Sermon – Nothing is Impossible for God – Luke 1:26-38
Mark Twain was born in 1835 around the time that Halley’s Comet was closest to earth. In 1909 he told his biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine; “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it”. I wonder if you were that biographer how you would have reacted to this prediction, how seriously you would have taken it. Mark Twain did die on 21st April 1910 the day after the comet’s brightest point. Of course, most of us would take such a prediction with a pinch of salt but what about the predictions in the Old Testament? How reliable are they?
When I was an au pair for a Christian family in Germany instead of opening a chocolate advent calendar, we hung a verse of Bible prophesy about Jesus on the Advent wreath. At that time, I did not understand the significance of some of those verses, but it opened my eyes to the depth and breadth of the prophesies in the Old Testament. If you look at some of them, you realise how amazing it is that even one came true when in some cases it was spoken of hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
Here are just a few:
"When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Samuel 7:12–13). – Jesus was a descendent of King David
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). – in our reading today, it mentions three times that Mary was a virgin
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times." (Micah 5:2). – Jesus was born in Bethlehem
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan (Isaiah 9:1)– This prophesy goes on to tell of a child being born who will be Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And we know that Jesus came from Galilee the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
How could all these predictions come true? If the old and new testaments had been written around the same time maybe someone could have contrived to fit the prophesies to the circumstance of Jesus’ life, but we know this was not the case. These verses are still to be found in the Jewish scriptures today. Dated long before Jesus’ birth.
One or two of these could have been accidental but there are just too many to call them coincidences. That being the case we have two options:
- To believe that the New Testament scriptures are all made up to fit with the old, that the writers made it all up.
- That God who created, sustains and loves the world is somehow involved and has done a supernatural work.
The verse that I quoted at the beginning of the service says in the ESV:
For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37
The NIV, however, translates it:
For no word from God will ever fail. Luke 1:37
The ESV is closest to the original Greek but the NIV returns us to the word spoken by God in the past; the prophesies that Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah had grown up with. Gabriel brought news that although in some ways was NEW it was also OLD. It was from the words spoken by the prophets of old. God was fulfilling his word, his promises. Mary asked how it could be and Gabriel replied that nothing is impossible for God or put another way, that God’s word will come to pass.
Gabriel said: “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 for ever; his kingdom will never end.’ This echoes the passage we had from 2 Samuel 7: 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. How can this be? Because God keeps his word, and nothing is impossible for him.
Mary then says; “how will this be? I am a virgin.” We know the passage from Isaiah 7:14 (the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel) and so did Mary, but it still seemed a bit of a stretch for her to become pregnant with no man involved. That reply of Gabriel’s is true here too; because God keeps his word, and nothing is impossible for him.
It is interesting that many people struggle with the concept of the virgin birth and some have said that the word translated here as virgin can mean young woman and that she may not have actually been a virgin. However, I would argue that if Mary was sexually active, she would not have asked Gabriel the question that she did.
Jesus’ life was full of miracles and extraordinary events but the two most significant are his birth and resurrection. Both are supernatural. They go against the normal. They are not logical. They are not easily believable. And yet without them our faith is hollow and unsubstantiated. They can only be true if “nothing is impossible for God”.
Does the virgin birth matter? (or for that matter the physical resurrection of Jesus?) Some have) argued that the resurrection is spiritual and not physical, and they dismiss the virgin birth as idealistic. But they do matter. Mainly because without them we bring God down to human size, limited by the rule of the universe that he created.
What implications does the virgin birth have?
- It highlights God’s involvement in the birth of this child. Because it was supernatural it couldn’t have been a human idea.
- The human race could not produce its own redeemer because sin and guilt attach to all, so its saviour (Jesus – God saves) must come from outside.
- The virgin birth and the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit hints at the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus in one person.
- Through this birth and calling of Mary we see God take the iniative. It starts with him, not with us.
I want to go back for a minute to David’s problem in 2 Samuel 7. He wanted to build a house for God. A place for him to live, to dwell, to be, but the Lord has different ideas. He tells David that will be a task for his son, and indeed Solomon does build the temple but the son we are thinking of today comes to dwell among us through being born of Mary. He is the promised “anointed one”. The awaited King who will reign on David’s throne for ever. It comes about when the Holy Spirit overshadows or comes to Mary, and she carries God in her womb. He is both fully human and fully divine. God living among us. God with us. Immanuel. So much more than just another king, just another man and yet without Mary’s willing participation he would not have come. In order to fulfil the word of his Father, Jesus needed to be both fully God and fully man. He needed to be fully man to take our place, to pay the price of sin and yet he also needed to be fully God to overcome death and the power of sin.
Earlier in Luke 1 an angel had come to Zechariah in the temple to tell him of the answer to his prayers and the arrival of a son – another miraculous birth (although not brought about through the Holy Spirit). Zechariah not only questions the angel, his disbelieves him, and for that he pays the price of not being able to speak for 9 months! Mary also questions the angel, but her question is not one of disbelief but of seeking understanding. And Gabriel says; God keeps his word, and nothing is impossible for him.
Mary’s response is wonderful; “may your word to me be fulfilled”. Last week in church we sung that famous hymn, “Trust and Obey” and in Mary we see this lived out.
Unlike Mary we may never encounter an angel, or have our lives predicted in scripture years before we were even born but we are part of God’s plan. Like Mary we are called to be obedient and to trust God to work that out in our lives. I encourage you to take time over the next few days to ask God to reveal afresh to you his call for your life. And he will because God keeps his word, and nothing is impossible for him.