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).

Joseph’s faith beyond his lifetime—Genesis 50:22-26

The Book of Genesis concludes with expectation for the future; expectation is part of what faith is. Faith isn’t limited to our relationship with God now. By faith we can prepare for events beyond our mortal lives; our faith can outlive us. In this case we readers know what comes of that faith because we also have Exodus and the rest of the Bible; Joseph’s expectation was rewarded in later generations. Yet for many of our own expectations—expectations concerning the Lord’s return, the triumph of justice and righteousness in the world, and so forth—we are in a situation like Joseph was at the end of his life: looking to God’s promises before they have come to pass.

Like his father Jacob, Joseph looked to God’s long-range future promise. As his father declared that he was about to die and made Joseph swear concerning his burial in the holy land (47:29-31; 48:21; 49:29-32), Joseph now makes his relatives swear to carry his bones to the promised land when God would bring them up, as he surely would (50:24-25). (“His brothers” in 50:24 does not indicate that his older brothers all outlived him; the Hebrew expression that we translate “brothers” simply means relatives.)

In the short run, Joseph died and was buried in Egypt (50:26). Although 110 years (50:22, 26) was a very full life (Egyptians praised this longevity), humans in God’s story do not “live happily ever after” (in this life); God’s human servants share the common fate of all other mortals. Joseph, however, looked beyond the short term to God’s longer-range promises for his people.

Although English translations do not always translate the verses the same way, Joseph’s wording indicates that the promised exodus would be a scale of divine activity no less extraordinary than God enabling Sarah to bear; God would “visit” his people (50:24-25; cf. Exod 3:16; 4:31; 13:19) in a special way in God’s special time, just as he had “visited” Sarah (Gen 21:1) in enabling her to have Isaac.

Joseph trusted the promises of God that were part of his legacy, just as we must trust the biblical promises to which we are now heirs. No less than Joseph keeping the oath he had sworn to his father (50:5-6) or his relatives observing the oath they swore to Joseph (cf. 50:25), God would keep the oath he had sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bring them into the land of promise (50:24).

Joseph’s plans for his body’s future rested on his confidence in God’s promise, and thus showed faith (Heb 11:22). When we plan our lives based on God’s call and promise, whether for ourselves or for God’s people more generally, we show faith in his promise. Genesis reminds us over and over again that God is truly worthy of our trust. In the traditional African-American Church, we have a saying: God may not come when you want Him to—but He’s always right on time.