You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33 NIV)
An angel speaks to Mary and we catch a first glimpse of Jesus. This baby would grow to be great, according to the angel, not just any ordinary man, but one who would be called the Son of the Most High. Mary must have wondered if she was hallucinating. The words that followed clearly indicated that her baby would grow up to be a king. He would be given David’s throne, he would reign forever, and his kingdom would not come to an end. But how could that be?
These words of an angel can only have come down to us through the report of Mary, the mother of Jesus. There was no one else there when they were spoken, so Mary must have been the source. Luke clearly believes her testimony. He does not write her off as a deluded teenager, or an old woman fabricating stories of her early life to try to make herself and her unusual son more than they really were. He has already said in his introduction that he had “made a careful study of everything and then decided to write… exactly what took place” (Luke 1:3 CEVUK00). But think for a moment what these words are saying, not just what they said to Mary but what they say to us.
First, they say clearly that Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High, in other words, the son of God. Mary’s initial response was to wonder how she could be pregnant when she had never had sex, but a supernatural conception was only the beginning of the craziness. The angel was clearly saying that Jesus would be a supernatural being, and not just any supernatural being, but the son of the God who Mary understood to be the maker of all things, the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Mary must have wondered if she had imagined it all. She must have known that if she was to relate the events of that fateful day when the angel appeared to her that people would have either thought she was deluded, psychotic, or a blasphemer. To claim the things that Mary claimed would not have just been accepted. She may have said them to Joseph, her husband. He too would have assumed that she was either lying or crazy. However, one of the other gospel accounts explains that he, like Mary herself, had been the recipient of a supernatural visitation, and was therefore able to accept her words. Exactly when she told others about it is not certain. Perhaps it was not until many years later after people had begun to wonder about the claims Jesus made about himself, and see the things he did. Perhaps it was not until after Jesus was crucified and then rose from the dead. But though Mary must have known that to relate what she did would mean that some would write her off as crazy, and others condemn her as a blasphemer, at some stage she told her story, and it eventually came down to Luke.
For us, reading these words millennia later, Mary’s testimony is so well known that we barely lift an eyebrow. However, they introduce an idea at the very start of Luke’s book, that Jesus, the main character, is divine, a being from outside our own understanding of reality. This may have been easier to swallow for people in the ancient world where the idea of divine beings invading our world was perhaps more commonly accepted, at least more widely discussed among the learned and wise. Nowadays it is regarded as hocus pocus, of course, especially by the learned and wise, who dispensed with the need for a Creator through our supposedly enlightened scientific understanding of the origins of all things. We go to great lengths to ascribe the beginnings of the universe and the subsequent appearance of life on earth to natural processes which do not need the actions or even the existence of a supernatural designer. However, such assertions to my mind require as much faith as the existence of God, and I would rather put my faith in the Jesus of the Bible than in Darwin or any of his followers, who offer me nothing more than imperfect human reasoning and wisdom to replace a loving and merciful deity, as impossible as His existence is to prove with our scientific observations and deductions.
Luke the doctor does more than just tease us with the supernatural origins of Mary’s son in this opening chapter. He also introduces the idea that Jesus will be king of the Jews, and of Jacob’s descendants forever. Luke’s gentile friend Theophilus must have wondered what Luke was getting at when he recorded this other assertion of Mary, her report of the angel’s claim that Jesus’ kingdom would never end. Theophilus, if indeed there was such a man (as opposed to this being just a generic term of “lovers of God”), would have known that no everlasting kingdom of Israel had been recently established under the reign of a God-man called Jesus. Readers in our age are aware of the existence of the nation of Israel but where is this king called Jesus? Why did Luke write these words? What sort of a king did he think Jesus was, and what sort of a kingdom did he rule over?
These ideas are absolutely central to everything that Luke wrote subsequently: that Jesus was divine, that he was and would remain king over an everlasting kingdom. When Luke was collecting his material he became aware of Mary’s account of the angel that appeared to her before the birth of her son, and he immediately saw its relevance and its consistency with the adult Jesus he had later got to know. It was the most natural thing to include Mary’s account in his introduction, to give us a first tantalizing glimpse of what was to come.