Study # 3
Thesis: Significant distress, as a knee-jerk reaction, must indicate a rather large body of inter-related concepts that dictate one's view of life's processes. When grace isn't the root of the joy of life, something else is! Luke must have wanted Theophilus to consider where "grace" was in his own perception of life.
Introduction: As we meet for the first time in the new year, we have a text before us that has created a puzzle that needs to be solved. In our study last time we saw that the first part of the puzzle revolves around the question of just what Luke actually wrote to Theophilus. The manuscripts, and, thus, the translations of Gabriel's statement to Mary have multiple variations in them. However, as we worked our way through the material last week, we saw that the New American Standard Bible has the most dependable record of what was said. What that means is this: Mary was significantly disturbed when Gabriel told her that she was a special object of the grace of God. The puzzle before us this morning consists of one question: Why? Why would anyone be significantly disturbed to find out that they were specially favored by God? To answer that question so that we may fit the pieces of the puzzle together so that we may begin this new year with, perhaps, a new focus, we must look carefully into what this text tells us.
January 4, 2004
- I. The Nature of Mary's Reaction.
- A. The term used by Luke reveals a significant level of 'disturbance'.
- 1. It is a term that is only used once in the entire New Testament as it is given here by Luke.
- 2. However, its uniqueness rests upon the emphasis that the prefix gives.
- a. The word, without the prefix, is used enough times in the New Testament to give us a good feel for what it means -- it signifies the kind of emotional reaction people have when they are confronted with scary events.
- b. That Luke adds a prefix only means that he wants us to understand that Mary was more disturbed by Gabriel's words than the disciples were disturbed by seeing a "ghost", or than Zacharias was when he first saw Gabriel on the right side of the altar of incense.
- B. The term is explained in the text by Gabriel's interpretation of Mary's reaction.
- 1. Gabriel recognized that Mary was afraid.
- 2. His words "stop being afraid" were exactly the same words that he spoke to Zacharias and they carried the same implications -- that Mary was, at root, a fearful person.
- C. The text tells us what caused Mary's fearful disturbance of mind.
- 1. The words are specific and repetitious.
- a. She was disturbed by the content of the message -- not the appearance of the angel.
- b. She was disturbed because the greeting created some level of mental confusion.
- 2. Luke does not want us to miss the fact that Mary's response was different from Zacharias'.
- a. She probably was startled by Gabriel's appearance, but Luke doesn't tell us she was.
- b. She is specifically afraid of the implications of the words themselves.
- D. The text tells us that Mary's reaction was immediate.
- 1. This makes this reaction what I call a knee-jerk response.
- a. The terminology arises from the fact that one can tap the tendon over the knee cap and get an immediate, unplanned response from the knee.
- b. The implication is that such reactions are driven from deep within.
- 1) There is no time to think things through.
- 2) There is only the reality that the words addressed something so deeply imbedded and so improperly accepted that they elicited an immediate fear.
- 2. As a knee-jerk response, Mary's reaction causes us to pause and ponder.
- II. The Roots of Mary's Reaction.
- A. Are not to be found in the crusty cynicism that marked Zacharias as an old man who had lived with frustration all of his married life.
- 1. Mary is commended by Elizabeth as one who believed what was said -- a comment that came out of living daily with a man who could not talk.
- 2. Mary is recorded as submitting to the divine plan without any of the expected rebelliousness.
- B. Are to be found in certain common roots that all men possess, whether they have a healthy spiritual outlook, or not.
- 1. Gabriel gives us, and Mary, reason to ponder -- for he repeats the very message that caused the deep agitation with the exhortation to stop being afraid.
- a. If the message of grace creates fear as a norm,
- b. Why would the angel restate that message expecting that it would create fearlessness?
- 2. What is it about "grace" that both terrifies and comforts?
- a. What are the implications of grace?
- 1) The first implication of grace is that it flows out of the heart and mind of the one who is gracious without any consideration of the worthiness of the recipient.
- a) This means that grace is unfettered.
- b) That means that grace is uncontrollable by those to whom it reaches.
- c) This characteristic -- that it is beyond our control -- is what terrifies men.
- i. Their terror is rooted in their belief that they must have some degree of control for life to be their experience.
- ii. To have all control removed is to have the possibility of life removed.
- 2) The second implication of grace is that it flows out of the heart and mind of One Who seeks only good for the objects of His grace.
- a) This means that grace indicates the root nature of the One Who is gracious.
- b) This root nature is fundamentally good and goodness-seeking.
- c) This characteristic -- that grace means God is good -- is what comforts men.
- i. The lack of control can be embraced as long as the One in control only seeks good.
- ii. The divorce of control and life makes it possible for man to have the experience of life without any semblance of personal control.
- b. What are Mary's circumstances?
- 1) She is "espoused" to Joseph.
- a) Her life is running along a predictable routine that has the comfort of the norm all over it.
- b) Her expectations are already generating fantasies of desire that arise out of the hidden depths of heart and mind.
- 2) She has a conception of grace that is significantly flawed and typically human.
- a) Grace, to her (as to almost all men), meant a significant interruption of all of her fantasies.
- b) Grace, to her (as to almost all men), meant a significant decrease of life (if I can not exercise my control so that I may possess this or that, my life will be ruined!).
[Illustration of those who reject "the election of grace" because it means that God will make the decisions.] [WHO better than One Who seeks good should be given the freedom to make the decisions?]
- c. What are the common results of Grace?
- 1) It is withheld only on the basis of determined resistance at the faith level; not on the basis of flawed behavior at any level.
- a) If there remains a determined resistance to the grace of God because of disbelief in the goodness of God, those who resist will find that their expectation from God is fulfilled exactly as they expected! [Note Matthew 25:24 in context!]
- b) It is impossible for any kind of healthy life to flow from deliberate, groundless, accusation of evil intent.
- 2) It is never withheld from any who dare to believe that the Gracious God is defined by Grace -- because He is gracious.
- a) That grace is used as an excuse to resist God indicates that there is something more profoundly wicked deep in the heart of man than simple unbelief.
- b) This deeper, profound wickedness is the absolute commitment to possess and exercise dominion over others while, at the same time, recognizing one's own creatureliness!