What child’s life, destiny and impact on the world can be specifically and accurately described before the child has ever been conceived? What child ever had all the details of his nature, character, life and accomplishments clearly laid out before he was born?
Humanly speaking, this is impossible. But on occasion, God chooses to reveal the history of a life before it has been lived, and before a child is even born — and sometimes, before a child is even conceived.
This is exactly what happens in the first chapter of Luke.
As the gospel story unfolds, it reveals the intervention of heaven on a grand scale. The scenario is simple yet supernatural. For the first time in 400 years, God speaks. Miracles begin to happen. As the New Testament begins, there is a flurry of supernatural activity, beginning with the delivery of prophecies about people who are not yet born or conceived.
In other words, the story begins with God communicating things that only God could know.
First of all, the angel Gabriel comes to a man named Zechariah, telling him that he is going to have a son, even though he and his wife Elizabeth are well past childbearing age. Elizabeth had been barren all of her life, but Gabriel tells Zechariah they are going to have a child named John. And in Luke 1:15-17, he describes this future child:
For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.
It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
This is a remarkable, supernatural description of a life not yet lived. Miraculously, Zechariah and Elizabeth would conceive a child who would fulfill this prophecy.
Then, when Elizabeth is six months pregnant, Gabriel appears again. He returns with another prophecy about another amazing child to be born. He comes to the region of Galilee, to a town called Nazareth, and to the home of Mary, a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph. And Gabriel says,
Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 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. (Luke 1:30-33)
Here again, there is a remarkable revelation from God about a child yet to be conceived. These are the most astonishing words that have ever been spoken to any woman: though Mary is a virgin, she will have a child. And this child will be “great.”
What did Gabriel mean by “great”? Well, the word could be taken to mean illustrious, noble, eminent, magnificent or distinguished. But in the case of this child, the meaning is probably closer to “glorious.”
The greatness of Jesus unfolded as He lived His life. His teaching was unlike any teaching that had ever been heard by anybody. “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks,” they said (John 7:46). No man ever had the insights, the divine knowledge, the truth from God to the degree that this man did.
His miracles attested to His glorious greatness. He did miracle after miracle after miracle. He raised the dead, provided food for multitudes, and walked on water. He banished illness. And not only that — He had total authority over the kingdom of darkness and cast out demons at will.
And the greatest of all His miracles was that He was raised from the dead Himself. He, with His own power, shattered the bonds of death and came forth alive.
This was the greatest child ever born. And He was born in the humblest of circumstances, in a nondescript town, to an obscure woman.
So, what precisely made this child so great? This is the question we will be examining in future posts.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1998, titled “The Greatest Child Ever Born.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
The Master’s University and Seminary admit students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.
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