WEAPONS MASTER CLASS Luke #3
ANGELIC VISIT TO MARY CONCERNING THE BIRTH OF JESUS
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. ( read Luke 1:26-38)
As with all of these occurrences, the battle lines are formed at different levels. Let’s start at the biggest arena and work to the smallest. When God sent Gabriel to Nazareth it was a declaration of war against the kingdom of Satan. There are many references to this throughout the New Testament. Here are a few samples:
Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. (John 12:31) The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. (First John 3:8)
Jesus came to overcome the rule of Satan in the world. I should say, he came to make it possible for the rule of Satan to be broken. He modelled it during his ministry and completed it on the cross. A fuller discussion of this matter will have to wait for another occasion. What is more important is to see the visitation of Gabriel to Mary as an act of war. If you want to get a better picture of the way God engages with the enemy, let this picture stay in your mind and wrap around your heart. The way God declares war on the Satan is to send an angel with a message to an unknown girl from an unknown village in a nothing province. Think about it slowly. If you or some earthly organisation were planning to take over the world and enthrone a new king would you/they be likely to do it that way? No way on any day. But this is the kingdom of God happening, not the kingdom of this world. We have to tell ourselves again and again that this kingdom from heaven is totally counter to the culture of the kingdom of this world.
Like the announcement to Zechariah about his soon-to-be-conceived son, John. It happened privately and quietly. The greatest event in the history of the world is about to happen and only one living person knows about it. Sure, there are going to be additional signs when the birth happens, but for now, it depends on one person receiving the divine message and being prepared to live with its implications. We need to remember this principle. When God comes to establish his Son as King of Kings, does so by speaking to a young otherwise undesignated girl. We, like Mary, need to be ready to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.” The angel leaves Mary sitting or standing in the same place, but because she responds, her whole world is about to erupt.
The second arena for battle is between Mary and Joseph (and the members of her family and village). We know that Joseph is going to get his own visit from the angel, but not before he finds out that Mary is pregnant. Scripture is not written like a Jackie Collins novel. We are not privy to any conversation between Mary and Joseph. It did happen, but we can only speculate. First, the word is confirmed, and Mary realises she is pregnant. Rather than giving a reason for celebration, it creates an understandable cloud of controversy. Whatever she said to Joseph didn’t satisfy him. The religious traditions were very specific about what should happen to an unwed girl who became pregnant – public shame and if the letter of the law was fulfilled, stoning to death. You can readily imagine how lame it sounded for Mary to tell the truth: an angel came and told her that she was going to supernaturally conceive and give birth to the Messiah?” Can pigs fly???? We might ask the question as to why God didn’t help Mary out by having the angel show up when she told her story to Joseph, or immediately afterwards. We are told in a different part of the Bible that it was Joseph’s righteousness that motivated him to simply send her away to some other place (Matt. 1:19). There is no information to help us answer that question in this case but there is a consistent pattern throughout the Scriptures. When God speaks to someone, they are always called upon to BECOME the embodiment of that word. It is called, “incarnation.” The Word from heaven becoming flesh” (see John 1:14). There could hardly be a more literal example of this than Mary. She began to carry the fulfilment of the message in her womb. She eventually gave birth to the Messiah. Every part of her life was affected. We need to reject the pressure from our western culture to compartmentalise things, usually for the sake of personal convenience and comfort, and allow the word from heaven to have its full effect. This is at the heart of Mary’s response to the angel, “May your word be fulfilled.” She then carried both the fulfilment of that word and its implications. She had to trust that God would honour her faith. We don’t get to choose the outcome of our obedience. We just get to choose to trust as we obey. That trust has to come from the inside. When Mary became pregnant and Joseph started to make plans for her exile, she had to trust that God would find a way to resolve the struggle – i.e. win the battle. She had no idea he was going to send an angel to Joseph. It is important to note, by the way, that while Joseph’s assumptions were cleared up by the angel, they still had to face the wider family and townspeople. The rumour that Jesus was illegitimate carried all the way to the religious leaders and their insinuation to that effect (see John 8:41).
There would be another battle that Mary (and Joseph) would have to face. They were the ones who had been told he was the Messiah. They would have assumed the default view that Jesus would raise up and army to throw out the Romans and enable Israel to rule the world from Jerusalem. When Jesus failed to fit that picture, instead going about preaching, healing and casting out demons, Mary was among the members of Jesus’ family who concluded that he was mentally ill and went to Capernaum to bring him back to Nazareth (Mark 3:21). And we know that Mary was among those who watched him get arrested, tried and crucified. In the next chapter of Luke, the text tells us that on at least two occasions, Mary saw things and heard things and “treasured and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19,51) These were the battles she had to fight from beginning and even more at the end. It is the battle that comes when you build your life around what God has said. It brings you into conflict with opposing ideas in your own mind, with the opinions and attitudes of others and with circumstances that are carefully orchestrated by the devil to stop the fulfilment of God’s plan. God’s plan was for his Messiah Son to make him known on earth and to reveal the nature and working of his kingdom. Jesus was nothing like any earthly king and his kingdom was nothing like any earthly kingdom. Mary was called to embrace that journey in a unique way. The principle still stands. The message from heaven needed to be embraced for the rest of her life in all kinds of different circumstances and against all kinds of different challenges. It is our inability to do this that has landed us in a place where we lose the transformational power of the gospel of the kingdom and become a pallid religious reflection of our wider community.
The seven weapons referred to in Ephesians 6 are as follows:
Truth – making known the unseen pertinent God-reality.
Righteousness – making God’s character tangible.
Gospel – declaring God’s saving power and purpose.
Faith – trusting God to intervene to bring about the kingdom of God.
Salvation – taking primary significance and identity from being a child of God.
Word of God – knowing and fully embracing what God has said.
Prayer – engaging in every form of relevant prayer activity related to the situation.
I am sure you will be able to see these weapons deployed through this incident in the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The truth she made known was to tell Joseph exactly what happened. He couldn’t see it, but her pregnancy by the Holy Spirit was the unseen God reality. Regardless of how he reacted, making truth known is not just for the benefit of the humans involved. It is to strike and the attack potential of the enemy. Her righteousness in all of this was the quietness with which she carried herself at this time and as the story progressed. The gospel message in this situation was that God would fulfil his promise and save her from harm and from the punitive power of religious tradition. She trusted God before she was pregnant and afterwards – that trust was to see God’s full intention fulfilled. She obviously faltered a bit when she and her family thought they should intervene and restrain Jesus because he didn’t seem to be acting like the Messiah they had envisaged, but it was certainly restored by the time of the wedding at Cana when the wine had run out and they needed a miracle (John 2). We don’t have information about the last two weapons, although there is evidence to suggest that Mary had a strong sense of living in God’s favour and was no stranger to prayer.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY?
- The visit of an angel with a message from heaven is an act of war. There are no guns, no tanks and no bombs. The world at large is totally unaware. But alarm bells are sounding in the kingdom of darkness. Mary listens to the message and then offers herself to serve its fulfilment. The world knows nothing of this, but again, a bomb lands on the gates of hell. When she becomes pregnant and tells Joseph spiritual minions are commissioned to move Joseph to get rid of her. But they fail. Mary and Joseph join in their commitment to journey along the path of faith and obedience. This is how wars are fought in the realm of the kingdom of God. They don’t need government permission. They don’t need a majority vote. They just need an incarnation to happen. The messenger is gone, and a betrothed young couple become the living embodiment of that message and its custodians. This is also how warfare is carried out in God’s kingdom.
- Look at God’s way of choosing. There is a theological term to describe this. It is called “divine election.” It means that God chooses someone to do a job. We have so badly messed this up over the centuries. We think of “chosen” from a human point of view. That is, the chosen person is better than those who are not chosen. This is never the case. God certainly chooses people whose hearts are righteous, but that doesn’ t mean they are more worthy than others. Choosing relates to responsibility. How sad that the people of God from so many generations have taken the view that they are better than the other people. Worse still, that God likes them and hates the other people. The other side of this is the fact that God has never chosen anyone for political, tribal or personally preferenced reasons. He generally tends to choose the unheralded and unlikely just because they don’t come with a bag filled with pride and arrogance. God chose Mary. He can just as likely choose you – and most likely has.
- The idea of Mary being impregnated by a work of the Holy Spirit is part of a detailed description of a one-off historical event, but it is also a powerful metaphor of what happens every time God speaks. Just as Mary was challenged to fully embrace what the angel, so it is with us with every word that God has spoken. This applies to the written word as well as when God speaks directly by his Spirit. That word means nothing until it is welcomed and embraced in our heart and becomes part of who we are. The image of a period of pregnancy is a wonderful way to think of things that we carry inside of us that are not yet fulfilled in open experience. I have never been pregnant like Mary was but I have carried a word from heaven inside me that was growing and waiting for the time when it would be seen and known by everyone. As I said, the idea of pregnancy is powerful. I can only observe the strange phenomenon for a woman who has a little one inside of her. These days you can have images from very early on, but this little one is a mystery. Those of us who lived before ultra-sounds had to wait the full term to find out the gender. There were all kinds of theories and signs that were supposed to give a clue, but as the baby in the womb grew the mystery remained. Even the wonder of birth retains a whole world of mystery. Suddenly a husband and wife are invaded by this amazingly small but vibrant bundle of free will. Their lives are totally revolutionised. So it is with the word from heaven. We need to nurture that word, so it grows and when the waiting is over, we need to be fully involved in giving birth and nurturing that word toward its fulfilment.
- Have you ever wondered why you can have some amazing encounter with the Spirit of God? You receive a revelation and embrace it with all of your heart. Then all hell seems to break loose. You can even find yourself wishing you never received the word in first place. Sometimes some people are so intimidated by the push back that they stop following and pursuing its fulfilment. Jesus warns us about this in a story he told about seeds in four different kinds of soils. The word can be directly stolen by the devil. It can be intimidated by hardship and extinguished by worldly distractions. Many followers of Jesus read the Bible. A lesser number embrace what they read. A lesser number allow that word to become part of their lives. A lesser number carry that word to its fulfilment and completion. It takes a lot of deliberate effort to bear a child and make the lifestyle choices that ensure its healthy development. There are untold challenges in giving birth. And that’s just the beginning. So it is with the word. It will be resisted and contended by the enemy just because it carries the purposes and redemptive love of God. We have to be prepared for this battle and keep utilising the weapons made available to us to ensure complete fulfilment.