I AM THE LORD’S SERVANT
By Tim Lopez
Key Verse 1:38
“’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.”
Today we’re looking at a very special part of the Christmas story— the foretelling of the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story begins as God sent his angel Gabriel to Zachariah and Elizabeth. They were an old couple with Zachariah serving as one of the many priests of Israel. They were also a godly couple who lived a life of prayer in the word of God. One of Zachariah’s priestly duties was to serve as a prayer servant at the temple. And on one occasion he angel Gabriel came to him while he was praying and told him that God has heard his prayer. His wife Elizabeth would now bear him a son and that he should name the miracle son John. The angel also told him that his son John would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. And so his wife became pregnant according to the promise.
And the Christmas story goes on in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. God now sent the same angel Gabriel to a young girl named Mary, announcing to her the Savior’s birth. Today we will look at one the greatest stories ever told. Because it is a story of love, it is one of the best stories to listen to. While we may live in a world today that celebrates Christmas very ritually making it about many other things besides Jesus’ birth, let’s turn our hearts to this story and learn why it should be celebrated and praised. We will see that the Christmas story is a lot bigger than us. It is about God and his love. It’s about God who loved the world so much that he gave you and me a very special gift. He gave us His Son so that we might not die in our sins, but so that we would be forgiven and have eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Look at verses 26 and 27. Let’s read them. “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.” So let’s consider who Mary is. While she might be one of the most famous people in history right now, let’s look at what her beginnings were like. At this time, in her weakness she was no more than a poor young girl. She came from a country town in Galilee— a place that learned, popular, and successful people certainly did not come from. They were also a pure and simple people. They lived under strict laws where even boys and girls were never found associating with each other. Growing up in a place like this made them innocent to much of the corruption that happened throughout the Roman rule. And marriage was still considered a holy institution and viewed as the proper thing to do to quench the flames of youth. Mary could have been 16 years old when she became engaged.
This simple teenage girl was engaged to a man named Joseph. We hear from the bible that he was a righteous man. Joseph lived a righteous life like Zachariah and Elizabeth. He worked very hard to earn a living and kept his heart pure. He would visit Mary and her family often to discuss marriage arrangements. But a pure and simple girl like Mary could not help but think about Joseph all the time. In a society like this, young girls had no other importance in society. In those days a woman’s main purpose in society was focused on becoming a wife and having children. So Mary would really have nothing else to look forward to. Her heart and mind were consumed with her wedding day. It made her happy knowing that it was finally about to happen. It gave her meaning and a sense of security. Nothing could bother a girl like Mary at this time. Nothing else mattered anymore.
Look at verses 28 and 29. Let’s read them together. “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.’” What a great and honorable recognition the angel Gabriel gave this poor simple country girl! This was the moment that God bestowed “unmerited favor” on her. The mother of the Messiah received a higher honor than that of Eve who is the mother of all the living. When someone receives such a great honor from God there should be nothing to despair of now. Then why is it that Mary was troubled so much? Mostly people are typically afraid when meeting an angel for the first time. But Mary was not afraid or intimidated by him but rather the greeting itself. When we look again and her present situation, Mary again was a simple country girl who at the time was walking in the clouds down the marriage isle with Joseph. Her notion of life was no more than marriage and her future family. She was happy and content with that. But when the angel greeted her, her woman’s instincts warned her that God’s special favor might possibly interfere with her marriage, for it most certainly came at an odd time. Reasonably, she was troubled at the possibility of what this greeting meant.
Let’s read verse 30. “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.’” What does it mean to favor someone? Finding favor with someone means we are in really good terms with that person, and we also receive some special benefits from them. But what does it mean when God favors us? Many like to believe— even some Christians— that if God favors someone then He pours all types of special blessings and special favors on them. They believe that we receive the good things in life, and that life is supposed to be trouble free. Instead of life’s nagging problems we supposedly get financial security— great education— and lots of prosperity. On the other hand, those who suffer great troubles and trials are the ones who are not favored by God. But when we look at Mary we see that she didn’t receive lots of wealth, she didn’t receive a big degree, and we know that the Romans severely oppressed her and her people. Her life of poverty was a life of suffering. So we can see here that common understanding of God’s favor is far from what it truly is.
Most people give special favor to someone when they think that the other has somehow earned it. Many might even think that others or they themselves have earned favor with God. But none of us can ever earn God’s favor. In fact, the heart of the gospel story is that Jesus earned it for us. Again it is “unmerited favor”! We only need to accept God’s favor and not refuse it. God’s unmerited favor is called God’s grace. Let’s read verse 31 to see what God’s grace was to Mary. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” This verse tells us that God’s grace to Mary was fundamentally a purpose— a task— a mission! Her mission was to be the mother of the Savior. It was such a great mission and honorable task. But it definitely wouldn’t be an easy one. In order for her to accept such a mission, she would have to accept becoming pregnant before her wedding day. Mary lived in an old rigid traditional Jewish society. Those who became pregnant before marriage were labeled as harlots— and at worst even stoned to death. It also meant possibly giving up Joseph who might never understand. But this was almost too much to ask from Mary— a young girl. But when God favors his people, his grace is never easy to accept nor is it cheap. It demands sacrifice. God’s favor to Mary clearly involved unbearable shame and a measure of sacrifice on her part.
No mission God entrusts to us is easy to accept and bear. It is understandable why many have a hard time accepting God’s call on their life. But the truth is no matter what direction we choose in life— suffering and sacrifice usually follow. We are guaranteed a life of suffering even if you receive everything you want from this world. In fact, everything we can ever want in this world comes with a bonus dose of suffering. The bigger the bonus- the bigger the suffering. But the thing is that any pain outside of God and his purpose is pointless. If we suffer for something that God did not call us to, then it’s useless. So God calls us out of ordinary useless lives and appoints us to do something for his glory— something that serves his great purpose. That is what he did with Mary. And that is God’s grace. He calls us out of our meaningless existence to serve Him!
There are many out there that want to be like Mary. We think that if we are visited by an angel or by God himself, then we would surely accept His call with a glad and sincere heart. But when we think like this it is clear that we don’t know what we are talking about. The truth is that God’s voice comes to us through every reading of scripture, through every sermon, and through every word of God that we hear. God never stops calling us. He never stops extending His favor to us. After we leave today, we can all be assured that He will continue to call us to Him. Actually every human being knows in their heart that God is calling them. And we each have to make a choice— to accept his favor or to refuse it. The choices we make regarding his call make us useful to God and to his wonderful work of salvation or useless to him.
In verses 31-33 the angel tells Mary about who Jesus is and what His kingdom is like. Let’s read verse 32a, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” While there are many reasons for Jesus being someone great, the greatest reason is that he is not just anybody, he is the Son of the Most High God. The Son of God Most High came down to walk with us. He came down from all of the glory and splendor of heaven to live among sinful men and women like us. He lived a life of suffering. He was also a shepherd for other suffering sinners. He came to embrace all the sin-sick and corrupted hearts. If we are sick with sin then Jesus wants to embrace us. And let us be reminded that now he is in heaven and omnipresent— he is all the more willing to embrace sinners everywhere. After he lived with us he died in our place on the cross for our sins. Then he rose again and brought us to glory with Him. We who believe in him are now citizens of the kingdom of God.
Let’s read verse 33, “and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Jesus is not only the Son of God, but he is also the King of Kings. He is a king who rules with peace, hope, and love. Since his reign will never end, only in him can we be secure if we rest our hope on our eternal King. If our hope is not on Him, then we really have nothing in this fading world to hope for. The Apostle Peter praised God when he thought about this hope in King Jesus and his eternal Kingdom. He said: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)
What was Mary’s initial response in verse 34, “’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” Mary innocently wondered how it would happen since she had not been with a man. So the angel told her that her pregnancy would be miraculous, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Read verses 35 and 37. “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.’” God deeply understood Mary’s human situation. She was young and vulnerable, and alone, and helpless. God also deeply knew that the task he was giving Mary to do was impossible. But God wanted Mary to not look at herself and her situation. He wanted her look at God and what he has already done and what He is capable of doing. He had given an old barren woman Elizabeth a son. God can do the impossible! He will do for Mary what he had promised. He will be with her each step of the way to fulfill her mission. God wanted Mary to have this kind of faith. It would be her fuel during difficult times ahead.
Now Mary had to make the most important choice of her life. God had offered her a life in which his hand would be firmly holding on to and guiding. Amazingly Mary decides to accept God’s grace and obey this very difficult mission. Let’s read verse 38, “’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” When we look at such a response we can see why exactly she accepted.
The first thing Mary had stated in her response was that she was the Lord’s servant. And this is not a small confession. In her confession we see how Mary began to view herself. She meant that she was no longer just Joseph’s fiancé. She was no longer just a future house wife and child bearer. She now saw herself through God’s eyes. It was a great revelation to Mary. It gave her a new meaning and purpose that was a lot greater than what she had originally thought of herself to be. She was now not just another one among the many house wives of this world. God gave her a wonderful new identity as the Lord’s servant. May God give all men and women this great revelation. We were not called to live just plain simple ordinary lives and to be numbered among the many. But we are called to be the Lord’s servants and serve Him in a very unique way.
The next important thing to look at is the reason behind her response. Mary says in verse 38, “May it be to me as you have said.” The ESV Bible version says: “Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary’s obedience was based on the word of God. It was not based on her feelings. She didn’t respond to God’s call based on whether or not she felt like serving God or not. The voice of God comes to us regardless of how we feel. She heard the word of God and she obeyed based solely on what God had told her to do. Some say “I don’t feel God’s calling in my heart. When I do, I’ll act.” But these are all emotional responses. If we set our own emotions as the standard of which our decisions are made, then we will find that our lives would deteriorate before own eyes. We must ask God to help us trust alone in His word, and act in obedience to his word. We need to always respond with a clear conviction based on the word of God.
When God wanted to send his Son Jesus into the world to save the world, he had to choose a woman to be His mother. God could have chosen any woman. But out of everyone He chose Mary. God simply chose her by his grace, but she became useful to God when she had decided to obey Him and accept her high calling to serve God’s purpose in her life. And that was her real beauty as a woman. All people are precious to God, but they won’t be useful unless they obey God. God wants to rise up many men and women of obedience so that he may work through them. This lesson also teaches us that regardless of where we are in our life right now, God has a specific purpose and mission for us. We must find it with hearts willing to obey him and take Him at his word. To do this we must allow the Savior into our heart. We must allow the wonderful counselor to counsel us the way he did Mary. give him access to anything he wants to take out of it, and give him freedom to put anything he wants to in it. This Christmas may Mary’s calling to bear Jesus to the world, also become our calling to receive Jesus into our hearts and share him with the world. Amen.