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.”
- In verses 26-29 we see Mary being greeted by Gabriel.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gabriel and Michael are the only angels in the New Testament; these are the most popular angels in Jewish lure.
- 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.
- Gabriel greets Mary by saying that she is highly favored and the Lord is with her.
- 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.
- So, in verses 30-33 we see Gabriel explain why she is favored.
- 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.”
- 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.
- The angel tells her that she has found favor with God.
- 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.
- Then the angel tells her that she will conceive and give birth to a son and call Him Jesus.
- Look at that.
- She is told that she will become pregnant. That is prophetic; in verse 34 she says that she is still a virgin.
- 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.
- She is told what to name the baby.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- This is the first and only time a virgin gives birth.
- Mary had to be thinking:
- What will I tell my fiancé?
- Now, some of you are thinking, “Who cares? She is not married, but engaged.”
- The New American Commentary says the following about Jewish marriage and engagement:
- Look at that.
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.
- Mary also must have been thinking, “What will I tell my parents?”
- 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?”
- We don’t know Mary’s thoughts but we do know that she doesn’t argue. She is totally obedient.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- David and Solomon were mortal kings.
- Mary is told that her son will reign forever.
- That is a lot of responsibility. She is to be the mother of the future, eternal king of Israel. Wow!
- In verses 34-35 we see how this will happen
- 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.
- Mary does ask how this can be because she is a virgin.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- God created the womb; God can surely provide the baby.
- In verses 36-37 we see a miracle has already been performed.
- 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.”
- In these two verses we see that her cousin, who was elderly, was pregnant.
- Then, I love verse 37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
- Do you doubt God?
- Do you find it hard to believe in the virgin birth?
- Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus later would turn water into wine (John chapter 2)?
- Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus would heal many people (Luke 4:38-44; 7:22; etc)?
- Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus fed 5000 (Luke 9:12ff)?
- Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus raised a dead man to life (John 11:43)?
- Do you find it hard to believe that Jesus was resurrected and still lives (Luke 24 and other passages)?
- 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.
- In verse 38 we see Mary’s great obedience
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.” 
- 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.
 Dr. Rydelnic. Open Line; 06.19.2021
 Stein, R. H. (2001). Vol. 24: Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (82). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Renewing Your Mind (08.22.2021)
 The New International Version. 2011 (Lk 1:35). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 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.