In my previous post, Mary’s Story, I introduced you to the great drama of the nation which surrounded and culminated with Jesus’ birth; that of outrageously cruel and crushing oppression. As I mentioned in the introduction, oppression and persecution, much like Christianity today, drove the Jews into fierce righteousness. It forced them to hold as tightly to God as possible, because the pain and horror of their current situation was so fierce. Their hope came from a history of God’s rescue and provision, and a promise of a Messiah which would save them from their enemies and bring shalom to earth. We translate shalom as peace, but it’s meaning is that everything in creation is the way God intends it. So when we say that God brings shalom to our lives, it means that he reaches into every detail – from your land, to your animals, to your finances, to your family and friends relationships – and brings them to perfection the way he originally intended. They were literally dying and being tortured for clinging to this hope of the Messiah who would bring shalom. As we steep in this context, let’s open the text and read Luke 1:26-33 NLT:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.”
29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
The first thing that stood out to me as I read this over and over this past week is v29; Mary was confused and disturbed at Gabriel’s greeting. I have always wondered at that. If an angel came to me and told me I was favored by God and God was with me, I think I would be so excited and fearless! But Mary was confused and disturbed. It reminded me of something I learned while in Israel.
The first thing I learned in Israel is that I really know nothing. The Word of God is so deep, and I have only seen the surface. There’s a lifetime’s worth of pursuit of knowledge held within it. I think the most important thing I learned while there, was the interconnectedness of it all. Jews connect words and places in the Bible. For example, John the Baptist wanted to be known as the second Elijah, as was prophesied, so he went to Elijah places. Every place he went to teach and baptize was an Elijah place. So the Jews would immediately have seen that he was a fulfillment of the prophecy that said Elijah would come and prepare the way in the desert for the Messiah. In the same way, words have the same interconnectedness. Because the Word of God was so well-known, memorized, and spoken at every time, words were triggers to remind of Scripture. For example, if I mentioned the word “Sinai,” every religious Jew on the planet would immediately think of Moses and the beginning of their religion. If I said patriarch, they immediately envision God, the Ultimate Patriarch, and Abraham, the Patriarch of their people. We do the same – if I say cross, you think Jesus and the implications of his sacrifice.
It’s the same thing. So as I was reading this passage over and over again, I wondered if I might find a key word that would deepen our understanding of why Mary was confused and disturbed at being called favored (charis). I looked up the Greek word Luke used for “favor,” charis, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament and found these, which are only a few of the relevant Scriptures which talk about people (both men and women) who were favored:
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:8
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:21
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17
Each of these men were tasked with enormous endeavors. They had to go through a lot of physically, spiritually, and emotionally-trying events to complete the task God gave them. Each time someone finds favor with God, they are granted the opportunity to be part of God’s plan for humanity’s salvation. But each time, they incur much pain in their dedication.
Mary knew this. She knew that finding favor with God was a two-edged sword. On one hand, God was inviting her to be a part of the salvation for the entire world, for eternity! On the other, she knew it was not going to be easy.
We, too, are called favored by God. The word used for “favor” to Mary in the original Greek, is charis: the same word used for grace, meaning unmerited favor. Romans 5:1-5 says,
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this charis in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Notice Paul, in this incredible letter to the Roman church, says we obtain God’s unmerited favor by our faith in Jesus Christ. But what is the very next topic? Suffering. There is something inexplicably intertwined between being favored by God and suffering by humanity.
- Why do you think being favored by God brings suffering?
- According to Paul, are there any benefits to suffering? What does Paul list as the benefits?
- I would love to hear testimony of how you feel God has called you favored, and the benefits and blessing you have received because of any suffering on God’s behalf. Please leave your comments and stories in the comments section!