Introduction – A new resident had turned an old farm into a thing of beauty. As his pastor admired the changes he remarked ,“Boy, it sure is something to see what the Lord can do with a place, isn’t it?” The farmer agreed, “Yes, it is. But you should have seen what it looked like when the Lord had it Himself!” There is a wonderful truth in that story which is that God works through people. Serving Him is the highest possible calling in human life.
Mary beautifully illustrates this in becoming mother to God in the flesh. My mentor, Pastor Loren Fischer, wonderfully defined service: Service is little people, doing little things in a fine way for a great God. Last week we began to see how Mary illustrates that definition in a marvelous way.
I. Little People – Like most of us, Mary was insignificant to this world. God cannot use big shots – people overly impressed with their own press clippings or supposed superiority. Neither can God use people who deny His gifting by sitting it out – claiming inability! Servers see God as big and themselves as small, but privileged beyond description to be gifted by Him for service. Service starts with little people dedicated to serving a great God.
II. Little Things – You say, Hey, a virgin birth is no small thing. But what God asked Mary to do was have a baby – been done billions of times. The virgin part – that was all God. God only asks us to do what we can do. So the 3 Jewish boys in Daniel 3 did a walkabout. Elijah just poured oil from one container to another. Moses threw his staff on the ground. The disciples in Acts 2 talked. It was God who preserved life in the fire; God who kept the oil flowing; God who turned the staff into a snake and God who turned the speech into foreign languages. Service is little people doing little things that God turns into big things. Today – the final components – in a fine way for a great God.
III. Fine Way
I love that. Service offered in a fine way. Do we serve at home, on the job, at church in a fine way – or is it a bit on the sloppy, unprepared, grumpy side? How is it with you? Is it fine -- or is it ordinary, average, whiny, resentful, disgruntled? Do we get that we represent the king of all kings?! Or is it tedium to us? What defines service done in a fine way?
A. Empowered by the Spirit
Lu 1:34, “And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Good question? Not reflecting unbelief like Zechariah’s question -- but reflecting a knowledge of biology. Mary was not married. She had not been with Joseph nor would she be until after the wedding. But Gabriel tells her she’ll have a baby who will be the Son of the Most High and King forever of Israel. How will this be? Not can this be -- but how will this be?
The angel answers -- Lu 1:35, “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.” How will this be? You will be enabled by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters at Creation; the same Spirit who was the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to lead the Israelites; the same Shekinah glory appeared as a cloud in the Holy of Holies; the same Spirit pointed to by God when He said to the temple-builder Zerubbabel in Zech 4:6, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts’ – that Spirit, Mary, is going to overshadow you; He will enable birth of this child. Impossible? For you, yes?! But not for Him!
So Mary says in Lu 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Her submission is immediate and total. The wording there is not nearly strong enough. Servant is δουλος, slave! Mary is saying I am the slave of the Lord. Do with me as you will. She submits!
Any service for Christ must be enabled by the Holy Spirit? Paul says in II Cor 4:5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants [slaves] for Jesus’ sake.” True believers, who acknowledge that Jesus is not just the Lord, but their Lord are naturally slaves of Christ. Which is exactly why we are urged by Paul in Eph 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Live a life of conversation with Him in prayer. It is step one in offering fine service to our Lord. Candid camera did a stunt years ago where a car rolled down a hill and into a service station. “Check the oil,” was the instruction. But when the attendant opened the hood – no engine. It got priceless reactions. Why? Because everyone knows – you can’t power a car without an engine; and you can’t serve God in a fine way without the HS.
B. Embodies Our Best
Fine service means giving our best. May gave her whole-hearted best to serve her Lord in this way. This little 14-year-old girl travels 70 miles to the home of Elizabeth for encouragement and teaching. Protective and cautious of her baby – giving her best – serving in a fine way!
Does God get best or leftovers? Are we faithful in preparing to use God’s gifts to us? What if I showed up on Sunday morning and said, “Well, let’s turn to John 1 this morning and see if we can figure out what God is saying.” That would be a travesty, right? Do we prepare and pray over teaching our children? It’s every bit as important as what I do. Do we pray over nursery duty; give our best to the leadership or administrative tasks that God has called us to? Is our service offered in a fine way? Our best!
In truth, our whole life is an offering to God. There’s no sacred/secular distinction. God says in I Cor 7:17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” What we do every day is first and foremost service to God. Does it get our best? Col 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Do we do that? Do we do every day in a fine way? I know it is tedious. I know it is repetitious. I know you’re not appreciated. Do you do it in a fine way? I know it is not glorious. I know it is tiring and frustrating and no one else cares. But do we do it in a fine way?!
A friend watched Michelangelo as he patiently chipped away tiny pieces from the chin of a statue that already looked perfect. He finally commented, “But all those things are so insignificant.They are mere trifles." "That may be so," replied Michelangelo, "but trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." That is service rendered in a fine way. Will we be happy to present our life’s work to the Father one day soon? Is it our best?
C. Energized by Faith
I love this third characteristic about Mary. She had to be scared. Imagine being told at 14 that you’re going to be with child out of wedlock. That’s the plan? God, what are you thinking? Think of the questions. What about my fiancé? What about my family? No one will believe this. My reputation will be ruined. I will bear a lifetime stigma. Are you telling me this is the plan for Messiah’s mother? But from Mary there is no whining, no complaining, no reservations, no questioning. Lu 1:37-38 coming one right after the other are remarkable. Gabriel says, “’For nothing will be impossible with God.’” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Zechariah, asked for a sign; young Mary did not. Zechariah saw only obstacles; Mary saw God. The priest did not believe; Mary believed. She was energized by faith.
Fine service is energized by faith. When the children are unruly, do you believe that God is doing a work through your efforts? When the work is tedious, do you believe? Secular or sacred, it’s not results what counts is faith that God is at work. An observer saw some workers on the streets of London many years ago. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” He said, “Anyone can see, I’m making mortar for bricks. The second when asked replied, “Why, I’m making a living so I can feed my family.” The third saw it differently: “Why, I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paul’s Cathedral.” May I ask, what are you doing with your life? Is it energized by faith that God is at work in our work? Bathed in prayer? Is it fine?
IV. Great God
It is a privilege to serve greatness, is it not? Why do athletes denigrate some coaches while they would go through a brick wall for others? It’s because they perceive greatness, isn’t it? Beloved, we serve a God who defines greatness – One whose perfections are preposterous. Mary is told of Jesus, “He will be great.” No qualifiers. He is the personification of greatness. Let’s see 4 ways that greatness should frame our efforts.
A. He is God With Us
John the Baptist was clearly going to be great, but nothing like this One. In Lu 1:32, He is the “Son of the Most High” – a reference to the OT El Elyon – the Almighty. In Lu 1:35 He is “the Son of God.” No wonder He is great – He is God in human form. God with us. Does it touch you that God has become just like you in the person of Christ? So Heb 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He knows us intimately because He became us, and He is with us. What a comfort!
Corrie Ten Boom tells how her father used to tuck her in at night. He’d lay his big hand on her face and pray with her. Later, when she was imprisoned in a brutal Nazi concentration camp in her mid-50’s, she would ask God to tuck her in and lay His hand on her face. "That would bring me peace, and I would be able to sleep," Corrie wrote. David Jeremiah says, “Sometimes it helps to envision His presence in the car beside us, sitting by us in the pew at church, or leaning over us in bed as if to tuck us in. It’s not a matter of visualizing an imaginary person but of recognizing a Friend’s presence.” God’s greatness is His ability to promise all simultaneously, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5). God is great in being with us.
B. He is Savior of Us
Of all Christ’s benefits, this is the one we hold most affectionately. God saves sinners. Lu 1:31, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” He is named Jesus according to Matt 1:11 because “he will save his people from their sins.” “Jesus” means, “The Lord is salvation”. Many have had the name – only one could live up to it. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” He came because no one else could do it. We cannot save ourselves from sin. Nor can anyone else. No psychiatrist, no doctor, no friend or spouse or pastor can save us from our sins. Only Jesus can. Jesus Himself put this in perspective for 72 disciples returning from a spectacular preaching tour, dazzled by the miracles they had done. Jesus instructed, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). If you belong to Christ, your name is written in heaven. Imagine how great God must be to find a way to make that happen! There is only one Savior; it is Jesus.
The film Amazing Grace chronicles the trials of William Wilberforce as he endeavors to rid England of slavery. He asks pastor friend, John Newton, who captained slave ships prior to his conversion, to document the human side of the tragedy. Newton says he cannot bear to re-live a past that haunts him daily. Yet, later, Newton delivers a full account saying, "You must use it. Names, records, ship records, ports, people—everything I remember is in here. Although my memory is fading, I remember two things very clearly: I'm a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior." Beloved, perhaps we didn’t trade slaves, but God’s verdict is James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Violations of God’s law are violations of His character. There are only two remedies – eternal separation from God, or salvation by grace through faith in the death of Jesus Christ. He alone can save us from our sins.
C. He is Ruler Over Us
Lu 1:32-33, “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.” God is going to rule through His Son Jesus Christ in a kingdom that will have no end. What a kingdom that will be! Isa 11 tells us that all the wicked will be destroyed. The lion will lie down with the lamb. Perfect unity will be restored in nature. Isa 11:9 summarizes conditions, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Rev 21 tells us that God Himself will wipe away all tear and there will never again be mourning or crying or pain. No uncleanness will ever be allowed to enter this kingdom. What a great kingdom!
But there is a catch. This was Jesus’ message before. Luke 4:42, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” Jesus offered the kingdom in His first coming – so why did it not fully come? What happened? Well, that’s the catch. Before Jesus will be your Ruler outwardly, He must first become your Lord inwardly. Before He can be Lord of your nation, He must be Lord your heart. A few accepted offer, but as a nation, the Jews rejected their own Messiah – and so He also rejected them. They were willing to have Him right their political wrongs, but didn’t want him to right their personal wrongs. But it’s not over. He will come again with His kingdom. Question is, have we accepted Him as our personal Lord, so that He can be our kingdom Lord?
D. He Does the Impossible Through Us
Does that sound intimating? Then you have missed that it is God doing the impossible, not us. He shows His glory to finest advantage, by doing impossible through us. It’s laughable that God would change the world through us, but that gets Him glory! We are in on something big! One of the finest verses in Scripture is in our text – Lu 1:37, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Gabriel did not say, “Nothing will be impossible.” He said, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Big difference. Virgin births are impossible for humans. So, if human beings are big our lives, our perspective is skewed. But if God is big and people are small – a virgin birth? For the One who created life in the first place? Nothing is impossible with God. He’s a great God!
I love Gabriel’s wording here. It is not “Nothing will be impossible for God.” That’s true, but not very personal. What he says is “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Don’t you like that? Puts us and God into life together. Partners! That is marvelous. Mary could not have a baby as a virgin without God. But neither could God have a baby without Mary. He did the hard bit, but she was the instrument. Isn’t that a great? Reminds me of an old basketball story. Hot Rod Hundley was a guard for the Lakers in the early 60’s. He roomed with the great forward Elgin Baylor. As they climbed into a cab one night after a game in New York, Hundley put his arm around Baylor and noted, “What a night, huh buddy? 73 points between us!” Baylor responded,”Yea – 71 for me and two for you!” – which was true. That’s like us and God. He does the impossible, but He does it through us.
Conclusion – Elisabeth Elliott was 29 years old when her husband Jim was speared to death along with 4 other missionary companions by the Auca Indians deep in the jungles of Ecuador. Nearly three years later Elisabeth found herself standing within 10 feet of one of the 7 men who killed her husband. She and her 3-year old daughter had come to point these men to Christ – and they were listening. She wrote in Gates of Splendor: “How could this be? Only God who made iron swim, who caused the sun to stand still, in whose hand is the breath of every living thing – only this God, who is our God forever and ever, could have done it.” The Aucas told them the attack was a mistake; they thought the white men were cannibals; they now regarded the killings as an error. Elisabeth saw it differently: “But we know that it was no accident. God performs all things according to the counsel of His own will. The real issues at stake on January 8, 1956, were very far greater than those which immediately involved five young men and their families, or this small tribe of naked ‘savages’. God is the God of human history, and He is at work continuously, mysteriously accomplishing His eternal purposes in us, through us, for us and in spite of us.” Today a whole tribe of Aucas inhabit heaven, hundreds of people who never would have been there but for the sacrifice of those 5 men.
You say, That’s great, but those were extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. God’s not doing the impossible through average people like me. Oh really? That’s a copout! God is doing impossible thru average people every day. He’s turning neighbors to Christ by friends who invite them to church. He’s moving rebellious children to Christ through prayer. He’s showing wriggling 4-year-olds that He loves them through average teachers. Nothing will be impossible with God. He is doing the impossible, changing lives every day -- through the prayerfully dedicated efforts of little people, doing little things in a fine way for a great God. Come on, Beloved. Let’s be part of something big for a great God. Count us in, right?! Let’s pray.