Beth Moore - The Story of Jesus - Part 1
We will begin this hearing of the ancient eternal story in what will seem to many like a most unusual place. So I'm asking you to command your mind's eye to be wide awake and your heart to be fully engaged, and let your ears be inclined to hear. Step in so close to each scene that you can practically smell the scents and that you could feel the textures, not of the sweater you have around you right now. But of something far more similar to garments they might have worn right around the time of AD 30 to 33. Now, you were expecting me to say, "AD 1", but I'm starting us in a little different place and then we are going to look back behind us.
So you and I are starting out our story not in Luke chapter 1, but in Acts chapter 1, because I hope to prove to you that we actually have more in common, more that we can relate to, in the group that is meeting together in the opening of Acts 1 than we would in that circle of individuals in Luke chapter 1. So, picture it now. Put yourself in the scene. You and I are crowded in an upstairs room in Jerusalem with 120 others. Most of them are men, if not nearly all, but a good handful of them we are told explicitly by the Holy Spirit were women. And we are told that these are women that are not just observing, not just watching what is going on, but they are participating in it. These are sisters among the brothers.
You see, a whole new dimension of family had added to their existence. It had not obliterated the traditional idea of family, flesh and blood family, adopted family, but it had been added into such a way where Jesus had said, "Those who do the will of my Father, those, that's my mother, my brothers, and my sisters". Everything had a new dimension. This was true blood family but in the blood of Christ. And it was unfamiliar and very likely, especially at this point, awkward. But isn't such the case for anyone in close proximity to a real live revolution? And make no mistake, Jerusalem had been the epicenter of an earthquake of the divine kind. The dead had come to life and crowded in that one room was the thumping heart, the racing, pulsating heart of the body of Christ, alive forevermore.
Now, imagine that the noise is absolutely deafening and everyone is talking at once. Something's happened. Hard to tell in all the ruckus exactly what. The 11 have just returned to the room where they've been staying and congregating. You know the ones: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas, but not that Judas of course. But Judas the son of James. They'd returned with some kind of update and whatever it was, it was big. Imagine now that someone, probably Peter, yells over the crowd, "Quiet" and the noise dies down. And they begin to tell what has happened. What was it he had just said? And so, they told it again.
"Well, there were 12 of us there. The 11 of us and Jesus and he'd just told us how John had baptized with water but that we would be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days". Someone yells from the back of the room, "What do you reckon he means by a few days"? "Well, we figured he meant a few days. So we ask him again the question we've asked him over and over, 'Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?' I mean, when was he going to finally answer that question"? "Well, what did he say?" someone yells. Imagine that all 11 started talking at once and James, the brother of John, raises his voice and says over them all, "Brothers, this will be a lot less confusing if only one of us speaks. John or Peter, one of you lead out here".
Well, John being the younger perhaps he showed deference to Peter, letting the rock cry out. So Peter takes it over: "Well, Jesus said, again, 'It is not for you to know the times or the periods that the Father has set by his own authority but you will receive power.'" Well, the other 11 couldn't help themselves. They had to echo the word, one right after another. "He sure did". "He said we'd receive power". Peter holds up his hand to silence the crowd. "As I was saying, Jesus said, 'You will receive...'" Well, then all ten of 'em yell out, "Power". "Yes, power, when the Holy Spirit has come on you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.'" "Samaria?" the crowd questions, looking at one another in confusion and muttering amongst themselves. "Yes, Samaria". "To the Samaritans"? "Well, who else is in Samaria"?
So John picks it up now and says, "And to the end of the earth, there is literally nowhere," John says in my mind's eye, "where Jesus is not planning to send us to witness of what we have seen with our own eyes, touched with our own hands, and heard with our own ears". "That's right," Peter chimes in, "and after he said this, he was taken up, right in front of our eyes. I mean, we were looking straight at him and he lifted right up off the mountain. Nothing but air under his feet, and a cloud, something like that one cloud we saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, wrapped around him like a cloak until we could no longer even make out his form and that thing just, like, carried him out of our sight".
Oh, imagine, the whole room had to have broken out in an uproar of questions. "But, but, that's exactly what our Mary from Magdala told us, brothers. Don't you remember"? This came, in my imagination, from one of the women there in the Upper Room. Now, let's imagine it was Susanna, one of Christ's followers, that is named in Luke's Gospel. It would have been unusual to hear a woman speaking out like that in a majority male gathering, but they well remembered 40 days ago when Jesus sent the woman from Magdala, the one he delivered from multiple demons, to the brothers with the news of his resurrection. So, in my mind's eye, Susanna continues, "I remember what she said, word for word, because we've had her repeat it over and over to us".
The other women nodded in affirmation. In my imagination, Mary Magdalene is right there among them since Luke says in Acts chapter 1 that Jesus's mother was there, along with, and I'm quoting, "the other women". Probably the same women as we'd see in Luke chapter 8 that were traveling along with the disciples. She's named there among them and, incidentally, so is Susanna. "Well, why don't you let her tell it for herself, then"? Well, that would be me, all right, telling someone else's story with the one it actually happened to sitting right next to me. Mary Magdalene smiles in my mind's eye and pats Susanna's hand affectionately and speaks up: "He told me, 'I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and to your God.' And I went straight away and you remember because I announced to you, 'I have seen the Lord.'"
Amens and hallelujahs from all over the room, and a older man shakes his head and wipes his wet eyes. None of the wonder is wasted on the elderly among them. Well, in my imagination, Susanna couldn't help herself. "When Jesus said he was ascending, he was talking about what you 11 saw take place this very day". Maybe one of the men speaks up and says, "Our sisters are right, brothers. He did tell us in advance but we couldn't have imagined it, had our lives depended on it. All 11 of us just stood there, staring up and with our chins on the ground, and all of a sudden, two men clothed in white raiment said to us, 'Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.'"
A question from the left side of the room: "Was it the same two in white that Mary Magdalene said she saw? Remember, in the tomb, when she looked inside the tomb and she said she saw one that had been sitting where his head had been and one sitting where his feet had been? I ask this because those two were angels, weren't they, Mary"? Well, all the women know they can't let Mary answer by herself. All of them, "Yes, yes, surely was, surely was". Peter responds, face alight with wonder: "We can't know for sure, but it seems awfully likely". "Okay, go on, go on, go on with it. Then what happened? Then what happened"? "Well, then we came straight to you. All we know is that at this point we're to stay here in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes to baptize us and then we'll have the power to witness wherever Jesus sends us".
Well, the whole room bursts wide open with chatter, in my mind's eye anyway. Right there in my imagination, everyone trying to make sense of what has happened. But here's what I am thinking, here's what I've come to say to you today. I'm thinking that there was one among them in that room, one, that heard the story and the whole account different from everyone else. That among them in this band of 120, there was one taking it in, all together differently.
Even amid the deafening roar around her, we might picture, based on a few little clues we see elsewhere, that perhaps she retreated into silence, whether right there in the room amid the crowd and all the noise or if she slipped out to be alone for a moment, pondering what the 11 had said. She knew this might mean she would never see him again in her earthly lifetime. The thing is, she knew this going was coming. She just hadn't known exactly when. And she knew this going was essential, because it would lead to another coming, but this time every eye would see. The first time it was just her and Joseph, and if one could be found, a midwife. That coming was also announced by the way by an angel, but that time it was Gabriel, the same one who said to the priest Zechariah in the temple some 6 months earlier, in Luke chapter 1, "I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God and I was sent by God to speak to you and tell you this good news".
Now, the angel was apparently insulted by Zechariah's question of how he could know for certain that Elizabeth was going to have a child, as old as they both were. I mean, what Jewish man hadn't heard the story of Abraham and Sarah from the time he was a toddler? And this dude was a priest. Whatever the reason, Gabriel reacted by striking Zechariah mute, not dead mind you, but mute as a two by four. Mary had also asked Gabriel a question and somehow she'd not received any reprimand at all. She was alone when he had appeared out of nowhere, just a teenager, already betrothed by agreement of both sets of parents to a young man named Joseph. She didn't know exactly when the wedding was going to take place. She only knew that her groom would come to get her after he had prepared a place for her. She sure was glad he was a carpenter. She was busy doing the kinds of things that all young women do in AD 1 to assist their mothers in the care of the home with the younger brothers and sisters, with the cooking, the cleaning, the water fetching.
We don't know exactly where she was at the time. All we know is that the angel came to her and said, "Greetings, favored woman. The Lord is with you". Well now, try to imagine how stunned she was. What on the ever-loving earth kind of greeting was this? And she must have been afraid because the angel told her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now, listen, you will conceive and give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus and he will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end". Well, Mary asked the angel, "How can this even be since I have never been with a man".
Now, I don't know about you but I find this to be a very relevant question. The angel replied to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God and consider your relative Elizabeth". Now we might have to wonder why does he bring this up when he does? What does he read in her expression, or what does he just know coming in, or what has God told him to make sure he says as a follow-up? We don't know for sure. But all of a sudden, he switches to this part of the narrative: "Consider your relative Elizabeth. Even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless".
Now let's let that sink in for just a moment. What the angel is inferring is that people had called her "childless". Maybe they weren't being mean. They just said it as a fact: "Are you talking about the one who is childless"? Folks love name-calling, don't they? Well, I guess God showed them. He always has the last word, always does the name-calling that sticks, and then Gabriel said, "For nothing will be impossible with God". He said "nothing". And Mary says back to him, "Behold, I am the Lord's servant. May it happen to me as you have said".
And then, the angel left her. If I'd been teenage Mary, I'd have grabbed the tip of his wing and said, "Oh no, you don't, Buster. Not until you go tell my mama". But he was gone without a trace, and what was Mary to do? How was she supposed to explain this? And then, how were her parents going to explain this to Joseph's parents? It was no accident that Gabriel brought up Elizabeth. She was the only person on God's green earth with a pregnancy nearly as peculiar as hers; at least she was going to understand. So Mary set out, the Scripture says, and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah where she entered Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.
Now, I know you've probably heard this part of the story many, many times, but I ask you, "Would you be willing to hear it afresh"? With just a fresh dose of the Holy Spirit within you, that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt inside of her and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, I wanna remind you that in this part of the kingdom calendar, the Holy Spirit was sent in a whole different way than he has been sent since Acts chapter 2. Now, every single person who calls upon Christ as Savior to be saved through the power of his cross, the giving of his sinless life, by grace through faith, that every single one of us in that moment receive the Holy Spirit.
In that day, things were totally different. Because from that time, up until the coming of John the forerunner of Christ, all throughout the Old Testament, only a total of about 100 people total, had ever been filled with, empowered by, or had the Holy Spirit upon them, collective. But Elizabeth hears the greeting, baby inside her leaps, and suddenly she is filled with the Spirit and she explains with a loud voice, "Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed. How could this happen to me? That the mother of my Lord," let that sink in, "That the mother of my Lord should come to me, for you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leapt for joy inside of me".
Please, please think this through. A preborn baby of six months' gestation reacting to the microscopic presence of his maker, the Son of God in the womb of the other woman. That's what the presence of Jesus is like. And don't that just beat all? And Elizabeth exclaims, "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord will fulfill what he has spoken to her". Oh, I hope to heaven that that statement is true of all of us shes and hes who believe, because you see, that's our part. He speaks it over us. He said, "You did not choose me. I have chosen you. It's not for you to figure out your worthiness. I chose you. Your part is, will you believe what I have spoken over you"?
Well, Mary did the only thing she could possibly do. She broke out in praise, and she says words that theologians for centuries have believed are being drawn from the words, similar words, but not exactly the same words, of Hannah's praise, all the way back in 1 Samuel 1 and 2, because you see, these women in their history, when these little girls were raised in a world where they were not going to get to hear the Scriptures one-on-one, they were not really added into the group of those who were highly esteemed. They were just waiting for whatever got told to them and their mothers raised them on these stories of these women that God somehow touched and their lives were transformed by his goodness and generosity and grace.
And she says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of this servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me. And his name is holy". The beloved physician tells us Mary stayed with Elizabeth about 3 months, 3 solid months. I mean, don't you... Well, I mean, did she write a note to her mother? Was a letter taken by carrier? I mean, how did word get home? And then, when she returned to her home, wouldn't you have liked to have seen that reunion on the YouTube?
And the news, of course, traveled fast to Joseph. And being a good and righteous man, he was going to end their betrothal quietly so that she wouldn't have to be scandalized, or worse yet, receive an unthinkable punishment under the law for having sex with a man before she was married, before she was married. But an angel came to him and said, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel, which is translated 'God is with us.'"