Luke 1:26-36 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
Good morning, it’s good to be with you and it’s an honor to preach this morning. I don’t say that as a formality, but it really is an honor to be trusted to study a passage and then explain and preach it faithfully on a Sunday. Thank you that you trust me to do that. Thank you to those who pray during the week for whoever is preaching. Thank you for taking God’s Word seriously, and having a high view of preaching and expecting to be fed by it. All of these things make it an honor to preach and a joy too. Would you join me in prayer?
Almighty God, you alone are God. Nothing else in this entire universe compares with your glory and power. Help us this morning through your Spirit to understand all that is in this passage and to understand who you are as Father, Son and Spirit. Thank you that you are God and we are not. You are inexhaustible and like a great ocean we can never get to the bottom of all that you are. But we can delight in what we do know and what you have revealed of your nature and character and work. I pray that we would grow in our knowledge of you in order to love and trust you more. Please show us your glory this morning, show us how to worship you this Advent season. And please let whatever is not helpful in this sermon to fall to the floor. And whatever you desire for us to know and ply, drive it deep in our hearts. Amen
We are approaching Christmas. We see it each week with more candles getting lit. We celebrate the first coming of Christ and await his glorious return. Our hope with these sermons during Advent is to stoke your appreciation and affections for Jesus. While the incarnation focuses on Jesus and what his entering our world means for the history of redemption, the Incarnation involves all three persons of the godhead. So this morning we are going to look at a very familiar passage from a very familiar story, but maybe in a different way than we tend to. This morning we are going to look at the roles of the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation and then next week we’ll look at Jesus’ role.
Before we get to the actual text, I wanted to help get our bearings around the trinity. Maybe for you, hearing the word Trinity causes you to check out and assume it’s a heady, academic discussion. Maybe it’s hard to wrap your head around a doctrine like this. Maybe you worry about getting it wrong. Plenty of people throughout history have fallen into heresy when talking about the trinity. No one wants to get it wrong.
But this is who the God of the Bible is, so we must work to understand this doctrine. The trinity is vital to our faith. It’s what separates us from false religions like Islam, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They reject the trinity. While not all of us will become scholars of the trinity, this is who God has revealed himself to be, so we must all strive to know the trinity. Kids, I challenge you this week to learn something about the trinity too.
And it’s not only for our head knowledge either. The deeper we go, the greater we understand, the greater our faith and love of God becomes. I’m not very musical. I can’t play any instruments, I’m not well-versed in classic composers. I can hear good music or a performance and tell you it’s good. I can recognize a talented pianist or cellist. But I can’t explain much about why it’s good. Someone who does play the piano can tell you more about why someone is talented. Anyone can eat a delicious meal and acknowledge it’s delicious. But it takes someone familiar with how the ingredients go together, and the techniques involved in cooking to go deeper in appreciation. The more you understand about a field, the more you can appreciate it. It’s the same with our God. The more we understand about his character and work, the greater we appreciate, love and worship God above all else. And we are also able to trust him more.
Let’s look at some basic thoughts on the trinity. These are all points that the church has historically affirmed. Examples of these affirmations are found in our historic creeds like the Nicene, Apostle’s and the Athanasian Creed. We have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants. We benefit from the work that faithful saints have done over church history.
With that, let’s look at what the Bible says about the Trinity. (A lot of the information comes from a book on the Trinity by Robert Letham called, The Holy Trinity (p380-383).)
Our Triune God
1. There is one God:
Deut. 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Isa 43:11 I, I am the LORD,
and besides me there is no savior.
James 2:19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
The God of the Bible is consistently described as one. When God is compared to other idols and false gods, the Bible speaks of One true God.
2. The Bible also describes God as three persons: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
In God There are three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Note that person is different than human. Jesus took on a human nature, but the Father and the Spirit did not. But they are persons because they have attributes that are personal. They think, they express emotions, etc. And they all possess the same divine nature: They are all-knowing and all-powerful. They are identical in being and status. They are each worthy of worship. There are many places in the New Testament that group all three persons together:
Matthew 28:19-20 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
2Cor. 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
3. Equal in being, different in function.
Each person of the godhead is fully God, but also unique in his work. All three are God, but each plays a different role. Only Jesus died on the cross, for example. But the others played roles in Christ’s atoning work. Jesus nor the Father came at Pentecost, but the Holy spirit did. At different times, one of the persons might be more prominent than the others, but all three are present and at work.
Heb. 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
4. The 3 persons are perfectly united and are all present in the work of God.
All of God’s work involves all three persons of the trinity. We see this in Creation in Genesis 1, where the Father created all things and the Spirit hovered over the waters. Later on in scripture Jesus is clearly shown to be at creation as well. He was there in the beginning, and Colossians 1 tells us that all things were made through him.
We could look at other examples and point out the roles of each of the persons: Revelation of scripture, providence, prayer, worship, the atonement and resurrection. I would encourage you to think and study some of these areas and better understand the roles of Father, Son and Spirit.
When you read the gospels, Jesus is continually talking about doing the work of the Father. This is especially present in John’s gospel. Here’s a challenge: read the whole book in a short amount of time and just listen for how Jesus talks about his work, the Father’s work and the Spirit’s work. It’s hard to completely pull their jobs apart. They are so intertwined and united, and yet still distinct.
5. There is an order among the persons.
While all three are equal in being and majesty, there is a hierarchy. The Father sends or begets the Son. The Son does the Father’s will and submits to the father. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son.
1Pet. 1:2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
6. There is mystery beyond human comprehension.
How can we understand how this all works? One God in Three persons? We can’t completely know how all of this works. The Bible reveals enough about the trinity to understand who God is, but not everything we could know. And the Bible doesn’t apologize or try to reconcile all that it says about the trinity. And even that is a good thing. Our God is greater than our understanding. He is inexhaustible. Maybe we’ll understand more after Christ returns, but for now we have enough to know the one God in three persons. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
We can know enough about God in order to be saved and obey his commandments, and the other mysterious parts, we have to leave in the hands of God.
Maybe all of that sounds intimidating. It’s overwhelming and a lot to keep straight. Who am I supposed to worship? God? The Father? Jesus or the Spirit? What if I get it wrong?
The beauty is that our triune God is so glorious, he has made it hard to get it wrong. One of the Church Fathers, Gregory Nazianzus put it this way:
No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light. (Orations 40:41)
In other words, let your thoughts of our Most High God cause you to think and meditate on the three persons, and the way they work together circles you back to praising our only God. Our worship should not miss one or the three.
I know that’s a lot right off the bat. It’s kind of abstract and out there. As we look at our passage, I hope that will help us see it more practically and concretely. So let’s go to Luke 1. It’s familiar, we’ve probably all heard this part of the story, seen it acted out. We’re going to focus on 30-35 where we can look at the roles of the Father and Spirit.
The Father Sends (v30-33)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
It’s not as obvious in this passage, but the role of the Father is to send the Son. It’s implied here by God sending an angel to deliver the news of what the Father will actually do to bring the Son into the world. First he sends his messenger, Gabriel. Then he sends the forerunner, John. And ultimately, Gabriel’s message to Mary describes the coming of the Son from the Father. What is implicit in Luke 1 is made explicit other places in the New Testament, especially in John’s writings in both his gospel and epistles.
Maybe the most famous verse in all of scripture, John 3:16 and 17 give us one of the reasons God sent the Son:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
There are many other passages in John’s writings that describe the Father sending the Son, and for a number of reasons. I John 4 gives us a few of those reasons:
I John 4:9-10 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The Father sent the Son to give life and be a propitiation for our sins. That’s a fancy way of saying, the Son came to atone for sins and turn away the wrath of the Father.
Looking again at our passage in Luke 1, we see the work of the Father. Verse 31 gives us a clue: The Father sends the Son for salvation. Gabriel tells Mary to name this child, Jesus, which means the Lord is Salvation. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, which was to save the world from sin and death and grant eternal life. But that’s not all that Gabriel tells Mary. Look at verses 32 and 33.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Here we see 3 other things that are wrapped up in the sending by the Father. In the sending, the Father is also granting the Son greatness, a throne and to rule an eternal kingdom.
1. He will be great and called Son of the Most High (John is prophet of the Most High, not The Most High)
This title is first used in Genesis 14. It was a story of Abraham defeating the kings of the region and then he encounters this mysterious King-Priest named Melchizedek.
Gen 14 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
Melchizedek, the priest of the God most High honors God most high. And now at the Incarnation we see the advent of the Son of God Most High. As great as Abraham and Melchizedek were, as great of a messenger as John was, The Son of God Most High far surpasses them in greatness. And that greatness is granted to him by the Father.
2. Gives the throne of David
Notice that Joseph is from the House of David. And now this child is also tied to the house of David. Not only is he tied to the house, but the Father is giving him the throne of David that was promised 2 Samuel 7.
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. His son Solomon built the temple as a house for the LORD, but ultimately he was not The Son. Now we see Jesus as that Son to rule forever. Which brings us to the final aspect of the Father’s giving, an eternal kingdom.
3. The eternal kingdom of Jacob (Gen 49:10)
We’ve seen in Genesis how the family of Jacob received blessing, including Judah receiving a promise that the scepter, another symbol of royal rule, would not depart. Jesus will rule from a throne, and he will rule God’s kingdom. And it will last forever. During Advent one of those verses that is familiar to us is Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
But we tend to stop there. But Luke connects this story to verse 7 of Isaiah 9. Listen to the similar language.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
When does the kingdom come? According to Isaiah, it comes when the child is born. And Luke is picking up on that. The kingdom is here, because the King has come. There will be no end to his kingdom and his rule. Jesus came in the flesh to save his people from his sins, we are very familiar with that. He came as a suffering servant, but he also came to establish his rule and reign over this world. It doesn’t always look like it. We don’t yet have peace and justice and righteousness everywhere. It’s a kingdom that will grow and expand like leaven in dough. It will increase over time. It can feel like things are out of control, but this passage and others remind us that the King is ruling from his throne and is sovereign over this world. I wish I could say more about this here, but at least keep this idea in mind as you celebrate Christmas. Jesus came to save to world from the curse of sin. Not only for our sins, but to redeem this world from the curse of sin and to rule God’s kingdom.
After Gabriel explains the good news of the Son of the Most High, sent by the Most High, Mary raises a question that serves as a transition to understanding the role of the Holy Spirit. One way to look at this passage is Gabriel first explains the what of the coming Son, and then Mary asks, How? How will this be since I am a virgin? And that moves us to the second section in verse 35 where we see the role of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit Conceives (v 35)
The role of the Holy Spirit is to conceive. Conceives sounds like a strange way to talk about the eternal Christ. If Jesus is and has always been God, why does he need to be born or conceived?
Just as it’s important to understand the nature of One God in 3 persons, we also have to keep the nature of Jesus straight. Jesus divine nature, his God-ness is eternal and uncreated. Jesus has always existed. But one of the wonders of the Incarnation is that God the Son took on a second nature. He didn’t exchange natures, or mix natures, but one person took on a second, separate nature. The nature of humanity. So in his human nature, Jesus was born. And first he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And there are two aspects described here: The Spirit will come upon and overshadow, and secondly, the Spirit will consecrate the Son. Look at verse 35.
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
This idea of the Spirit coming upon Mary, has similarities to the Spirit’s role in creation when he hovered over the waters. We don’t have time to dwell here, but this is symbolizing a New Creation. The first creation is passing away, and the Incarnation marks the beginning of a new Creation.
Further, the Spirit will overshadow Mary. What exactly does that mean?
This word ‘overshadows’ is a little used word in the Bible. But when it is used it is almost always tied to glory. In Exodus after the Tabernacle is built and erected, the glory of the LORD overshadowed the tent.
Ex. 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
In the Gospels, during Jesus’ ministry we see this same overshadowing at the Transfiguration:
Luke 9:34 As he [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
Do you see the pieces that are similar to our passage? The presence of God is made known through a glorious overshadowing. And we also see God the Father identifying his Son.
The second aspect, consecration is also found in verse 35:
Luke 1:35b therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
Just as all of the vessels in the tabernacle were set apart and made holy, Jesus will be called holy. He will be set apart and his human nature will be holy.
Why does that matter? Isn’t Jesus already holy because he’s God? It’s true, he is. But Jesus must take on human nature to redeem humanity. And our sinful nature has been inherited from Adam. So to ensure a perfect, sinless human nature, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary and sets the Son apart as holy. It’s the same sanctifying power that dwells in the hearts of all who trust in the gospel.
This is a lot to wrap our heads around. Ultimately what do we do? How do we respond to this? First, let’s think about why the Son needed to come in the first place. The first Son of God, Adam, rebelled and caused the world to fall into sin and corruption. We don’t honor God, we hate God and we get our deserved death sentence. That’s why Christ came, to save the world. He lived a holy life, enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to die for the sins of his people.
Notice Mary’s response in this story. Mary receives favor, unmerited favor. Grace. And so do we. We don’t deserve this wonderful gift of the Son. We don’t deserve to know the Triune God and receive gifts from the Father or to have the Holy Spirit dwell in our hearts and make us holy. How do we respond to the gospel? Do we respond in pride or try to work out our own salvation? Or do we take the posture of Mary? A young girl of humble background with a humble posture to match? Mary responds in faith and singing a song of worship to her Creator and Savior.
We can’t fully know God, but we can truly know him. And that’s wonderful because you wouldn’t want to worship a god that was fully knowable or exhaustible. Our God is worthy because there will always be more to know and understand. We will always find ways to grow deeper in our love and worship of the triune God.
As we get closer to Christmas Day, may we recognize the glory of the Incarnation. In love the Father sent the Son, giving him greatness, honor, authority and an eternal kingdom.
The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary to conceive and consecrate the Son. Christ’s mission doesn’t happen apart from the Father and the Son. Because of the glorious way he was born, he was holy and able to withstand sin. He perfectly fulfilled the law’s requirement. Without that, his offering at the cross is insufficient.
We’ll look at the role of the Son next week, but I pray that you are able to see how each of the persons of the trinity play vital roles in all of God’s work, and there’s no exception in the Incarnation.
In everything God does, all three persons are involved. From Creation to Redemption to the Consummation of the New Heavens and Earth, the Father, Son and Spirit are always working together to accomplish their purposes. As we look at The Incarnation this season, our hope is to see how each person plays a glorious role in the coming of Christ. The Father sends, the Spirit conceives and the Son dwells. Next week we’ll finish by looking at the Son. Our God is worthy of everything. Our worship and our very lives.
Almighty God, Father and giver of good gifts. We praise you for your might and glory and thank you for sending your Son for us. Jesus, our salvation and great King, give us a greater longing for your return. Help us to put our hope in your kingdom and the greatness of your rule. We thank you for coming to atone for our sins, help us to tell others about your majesty and work. Holy Spirit, we can do nothing apart from your power. Help us to walk in faith. Make us holy and sanctify us from sin. Empower us now to respond in worship, and to enter our week ahead with joy and trust you for all things. In the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, I pray, amen.