The Annunciation
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The Annunciation

From Series: History, Mystery, Divinity

Luke 1:26-38  (ID: 3067)

Among the core teachings of Christianity, the virgin birth can be one of the most difficult for the human mind to accept. Yet in Luke's Gospel account, we see Mary respond in trust to the angel's mysterious message. Alistair Begg encourages us to consider the unique nature of Jesus' miraculous birth in the context of His divine mission and to respond, like Mary, in simple faith.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke and to chapter 1. We read last time of the annunciation of John the Baptist, and this morning, from verse 26, the annunciation of the Lord Jesus.

Luke 1:26:

“In the sixth month”—that is, in relationship to the pregnancy of Elizabeth mentioned in verse 24 and 25—“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?’

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; [so] let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of his Word.

As we come to the Bible together, we bow in prayer, and we take the prayer for the Third Sunday in Advent as our coming before the Scriptures:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare the way before you: grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in your sight, you who live and reign with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.[1]

Well, the passage to which I should like to draw your attention follows on from where we were last time. Beginning at the twenty-sixth verse, we find ourselves face-to-face with what we’ve referred to in the past as the mysterious miracle that lies at the heart of Christianity. It is impossible to consider Christianity without being confronted by the miraculous, and any attempt to denude Christianity of its miraculous dimensions is to remove the very heart of it. That, of course, has become apparent in many churches, where, as a result of the ministers and pastors losing confidence in the Bible itself, they have sought to make it more amenable to their listeners by removing what they refer to as the hard and difficult parts, not realizing that their congregations were often wiser than themselves, thereby recognizing that when you take away the difficult parts, you’ve taken away the parts that are vital to the story itself.

And so, this morning we, along with millions of people around the world, have in the words of the Apostles’ Creed declared our conviction concerning Jesus: that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and that he was “born of the Virgin Mary.” That, of course, is quite a statement. And theologians throughout history have helped those of us who are not as able as them to understand just what’s involved in that.

One of the most helpful documents—a really remarkable document, a text that is ours out of the history of Christianity—is the Westminster Confession of Faith, which emerged in the middle of the seventeenth century in England. And in the course of that—what has been referred to as “a sure-footed summary of truth for life”[2]—in the course of that we have this summation of the biblical truth of the incarnation. And I want you just to listen as I read this to you. And I do it purposefully, so that we might grasp something of the depth of what is involved in the material that we’re considering:

The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being truly and eternally God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time had come, take upon himself man’s nature, with all [of] its essential properties and common frailties, yet without sin. He was conceived by … the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and of her substance. In this way, two whole natures, the divine and the human, perfect and distinct, were inseparably joined together in one person without being changed, [without being] mixed, [without being] confused. This person is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.[3]

Now, I’d like you to memorize that, and we’ll have a test next Sunday morning just to see how well you’ve done with it. It will repay your further thought. Essentially, at the heart of it is this: that Jesus was born of a human mother without the agency of a human father. This lies at the very heart of Christianity.

It makes me think of the three words from last time. You will perhaps recall them. Let me remind you. Here we are in the realm of divinity. Here we are at the realm of the divine, or the theological, or the awareness of God. The eternal Son of God (this is what is affirmed for us), namely, the second person of the Trinity, without ever ceasing to be what he is—namely, God—took into union with himself human nature, and in that, he reveals himself to be truly God and truly man. And in doing that, he took to himself what before that act he did not possess. It’s divinity.

Also, it is mystery. In fact, it follows on just immediately, because some of you, I can see just looking at you, you say, “Well, this is mysterious.” Well, of course it’s mysterious. It’s hard to even grasp, as it were, the edges of this, to get ahold of even just the outworkings of it, apart from getting to the very heart of it all.

It’s divinity, it’s mystery, and thirdly—this was our third word—it is history; that the way in which Luke introduces his Gospel, it is clearly to be understood that he himself was reporting facts. He wasn’t coming up with some kind of mythological story to foist upon his friend Theophilus and all of the readers that would come from there. So he is introducing fact—albeit a staggering fact, but a fact nevertheless. And it is the very factuality of this which again underpins these things.

Again, the theologians—and I’ll just give you three little phrases that are part of the history of this. The theologians talk about the incarnation in terms of there being, number one, no conversion taking place. What they mean by that is that divinity was not then lost in humanity or humanity was swallowed up by divinity. There was no conversion. They exist side by side in one person: one substance, two natures, divine and human. No conversion. Secondly, no composition. What they meant by that was, the incarnation did not produce a new creature, a creature who was neither God nor man. And thirdly, no confusion—that there was no confusion in the person of Christ between the human and divine nature at all.

Now, all that by way of introduction confronts us with the fact that the only way to ever come to any passage of the Bible, not least of all this passage of the Bible, is essentially upon your knees. On your knees—at least metaphorically, if not literally. I don’t say this for any other reason than to make the point, but I often end my final study, in the final reading of the material that I’ve produced, by reading it on my knees, to remind myself of this very fact: that this is actually a wonder beyond wonders, that this is a mystery beyond mysteries, that there is no way in all of the world that I will be able, in and of myself, to convey things in such a fashion that people will come to grasp this stuff. This is entirely God.

Now, Jesus was very clear about this. He told the people in his day, he said to them, “Listen,” he says—actually, he prays to his Father—and he says, “Father, I thank you,” he says, “that you have hidden these things—that you’ve hidden these things—from the wise and from the learned and you have revealed them to little children.”[4] What does he mean by that? Does he mean that if you go in the kindergarten class, that’s where you find people understanding the Bible? Well, actually, many times, yes! But no, what he’s saying is the same thing that he said to Nicodemus: “Nicodemus, you’re a bright fellow. But unless you become as a little child, you will in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven.”[5] It doesn’t mean you become childish but that you become childlike.

The only way to ever come to any passage of the Bible is essentially upon your knees.

Last Sunday night, when we were doing some of the golden oldies of song, we sang one of the lady Hankey’s hymns. But the one that we didn’t sing of hers is the hymn that begins,

Tell me the old, old story
Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and his glory,
Of Jesus and his love.

And then she writes,

Tell me the story simply,
As to a little child;
For I am weak and weary,
And helpless and defiled.[6]

You see, that’s the way in which we come to God. That’s how we come to God: in the awareness of who we are in relationship to the extent of his majesty—instead of coming to God and coming to the Bible as if, by the means of our own puny minds, we would subject divinity to our scrutiny. Sure, we subject the Scriptures to our investigation, but you would not be so bold, so arrogant, as to suggest that you would bring the creator of the universe down so that you might examine him. It is he who examines you and me.

The essential condition to receiving light from the Scriptures is not sophistication; it is simplicity. It is not along the avenue of the adult nature of our questions, but it is along the pathway of the childlike nature of our faith. Anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.[7] That seems upside down, doesn’t it? Every so often, someone will say to me, “If I can’t understand it, I won’t believe it.” To which I reply, “If you don’t believe it, you will never understand it.”

Now, with that said, I don’t want to approach this this morning from an apologetic perspective. I don’t want to take your time and my time. We’ve done this in the past. I want rather to just work my way through this passage with you in a way that is more devotional, if you like, that ponders what is being conveyed here in terms of the response of Mary to this angelic visitation.

Same Messenger, Life-Changing Message

And what I wrote in my notes was just this, first of all: I noted that with the arrival of Gabriel, we have the same messenger with a life-changing message. Same messenger, life-changing message. Now, what he actually says to her before he leaves is, according to verse 37, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” That’s pretty good. And frankly, if I’d been sent on the assignment, I think I might have started with verse 37 rather than where he started, so that we could get that put down, and then we could work everything from there. But he uses that as his close: nothing is impossible with God.

Well, that’s going to be very, very important for this to dawn upon Mary, because here we have, presumably, the routine of the day of a young woman. She’s betrothed to Joseph. That means that she hasn’t been married to him. They haven’t shared the marriage bed, but they are united before the culture in such a way that only divorce can separate them. That was the nature of betrothal or engagement in those terms. So, it is a sacrosanct union, but it is an incomplete union. They have not known each other physically. They have not entered into all of the benefits of marriage. That still awaits them.

And so, in this context, as presumably she faces a routine day, suddenly, once again, divinity breaks into history. She’s engaged to a local carpenter, and suddenly an angel shows up. “The angel Gabriel”—busy man, busy angel—“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 … said [to her], ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” And she said, “Oh!” No. As we would anticipate, “She was greatly troubled at the saying.” “At the saying.”

Now, if you remember from last time, Zechariah was troubled when the angel showed up. But he was troubled by what he saw. He wasn’t troubled by what he heard. It was the sight of the angel that troubled him: “And there appeared to him an angel,” verse 11, “standing on the right side of the altar,” and it completely “troubled” him when he saw him, “and fear fell upon him.” Then the angel said something to him. But here Mary responds and is troubled by what she hears—because what she hears is actually a not unfamiliar greeting when you read the Old Testament.

Now, you can research this on your own. But, for example, if you remember in the story of Gideon—remember Gideon was the least and the last in his family. You remember the overwhelming odds that were against him. You remember the story, how God reduces the army, and Gideon is now in such an impoverished situation that he’s hiding away, and an angel of the Lord appears to him, and what does he say? “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”[8] In other words, here is a disclosure of God into the weakness and into the frailty of this man who is confronted by these amazing odds. Once again… And perhaps Mary knew her Bible well enough to realize the significance of what was being declared in this phrase: “You’re favored, and the Lord is really with you.” Well, in a sense, the Lord was with everyone. He’s omnipresent, isn’t he? But she knew what was being said. And as a result of that, “she was … troubled at the saying, and [she] tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”

Now, don’t you like Mary for this? This is her personality. When you read on in the story, she does this regularly, doesn’t she? After the shepherds have gone away—I don’t want to spoil the rest of it for us—but remember, after the shepherds have gone away into heaven… (You’re going, “No, no, keep it going. We could finish early.”) After the shepherds had gone away into heaven, she then treasured up… The shepherds didn’t go to heaven! The angels went back to heaven. The shepherds just went back to the fields. And after the shepherds went away, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”[9] That was her MO. When they encounter Jesus at the age of twelve, later on, at the end of chapter 2, you remember he says, “I had to be at my Father’s house,” and “he went down to the house with them in Nazareth and continued there,” and once again Luke tells us, “And Mary pondered all these things, and she wondered what it was really about.”[10] So it’s no surprise to us to discover that this is her natural reaction.

And so, Gabriel says, “Well, let me… I can see that you’re troubled by this, but I don’t want you to be afraid,” verse 30. “You have found favor with God. And let me just… Let me just tell you what’s going on.”

Now, just imagine for a moment each phrase just coming one behind the other. So she says, “Okay, go ahead.”

“Well, you know you’ve found favor with God.”

“Yes.”

“And you will conceive in your womb. And you will bear a son. And you will call his name Jesus. And he will be great. He will sit on the throne of his father David. And his kingdom will never come to an end.” That’s quite a morning, isn’t it? By any standards at all.

And she said, “You wanna run that past me just one more time?” No, her response is quite natural. It’s the response we might expect. It’s the response of humanity when confronted by divinity. It is the response of time when invaded by eternity. It is the response of frailty when encountered by the amazing power and majesty of God. She says, “Well, I don’t… I don’t get this. How will this be, since I am a virgin?” I mean, how can you have a baby if you don’t have a husband? That’s what she says: “I don’t have a husband. I’m betrothed to Joseph. But we’re not husband and wife.”

“Well,” the angel says, “I’ll tell you how.” And in verse 35 and following, in language which… Incidentally, in New Testament language in relationship to the birth narratives, one thing I’ve always appreciated is how beautiful it is and how restrained it is, and how in the restraint and in the beauty of it all there is a majesty and a transcendence to it. You know, it’s not sort of “down there.” It’s not sort of earthy. It’s not the way that twenty-first century people would speak about these things. Because there’s nothing in the twenty-first century that would be so akin to what we have here that we could ever attempt to match it.

And so, his language is restrained, it’s beautiful, and it’s full of Old Testament imagery. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, … the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Now, that would mean something to Mary. She understood the Old Testament. She understood that the disclosure of God throughout his dealings with his people so often was God disclosing himself in the cloud, declaring the fact that his dwelling was there in the presence of the cloud, and yet, at the same time, his dwelling was actually hidden in the presence of the cloud.

Now, we can go through the Old Testament, but it would be tedious. You can think of times, whether it’s in the exodus and in the progress there—pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.[11] But you come forward into the New Testament, you come to the transfiguration, and what do we have in the transfiguration? We have that the cloud comes down, and they encounter God. And God speaks.[12] The cloud both veils him and the cloud reveals him. When Jesus is taken away, the cloud receives him.[13] So the cloud will come. The Holy Spirit will “overshadow you.”

A Mind-Stretching Mystery

Now, what he’s doing is he’s providing Mary with the story of a birth that is going to come about, but not by the ordinary method of human generation, but by an unparalleled action, and that action by the Holy Spirit—therefore, that action unique; therefore, miraculous; therefore, unrepeated. When Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy, he actually says to him, “Timothy,” he says, “what we’re really talking about here is the mystery of godliness.” “Great indeed,” he writes to Timothy—he says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: ‘He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, [and] taken up in[to] glory.’”[14] “Think about that for a wee while,” he says. “Have a coffee and sit down and think about things. Great is the mystery of godliness.”

Since we can’t fully fathom the process whereby natural birth takes place, why would we have difficulty with the fact of the incarnation?

Yes, God comes down into time, making himself accessible, and yet does so mysteriously. Now, there’s something that is very important to notice in this. When a husband and wife come together and produce a child—which I’ve noticed happens, I’ve figured that out—when the husbands and wives produce childs, then a baby is born, a person who didn’t exist has appeared, a new personality has emerged.

I remember when you used to drive to Florida in the old days when your children were small, and you’d just… you’ve drunk three cans of grapefruit juice just to try and stay awake, ’cause you’re too stingy to buy a hotel? And you’re driving there, trying to stay awake, and then suddenly, one of them wakes up at three o’clock in the morning and says, “Daddy?” “Yes, honey? Yeah.” “Where was I before I was born?” You’re like, “Listen, I’m just trying to get you to Florida, for goodness’ sake, I…” And then I’d say, “You did not exist before you were born. You were nowhere.”

You say, “Well, that’s mysterious in itself, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it actually is. You didn’t exist? No, you didn’t exist. You weren’t floating around in some kind of personhood, and then we’re gathered together and cobbled together in something. No, you did not exist. You did not have a personhood. You did not have a personality. You had nothing at all. A whole new person came into being. But that’s not what happened with Jesus. That’s not what happened. The second person of the Trinity became man. He did exist, coequal and coeternal with the Father and with the Spirit. He’s not a created being. He predates his incarnation. This is biblical orthodoxy.

And since you can’t fully fathom the process whereby natural birth takes place, why would we have difficulty with the fact of the incarnation? I mean, physical birth is shrouded in mystery. I talk to gynecologists and obstetricians. I’m not saying that as a rhetorical effect. I do, actually. In fact, at our recent event for Truth For Life, there were two obstetricians there. And in the course of the conversation we were talking about medical things and the way in which the science has discovered this and has discovered that, and one of them said to me, “You know, but every time I deliver a baby, it’s still an amazing mystery. There is something about it that is so mysterious that science cannot fully grasp it, cannot fully encapsulate it.” Well, if that is true of the birth of your daughter or your grandson, then why would you step back from Christianity because you’re introduced to the miraculous dimension of the invasion of God in time? You must come to these things bringing your big fat head and your puny little mind underneath the jurisdiction of God. “Well,” you say, “well then, I have to humble myself for that.” That’s exactly right. And the one who humbles himself will be exalted, and the person who exalts himself will be brought down.[15]

Now, as Mary tries to process all of this, and as we try to process all of this, we ought not to be unsettled by it, because everything about the Lord is actually mysterious. Everything about him is mysterious, isn’t it? I mean, his coming is mysterious. His resurrection is mysterious. His ascension is mysterious. The people said, “What happened here?” And they had to send an angel again. And the angel says, “What do you mean, ‘What happened here?’ You don’t have to worry about what happened here. He’ll be back.”

“He’ll be back?”

“Yeah, he’s coming back.”

“How do you know that?”

“Says it in the Bible.”[16]

Do you believe the Bible? Or do you just believe what you want in the Bible? You see, if you only believe the bits that you’d like to believe, you don’t believe the Bible. You believe yourself. If you believe the Bible, you recognize that from his inception, from his incarnation, to his return, it is total mystery. It is total mystery. It’s a life-changing message, but it’s a mysterious story. And that’s why I wrote down in my notes, it’s a life-changing message, and it is a mind-stretching mystery.

The angel has given her information; she has pondered. He’s given explanation, and her response is submission. Amazing response on the part of this teenage girl—presumably a teenager: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” You say, “Well, that’s what I would have done.” Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Goodness, I can’t believe you even thought that, let alone said it. Do you realize what she was letting herself in for by saying this? “I go out in the community and let people know that I’m having a baby? What will they say about me?” They’ll say she’s cheated on Joseph. They’ll say the birth is illegitimate—which is exactly what people said! It’s one of the arguments for the incarnation, incidentally: that many of the Jews poked fun at Jesus and used to say things like, “We know that Mary’s his mother, but we don’t know who his father is. We don’t know where he came from. We don’t understand who he is.” They knew exactly what they were saying: they were calling in question the reality of his divinity. No, for Mary to say, “Let it be so to me,” not only has she got to go out into the community, but she’s got to go and tell Joseph when he comes home for his supper.

“Let it be so.” That’s good. Angel leaves. Mary goes, “What am I gonna do now? I’m gonna have to tell Joseph. What will I say to Joseph?”

Well, I don’t want to make things up, but we’ll just turn to conclude in Matthew chapter 1. Because if ever somebody needed an angelic visitation, it was Joseph. Right? This is gonna be a whopper when she comes up with this one. So I’ve tried to put the pieces together between Luke 1 and Matthew 1, and I think it probably goes something like this:

“Joseph, when you finish your soup, I have something to tell you.”

“Uh-huh. Yeah, okay, well, I’ll be finished in a moment or two. Okay, go ahead.”

“Well, I’m gonna have a baby.”

“Pardon?”

“Yeah.”

He just gets up and walks out of the room. I think I would have done that. There’s only one possible explanation. ’Cause he knows it isn’t his baby; therefore, it’s gotta be some other man’s baby. So he walks away. Her husband, Joseph, was “a just man.” He was “unwilling to put her to shame.”[17] He loved her. But he said to himself, “I’m just gonna have to divorce her quietly. I mean, no need to tell everybody what’s going on. I’ll just let them know, ‘Hey, listen, we’re not getting married. There will be no marriage.’”

She says to him, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Says, “No, I don’t want to talk about it. I want to go to bed. Maybe we can talk in the morning. It’s too emotional for me now.” He goes to his bed. Perfect timing! [Mimics triumphant music.] “To sleep, perchance to dream.”[18] And “as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She[’ll] bear a son, … you[’ll] call his name Jesus, … he will save his people from their sins.’” And “all [of] this,” says Matthew, “took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken”[19] in the prophecy of Isaiah all these hundreds of years before: that God would send his Messiah to his people. This is the dawning of the promise of God.

What other explanation—what other explanation—could explain Mary’s condition and at the same time preserve her honor? What other explanation? No other explanation. And what does Joseph do? “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,” and “he took his wife.” And he “knew her not”—they didn’t share the marriage bed—“until she[’d] given birth to a son.”[20] And he did what the angel told him: he said, “His name will be Yeshua. His name will be ‘God is salvation.’”

A Soul-Stirring Majesty

Now, my friends, this is where we are. It is, on the one hand, a life-changing message; it is a mind-stretching mystery; and it is, if you like, a soul-stirring, searching majesty that we encounter in Jesus.

You know, I’ve told you before about the old Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s a true story. I can’t remember which one it was; I think it was probably Coggan. But Coggan—the archbishop, anyway—and Jane Fonda are talking with one another. And the archbishop volunteers to Jane Fonda, you know, he says, “Jane, Jesus is the Son of God.” And Fonda says, “Well, he may be the Son of God for you, but he isn’t the Son of God for me.” To which the archbishop replied, “Jane, either he is or he isn’t.” Those are the only alternatives we’re left with. You can’t have a Jesus who’s kind of like the Son of God. You can’t have a Jesus who’s kind of like divine—a little bit divine and a little bit human. There’s no such person. There’s no confusion. There’s no composition.

And the response of Mary and Joseph is the right response, because it is the response of faith. And that is the response that God looks for in each of us. Mary says, “Let it be to me, as your servant, as you have appointed.” It’s kind of like,

Take my life and let it be,
Consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
[And] let them flow in ceaseless praise.[21]

“I don’t fully understand all of this, but I’m your servant.” The response of Joseph: “I’m gonna do exactly what God’s word said to do. I will take her home as my wife, and I will do as the angel has declared.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

The response of Mary and Joseph is the right response, because it is the response of faith. And that is the response that God looks for in each of us.

You see, the kingship of Jesus is trivialized by so much of our Christmas stuff. I mean, I like a good nativity scene as much as anybody else. I’m not one of these… Well, I was gonna say, “I’m not one of these crusty old guys,” but actually, I am. But I mean, not in relationship to—at least, my wife said that—but in relationship to nativity scenes, you know. There are some people that get really churned up about them: either they’ve got to be there or they shouldn’t be there. I mean, I’m fine, you know, with a nice nativity scene. But I understand how easy it is for the average, fairly intelligent person to see it as a mechanism for just dismissing the whole story all over again: you know, a funny little thing in the front garden or on the front hall table, with a few angels and shepherds and a few things, and there’s a baby Jesus in there, and there he is over there, and we’ll be over it in no time at all, and we can get on with the real life.

But you can’t dismiss Jesus that easily. You can’t, you see. Because he reigns on the throne of his father David, and his kingdom never comes to an end. And at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.[22] Mary will bow, and Joseph will bow, and you will bow, and I will bow. And the only question is whether the Lord who is enthroned in the heavens and who will reign forever and ever, who is the Lamb in the center of the throne—if you did the Bible reading from M’Cheyne this morning in Revelation chapter 4 or 5—this Lamb who’s at the center of the whole universe is the one before whom everyone will come.

And the question, really, this morning is this: Has he come to reign in your heart? Has he come to take rulership over your mind? Over your career? Over your singleness? Over your marriage? Have you actually come to him and said, “You know what? I’m tired of driving this life by myself. I’ve been up so many dead-end streets I can’t believe it, and yet I still insist on trying again and again on my own. And now I realize this morning that if I’m gonna wait until I’ve got everything figured out intellectually, I am never gonna let you drive my car. I am never gonna let you take the steering wheel. I guess I’ve gotta become like a little child.” You say, “Lord Jesus Christ, you came as a Savior, and I need a Savior, and I want you today to become the Savior that I confess I need.”

It is there, bowing low, on your knees, that the entry to heaven is found. The entry into heaven is low. You stoop to go into heaven. Some of us are not good at stooping. And that’s why we remain as we are.

Well, we’ll come back to this next time.

Let us pray:

Well, gracious God, we thank you that we have your Word, the Bible. We thank you that it does contain a life-changing message, that it brings us face-to-face with this and many other mind-stretching mysteries, and we thank you that ultimately it brings us face-to-face with Jesus, your Son. We gaze into this scene as he is “born a child and yet a king.”[23] We marvel as he is so kind and gracious and gentle and forgiving, and yet in his kingship rides on a donkey. The only crown he wears is a crown of thorns that was placed upon his head by unbelieving and cruel people, and still he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[24] And we thank you that he who “once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now,” and that “a royal diadem adorns the mighty victor’s brow.”[25]

Gracious God, come and shine into the darkness of our hearts. Forgive us our stubborn, rebellious minds. Help us to kneel before you, so that when we say that we want to adore you, that we want to give you all the glory, that we want to acknowledge that you are the one who is worthy, that we realize that we’re affirming the fact that your kingdom will never come to an end. Hear our prayers; let our cries come unto you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] The Book of Common Prayer.

[2] Chad Van Dixhorn, introduction to Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), xviii.

[3] The Westminster Confession of Faith 8.2.

[4] Matthew 11:25–26 (paraphrased). See also Luke 10:21.

[5] See John 3:3–5.

[6] A. Katherine Hankey, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” (1866).

[7] See Hebrews 11:6.

[8] Judges 6:12 (NIV).

[9] Luke 2:19 (ESV).

[10] Luke 2:49–51 (paraphrased).

[11] See Exodus 13:21.

[12] See Matthew 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36.

[13] See Acts 1:9.

[14] 1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV).

[15] See Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11.

[16] See Acts 1:9–11.

[17] Matthew 1:19 (ESV).

[18] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.

[19] Matthew 1:20–22 (ESV).

[20] Matthew 1:24–25 (ESV).

[21] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take My Life and Let It Be” (1874).

[22] See Philippians 2:10.

[23] Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (1745).

[24] Luke 23:34 (ESV).

[25] Thomas Kelly, “The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns” (1820).

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.