariah’s response falls far short of Mary’s. Later in Luke we read about those who believe the message and are saved (Luke 8:12), so long as they continue in the faith (8:13). In Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts, we continue to learn about those who believe the Lord’s message of good news (Acts 4:4; 13:48; 15:7).

Mary is not the only one to receive the Lord’s rhema. When Zechariah’s son John is born and Zechariah is able to speak again, news (rhemata, plural) spread throughout the area (Luke 1:65). The shepherds eagerly enter Bethlehem to see the matter (rhema) the Lord had made known to them (2:15), and they spread this news (rhema) around (2:17); Mary guarded all these matters (rhemata) in her heart (2:19). When Simeon in the temple sees the baby Jesus, it fulfills the message (rhema) that God had spoken to him (2:29). Later the prophetic message (rhema) comes to Zechariah’s son John in the wilderness (3:2).

It’s at Jesus’s word that Simon Peter lets down the fishing nets (Luke 5:5) and discovers an extraordinary catch of fish. His disciples did not understand his teaching (rhema) about his impending death and resurrection (9:45; 18:34). After his words (rhemata) came to pass, his followers recognized that they were true (22:61; 24:8), but the male disciples were not ready to believe the message (rhemata) of the women who announced that Jesus had risen (24:11). Throughout this Gospel (and into the Book of Acts), God provides a true message. Sometimes people believe it enough to act on it (for example, Peter with the nets), but sometimes, as with the resurrection, the message seems too good to be true. (Again, I could have given more examples still had I included references to the other Greek term for “word,” which Luke often uses interchangeably with this one.)

Yet a teenage virgin from the village of Nazareth responded with greater faith, and she becomes a model of discipleship for us. Gabriel’s good news to Mary was virtually unbelievable, but she believed it. Even when God’s message to us seems too good to be true—that he has sent a Savior to deliver us from sin’s penalty and from sin’s power—that good news remains true, because God is its author. May we, like Mary, respond, “I’m here! The Lord’s servant! Let it happen for me just as you have said!” (Luke 1:38).

Observing special days–Galatians 4:10

Happy New Year–may you have a great day!

But some people feel that however their New Year’s Day goes, that sets the tone for the entire year. (Hopefully they don’t have a hangover today.)

Paul complained that the Galatians, now considering a traditional Jewish calendar, were observing days, months, seasons and years (Gal 4:10), just as they did in their pagan past.

Here is the comment of Ambrosiaster on this passage (Ep. Gal. 4.10.1-2, in Mark J. Edwards, ed., Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians [Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT 8; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999], p. 58): “The observers of days are those who say, for example, “Tomorrow there must be no setting out on a journey.” … The observers of months are those who watch the course of the moon, saying, for example, “Contracts must not be sealed in the seventh month.” … People pay respect to the year when they say, “The first day of January is the new year,” as though a year were not completed every day. … For if God is loved with the whole heart, there ought not to be any dread or suspicion of these phenomena so long as he is near.”

Preaching from Jesus’s genealogy

Appropriate for Christmas season: have you ever preached from Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus? Or heard someone preach from it? Matthew opens his Gospel with Jesus’s heritage, which leads right up to the story of Jesus’s birth. Here is a video of Craig explaining salient features of Matthew’s genealogy:

If you prefer a written version to video, see also: Jesus’s genealogy and Matthew’s genealogy

Christmas vs. the emperor–Matthew 2 and Luke 2

In many circles, editorials and sermons on the true meaning of Christmas have become a routine, perhaps almost obligatory, protest against the materialism and rush of the season. Christmas, of course, has taken on various expressions in a range of cultures through history, along the way picking up fir trees, wrapped gifts, and developing permutations of figures such as St. Nicholas of Myra (a fourth-century bishop).

Most customs we associate with Christmas did not exist in the first century, but two books that are now in the New Testament describe the circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth. The circumstances in the first, Matthew’s Gospel, portend Jesus’s future conflicts with hostile members of the elite. Although welcomed by outsiders, Joseph, Mary and Jesus have to flee from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the wrath of the jealous tyrant Herod the Great. My wife, who was a refugee, readily identifies with their plight as refugees (although gifts from the Magi and the large Jewish community in Alexandria should have provided Jesus’s family a measure of comfort).

Back in Bethlehem, however, Matthew’s scene immediately develops into one of terror. Herod, king of Judea, massacres the male infants remaining in Bethlehem. Three times the narrative lists the objects that have threatened the mad king’s rage: “the baby and his mother.” Whatever Matthew’s sources for this account, his portrayal fits the recorded character of a king who murdered three of his sons, his favorite wife, and anyone he saw as a potential threat to his throne. His young brother-in-law, for example, a high priest who was becoming too popular, had a drowning “accident” in a pool that archaeologists suggest was only three feet deep.
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