We're beginning to read at verse 26 of Luke chapter 1, and the title that has been announced is: 'The Birth Of Jesus Foretold: Nothing Is Impossible With God'. We're really focusing on verse 37, but we need to read from verse 26 down to verse 38: "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!'. But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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'. Then Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I do not know a man?'. And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible'. Then Mary said, 'Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word'. And the angel departed from her". Amen.
We're going to pray together. I would ask you, please, to pray with me. I don't know what your circumstances are, whether you're a Christian or not - I know most are, but I want all of you to pray that the Lord might speak. We all need to hear from God, but particularly if you're here and you're not a believer, you're not converted, you're not a committed Christian, you don't know Jesus personally as your Saviour and Lord, I would ask you please: would you pray that God might speak to you now? Would you do that?
Father, we come to You in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our Redeemer, our Lord, our Master, and our Friend. We come to You, Abba Father, through Him, through His shed blood, through His sacrifice and the power of His resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that now lives within us to bring us to You. Lord, we come now, and we ask now for Your divine aid, for supernatural intervention. We want not to hear a sermon about how nothing is impossible with God, we want to witness a manifestation that nothing is impossible for God. Lord, we pray that blind eyes might see, deaf ears might be unplugged, hard hearts might be melted by Your grace and by Your power. Lord, we can't do this, we need Your unction, the Holy Spirit, we need Him to come and minister now. For we ask these things for the glory of Jesus alone, Amen.
If I were composing an exam question on the passage of Scripture that we read, and the one that I think you may have been dealing with last Sunday, but certainly the one prior to this concerning Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the conception of John the Baptist - this would be the exam question: compare and contrast two interviews with an angel. Compare and contrast two interviews with an angel. I believe that, apart from relaying essential details concerning the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, that essentially that's what Luke, the gospel writer here, and the Holy Spirit who of course is inspiring what he's writing, I believe that that is what they want us to do. They want us to compare and contrast the two experiences, as the angel appeared first to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and then to the Virgin Mary.
You were dealing with, previously in this portion, Elizabeth who is Mary's cousin, and her husband of whom it was recorded: 'Both were well advanced in years, and were childless', inflicted with infertility. That was the burden of their lives. The story goes that Zacharias was serving his shift as priest in the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him, just standing there at the right side of the altar of incense. Now me saying 'he was just standing there', makes it sound rather matter-of-fact, but that is how it happened. That's often the way the supernatural happens: one moment you're doing something that you've done hundreds of times before, and the next moment you're having a supernatural experience. This is a bit of a distraction, but I believe it's relevant: when we talk about the supernatural, often what we expect is the spectacular. They are not one and the self-same thing. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is often the spectacular and the expectation of the spectacular that is a fundamental barrier to us experiencing and seeing the supernatural. The supernatural is not always spectacular, and to seek the spectacular might even hinder you experiencing it.
Anyway, I want you to see Zacharias' reaction to seeing this supernatural sight of the angel Gabriel. It's in verse 12, and I know we're backtracking on old ground for you, but do bear with me: 'And when Zacharias saw him', the angel Gabriel, 'he was troubled, and fear fell upon him'. Now, who could blame him for that? It is perfectly natural to react in such a way, and in fact Mary had a very similar reaction - if you look at verse 29 that we have already read: 'But when she saw him', Gabriel, 'she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was'. I think, if I'm right in guessing what was going through her mind, she was really saying: 'What's this all about?'. You've got to understand the psyche of the Hebrews in Bible times. They believed that if you saw God you would immediately die. That was their understanding, and the Archangel Gabriel was the next best thing to seeing God - to have a manifestation of him, well, you probably were going to die. Samson's parents in the Old Testament were also infertile, and when they had an interview with an angel, Samson's father, Manoah, was heard to say to his wife: 'We shall surely die because we have seen God'.
So immediately both Zacharias and Mary see this angel, fear grips their hearts. Something bad is going to happen! Yet the angel's retort to both of them is: 'It's OK. Fear not, there's nothing to worry about'. Now I have a little question for you: why is it that we are scared of the supernatural, like Zacharias and Mary? Have you ever thought about it? I know that we're quite intrigued by it, but if an angel should appear before us like he did to these two, I imagine that fear would be the first emotion that would grip us. I think one reason why we are afraid of the supernatural is that, as humans, when we're confronted, particularly with the holy presence of God in some form, we immediately feel our own moral weakness. Let me explain it like this, if an angel appeared before me, my immediate reaction would probably be: 'What have I done?! I must have done something wrong! What does this mean?'. We immediately think of judgement, because we have a catalogue and a litany of things that we have done against God, even as Christians, and immediately our conscience is pricked.
Yet what we see here is that God wants, our Heavenly Father wants to bless us. He doesn't want to condemn us. Look at verse 30: 'The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God''. We ought not to fear, particularly as Christians, the supernatural - because God is dealing with us in grace and not in anger. But another reason I think why we are scared of the supernatural, and more likely in this case, is simply because we fear what we do not understand, and also we fear what we do not understand and cannot control. I think it's more likely that that's the case here. I believe it's here that we see the real contrast between Zacharias and Mary's reaction to Gabriel. Now neither of them understood what was going on here, neither of them could make sense of the angelic message that came, and yet if you note clearly: Mary chose to have faith concerning what was beyond her understanding, but Zacharias chose to disbelieve.
Now, this is vital, because this is the choice that confronts all of us when we are faced with the spiritual. You're maybe not a Christian here this morning. Whenever you're confronted with God, the concept of the Divine, or the claim that His Son is Jesus Christ as we find Him recorded in the Scriptures and in history, or you're faced with His claims upon your life and His claims about eternity, heaven, hell, judgement, redemption and so on. You're faced with His Gospel, which details the good news that He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, He shed His blood to wash away the stain of our immorality and our transgressions against God - when you're confronted with the claims of the supernatural, supernatural power, and God's supernatural intervention, what is your reaction? Now, I know you don't understand it, I don't understand a great deal of it - but the issue is not whether or not we understand it, but whether we choose to believe it, or to disbelieve it.
Now, maybe if you're a cynical person, or of a sceptic mind here today, you might say: 'Well, if an angel appeared to me, well, I would have no problem believing it! I would believe right away!'. Well, you might think so, but history suggests otherwise - because effectively here, what we have in Zacharias was a religious cleric having an interview with an angel, yet he wouldn't believe the message he was being told! Do not underestimate your stubborn propensity for unbelief, even in the face of indisputable supernatural evidence. Zacharias had an interview with an angel, but he didn't believe.
Now, of course our focus this morning is Mary, so let's turn to her, now understanding that context. What she was told by the angel was much harder to believe than what Zacharias had been told. Now let me explain that. Hebrew history had several examples of barren, infertile couples who miraculously conceived upon the promise of God. Of course, perhaps the most famous is Abraham and Sarah in their late 90s. God came with the promise, and the promise was fulfilled, and they had Isaac. It's noteworthy that God often used the barren womb to bring forth special servants, because He's always showing that He specialises in doing the impossible - that is the environment where God loves to excel and show up.
However, the conception that Mary was promised would be without a man. The other miraculous births in Scripture, though supernatural, they still involved a natural course of human reproduction - but what Gabriel was telling Mary was completely off the charts! A virgin conception, an apparent contradiction in terms! A virgin would conceive - now how could this teenager, and that's what she was, how could she get her head around this? The answer is: she didn't get her head around it. If you look at verse 34, she asked the question - who would not be filled with questions? - 'How can this be, since I do not know a man?'. Now, notice the angelic reply. His response wasn't to take her into the angelic prenatal class and start showing her diagrams, the angel's answer is found in verse 35. How can this be? 'And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit'.
Now I just want to stop there for a moment so that you get the import of the answer that is being given. How can this be? This girl was hearing something that was completely incomprehensible, something that had never ever happened even in the realm of the miraculous and the supernatural, that a virgin should conceive, a virgin never knowing a man. She asked, as all of us would do: 'How? I don't understand' - and the answer was 'The Holy Spirit'. Simply put, the explanation for this is God. That's the explanation! God!
As a digression, if you go to the very first book in the Bible, chapter 1 of Genesis verse 1, you will note that there is not a detailed cosmic or scientific explanation of the origins of the universe, is there? It's 'In the beginning God'. You see, with God all things are possible! Verse 35 of course continues, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God'. Now please note, she didn't get her head around it - who could get their head around that? But she got her heart around it - that's the difference between Mary and Zacharias. She chose to believe what she did not understand, she chose to submit herself to the will of God. Look at verse 38: 'Mary said, 'Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word''.
Are you a teenager here? What a role model Mary is! The handmaiden of the Lord, 'Be it to me according to Your word'. There is a sense, you know, that all that Almighty God requires of any of us is believing submission. You know, this book, this Bible, is not primarily to be understood by us, it is to be believed. It's not that understanding is irrelevant, of course it's important to understand what we believe - but not everything can be understood. This is where I'm getting this morning, and what's on my heart, I believe, from the Holy Spirit - there might be someone here now struggling with the claims of Christ, the Christian gospel. You perhaps are struggling with the concept of the supernatural at all, that there is anything over and above the natural realm. Of course that's very common in our secular and cynical age. Most of us have been conditioned with a Western materialistic world view that supposes that whatever cannot be proven by a man-made experiment, or whatever cannot be experienced by our senses, cannot therefore exist. Modern man worships the physical while denying the spiritual.
Now, if that describes you, I believe that the greatest revelation you may ever encounter is this, listen: God primarily is not to be known in the mind. Now, I know that some of you are looking as if I've lost my mind! But I repeat this: God primarily is not to be encountered or discovered in the mind, and here's why. God has created us as human beings - and I know this might be very very revolutionary and new to some of you, particularly if you're not saved - God has created us as spirit, soul and body.
Very quickly: the body is the part of us that is physically conscious of the world around us, we experience our surroundings and the material through the body, it connects us with our environment. The soul is really ourselves, if you like, it is the part of us made up of mind, emotion and will; brain, heart and volition. It's the part that is the personality, if you like. But deep down within every human being has been created what the Bible calls 'spirit', and that is the part of us that God gave us to relate to Him. If the body relates to others and the world around us, and the soul relates to self, the spirit is that part of us - and everybody has a spirit - that relates to the spiritual, the divine. You have it in the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis. What God did, the Creative Artist, was: He took the earth, the dust of the ground, He formed the human physical frame, and then the Bible says He breathed spirit, wind, 'ruach' is the Hebrew term, into man and man became a living being, or a living soul. But what I want you to see is that there was an uncreated element, a spiritual element that was put into man - spirit.
Everybody has it, everybody has it - not just believers. Unbelievers have spirits that are dead, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Death in the Bible just means separation. So if you have never been born-again, that means you have a spirit, you have a spiritual part of you, but it's cut off from God - just like you cut the telephone line and two people can't talk to each other any more. Sin has separated between you and your God, your sins have hidden His face from you, but you still have a spirit - that's why so many people are led into spiritism and the occult, and into worship of false gods. They still have the capacity to worship, even if it's worshipping themselves. But what I want you to understand today is: we need to encounter God in the spirit, not in the mind.
Now, can I just say a word to the church here: that's why at times I believe Christians and preachers are wasting their time communicating only to the mind. You see, there can be a sort of thinking that if you get a scientist into the pulpit and get him to debunk evolution and prove creation, well, everybody will fall at his feet and repent and believe the Gospel. Or, you get a mathematician, or a physicist, or an astrophysicist to come and convince us of the origins of the universe with a Creator and an Intelligent Life Force, and the sceptics will be converted. When, actually, what practically happens is: scientists, mathematicians and physicists - and I don't despise any of them, thank God for all of them - but when they answer one question, another question arises. You enter into a scientific or philosophical ping-pong match in the realm of the mind. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here this morning, I'm not saying we don't seek to answer people's questions, but what I am saying is: you can answer everyone's questions, and people still not get converted - because God is not wanting to convert your mind, He's not wanting to win an argument, He's wanting to save your soul!
You see, what men and women need is an encounter with the supernatural. Do you believe that? This is something I think we have lost, generally, in evangelicalism. What men and women need is an encounter with God in the spirit. Listen to what Paul says, I know this doesn't fit in with accepted wisdom, but listen to what he says - just listen as I read it, 1 Corinthians 1 verse 18: 'The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent'. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God' - through wisdom the world did not know God - 'it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men'.
It turns everything upon its head, doesn't it? Now, I want to ask you, even if you're sceptical or cynical here - it's a little experiment - have you ever had a supernatural experience of God? Now let me explain what I mean: have you ever sat in a gathering like this, or maybe just on your own in isolation, but God in a strange way has opened your eyes to show you yourself as a sinner, warts and all, your hangups, your misdemeanours, those memories that you have shut in the cupboard, those skeletons that keep popping out and keeping you awake at night; that you have, in a strange way, found yourself pricked deep inside you of those things? Have you ever had a supernatural experience when God showed you your need of a Saviour, that you can't solve your own problems, that the answers to the predicament of your heart and your life are not in yourself but you need a Rescuer from outside you? Have you ever had this supernatural experience of God showing you, even in part, that that Saviour is Jesus Christ who bled and died on the cross in your place, and who loves you enough to do that for you?
Now, let me ask you: how have you reacted to such revelation? If God showed you anything like that, has your reaction been to try and reason with it? Or maybe your immediate reaction is to debate it, and to argue or question, or dissect and analyse it? Now, don't misunderstand me: understanding is important - but what I'm asking you is, if there is a certain knowledge, a certain knowing, a certain light that has shone on the mind and the heart - we might say an intuition, a revelation that this is ringing true - you must embrace it with your heart, not your head! Can I repeat that: you must embrace it with your heart, not your head!
I was reading a book recently, and the preacher was relaying how he was speaking at a business men's meeting at which there was a large company of unbelievers. At the beginning this is what he said, he said: 'I'm going to show you an infallible way to find out whether what I'm saying tonight is true or not'. Everybody sat up listening, he caught their attention right away, and this is what he said: 'Just notice how what I say to you this evening registers on your conscience'. He said: 'You could feel them buckle at the middle right away'. He said that immediately after the meal there were the objections that were forthcoming, and the difficulties that people threw up against the Gospel and the claims of Christ. He says: 'Most of the time these objections and obstacles are to protect the conscience from the assault of truth'. You know, that's what the Bible teaches, and human nature testifies, you know what is right and wrong. You know when you're living a life of sin and selfishness and rebellion towards God and the principles of His universe. You know, and yet you're trying to argue yourself intellectually out of that conviction, you're trying to protect the conscience - and yet the conscience is one of the ways our human spirit engages with the supernatural, it is one of the ways God speaks to you.
With God nothing is impossible, but if you're trying to understand with your head, you're never ever going to see it. You need to embrace it with your heart, and then you will see. My prayer for you this morning, very simply, is that some of you here will have such an overwhelming encounter with God in the spirit that all your questions, your queries, your doubts and fears will be quieted. I had an experience recently during a Gospel campaign in Belfast. It was a small meeting, and very few unbelievers came out over the period of a fortnight - but there was one young man came to the meeting and, as is my custom, at the beginning of the message I invite people to pray to God and ask God to reveal Himself. I do believe that that is a prayer God often, if not always, answers - that He speaks to people when they invite Him to speak. I did this as normal, and there was a young man there, as I said, and I wasn't aware of course that he had definitely prayed that prayer - but he had, because he related to me afterwards. This is what he said, he said: 'I prayed to the Lord to reveal Himself, to show Himself, to speak to me, and the more I said 'Come in Lord'', he said, 'the more He came in!'. That's just how he described to me. He said: 'Right throughout the whole meeting I kept praying, and as I kept praying, the Lord kept doing this thing'. Now, at the door, as I was greeting the people on the way out, this young man presented himself before me. I didn't know any of this, and the only way I can describe him is simply: he looked as if he had seen a ghost - but it was actually an encounter with the Holy Ghost that he had had. I invited him into the counselling room, as we tend to do, just making sure this guy had really got it, you know, whether God had done a good job with him or not. I right away knew instinctively that this young man had met God. When we came out of the room there was an older gentleman who had actually brought the young man with him that evening. Immediately he came over and began to speak to me, and this is what he said: 'Did he ask you those questions?'. I said: 'What questions?'. He said: 'He came with many questions about evolution and science that he had prepared to ask the preacher'. I replied: 'Well, he didn't ask one of them, because he got his answer - the answer - an encounter with God'.
Can I ask you, can I ask some of you who have grown up in church: have you ever had an encounter with God? Now don't misunderstand me, it doesn't have to be dramatic, like this young man's was, it can be very childlike - but there will be a knowing, not in the mind, but in the spirit, that you have met with God. It can be very low-key, very simple, but listen: remember, the desire for the spectacular often becomes a barrier to the supernatural. So I'm not saying look for bright lights, look for the hairs going up on the back of your neck - the point is: the assurance does not come via the intellect, so let's stop communicating to people's intellect alone! Let's believe that the power of this message is in the cross and its foolishness, which is the wisdom of God!
The certainty that this would happen to Mary was in the word of God. Our text, verse 37, 'For with God nothing will be impossible', it's translated in the International Standard Version and the American Standard Version thus: 'Nothing is impossible with respect to any of God's promises', or 'For no word from God shall be void of power'. You see, the virgin conceiving and bringing forth the Son of God was prophesied in Isaiah chapter 7, it was now being reiterated by the angelic annunciation - and so the power, the supernatural power, was in the word of God. All that Mary did, and all that you have to do to engage with that supernatural power is: believe - for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Is there someone here today, and you have been seeking God through your brain? Well, I want to encourage you to do what Jeremiah 29 says: 'Call upon Me', God says, 'and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found of you, says the LORD'.
Let us pray. While every head is bowed, let me just take this opportunity as we close the meeting of inviting you to come to Jesus Christ as your Saviour, to repent of your sins. That simply means to change your mind about your sinfulness and selfishness, living a life of rebellion toward God and breaking His laws; that you're changing your mind, realising that that's destroying your life, and will damn your soul eternally. Turn from your sin and yourself, and turn to Jesus Christ, the only Saviour, and accept, believe, embrace Him as yours. I can give you words to help you, but the heart must be yours though the words are mine. You just come and say: 'Father God, I thank You that You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be my Saviour. I confess I am a sinner, and I repent of my sin, and I turn to You. Save me now. I don't understand everything, but I have sensed You speak to my heart today. So, with my heart, I receive You as Saviour and Lord of my life. Like Mary, I submit to Your word'. The Bible says 'With the heart man believes', not with the head, 'With the heart man believes, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation'. Why not tell someone, tell me at the door even, that you have trusted Christ today. If you're not sure and you want help, you want to speak to someone, I'll be available afterwards, and other people who perhaps you know better. Seek out the help, but most importantly: seek the Lord while He may be found.
Father, we thank You for the simplicity of the message, that even a child can embrace it. Perhaps that's why, Lord, children embrace it quicker - because they don't require the understanding in every area before they jump, but they sense with their hearts the purity, the integrity, the efficacy of Jesus and His love for them; and they just take it, and they see it with their heart. Lord, may some not so young people here today, in childlike faith experience the supernatural new birth of their spirits being made alive to God. In Jesus' glorious name we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Nothing Is Impossible With God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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