Greg Laurie - The Nobody in the Middle of Nowhere
Well we're looking at Luke chapter 1 and we're going to spend a little bit of time talking about that story of stories, the Christmas story. I want to focus on two very well-known characters and see if we can uncover a few new things about them possibly - Mary and Joseph. Mary, hand-picked by God to be a fulfillment of Bible prophecy, but the other person the Lord picked, Joseph, to me, is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. And by the way, Joseph was also used by God to fulfill prophecy. So, let's reread that fantastic story that I never tire of.
Luke 1:26. "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came to her and said 'hail (or greetings), you are highly favored. The Lord is with you: blessed are you among women!' but when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, 'do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and you will call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the son of the highest: and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' then Mary said to the angel, 'how can this be, since I do not know a man?' and the angel said to her, 'the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the highest will overshadow you: therefore, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible'".
I love Mary's response. "Then Mary said, 'Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her". You know Mary, what a special woman she was. More little girls have probably been named after her than any other woman who has lived in human history and justly so. Mary was the only person present at both the birth of Christ and his crucifixion. She saw Jesus enter this world as her son and she saw him leave as her Savior. Maybe the Lord chose her because he knew she would do what he asked her to do.
Here's something very important we don't want to miss. Where was Mary living when this angelic message came? She was living in the city of Nazareth. I think one of the problems, if you will, of Christmas today is we've made it too beautiful with our horse-drawn carriages and our snow gently falling and all the wonderful things we think of this time of the year. We sometimes take the nativity story and sprinkle a little too much fairy dust on it and almost treat it as though it were a child story, which it is but it's an adult story as well. But we forget that it's a historical event that actually happened.
I think when you peel off that veneer of beauty and get to the raw truth of what took place, it's actually a far more appealing story, so let's simply start with the place Nazareth. That's where Mary was living. Nazareth was a wicked place and that brings me to my first point: Mary lived a godly life in an ungodly place. Again, Mary lived a godly life in an ungodly place. Angels have been dispatched to wicked places before. They were sent to Sodom and Gomorrah and they got lot and his family out and Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their sin and so was Nazareth.
Certain cities have certain characteristics. Rome is called the City of Lights. Excuse me, it's called the Eternal City. Paris is called the City of Lights. New York is called the City that Never Sleeps, and Las Vegas is called what? Oh, you know all about that don't you? Well you could just as easily call Nazareth Sin City. It was known for its sin. It's an interesting thing. It had a population of around 20.000 people. It was overrun by Roman soldiers because it was sort of a stopover point from one place to another. It was not a destination. It was a place that you rested in before you went to your destination.
I like to think of Nazareth as sort of the Barstow of the Bible. I don't know. Maybe you vacation in Barstow. Whatever, but whatever you want to think about that this was a place... How shall I put it delicately... Where more than one girl would find herself pregnant because of the Roman soldiers and the young girls there. These soldiers would prey upon these young women. Nazareth was so wicked that's why when nathaniel was called by Jesus and was told that Jesus came from Nazareth he said, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth"? That's why he would say it like "Psh, are you kidding me? Nazareth. Nothing good has ever come out of Nazareth".
That's where Mary lived when the angel came to her and that's where the young Jesus grew up. But Mary shows it's possible to live a holy life in an unholy place. Here's a question to think аbout: are you a thermostat or are you a thermometer? I have a nest thermostat. You know what I'm talking about? These little things that sort of think for themselves. And that's good and bad because the nest thinks that I like my house at certain temperatures and sometimes the nest gets confused because the nest thinks, "I think you really think it's awesome when it's 74 degrees at 3 o'clock in the morning". I don't want it that warm. I like it cold when I go to sleep.
So I set it at a certain temp and I come down. It's hot. What is this stupid thing doing? Then the other day, we have these smoke alarms, and they're connected to the nest and I didn't even know they were connected, but somehow they built a relationship with each other and all of a sudden the alarms go off and now the nest is in on it and they're all blinking red. The nest is blinking red. I didn't even know it could do that and its saying "Carbon monoxide in the air" and I'm like there was nothing. And it was like, of course, 3 o'clock in the morning. Mandatory for smoke alarms going off right? Never 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
So all of this craziness so I did what any clear thinking person would do. I ripped these stupid things off the ceiling because I could not shut them up and they're still going off. I put them under cushions. I can still hear them. They won't stop so I took them out in the garage and I put them in my car and I shut the doors of the car and I could still you know hear them. But anyway, that's my criticism of some tech. But theoretically, a thermostat controls the temperature where a thermometer simply reflects what the temperature is depending on the mercury rising or going down. It will tell you here's the temperature. Are you thermostat or are you a thermometer? In other words, are you influencing culture, or is culture influencing you?
See, a lot of times we'll want to fit in. We don't want to stand out. We don't want to offend anybody, so we won't speak up for what is true and we'll compromise our faith. Well Mary was not that person. She lived a godly life in an ungodly place, and also I might point out she was very young. Some commentators think she could've been as young as 15 years old. Maybe 16. I think sometimes people think young people, they're always going to go out there and sow their wild oats and get themselves in trouble and that's the way it goes. Yeah, they do that, but young people can also come to Christ and be powerfully used by God to change the world so that's a better alternative. Because the Bible is filled with the stories of young people that made a difference.
Mary is one, of course. Jeremiah was just a boy when the Lord called him to be a prophet to the nation and he protested and said, "Lord, I'm too young. Get somebody else". The Lord said, "Don't say you're too young. I've called you". Then, of course, we know that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were very young men when they took their principled stand for what was true. Stephen the first martyr of the church was also a very young man. That is why the apostle Paul wrote to the very young Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, "Don't let anyone think less of you because you're young, but be an example to all believers in what you teach and the way you live and your love, your faith and your purity".
I often looked at that verse when I was starting out my ministry because I was so young and people would be dismissive of me like "You can't be a pastor", and I understand in some ways why they said it. I mean I was 17 when I became a Christian, 18 when I started preaching and basically 20 when I started pastoring. I was very young and I was even a young believer at the time, but God had called me and so I did what the Lord called me to do.
I think when you're young you're more willing to take risks - that's sort of a trade of youth. It's also a trade that can get you into trouble because you can take bad risks and you can also take good risks, but as you get older you become more seasoned, experienced and more careful and more cautious and you're less willing to take risks and that can be a good thing because you've learned from experience: and that can sometimes be a bad thing because you're not willing to let the Lord do something fresh and new in your life. That's why young people need older people to stabilize them and that's why older people need younger people to energize them. We all need each other.
But Mary was a very young lady. Mary was a nobody in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere, but God shows her to literally fulfill Bible prophecy because God uses nobodies to tell everybody about somebody. Look at verse Isaiah 7:14 tells us that she fulfilled scripture because the Bible says the Lord himself will give a sign and the virgin will conceive and bear a Son and call his name Emmanuel. You know, you wonder. Mary was probably a great student of scripture - that certainly reflected in something we call the magnificat or the Psalm of Mary that I'll mention in a moment, but she knew the Word of God.
You wonder if she ever thought "I think I'm going to be the fulfillment of that prophesy". I seriously doubt that, but indeed she was to be and what an amazing thing that was because here was a young unknown girl living in a relatively unknown city who was going to bring about the most known event in human history. Mary was literally a fulfillment of a promise that God had made.
Christmas has a lot to do with promises. Going back to the very beginning, God promised Adam and Eve that a deliverer would come one day. God promised Isaiah that the virgin would conceive and give birth to the Savior, and God promised Mary she would give birth to that Savior. Evidently, God wants us to know he keeps his promises. The angel even affirmed in verse 37, "Every promise of God will surely come true".
Listen, God has made a lot of promises to you, and we need to take hold of those promises. I've said before, promises are a lot like gift cards that are left unclaimed. I don't know about you, but I get a few gift cards this time of year. I have to say that I have quite a few in-n-out gift cards and thank you for those if you gave me one. I think people think that all I do is eat at in-n-out burger and krispy kreme donuts because I use them as illustrations. By the way, if you've given me one of those, thank you but please don't give me any more. I'll be honest, I've re-gifted a few of those cards. I hope you don't mind because I'd be 400 LBS if I used them all.
But you know, I have these gift cards and sometimes I'll give them to someone else and there's some gift cards that I go, "Well that's very nice, but I don't know if I'm ever going to go to this restaurant called Liver World", it just doesn't appeal, but I don't get many like that. They're usually for great things and I'm appreciative of it. But sometimes I'll find a gift card. Like I did the other day, to a place I like to go to and I forgot all about it and I went, "Look it! I have this gift card. Why didn't I use it"? That's what the promises of God are like. They're just sitting here in the Bible and we don't read the Bible so we don't know the promises, or we read the promises and we don't believe the promises but we need to read it, believe it, and start living these promises out.
Christmas reminds us that God keeps his promises and he certainly kept it with Mary and she was surprised and humbled that God would choose her. Look at verse 29, "When she saw him", this is Gabriel, "She was troubled at this saying and wondered what kind of greeting this was". This word troubled could be translated disturbed, confused, and a failure to function. Listen, if Gabriel showed up in your front room, you would react the same way. She was probably just doing chores, maybe sweeping the floor and all of a sudden boom! There's Gabriel.
To have an angel show up is an awesome thing, but to have Gabriel show up is an even more awesome thing because Gabriel is a high-ranking angel that we read about in both the Old and the New Testament. So if Gabriel showed up, something big was about to come down, and indeed it was. So she couldn't function - just stunned. She's standing there like "Wh-what is happening? Why is this angel here and why is he saying this to me? I've done nothing to merit this", bringing me to my second point:
Mary was honestly surprised that God had selected her and not someone else.
She was honestly surprised that God had selected her, not someone else. She might've said, "Well, it's about time someone noticed my godly lifestyle and singled me out". No, she didn't think that at all. She was stunned that she would be given this privilege.
Now look at what Gabriel says in verse 31, "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus and he'll be great and he'll be the Son of the Highest and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David", and I love this, Mary agreed and said, "I'm willing to do whatever God wants". Then Mary offers that magnificat, as it's sometimes called, the Psalm of Mary and in Luke 1:46 she says, "My soul magnifies the Lord. I rejoice in God my Savior. He took notice of this lowly servant girl and now generation after generation will call me blessed for he, the mighty one, is holy and he has done great things for me", bringing me to my third point:
Mary obeyed and magnified God.
She obeyed and magnified God. She could've said, "I don't want to do this, Lord", because she knew a lot of people were not going to believe what she was about to tell them. She lived in Nazareth, a city known for immorality, and she was now going to tell them, "Yes, I'm pregnant, but it's not what you think. I'm the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. I'm the mother of the Messiah". Uh-huh. She knew that was going to happen. She knew she was going to have to live with that reputation.
And here's what's challenging: if you've sought to be a godly girl or for that point a godly guy and you've tried to be moral and do what God wants you to do and then you had the reputation of a girl that gets around town, if you will, a loose woman that's a hard thing to have to bear when you've actually lived a life that's the very opposite of that. But she had to live that way for the rest of her life, but she obeyed and magnified God. I love how she magnified God. She gave God the glory.
God is not magnified in the Christmas season. We hear a lot about Santa and Frosty and Rudolph and the Grinch and a lot of other characters that have been invented, but so little about Jesus. I went to a school play done in a public school and they had songs about everything, but Jesus not even a token song about Him. You know, all the great Christmas songs are the Christian songs aren't they? There's some others I like I'll admit. I like "White Christmas" and some others, but the best songs are the ones that were written by believers about the significance of the event - "Hark, the herald angel sing", "Silent night", "Joy to the world", - these are the best ones. Of course, a lot of people want to marginalize or minimize Jesus, but Mary magnified Jesus. I want to give glory to God and she did that of course.
Now let me close with a few thoughts about Joseph. I do think in many ways he is the unsung hero of the Christmas story. There are very few songs about Joseph. There's not a song called Joseph, did you know? Right? We hear that song "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin mother and child", okay. Great. But wait, Joseph was there. Didn't he ever hold the baby Jesus too? Not even one line about him. He's sort of forgotten and ignored. That's my fourth point.
God chose Joseph as surely as he chose Mary.
That's very important. God chose Joseph just as surely as he chose Mary. Listen to this: God the Father in heaven chose Joseph to be a stepfather or father figure to Jesus on earth. What a privilege. God says, "Okay Mary, you're the mother. You'll carry the Son of God in your womb, but there's going to be a father figure for this boy when he's growing up. I'm going to find just the right guy". God picked a man's man. He's a carpenter. A carpenter knows how to put his back to a task. He knows how to build things. Take things apart. He has a strong work ethic and the Lord said, "I want that man to be the father figure, the stepfather if you will, of Jesus Christ as he grows up". Another thing that carpenters do is they fix broken things. What a privilege Joseph had to be there.
Now, of course, when the Lord told Mary she's going to have the child, she's thinking "How am I ever going to explain this to Joseph"? When she told him he's like "Yeah right". And he was about to put her away privately. Like he loved this girl, but it's like, "Mary, I'm sorry. I can't go there with you", but the Lord had that covered and he came to Joseph as well. This is over in Matthew. I'll just read it to you, but its Matthew 1:20. "While Joseph was thinking about these things the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, 'Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take to you Mary your wife for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit and she'll bring forth the Son and call his name Jesus and he'll save his people from their sins".
Just as easily as Mary could've said "No, I don't want to do this", Joseph could've said "No. Now, I know you're an angel and all, but when I go down to the worksite tomorrow morning and I tell the guys that my fiancée is pregnant, but she's the mother of the Messiah, they're never going to believe it". But he was willing to obey the Lord as well. God used him in an incredible way. You know, Joseph fulfilled Bible prophecies as well because an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream after Jesus was born and told him to flee from Herod to Egypt. Joseph did not hesitate. He did not wait until morning. He trusted God and he moved and after Herod died and after hearing from God in his dreams, Joseph returned back home to Nazareth.
That was important because scripture said the Messiah would be called out of Egypt and that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. So Joseph's actions not only protected his wife and adopted son, but prepared the way for God to fulfill many more prophecies, so we've got to give him his due, man. This guy played a significant role as he was there in the life of Jesus.
Now let me close with this thought, and that's a preacher's way of saying I'm going to go 20 more minutes because thoughts are long, but I won't go 20 more minutes. Let me close with this idea, some would say "The whole virgin birth thing, is that really that important"? It's kind of hard to believe, isn't it? I've even heard some preachers say, "You don't have to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus to be a Christian. You just need to believe in his death and his resurrection from the dead".
I would beg to differ because of what value is the death and resurrection of Jesus if he were not supernaturally conceived? Listen, by being conceived miraculously in the womb, it would mean that Christ did not have the sin nature. See, if he had the sin nature then he was just like anybody else, but no. He was supernaturally conceived. He was fully God and fully man. Listen to this, if there's no virgin birth, there's no sinless Christ. If there's no sinless Christ, there's no atonement, and if there's no atonement, there's no forgiveness, and if there's no forgiveness, there's no hope of heaven.
You take away the virgin birth and you lose everything, so it's essential to believe this along with everything else that the Bible teaches because this happened as the Lord had appointed it to happen. The birth of Jesus Christ was such a significant event, but let's just close with asking why did he come? There's many things I could say that the Bible tells us about why Christ came, but just let me give you a couple.
1. Jesus came to be born in the manger and to die on the cross and arise from the dead and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus himself said in Mark 10:45, "The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many". So he came on a rescue operation to planet earth to ransom us. We were under the power and control of the devil and he paid the price, he paid the ransom, which was his own life. He died for us. He gave his life in exchange for our life, and then paid that price so we are now made right with God.
2. Jesus came that we might have life in all of its fullness. Yes, it is the promise of life after death and what a glorious promise that is, but it's also the promise of life during life because Jesus said "I have come that you might have life and that more abundantly".
You know, and then tomorrow and probably the day after tomorrow for most of us we'll open our Christmas presents or give those Christmas presents to others and some people are going to be disappointed let's be honest. You're not going to get what you wanted. Despite the fact that you left the links and held your friend to click the link and get this exact thing. They thought they had a better idea and they got you something else or you receive something that you don't want and now you have to pretend you're happy when you're not happy.
You know how it goes. Sometimes we receive gifts we don't appreciate at the time, but they grow more valuable to us with the passing of time, right. The gift that God has given to us, the gift of eternal life that the Bible calls the unspeakable gift, or the indescribable gift only gets more precious with each year that passes. Not only does God give us a life worth living on this earth, but then as we get closer to eternity we start thinking a lot more about the next life.
You know Christmas marks our life and we look at Christmas and we think of last Christmas and we remember loved ones that were with us last Christmas that are not with us this Christmas. There's just something about the whole Christmas season. It causes us to think about these things and we think "Wow, they were here with me last year sitting next to me in church", or "I saw them and now they're not here".
Yes, because their life has passed, but if they were a believer they're now enjoying to the fullest the unspeakable gift. The eternal gift. The most valuable of all gifts so we want to make every effort to get that gift into the hands of every loved one we have and make sure we've leveraged every opportunity to share our faith. Don't be compromised by what is around you or be intimidated by it or be afraid to share what you believe. Be like Mary and live that godly life in the ungodly place.