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So I want to start what I have to say this morning by asking each of you a question and you can feel free to answer if you think you’ve got the answer. What do you believe or feel was the greatest miracle that ever took place in the life of a human person? Tell me. Salvation. That’s wonderful but if the other miracle hadn’t taken place salvation would never be available. Yes. The conception of the virgin. That’s right. The conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. There is no other miracle that even approaches that when you consider that God, Himself, in the person of Jesus somehow took His place in the womb of Mary and developed as a perfect human baby. There is not another miracle, in my opinion, that compares with that. Any person being raised from the dead—I’ve seen people being raised from the dead. Any person being healed, miracles of provision—they’re wonderful, but they don’t even begin to compare with the miracle of God, Himself, being incarnated in the womb of a human woman.
And you know, I believe Mary was certainly not more than seventeen years old when that happened, according to the culture of the Jewish people. And think what God risked. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this. He depended on one Jewish girl, maybe sixteen years old, responding the right way because otherwise salvation could never have come to us. I think when we honor mothers, perhaps the mother we need to honor the most is the mother of Jesus when we consider what we owe to her.
But I’m so amazed that God had such confidence in this young Jewish girl that He would stake the whole plan of salvation on her saying yes. And it really also helps me to understand that God risks a lot in you and me. He risks that we’ll obey. God took a risk when He called me to be a teacher of the Scriptures. In 1944 He said in words, “I’ve called thee to be a teacher of the Scriptures in truth and faith and love which are in Christ Jesus,” and then He added, “for many.” That was in 1944. That’s fifty-five years ago. Had God tried to tell me at that time how many it would be, my mind could not have taken it in because we didn’t have the means of communication that we have today. And God in a sense trusted me. And I never have any greater sense of responsibility than being faithful to what God called me to do. I have devoted the past fifty-five years to being the best Bible teacher that I can be. Not better than anybody else. I don’t compare myself with other people. My standard is what can I be by the grace of God.
And I want to say to each of you, whether you know it or not, God has got a risk in you. He’s trusting you for something and if you don’t do it nobody will do it. I also want to say to my mind it’s tragic that we expect so little of our teenagers. I really am embarrassed when I see teenagers being treated as children, entertained, amused. God didn’t entertain Mary. He made an expectation of her. I believe a lot of the evangelism of the future in the next decade, if there is one, will be carried out by teenagers.
So now I want to speak a little bit about Mary. I want to point out some facts about her in which I think she’s a pattern for all of us, not just for mothers. First of all in Luke chapter 1 the angel appeared to Mary and he said in verse 31,
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall 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? [I have no physical relationship with any man.]
The angel answered and said to her, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
[and then he goes on...] For with God nothing will be impossible.”
What the Greek actually says is, “No word of God will be without power.” In other words, every word God speaks contains in it the power for its fulfillment And then I want you to notice the response of Mary in verse 38.
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”...
And I want to point out to you that that simple phrase, “according to your word” released the greatest miracle that we’ve been talking about. And I want to challenge you, do you realize when you have the word, when you have it’s promises, all you have to do is say, “According to your word.” Don’t try to think of the greatest that you can do. Don’t spend a lot of time imagining something wonderful that you could pray for. Because the things that are given to you in the word of God are much greater and much more wonderful than anything you, yourself will ever think of or pray for. “According to your word.” Those words released the greatest miracle.
And if you go back to the old covenant in 1 Chronicles chapter 17, the prophet Nathan had come to David and told him that he was to be the father of a line that would bring the Messiah and would establish God’s kingdom forever. And David was overwhelmed that something so far above anything he’d ever contemplated as a humble shepherd boy and he went and he sat in the presence of the Lord. I like that. I think there are times when we need to just be relaxed in the presence of the Lord, not be in a hurry, not be in an uncomfortable position, but just sit in the presence of the Lord. And then this is what he said in verse 23 of 1 Chronicles 17.
“And now, O LORD, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, let it be established forever, and do as You have said,”
You see what releases the miracle-working power of God. “Do as you have said.” Never try to think of something greater than God has already said because what He has said is much greater than anything you could ever think of.
Let me just turn to one passage in 2 Peter chapter 1 verses 3 and 4. This is the greeting at the beginning of the letter.
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,
as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us by glory and virtue.”
See, we are not going to have to ask God to give us more. He’s already given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. It’s really a waste of time to sit there wishing because God’s promises are much bigger than your wishes. And then this is what it says,
“by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, [where are the promises? In what? In the word – that’s right.] exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be the partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Consider what is offered to you in the promises in the word of God—that you may become partakers of the divine nature, again far above anything that we would ever imagine or think of, but it’s there in the promises of the word. And what I want to suggest to you is if you don’t acquaint yourself with the word of God and with it’s promises, you’re cheating yourself, because it’s there. That’s the treasury. That’s where you’ll find out what God has for you. And what God has for you is far better than you could ever think of for yourself. So bear that in mind.
What released that miracle? “According to your word.” How did David respond to this amazing promise from the prophet Nathan? “Do as you have said.” So simple. No complicated theology. Just knowing, believing and responding to God’s word. Nothing you ever think of will get you more than that.
Then I want to point out to you that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that will produce this miracle. The angel said, “The Holy Spirit will conceive in your womb.” But the Holy Spirit never moved until Mary responded. When she said “Be it to me according to your word,” she released the Holy Spirit. The point I’m making is this, we release the Holy Spirit when we respond to the word of God. The Holy Spirit is available but He doesn’t come into our lives, He doesn’t do for us what we need until we release Him through the word. In other words, the word of God releases the Spirit of God and that is I think tremendously important today because so many people are preoccupied with signs and wonders and supernatural experiences which are exciting. I agree. Some of them are from God and some are not. How do you know the difference? Only by the Scripture. Remember don’t seek the Spirit apart from the word, because it’s through the word that the Spirit is released.
Let me give you just a few examples. The last verse of Mark’s gospel, Mark 16 it says,
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.
So the signs confirmed the word. If there is no word there is nothing for the Spirit to confirm. And then in Acts chapter 4 we have the prayer of the early church which is rather like some of the prayers I’ve heard here today. But I want to point out another aspect of it. You remember the apostles had been threatened not to teach anymore in the name of Jesus. They came together, they had a prayer meeting and it says the place where they were praying was shaken with the power of God. I don’t know if my daughter, Anna, remembers but in the little place we met in the top of a building in Westbourne Grove one day there was a lame man who came and was healed and threw his crutches away. And such a sense of God’s glory came upon us that we spent the next hour praising God and you know what happened? The building was shaken. The neighbors said, “What happened to your building last night?” Exactly as it says here in Acts chapter 4. But notice what they prayed when they were forbidden to preach. It says in Acts 4:29,
“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,
“by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
So notice the signs and the wonders are to confirm the spoken word. No spoken word, you have no guarantee where the signs and the wonders come from. And then in Acts chapter 14, just one other example, verse 3, it’s speaking about Paul and Barnabas in a place called Iconium. It says in Acts 14 verse 3,
Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, [they had a lot of opposition and it says,] the Lord who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
How did the signs and wonders come? The Lord was bearing witness to the word of His grace. Never, never, never separate the Spirit from the word, because it is the word that releases the Spirit.
Then I want to give some thoughts to you about Mary as an example. I don’t think in a way we give enough attention to Mary. I think some of us don’t give sufficient honor to Mary because after all the angel told us, “You will be honored in every generation.” And I want to give a little honor to Mary this morning in some of the responses that she made to the miracle that God was giving her. In Luke chapter 2 verse 19, and this follows on a whole list of miraculous things that had taken place. It says,
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
And I want to emphasize how important it is to keep the word of God in your heart—to ponder it, to take time meditating on it, to consider what it means, how it applies in your situation. I’d like to turn to Psalm 119 which is one of my favorite Psalms, especially this verse. Psalm 119, but I’ll read verse 9 first. This became so vivid to me when I was a principal of a college for training African teachers in East Africa. Verse 9 says,
How can a young man cleanse his way?
In other words, how can a young man lead a pure life and for the Africans that was a real problem. It wasn’t an easy thing because every temptation... And all their cultures was opposite. But then it says,
By taking heed according to Your word.
So what is the way to lead a pure life? It’s take heed to it according to God’s word. And then in verse 11, the Psalmist says,
Your word have I hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
How do you hide God’s word in your heart? I’ll give you one simple one word answer. Memorize. If you learn a thing by heart, what do you do? You memorize. There’s much too little memorizing in the church today. People sometimes regard it as a rather simple thing to do. I remember reading part of Winston Churchill’s biography in which he emphasized that at school he had to learn long passages of English poetry and how much that meant to him in his political career, because he had this ability to memorize and reproduce. And I would say to you, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You.” One of two things will happen. Either God’s word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s word. That’s the simple issue.
I’m not ashamed to confess that I regularly memorize Scripture. I have in the distant past a very intellectual background. I don’t consider it simpleminded. And you know there’s only way to learn memorizing. Do you know what it is? It’s to memorize. That’s right. And as long as you sit there and say, “I can’t do it,” you can’t do it. There’s only one way to begin, it’s to begin.
Ruth and I produced a little book called Prayers and Proclamation, which contains, I don’t know, maybe a couple of hundred Scriptures that we had memorized. Since then they are producing a new version with a lot more Scriptures added. The new version contains probably twenty Scriptures on the fear of the Lord. I don’t know of anything to which greater benefits are promised than the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord leads to life and he who has it will abide in satisfaction, he will not be visited with evil.
How can you turn that down? Let me say it again. ”The fear of the Lord leads to life and he who has it will abide in satisfaction.” Are you abiding in satisfaction, or are you somewhat dissatisfied? If you’re somewhat dissatisfied your problem is you don’t have enough of the fear of the Lord. “The fear of the Lord leads to life and he who has it will abide in satisfaction. He will not be visited with evil.” I don’t know how you can turn that down if you believe the Bible. At any rate I don’t turn it down.
I don’t know how many Scriptures I’ve memorized. It must be several hundred. In a time of pressure... Well let me take you to the example of Jesus. When He was confronted by Satan in the wilderness He didn’t say, “Now I know if I had a concordance somewhere in the book of Deuteronomy...” He had it there. And you need it there. You need it just as much as He needed it. Don’t start with something big. Start with something small.
One of my favorites today is Psalm 18 verse 30.
As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the LORD is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
See, when you lose your wife and I won’t use the word “lose” because I have not lost her. The Holy Spirit said to me, “You haven’t lost her. She’s gone ahead of you. She’ll be waiting for you.” I never say I’ve lost her. She’s gone ahead. But anyhow, when that happened I really only had faith in God. I maintained this attitude, what God does is always right. He never makes a mistake. He’s never unkind. He’s never unjust. You can trust Him. “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” I tell you, that verse has carried me through a lot. As for God, His way is perfect. He never makes a mistake. Don’t blame God. You can blame the doctor or you can blame yourself. But one person not to be blamed is God.
I think personally, the doctor’s made a mistake in their diagnosis of Ruth. I don’t blame the doctors, because I believe God is in control. I believe whatever happens to a believer who’s committed to Him, it’s the best.
Let me say I feel so sorry for people now. This is ridiculous, but this is the way I feel. I see people going around, husband and wife, and I say to myself, one day one of you is going to miss the other. Are you ready? Thank God I was ready. It’s not the first time. My first wife was taken too. But the second was harder because we had such a close intimate personal relationship. Dear brother or dear sister, sooner or later it’s going to happen to you. We like to behave as if nobody is ever going to die, but it isn’t true. Are you prepared? Do you have ammunition when Satan comes with all his doubts and accusations against God. “God didn’t treat you fairly.” Can you answer as for God? “His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who in Him.” Should we say that together? I’ll say it first, you say it after me phrase by phrase.
As for God His way is perfect;
(As for God His way is perfect;)
The word of the Lord is proven;
(The word of the Lord is proven;)
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
(He is a shield to all who trust in Him.)
So now we’ll say it together this time. “As for God His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Can you say Amen? Amen. Can you say thank you Lord? Thank you Lord. I believe you. I believe you, Lord. Amen. Amen. Thank you Lord.
I don’t know how I would have got through what I’ve been through if I didn’t have the word of God hidden in my heart. The word hiddenis not the right translation. It should be treasured up, stored upin my heart.
All right, now I just want to consider one other aspect of Mary, that is her humility. You know if you’d discovered that you were going to be the mother of the Messiah, the One who’s going to rule all nations, there could be a tendency to feel you’re a little bit more important than other people. But that was not Mary’s response. I so much appreciate her humility. And remember that she was born into Israel when Israel was under the law of Moses and she was obliged as an Israelite to observe the law of Moses and it says in Luke 2:22,
Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they [that’s Joseph and Mary] brought Him [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),
and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
So Mary did not take the attitude, “Well now God has bestowed a special favor upon me, He doesn’t expect obedience of me. I can get away with things other people couldn’t get away with.” You see I’ve seen this happen in the lives of people. I’ve preached sometimes on “Testing,” which is a part of the Christian life. And I ask people what is the hardest test? People can give you various answers. My answer is the hardest test is success, and few people pass it.
You think of the kings of Israel. I cannot think of one that we know well that passed the test. David didn’t. Thank God he came back. Solomon certainly didn’t. He ended up an idolater. Josiah didn’t. He was killed in battle contrary to the word of God. Hezekiah didn’t. You know about Hezekiah? He was told he would have fifteen more years of life and his son was born in the third year of the fifteen and was the worst wicked king that Israel ever had, Manasseh.
So if God gives you fifteen more years be very careful what you do with it. I think in a way God is giving me some extra years. I’m eighty-three, but I want to be very careful what I do with them. I don’t want to be presumptuous. I don’t want to step out and say, “God, You’ve been good to me. You’ve protected me and preserved me.” The more God is good to me the more I am obligated to Him. It’s never an excuse for carelessness or presumption or pride.
Now I want to turn to the Law of Moses which speaks about what Mary did, in Leviticus chapter 12. It’s a short chapter. I’ll just read a few of the verses.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
“Speak to the children of Israel saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean [ceremonial unclean] seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean.
And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
She shall then continue in the blood of her purification [in this ceremonial purification] thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.’”
So even when Mary brought forth Jesus she observed this law. For forty days she wouldn’t touch anything that was hallowed of sacred. She couldn’t go into the temple. She was excluded. And then what appeals to me is the offering that she brought, because you go back to Luke chapter 2. “To offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” But if you go back to Leviticus chapter 12 it says in verse 6,
“‘When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as burn offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting.’”
It’s very important for us to understand that Mary was a sinner contrary to what many people proclaim today. She had to bring her sin offering. But what impresses me is, they didn’t have enough money to bring a lamb, so all they could bring was two turtledoves. So they were a poor family. And you know what it says about Jesus?
Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.
That blesses me to see the humility and the lowly estate of Mary. Let me give you just one final exhortation from Mary. I don’t follow the virgin Mary because I don’t believe she’s a virgin any longer that’s my controversial opinion. I call her Mary, the mother of Jesus. But let me just turn to the scene in the marriage feast before Jesus really began His public ministry in John chapter 2 they ran out of wine, verse 3.
And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
I think that’s so like a mother. I mean she says, “You know, You’ve got to do something.” How many mothers here would do something like that. “They have no wine. What are we going to do? Help.” But what I like is what happened.
Jesus said, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
He said, “I’m not obligated. I haven’t begun.” But He didn’t turn her down. But what I really appreciate is the next thing.
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
That’s the only advice she gave us concerning her Son. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” And I would say the same to you, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”
Now those of you who are mothers or might be mothers I just want to ask you. Maybe you need to just ask God to give you the same kind of humble, obedient, willing spirit that Mary had. Now if you would like to make a real consecration of yourself here to the Lord as a mother or a prospective mother we will pray for you. Just stop and think for a few moments. Are you really on the same level as Mary--humble, obedient, sanctified, giving God the glory? Would you like to be a mother like Mary? If there are things in the past where you’ve failed, would you like to ask God to block them out and say, “God I want to start again.” If you feel like that just stand up and come forward and we’ll pray for you, only if you really mean what I’m saying.
I think I would like to lead you in a very simple prayer which you can pray after me, sentence by sentence. But you’re not praying to me. I’m just giving you the words. You’re praying to the Lord. Can you say these words after me?
Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that you’re the Son of God and the only way to God. That you died on the cross for my sins and rose again from the dead. And Lord I want to confess any sin in my life, anything that you show me that is not pleasing to You, anything that stands between me and Your blessing, Lord if you put your finger on that part of my life, I repent now. I turn away from anything unpleasing to You and I just present myself to You, that I may be the best that You can make me as a mother or a prospective mother or in whatever capacity I stand before You. Lord, will you release you Holy Spirit now upon me and within me and just change me where I need to be changed. Lord I’m just waiting before you now for a few moments.
Now it’s good if you begin to thank Him when you feel you’ve touched Him, you begin to thank Him.
Thank you Lord. Thank you Father. Thank you Lord Jesus. Lord let your blessing come down on each one who has really humbled herself, sought You with her whole heart. Let Your blessing come down. Let this be a beginning of a new day in the lives of those who’ve truly turned to You. Let them walk out of here knowing something has happened in their lives.