*Literally, putting into flesh; the practice of making a spiritual truth tangible, concrete, actual; the event of eternal, global significance whereby God was made known through the human life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
They asked basically the same question. Zechariah, the elderly man and Mary, the young woman, were both promised a miracle child. He’d be the father of John the Baptist. She’d be the mother of Jesus Christ. Understandably, they both responded, “How?” (Luke 1:18, 34).
So why was the angel Gabriel stern toward Zechariah but gentle toward Mary? I won’t pretend to fully know the answer to that question, but part of it may involve the level of personal impact each person would experience. For example, although Zechariah had lived uneventfully, John’s birth was unusually pivotal. Whereas sons were normally known because of their fathers, this father would become known because of his son.
As John gave his father Zechariah joy and a legacy, he gave his mother Elizabeth (through his birth) a miraculous infilling of the Holy Spirit and the unprecedented challenges of elderly motherhood (Luke 1:15, 41–42).
On Mary’s lips, the question “How?” had deep, personal implications. The miraculous, unpredictable, and challenging birth of Jesus would affect her young life even more drastically than John’s birth on Zechariah and Elizabeth. Gabriel seemed to understand this. He responded to Mary with tenderness and empathy. Hear Gabriel’s poetic answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). As with Hebrew poetry, the parallelism suggests that the angel references a single reality from two perspectives.
How can divinity be expressed through humanity? It’s unfathomable. But, it begins when divine reality overshadows human circumstance. Can a poor, unwed mother give birth to the most influential person who ever lived, even the incarnate Son of God? Yes, if the Holy Spirit’s activity in her life overshadows her humble status (Luke 1:48).
Can a poor, misunderstood, wandering rabbi, born in the humblest circumstances imaginable, save the world and call it to Himself (John 3:2, 14–16; 12:32)? Yes, by the power of the same Holy Spirit.
Can an average person like you or me defy the expectations of this world and live above sin’s grip? Yes, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes the impossible possible—in morality and in mission. Christlikeness, another word for holiness, involves our spirit, our society, our inward conviction, and our action.
Can ordinary people really “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18–20)? We may think we need profound ideas, sophisticated technologies, cunning language, compelling visions, privileged knowledge, stringent regulation, or radical freedom. These might have their place, but they will not vitalize mission. They never could. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit, alive within us, active among us.
As sure as the Father’s love is His promise to give the Holy Spirit to all who ask (Luke 11:13; see also John 20:22). Jesus assured His followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
“The Holy Spirit … is no ethereal, effervescent influence … He is himself God. The miracle and mystery of the incarnation … are reflected in … the coming of the Holy Spirit … in our hearts … that we may go out to live Christ–like lives, representing Him to the world. It is God’s design that … deity shall be continuously made manifest in human flesh, in the lives of Spirit–filled Christians.”
—Ralph Earle, “The Holy Spirit in the Scriptures”
The Preacher’s Magazine, May/June 1948
by Isaiah Allen
What can I do?
|Make 2018 a year for seeking the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Get together regularly for prayer and learning with a handful of trusted friends who desire to flee sin, seek God, and make disciples.
Focus on God’s power to work through humble, trusting lives rather than focus on human frailties, shortcomings, strengths, or achievements.