When my grandmother and her children were refugees coming out of Russia, there was a day when they had no food. My grandmother was desperate and called out to God to provide for them. She had no resources, she could see no possibility of resources and only God could supply their needs. She cried out to the God whom she trusted and whom she believed was able to meet their needs. God provided for them.
Have you ever been in an impossible situation and you were brought to the place where you cried out to God in your need? I have experienced it several times - not to the same intensity as my grandmother, but I do recall crying out to God because there was no other hope. One time was when we were preparing to move here and we were only a few days away from having to move and we were not sure where we would move because we still did not have a place to move into.
When we cry out to God in this way, what we are doing is looking to one who does not have limits as we do. We look to the God for whom nothing is impossible.
When we look at the world in which we live, we see a world that is headed for destruction. There are wars and famines and evil people all around. Trust, peace, abundance are rare in most parts of the world and righteousness is even more rare. It is an impossible situation and we need God to break into this world to redeem it from the destructive path it is on. Christmas is the story of how God has broken into history to save His people. This is what God is like, this is how He works.
This morning we will look at Luke 1 as we begin a series of messages on the gospel of Luke. I hope it will be a blessing to you as we begin now at Christmas with the birth stories of Jesus, spend the winter looking at the life and teachings of Jesus and then conclude the study at Easter with the stories of His death and resurrection.
One of the things we will notice as we study Luke is that Luke often has two stories that are similar. In Luke 1 we have two birth stories - that of John and of Jesus, we have two hymns - Zechariah’s song and Mary’s song. In Luke 2 there are two blessings in the temple and so it goes throughout the book until the end in which we have two resurrection appearance stories. The reason for this is that Luke is making an accurate account of what happened in the life of Jesus and the Old Testament principle that everything must be attested by the mouth of two or three witnesses reinforces the truths about Jesus that he is writing to Theophilus.
This morning I would like to invite you to look at the two birth stories found in Luke 1. They are woven together throughout the text. John and Jesus were connected in that they are the two primary figures connected with God breaking into this world to redeem it. In verse 36, we find that the two mothers spend some time together and so we see how these two stories are closely linked. There are amazing similarities between the two stories.
As we examine these two stories, we will discover a common element in them and that is that they talk about God for whom nothing is impossible.
Last weekend I shared with someone that I was preparing a series on Luke and he pointed out this concept that there are two stories often in Luke. As I prepared Luke 1 and looked at this idea in this book, I was amazed at all the ways in which the two stories, the story of John’s birth and that of Jesus are so similar. Please open your Bibles to Luke 1 and follow along as I point out the many similarities and a few differences.
Vs. 6 - both of them were upright 30 - Mary - You have found favor with God
Vs. 11 - angel visit - Gabriel 26-28 - angel visit - Gabriel
Vs. 12 - fear 29 - fear, greatly troubled
Vs. 13 - Do not be afraid. 30 - Do not be afraid.
Vs. 13 - A son to be born 31 - a son to be born
Vs. 13 - Give him the name… 31 - give him the name…
14-17 - a description of his life 32,33 - a description of his life.
18 - “How can this be?” 34 - “How will this be?”
19 - angel’s response. 35- angel’s response
- judgement -unbelief - you will be silent - explanation - this is how God will do it.
Vs. 20 - my words will come true 37 - nothing is impossible with God.
67-79 - hymn 46-55 - hymn
- Praise to God - praise to God
- redeemed his people - mindful his humble servant
- a horn of salvation - all generations will call me blessed
- in the house of David - Mighty One has done great things
- salvation from our enemies - mercy to those who fear him
- remember his covenant - scattered the proud
- rescue us from enemies - brought down rulers
- serve Him in holiness - lifted up the humble
- you a prophet of the Most High - sent the rich away empty
- prepare the way of the Lord - mercy to Abraham and descendants
- knowledge of salvation through
- tender mercy of God.
- light shining on those in darkness
57 - she gave birth to a son 2:7 - she gave birth to a son
59 - on the eighth day 2:21 - on the eighth day
62 - a sign to show God’s hand 2:25-38 - a sign to show God’s hand
- angel announcement to the shep.
-Zechariah could speak - Simeon and Anna
65 - neighbours willed with awe 2:33 - parents marvelled
Vs. 7 - advanced in years and barren 27 - a young woman pledged to be married,
Vs. 13 - name - John - the Lord is gracious 31 - name - Jesus - salvation
Means - Jehovah is a gracious giver means - Jehovah is salvation
14-17- a joy and delight to you 32, 33 - will be great
many will rejoice - called the Son of the Most High
great in the sight of the Lord - throne of David
filled with the Holy Spirit - reign over Jacob
bring back many in Israel - kingdom will never end.
in the spirit of Elijah
turn the hearts of…
to make a people ready for the Lord
each reference to a different OT character - John to Elijah, Jesus to David.
20 - because you did not believe 38 - “I am the Lord’s servant.”
I find this quite fascinating, but what is the point of it? One thing it does is show how God was in the midst of both events bringing about his will. Another is to demonstrate the unique way in which John came as fore-runner and Jesus as Messiah. But I would like to focus on one lesson which is found in the midst of both of these birth stories and which teaches us something about what God is like and how He acts.
As Zechariah and Mary are told that they will have a son, both of them are amazed at this news. Both of them realize immediately that according to all biological understanding, this cannot happen.
We don’t know how old Zechariah was. The text says, “both were well along in years.” I hate to admit it, but it is likely that he was about my age. The Old Testament directions for priests was that they only served until they were 50 years old. I do not think that a birth was impossible in the sense of Abraham and Sarah who were past child bearing years. The issue here was that Elizabeth had been barren all her life and now was in the time of life where childbearing was highly unlikely, both because of her age and because she had been barren. In other words, it was viewed as something that was impossible.
Mary was very much at the other end of the scale. She was so young that she was not even married yet. She had been promised in marriage, but had not yet consummated her marriage. It is likely that she was between 13 and 18 years old. She knew how babies were made and she knew that it was not possible for her to have a baby because she had not yet been with her husband. In a similar way, then, she also knew that for her to have a baby was impossible.
Yet this story is about God doing the impossible. As we read on, we read about the birth of a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth - in their old age. Then in Luke 2, we read about the birth of a son to Mary and Joseph - in her virginity. God did the impossible - an older barren woman and a young virgin gave birth to sons. The message of the angel, Gabriel, to Zechariah, in verse 20, are “my words…will come true at their proper time.” And the words of the same angel, Gabriel, to Mary, in verse 37, were, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
This isn’t the first time that God did this. Abraham and Sarah were also childless and waiting for God to act. Isaac was born to them when Sarah was well past the age of bearing children. Hannah was also waiting for a child for many years and finally Samuel was born. These stories of some of the main figures in God’s salvation history all have in common that God acted in a powerful way to demonstrate that He is the God of the impossible.
Of course, the birth of children is not the only “impossible” thing that God can do. Throughout history He has demonstrated that He is the God of the impossible. For Israel, the greatest demonstration of God doing the impossible was their redemption from Egypt. About 150 years ago when slavery was active in America, the underground railway helped slaves escape to Canada. But only a few slaves found freedom, many others died trying and many continued in their slavery. If we understand the power of the slave owners and the pervasiveness of the system we might get a little understanding of how amazing it was that an entire nation of slaves was set free by the power of God when Israel was freed from Egypt. God is the God for whom nothing is impossible.
We have looked at the two birth stories. In the midst of these, we see more of the impossible work God accomplished. The birth of John, who came to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi 4:5,6 about an Elijah figure coming to prepare the way of Messiah and the coming of Messiah in the family line of David are all just far too many predicted events coming true to be coincidences. We cannot help but see them as the work of God who does the impossible.
The prayers which the people prayed while Zechariah was in the temple lighting the incense and the prayers of Zechariah were prayers for deliverance. Through the birth of John and Jesus and the work of Jesus on the cross and in resurrection, the most impossible and the greatest thing ever has been accomplished by the God of the impossible. God has made a way for sinful, broken people to find redemption and a way to life through Jesus Christ. The way in which God did it - through death and resurrection - is another of the amazing, “impossible” things God has done.
This is the nature of God - He is the God for whom nothing is impossible and He is still the God for whom nothing is impossible.
I was reading a book this week called, “The Heavenly Man.” It is the story of a man by the name of Yun who is a preacher in China. In 1974, at the age of 16, Yun’s father was very ill - in fact, they were expecting him to die. His mother was desperate and, recalling her Christian upbringing which she had forgotten, she cried out to God. Yun’s father recovered from his terminal illness. Through this incident, Yun turned his life over to God and God began to work in an amazing way through this uneducated young believer. There are some incredible stories about how this young man was used by the God of the impossible. The story of how he got hold of a Bible, which was almost impossible in communist China at the time is a story of God at work. The God of the impossible was also at work when Yun began to proclaim the gospel at age 16 and thousands of people came to Christ. His ministry continued for many years and more than once he spent time in prison. In March of 1997 he was once again put in prison. His legs were smashed with a sledge hammer and he was put in solitary confinement. Every time he had to go to the washroom another prisoner had to carry him. Just three months later, on May 5, 1997, he escaped from prison by actually just walking out of the prison on his own legs and went past several guards, none of whom saw him leaving. It is a story like that of Peter’s escaping from prison. As I read this story, I was again encouraged that God is the God of the impossible.
What are the impossible things that God is doing today? What are the impossible things that God wants to do in our life today? Often we desire that God will do miracles so that we can have a better life. In the story of Mary and Zechariah and in the story of pastor Yun, we learn that the impossible things God has done are done to bring about the kingdom of God. Just because God is the God of the impossible, does not mean that he will always bring us to a pleasant life. Pastor Yun of whom I spoke a few moments ago, spent many years in prison, was always under pressure, often tortured and experienced great difficulty, but saw the God of the impossible do amazing things to bring about his kingdom. Mary saw God do amazing things in her by giving her a son, but that did not make her life easy. Simeon prophesied about Mary in Luke 2:35, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Are we looking to the God of the impossible to bring in His kingdom? Are we looking to God to change the hearts of people who have become calloused? Are we looking to God to heal emotional wounds that are years old? Are we looking to God to bring to himself people who do not know Him? Are we expecting God to work in our church to bring us to a deeper love for Him and for each other?
How do we respond to the God for whom nothing is impossible? As we go back to the stories of Luke 1 we see several responses. Which is ours?
Zechariah responded with doubt. When the angel told him what would happen, he asked in verse 18, “How can this be?” In verse 20 we realize that this response was because of unbelief. Zechariah could not put his head around this concept. Even though assured by the angel, he did not think it would happen. How like us! We also do not always quickly believe that God can act in such amazing ways. Just think of your response when you hear that a particularly wayward person comes to Christ or when a particularly difficult matter is raised in the work of the church. Do we have confidence in the God who does the impossible? Often we do not. We are like Zechariah. It is interesting that Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless - law- abiding, but did not believe. Can we be like that - do all the right things, but not really believe that God acts in mighty ways? I am so thankful that the angel did not throw Zechariah out at that point, but continued with his plan. Zechariah was made unable to speak because of his unbelief, but God’s plan continued.
Mary’s response was quite different. Although the questions look similar, they are not. Mary’s response was one of curiosity, not doubt. She wanted to know how such an impossible thing would take place - a valid question, since it would happen to her. She wanted to know how she would become pregnant and the angel explained that it would be the work of the Holy Spirit. Oh that we would respond with wonder and curiosity at the amazing work of God! Can we marvel at the Christmas story these days? It is an amazing story, do we see the wonder in it? Are we looking at how God has done it?
The further response of Mary was willingness. She said in Luke 1:38, “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.” As we saw earlier, the amazing things God does do not always involve ease. Sometimes God’s path of accomplishing the impossible leads through the difficult. We don’t know, but have conjectured plenty, about how quickly and thoroughly Mary realized all that could happen to her. At the naming of Jesus, we know that Simeon told her it would not be an easy path. But Mary was willing to walk this path and to do what God wanted her to do. Are we willing to follow the God of the impossible through the challenges he leads us to in accomplishing His will? I find it hard to say yes to this, but in my heart, I want to be willing to see God at work, even if it is through difficulty.
The final response of both Mary and Zechariah was praise. When Mary was with Elizabeth, she rejoiced in God. She praised God. The theme of her praise is interesting, she praises God that he will bring down the powerful and raise up the meek. She recognized that God performs mighty deeds with his arm. She rejoiced and celebrated God for the impossible thing that he would do.
Zechariah also responded in praise. When John was born and when they had the naming ceremony, after 9 or so months of silence, the first words out of his mouth were praise to God. His song of praise celebrates the impossible thing God has done in bringing salvation.
Oh that we would see and celebrate the amazing things God does!
I don’t know where these thoughts touch you, probably at different places. They speak to me in a great way. My role is to speak the Word of God in such a way that people come to Christ and follow Him. My job is to encourage people to trust in God in the midst of difficult situations. I want to help the church grow and become a church of saints. When I list it like that, it all seems a little impossible. I am so thankful for the God for whom nothing is impossible. I am glad that it is His power that changes lives and speaks God’s Word and comforts those who struggle.
As we are in the time of Christmas celebration, I invite you to see the God for whom nothing is impossible. I invite you to marvel at what He has done and praise Him for the amazing things He has done in bring Jesus and redeeming this lost and broken world. I invite you to believe in Him for the impossible things He wants to do in your life as you serve Him.
May the God for whom nothing is impossible be the center of our celebration in these days.