Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Magnificent Grace


Terry Laughlin offers this -- Many Christian historians tell us that by the time of the birth of Christ, Nazareth had become an unimportant town. It was the home of Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:39) and Nazareth was where the angel announced to the virgin, Mary the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-28). Nazareth is where Jesus grew to manhood (Luke 4:16) and where He began His public ministry in the synagogue (Matthew 13:54). Unfortunately, Nazareth around the time of the birth of Christ had established a rather poor reputation with regard to morals and religion. In fact, it had no reputation for religion. Nazareth, and the people living there, was despised by Romans and Jews and those living in her were considered a conquered people. Evidence of the citizen's spiritual condition in Nazareth is found in their treatment of Christ during His ministry. When He told them things they could not tolerate they drove Him out of town, they even tried to throw Him off the cliff (Luke 4:16-22). Jesus, having connections to Nazareth shows us symbolically that God is just as able and willing to send His message to a people that are not willing to receive the message as well as to a people searching for God. I guess that the message of Christ would work just the same for a lost world of people today, as well.  We live in a world that has no reputation for the things of God…and we have seen further evidence of this even this past week. But, the bottom line is -- no matter where you live and no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, the Lord can reach into your life and make you a valuable part of the building of the kingdom of God. If you find yourself in Nazareth, in a place of poor reputation in morals and religion, then let the Holy Spirit open your heart to the Christ of Christmas, and be strengthened to enjoy the favor of God in your life.

As I shared last week, Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, received news that she would be pregnant with the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist (Luke 1:36). Now, the angel Gabriel brings a second birth announcement (Luke 1:26ff)…this time to a young virgin named Mary who lives in Nazareth (v.28). The people of Judah feel contempt for the Jews in Galilee and claim that they are not “kosher” or “genuine” Jews, because of their contact with the Gentiles in the land. The “pure” Jews especially despise people from Nazareth, as indicated in the disciple Nathaniel’s statement, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:45-46) But, God in His grace, chooses a young lady from Nazareth in Galilee to be the mother of the promised Messiah. And who is this Mary? She is a Jew from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, a virgin, and one betrothed to a carpenter in Nazareth named Joseph. When it comes to Mary, people tend to go to one of two extremes – they either magnify her so much that Jesus practically takes second place, or they virtually ignore her and fail to give her the esteem she deserves. Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, calls her, “the mother of my Lord” (1:43)…and this is certainly reason enough to honor her.

When we consider Gabriel’s message, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (v.28), we can understand why she is humbled and troubled. The fact that she is troubled reveals her humility and honesty before God; she never expects to see an angel and receive special favors from heaven…since she is not royalty, but an ordinary young woman. We have to admire the answer she gives to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (1:38). And, in reality, the meaning is, “I am the Lord’s slave,” which is a difficult concept for us to grasp today. This is a fitting response to the grace of God, even though the social consequences of being a virgin who is with child appear to be dire. Gabriel proceeds to give her the Good News! She will become the mother of the promised Messiah whom she will name “Jesus,” or “Jehovah is Salvation” (Matthew 1:21). God becomes man…Jesus becomes flesh…He is both deity and human. He will be the Christ (King), receiver of David’s throne and the Savior of the World.

So, Mary knows what will happen, but she does not know how it will happen. Her question to the angel (v.34), “How can this be since I am a virgin?” comes as the result of her faith and stands in contrast to Zacharias’ initial expression of unbelief. She believes the promise, even if she does not understand. Gabriel explains that what will take place will be a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit. Joseph will not be the father of the child, even though Jesus would legally be identified as the son of Joseph. Unfortunately, some would believe that Mary has been unfaithful to Joseph, and he would even question it himself. Mary would still have to bear the mental and emotional pain. Gabriel carefully points out that the baby will be “holy” and not share man’s sinful nature. As we know, Jesus as God become man has to be sinless in order to be the Savior.

Gabriel’s final encouragement to Mary is that nothing is impossible for God – He is able to accomplish His purposes. And is this not a grand message for us to hold close to our hearts, as well? Her response is to surrender to God as His willing servant. Elizabeth rejoices…the unborn John the Baptist rejoices, and finally Mary herself rejoices. Now, she lifts up her voice in a hymn of praise and sings out to the Lord, just as Zacharias did. The song is called “The Magnificat,” (vv.46-55) a Latin term meaning, “magnify,” as her desire is to magnify the Lord and not herself. It goes like this -- "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." She stays with Elizabeth until John is born, and then she returns to Nazareth.

We recognize the marvelous faith response of a young woman to the magnificent grace of God shown to her, resulting in the greatest of all miracles – the virgin birth! Without this event, everything else that we believe and practice falls – the virgin birth of Jesus is central. Just as Mary chose to approach the wonderful news delivered by Gabriel with wonder and humility, we have the same opportunity. Let’s make the most of it! I think this is important for us. For many believers…perhaps, some of us…the extraordinary can so easily become ordinary if we do not renew ourselves day by day, in connecting to the message of Jesus Christ. We genuinely need to consider how important this day is and what the birth, life, death and Resurrection means to us. Don’t allow your faith or spirit to wane. Renew your commitment to Him as the New Year approaches. Seek to make a difference for yourself, your family, your church family and your community!

Blessings, Don

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