Monday, January 20, 2014

The Handmaid of the Lord

Life of Christ 5

          Just a few short months after Gabriel appeared unto Zacharias in the Holy Place Gabriel was again commissioned by God to deliver a message to an unsuspecting human. This time he wouldn't appear in the grand surroundings of the Temple, but rather in lowly Nazareth, a small town in despised Galilee.
          Israel in Christ's day was largely divided along geographic lines. Jerusalem, in the south, was the center of the region known as Judea, a Romanized form of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel we are familiar with from the Old Testament. The region of Galilee, to the north, was much larger and wealthier than her southern neighbor.
          The reason I said 'despised Galilee' was because it largely was, at least in the minds of the religious intellegentsia of Judea. Clearly, if Galilee was wealthier, it had nothing to do with the fact that since the land and climate were better in the north it produced better crops, fish, timber, and olive oil. No, it was simply because Galileans were more materialistic. Clearly, if the Galileans did not attend the  feasts in Jerusalem with the same fervor it had nothing to do with the much greater distance, no, it was because they were less spiritual. Clearly, if the Galilean speech pattern was noticeably different than the Judean it had to be because of the low priority which education was given in such a carnal place. Clearly, Judea was superior, for the Temple was located there. Clearly, Judea was superior, for the Sanhedrin met there. Clearly.
          In this despised Galilee few towns had a lower reputation than Nazareth. 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' Nathanael asks Philip rhetorically in John 1.46. One of the regions primary caravan routes ran directly through Nazareth from the Mediterranean ports to Damascus. This would have brought many of the unclean Gentiles into town. To add insult to injury, a Roman garrison fort was stationed just outside of Nazareth. Every military base in history has produced a strip full of available sin just outside of its boundaries where soldiers could throw away their pay away on wine, women, and song, and Nazareth was no different. Yes, it is true that one of the 24 priest courses was based in Nazareth also but that did little to change its regional reputation as a city of sin.
          Thus it was that Gabriel's second trip to Earth with a message from God found him in much humbler surroundings than the first time. If his first message was delivered in grand surroundings to a highly respected priest on the occasion of the greatest day of his priesthood, well, his second message was completely different. It was delivered in Nazareth of Galilee to a completely unknown young woman living in an ordinary home. At that point in her history the only interesting thing about her was that she had recently formally entered into a contract of betrothal, becoming espoused to a carpenter named Joseph.
          Betrothal was a civil contract that was equivalent to marriage in many respects, but without the consummation or cohabitation. The couple were called husband and wife, and the betrothal could not be sundered without a bill of divorce. In such a situation infidelity was considered adultery. The waiting period between betrothal and marriage was designed to help the woman to adjust to the idea of leaving her home, as well as to reveal whether she had been pure, so twelve months was a typical wait time.
          It was in this environment of Nazareth and to a pure, betrothed young woman that Gabriel brings this most incredible of announcements. It is amazing how often God does the humanly impossible just to prove that it is Him doing it. Did it ever occur to you that Jesus entered this life through a door marked 'No Entrance' and left it through a door marked 'No Exit'? And in between those bookends of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection there was lived out the most astounding life in the history of humanity.
          The arc of Jesus' life is breathtaking, and one of the things that strikes me about this story, which you find in Luke 1.26-38 is how completely Gabriel describes the breadth of Jesus' life in just a few short sentences, a life that John would later say would take more books than the world could hold to accurately discuss (John 21.25).
          'His name JESUS' speaks so sweetly to that for which we love Him first – saving us from our sins (Matthew 1.21). 'He shall be great' is perhaps the biggest understatement in the history of language. 'The Son of the Highest' refers plainly to His relationship to His Heavenly Father, not just a great man, but the very Son of God Himself. In these we see the mission of His first coming, namely redemption. We see how the world will view Him, as great. We see the fundamental doctrine of christology, His divinity. Remarkably, we also see beyond the scope of His first coming, as large as that is, all the way to the very end. 'The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.' B. C. Jennings, the old preacher who led my Dad to Christ in 1966 always called Him 'King Jesus', and Bro. Jennings was exactly right. He is coming back. He will sit on David's throne in Jerusalem. He will rule and reign there for a thousand years, and then later in a kingdom without end in the New Heaven and Earth.
          But beyond the rich doctrinal content of the Annunciation to Mary, and the breadth of it, what also strikes me is the simple faith and obedience with which she received this stunning news. She has just been informed she is highly favored of God. She has been told she will have a son. She has been told this son would be a king. Furthermore, she has been told that this will happen without any man being involved, a virgin birth, that this boy would be God's Son. And after hearing all this she sweetly says, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' Without a hint of a fuss she hands her entire life over to the Lord for His use in His way, and does so immediately.
          A few decades later James would pen his right strawy epistle, to quote Martin Luther, in which James would forever marry faith and works (James 2.17-26). Mary rightly married them at the very dawning of the life of our Saviour. She believed (Luke 1.45), and she obediently yielded her life to the Lord (Luke 1.38). We will see this exact same reaction in her soon to be husband.
          What a wonderful home, not yet even joined, to which God sent His Son! What a sweet spiritual environment would grace Jesus' life from His first quavering breath! Jesus wouldn't arrive in a wealthy or famous home, but He would come to a home full of faith and obedience in His Heavenly Father.
          God makes good decisions, doesn't He?

No comments:

Post a Comment