A Time to Trust

Read: Luke 1:26-38

When you arrived here this morning, you probably greeted a few people with a ‘G’day’ – or a more formal ‘good morning’… You might have asked talked about the past week, or the weather, or commented how busy the shops are becoming, bemoaned the problem of local parking, etc.

And there are things that we do not easily talk about. One of them would be our fears. Fears about our health, our job prospects, a relationship issue.

Fear

While this passage covers a number of areas, I want to start by talking about fear.

Our passage says the Lord sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to reveal his plan to Mary. Gabriel was a mighty angel. He had appeared to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, a few months before. Around 500 years before that he appeared to the prophet Daniel.

Daniel, Zechariah, and Mary were very different people. But they had one thing  in common: when Gabriel appeared their response was one of fear and dread.

Daniel: “As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. …” (Daniel 8:17, NIV)

Zechariah: “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.” (Luke 1:12, NIV)

Mary: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29, NIV)

Why is Mary so troubled?

Well, she is probably somewhere between 12-14 years old, and she’s being told she will have a baby. That bothers us a lot, but in that culture it was common for girls that young to be married. Also, Mary was a virgin. She had never slept with a man. Even though this was an ancient community, everyone of knew how babies were made. And Mary had done none of that – so, what were people to think?

This turn of events created a social and moral problem for Mary and Joseph. In today’s Nazareth, this situation would mark a young woman as a target for an honour killing. So even though there have been many social changes between now and then, this news would have been enough to bring dread into any young woman’s life.

The most obvious reason, however, for Mary’s deep trouble, for Zechariah’s fear, and for Daniel’s terror is the reality of their own fallen humanity coming face to face with the messenger of the Living God.

Such fear has a long history.

The very first book of the Bible tells us when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and decided that they and all humanity should live independently of him, they ended up cowering in fear. The very last book of the Bible, Revelation, tells us of the Apostle John, who fell down like a dead man when met the risen Christ (Rev 1:17).

The many pages in between show a consistent pattern: when people come face to face with the living Lord, they are gripped with dread. This fear does not simply have its origins in the fact that we are mortals and the Lord is divine, but in the more uncomfortable truth that we are sinners and he is holy. The holiness of God provokes terror in fallen people. As the Scriptures say, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV)

But Mary’s fears are grounded in more than the state of her fallen soul before the messenger of a holy God. They’re also grounded in the astonishing content of Gabriel’s message:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31–33, NIV)

Mary was probably illiterate. But she knew enough to know that Gabriel’s words described only one person: the promised Messiah, the Saviour the people of Israel had been longing for for thousands of years. Gabriel was saying God was going to do something directly in her life. Do something to her.  Is it any wonder she was deeply troubled?

But notice Gabriel’s response: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid…” (v.30).

Notice also that when Zechariah was startled and gripped with fear, Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…”

When John the apostle came face to face with the Risen Christ: “he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid” (Rev 1:17, NIV)

So, this is what the Lord says to people gripped with terror: “Do not fear, Do not be afraid.”

Do you know this?

Do you know that God seeks to take your fear away?

Your dread of his presence? Your fears about his work in your life?

That’s what happened with the prophet Isaiah. He saw the vision of the living Lord, and he cried out in fear. But an angel cleansed his lips with a coal from the altar. All pointing forward to the day when a greater cleansing would be won. When the Jesus here promised would go to the Cross,

where his blood would be shed,

where the sins of all who trust him would be cleansed,

where the guilt of God’s people would be purged,

where the condemnation we deserve would be conquered so completely.

The Easter story explains why we have a Christmas story.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15, NIV)

This past week many Australians have been thing about death. We have seen a young cricketer cut down in his prime by a freak accident. Phillip Hughes’ death shows us how fragile we are. How quickly life can be snuffed out. It reminds us that death is our enemy, and a fearful one at that.

But the good news is that Jesus, the child who would be born to Mary, is now the end of fear because his death was the end of sin. We have to engage in a little mental ‘time travel’ but the reality is  Gabriel can confidently say ‘Do not be afraid’ because

Mary’s own fear

will in years to come 

be driven out 

as the nails 

are driven into 

the one she would soon 

bring into this world.

Faith

But there’s more here than ‘do not fear’. Those very words are a call to faith. Gabriel explained how Mary’s pregnancy would come about:

…“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”” (Luke 1:35–37, NIV)

There must have been much that Mary did not understand. From how it would all happen to what it all meant. Even so, she displays a beautiful faith and humble submission:

““I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Mary’s humble faith finds its ground in Gabriel’s last words: ‘no word from God will ever fail’, or as some translations say, ‘nothing is impossible with God.’ Here, God’s ‘word’ is more than mere information. His ‘word’ is his declaration, a statement, an assertion, a pronouncement, a promise. It cannot fail because the Lord who speaks this word is the One who is Sovereign Lord who reigns over all.

For us, the sovereignty of God’s is a core belief. But it still challenges us. We are challenged, not merely by Gabriel’s appearance, but by what he reveals: Mary will conceive miraculously and her child will be the Son of the Most High God.

It challenges us because it runs against what we call the laws of nature. But as one writer says

The laws of nature are not chains which the Divine Legislator has laid upon Himself; they are threads which He holds in His hand, and which He shortens or lengthens at will. [Van Oosterzee]

This all powerful, all sovereign God has nature conform to his will. It is not the other way around. This God has all reality and its processes at his disposal. So Mary’s humble acceptance of his will for her can be explained in the context of his love and his almighty power.

Follow

And this is where the rubber meets the road for us, who thrive on the predictable. We expect everything to happen today just the way it happened yesterday. We think we live in a closed system where nothing can ever change. And we go through life looking at all the things that bother us believing it will never be any different.

We might believe God is out there, but we imagine he’s locked out of our reality, and cannot change anything. Or us. Too easily we have bought the lie that God and how he works must conform to nature and its laws.

So we tend to imagine that when things get bad for us, there’s nothing that can be done. Like we’re stuck in a system, and we can’t get out. What we forget is that this sovereign God works beyond our situation. We forget that he can use our circumstances beyond our limited vision. And so we tend not to think about how his sovereignty impacts on our fears.

But here’s the thing: that our most enduring growth happens in contexts which are the most difficult and trying?

Think of Saul, on the road to Damascus. A michelin star Pharisee. Zealous for the Lord. A persecutor of the church. But on that road he is met and saved by Jesus Christ. Jesus drew him into the very church he was persecuting. More: Jesus then commissioned him as apostle to the non-Jewish peoples: the very people whom that morning he had regarded as lower than dogs. Think of the sideways glances he would have received from the Christians he now sought to join. Think of the trust that needed to be built. Think of the rejection he may have felt in those early days. Think of the shame he must have felt for persecuting the Christ he now loved and worshipped. Didn’t his most enduring growth came in his most difficult days?

Or think of Peter. Out on a boat in the middle of the sea when he saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. He called to Jesus, and Jesus called him to come to him, walking on the water. Peter was pushed to he point where he had to decide whether to stay safe, or to get out of the boat and obey Jesus. Whether this all powerful God would stop him from sinking. Did you know: if you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat? (Ortberg) Perhaps his most enduring experience came as he walked, then sank, then grasped the hand of Jesus.

Or think of his vision, some years later. He had followed the scrupulous food laws of the Jewish people as a sign of his faith all his life. One day God confronted him in a dream, revealing all food was good, and in the process that non-Jewish people were as much loved by God as the Jews.

So, this context of difficult and incomprehensible news for Mary also become the context for her to display faithful, trusting acceptance of God’s word. Her response tells us a lot about trust. It reminds us that Christmas is about trust. Whether we accept the word of the Lord to be with us, and hold us, wherever he might lead us.

So, no, we might not speak that much about our fears. But maybe we should. Maybe we should acknowledge them, and commit ourselves into the Lord’s hands, like Mary. I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

This is important because here at Gateway God is calling us to a deeper trust.

A trust that he is with us as we follow Jesus.

A trust that he will hold us, even in situations which are difficult and trying.

We sometimes think it would be easier for us if Gabriel were with us to assure us. Gabriel is not here, of course. But the One whose birth he announced is!

Jesus is here! Do you trust him? Do you trust him as he calls you to step out in faith? The one who calls you is the powerful, almighty omnipotent Lord!

But like Daniel, Zechariah,  Mary, and the cloud of witnesses, the thing he is calling you to will probably not excite you. It will not be what you want. More than likely it will be something that you don’t want. Something hard. Something difficult. Something you would rather not do.

Are you with me?

You probably know what I am talking about:

That conversation you don’t want to have.

That ministry you’d rather not do.

That confession you don’t want to make.

That mission, church, that fills us with fear and dread.

Here’s the question: will you trust God? Will you respond as Mary responded? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Will we step up and allow ourselves to step down?

You can trust Jesus, friends. You can trust him, and say, “I am your servant. We are your servants together. Let it be to us as you have promised.”

There are two reasons. One:

“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15, NIV)

God’s grace is gentle. You can trust him. You can obey. And you can follow.

Two: because this little child promised to Mary, is now the King of all the earth. Wherever he asks you to go, whatever he asks us to do, he is with us.

“…All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:16–20, NIV)

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1 Comment

  1. Rebecca Manser

     /  December 11, 2014

    Thanks Davo…..I truly enjoyed this message….God Bless, Bec

    Reply

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