The first gospel sermon
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:26-34
In Genesis 3:15, God preaches against Satan and offers the first hope of salvation: “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
God’s answer to human sin, rebellion, and folly is a Son who will come through the daughter of Eve. There will be a battle between this Son and Satan, and although the Savior Son will be wounded, the Deceiving Dragon will be defeated. That was the promise. Ever since that terrible day when sin entered the world, God’s people eagerly anticipated the birth of the chosen Son, the one who would conquer Satan, sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God to be our Savior, be our forgiver, be our deliverer.
Throughout history, God reminded His people of this great promise, providing additional details along the way. Malachi said the Messiah would come to the Temple before it was destroyed in 70 A.D. (Malachi 3:1). Micah said He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Isaiah said, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). And from Luke we learn that the virgin’s name was Mary.
Based on how Luke tells her story and describes his research, it is likely that he actually sat down with Mary, an older woman by that time, to ask her questions about her miraculous life. She is a relative of Elizabeth, but when Luke picks up the narrative Mary does not yet know that her elderly cousin is pregnant. Mary is simply a young woman, living a quiet life in a rural village called Nazareth.
Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament. It’s not mentioned in other significant historical texts because historically it was an insignificant town. Nathanael summed up the reputation of this town when he asks in John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” According to archaeologists and historians, it was home to somewhere between a few dozen to a few hundred people. It seems to have had only one well, which means it could not sustain a large population. Mary and Jesus would have drawn water from that well while chatting with relatives and neighbors, as everyone in that small town would have known one another and depended upon one another.
Have you ever been on a long road trip and stopped in the middle of nowhere to get gas, grab a snack, use the bathroom, clean the bugs off your windshield, and get out as fast as you can, thankful you don’t have to live there? That’s Nazareth.
Mary was very young when Gabriel came to meet with her—as young as age 12—but she was betrothed to be married to a man named Joseph. A lot has been said about this couple, especially every year at Christmastime. There is so much lacquer on the story that it’s hardly recognizable, so we have to sand it down a bit to get to the truth.
Joseph was also probably fairly young and poor, working as a carpenter in Nazareth. Joseph and Mary likely grew up together, their families would have known each other, and maybe Joseph had a little crush on her since they were little kids. He’s working hard, trying to save up enough money to marry the girl of his dreams. Think poor teens in a small rural town, and you are probably close to reality.
That girl, Mary, was possibly illiterate, since very few rural young women were formally educated in that day. Her connection to God included singing, praying, and remembering the Scripture she had heard in synagogue. Unlike the matronly depictions common in medieval artwork portraying Mary as a pampered princess, she was actually a peasant girl with a simple well-worn dress and dirty hands and feet from manual chores.
Almost all of the theologians I’ve read believe Mary was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. Let that sink in. How many parents don’t trust their teenagers with a phone—let alone raising the Lord of the universe? Even with a seatbelt and an airbag, we still don’t feel 13-year-olds are capable of handling a car. But God is likely born to a junior high-aged girl.
The fact that the couple was “betrothed” meant that Joseph and Mary had pledged to marry each other, an arrangement far more serious and binding than what we understand as engagement today. Terminating a betrothal required divorce proceedings, though a betrothed couple would not live together or consummate until after marriage. Together with their families, Joseph and Mary would have been anticipating a humble, joyful wedding ceremony.
What young woman in your life do you need to encourage to follow in the example of Mary by pursuing purity and godliness?