The Possible Word

Mark's 2007 Christmas Eve Sermon at Zion Church of Millersville during Kristin's pregnancy with Victoria

We’re going to be looking at Luke 1, particularly verses 37-38. I will preface some of the verses here, but the message this evening for us is The Possible Word. I want us to give some thought to what this means for our lives. I know for my wife, my wife is Kristin who was playing flute up here during the music, and for our two boys, this is a very unique and different Christmas for us. Many of you know, but we have many visitors with us this evening, that we are expecting our third child. Her name is Victoria Grace. But we learned the beginning of October that because of a brain deformity that she has, the doctors do not give her any hope of living, even maybe up to birth, but especially after birth. So when I have thought this Christmas of what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus into the world, many of my thoughts have gone in the direction of the burden and the questions that they must have had in carrying a child that truly was not their own, and that truly would have eternal purposes.

In just a small way in our family, we have gotten a glimpse of what it means to carry a child that is – it very much feels like – though we are carrying her, she is not our own, and that she has eternal purpose. We have seen God, already to this point, we have up to about 3-4 months to go yet, but we have already seen some of this eternal purpose unfold. And we definitely felt the burden of this, but really, I’ve also been thinking, what is that different between Victoria and any of our children, or any of our lives for that matter? None of our lives are our own. None of our children are our own. And truly we are created for eternal purpose.

So I’ve been thinking about this and meditating on these things. And when I think of Mary receiving the word that she received from the angel, imagine the wonder and the fear, perhaps, when she heard these words: “And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great, and 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.” And Mary goes right to the practical matter of how will this be since I am a virgin?- let alone the questions of mighty God?…a kingdom that never ends?…a child who’s going to sit on the throne of David, when we haven’t had a king on the throne of David for 400 years – how’s this child going to sit on that throne? Basically, those words were identifying her child as not only the Messiah, but God Himself, because of His eternity that was in view.

Interestingly, we see a lot of different responses to this, and that is what I’m going to center the message on this evening. I’ve shared a little bit about where I’m coming from this Christmas, and I have a feeling that many of us are coming from some different places. Whatever place we come from, and to whatever place we’re going, I think this evening, it is very important to understand the response that we are to have. This passage that we’re looking at starts with this visitation from the angel, and you also have the angel then saying to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was with child, and we know that the child that she was with was John the Baptist, and he also had a purpose. He was a message; he was going to be the messenger, the front-runner, of the Messiah. And isn’t it interesting that his life was already a message in the womb to Mary? He was the message; he was the sign; he was the proof. The angel was saying, Look – Elizabeth, who is old and barren, is expecting a child. John’s life was already a message to Mary about the life that she would be carrying, as conceived by the Holy Spirit.

It’s also interesting to see the responses of not only Elizabeth, but think back with me, if you would, to Sarah. In Genesis, she was barren and she was told by God in a visitation that she and Abraham were going to have a son. And her response was to laugh. Her response was, this is ridiculous. And it was said in that context, Genesis 18:14, by God Himself, that nothing is impossible with God. Then it’s interesting, if you look at verse thirty-seven, the angel says that nothing will be impossible with God. You see, something much bigger was going on here than just a baby being conceived, both the one who was John the Baptist and the one who would be Jesus. This is the story of salvation history going back and tying into the account of Abraham, when God called Abraham and said, I am going to give you a son who will have many descendants, from whom I will bring the salvation for all the world. This is the continuation of that story.

Also, if we back up, we see in this immediate context that the response of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was to question and doubt; therefore, he couldn’t even talk until John the Baptist was born. Now the response of Elizabeth was one of humility in verse 25 when she says, “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me to take away my disgrace upon men.” Notice her focus on this is how God has dealt with me. This is God’s word to me. This is God’s will for me.

And then we see the response of Mary, a young woman, maybe 12-14 years of age, betrothed to be married, but not yet married. Betrothal was a more formal arrangement than our tradition of engagement. They’re somewhat similar in that she was about to get married, but she just wasn’t yet. But she was a physical virgin, so you can imagine the shock when she learned that she was with child, and that this child was going to be God. So what was her response? I want to give you a different reading of verse 37, which I already read. Literally this is saying, “For not any word will be impossible with God.” Not any “word,” which can be translated as thing, event, or matter – not any thing, not any word, not any matter, not any event – will be impossible with God. And Mary’s response is, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word.” In other words, may it be done to me according to the word that is possible, not the word that is impossible. Through all the mixed emotions, Mary responds with a heart of submission.

Let’s flip through Luke. I want to point out a couple of things. Look at Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” We get a couple of instances where Mary is very reflective of what’s going on, certainly pondering the questions. Continue to verse 29. Here we see an old man who is told by God that he would not die until he saw the salvation of the world. His name is Simeon. He’s in the temple, and when they bring Jesus to dedicate Him, here’s what he says: “Now, Lord, you are releasing Your bondservant to depart in peace according to Your word.” You see, Simeon lived with the mentality of, Be it unto me according to Your word. He wasn’t saying, Why do I have to leave as soon as I see the salvation? Why can’t I see him grow up? He said, Be it unto me according to Your word. He said, Now I can depart in peace, because he submitted to the word of my God.

Continue a few verses later, where you see a woman, a prophetess, named Anna, who had been a widow for many, many years. She was advanced in age, and she day after day after day was ministering in the temple. Basically, she was living a life that said, Be it unto me according to Your word. She didn’t get bitter toward God for being a widow; she didn’t get bitter toward God because she was doing this day after day. And wouldn’t you know, in the middle of one of these routine days, she saw the salvation of the world coming to the temple to be dedicated. She was a woman who consistently said, Be it unto me according to Your word.

Let’s continue to verses 41-52, which I will tell you about. Jesus is now 12 years old and they are in Jerusalem. Then they are on their way home and Mary and Joseph go a whole day on the caravan home until they realize Jesus is not with them. And then they take a whole day to get back to Jerusalem; and then a whole day to look for Jesus. Three days here in which their son is missing. Can you imagine the anxiety that Mary and Joseph must have been feeling? Their pre-teen son, their young son is missing (although teen wasn’t a concept then). And when she finds Jesus, she says in verse 48, “Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” Before that, she says, “Why have you treated us this way?” Jesus says, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” Literally saying, “I had to be in the things of My Father.” But look at the next verse, “But they did not understand the statement which He made to them.” You see, Mary and Joseph didn’t have it all figured out, even when Jesus was only 12 years old. And you can feel the tension between Jesus and his parents, Jesus not understanding why they were so worked up. Any father and mother here can understand why they were so worked up, but Jesus was 12. To what degree did he understand His purpose, His calling, His destiny? To some degree, because he was astonishing the people with what he knew. And He knew that Yahweh was His Father. But this may have been something that was still unfolding in His heart.

Look what happens in verse 51; “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and He continued in subjection to them and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. First of all, you see Mary continuing to treasure what’s going on, and ponder, and think, and reflect. You also see Jesus subjecting Himself to His parents. I love a quote by Max Lucado, who said that “Jesus went from holding the stars to clutching the finger of his mother.” He’s now 12 years old, and He’s about the things that He needs to be doing in His Father’s house, but His parents don’t understand that. He doesn’t understand why they’re so worked up. But what does He do? He submits to the authority that God placed in His life. He continued to grow in subjection and submission to them. It’s as if He was saying to His Father, Be it unto me according to Your word. I will be submitted to My parents; I will honor them, because that’s what Your word would be for Me.

We get a picture, in verse 52, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Why did He keep increasing in wisdom and stature when He was God? The miracle of the incarnation is this – this might be something you are unfamiliar with – but Jesus did not heal, did not speak with authority, and He did not have the wisdom He had because He had supernatural God-power. Now, he was God through and through, but Philippians 2 tells us that he laid aside equality with God to take on the form of a man. Jesus lived healed, talked, and preached as a man fully anointed by the Holy Spirit. Luke 4 tells us that Jesus goes into the temple and says, “I have been anointed by the Spirit to preach the good news.” And at different points He says, “I cast out demons by the Spirit of God.” It talks about the healing being because of the Spirit of God. When the Holy Spirit descended upon Him during his baptism, it was because He needed the Holy Spirit. That is why we can do the same things Jesus did. Not because we’re God, but because we have the Holy Spirit that He had. He was without sin. He prayed, because He needed to pray. He looked to the Father, because He needed wisdom from the Father. He grew in wisdom and stature, because He submitted to the word of God, which was to be submitted to His parents at that time. That was the stuff of His Father for that time in His life. Now, there was a time, of course, when He ascended and all the fullness of God was revealed in Him, and there were moments, like the transfiguration and walking on water, where we see the fullness of God revealed in Him, where He actually glows. But for much of His ministry, Jesus walked it out as a man led by the Holy Spirit.

That should be an encouragement to us. When Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest, meaning He understands our weaknesses, it means He understands our weaknesses. Weakness does not necessarily equate to sin. Weakness is part of what it means to walk out life as flesh, but Jesus was strengthened in His relationship with His Father and the Holy Spirit, therefore, not sinning.

We continue, if you will, turn to Luke 3:16-17. John the Baptist is now an adult in ministry in the desert. In verse 16, he makes the statement, “One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals.” In verse 17, he talks about this one coming in judgment. You don’t hear John saying, Why can’t I be the Messiah? Nor do you hear him saying, Why can’t I be mightier than He is? You hear John saying, Be it unto me according to Your word. I’m the messenger, You’re the Messiah. He accepted the cup that was his to hold. But, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t struggle.

If we look in 7:18-23, we get a picture that John is in prison and he’s questioning, Are You really the one that’s mightier than I? Are You really the one that is to come? And he sends a group of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the one?” And what does Jesus say? He sends back a report of what He is doing that is clearly connected to things of the Old Testament – prophesied – which says, Yes I am the one. Now, we’re not told the end of the story, but Jesus speaks very highly of John, to the point where He says in 7:28, “I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John. Yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Why? Because John is the link from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. And John, as great as he was, did not experience the fulfillment of life in the kingdom of God until he went into eternity, which he did by becoming a martyr, because Herod had him beheaded. But when John received a report back from Jesus and He said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with me” (verse 23), we can only assume that John the Baptist said, Be it unto me according to Your word. You are God, I’m the messenger, and if I’m the greatest, but the least, because I have to lay down my life as a messenger, be it unto me according to Your word.

You see, we get pictures here of people who are understand their destiny. I’ve been thinking a lot this Christmas about our destiny. I was just telling Kristin yesterday that our destiny is not life as we dream it. Our destiny is to be found in submission to how God leads our life; that’s where we find our destiny. And so much of life in America is an attempt to get to a point in life as we dream it. In my life, it’s not going to be easy to go back to that again after the season I’m walking through now, because truly life and our destiny has become as God would lead it, not as we would dream it. But our lives have never had a bigger, more eternal perspective than they have now, as we walk out our destiny as God would lead it.

Let’s center in on Jesus now, later in life, in 9:51. When you have the perspective Jesus had, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been for Him to deal with the very small perspective squabbles His disciples had. In verse 51, it says, “When the days were approaching for His ascension…” meaning the days were approaching for His crucifixion, His burial, and His resurrection and ascension, it says, “…He was determined to go to Jerusalem.” Another version says, “He set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem.” Imagine the type of commitment and determination it took for Jesus to purpose to go to the cross. Why was He determined? Because it took determination; because everything in Him, at some point, probably wanted to flee to Egypt, or Canaan, or Galilee, or anywhere but Jerusalem. Why? Because even later in the story, we see a picture of Jesus where He says, If there’s any other way, if there’s any other way this cup can pass from Me, please let it. But then He says, Be it unto Me according to Your word. And the form that takes is, “Not My will, but Your will be done.”

That’s how Jesus said it. Jesus was tempted to not go to the cross. That temptation in the desert is not a cartoon. It’s not Satan with horns, and a cape, and a pitchfork, saying, Hey Jesus, do these cool magic tricks. It’s him saying, Jesus, let me show you another way to be king in your kingdom that avoids the cross. And you better believe that was a temptation for Jesus. He could’ve taken it. But what did He say in the desert? Be it unto Me according to Your word. He literally quoted scripture as He stood against the temptation and submitted to the Father and His path, which was to the cross. Even Hebrews tells us that Jesus went to the cross because of the joy that was set before Him in going to the cross. So even in submitting His will against His wishes, so to speak, He found joy; true joy.

I wonder if so many people today are looking for joy so hard and not finding it, because they have not really submitted their lives to anything but their own desires. There’s no joy in that. There’s only joy in subjection and submission to the One who truly does hold our destiny.

Remember I said about the squabbles that must have been frustrating for Jesus? Right before He makes that statement, there’s a debate going on among His disciples about who’s going to be the greatest. Hey Jesus, which one of us can be greater inYour kingdom? And it’s in that context that Jesus had to purpose Himself to set his face toward Jerusalem. So keep in mind that this was a debate about greatness. Let’s go now, as we bring this to a close, to chapter 22 in Luke. Here it is, near the end of Jesus’ life on earth. He’s in the garden of Gethsemane, beginning in verse 39. If we back up a little bit, to verse 24, look what it says: “And there arose also a dispute among them in regards to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest.” Here is Jesus on the doorstep of the cross, and His disciples are still trying to figure out who’s going to be the greatest. Can you imagine what He must have felt like? It’s like, Here we go again. When I was setting my face to Jerusalem a week ago, you guys were fighting over this. Now I’m ready to go the cross, and you’re fighting over this again! But what does He do? He teaches them, and He says, Look, it’s not about your destiny as you would desire it. It’s about being released. It’s about being a person who says regularly, Be it unto me according to Your word.

That’s what it meant to be a disciple and to be great. That’s the pathway to greatness in the kingdom of God. Then He gets very specific. There are a lot of things that apply here to us as a people, but then there are some things that apply specifically. And to His disciple Peter, does Jesus say, in verse 31, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, and praise the Father, you will not be tested? No, no, that’s not what it says. He says, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. When once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” I’m very concerned that the church in America has a faith that’s failing, because they’re looking for a faith that will escape, not endure. They’re praying, in faith, that God will deliver them from the very cup that God has given them. And Jesus says right here to Peter, I’ve not prayed that you would avoid this testing. I’ve prayed that you would have to faith to endure this testing; Faith to endure, not faith to escape. You see, faith to endure is the person who says, Be it unto me according to Your word. But the person who has faith to escape says, Be it unto me according to Your word as I speak it, as I determine it, as I desire it. That’s not faith; that’s presumption.

Then in verse 42 of that chapter, we know from other gospels that Jesus is sweating so profusely that it was like blood. Let us never forget that the manger, the feeding trough, and the cross are connected. The sacrifice made going from holding the stars to hold His mother’s finger, and the sacrifice made going from weeping and sweating drops that were like blood was so intense, and the temptation so large that must have been there for Him to go another way. And He says, Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Yet He says, Not My will, but Yours be done.

And from this point forward, anyone who would be a follower of Jesus Christ is someone who will say, Not My will, but Yours be done; and then to cling and believe and trust in God with a faith that will endure and persevere and stand in the midst of any test or any cup that we are given. We are a people that then say, Be it unto me according to Your word.

This takes a lot of different forms in things that are practical, such as finances. I have heard of people who tithe on one spouse’s income, but not on both, because they couldn’t afford that. I thought to myself, that’s not a Be it unto me according to Your word mentality. That mentality is, Be it unto me according to Your word here, but be it unto me according to my word here. How about relationships? I’ll forgive this person, but not that person. Be it unto me according to Your word here, but be it unto me according to my word here.

Obviously, this is heavy on my heart, because it’s something God has been challenging me with. Be it unto me according to Your word in every situation that You would lead me into. The trouble that we face, big and small, are we escaping them, or enduring them by faith? And here’s another thing, we have heard how many times that God loves us? Yet we will say, yes, that’s nice, and we’ll live as if it hasn’t changed our life, or we’ll get bored with that message. But the reality is, if God loves us and we’re to be a people that submit to that, then that means we need to love ourselves; and if we love ourselves, we need to be obedient to the way that God would have us love ourselves, which is not in a lot of the ways that we do love ourselves. Does that make sense? So the reality is that most sin, probably all sin, is a violation of God loving us, because we’re choosing to not love ourselves the way God loves us.

I was reminded of this in a very profound way 2-3 nights ago, sitting in a parking lot of a store in Quarryville, while Kristin was finishing the shopping. We had gone through the store and they had free gifts for kids, and Caleb picked out this little Bible, King James, which he could never understand, but it had a picture of Jesus on the front with the disciples, so he picked this out. So, he’s sitting in the back seat with this little Bible, and I’m sitting in the front, and it’s raining and dark, and I’m thinking, Kristin, I really hope you get out here soon; I want to go home. It’s just not one of the goose-bumps, warm, fuzzy moments. Caleb is talking and opening his Bible, and I said, “Caleb, can you read your Bible to Daddy?” And he said, “Yes. Jesus loves Daddy.” I don’t think I could summarize the Bible for myself or you much better than he did as a two year old. The question is, can I submit to that? And can you submit to that? What is the message of Christmas? God loves you; that’s why He sent His son. Will you submit to it? Will you be a person that says, Be it unto me according toYour word? Or will you be a person who says, That’s nice, but I’m going to love myself in this way.

You see, when we surrender, when we trust, and when we say that statement, be it unto me according to Your word, we’re plugging into what is possible with God rather than focusing on what’s impossible with man. That’s my Christmas Eve encouragement for myself and all of you.

Let’s pray. Father, I just want to thank You for Your word. And, Lord, we confess as a people all of the ways in which we live our lives according to our desires and not according to Your love that You have for us. Lord, I just want to pray for anyone here who senses that they’re not living their life according to Your love for them. I just pray that they might respond to Your love and Your grace, and that they might know what it is to be transformed, completely transformed by surrendering and submitting their life to You and Your love and Your purpose. Whether this is going to lead to pathways that are very difficult or not, we know that they will be joyful if we’re submitted to You. So Lord, I pray that you’ll move on their hearts this Christmas. They’re not just doing a religious thing, or maybe they were, or maybe we were, but Lord, whatever religious way that was in us in coming tonight, I pray that You will knock it out of us, and You will put in us a real heart that’s submitted to You, and that this Christmas will be about what it’s really about. And that is being a heart submitted to the Lord, who came as a babe, grew in favor and stature, submitted Himself to the Father, and died and rose again, and is ruling today on high in His kingdom; that we might be a people submitted to that King. And I pray that each person in this place might truly be able to live saying, Lord, may it be done to me according to Your word. Lord, we commit ourselves to You and Your word.