Summary: This sermon (1) examines how four categories of people interacted with the first coming of Messiah (2) draws lessons from their experiences and (3) applies those lessons to decisions we must make now and in the days ahead.
I recently read about an atheist who went on a hike on a remote nature trail. He was enjoying the scenery and wild life so much that he lost track of the trail. When it was time for him to go back, he realized that he was hopelessly lost. In that state of panic, he did something that he had not done before. He prayed to God for help.
The man did make it out of the forest and was sharing his experience with some friends. When the atheist mentioned praying, one of his friends asked him, “How did God answer your prayer?” The atheist replied, “Well, before God could answer the prayer, a guide came along and brought me to safety.”
Sadly, this man could not see God’s hand in the answer.ii It didn’t happen the way he thought it should happen.
It’s amazing how we can be looking for something; then not see it when it comes! That’s exactly what happened to Israel (as a whole) when Messiah appeared the first Christmas. Nothing was more anticipated in Jewish society than the coming of Messiah. Yet when it happened, very few people even recognized that it was happening. Why was that? What can we learn from their experience?
This morning I want to look at four categories of people who encountered the coming of Messiah and draw a few lessons from their experience.
(I) the FAITHFUL remnant who were waiting for the Consolation of Israel.
These were people who were watching for His coming. These were people who meditated upon the Word and lived consecrated lives. Spiritually speaking, these were the true insiders.
Let’s begin with Mary in Luke 1:26-38.
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
(1) Mary was surprised by Gabriel’s visit. She was not expecting an angel to come by and give her a message from God. Up until the moment of that visit, Mary was probably living life as she normally lived it. There was nothing unusual about the day. She is taking care of her routine responsibilities. Suddenly an angel appears in her life! Can you imagine that kind of thing happening in your life? Can you imagine walking to the car after work and suddenly in the parking lot an angel appears and starts talking to you? It happened to Zacharias earlier in this chapter. It happened to Jacob at Bethel. It happened to Moses at the Burning Bush. It happened to Gideon at the threshing floor. Suddenlies do happen. It happened to Mary when Gabriel showed up. She was surprised by his visit.
(2) Mary was also surprised by Gabriel’s greeting.
Gabriel’s greeting was also a surprise. “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" I don’t think Mary viewed herself as anything special. Yes, she was committed to the Lord. She was living a consecrated life. But she did not see herself as a “highly favored one.” I would question her humility if she had. Yet God’s favor was on her life. In terms of social position, she was a nobody. The royal blood of David flowed through her veins; but that brought her no special favor with people around her. Mary was a poor teenage girl. She was in a lowly position because of her financial status. She was in a low position because she was female. She was in a lowly position simply because she was very young. But in the final analysis, none of that really mattered. What really mattered was the favor that God had bestowed on her. What really mattered was this one fact declared by the Archangel Gabriel, “the Lord is with you.” More than social position; more than money or fame, I want to know that the Lord is with me. If that is the case, other things will work themselves out. We know Mary was surprised by this greeting because verse 29 says, “…she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.”