The Message and the Maiden
The angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Son of God became the formal announcement of the Incarnation (Lk. 1:26–38). Beginning in Genesis 3, Old Testament prophecies unfolded of a coming Redeemer. Then, in Luke 1, God sent His messenger to tell an unsuspecting Jewish girl that the time had come for God the Son to become flesh (Gal. 4:4).
Jesus’ birth is a remarkable event from so many perspectives. But then, the Incarnation—God becoming flesh—is unlike any event in history. It demonstrates God’s willingness to become involved in the human condition.1 And ultimately, it reveals God’s love for sinful man.
God chose every detail of the Incarnation according to His infinite plan. At His initiative and in His time, He sent Gabriel to make the announcement in a highly unusual location: the city of Nazareth in the region of Galilee (Lk. 1:26–27).
Since the Messiah was to be from the tribe of Judah and lineage of David, Judea would seem a more likely choice. Galilee was not known as a center of Jewish spiritual significance, but Jerusalem was located in the heart of Judea. And Judea, not Galilee, was where one would expect to find the heir to the throne of David.
In bypassing Jerusalem, God ignored the seat of Jewish worship and the most holy place in Israel: the Temple. In contrast, Nazareth was never mentioned in the Old Testament or rabbinical writings.2 Located about halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Galilee, it was not on any major highway and was so unpopular in Jewish thought that, before Nathanael became a disciple, he asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). But by choosing a common, run-of-the-mill place to announce Christ’s birth, God established a basic principle of the Incarnation: Jesus was sent to ordinary people.
Nazareth became the perfect place to raise the Messiah. It was an out-of-the-way Jewish village that was not unduly influenced by political or spiritual corruption. The city connected Jesus to the Galilee area where He would work as a carpenter until age 30 and then conduct a majority of His earthly ministry.
Furthermore, Nazareth may have prophetic significance since the word in Hebrew means “branch.” This may be a connection to Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” The Messiah—a descendant of King David and David’s father, Jesse—grew up in a town named Branch.
But more remarkable than where the Incarnation was announced is to whom it was announced. God chose Mary, who was not a person of position, wealth, or culture. She was a common Jewish girl and a virgin (Lk. 1:27). That fact is significant because the prophet Isaiah told Israel the virgin birth would be the sign of the Messiah’s birth (Isa. 7:14). Since it was humanly impossible for a virgin to bear a child, this birth was a unique sign. However, Mary’s situation was complicated by the fact that she was betrothed to Joseph.
Ancient betrothals were much more binding than modern-day engagements. A betrothed woman was considered legally married to her fiancé even though the marriage had not been consummated.
During the betrothal, which usually lasted a year, the bride continued to live with her parents. Most Jewish girls were married by age 15. Mary likely was 14 or 15 when the angel Gabriel visited her and told her she would bear the Savior. Imagine God entrusting His Son to a young girl who had so little motherly experience.
If the bride became pregnant during the betrothal year, her fiancé could declare her unfaithful and seek a divorce. For the girl, such action meant public disgrace and possible death (Dt. 22:20–24; Jn. 8:3–5). So the Incarnation placed Mary in a difficult position. Her marriage to Joseph was critical in order to legitimize the child’s birth and provide a good home for the Messiah.
The Favor of God’s Grace
Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s message reveals God’s great wisdom in selecting her. Her youth and inexperience did not get in the way of the moment. She was a woman of great faith, humility, and character.
As Gabriel entered Mary’s room, he greeted her with the declaration, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Lk. 1:28). It was a message of grace. She, of all people, would be uniquely blessed. The great news of the Incarnation was coming to the humblest of women. As Mary declared in her prayer, “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48).
The Bible records that Mary was troubled by Gabriel’s words and wondered about his greeting (v. 29). Literally, she kept pondering its meaning.3 Apparently she was scared and sought to comprehend the message of grace and honor and its implication. So Gabriel encouraged her not to fear; God had favored her. There is no better place to be than in the favor of God’s grace.
While it may have been every Jewish woman’s desire to become the mother of the Messiah, it is highly unlikely that most anticipated God would select them. What wonder must have flooded Mary’s soul as Gabriel explained the miracle of the Incarnation (v. 31). She would conceive and bring forth a Son who would be the Savior. Gabriel made five observations (vv. 32–33) about the Son she would bear,4 and each is supported elsewhere in Scripture.
He will be great [Ps. 2:7–9], and will be called the Son of the Highest [Lk. 1:76]; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David [2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:3–4, 28–29]. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever [Isa. 9:6–7], and of His kingdom there will be no end [2 Sam. 7:13–16; Isa. 9:6–7].
She would be the mother of the Messiah!
Mary could only wonder how all of this could happen since she was a virgin (Lk. 1:34). Gabriel then shared how the miracle of the Incarnation would occur (v. 35). The Holy Spirit of God would come upon her. No man would be needed. God alone could bring the Messiah into the world in human flesh. This miraculous conception guaranteed the sinlessness of the Son of God.
To encourage Mary, Gabriel made one of Scripture’s greatest and most comforting declarations about God: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (v. 37). Mary’s response displayed her wonderful character. She laid aside all of her fears and doubts and accepted her call: “Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). As a humble servant, she courageously and completely submitted her will to God’s plan.
In the genealogy of Christ in Luke 3:23–38, we learn that Mary was in the line of David. As Luke traced Christ’s lineage all the way back to Adam, he connected the Messiah with the prophesied Seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 that would destroy Satan.5 Mary was the woman, and Jesus was the Seed.
The purpose of the Incarnation was to bring the Redeemer who would bring salvation to fallen man, defeat Satan, and restore God’s theocratic Kingdom to earth. What better way for God to demonstrate His love for us than to give us Jesus!
- Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), 1,092.
- Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985) 689, s.v. “Nazareth.”
- R. Kent Hughes, Luke: That You May Know the Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 32.
- John A. Martin, “Luke,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:205.
- Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 222.