It’s All About Grace (December 24, 2017)
It’s All About Grace
If you were to hand pick a mother for Jesus, who would you choose? Think about that in today’s society. Think about the kind of life that woman would have – her characteristics, and her place in life. If you were to put God’s Son, Jesus, into someone’s hands who would you choose?
Maybe it would be the mom who always seems to have it all together. She’s married to a good man. She perhaps already has children, so she’s experienced, and it just seems like she’s one of those fantastic soccer moms who can do it all – giving her children every opportunity! Maybe you would also say that she should be living quite comfortably, financially speaking. And, it would also be good if she had a good presence on social media – always posting those perfect family pictures for everyone to see and admire! Does that description sound like someone you would find as the ideal mother for Jesus?
Well, let’s see whom God actually chose. “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph” (Lk 1:26-27). These are familiar words. You know them well and you know the facts. But when is the last time you really stopped to ponder the details? “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth” (Lk 1:26). “Wait, where?” would be the response of most. Even for many living in Israel at that time, the town was probably relatively unknown. They would have had to get out their maps and start looking for where in Israel is Nazareth? “Oh, a town in Galilee!” that explains a lot. Galilee was a very different region than the rest of Judea – where the capital was. It was separated, not just geographically by Samaria, but also culturally. Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins who had a lack of Jewish sophistication. And religiously, the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual. Not to mention, the city of Nazareth itself was a tiny town of a couple hundred people at the most! No wonder the comment was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?!” (Jn 1:46).
On top of all that, Mary was a virgin who wasn’t even married yet. She was only pledged to be married, or engaged. Granted, in that day and culture engagements were much more of a commitment than today’s engagements. So there were the beginnings of establishing a family life. But both Mary and Joseph were still clueless on what marriage was all about; not to mention raising kids. I still remember, perhaps you do too, all the preparation and learning that preceded our first child. Talking to my siblings who had kids, reading books about pregnancy and raising kids, and more. And yet, I was still quite nervous when we finally were able to bring Neriya home. What now? What if something happens to her? No more monitoring her vitals? And this is God’s Son – the Savior of the world – we’re talking about here! Shouldn’t he be in the hands of a more capable, more experienced mother? Or at least someone with servants and midwives to help them get established! Nope. It was Mary. A woman who had no experience with her own children, wasn’t even married yet, from a small town in a backwards region.
Why? Why would God choose her? It’s all about grace! Listen to what the angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). And again, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). Why did God choose her? Because he wanted to. He wanted her to experience his love and favor. And this word for “favor,” did you know that is exactly the same word that we also translate as “grace”?! Mary, you are “highly favored” because God has chosen you. Not because of anything you have done, not because you earned God’s favor, but simply because he chose to make his face shine upon you! Notice, the angel says, “You have found favor with God.” Not, “You have earned favor with God.” You have found his favor, Mary! This is God’s love! Love which found you and sought you out. This is God’s doing. His choice!
All of the events that were about to unfold with this birth and this child was God making good on a promise he had made long ago and repeated for generation after generation. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). God repeated this promise again and again. He performed miraculous wonders for the nation that would carry this promise and through whom the promise would be fulfilled. He brought them into a land they could call their own and established a powerful rule all to set the stage for his promise to be kept. You can read on and on about all the amazing and powerful things that God did to preserve this promise and make good on it. The flood, which prevented the promise from being snuffed out by ungodliness early on. The exodus from Egypt to establish these slaves as a unified nation. The kings who conquered and defended the land where the Savior was to roam. God wanted to keep this promise and save all people through the Messiah.
And yet, when we take a look at the Israelites – the people who would carry the line of this promise, we might scratch our heads and wonder, “Why did God keep the promise?” No sooner had God rescued these people from the pursuing armies of Egypt – the superpower at the time – than they grumbled and complained about how “tough” it was to be God’s chosen people. No sooner had they seen the wonderful land God had promised them than they trembled at the powerful people who lived there – even after what God had just done to rescue them from the Egyptian superpower! And it wasn’t long after they took possession of the Promised Land with the mighty hand of God leading them that they grumbled and complained for a human king so that they could fit in. Why did God even bother keeping the promise of the Savior if it was going to be so much work? Shouldn’t such an important promise be placed into the hands of a more capable, more experienced people?
It’s all about God’s grace. Even in keeping his promise of love to save, he demonstrates his love. Once again, it’s not that this nation of Israel had earned God’s favor. It’s not that there was anything special about them that drew God’s attention so that he though, “Yes, that’s exactly the nation I need to carry my promise of the Savior.” No. It’s all about God’s grace. By grace he chose this people from among all the others and built them into a nation. By grace he nudged them along the path of his promises. By grace he preserved them in their land despite their rebellion and unfaithfulness to him. All of this to demonstrate just what kind of a God he is. He is not a “fair-weather God” – remaining faithful only as long as the Israelites were nice to him. He is a God who keeps his promises in good times and in bad; despite all reasons to forsake his promises, he remains faithful.
Do you know what this means? It means that for you too, it’s all about grace! Shouldn’t God have chosen to just save those who deserved it – those who proved that they were worth saving? If that were the case, who then could be saved? Instead, God chose to send his Son for all people. God chose that the sacrifice of Jesus would mean “good news of great joy for all people” (Lk 2:10). Shouldn’t God have chosen to place his love into my hands only after I had proven I was capable of taking it to heart and caring for it? If that were the case, who could be found that was capable of treasuring such a gift? Instead, God chose to place his love into your hands and heart by grace. Yes, there will be times when we neglect the gift. Yes, there will be times when we fumble and drop the gift. There will even be times when we flat out deny God’s gift of love and forgiveness through Jesus, the Savior. But praise be to God that it doesn’t depend upon you. It’s not about how capable or experienced you are of handling such a treasure. Once again, it’s all about God’s grace as he places his love back into your hands again and again.
For Mary, this gift was placed into her hands in a very concrete way. Was she worthy of being chosen? Not any more than any of us. Was she capable of caring for such a gift? Not at all. So how could she believe such good news?
How is this even possible? First of all, angel, Mary was a virgin at the time. She wasn’t even married to Joseph yet. Second, this isn’t just any child you are talking about, this is the Messiah. You know, the great king and Savior of Israel. Who would ever believe that he would come from Nazareth in Galilee. Finally, you said his kingdom will never end. That isn’t even possible! Everybody dies. Every kingdom eventually ends. That’s quite a whopper, angel. And yet, Mary believes it! “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Lk 1:38). How on earth could she believe such a thing? Such faith could only come from someone who is very religious! In fact, I think that was even brought up in our Bible class last week. What kind of religious upbringing did Mary have, because certainly – we think – that must have mattered for her to believe this. But once again, the answer is grace. It’s all about God’s grace.
And it’s that same grace that leads you to believe. This whole matter of Jesus being true God and also true man, born in the flesh, is hard to believe. This whole matter of God sacrificing his own Son in your place because he loves you and wants to be with you forever is hard to believe. This whole matter of full and free forgiveness simply because God chose to consider you “highly favored” is hard to believe. And yet, that’s what he does. It’s all through the Bible, written on every page, how God graciously carried the promise of the Savior through stubborn, rebellious, and sinful people just like you and me. It’s written in the Bible, plain as day, how God graciously paid for your sins by the death of Jesus on the cross. And it’s clearly proclaimed by Jesus himself after he died for you and rose from the dead, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36).
I can well imagine that the Last Day, when Jesus returns, could be a terrifying day. Perhaps doubts and questions will be racing through my mind. What have I done that God would choose me? Why does God have any reason to keep his promise to me? Why should I believe the good news? I said it could be a terrifying day if the answer to any of these questions depended upon you and me. But they don’t. It’s all about God’s grace. By grace, HIS choice was you. By grace, HE kept his promise to you. And by grace, HE led you to believe and trust in him.