If you were here last week you will know that we’ve begun a series of sermons in Luke’s gospel. A series of sermons that take us through the life of Christ based on eyewitnesses evidence and Luke’s careful research.
Our journey through Luke begins today with a passage that describes the visit of the angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary – a virgin who was to conceive a baby from ‘on high’. A virgin whose son would be Immanuel – ‘God with us’.
I realise that this is a familiar passage for us. A passage we have heard in countless carol services and a million-and-one nativity plays. A passage known as the ‘Annunication’ in Christian theology and tradition. Despite its familiarity, this famous passage should be a great encouragement to us as Christians. It should be an encouragement that God always keeps his promises. It reminds us that however long ago God made a promise to his people, he will always keep it in the end.
I don’t know what promises of God you are most waiting to be fulfilled at the moment?
• Perhaps ill-health means you are eagerly awaiting the world to come, when sickness and suffering will be no more.
• Or maybe you’ve been bereaved, and long for the day when death will finally be defeated and every tear will be wiped away. When God’s people will be reunited forever.
• Or maybe you are struggling with some recurring sin or guilty memory, and look forward to the time when all will be made new – when God will give us new bodies that are immune to temptation and impervious to evil.
Two thousand years ago the people of Israel were waiting for God to keep two great promises. A promise to send them a great king descended from David, and a promise to give them a new Temple, one that would last forever. The great news is that both those promises were fulfilled when the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary and said to her: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus” (v.28, 31). David’s descendant had arrived, and a new Temple had just been conceived. Let’s look at both in turn.
1. Jesus – THE descendant of David
Gabriel begins by telling Mary that that her son will be given “the throne of his father David”(v.32). In other words, Jesus will fulfil God’s longstanding promise to send a perfect successor to King David, after a long line of failed monarchs in Israel. A perfect king who would rule God’s people forever.
In fact, if we compare Gabriel’s words to Mary in our passage today, with the words God spoke to David a thousand years earlier (words recorded for us in 2 Samuel chapter 7), we see remarkable similarities. Gabriel’s description of Jesus exactly and precisely fulfils each of the promises that the Lord made long ago to King David. Jesus will be “great”, He will inherit David’s “throne”, He will have an “everlasting Kingdom”, and he really will rule over the “House” of Jacob forever (v.32-33).
By Mary’s day David was long gone, but God had not forgotten the promise he made to him – and he will not forget the promises he has made to every Christian today.
2. Jesus – God’s new Temple among his people
The reason King Jesus will reign forever, of course, is that he is more than a merely human king. His human ancestry may be Davidic, but his spiritual ancestry is divine. In today’s passage Gabriel tells Mary that her unborn child will be “the Son of the Most High” as well as a son of David (v.32).
You see, in Jesus the Lord himself had come to dwell with his people. And thereby fulfilled another great promise in the Old Testament – God’s promise to build a new Temple in the midst of his people.
Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel had predicted 500 years earlier that God would construct a new and perfect Temple among his people. A Temple that would be impervious to decay, a structure that would never crumble, rust or become a ruin. Unless Ezekiel was a structural engineer or architect who had discovered a new building material hitherto unknown to mankind, he must have had in mind a different type of Temple to the stone one that stood in Jerusalem! God must have promised to live among his people in a Temple not made of stone, but something far more resilient!
The angel Gabriel gives us the answer to our conundrum in verse 35 of our passage today. He tells us that the new Temple where God could be met – the new Temple where God would be present – would be in the person of Jesus Christ. In Old Testament days God’s glorious Spirit overshadowed the stone Temple in Jerusalem. Now, it would overshadow the baby in Mary’s womb. The glory of God used to be found within the four walls of Solomon’s Temple. Now it would be seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
It is no wonder, therefore, that in his earthly ministry Jesus repeatedly called his body a Temple. Not because he has a fitness fanatic or especially health conscious, but because he was now the special place where God could be met personally. Even today, the way we come to God is through faith in Christ, not by passing through the doors of a special building or going to some ‘sacred space’. Every Christian has access to God everywhere, by faith in Jesus, not just when we are within the walls of a chapel, church or cathedral.
Conclusion: Trust God’s promises and tell others too!
So I hope we are encouraged from today’s passage that, however long it takes, God does wonderfully fulfil every promise he makes. He fulfilled his Old Testament promises to the people of Israel, his promises to send a new Davidic King and a new Temple, and he will keep every promise he makes to us in the New Testament. Promises of forgiveness, grace and guidance in this life. And a promise of eternal life in the world to come.
If we ask why God keeps all his promises, the answer is that his very nature is to be faithful and utterly trustworthy. As Gabriel tells Mary in verse 37 today: “No Word from God will ever fail.”
But before I finish, there is one question that remains: How are we to wait for God to fulfil his promises? The answer is that we should respond just like Mary did to the angel’s message. We are respond to God’s promises by trusting them and telling others all about them.
In verse 38 Mary says: “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary is willing to trust God’s promises to give her a son. She trusts in God’s love for her, she trusts his goodness, and she trusts his power to do exactly what he has promised. So like Mary, we too must trust that God will be faithful to all his promises. We too should have confidence that God is willing and able to give us all the great things he has promised.
We must also imitate Mary’s willingness to share God’s promises with others. As soon as the angel Gabriel left her, verse 39 tells us Mary set off to tell Elizabeth what had happened. We should do the same. If we have come to accept and believe the Christian faith, with all its wonderful promises, we must tell others the good news. Like Mary, we need to get ready to tell our friends and family members what God has promised, and pray that they will come to Christ for themselves.
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