Mary’s Vow of Self-Denial
Passage: Luke 1:26-38
Advent is a season of reflecting on the first coming of Jesus, as a baby born into the reality of the human condition. It is also a season of anticipation as we celebrate Jesus’s arrival as the newborn King and are filled with hope for the second advent, when the wrongs of this world will be made right. In Advent we remember the deep and costly peace God has come near to give to us as a gift. During current our sermon series Perspectives: An Advent Series, we have considered the good news of true hope and lasting joy in Jesus from the perspective of those who where there that first Christmas. This fourth week of Advent, Doug Webster preached on Mary’s Vow of Self-Denial from Luke 1:26-38 and Psalm 132:1-18.
Doug is professor of pastoral theology and preaching at Beeson Divinity School and a teaching pastor at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. To find out more, go to douglasdwebster.com.
It’s certainly good to be with you. Celebrating this Advent season. It’s always good to be at Covenant and see new friends and old friends together in worship. If you would turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter one, or in your worship folder there to Luke chapter one, verse 26.
For the last few weeks during Advent, you have been dwelling on perspectives, perspectives of key people in this wonderful Advent Christmas story. And today we’re looking at Luke in the Gospel of Luke at Mary’s perspective. So if you’d listened carefully follow along with me, in the Gospel of Luke.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town of Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel went to her and said, Greetings, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you. Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God, and you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus, He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.
How will this be? Mary asked the angels – since I’m a virgin. And the angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come on you. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative is going to have a child in her old age. And she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail. I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. May your word to me be fulfilled. And then the angel left her.
Let’s pray together. Lord God with your Word open, we asked that by your Holy Spirit, you would speak to us now if your truth, a truth that really counters a post truth, culture in a post truth, age, a truth that stands in time as real as true as lasting. Help us, Lord, see your word today as part of our life, part of our story. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray together, amen.
It’s an interesting convergence of historical reality here in the Gospel of Luke, especially in the kind of secular age we live in today. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy Gabrielle shows up to speak to Mary. Can you imagine just the juxtaposition of those two realities: a six month pregnancy and an angel? We read this story and it’s a question of credibility. Mary hears this and receives this encounter as a question of, of humility. Before a God who speaks.
I find it interesting that some of our leading secularists like Richard Dawkins, or James Watson or Carl Sagan, they truly believe that someday we will discover Extra Terrestrial beans. And these atheistic scientists talk about that, that someday, they will be discovered and they will be far more technologically advanced than we are. And yet they would completely discount the idea of angels. That we really don’t live in a closed universe. But an open transcended universe in which the Lord is the God of creation and the God of redemption. There is a long salvation history that is acknowledged and understood in this short, easy to read passage from the Gospel of Luke.
Mary is to be married to Joseph, a descendant of David. Now that meet and he points us way back into Old Testament history and the reality of what God has promised. This virgins named Mary. The angel says her greetings, you’re highly favored, the Lord’s with you. I have to understand, I think we have to understand that Mary has a deep relationship with the Word of God. She really does understand this salvation history. And she would understand how God has been building to this particular point in time. She would be deeply immersed in the Psalms, a teenager, yet really fully aware of what God has said. And she is open to God. Certainly not just on Sundays, but in her total life, there is an openness to the sense of the presence of God in her. I think that’s why she’s called highly favored. It’s not because she’s earned this by being a specialty devotional. It’s that in the life of God’s grace and mercy in her life, and how she has grown up in the Lord and in His Word, that there is this presence of God in her life, the presence of God’s grace. But Mary is troubled at these words, because this is a shocking revelation to her. The presence of an angel, the presence of a messenger of God, introduced by Luke, who is giving us an eyewitness account of what happened in the life of Christ is just some as a normal narrative fact. But as a shocking truth to Mary in her experience. Don’t be afraid, Mary, you found favor with God, and the Lord will give him the throne of his father David. Now, that’s where I want you to link with the other passage of scripture. That’s in your worship folder, Psalm 132.
And I think in a few moments, you’ll see why I’m linking the Luke passage with Psalm 132. And what David said, in his vow to the Lord. Now, let me read this passage. Lord, remember David, and all his self denial. He swore an oath to the Lord, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob, I will not enter my house or go to my bed or are allowed no sleep to my eyes or slumped to my eyelids till I find a place for the Lord dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob. We heard it in Ephrathah, we came upon it in the fields of Jaar. Let us go to His dwelling place. Let us worship at his footstool, saying, Arise, oh Lord, and come to your resting place. You and the Ark of your might. May your priests be close with your righteousness. May Your faithful people sing for joy.
What is David vowing? Here, he’s vowing that he will not rest until he has found a place, built a place for the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant had been lost during Saul’s reign, King Saul proceeded David as king. And the Ark of the Covenant had been seized by the Philistines, causing the Philistines trouble. They then left the Ark of the Covenant with an Israelite, but it had never been brought to the city of Zion, to the city of David to Jerusalem. And here David is vowing that he will not rest until he’s found a place for the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant is a box, a box three feet by six inches, six and a half inches long, and two feet by six and a quarter inches deep. It’s covered with gold. And inside that ark of the covenant is the tablets that were given to Moses, the law. You can’t make an idol out of a box. Or at least it’s very difficult to do that.
God intended to create a symbol of his presence. And a symbol of his presence was contained in this ark of the covenant. It stood for it; it had sort of an iconic spiritual value representing the presence of God.
God isn’t in the box. But the box signifies the reality of what he has done for his people and giving the law and in leading his people.
David is intent on putting this ark of the covenant in the temple of God And he believes it’s his responsibility to do so he makes a vow, Lord, remember David and all his self denial.
As you know, the Lord told Nathan to tell David that it wasn’t his responsibility to build the temple. And yet the psalmist, long after David has died, and in the presence of God speaks to us of David’s self denial, his vow of self denial, I want you to link and I think it’s good for us to do this, to link David’s vow of self denial. With Mary’s vow of self denial. I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled. I want to identify with Mary’s statement, I am the Lord’s servant. Make your word to me, be fulfilled. I want to identify with David’s vow, Lord, remember David, and his self denial. And I think it would be valid if you put your own name in that first verse of Psalm 132.
Lord, remember me and all my self denial.
Now, as you know, David’s valid self denial takes place because of God’s grace. This is not part of his work, part of his merit. This is out of the gospel reality of the good news to David that he makes this vow. And don’t take it too literally. It’s not that David now is sleep deprived forever. It’s the fact though that he is so committed to the reality of what God desires to do, and how he seeks to honor God. That he says it this way, in a poetic fashion. But that’s not the only valid point that’s talked about in this psalm.
In verse 10, there’s a second vow, the Lord’s vow. For the sake of your servant David. Do not reject your Anointed One. The Lord swore an oath to David, assure oath, he will not revoke and one of your own descendants I will place on your throne. You see, we’re getting very close to the announcement of Gabriel, to Mary: one of your own descendants I will place on your throne. If your son escaped by covenant and the statues I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne forever and ever. For the Lord has chosen Zion, and he has desired it for his dwelling. This is my resting place forever and ever. Here I will sit in throne for I have desired it. I will bless her with abundant provisions. And on goes this sort of picture of human flourishing and the abundant life that God provides. Because of his vow. She got two vows, you got the Lord’s vow, and you got David’s vow. David’s vow is made on the basis of the Lord’s vow. The Lord has promised that from his lineage from his descendants, he would raise up one who is the Anointed One, the Savior of the world, a manual God with us, which is more important? David’s vow, or the Lord’s vow?
Well, you should be thinking right away, I think, if I can think for you, there’s no comparison. There’s no comparison between David’s vow of self denial and the Lord’s vow of faithfulness.
And in that sense, there’s really no comparison between Mary’s vow of self denial. I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said, and the Lord’s vow of faithfulness.
Isn’t it wonderful? I think it is. That the Lord chooses Mary as kind of our first, the first disciple, the first one to receive Christ. And that her life models this kind of humility before the will of God and an acceptance. You know her question in Luke chapter one and verse 34. How will this be is not a question like Zacharias question the father of John the Baptist, who was skeptical that this could be and he paid a price for that by being silenced for the rest of Elizabeth’s term of pregnancy and it wasn’t until John the Baptist’s birth that he was able to sort of shout forth in praise. But humility. Mary’s question is a question of humility. How will this be? Mary asked the angels since I’m a virgin, and the angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative is going to have a child in our old age, for no word from God will ever fail.
A few weeks ago when I was working on Psalm 132, the news carried the reports of John Chow, 26 year old Washington State believer with a passion for Christ. He died on November 16.
Attempting to bring the gospel to the center Lee’s a tiny tribe in India, the remote North Sentinel Island off the east Ben Gaul in a very remote area, with a tribe that numbers something like 40 to 100 people. For some time on, John Chow’s mind has been the desire to bring the Gospel to these people. He was a trained EMT, had quarantined himself, so that he wouldn’t bring any disease heavily vaccinated, had studied linguistics, had prayed long and hard for the opportunity to bring the Gospel to this particular people the Lord had laid it on his mind.
In 1956, Life magazine covered the story of five missionaries, who were killed in Quito, Ecuador bringing the Gospel to a remote tribe. Life magazine pictured these five individuals and really set them up as heroes, praising them for the courage within them to bring the gospel.
But all I read were criticisms of John Chow. Our culture has really changed. Life magazine isn’t there to picture him as a hero at all, but to picture him as a colonialist, an imperialist. Someone who’s imposing his views on others. One commentator said Chow should have been content to convert a bunch of stubborn thankless rain cold Seattleites than to travel to the other side of the world to the Bay of Bengal.
Lord, remember John Chow and all his self denial. He was not willing to treat the Sentinelese like an endangered species. He saw them as image bearers of God who needed the gospel.
Pastor Wang Yi was arrested on December 9, along with 100 members of his congregation in Chengdu, China. Really interesting if you type in Wang Yi, and you can hear a message of his on YouTube in a church building that would really look more sophisticated than this. And he is articulating the gospel in Chinese in a way that represents the fact that he was one of Chinese intellectuals, trained scholars, highly respected, and came to Christ.
And now 48 hours after his arrest, along with other members of his congregation and his wife, a letter was released that he asked to be released if he was incarcerated for more than 48 hours entitled a declaration of faithful disobedience. And in that letter, he makes it very clear he has no desire to change the communist regime. His concern is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and the fact to address the Middle Kingdom with the kingdom of heaven.
His desire is not to be a poor citizen of China, but to be a very good citizen of China, sharing the truth of the gospel with them.
My father in law died this past February at the age of 93. Paul Long. Paul Long had taken many vows of self denial. He and his wife Mary were missionaries in the Congo up until the 1960s rebellion and came back from Africa and learned Portuguese and then retooled and, and went to Brazil and planted churches and the trans Amazon highway.
Shortly after we were married, Virginia and I visited the Amazon on the Xingu. He did that for a number of years until several heart attacks and it was kind of decided that he’d have to come home, came home and worked on a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary and then taught for the next 15 years at reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
Many vows of self denial, but you know, the vow of self denial the family will remember the most, is his vow to serve his wife in the last 12 years of her life with three or four different types of cancer and hear this very macho, Southern patriarchal, cowboy missionary, who had never changed a bed, never cooked a meal, at least not on a campsite, yes, but never at home, kind of waited on, learned how to change sheets, learned how to cook meals, learn how to serve Mary, in the most loving way, and he called it mission Mary.
And the family will see that as the mission that was really superseded or transcended all the other missions of which were a part of his life.
Remember Paul Long and his vow of self denial. Remember John Chow and his vow of self denial. Remember, Pastor Wang Yi in his vow of self denial.
And I guess the reason I’m telling you the story of Paul Long last is because mission Mary gets into the category that most of us can identify with. Caring for a loved one who’s dying, getting up in the middle of the night, because you’ve got a colicky baby. But your desire is to help that child grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your vow to represent Christ in the most secular setting that you’re in, whether in the office or on campus, or on the assembly line, or whatever you’re doing. You put your name in place of David, and in place of Mary.
Remember David and his vow of self denial. Psalm 132, is a beautiful picture of John 10:10, I’ve come that you might have life and might have it abundantly. And in the poetry of the psalmist, it talks about strength and guidance. And in its very last line, it speaks of the radiance of his crown.
And that brings me to a text that helps me understand what that abundant life and the radiance of God’s crown is all about. Kind of the Capstone verse of the book of Hebrews, therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Therefore remember David, and his vow of self denial. Therefore, since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us remember, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let’s run with perseverance. The race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him for the Lord’s vow of self denial, trumps all of our vows of self denial, and inspires our vows of self denial by His grace. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Let’s pray. Lord God, thank you for the linking between salvation history, and Mary’s word I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said. And help us Lord, in our vows, our baptismal vow, to understand and to realize that our life is hidden with you, and we live yet not us, but Christ lives in us and the life that we now live in the body.
We live by faith in you, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.