Luke 1:26-38: Mary Meets Gabriel

In 1:26-38, Luke continues sharing the background story of Jesus’ birth. In this story, the setting is no longer the temple in Jerusalem. Now he is focused on the town of Nazareth. Archaeology tells us that Nazareth was a small town, a basin area surrounded by hills. The area is known for its limestone – similar to our area here in central Texas. Nazareth was an agricultural community and also associated with craft-working and quarrying.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, 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.

Luke 1:26-27

Immediately in Luke’s story, he mentions six characters. Two of the characters are obscure names, common to that time, Joseph and Mary. The other four names have much significance.

  • We met Elizabeth in Luke’s first story, learning that while she had been barren, she was going to have a child in her old age. We also learned that she was a righteous woman, blameless before God.
  • Gabriel is one of two named angels in scripture, one who stood in the presence of God. We met him in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story. Obviously God entrusted Gabriel with the highest of messages.
  • God, of course, is in this story having sent Gabriel to Mary. God is the owner, the sustainer of all things!
  • Jews reading this gospel would hear the “descendant of David,” and think immediately of all the prophecies associated with the eternal throne of David.
  • Joseph, we learn in other passages, is a craftsman. He is a descendant of David.
  • Mary is a young girl. While her age is not known for certain, she could be as young as twelve.

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.

Luke 1:28-29

In just one verse, Luke sets up the mystery of this story. Mary would know from her experiences in the synagogue that Gabriel only brings unusual messages. She did not yet know about Elizabeth’s news, but Mary would have known that Gabriel spoke to Daniel about his visions. The word “greetings” in Greek can also be translated as “Rejoice!” So, right off, Mary knows this is a “good” message. The phrase “highly favored” means to receive grace, chosen not based on merit but simply because God wishes to bestow His blessing on her.

Mary would know the promises in her scriptures – what we call the Old Testament. She would know about the promised seed of a woman who would crush the tempter, of the promised king who would reign forever. We can use our holy imagination to wonder what might be going through Mary’s head at this point in the story. Luke tells us that Mary is greatly troubled (NIV) or perplexed (NASB). One scholar defines troubled as “intensely going back-and-forth (to-and-fro) between inner thoughts and emotions.” Does Mary recall the ancient promises? Quite possibly!

 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 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.”

Luke 1:30-33

And then, Gabriel explains! Here’s the promise echoed throughout the Old Testament.

  • “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever….Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” 2 Samuel 7:11b-16
  • “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. Jeremiah 23:5-6
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7
  • A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-3a

These are prophetic words about David’s descendant taking the throne, an eternal throne, that might be ringing in Mary’s ears as the angel announced her forthcoming pregnancy. BUT there was a dilemma. She was chaste, had not yet known a man intimately. And so she had a question – how will this thing happen?!?

The angel answered, “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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

Luke 1:35-37

Two phrases in verse 35 capture our imagination:

  • Later in Luke’s writings, in Acts 1, he will report Jesus speaking to His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” There it is – when the Holy Spirit “comes on us” we are given a new life in Christ! Our spiritual birth happens in a similar way to the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary.
  • Or we can go all the way back to Genesis 1:2 where we read, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” That’s the same phrase as the Spirit of God overshadowing Mary. This is both a creative and redemptive act of the Spirit of God!

Gabriel gives Mary a sign. And then he makes this grand affirmation – no word from God will fail!

  •  Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. Joshua 21:45 NIV
  • The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I watch over my word to accomplish it.” Jeremiah 1:12 CSB
  • So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:12 NASB

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Luke 1:38

Mary submits to the angel’s message, submits her life to God’s will at this moment. We might imagine that she has not yet counted the cost. Maybe she has a glimpse of the shame she will experience when others point fingers at her – heavy with pregnancy and not married. Maybe the thought of telling Joseph rushes through her mind as she hopes he will understand. While she is astute in knowing scripture, I imagine she doesn’t know that her baby will grow up to suffer. That knowledge will come later. But her decision is made, “may your word to me be fulfilled!”

Mary models for us how to submit to God’s will by simply saying yes. God may be speaking to you today about your unbelief, your lack of affection for Him, or your wandering behavior. Why not submit to His Lordship now, repeating Mary’s words and trusting God to fulfill His word in you!

Have thine own way, Lord!  Have thine own way! 
Thou art the potter,  I am the clay. 
Mold me and make me after thy will, 
while I am waiting, yielded and still. 

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! 
Search me and try me, Savior today! 
Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now, 
as in thy presence humbly I bow. 

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! 
Wounded and weary, help me I pray! 
Power, all power, surely is thine! 
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine! 

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! 
Hold o’er my being absolute sway. 
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see 
Christ only, always, living in me! 

Adelaide Pollard, 1906

*Follow the sermon series on Christ Church Cedar Park website.

**Blog posts from this series:
Luke 1:5-25 He Takes Away Our Disgrace
Luke 1:1-4 Luke-The Preface

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