The next section we are covering is Luke 1:24-45. Once again, I will be putting it in more modern English and writing it out here.
After those days Elizabeth [Zacharias’] wife conceived, and she hid herself five months. Then she said, “The Lord has done this to me in the days when he looked upon me, to remove my reproach from among men.”
In the sixth month Gabriel the angel was sent from God to Galilee to a city called Nazareth to a virgin given in marriage to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel entered to her and said to her, “Peace be to you, you who are filled with grace. Our Lord is with you, you blessed among women.”
She, when she beheld, was agitated at his word and pondered what this salutation could be. The angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You shall now conceive, and bear a son, and name him Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He shall rule over the house of Jacob forever and to his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How shall this happen to me when no man has known me?
Mary’s question was apparently different than Zacharias’ question. In the last post, we read that Zacharias had questioned Gabriel in almost the same words that as Mary used. Zacharias was struck dumb for his question, but Mary is answered.
The difference is not hard to figure out. Zacharias was doubting; Mary was not. Mary just wanted an explanation. We know this because of the angel’s reaction, which we are about to read. But let’s pause for a minute.
As I write this, I am sorely tempted to use “messenger” rather than “angel” because “messenger” is what the Greek word angelos means. My favorite example of the use of angelos in reference to humans is when John sent men to ask Jesus if he was really the “the one who is to come” in Luke 7:19-24. Verse 24 calls them “messengers,” but the Greek word is angeloi, the plural of the word generally translated angel.
In other words, “angel” is not really a word. It is just the Greek word angelos brought into English without translation. Angelos has a translation; it is “messenger.”
So all those angels you read about in the Bible, even the “archangels,” are really messengers. The place this is most important, I think, is in Revelation 1-3, where Jesus has stars in his hand that represent angels/messengers. Everyone is confused about who those “angels” might be, but if you know that they are messengers, then there is no question at all. Each church had a messenger who could read and write and who was in charge of receiving letters and sending letters on behalf of the church.
There’s some early Christian evidence for that idea, too, but I don’t have time to hunt the passages down today.
“Messengers” is not the only word Bible translators hide from us, and I will be pointing those out to you as we run across them.
The angel [messenger] answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come, and the power of the Most High shall rest on you. Therefore he that is born from you will be pure and will be called the Son of God. And lo, Elizabeth your kinswoman, she also has conceived a son in her old age. This is the sixth month with her, the one that was called barren, for nothing is difficult for God.
Mary said, “Lo, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” And the messenger departed from her.
Exciting, huh? She is going to be the mother of the Son of God! She is going to be the mother of the Messiah, and her Son’s kingdom will have no end. How could anything be more majestic than this?
I have to express my thanks to Megan Rebekah Cupit for making something very real that I may have thought about but certainly never dwelt upon. Megan wrote a short book about the birth of Jesus from Mary’s standpoint. She writes well, so I was pulled right into the story. The announcement from Gabriel that she would birth the Messiah, the Son of the living God (cf. Matt. 16:16; Jn. 20:31) was a mountaintop experience. Showing a swelling belly to the town of Nazareth without being married was a valley of the shadow of death experience.
God saved her by the kindness of Joseph. He could have screamed “adultery,” and Mary would surely have been stoned on the spot. He was engaged to her, and that is surely what many furious Jewish fiances would have done. Instead, he chose to break the engagement quietly and spare the poor girl’s life.
Then Mary arose in those days and went in haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, entered into the house of Zacharias and asked for the health of Elizabeth.
I brought up Joseph and the scandal of a pregnant unwed teenager in first-century Nazareth, but when Mary went to Elizabeth’s house, Joseph did not know yet. Elizabeth’s pregnancy was six months ahead of hers, and the scandal did not have to be faced yet. It’s possible that no one knew she was pregnant except Mary herself.
I mentioned Megan’s book above and how much I loved it. The highlight of that book is Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s house. I am the one who published her book after reading the story in a series of posts on her blog. In the story, by the time Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s house, everything Gabriel told her is riding on the arrival. Is Elizabeth really pregnant, like the messenger said? How will she react when Mary tells her she is pregnant.
Elizabeth takes care of all that in her greeting. Megan’s book pulls the reader into the story, and it has helped me feel the shivers that must have run down Mary’s spine when Elizabeth announced …
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s salutation, the babe leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried with a loud voice, saying to Mary, “Your are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit that is in your womb! From where do I have this privilege, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? When the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the babe in my womb rejoiced with great joy! Blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her from the Lord would be fulfilled.”
As Jesus said to Peter is true of Elizabeth as well. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to her (Mark 16:17). Elizabeth’s revelation came from our Father in heaven. The life that would transform the earth and the human race had arrived on earth, landing in the womb of the most blessed of all women, Mary.
This is just too spectacular. Yes, this glorious announcement and confirmation of Gabriel’s words would be greatly overshadowed by the actual events that led to the death and resurrection of God’s Son, but what a moment.
God gave this moment to women, as he has given so many moments to women. It is not just the birth of the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) that was announced by women, but the birth from the dead of the New Man was witnessed and announced by women first as well (Matt. 28:1-10).
Mary’s response to Elizabeth will have to wait for the next post. That will be a fun discussion.