Thank you to John for this message
Reading: Luke 1 : 39-56
Prayer: Almighty God, please grant that in the written word, and through the spoken word, we may see the living Word, our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Who is Jesus?” I cannot think of any more important question.
Last week I was sent a booklet for Advent, entitled “Who is Jesus?”; it’s subtitled “An Advent Devotional from the Global Church”. It has 25 short chapters, each one written by a Christian writer from a different country – Ghana, Thailand, Greece, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Argentina, etc. And each chapter is about a different name or title of Jesus: “Jesus is God”, “Jesus is the Son of God”, “Jesus is the Son of David”, “Jesus is the Good Shepherd”, “Jesus is the Bread of Life”. Those are the first five; and there are twenty more! This little book is a real gem.
The first chapter is written by Dr Daniel Oprean, who teaches theology at a university in Romania. He writes “The season of Advent is an important time for believers around the world to meditate on the miracle and the significance of the birth of Jesus. Who is he and why does it matter that he came?”
Who is Jesus? Our Christmas cards often show a cute little baby in clean and attractive surroundings. Some of our Christmas carols depict a sort of fairy-tale figure (a baby who never cries?) If we ask the proverbial “man or woman in the street” the question “Who is Jesus?”, we’ll probably get various replies: “A good man”, maybe “A great teacher”, possibly “I don’t know”, maybe even “I don’t care”. Some young children have actually said “Jesus is a swear-word”.
If you were asked “Who is Jesus?”, what would you say?
For the past 3 months at St Christophers we have been focusing on God the Holy Spirit, who he is and what he does. Last Sunday we considered (in Luke 1) the “Annunciation” – that stupendous announcement by the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary, that she would give birth to the Lord Jesus Christ. In response to Mary’s question “How will this be?”, the angel answers “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (v35) So the Holy Spirit was God’s agent in the conception of Jesus.
In today’s reading we find that the Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus really is. He does that through an encounter between two women. One is Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zechariah. She is described as “in her old age” (v36): the Greek word used gives us our word “geriatric”. And she is 6 months pregnant – a miracle pregnancy! The other woman in this meeting is Mary, a young girl engaged to Joe Davidson. She is Elizabeth’s relative (v36) – maybe a cousin; maybe a niece, in view of the age gap.
In this encounter, three people are involved: & all three are filled with the Holy Spirit: & to all three the Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus really is. Let’s look at these 3 in turn.
1. AN UNBORN BABY (vv39-41a + v44)
This is baby John, who was to become John the Baptiser. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, he jumped for joy in the womb. (I remember a book called “Jump For Joy”, written by the horsewoman & show-jumper Pat Smythe.)
My Study Bible comments on this jumping of baby John: “In some mysterious way the Holy Spirit produced this remarkable response in the unborn baby.”
But you may ask “How can a baby – an unborn baby – be filled with the Holy Spirit?” Please refer back to earlier in Luke 1, verses 13-15. An angel tells Zechariah that his wife will have a son, to be called John; “and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (literal translation of v15).
We must beware of restricting God; of limiting God’s action, in accordance with our own traditions or prejudices. The Bible shows us that gender is not a barrier to being filled with the Holy Spirit. Mental ability is not a barrier. And age is not a barrier.
Can a baby have faith & be filled with the Holy Spirit? The Bible says “Yes!”
The Holy Spirit reveals to an unborn baby who Jesus really is.
2. The Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus is to ELIZABETH (vv41-43)
Elizabeth recognises God’s blessing of Mary and “the fruit of her womb” (v42). That does not sound very specific, but see how Elizabeth refers to Jesus in v43: “my Lord”. Earlier in Luke 1 we see Elizabeth referring to God as “The Lord” (v25). So to call Jesus “Lord” is to acknowledge him as divine.
But Elizabeth says “My Lord”. This is not just a polite and reverent title, but shows her personal commitment to trust and obey him. In the gospels, only one other person calls Jesus “my Lord”. That is the disciple Thomas, who says to the risen Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No-one can say, “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor.12:3) In other words, God the Holy Spirit opens eyes to see who Jesus really is. He opened Elizabeth’s eyes.
Of course, we are only too aware that not everyone acknowledges Jesus as “my Lord”: indeed, many people would laugh at any idea that they are accountable to Him. But (in the words of Paul to the Philippians) “God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
The Holy Spirit reveals to Elizabeth who Jesus really is.
3. The Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus is to MARY (vv46-55)
Does Luke tell us that Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit? No. But look at the evidence here.
a) See Mary’s obedient heart and will, in response to Gabriel’s words (v38): “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said.” She commits herself to doing God’s will, whatever that may involve.
b) See Mary’s faith, expressed in her words we call the “Magnificat” (the first word in Latin) (vv46-55)
In the first section (vv46-49), Mary expresses her personal praise and worship: “My soul glorifies the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour…the Mighty One has done great things for me…”
When Mary says “God my Saviour” – this is Jesus, whose name means “The Lord saves” (Matt.1:21). Clearly the Holy Spirit reveals to Mary who her son Jesus really is.
In the 2nd section of the Magnificat (vv50-55), Mary declares God’s mercy for all who fear him, and then she makes seven wonderful prophetic statements: God has shown strength with his arm…he has scattered the proud…he has brought down the powerful…he has lifted up the lowly…he has filled the hungry…he has sent the rich away empty…he has helped his servant Israel. These refer to past events – this is what God has done; but also to the present – this is God’s usual way of acting now; and to the future – this is what God will accomplish, through the Lord Jesus.
Archbishop William Temple described the Magnificat as “a most revolutionary canticle”. And it all points to Jesus Christ, his mercy as Saviour, and his authority as Lord.
Was Mary filled with the Holy Spirit? YES! We know that, because of her obedient attitude and her words of faith.
Perhaps sometimes we wonder, “Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?” – how do I know? We may, or may not, have had an intense emotional experience. We are all different. But if, like Mary, we are obedient to the Lord and are trusting in Him – YES, that is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
Who is Jesus?
The Holy Spirit revealed who Jesus is, to the unborn baby John, to Elizabeth, and to Mary.
And the wonderful truth is this: The Holy Spirit reveals who Jesus really is to people today, to you and to me.
Amongst the last words that the Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples, he said, “the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father, will testify about me” (John 15:26). And earlier, Jesus had said “The Scriptures… testify about me” (John 5:39).
You may not have this little book “Who is Jesus?” But you have access to a far more wonderful and God-given book (books) – the Bible.
Do you really want to know Jesus better, to know him as he really is, not just as the Jesus of Christmas cards or Christmas carols? If so….
Ask, and keep asking God the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to you, particularly through the Scriptures.
Loving Father, please open our eyes by your Holy Spirit through your word, that we may see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day, for his name’s sake. Amen.
Category: Christmas , Sermons , The Bridge