George Danzig was a senior at Stanford University during the 1930’s during the great economic depression. All the seniors knew they’d be joining unemployment lines when the class graduated. There was a slim chance that the top person in the class might get a teaching job. George was not at the head of his class, but he hoped that if he were able to achieve a perfect score on the final exam, he might be given a job. He studied so hard for the exam that he arrived late to class. When he got to class, the others were already hard at work. He was embarrassed and just picked up his paper and slunk into his desk. He sat down and worked on the eight problems on the test paper; then he started on the two written on the board. Try as he might, he couldn’t solve either of them. He was devastated. Out of the ten problems, he had missed two for sure. But just as he was about to hand in the paper, he took a chance and asked the professor if he could have a couple of days to work on the two he had missed. He was surprised when his professor agreed.
George rushed home and plunged into those equations with a vengeance. He spent hours and hours, but he could find the solution for only one of them. He never could solve the other. It was impossible. When he turned in the test, he knew he had lost all chance of a job. That was the darkest moment of his life.
The next morning a pounding on the door awakened George. It was his math professor, very excited. ‘George! George!’ he kept shouting, ‘You’ve made mathematics history!’
George didn’t know what his professor was talking about. The professor explained. Before the exam, he had encouraged the class to keep trying in spite of setback and failure. ‘Don’t be discouraged,’ he had counseled. ‘Remember, there are classic problems that no one can solve. Even Einstein was unable to unlock their secrets.’ He then wrote two of those problems on the blackboard. George had come to class late and missed those opening remarks. He didn’t know the problems on the board were impossible to solve. He thought they were part of his exam and was determined that he could work on them. And he solved one! He did the impossible. That very morning the professor made George Danzig his assistant. He taught at Stanford until his retirement.[i]
What seemed impossible became a reality. God is still reaching out through unlikely people to influence our world. This is seen in the Christmas story.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the people of Judea looked down with contempt upon those who lived in Galilee. Even though they were all Jews they felt that the Galileans were ‘not kosher,’ which meant that they were considered unclean. The reason they felt this way was because of their proximity and intermingling with the Gentiles in the area. Many cities in Galilee were predominately Gentile in makeup. Not only did the Jews from Judea look down upon the Galileans, but one community especially was considered undesirable, namely Nazareth. This is reflected in Nathanael’s comment to Philip when he was inviting Nathanael to meet Jesus.
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.[ii]
Yet, in this insignificant and despised place, God choose an unlikely young maiden to be the mother of the Son of God. Mingled into the impossible challenge and the incredible miracle is the potential for great misunderstanding, criticism, and possibly great danger. What would you do? God has a plan for each of us. Incredible challenges happen to those that God chooses. God’s appointments to serve generally go to obscure and unknown people, people like you and me. God works through ordinary people. How have you responded to God’s call on your life? Maybe more importantly, how are we going to respond to God’s call today? Let’s examine a very familiar story, but see the story not from hindsight but rather as a present challenge to each of us. God is calling us! God desires to utilize our lives for His purposes. How will we respond? There are generally three elements to God’s calling in our lives.
THE FIRST ELEMENT IN GOD’S CALL ON OUR LIVES IS DETERMINED BY OUR RESPONSE
What is our initial reaction to a great challenge? What is the first thing that pops into our minds? It might be exhilarating. But it can also be very disturbing. Why would God choose me? We might feel overwhelmed. Now what am I supposed to do?
A. The choosing of Mary.
A young, seemingly insignificant person in a small town in Galilee. It was one of those places where nothing significant ever seemed to happen. You may feel that about your life. But as we turn the pages of our bibles, we notice an interesting turn of events. God zeroes in on this unlikely person to hand out one of His greatest assignments. While we look at the big, the best, the obvious. God sees something we cannot. God sees the heart. So many of God’s servants do not see themselves as special. Gideon was hiding in the wine press when the angel came and said that he was a mighty man of valor. Gideon pointed out that he was the least in his family, and his clan was weakest of their tribe. God chooses ‘ordinary people.’
We pick up the story of an angel’s visit to a Mary. Only Dr. Luke retells this part of the story of Jesus.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.[iii]
Robert Stein rightly points out:
Mary had been “graced” by God in that she had been chosen to bear God’s Son (1:31, 35). She had not been chosen for this task because she possessed a particular piety or holiness of life that merited this privilege. The text suggests no special worthiness on Mary’s part.[iv]
Walter Liefeld states it this way: “Mary is ‘highly favored’ because she is the recipient of God’s grace.”[v] In other words, Mary was not chosen because of who she was, but rather God’s choosing of her was an act of God’s unmerited favor upon her. When Mary, a young woman engaged to one of the town’s carpenters was confronted by an angel with a greeting of esteem, it took her back. Mary’s initial response was to be troubled. Here was a message of Divine favor, yet she felt apprehensive.
What had she done? Nothing! Yet God was about to choose her for a very significant role in His kingdom.
B. That’s how God comes to each of us.
It is not what we do for Him, rather, it is what He has done and does for us. He comes to us and chooses us. Jesus reminded the disciples of this amazing truth.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.[vi]
God has something in mind for each of us. The great tragedy is that so many people never discover this amazing truth. How does this message affect you? You may say I don’t deserve it. I don’t feel worthy. God comes to us before we merit any consideration. Our problem is that we look at ourselves. We look at our sinfulness, our inadequacies, our unloveliness and say, Why would God want to mess with us? The answer is, He can’t help Himself. He’s a lover. He loves us!
Many Christians feel like failures. They live a life of tremendous guilt, because of what they haven’t done, or could, or should be doing. We may struggle to respond to God, because we allow the guilt of past failures to consume us. It shatters our self-esteem, and our sense of value. We need to look past who we are to who God is and what He has done on our behalf and what He wants to do in our lives. In Christ we are forgiven! In Christ we are favored and standing in a place of Divine blessing. Accept that, delight in it, rejoice in His goodness and then respond from that sense of being loved. Let’s remind ourselves, ‘love never fails.’
C. When God calls, we often need reassurance.
Not only was Mary troubled by the visitation and initial words of the angel, she struggled with the very words of blessing. We don’t often see ourselves as being highly favored. How often like Mary, we need to be reassured and comforted. The angel told her not to be afraid, for she had found favor with God. He reminded her that God was with her. God is with us. Every child of God is a highly favored person. Too often we take our relationship with the Lord too lightly. There is no greater privilege on this planet then to know Him.
Not only are we bewildered and troubled by God’s choices. The fact that He chooses us with great areas of responsibility is an expression of His confidence, trust and love towards us.
Years ago, I heard Dr. Leith Anderson preach a chapel service which I have never forgotten to this day. It had a powerful impact on me. As he stated: ‘For all the times we have been challenged to trust God, “Can God trust us?” The answer is that He does. He chooses to trust us. He trust us with Himself. He trusts us with His wonderful message of life. To each of us He’s given a specific task to accomplish. To each of us, as believers, God has given us an incredible calling. Will we be faithful? God chooses us by giving us the greatest gift of all, the gift of His son. To know Jesus Christ is to have eternal life. To know Jesus Christ, is to have the living, dynamic ingredient to an enriched life. Jesus promised a full and enhanced life. And yet we struggle so often with the practical outworking of what it means to be His children fulfilling His purposes in our world.
THE SECOND ELEMENT OF GOD’S CALLING IN OUR LIVES IS THE PRACTICAL OUTWORKING OF THAT CALLING
What does it mean in the real world of daily living for our calling to be lived out? Maybe the more important question is what constitutes a calling? J. I. Packer relates that “the terminology of calling has two subordinate applications in the N.T.: (1) to God’s summons and designation of individuals to particular functions and offices in his redemptive plan (apostleship, Rom. 1:1; missionary preaching, Acts 13:2; 16:10).. (2) to the external circumstances and state of life in which a man’s effectual calling took place (1 Cor. 1:26; 7:20).[vii]
What is Packer saying? Simply that God summons us to a task as a believer, but also we were placed by God prior to our salvation in a certain social context. One example is the marital state of being either single or married, which is not affected by our spiritual new birth. People could be a free person or a slave, but God’s grace does not change that social status. The apostle Paul reminds us that many of us were called not the somebodies of this world, but usually the ordinary people of our times.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.[viii]
Why does God generally choose those who are often the least and overlooked in life? Then God gets the credit, honor and glory.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.[ix]
God is calling us to live an appropriate life, a holy life? How then does it work its way out in our lives? In other words…
A. What does God expect of me?
We begin to wonder how God can do what needs to be done in and through us in order to fulfill what He’s called us to be and to do. After asking why God would choose us, we move on to how is it going to get done. We have all kinds of reasons why the task or service can’t happen. When we look at the human side of things, it often seems impossible. We are like Moses at the burning bush explaining to God all the reasons why He got the wrong person. Mary was also filled with perplexity “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin? (Luke 1:34)”
The angel communicated to Mary that she would give birth to a son, and call him Jesus. This son would be the Son of the Most High. He would reign on David’s throne. He is to have a never-ending kingdom. Mary could not figure out how this was about to happen. I’m sure she had been influenced by her culture that the Messiah was to rule over his people, so why would God choose her to be the mother of this important child? She had every reason to question the reality of this message. She could not figure out how God was even going to bring this about, as she was a virgin. What we failed to understand is that much of what God calls us to do requires miracles. He plans on helping us to do it. He doesn’t expect that it will be accomplished apart from Him.
What God wants to do in us and through us is beyond ourselves. The danger is to be satisfied with good things, but miss what God wants to accomplish. I know in my life, the birth and development of a church may seem very ordinary and natural, but it takes the supernatural power of God. Have you ever considered today how complex the relationship networking is in a large and diverse congregation. Think of the variety of people that assemble here. Some are patient, some are impatient. What to do? How to do it? When to do it? Why we do it? What we should be doing? It means one thing: we must learn to trust God. We must walk with Him, follow Him, while learning to be patient with each other. We must learn to love, support and care for each other. One thing that strikes me in this passage which is equally true of our lives is the marriage of both the natural and the supernatural in our lives. For that to happen, we need to be a willing participant, which leads to the third element involved in God’s calling of our lives.
THE THIRD ELEMENT IN GOD’S CALLING IS THE CHALLENGE INVOLVED
Anything worthwhile in life means that there is a cost involved. We have to give up our plans, rights, and dreams to accomplish a greater good. Mary’s whole life was about to change dramatically. There would be greater challenges and greater blessings. Anything we do means that others may misunderstand. That is one reason why so many people pass on God’s great appointments for their lives. They want to play it safe.
It’s so easy to say to ourselves, let someone else do it. But the problem is that you miss not only the cost, but the rich blessings and experiences that God has in mind. Also, much is left undone because we were not there to do it. I love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, which tells the story of the difference a person makes in life. It always comes down to obedience. Mary surrendered her life and even her body to God’s purposes to fulfill God’s will. Consider the idea that all that we are belongs to our God. God calls all of us for His purposes.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.[x]
How do we know what God requires of us? The only way to know God’s will is to develop a meaningful relationship with Him. God guides His children primarily through His word. We cannot think that God will do anything apart from our involvement with Him. He chooses not to perform miracles unless we are willing to be involved. Our involvement is a critical element in getting things done. He will not, if we won’t. God is looking for us to be in partnership with us.
We not only have to be available for God, we must be available to Him. We must allow God, the Holy Spirit, to come and overshadow our lives. This is the idea of surrendering to His will. It is a recognition that what He asks of us, that which we are unable to do apart from His empowerment in our lives. Mary was promised that this child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.[xi]
What was about to happen could only happen in the power that comes from God. It would take the Holy Spirit working within Mary’s life to make this miracle a reality. The same is true for each of us. What God calls us to be and to do, can only occur as the power of the Holy Spirit is at work within our lives. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians that the greatest need was to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.[xii]
We are the ones that limit what God can and will do our lives. God has a way of encouraging our lives by showing us that it can be done. He does it in the lives of those we know. What God will do for another, He can do for us. It is interesting that when God was about to encourage Mary with a miracle pregnancy, the sign of encouragement was a miracle pregnancy of a woman past the age of fertility and childbearing, a near relative named Elizabeth. She was also experiencing a miracle in her life. What was thought of as impossible was a current reality in Elizabeth’s life.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. [xiii]
God encourages us with the impossible by allowing us to witness it, in other people’s lives. Not only do we need to have the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and be encouraged by the experience of others, but ultimately we must be willing to do as God calls us to do.
Our willing cooperation with God’s plan and purposes is what He looks for. How did Mary respond? Mary embraced the challenge as an act of obedience.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.[xiv]
Unless we are willing to participate with the plan of God, it will not become reality. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit and a willing heart to make things happen in the kingdom of God. Mary is called to a life task. Within that very calling is the need for a miracle. The challenge is to believe what God has said. Zechariah earlier in Luke’s account doubted and it resulted in being silenced, whereas Mary believes the God of the impossible and is able to confess her belief and sing praises to God.
God uses the unlikely in order to influence other lives. This is seen in the two women that God selected to perform these powerful miracles. Elizabeth sees God’s plan and purpose unfold and declares that God has not forgotten her. He has shown her favor. God desires to utilize each of our lives in a distinct way. It’s never too late, we are never too old, neither are we too young for God to use our lives. Mary, on the other hand, was a young woman who God chose to reveal a special and unique calling. Because she believed God and yielded to His will, He performed a miracle in her life which brought to us the Savior of the world.
Questions come to my mind about our lives. Are we willing to surrender our agendas, our lives, to see His purposes accomplished in and through us? How will we respond to His call to be Lord in every area of our life? What areas are we personally struggling with today? Can we believe, that miracles will happen? Are we willing participants? Like Mary, are we prepared if necessary to be misunderstood, criticized, and suffer because we have obeyed God?
[i] Rick Ezell., “Defining Moments” InterVarsity Press,
[ii] John 1:44-46, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[iii] Luke 1:26-29.
[iv] Robert H. Stein, Luke, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1992), 82-83.
[v] Walter L. Liefeld, Luke, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8 (Matthew, Mark, Luke), ed. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 830.
[vi] John 15:16.
[vii] J. I. Packer, Call, Called, Calling, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 108-109.
[viii] 1 Corinthians 1:26.
[ix] 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
[x] Romans 12:1-2.
[xi] Luke 1:35.
[xii] Ephesians 5:18.
[xiii] Luke 1:36-37.
[xiv] Luke 1:38.