This episode in Luke's Gospel takes place six months after the angel Gabriel visited Zacharias. We see time and time again throughout the Bible how God is always on the move, revealing His plan of redemption one story at a time. Before we can fully absorb the previous text, God is moving to bring about the next step in His intricate and precise plan of redemption. Starting with Genesis and ending in Revelations, God illuminates salvation in the same way a jeweler illuminates a diamond with each move. There is nothing ordinary or usual with salvation. The writer of Hebrews refers to our salvation as "a great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3). The greatness of this salvation qualitatively surpasses everything and anything else. As if to put an emphasis on the importance of salvation, the Lord wrote four Gospels on the central figure in salvation, Jesus Christ.
Six thousand years of human history has produced many people who transformed the lives of others with their heroism, courage, inventions and sacrifice. Yet, above and beyond all these people is Jesus Christ. Their contribution to transforming the lives of others has a flaw. They made lives better for today, where time is limited, and the end is still death. On the other hand, Jesus' contribution to humankind was to change their destiny in eternity, where time is not limited, and death has no power. Imagine if all Jesus did was feed thousands who were hungry with a few loaves and fishes or brought Lazarus back from the dead but could not change their destiny. He would be no different than any other great person who ever lived. The distinction between Jesus and everyone else is the power He has to change our eternity.
John wrote: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31). There are three words in Greek for life: zōē, psuchē, and bios. Each word describes a different aspect of life. Bios describes the physical aspect of life. Psuchē describes the personality or natural life of a person; the essence of their life, the soul. Zōēdescribes the life that extends beyond the natural and into the supernatural. This life is the “life of God. This life resided in Christ, and He has made it available to all who believe in Him.”. The life that John says exist in the one who believes in Jesus is zōē – divine and eternal life-giving by Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Why is understanding what Jesus has done for humanity so essential? Understanding His contribution to humanity puts context to how our lives should be lived. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The "life" Jesus came to provide is "zōē." Jesus did not come to provide us with riches or health; instead, He came to give us divine life that will be fully realized in eternity. In essence, understanding what Jesus has done for us provides insight into how we should live our lives. Far too many professing Christians are living their lives for this life. They want their best now! Jesus did not come to give us our best now! Our best is yet to come. We are living for eternity, not today. Everything we do should be in light of eternity, not today. The mindset of living for today explains why Christians are no longer giving of themselves in ministry as they once did. We are expecting earthly and not heavenly rewards. Even more dangerous, we do not view Heaven as gain from the affairs of this life, as the Apostle Paul did (Philippians 1:21).
However, Mary was different. She was not the typical teenage girl for her time or our time. Her spiritual maturity and perception of grace and truth were well beyond her years. She was not living for this life but the wonderful life that grace purchased. Thankfully, we catch a wonderful glimpse of where she was in her walk with the Lord in her encounter with the angel Gabriel. This morning let us see three spiritual characteristic traits from this amazing young lady whose faith believed in the impossible.
The first word out of Gabriel’s mouth, “Hail,” spoke directly to the amazing and improbable message he was to give to her. The word “hail” was used as a greeting meaning, “Joy to you.” Whenever the United States President enters a room, the Marine Band sings “Hail to the Chief,” which speaks of the crowd cheerfully greeting their President entering the room. Even though this was a typical greeting term in ancient Israel, the term Gabriel used was more than typical, in the same sense of Paul opening many of his letters with “grace” and “peace” was more than just a typical greeting. There is much to see in context with Mary's world and the word "hail," which places emphasis on the reason for the word.
To put the word "hail" in context, we must first understand Mary's residence. Mary came from a small town called Nazareth (v.26). Many atheists say Jesus could not have existed because Nazareth was a made-up town built by theology and not historical facts. They argue the Old Testament, the Talmud (Jewish religious writings), the greatest ancient Jewish historian Josephus and Paul never mentions Nazareth. 
However, there is a counter to this opinion. The absence of mentioning Nazareth by the listed authors does not prove the small town did not exist; just the opposite. The lack of Nazareth in literature proves just how obscure and inconsequential the town was within Israel's economy or politics. Second, archeologists have discovered Nazareth to be a real and authentic place that existed during the time of Jesus Christ.
Nazareth was a small town, upwards to 400 residents at the time of Jesus childhood. Nazareth was known for her poverty, obscurity, and corruption. To put an exclamation point on the corruption and brutality of Nazareth during the time of the early period of the New Testament fact, Nathanael asked a rhetorical question regarding Jesus and his hometown when asked to join with Jesus by Phillip: “Can there be any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).
The reason I went into detail describing her residence is to put in context that where she lived gave no reason for Gabriel to greet with "Hail." She had no earthly reason to be in a joyful mood based upon where she lived. She lived in a town that had a reputation of wrongdoing and corruption. No one or nothing was safe in Nazareth. Yet, Gabriel says to her "joy to you."
Also, if we are to understand the power in the word "Hail" fully, we must examine the religious experience during Mary's life. Even though Mary was young, she would have noticed the religiosity of her time, and in taking notice, she would have witnessed the brazen assault on truth by the contemporary religious sects. Years later, the Apostle Paul wrote a truth that would have been relevant during Mary's time. He wrote: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Her faith and the faith of the religious groups of her time would have been in direct conflict with one another. The Pharisees viewed God’s word as insufficient to meet the needs of society; therefore, they added so much red tape to God’s word. The Sadducees were no better. They taught that God’s word could not be understood without contemporary thought shedding light onto the Word of God. The Zealots believed nationalism was the answer. And, the Herodians embraced pluralism and the hope of Israel. Regardless of where Mary turned, there was not a religious system that stood for truth.
There was not anything to be cheerful about when it came to her residency or religious situation. The one area in her life that was moving in the right direction was her relationship. She was engaged to a God-fearing man named Joseph, who loved and passionately followed after the Lord.
Yet, the message the Gabriel was about to deliver would put that relationship and any future relationship in serious jeopardy. Throughout the conversation Mary and with Gabriel, Gabriel never reassured that he reengagement with Joseph would continue. In fact, Joseph’s initial response to the news of Mary’s pregnancy was to divorce her (Matthew 1:19).
So why “Hail”? Where is the joy? She had little hope where she lived and the religious situation improving in Israel; further, the news form Gabriel would endanger the one bright spot in her life, her relationship with Joseph. The reason for “Hail” is God was about to use her to magnify His purpose and glory.
Within this is a powerful message for us. We can become so consumed with the negativity prevailing in our environment that we lose sight of the real source of hope, which does give us reasons to shout for joy! Despite who we are outside of grace or the wickedness in our environment, God allowing us to “be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21) is the reason for joy. Being used by God for His purpose and glory should overwhelm the darkness of our world and give us reasons to be joyful. Life is not about the externals, instead being used of God!
“A man heard a message on the end times and decided to make all he could before the economy collapsed. He took his life savings, went to the race track, and prayed for wisdom on how to bet.
“Just before the first race began, the man noticed a Catholic priest who came onto the track, sprinkled some water, waved his arms and made some signs over a horse. The horse won by seven lengths. The same thing happened on the second, third, and fourth races. The man waited for one more race, just to make sure. The same thing happened--the horse the priest blessed won. So on the sixth race he waited until the priest did his thing and then he ran off and placed his whole life savings on that horse. The race began. The horse ran fifty feet and fell over dead.
“The man was horrified. He ran down to the priest and said, ‘Priest, I have to talk to you!’ ‘Yes, what is it my son?’ ‘Priest, I watched you; in every race, the horse you blessed won. So I went and bet everything I had on this horse, but it died! What happened?’ The priest shook his head sadly and said, ‘You must be a Protestant.’ ‘Why do you say that?’ asked the man. ‘Because,’ said the priest, ‘you don’t know the difference between a blessing and the last rites.’”
As funny as the joke is there is no laughing matter in the differences between Catholics and us in understanding what the angel Gabriel meant when he said to Mary that she was “Highly favoured.” There is a seismic difference in Catholicism’s and our view of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The difference is not trivial like a horse race but eternal - where Heaven and Hell hang in the balance.
Perspective on the difference is demonstrated by a pro-Catholic web site. Catholics view Mary as the most selfless person of all humanity; She received more of God than any other saint; Her being Immaculate meant she was free from every taint of selfishness that might obscure God’s light in her being; There can be no separation between the Son from the Mother - they refer to her as the Mother of God; and they take all of this from the phrase she was full of grace (highly favoured)!
There are two severe problems with their position on Mary. First, the immediate context reveals the word “favoured” means “grace.” A few verses down the angel says to Mary “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (Luke 1:30). Mary found grace with God. Grace means someone showing undeserved love or merit to another. Mary found God giving her what she did not deserve, His love. There is a similar phrase in the Old Testament, referencing Noah. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). No one would ever think Noah was the most selfless person in human history or born free from sin. Just the opposite. He, like Mary, were born sinners, found grace in God, and were "highly favoured” to magnify and glorify God’s purposes.
Not only does out text reveal that Mary found grace in God but after hearing the encouraging words from Elizabeth, Mary sang a hymn of praise to God. In this hymn, Mary’s spirit rejoiced in God her Savior (Luke 1:47). She, just like anyone else needed a Savior to be redeemed from the wickedness of sin that prevails in our lives.
Further, grace speaks more about the giver than the receiver. So when the angel Gabriel spoke of how Mary was “highly favoured,” this statement spoke more about God’s love and forgiveness than Mary’s righteousness or goodness.
Additionally, viewing “highly favoured” as God’s grace to a sinful Mary is further exemplified as we compare the phrase with the Bible. There are two ways this can be done. First, her sinfulness. Paul wrote “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). This description of mankind would be inclusive to Mary.
Secondly, consider how she is mentioned in the Bible. At the wedding ceremony in Cana, Mary wanted Jesus to produce more wine. To this, Jesus responded with “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Jesus rebukes His mother, reminding her He came to redeem the world, not provide wine for a wedding. Further along in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was surrounded by people, when someone came to told him that his mother and family were on the outside on the crowd, desiring to see Him. Jesus said, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?.....for whosoever shall do the will of my Father in Heaven which is in Heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50). Jesus placed
Mary was “highly favoured” to be the mother of ours and her Messiah and Savoir. She is not the only one who was “highly favoured” to participate in a task that would honor and glorify God. This word used in the Greek for “highly favoured” occurs one other time in the New Testament. Ephesians 1:6: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” The phrase “wherein he hath made us accepted” is the same word Gabriel used that is translated “highly favoured.” Mary is not the only one who is “highly favoured.” All the redeemed are “accepted” or made “highly favoured” by God. Praise the Lord.
Thirdly, Gabriel said of Mary “blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). The word “blessed” means to “speak well of someone.” People will speak well of Mary because she was called by God to be the mother of Jesus. Today, Christians from all walk of life speak well of Mary. Unfortunately, Catholicism uses this phrase to mean the Mary is blessed above all women in a universal senseand in every circumstance. To assume this position is a miscarriage of truth. In one narrow sense, she is blessed above all women within the framework of motherhood. In ancient times, being the mother of the Messiah was many Jewish girls dream. God chose Mary for this task, and in this task, we speak well of Mary more than any other mother in the history of the world. God saved her, and she used this salvation to separate herself from other young ladies in Israel, in the same sense as David separating himself from other Jewish teenage boys in Israel to be the next king. In this she is blessed above women.
However, overall, she is “blessed among women.” She is not the only woman of faith who God used to do extraordinary feats. Jesus spoke a woman whose faith is to be spoken of throughout all generations. An unnamed woman came to Jesus to worship him. People, to include some of His disciples complained about the cost wasted in worshipping Jesus. “When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matthew 26:10-13).
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus commended a woman’s faith by saying: “Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour” (Matthew 15:28).
There are many other women I could mention, but I believe this is enough to make the point that Mary was not this superior person above everyone else. She was saved and changed by grace. A woman who gave her life to following after the Lord who is blessed among women. Gabriel gives the reason she is blessed among women. The Lord was with her (Luke 1:28). The Lord with her made her "highly favoured," and the Lord with her caused her to be blessed (spoken well of) by people.
Nowhere does scripture indicate the Lord was with her more than any other saint in the history of the world. The Lord was with her in the same way He is with us. In fact, Paul, arguably the greatest of all Apostles, who accomplished more in his lifetime than any other Apostle said: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Mary being blessed by others is not an accident or a coincidence. Like Paul, she “labored more abundantly” than other women her age for the cause of God. She used the faith God gave her as a gift and worked out her salvation (Philippians 2:12). Mary is unique in what God called her to do: be the mother of Jesus. No other woman in the world can achieve that blessing. But she is not unique in God being with her to accomplish His will. God is with us to accomplish His will through our lives. Are we willing to absorb the cost of serving Jesus Christ? We must be surrendered to do anything God wants us to do. This is what allowed Mary to be so special. “True surrender will always go beyond natural devotion.”
Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained(p. 324). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
John Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor Luke and John (Clinton: LBC Publications, 2009), 18.
Steven Cole, “Lesson 426-45): Should Christians Hail Mary? (Luke 1,” Bible.Org, June 5, 2013, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-4-should-christians-hail-mary-luke-126-45
John Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor Luke and John (Clinton: LBC Publications, 2009), 19.