經文﹕路加福音 1 ﹕ 26-38
在這 段經文 里﹐我們留意到作者路加對於細節描寫的重視。這件事發生在瑪利亞的親戚以利沙伯懷孕 6 個月的時候﹐地點是在小城拿撒勒。為了讓讀者 知道這城 ﹐路加特別把拿撒勒和著名的加利利聯繫起來。瑪利亞當時已經和約瑟訂了親﹐路加很小心地指出瑪利亞還是個童貞女。按照當時的風俗﹐她可能還不到 14 歲。加百列在向瑪利亞顯現之前﹐還向撒迦利亞宣告了施洗約翰將要誕生的消息。在聖經里﹐加百列通常被看作是代替神傳遞信息的使者。正是他的特殊身份使他在故事里的角色顯得意義不同。如果神和人對話﹐那麼誰是對話的主角﹖當然是神。
加百列出現在瑪利亞面前﹐說 , 28 ﹕“恭喜！蒙大恩的女子，主與你同在 ! ” 在這裡以及之後第 30 節經文里﹐瑪利亞都被稱作是“蒙大恩的女子” 。上帝與她同在﹐神的恩典臨到她。加百列繼續解釋這恩典的內容﹕ (vs. 31-33) “你將懷孕生子，要給他起名叫耶穌。他將要被尊為大，稱為至高者的兒子，主 神要把他祖大衛的王位賜給他，他要作王統治雅各家，直到永遠，他的國沒有窮盡。”
瑪利亞聽到了什麼﹖對於舊約非常熟悉的瑪利亞 是 聽 見 了這樣的 信 息﹕當最初人類 違 背了神的命 令 時﹐神在 < 創世紀 >3 ﹕ 15 宣告﹕“我要使你和女人彼此為仇，你的後裔和女人的後裔，也彼此為仇，女人的後裔要傷你的頭，你要傷他的腳跟。” 神宣告將來女人的 一位 後裔要解除撒旦對人類的束縛﹐帶領人類重新回到神的面前。 這位後裔要成為神與人之間的中保 . 多年以後﹐神在 < 撒母耳記下 >7 ﹕ 11-16 對大衛說﹕“…… . 我必興起你親生的後裔接替你，並且我要堅固他的國。他必為我的名建造一座殿宇，我要永遠堅固他的國位。我要作他的父親，他要作我的兒子，他若是犯了罪，我要用人的刑杖、用世人的鞭子糾正他。但我的慈愛必不離開他，……你的家和你的王國，也必在我的面前永遠堅定，你的王位也必永遠堅立。” 神告訴大衛﹐耶和華要賜他一個朝代。在大衛死後﹐這個朝代將由他的子孫后代來延續。但是﹐其中有一個後裔將成為永遠的君王。這個應許和 < 以賽亞書 >9 ﹕ 6-7 的經文相呼應﹕ “因為有一個嬰孩為我們而生，有一個兒子賜給我們；政權必擔在他的肩頭上；他的名必稱為‘奇妙的策士、全能的 神、永恆的父、和平的君’ 。他的政權與平安必無窮無盡地增加，他在大衛的寶座上治理他的國，以公平和公義使國堅立穩固，從現在直到永遠。萬軍之耶和華的熱心必成全這事。” 總 言而 之﹐在舊約時代就已有預言﹕有一天﹐大衛家族將誕生一位彌撒亞﹐他的國度永無止境。
因此 瑪利亞聽 見 她 將要 所懷的是彌撒亞﹐ 這 兒子將被取名叫做耶穌﹐他是永恆的君王﹐是舊約里早已被預言的彌撒亞。這就是瑪利亞蒙大恩的原因﹐她也因此和舊約中的諾亞﹐羅德和摩西具有同樣的地位﹕他們都是被稱作蒙恩的人。
這恩典和瑪利亞個人的 功德 沒有關係。是的﹐路加在後面的經文里告訴我們她是一個 細心 ﹐順服神﹐信心堅定﹐敬畏主的人﹐她遵守一切猶太法律。但是﹐這些個人的美德和她被揀選領受神的恩典沒有任何關係﹔這完全是出自神的主權和意志﹐因此被稱作是恩典。
不僅瑪利亞是蒙恩的女子﹐我們不也同樣如此嗎﹖我想到今天早上即將接受水禮的八位弟兄姐妹以及其他一些在過去一年里認識主的人。我們對耶穌基督的信仰與我們個人的好品行是沒有關係的﹐一切都是神親自在我們生命里的工 作 ﹐他主動 地來尋找 我們， 把我們帶回神面前 。 這一切都是恩典。 在保羅的書信里﹐他 也 重複地提到﹕我們都是蒙恩的人。作為蒙恩的人﹐神已經賜給我們所有屬天的祝福。
當瑪利亞聽說她即將懷孕生下一子﹐ 過兒子就是所應許的彌賽亞 ﹐她說 ,34 ﹕“我還沒有出嫁，怎能有這事呢？” 加百列回答﹕ (vs. 35-36) “聖靈要臨到你，至高者的能力要覆庇你，因此那將要出生的聖者，必稱為 神的兒子。你看，你親戚以利沙伯，被稱為不生育的，在老年也懷了男胎，現在已是第六個月了。” 加百列告訴瑪利亞神 會使這 事 成就 ﹐他還引用了以利沙伯作為例子。請大家留意加百利所使用的詞句﹕ “被稱作不生育的” 。對於舊約非常熟悉的瑪利亞當然明白這 句 話。這些話是指 向 2000 多年前的什麼人呢﹖在 < 創世紀 >16 ﹕ 2 ﹐ 17 ﹕ 17 和 18 ﹕ 12 里﹐相同的詞被用來形容撒拉。撒拉已經 90 年沒有生育﹐但是在她 90 歲的時候﹐上帝應允她將生下一子。還有撒拉的媳婦 利 百加﹐她在婚後 20 年不能生育﹐但是後來也生下以掃和雅各。
瑪利亞聽到了什麼﹖像撒拉一般年老不育的人﹔像 利 百加和以利沙伯一樣無法生育的人﹔和像瑪利亞一樣的童貞女﹐都會懷孕生子。這是怎麼回事呢﹖因為神的大能臨到她們。神的大能能夠令年老不育﹐無法生育和保持貞節的女人懷孕生子。上帝主動向他的子民顯明他的能力。加百列最後說﹕ (vs.37) “因為在 神沒有一件事是不可能的。” 這句話被 Fred Craddock 稱作“一切信 條 背後的信 條 ”。 路加在後面的經文里以及 < 使徒行傳 > 里繼續描述神的大能。
我想到在這一年里認識和接受了主耶穌的弟兄姐妹。就在一兩年前﹐或者十年前﹐他們是不會相信今天 會在這裡受洗 。但是一切的不可能都成為了可能。我們當中許多人在一兩年前根本想不到今天我們所處的屬靈光景﹐身體狀況﹐人際關係和職業 的處境 。就在幾年前甚至幾個月前﹐我們還在死亡的陰影下徘徊﹐我們的世界一片黑暗﹐毫無希望。但是現在﹐在黑暗中有了一道光﹐令我們再次看到希望。為什麼呢﹖因為在神沒有不可能的事。
要接受神的恩典 是 容易﹐但是領受了以後呢﹖聖經教導我們﹐在接受了耶穌基督以後﹐我們要在靈性上不斷成長﹐順服神的主權﹐我們要緊緊地跟隨主。在星期五早上的教牧同工 靈修時 ﹐我們被提醒要用我們的眼﹐耳﹐心和腳來盡一切 作神所 喜悅 的事 。這可不是一件簡單的事。有些人可能感到神在呼喚我們離開舒適的生活環境﹔也可能意味著對於我們目前的狀況 -- 無論是已婚或者單身 -- 充滿感恩的心﹔或許意味著要投入全職的服事﹐改換工作﹐修補一份破裂的關係。從我們的角度來看﹐這一切都是如此困難﹐甚至是不可行的﹔但是 當神要在我們身上實現祂的計畫時， 在神沒有不可能的事。
瑪利亞聽完加百利的話後做出什麼反映呢﹖當然﹐她的第一反映是驚慌。於是加百利告訴她﹕“馬利亞，不要怕！” 這裡再次顯 將 瑪利亞和舊約人物的相 待 。當上帝向約書亞， 基甸 和亞伯拉罕顯現的時候﹐神總是先安慰他們﹕“不要害怕。”
有一個人來向我咨詢有關一份工作機會的意見﹐他詳細列舉了這個工作機會的優缺點。他很清楚這個工作的性質和要求。雖然有了這麼多 資料 ﹐他卻依然無法做出決定。 因為每當我們要作一個正面的決定時，都會有冒險。 你可能也認識一些人﹐除非他們有百分之百的把握﹐不然就總是猶豫不前。他們不願意承擔絲毫風險。如果上帝在我成為牧師之前就告訴我 一個牧師 將 會 遇到的事﹐那麼我肯定要重新考慮當時的決定。
當加百利向撒迦利亞顯現的時候﹐他沒有說明有關以利沙伯懷孕的具體細節。所以撒迦利亞心存懷疑。那麼瑪利亞呢﹖加百列把一切都告訴了她﹐沒有任何隱瞞。瑪利亞完全清楚她將承擔的風險﹕人們看到她未婚懷孕會嘲笑她﹐甚至連約瑟也有可能放棄婚約。瑪利亞清楚地知道這一切﹐ 也有許多的細節她不一定明白， 那麼她 的回應 是 什麼 ﹖
(vs. 38) 馬利亞說﹕ “我是主的婢女，願照你的話成就在我身上 ! ” 她順服了﹐這是對一個幾乎不可想象 的使命 的順服。作為神的恩典的領受者﹐ 又 即將經歷到神的大能﹐瑪利亞相信加百列的話﹐ 神的話， 順服了上帝的旨意。
對於我們也是如此。有時候﹐即使我們知道所有的情況﹐卻也難以下決心。 但 我們 要知道， 信仰不是建立在我們可以控制的事上﹐也不是依賴我們個人控制事物的能力﹐而是紮根在 那位 沒有不可能的事 的 神身上。
我們 在 生活中 是否為某些事 感到煩惱﹖ 有人或 感到聖靈在催逼我們 承認生命裡的某些 罪和悔改 的需要 。 或是感到 神 要 我們去原諒那些曾經深深傷害了我們的人。 神 或許 要求我們首先去和家人以及朋友修補破碎的關係。這都不是簡單的事﹐從人性上講甚至是不太可行的。但是請記住﹐在神沒有不可能的事。知道了這一點﹐我們的回應就應該像瑪利亞一樣﹕我是主的僕人﹐願照神的話成就在我的身上。
當我們讀這段經文的時候總是關注瑪利亞﹐但是作者路加的目的卻是顯明神的主動性和他的大能。在人類歷史的最初﹐ 在亞當夏娃違背了神之後， 神就主動地 去尋找他們。 祂繼續地尋找祂的兒女們， 並用祂的大能將他們重復地從敵人的手中救出來 。
即使今天﹐我們基督徒的生命也反映了神主動 的恩典 和他的大能。我們都 領受了祂的恩典 。他首先揀選了我們﹐呼喚了我們， 赦免了 並且愛了我們。他已經賜下所有屬天的福 氣 。他也多次地在我們生命里彰顯了大能。我 時常和 大家說﹕在這裡的每張臉背後﹐都有神的奇妙工作。
讀了這段經文讓我聯想到 30 年前的一件事。當神呼召我全職事奉的時候﹐我感到掙扎。掙扎的原因是我不確定這究竟是不是神的意思。在經歷了之後九個月內發生的一系列事件﹐我清楚地知道全職事奉是神的呼召。一旦我確定了這點﹐我意識到自己已經別無選擇﹐唯有順服。
我們同樣如此﹐明白了 在我們生命中 神主動 的恩典 和大能之後﹐ 也 就 沒太多的 選擇了。我們要像瑪利亞一樣順服上帝﹐讓他在我們的生命里工作。當我們順服他的時候﹐就會 越 經歷他的恩典和大能﹐這會令我們產生更大的順服。這不就是 聖誕節 的 意義 嗎﹖ 神活生生的主動向我們彰顯祂的恩典與大能。我們對祂唯一適當的回應就是順服祂。
Text: Luke 1:26-38
Title: God's initiatives and human response
Theme: Christian living is a response to God's initiatives in our lives
As we see and hear this dialogue between Mary and the angel Gabriel, who would you say is the main character? Traditionally, the spot light is usually on Mary. The angel Gabriel is kind of being pushed into a background voice. However, if we are to take a look at the amount of words spoken, Gabriel is clearly the main character in this narrative.
In this passage, we notice the author, Luke’s attention, on details. This event occurred when Mary’s cousin was 6 months pregnant. It took place at Nazareth , a very small city. In order for his reader to remember it, he tagged it with a well known place, Galilee . Mary was engaged to Joseph. Luke was careful to point out that Mary was a virgin at this time. According to the custom of those days, she was probably under 14. Prior to appearing to Mary, Gabriel was first sent to Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist. Gabriel in the scriptures is known as God's messenger, representing God. This identity certainly sheds a different light on the story, right? If God is to speak to a person, who is the main character? God, of course.
In this familiar passage, we want to discover God's initiative in our lives.
I God takes the initiative to show grace to his children.
Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, vs.28 “ “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Both here and in vs.30, Mary was called the one who was favored by God. God was with her. She was the recipient of God's grace. Then Gabriel continued to explain what this favor, or grace was about. v31-33, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end, ..”
What did Mary hear? Knowing that Mary was very familiar with the OT scriptures, this is what she heard. Soon after man’s disobedience of God's command, God proclaimed in Genesis 3:15, “…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel..” This is about an offspring, a seed that will come to break Satan’s hold on men; bringing men back to God. This seed would be the mediator between men and God. Many years later, God spoke to David in 2 Samuel 7:11, “…..I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, …… 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever..” The Lord told David that now he was given a kingdom. After he died, his sons will continue this kingdom. However, there will be one descendent, a seed that will sit on the throne and be king forever. This promise certainly links closely to the majestic passage in Isaiah 9:6, “ 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” In short, in the OT there is a promise that one day, out of the descendents of David, will come a Messiah, whose kingdom will see no end.
So Mary heard that the son she would give birth to is, none other but the Messiah. This son, Jesus, is the king, the Messiah that was promised long ago. This is the reason that Mary is the favored one, the one who received God's grace. This put Mary in the same position as some OT characters: Noah, Lot and Moses. They were all called, the favored ones, recipients of God's grace.
This really had nothing to do with Mary’s merit. Yes, later Luke told us about Mary being thoughtful, obedient, believing, worshipful and devoted to the Jewish law. But these virtues had no place in being the chosen one. It was strictly out of God's sovereignty and therefore, it is a grace.
Not only is Mary the recipient of God's grace, aren’t we all? I think of the 8 that will be baptized this morning and others that have come to know the Lord during this past year. Our coming to faith in Jesus Christ has nothing to do with how good we are. It is purely God's work. He took the initiative to come and seek us out. He came to bring us back to God. This is grace. In Paul’s writings, he repeatedly tells his readers that we are all recipients of God's grace. As recipients of grace, God has already given us all the heavenly blessings. In the familiar words of Amazing Grace:
God always take the initiative to give us his grace.
II God takes the initiative to manifest his power to us.
When Mary heard Gabriel’s announcement that the child she was to give birth is none other than the Messiah, she said in vs34, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel responded, vs.35-36, “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. 36 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.” Basically Gabriel told Mary that God's power will make it happen. And then Gabriel used Elizabeth as an illustration. Please note the words Gabriel used, “…who was called barren.” Mary, being familiar with the OT, certainly understood these words. To whom were these words referred to 2 thousands years ago? In Genesis 16:2, 17:17, 18:1,12, the same words were used to describe Sarah. She was barren for 90 years. When she was 90 years old, God promised that she would give birth to a son. Then there was Sarah’s daughter-in-law, Rebecca. She was barren for 20 years after she married, then gave birth to Esau and Jacob.
What did Mary hear? The ones who were too old to give birth, like Sarah, the one who was unable to give birth, like Rebecca and Elizabeth, the one who was a virgin and therefore impossible to bear a child, Mary herself, were to give birth. How so? Because God's mighty power was with them. God's power was able to cause the aged, the unable and the unmarried ones to give birth. He takes the initiative to demonstrate his power on his people. And Gabriel summarized this with what Fred Craddock called the creed behind all creeds, 37, “ 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” When God wants to carry out his plan, nothing is impossible. Luke then continues to show God's power in the rest of Luke and the Acts of Apostles.
I think of those who have come to know Christ during this year. Just one or two years ago, or 10 years ago, we would not have believed that we’d be here today. But here we are. Many of us a year or two ago, would not have believed we are at where we are today, spiritually, physically, relationally and career wise. Just a few years or even few months ago, we were walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Our world was in total darkness, there seemed to be no hope at all. Now, there appears a light shinning through that darkness, hope is coming back to us. Why? Because nothing will be impossible with God.
It is easy for us to receive God's grace. How about afterwards? The scriptures tell us that having come to Christ, we are to grow, to be obedient to him. We are to follow and be like him. Or Friday morning’s staff devotion, we were reminded that we are to use our eyes, ears, mouth, heart and feet to do what is pleasing to God. Boy, that is difficult, isn’t it? Some of us may also be feeling God's tug in our lives, telling us to step out of our comfort zone. It could mean we are to thank God for the gift he has given us at this moment: being married or single. It could mean going into full time ministry, a change of career, to go home, or to mend a broken relationship. From our perspective, it is difficult, or even impossible. But, when God wants to implement his plan in our lives, nothing will be impossible with God.
III God's initiative requires our response.
What was Mary’s response when she had this encounter with Gabriel? Of course, her first response was fear. This is why Gabriel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary,…” Again, this put Mary in line with the OT characters. When God appeared to Joshua, Gideon and Abraham, God always assured them by saying, “Do not be afraid.”
I think of a person who asked for advice as he was considering a job offer. He described in great detail the pros and cons of this position. He knows exactly the nature of the job and what to expect. With all that information, he still couldn’t make a decision. Whenever we make a positive decision, it will always involve risks. You probably know someone who will only make a decision when they are 100% certain of the outcome. They don’t want to take any risks. If God would have told me everything that I would experience as a pastor, prior to going into the ministry, I would definitely have second thoughts.
When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, he did not tell him all the details about Elizabeth ’s pregnancy. So Zechariah doubted. But how about Mary? Gabriel told her every thing. Nothing was being withheld from Mary. Mary also knew full well the risk she would be taking. People would make fun of her when they see her pregnant before she was married. There was even the horrible risk that Joseph might break off the engagement. Of course, there were still too many aspects of this happening that she simply could not understand. Knowing all this, what did Mary do?
Vs.38, “Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary obeyed. It was a simple obedience to an almost impossible mission. As a recipient of God's grace, soon to experience God's power, Mary believed in Gabriel words, God's words, and submitted herself to God.
Isn’t this also true for us? There are times, our foreknowledge of all the facts, will not help us in our decision making. Our faith is not in the fact that everything is under our control. Our faith is not based on our ability to do things well. Our faith is in God, the one for whom nothing is impossible.
Are we struggling with certain issues in life? Some of us may feel that God's spirit is tugging at us to confess and deal with certain sins in life. God is telling us to be obedient to his word by forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply. God is prompting us to take the first step to reconcile and mend a broken or strained relationship with your spouse or friend? It is difficult and humanly speaking we have been asked to do the impossible. But remember, with God nothing is impossible. Understanding that with God nothing is impossible, our only proper response is like Mary: I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.
When we come to this passage, we often place our focus on Mary. However, the intent of the author, Luke, is really on God's initiative of grace and power. From the very beginning of human history, God took the initiative to seek Adam and Eve after they disobeyed Him. He continued to seek his people and deliver them from their enemies with his mighty power.
Even to this day, our Christian living is about God's initiative of grace and power. We are all recipients of his grace. He has first chosen us, called us, forgiven us and loved us. He has showered us with all the heavenly blessings. He has also repeatedly demonstrated his power in our lives. I have often shared with you that behind each face in this sanctuary, there is a story of God's grace and mighty work in our lives.
Reading this passage reminds me of an event that happened almost 30 years ago. When I felt that God was calling me into full time ministry, I experienced great struggle. The struggle was: was this really a calling from God or from my own imagination? After a series of events lasting almost 9 months, I was quite certain that it was God calling me. Once I was certain of this, I realized that I didn’t have any options. I obeyed the call.
Understanding God's initiative of grace and power in our lives, we, too, are left with little options. We are to be like Mary by submitting ourselves to God, and letting him continue to work in our lives. As we submit, we’ll continue to experience his grace and power, this will further lead to submission. Isn’t this what Christmas is all about? It is a vivid demonstration of God's initiative of grace and power. The only proper response we can offer him is to be obedient to Him.
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