The Lord’s Servant

luke_5287aMany Americans begin their employment history in the fast food industry. Crucial skills developed there include an ability to listen and to respond with appropriate action. Mary never worked at McDonalds, but she listened to the angel and, as Luke 1:38 tells you, responded with appropriate faith and obedience.

Listen as a servant. Listen to God’s greeting. Essential to being a servant is listening to what you are told. That was true for a butler or maid—and is true for a person in a service industry. Mary listens to the angel’s message, and Luke wants you to listen in as well. Beware of assuming because you are familiar with this story, because you have read and heard it often, that there is nothing here for you to listen to. Gabriel brings good news again. The heavenly messenger is the same, but the setting is much more humble. Instead of the temple at Jerusalem, this is a home in the town of Nazareth, far to the north, far from the center of religious life and political power. Mary is highly favored. She is the recipient of God’s grace, in that sense highly favored, or full of grace. She is not full of grace in the sense of being a source of grace to others. Bengal describes her “not as the mother of grace but as the daughter of grace.” By faith she looked God, and specifically to her Son as her Savior, v.47. God’s greetings come to you as well. Gabriel’s greeting of Mary would lead to the message to the shepherds. Luke records the good news which is too great to confine to one person, or even to one nation.

As you listen, you hear, the Lord is with you. The Lord would be with Mary in a unique way. She was to be the mother of the Messiah. She would give birth to a Son whose name was to be Jesus. This child would be the Son of the Most High. The title reflects both his eternal deity and his Messianic sonship. Her Son, the Holy One, would be called the Son of God. He would fulfill God’s promises to the patriarchs and to David. The Lord would give him the throne of his ancestor, David, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 11, etc. The hymn of Hannah echoes in Mary’s song, as do passages from the Psalms. Note the dual emphasis on peace and righteousness. Because of the peace that God has established, you are called to live in peace, to actively pursue peace. And as one who has experienced the righteousness of God as expressed in the person of his Son, God calls you to reflect righteousness in your dealings with those around you. With whom do you need to start?

The Lord is also with you. Gabriel had already told Zechariah that the task of his son John was “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” v.17. On the other side of this visit, the priest sang of John going before the Lord. Zechariah shares the perspective of the Old Testament. Deliverance involves God visiting his people. Luke, however, is preparing you to recognize that God has come to be with, not just Zechariah and Elizabeth, not just with Mary, but he has come to be with you. And this presence is not just a temporary theophanic revelation like those of the Old Testament. Rather, the Son of Mary will be Immanuel, God with us! Rest in, revel in, that presence of God in Christ.

Respond with trusting service. Mary responded with obedient faith. She did ask “how,” v.34. Her question reflects her situation. She was engaged to Joseph, but they had not lived together. How was she to become the mother of this wonderful Son? The question reflects wonderment. It contrasts with Zechariah’s (formally similar) skepticism. The difference is reflected in Gabriel’s reply. He simply tells her the Holy Spirit coming upon her and describes the divine character of her Son. For Mary that is enough. The Lord did give Mary a sign. Her cousin Elizabeth, far too old to be a mother, was six months pregnant. That miracle foreshadowed the greater miracle that would take place in her life. Mary responds, “I am the Lord’s servant.” As disruptive as this would be in her life, as threatening as aspects of it might appear, this was God’s Word–and she would submit. That submission would blossom into a song. Even more, it introduces a life of obedient faith. “It must have bewildered and confused her [Mary], but it also became an unspeakable joy to her that God wished to make use of her in order to give the world the Redeemer. God should do with her life as was His good pleasure. She would be His servant in everything. If only His name was sanctified and glorified! For that she would give herself completely.” (S.G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. III, p. 316)

Luke’s account calls you to live as the Lord’s servant. Mary’s situation is obviously unique. What happened to her would happen to no other person in the history of the universe. She only is the mother of the Messiah. Luke’s focus is not on Mary, but rather, through her, on her Son. He is concerned, not just with Mary’s reaction to coming of the Christ, but with yours as well. While Mary is unique, part of her response is exactly what God expects of you–trust. God calls you to believe his Word, that this child is no ordinary baby, but is indeed the Holy One, the Son of God. He calls you to believe, not only that the Son of God was born of Mary, but also that the same Son is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who, one day, will return in glory. His becoming a servant gives dignity and worth to your calling. He calls you to submit, in faith, trusting yourself, body and soul, in life and in death, to him. He commands you to live in a way that brings honor and glory to him. John Calvin comments: “Unbelievers withdraw from his hand, and, as far as lies in their power, obstruct his work: but faith presents us before God, that we may be ready to yield obedience. But if the holy virgin was the handmaid of the Lord, because she yielded herself submissively to his authority, there cannot be worse obstinacy than to fly from him, and to refuse that obedience which he deserves and requires. In a word, as faith alone makes us obedient servants to God, and gives us up to his power, so unbelief makes us rebels and deserters.” (Commentary on a Harmony of the Gospels, at Luke 1:38). In short, God is calling you to be his servant. Mold your life to his glory and honor. Paul’s discussion in Philippians 2 of Christ’s humiliation is set in the context of modeling the attitude or mind of Christ.

Because Christ the Lord became servant for your sake, you are called to be a servant. You could have no greater privilege, no greater responsibility. Listen! Believe in him! Serve him!

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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