Dear friends in Christ. Today we begin the final two weeks of the Lenten season, which has been given the name by the Church “Passiontide.” “Passion” means “suffering” and in these final two weeks of Lent we begin to focus all the more on Jesus being rejection and His resulting suffering and death and finally His burial.
Jesus’ passion, His suffering, is part of what we call Jesus’ State of Humiliation. In His State of Humiliation, Jesus did not always or fully use all of His divine power, glory and majesty. He laid it aside precisely so that He could suffer and die for the sins of the world, bring about our forgiveness and so reconcile us sinners to the holy God. St. Paul [Ph. 2.5] describes Jesus’ State of Humiliation this way: Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God [that is, something to be held on to at all cost], but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Each week we confess in the Creed Jesus’ State of Humiliation this way: Jesus “was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”
Today we are at a very interesting point in the Church Year. We are beginning Passiontide, the final, two intense weeks of Lent focusing on Jesus’ suffering and death; and today is also nine months before Christmas and so we remember Jesus’ most holy conception and the coming of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that she’d be the Mother of our Lord. In other words, today we have both the beginning of Jesus’ State of Humiliation—His Conception—and the height of its intensity—Jesus’ suffering and death.
- The account of our Lord’s most holy conception begins simply enough. It begins with the annunciation, the angel Gabriel announcing it to Mary. 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. It had been six month since the same angel had announced to Zacharias, the priest, the birth of John the Baptizer, the one who would prepare the way for Jesus. Now Gabriel comes to Mary. The evangelist describes her this way: a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. She is betrothed, engaged; and in those days engagements were considered by all to be equivalent to, the “first step” of marriage. The promises had been made; only the public ceremony and celebration followed. The only way out of this betrothal was divorce. Notice: With Jesus’ conception God maintains what He always intended—that children be born in a family of husband and wife, not in situations we find so commonly today with out of wedlock births.
Here we come to yet another vital point: according to the prophecy the Messiah would be born of a virgin. The only way that the Son of God could be born in a family with husband and wife and yet still of a virgin was this way—Mary and Joseph were husband and wife but had not yet come together.
The very first prophecy of a Savior who would undo and destroy Satan and his work was right after the Fall into sin. In cursing Satan, God had said [Gn. 3.15]: I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your descendants and her Descendant. He will crush your head, and you will bruise His heel. Notice how the Messiah is described—as the Descendant of the woman; not of the man and the woman, just the woman. The implication here? The Virgin Birth. The One who would come and crush Satan, destroy him and his work would be the offspring of the woman alone. To make it crystal clear and to reaffirm and flesh out that prophecy, the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah [7.14]: Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Here with the annunciation the Lord is telling Mary through Gabriel that she is that virgin; that the prophecy is being fulfilled then and there with her.
The next thing the Evangelist teaches us about Mary is that she, like Joseph, is a descendant of David. This, too, is a fulfillment of a prophecy of Messiah—He would be a descendant of David [2 Sm. 7.12] as the Lord promised David: I will raise up your Descendant Who will come from you, and I will establish His kingdom… I will make the throne of His kingdom stand forever. I will be His Father, and will be My Son. The annunciation is made to Mary—the virgin betrothed to Joseph her husband and she is also a descendant of David. All is in fulfillment of prophecy. The most holy conception of our Lord Jesus Christ takes place in the womb of Mary, the blessed and highly favored one of the Lord.
Not only do we learn that is Mary a virgin, from the line of David, but in our text we also learn a bit about who she is as a woman. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" 29 But when she saw him, she was thoroughly perplexed at his saying, and was considering what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Stop fearing, Mary, for you have found favor with God. We first are struck at Mary’s humility that she considers herself unworthy of such a glorious greeting. She isn’t perplexed at the angel, but at the greeting. Gabriel had just told her that God looked upon her with satisfaction and was intending to bestow a great blessing on her. In the true humility of faith, she does not think she deserves it. She knows that she is a sinner with no righteousness of her own but the angel calls her highly favored, that is, one to whom grace has been shown. Because God showed her grace and has forgiven her her sin, that’s why she’s highly favored. This shows us her true faith because it is faith alone which makes us pleasing to God—not because faith is a good work that we do but because through faith we receive the holiness and righteousness of the Savior—in Mary’s case, it was the coming Savior. In that Spirit-worked faith, Mary received the forgiveness of sins and righteousness which was to come through the coming Savior, her very Son; she received that grace. And now in grace God gave her another grace on top of that grace—she would be the mother of that very Savior.
Even with this, we still see Mary at the end of our text as a humble servant of the Lord. Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word". The word that Gabriel had spoken about the coming Savior had created faith that received and accepted his message. When she was perplexed and pondering what exactly it was that the angel was saying and how it was possible that she, a virgin, could be a mother, the angel pointed her to God’s almighty power: For with God nothing will be impossible and confirmed it with a sign: 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, Mary in faith simply believed it and said: Let the Lord’s will be my will and so let me be privileged to be used to carry out His great saving purposes.
- So far we have Mary, the one to whom the Annunciation is made. Now let us go on and learn of Whom the Annunciation was made—namely Jesus Christ, whose most holy conception took place as the angel announced it to Mary. Remember: here is the beginning of Jesus’ state of humiliation—Jesus not always or fully using His divine power, glory and majesty—which culminated with His suffering, death and burial.
Our text: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 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. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 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.
The first thing we learn in our text of that most holy Child who was conceived is that He is true man but yet He is holy. There is no doubt that Jesus is true man because He was conceived in Mary’s womb and born. He is properly and is rightly called Son of Mary. Again, just as the Lord prophesied, the Messiah would be the Offspring of the woman, thus He would be a true man, a true human being like you and me, and a Descendant of David: and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. Elsewhere Scripture is also clear [Hb. 2.14]: Now since all these children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] in the same way took on flesh and blood in order to die and so take away the powers of him who had the power of death, that is, the devil and to free those, who terrified by death, had to be slaves all their lives… And so in every way He had to become like His brothers…and to pay for the sins of the people.
Now as we enter Passiontide, we see again clearly see that Jesus is true man. Here we see that He has blood to shed in order to pay the price for our sins. We see that He is true man because He went to the cross as our Substitute, under God’s wrath in our place. Only if He were truly man could He be our Substitute. That’s why the Annunciation and Jesus’ most holy conception!
Notice, not only is Jesus true Man, but He is also a holy Man. That’s why His conception is so important and remembered by the Church today. He wasn’t born of mother and father, like we all are. All of us as we are conceived receive from our parents the guilt and corruption of sin, as sin is passed down from parents to child. That’s why David, speaking for us all, can write in the psalm [51.5]: I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. But not so Jesus! That’s why the necessity of the Virgin conception and birth! Instead, as we confess in the creed: He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. Gabriel puts it this way in our text: 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 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. The Holy Spirit prepared from Mary a sinless human nature for the Son of God to take into His Person so that from that moment on into all eternity, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity would also be true Man.
Sin corrupts our human nature. It clings to it but sin is an evil that can be separated from our human nature. It is beyond human power to do it; it is a work of grace and divine omnipotence. That’s why at that time the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and overshadowed her—so that from Mary Jesus would have a human nature free from the stain of sin. This was necessary for His saving work. Already from the moment of His holy, sinless conception and then going all the way to the cross Jesus was keeping God’s holy Law for us.
Of course, that holy Child who was conceived that day, is not only a true Man and a holy, sinless man, but He is also true God, as Gabriel said: He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest and therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. That Child conceived as Gabriel announced it to Mary, His mother, is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who at the right time, according to God’s command took on a human nature and became also true man. This conception is a great unsearchable mystery, but a glorious working of God for our salvation. Thus we can rightly say this Annunciation Day that Jesus was sent not only to His mother but He was sent to us all to be our Savior from sin. It is a work only He, the God-Man, could do and it is a work the full depth of which we will come to know all the more fully these final two weeks of Lent but of which we will rejoice in so greatly come Easter. INJ Amen.