Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
Luke 1:30, 31
Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God, was sent to a lowly virgin in the city of despised Nazareth. In what form he appeared to her we do not know, but she knew at once that he was a heavenly messenger and, as may well be expected, she was filled with awesome fear.
To her amazement he knows and addresses her by her name. Why should she receive a visit from a holy angel? What was the purpose of his coming?
But she was even more amazed at his message. He calms her fears by telling her that she is highly favored by God. She, highly favored? She deserves no such recognition. He adds that Jehovah is with her. She knows that though her sins are as scarlet she is righteous in the promised Savior, whose coming she awaits. Surely in that sense God is with her, but does this word of the angel imply more than that?
Still more astounding are his words of praise, “Blessed art thou among women!” She, the lowly, unknown virgin? She bows her head in bewilderment.
“Blessed art thou among women.”
The fall in paradise had been through the woman. Even so salvation was promised through the woman. She would be blessed in bearing children. That would be her unique privilege, since through child-bearing the Christ would be born and the church come into existence.
The promise had come to Eve by God’s curse upon Satan, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
When Eve’s first child was born she must have marveled at the wonder she beheld. Never could she have imagined anything like it. Here was flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Here was a child that looked like his parents, yet with his own individuality, his own character, personality, and life. Far more, here was the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of the Seed that would crush all the powers of Satan and give eternal salvation and victory to God’s people.
Did Eve for the moment imagine or hope that this very child might be the promised Seed? We can only surmise.
All the saints throughout the old dispensation looked for the Savior. There were always godly women who rejoiced in the fact that they were instrumental in a small way in bringing forth the promised Seed. We know such women as Sarah, Hannah, Ruth the Moabitess, and Elisabeth.
Abraham longed to see His day. Jacob declared in humble worship, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” The promised Christ made His appearance as the Angel of Jehovah to Abraham, to Moses, to Gideon, and to others. The inspired poets sang of Christ’s coming, while the prophets spoke of it. Particularly Isaiah, standing on the mountaintop of prophecy, declared, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Immanuel.” And again, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).
The night of waiting had been long and wearisome. David had occupied the throne in Israel as a type of the coming Conqueror, and his son Solomon prefigured the glorious King in His kingdom even in building the house of the Lord. Kings had come and gone. Israel had been in captivity for seventy years and had returned to restore the house of God. But the time was not yet.
A great darkness fell upon the nation of Israel. They bowed under a foreign yoke and were about to be made a part of the great Roman empire. Wicked Herod sat on the throne in Jerusalem. But, even worse, the cold formalism of the Pharisees, and the wicked unbelief of the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin.
Yet there was always the light of the promise shining through the darkest night. And there was always the remnant according to the election of grace. By the grace of God there were those like Zacharias and Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna, and the shepherds. And there was the humble Mary in Nazareth, a lone survivor of the royal line of David. In these dark days they prayed more earnestly than ever for the coming of the promised Savior, the King who would sit on David’s throne, even forever.
Still today the woman is not inferior to the man, simply because the covenant mother has the blessed privilege, which belongs only to the woman, of bringing forth and rearing in tender love the covenant seed of the church. What a blessed calling and privilege to have a part in the gathering of God’s church and the coming of His kingdom!
Of all covenant mothers, however, Mary stands out as the most blessed among women, for she was the mother of our Savior. All covenant mothers count her blessed because of her son.
The angel continues his message: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.” In sovereign good pleasure God eternally determined that she should be the virgin to bring forth the Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Gabriel assures her, “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.”
Were more significant words ever spoken? God performs the humanly impossible. A virgin will conceive. A son will be born to her. And God Himself gives this child His name, which is above all names: Jesus, Jehovah saves.
The hope and longing of all the saints throughout the ages is being realized in this young woman. The repeatedly promised, the long awaited Savior would now come into the world. A Babe, born of a woman, even as God had promised. He would be the Shepherd-King to occupy David’s throne forever.
No wonder that Mary asked in astonishment, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” She shows no sign whatever of unbelief, as did Zacharias when he was informed of the birth of a son in his old age. Her faith embraces the word of the angel. But she wonders, for she is a virgin. True, she is engaged to be married to Joseph, but why would the angel come to her if Joseph were involved? It is all so marvelous, yet so strange, so incomprehensible. She can but wonder how this will come about.
The answer of Gabriel expresses one of the greatest wonders, if not the greatest wonder, of all history. It is so simple, yet so profound, so far beyond all human comprehension. Surely nothing is impossible with God. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
We believe in our hearts and we confess with our lips that “Jesus Christ (was) conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.” The Holy Spirit laid the sperm of life in Mary, the beginning of a new life, yet the life of the person of the Son of God. The triune God in His Son joined Himself with us by implanting the seed of life in the virgin. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit this seed developed into an embryo and a fetus and into a fully developed child. The Son of God, who is completely divine, took on a complete human nature, as flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, like unto us in all respects except one, He was sinless. He was without our guilt since He had no human father. He was without our pollution and depravity because He was preserved as the holy Child Jesus in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit.
Great is the mystery of godliness!
To all this Mary responds, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
By God’s abounding grace Mary surrenders herself in humble trust unto the will of the Lord. It is so grand, yet so terrifying.
In the back of her mind lingers the thought, how shall I ever explain this to my fiancé, Joseph? What will the people say when they see me as an unmarried, pregnant woman? Mercifully the angel suggests to her a temporary respite by going to her cousin Elisabeth. There she will also be assured of God’s abundant mercies and blessings.
Her soul already rejoices in God her Savior!
“The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).
We see that whatever is impossible with man is possible with God. Because of our transgressions and guilt, God’s justice had to be satisfied. We cannot do that. No animal or angel can suffice for us. But God has eternally prepared for us the way of salvation.
We behold amazing grace, for the Most High God whom we have so sorely offended with our sins is the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
We shall never cease to marvel at the fact that God condescended to become like unto us, in order to make us like unto Himself in His glory. A very similar wonder takes place in us. We are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible by the Word that lives and abides forever. We are restored in the image of Christ, like unto the Father. It is all too marvelous to comprehend.
The apostle John writes, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:1, 2).
We are made partakers of the divine nature. We shall dwell in God’s house. We shall behold Him and reflect His glory unto the praise of His matchless name forever and ever!
Blessed be our God! Praise His holy name!