The Angels Visit the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

The Angels Visit the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

Prepared and preach by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, December 26

Christmas is over, I pray that you all had a very delightful Christmas.

Augustine wrote:

Our Lord came down from life to suffer death;
the Bread came down, to hunger;
the Way came down, on the way to weariness;
the Fount came down, to thirst.
—Augustine, Sermon 78

He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute.
—Augustine, Sermon 188, 2

In 1224, inspired by the sight of shepherds tending their flocks in the moonlight, St. Francis of Assisi asked a wealthy friend from Greccio, Italy, to help him construct a live manger scene (the first ever). The idea caught on. By the 15th century, nativity scenes proliferated in monasteries and churches throughout southern Europe. Today, perhaps the finest collection of miniature nativity scenes in the world is found in Munich’s National Museum of Bavaria where more than 200 are displayed.[1]

We have been preaching about the accounts of angels in the narratives of Jesus’ birth. Today, we will look at the angels visiting the shepherds. Recall the definition of angel: The meaning of the word angel: Angel. The Hebrew word malak simply means “messenger”; it may refer to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2) or a divine messenger (Gen. 28:12). The basic meaning of the word is “one who is sent.” As a divine messenger an angel is a “heavenly being charged by God with some commission.”1 The word is found 103 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word angelos occurs 175 times in the New Testament; however, of men it is used only 6 times. The word angelos is similar to the Hebrew malak; it also means “messenger … who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”[2]

  1. Angels visit the shepherds and they worship God (verses 8-14).
    1. Jesus has now been born and this passage is picking up right after His birth in Bethlehem.
    2. Luke 2:8-14 reads: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,
          and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
    3. Notice:
    4. The shepherds were in the same region.
    5. They were out in their fields.
    6. They were out there for the purpose of watching their flocks by night.
    7. A lot of study could be done about shepherds and the humility of that job. We often hear shepherds were the lowest class. They always go back to Genesis where Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph to shepherds but those were Egyptian shepherds, or Egyptian views of Shepherds. There is some Rabbinic literature negative of shepherds but that is from the 4th century AD.  Dr. Rydelnic does not think they were the lowest class. Dr Rydelnic agrees with the Life Application study Bible that these might have been the shepherds supplying the lambs for temple sacrifices that were used for forgiveness of sins. This would be true regardless of the season.[3]
    8. They [the shepherds] were literally guarding their flocks for the night.
    9. Verse 8 tells the place. Verse 9 is about to tell what happens.
    10. This is all happening simultaneously to the previous verses. Jesus has been born and it seems that at the same time as His birth, or right after His birth, this happens.
    11. An angel of the Lord “appeared” or “stood.” The NASB says “suddenly.”
    12. The Greek verb for “stood” carries the idea of “suddenly.”[4]
    13. What is it like to have something appear suddenly?
    14. The shepherds didn’t see the Angel coming over the hill.
    15. The shepherds didn’t hear the angel of the Lord be given clearance for landing.
    16. There is also Theological debate about what “Angel of the Lord” means. Sometimes that can mean an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament, Christophany. Or, a bodily appearance of God the Father, which could be Christ, Theophany. In this case I think this is a high-ranking angel.
    17. The “glory of the Lord shone around them”
    18. What does this look like? Ezekiel chapter 1 is similar.
    19. We do know they were scared.
    20. R.C. Sproul makes the case that this is the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament. The angel of the Lord is bathed in the Shekinah glory.[5]
    21. The word shekinah does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There the Lord appeared in a cloudy pillar in the day and a fiery pillar by night: “After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:20–22).[6]
    22. The shepherds were terribly frightened.
    23. The Greek uses the verb for “frightened” once and then a noun describing them as frightened along with an adjective to describe them as “greatly frightened.”
    24. Verse 10: The angel now speaks.
    25. The news the angel brings has three parts:
      1. 1. Good news;
      2. 2. Great joy;
      3. 3. For all people: that is deep;
      4. Jesus blesses all people.
    26. Verse 11 explains this even more:
    27. The city of David, that is Jerusalem
    28. A Savior has been born today.
      1. So, how long did it take the shepherds to get to Him?
      1. He is Christ: this is not Jesus’ last name but a title meaning “the anointed one.”
    29. Verse 12: The angel is about to give them a sign of who Jesus is. Jesus will be found in swaddling cloths (strips of cloth), lying in a manger (a feeding trough).
    30. I heard Swindoll say that the shepherds wouldn’t be surprised because they did the same thing when their wives delivered. They would lay the baby in a feeding trough.
    31. Verse 13: Suddenly (adverb, unexpectantly): A great multitude of Heavenly Hosts (angels) appeared.
    32. This really happened. I wonder what it was like. What is it like to see Angels appear from thin air???
    33. “Hosts” carries the idea of an army.[7]
    34. These angels were praising God and saying:
    35. Verse 14: Glory to God in the highest!!
      1. There is no greater glory to God.
      2. I can’t describe a way to worship God high enough.
      3. they may not have had words to describe how the Angels were worshipping God.
      4. The shepherds hear the angels praising God and this might be among the words they heard.
    36. and peace among those with whom He is pleased with: Jesus will bring peace in eternity.
  2. In verses 15-20: the shepherds go to Jesus and worship Jesus.
    1. We are not going to read those verses today, but allow me to make a few comments.
    2. Verse 15 shares that the angels went away from them and they went away into “the Heavens.”
    3. This must have been a sight to see. A visual picture of this would be awesome.
    4. The shepherds spoke to one another about what to do.
    5. They want to go to Bethlehem right away.
    6. They want to see what the Lord has done.
    7. Verse 16: so they go in haste.
    8. They didn’t linger, they didn’t waste time.
    9. They found their way.
    10. They had to search for the stable to find Mary and Joseph and the baby.
    11. Jesus was still in a feeding trough.
    12. They must have gotten there quickly.
    13. This shows that this event happened likely the same night as His birth.
    14. Verse 17: Once they saw this they explained what the angel had said.
    15. This must have happened so that the incident could be written down.
    16. Verse 18: They wondered about what was told to them. It seems that this mesmerized them.
    17. They were amazed.
    18. Verse 19 is key and it seems to be a key verse for the Gospel according to Luke. Mary remembered these things. This may be how Luke received the material.
    19. Later on in verse 51 this is repeated.
    20. Verse 20: the Shepherds went back but they were glorifying and praising God.

Some final applications:

  1. This was not a silent night.
    1. All was not calm and bright.
    2. It was hard a very difficult night.
    3. He was born not in a hospital, or in a guest room, but in a stable.
    4. We all have journeys that are difficult:
      1. Jacob’s son, Joseph, was sold into slavery (Gen. 37).
      2. David fled Saul and fled to the Philistines for a few years (1 Samuel  19ff and chapter 27) and he wrote Psalms asking, “Why do You allow my enemies to prosper?” “When are You going to save me?” That was not the end of the story.
      3. Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego were told to bow down and worship the king’s image, but they didn’t (Daniel 3). That was not the end of the story.
      4. The people of Israel were exiled for 50 years but that was not the end.
      5. Now, the child born in a stable would walk to Calvary, but that was not the end of the story.

All of us take difficult journeys but God walks with us on the journeys. God redeems the journeys and that is not the end of the story.

Mary could not see that the angels would be rejoicing. She could not see that we would be reading the story two thousand years later.  However, we are.


[1] Source: Nan Bauroth in Christmas: An Annual Treasury (Vol. 66, Augsburg). Christian Reader, Vol. 34.

1 Gerhard von Rad, “Mal’āk in the Old Testament,” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:76–77.

[2] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 286–287.

[3] Open Line on Moody radio 12.22.2018

[4]Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library, 183 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000).

[5] Renewing Your Mind, 10.03.2021


[7]Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library, 358 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000).

3 Kings and the providence of God, Jesus is Born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).

3 Kings and the providence of God, Jesus is Born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7).

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Friday, December 24, Christmas Eve

3 Kings and the providence of God.

I like to play chess. I like the game of chess a lot. I do not play it much, but I really like the game. My dad taught me to play chess when I was in elementary school. Correction, my dad taught my older brother, then my older brother taught me. I like chess, it is a game of strategy.

J. Oswald Sanders reports that years ago, Paul Morphy was the world’s champion chess player when he was invited by a friend to look at a valuable painting titled, “The Chess Player.” In the painting, Satan was represented as playing chess with a young man, the stake being the young man’s soul. The game had reached the stage where it was the young man’s move; but he was checkmated. There was no move he could make which would not mean defeat for him and so the strong feature of the picture was the look of utter despair on the young man’s face as he realized that his soul was lost.

Morphy, who knew more about chess than the artist, studied the picture for a time, then called for a chessboard and pieces. Placing them in exactly the same position as they were in the painting, he said, “I’ll take the young man’s place and make the move.” Then he made the move which would have set the young man free.[1]

That is a powerful illustration about God’s love, but also God’s providence. God is the ultimate chess player.

Do you believe in coincidence? I do not believe in coincidence. I believe in the providence of God. God is sovereign, this means that He has total control. Further, God uses His control to arrange things the way He needs them to carry out His will. Somehow, God can bring together our freewill with His sovereign will and plan. Further, God can bring together our freewill with His plan.

My theme today is:

The providence of God in Jesus’ birth.

In Luke 2:1-7 we see the birth of Jesus.

  1. Read with me Luke 2:1-2: Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
    1. Isn’t this interesting. It was prophesied in Micah 5:2 that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. This was hundreds of years before Jesus. God is working out the details.
    2. R.C. Sproul has called this passage “Three Kings.” We have God the Father, Jesus, and Caesar.
    3. Caesar orders a census, but in reality this is God’s control.
    4. Look at verse 3: And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
    5. So, everyone is traveling. Now, verses 4-5: Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
    6. As a consequence of the census Joseph and Mary must travel to Bethlehem.
    7. Mary and Joseph are engaged to be married. We know from Luke 1 and Matthew chapter 1 that Mary is already pregnant with Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior.
    8. Now, look at Luke 2:6-7: While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
    9. Here they are in Bethlehem and the baby is to be born.
    10. Do you think they knew Jesus would be born in Bethlehem?
    11. Obviously, they knew 9 months and things like that, but a year before they did not know anything about this. A few months before they did not know they were going to have to travel.
    12. Here is Mary, obviously pregnant, and in God’s sovereign plan, in His providence, He brings Mary and Joseph to the right location for birth.
    13. 3 kings: God, the Father, Caesar, and now Jesus. Jesus is born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough.
    14. Jesus came in humility.
    15. God is in charge, this is how God wanted the Messiah to enter the world.

One writes:


You would think that if God so rules the world as to use an empire-wide census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, he surely could have seen to it that a room was available in the inn.

Yes, he could have. He absolutely could have! And Jesus could have been born into a wealthy family. He could have turned stone into bread in the wilderness. He could have called 10,000 angels to his aid in Gethsemane. He could have come down from the cross and saved himself. The question is not what God could do, but what he willed to do.

God’s will was that though Christ was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. The “No Vacancy” signs over all the motels in Bethlehem were for your sake. “For your sake he became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

God rules all things — even hotel capacities and available Airbnbs — for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.

And we must not forget that he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross” (Luke 9:23).

We join him on the Calvary road and hear him say, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

To the one who calls out enthusiastically, “I will follow you wherever you go!” Jesus responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:57–58).

Yes, God could have seen to it that Jesus have a room at his birth. But that would have been a detour off the Calvary road.[2]

Jesus came for you.

God is the Master chess player because He knows all things (omniscient). Further, He is all powerful (omnipotent), further He is present everywhere (omnipresent), further, He wants a relationship with you.

 What is Christmas all about?

In a nutshell Christmas is all about Jesus’ birth. God became a human being so that He could die for our sins. God brought events involving kings, common people, and shepherds in order to bring His Son into the world. Jesus lived among us for 33 years and then died in our place. He died for our sins. Do you believe that? I want to ask you a personal question: have you come to a point in your life where you have accepted Jesus into your heart for forgiveness of your sins. Jesus didn’t come to earth just to live with us; He came to instruct us and to die in our place.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible says that the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). The Bible says that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him (John 14:6). The Bible teaches that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). The Bible says that God will not let the guilty go unpunished (2 Thess 1:8-9). Yet, the Bible teaches that God loves the people of the world (John 3:16). That is a dilemma. God can’t tell a lie, or He wouldn’t be God (Numbers 23:19). God doesn’t change His mind (1 Sam 15:29). That is why God sent Jesus. The guilty must be punished. Jesus took our punishment on the cross. The penalty of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (Romans 6:23 and John 14:6).

One of the most exciting things that you can do while celebrating Jesus’ birthday is to make it your spiritual birthday as well. You can accept Jesus’ free gift of salvation right now.

Pray with me and if you would like to believe in Christ today. This prayer is not a magical formula. It is just telling Jesus what you are doing.

Dear Jesus, I know that I have sinned. I know that you died to forgive me for my sins. I know that you rose again. Today, I confess that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I believe in You, that You died in my place to take care of my sin, and that You rose again. I am committing my life to You, and trusting in You as Lord and Savior. Today, I am firmly making the decision to be with You, in order to become like You, to learn and do all that You say, and arrange my affairs around You. Please come into my life, and help me to live for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.



The Angel Gabriel Visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)

The Angel Gabriel Visits Mary (Luke 1:26-38)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH Saturday, December 18 and Sunday, December 19, 2021

As I think about the Christmas story I wonder, “What if Mary said, ‘No?’” I wonder, “Could Mary say no?”

If Mary said, “No,” what would have happened in Bethlehem?  As you know, Mary was the mother of Jesus, and this event did happen. Mary was told that she was to give birth to the Christ child. You know what? She didn’t even argue. You ask, “Why would she argue?” Well, though it was an honor for her, Mary did face a lot of shame and a lot of trouble for the virgin birth. We are going to look at Luke 1:26-38 and in this passage we will see that Mary is told about Jesus’ birth. I want you to notice the angel Gabriel coming to Mary. I want you to notice Mary’s obedience.

Two weeks ago, we began a series focusing on the angelic narratives in Luke 1. I do not want to so focus on the angel that we miss the point that the angel is conveying. There is only one angel in Luke 1, Gabriel. Gabriel’s name means the greatness of God. He appears in Daniel 9 and 11 as well. It seems that when God has something major to announce He sends Gabriel.

To review: What does the word angel mean? The Hebrew word malak simply means “messenger”; it may refer to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2) or a divine messenger (Gen. 28:12). The basic meaning of the word is “one who is sent.” As a divine messenger an angel is a “heavenly being charged by God with some commission.”1 The word is found 103 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word angelos occurs 175 times in the New Testament; however, of men it is used only 6 times. The word angelos is similar to the Hebrew malak; it also means “messenger … who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”[1]

  1. In verses 26-29 we see Mary being greeted by Gabriel.
    1. Let’s read Luke 1:26-29: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from 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. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be
    2. Notice the passage begins saying “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy…” This is connecting this narrative with the previous narrative. In the previous verses the story is told of how John the Baptist came to be born to elderly parents.
    3. Now, the text says that Gabriel was sent to Nazareth in Galilee. Nazareth was the city, a very small city, Galilee was the greater area. Nazareth had 1600-2000 people at this time.
    4. Dr. Rydelnic, Professor of Jewish Studies and Bible at Moody Bible Institute, shares: Nazareth was the wrong side of the tracks. It was a poorer area.[2]
    5. Gabriel and Michael are the only angels in the New Testament; these are the most popular angels in Jewish lure.
    6. Now the angel comes to a virgin who was engaged or pledged to be married to Joseph. The Bible says that Joseph was a descendant of David.  Because Joseph was of David’s line and Jesus would be his legal son, Jesus could qualify as belonging to David’s royal house. The New American Commentary tells us that in Judaism, “virgins” were young maidens, usually fourteen or younger. Though Dr. Rydelnic believes she was more like 16 or 17 years old.
    7. Gabriel greets Mary by saying that she is highly favored and the Lord is with her.
    8. How often do you greet someone like that? Not often and that apparently was the same for Mary because she didn’t understand the greeting.
  2. So, in verses 30-33 we see Gabriel explain why she is favored.
    1. Let’s read Luke 1:30-33: And 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 bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to 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.
    2. Notice that the angel starts by saying, Do not be afraid.” I like this because this verse shows that angels were warriors, they were an image which we usually don’t see. They were not fair skinned feminine creatures that look maternal.  This angel appears out of thin air and was something that she likely had never seen before.
    3. The angel tells her that she has found favor with God.
    4. Now, let’s stop there.  Now, I realize that my questions at the beginning of the sermon were not fair; obviously, God wouldn’t have chosen Mary if she would have resisted. But why did God choose her? She was favored by God. I wonder, was she such a respectful pious young lady that she was favored. Or, does favor simply mean that God is going to bestow on her this blessing of being mother to the Christ child? This could be either or both.
    5. Then the angel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son and call Him Jesus.
      1. Look at that.
        1. She is told that she will become pregnant. That is prophetic; in verse 34 she says that she is still a virgin.
        2. She is told that the baby will be a boy. Again, this is prophetic; she doesn’t even know she is pregnant. Besides, you cannot even know the sex of a baby until about 16 weeks.  Yet, the angel knows.
        3. She is told what to name the baby.
      2. Notice the mercy of God. Suppose that God had this plan unfold but did not tell Mary about it ahead of time. God tells Mary that she will be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
      3. Now, this is not unusual in the Scriptures. In the Bible we learn that God controls the womb. In Genesis 17:17 and 18:12 both Abraham and Sarah laugh when they are told they are going to have a baby in their old age. But, God controls the womb. In Genesis 17:19 an angel tells Abraham what to name his son.
      4. In Luke 1:5-25 John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias was told that he will have a son in his old age, and he is told the name for the son will be John.
      5. Now, Mary likely knew that God controls the womb, but she is still a woman around 14 years old who is engaged to be married. If she is pregnant, how? Then, if she is pregnant and not by Joseph it will look like adultery and she could be stoned (Lev 20).
      6. This is the first and only time a virgin gives birth.
      7. Mary had to be thinking:
      8. What will I tell my fiancé?
      9. Now, some of you are thinking, “Who cares? She is not married, but engaged.”
      10. The New American Commentary says the following about Jewish marriage and engagement:

Marriage consisted of two distinct stages: engagement followed by the marriage itself. Engagement involved a formal agreement initiated by a father seeking a wife for his son. The next most important person involved was the father of the bride. A son’s opinion would be sought more often in the process than a daughter’s. Upon payment of a purchase price to the bride’s father (for he lost a daughter and helper whereas the son’s family gained one) and a written agreement and/or oath by the son, the couple was engaged. Although during this stage the couple in some instances cohabited, this was the exception. An engagement was legally binding, and any sexual contact by the daughter with another person was considered adultery. The engagement could not be broken save through divorce (Matt 1:19), and the parties during this period were considered husband and wife (Matt 1:19–20, 24). At this time Mary likely was no more than fifteen years old, probably closer to thirteen, which was the normal age for betrothal.[3]

  1. Mary also must have been thinking, “What will I tell my parents?”
    1. Mary must have been thinking, “What will the neighbors think? I will be the talk of the town. What does it feel like to die by stoning?”
    2. We don’t know Mary’s thoughts but we do know that she doesn’t argue. She is totally obedient.
    3. Gabriel does tell Mary, 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
    4. That is a major verse. He will grow up to have the throne of Israel. Now, Mary likely interpreted this to mean that He will physically be the king just as David was in the Old Testament and David was the greatest king of Israel.
    5. But David died and his son Solomon ruled Israel, then Solomon died and Israel was split into a divided monarchy by Solomon’s children, David’s grandchildren.
    6. David and Solomon were mortal kings.
    7. Mary is told that her son will reign forever.
    8. That is a lot of responsibility. She is to be the mother of the future, eternal king of Israel. Wow!
  2. In verses 34-35 we see how this will happen
    1. Let’s read Luke 1:34-35:  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be  called holy—the Son of God
    2. Mary does ask how this can be because she is a virgin.
    3. I like how Sproul says: She is saying, “ I may not be a biologist but I know how babies come.” She knew natural law. God governs by natural law. If you drop something it falls because of gravity. That is why historically people called miracles going against natural law.[4]
    4. The angel then explains that “The Holy Spirit will come on 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.[5]
    5. Gabriel gives telltale clues about the metaphysics of the virgin birth, in that the Holy Spirit will “overshadow” (Greek episkiazō) Mary (Luke 1:35). This verb is used elsewhere for the glorious manifestation of God on earth (Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:34; Exodus 40:35), implying that God’s Spirit is the active agent of the special creation of the human body of Jesus in Mary’s womb.[6]
    6. Now, there are some in our churches that might say that Mary was not really a virgin. I must ask, “If you don’t believe in the virgin birth, than you might as well take all the other miracles out of the Bible.” She was a virgin; verse 34 makes that quite clear. God the Father is the father of this baby, and this happened in a miraculous way.
    7.  I want to take an excurses on apologetics for a moment. Some think that the virgin birth was copied off of pagan myths. Kevin Deyoung answers that in an article with the Gospel Coalition:  

Many have objected to the virgin birth because they see it as a typical bit of pagan mythologizing. “Mithraism had a virgin birth. Christianity had a virgin birth. They are all just fables. Even Star Wars has a virgin birth.” This popular argument sounds plausible at first glance, but there are a number of problems with it.

(1) The assumption that there was a prototypical God-Man who had certain titles, did certain miracles, was born of a virgin, saved his people, and then got resurrected is not well-founded. In fact, no such prototypical “hero” existed before the rise of Christianity.

(2) It would have been unthinkable for a Jewish sect (which is what Christianity was initially) to try to win new converts by adding pagan elements to their gospel story. I suppose a good Jew might make up a story to fit the Old Testament, but to mix in bits of paganism would have been anathema to most Jews.

(3) The supposed virgin birth parallels are not convincing. Consider some of the usual suspects.

Alexander the Great: his most reliable ancient biographer (several centuries after his death) makes no mention of a virgin birth. Besides, the story that began to circulate (after the rise of Christianity) is about an unusual conception, but not a virgin birth. Alexander’s parents were already married when he was born.

Dionysus: like so many of the pagan “parallels,” he was born when a god (in this case Zeus) disguised himself as a human and impregnated a human princess. This is not a virgin birth and not like the Holy Spirit’s role we read about in the Gospels.

Mithra: he’s a popular parallel. But he was born of a rock, not a virgin. Moreover, the cult of Mithra in the Roman Empire dates to after the time of Christ, so any dependence is Mithraism on Christianity and not the other way around.

Buddha: his mother dreamed that Buddha entered her in the form of a white elephant. But this story doesn’t appear until five centuries after his death, and she was already married.

In short, the so-called parallels always occur well after the life in question, well into the Christian era, and are not really stories of virginal conceptions.[7]

  1. God created the womb; God can surely provide the baby.
  2. In verses 36-37 we see a miracle has already been performed.
    1. Read with me Luke 1:36-37: And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
    2. In these two verses we see that her cousin, who was elderly, was pregnant.
    3. Then, I love verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
      1. Do you doubt God?
      2. Do you find it hard to believe in the virgin birth?
      3. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus later would turn water into wine (John chapter 2)?
      4. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus would heal many people (Luke 4:38-44; 7:22; etc)?
      5. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus fed 5000 (Luke 9:12ff)?
      6. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus raised a dead man to life (John 11:43)?
      7. Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus was resurrected and still lives (Luke 24 and other passages)?
      8. Nothing is impossible with God. God can do all things. I am convinced that we all struggle with faith sometimes, even pastors. But why do we want to believe in such a little God? If He is God, He must be greater than we are.
  3. In verse 38 we see Mary’s great obedience
    1. Read with me Luke 1:38: And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
    2. Mary doesn’t say, “Well, Gabriel, I really, really, really thank you for considering me for this task. I mean, like, I know that I am a true and godly young lady and that is likely why you chose me, but, you know, I, like, I’m not up for this. I mean, I am still young, and I don’t want the public humiliation and well, just ask someone else.”
    3. No, Mary accepts. Now, could Mary say no? We can’t answer that. But we do know what she says, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
    4. How is your obedience?

At a certain children’s hospital, a boy gained a reputation for wreaking havoc with the nurses and staff. One day a visitor who knew about his terrorizing nature made him a deal: “If you are good for a week,” she said, “I’ll give you a dime when I come again.” A week later she stood before his bed. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, “I won’t ask the nurses if you behaved. You must tell me yourself. Do you deserve the dime?”

After a moment’s pause, a small voice from among the sheets said: “Gimme a penny.” [8]

  • God may not be calling you to give birth to His son (which is good if you are a man because that would be a bigger miracle than the virgin birth), but maybe God is calling you to buy Christmas presents for a neighbor’s children.
    • Are you resisting something that God is telling you to do?
    • Maybe God wants you to apologize to someone you offended this past week.
    • Be obedient. Be God’s servant as Mary was.


1 Gerhard von Rad, “Mal’āk in the Old Testament,” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:76–77.

[1] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 286–287.

[2] Dr. Rydelnic. Open Line; 06.19.2021

[3] Stein, R. H. (2001). Vol. 24: Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Renewing Your Mind (08.22.2021)

[5] The New International Version. 2011 (Lk 1:35). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.



[8] Swindoll, Charles R. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 413. Exerted from Lewis and Faye Copeland, 10,000 Jokes, Toasts, and Stories.  

The Angels in Luke 1 (Gabriel Visits Zechariah Luke 1:5-25)

The Angels in Luke 1 (Gabriel Visits Zechariah Luke 1:5-25)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5, 2021

The American storyteller Garrison Keillor recently claimed that you don’t have to believe in Jesus to have a great Christmas. Keillor said,

Although you may decide that instead of Christmas carols you are going to hold hands and breathe in unison, Christmas will still live deep in the cockles of your heart—or actually in your neo-cortex, stored as zillions of neuron impulses … It’s [your brain] that sends tears to your eyes when you smell the saffron cookies that your grandma used to make or you sing Silent Night. So Christmas is: number one lights, number two food, number three song, number four being with people you like. You need no more.

Tim Keller comments on Keillor’s quote:

Keillor is saying that it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not. You can still hold hands, you can still breathe in unison. All the good feelings of Christmas are just a reaction in our brain. But here’s why that doesn’t work. I know enough about Garrison Keillor to know that he is very upset with cruelty and prejudice. But if it’s really true that there is no God, if there is no supernatural or miracles, and if everything is a function of natural causes—if that is all true, then it is also true that love, and joy, and even cruelty and prejudice are just all chemical reactions stored in our brain. Keillor is against cruelty and prejudice, but if it’s true that everything is just chemistry, then how in the world can you say there’s a moral difference between love and cruelty, between kissing someone or killing someone? They’re both nothing but neuro-chemical responses. So if there is no God, and if Christmas is all about lights, songs, and being with nice people and your neo-cortex going crazy about it, then I don’t see how Keillor can stand up and say that there is something wrong with cruelty and prejudice. He can’t do it. Without the theology behind Christmas, you lose the core meaning of Christmas.[1]

You see, Jesus is the point of Christmas. Jesus is the point of the New Testament. Jesus is the point of Luke’s Gospel. But Luke doesn’t begin His gospel with Jesus. He begins with John the Baptizer. Really, Luke begins with John’s father, Zechariah, and his mother, Elizabeth. Over the next month I want to focus on the accounts of the angels in Luke chapters 1 and 2. To begin the Christmas narrative we see an angel visit Zechariah. What does the word angel mean? The Hebrew word malak simply means “messenger”; it may refer to a human messenger (1 Kings 19:2) or a divine messenger (Gen. 28:12). The basic meaning of the word is “one who is sent.” As a divine messenger an angel is a “heavenly being charged by God with some commission.”1 The word is found 103 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word angelos occurs 175 times in the New Testament; however, of men it is used only 6 times. The word angelos is similar to the Hebrew malak; it also means “messenger … who speaks and acts in the place of the one who has sent him.”[2]

God sent the angel Gabriel to announce His plans to Zechariah. This was because Zechariah and Elizabeth were older and did not have children, yet God was going to allow Elizabeth to conceive and John the baptizer would be born. John would prepare the way for Jesus.


God sends Gabriel to announce His miraculous plan to Zechariah.

Let’s read Luke 1:5-25:

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Let’s walk through this passage:

  1. Notice the godliness of Zechariah and Elizabeth (verse 6).
    1. The passage says they were both righteous in the sight of God, observing the Lord’s commands. Now, this does not mean they were perfect, but it does mean that they were striving to be. It means that the patterns of their life were following God and His will.
    2. Yet even when one is godly one can still have trouble (verse 7).
    3. Most of you know there is a Christmas classic called It’s a Wonderful Life. In this movie George Bailey is doing everything right, but he comes up with a major problem.
    4. Now, look at verse 7: they are very old and they are childless. Not being able to bear children in that day was a very bad thing. It was quite a curse. Sometimes people may even think this is the case because of some sin they have been involved in. People would think that God has not been blessing them. But in the previous verse we can see that this is not about sin. They are living godly lives. They are righteous. They are observing the Lord’s commands.
    5. We know from context that this is about the Lord’s commands. Zechariah and Elizabeth will be blessed for this trouble. They will eventually still have a child and he is to be the forerunner for the Messiah.
  2. God answers prayer (verses 8-17)
    1. Now, as we look at the next few verses, we see that God does answer this situation.
    2. All through the Bible we learn that God controls the womb. Way back in Genesis Abraham and Sarah could not have a child until God fixes that situation (Genesis 17). Later on, Samuel’s mother Hannah could not have a child either, but God gives her a son and he is among the greatest of prophets (1 Samuel 1). God controls the womb.
    3. So now we have Zechariah, who is a priest, and he is selected to go into the temple and burn incense. By the way, this is a high honor. Apparently there were around 13,000 priests and so they chose this person by lot, and no one could do this more than once, but most never got such an honor. But you know what? God was over this process. The Lord was active in every single detail in order to work out His Divine will.
    4. Verse 10 shows us that a whole multitude was outside praying while he is inside performing his priestly duty.
    5. Praise God for prayer warriors. We also need to value prayer in this way. I wonder for all of us who are Christ followers, are we praying for God’s work in every worship service. Are we committing to prayer meetings?
    6. Now, you are wondering, “When do we see the angel?” We are going to see the angel now.
    7. Verses 11-12 show the angel Gabriel shows up. What would this be like? What would I think if I was preparing a sermon and all of a sudden God’s messenger is right next to me? This really did happen. And he was scared. But the Bible says that Gabriel told him not to be afraid.
    8. In verse 13 the angel tells him that his prayer has been heard. Was his prayer for a son? Was his prayer for the Messiah? What was his prayer? Was his prayer right there in the temple or was it a prayer that he had been saying for years? Even if he was praying for the Messiah that is answered in his son performing the role of the forerunner for the Messiah.
    9. God answers prayer, but they are answered according to His Divine will and plan.
    10. We must realize that this is all taking place to prepare the way for the Messiah. All of these details for Christ’s advent.
  3. John’s role (verse 16-17). Now, notice what John the baptizer’s role will be:
    1. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is in the womb. In the Old Testament some had temporary baptisms with the Holy Spirit, but John will have the Spirit from the womb.
    2. Remember that we also have the Holy Spirit as Christians. We are never alone (Romans 8:9).
    3. He will turn many of the Jewish people back to the Lord their God (verse 16). John the baptizer had a role in calling the people in repentance.
    4. He will be a forerunner for Him (Jesus).
    5. As a forerunner, he will be in the Spirit and power of Elijah. In Malachi 3:1 God talked about sending a messenger ahead of the Messiah and then again in Malachi 4:5 God talked about the same thing.
    6. Point of importance is that all this happens to prepare the way for Jesus
  4. But notice that Zechariah has unbelief (verses 18-20).
    1. In verse 18, Zechariah asks how this will be. R.C. Sproul says it is like he is saying, “I am too old, you have the wrong address Mr. Angel!”
    2. Then in verse 19 look at Gabriel’s response: And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
    3. That is powerful. He reminds Zechariah who he is talking to. Then he says that he stands in the presence of God, wow!
    4. Gabriel’s name means “the greatness of God.” He appears in Daniel 9 and 11 as well.
    5. It seems that when God has something major to announce He sends Gabriel.
    6. Notice that even people who are great models of faithfulness do have problems. Notice also that the Scriptures do not gloss over these problems. God still uses this for His glory.
    7. Listen, God will still use us in our unbelief. God has not given up on any of us and He has big plans!

God sent Gabriel to announce His plans. Prior to this there were 400 years of silence. From the time of Malachi until Luke 1, there were 400 years without special revelation from God.

To illustrate the 400-years of silence prior to the coming of Jesus, Del Tackett compares it to the Apollo 13 incident. On the evening of April 13, when the crew was 200,000 miles from Earth and closing in on the moon, mission controller Sy Liebergot saw a low-pressure warning signal on a hydrogen tank in Odyssey. Alarm lights lit up in Odyssey and in Mission Control as oxygen pressure fell and power disappeared. The crew notified Mission Control, with, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

For re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere, there would be a blackout period, lasting a few minutes. During the silence, Mission Control petitioned, “Apollo 13, this is Houston, do you read me?”

Tackett comments:

The Apollo 13 blackout lasted only a few minutes. Imagine 400-years of silence. Then the silence was broken. At the right time, God brought forth his Son, born of a woman and fulfilled all the promises and the prophesies. For unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor; Mighty God; Everlasting Father; Prince of Peace.[3]

[1] Adapted from Tim Keller, “God with Us: Conversations with Tim Keller about Christmas”

1 Gerhard von Rad, “Mal’āk in the Old Testament,” in Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:76–77.

[2] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 286–287.

[3] Del Tackett, “Del Tackett Apollo 13 and Jesus,” Youtube