How different is the response for Mary than for Zechariah! Mary is a virgin and is favored by God. The Lord is with her. When the angel comes to her and speaks these words, the young woman is understandably “afraid.” When she is told that the greeting of the angel prefigures great favor and the extraordinary fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises regarding the Messiah, sitting on the throne of his father David, and Son of the Most High, she asks a question: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34).
What makes her question, apparently like that of Zechariah’s (1:18), receive the response articulated in verse 35, rather than of verses 19-20? Zechariah’s response indicated a lack of faith (“because you did not believe my words,” 1:20) and was underlined by his spiritual maturity in contrast with that of Mary. Mary’s question is more practical than faithless: how can she have a child when she is a virgin? She is not doubting the angel’s words; she is interested in the way that what has been promised to her will happen.
Note: there are different kinds of questioning. The Socratic method—asking questions to gain answers—is a human approach to learning that is commendable and normal. There is little that we will learn if we do not ask questions. Questions about God and about the Bible are often the way that we find deeper and better answers. But there is also a kind of question that prefigures lack of faith rather than growing faith: it assumes that the answer is that there can be no answer, and undermines the answer by asking the question in a way that is less likely to lead to the truth. We are to have hearts seeking after God, not resistant hearts covered up with fake questions that are intended to protect us from discovering the truth. Truth seeking is good; questions of that kind are good. And that is the sort of question that Mary asks—and she receives the beautiful answer of verse 35.
Note also the fulfillment of Genesis 18:14: “Nothing will be impossible for God.” For those of us who find it hard to conceive how a virgin birth is possible, we can consider it from various angles. It is worth remembering that people in those days—while their scientific knowledge was of course less advanced than ours—nonetheless were not ignorant as to the mechanism of human reproduction. They knew as well as anyone today where babies come from. So the writers, when they record this virgin birth, are not doing so with a naivety of an infant who might not understand the miraculous process that must have been at work. It is also worth realizing that a sheer miracle is predisposed at the start of the story: Mary’s question, the angel’s answer, and the principle elucidated, “Nothing is impossible for God” (1:37).
Most of all, though, we land at the feet of the Godness of God. God is God. God can do whatever he likes. This does not mean that random, chaotic, sporadic lack of order is to be expected. The order of our world is an expression of the orderliness of the character of God. The so-called “laws” of nature express the beautiful order of our God who sustains creation by the word of his power. This orderliness and “laws of nature” are the normal way that God works. But God does also sometimes do something unusual. Miracles do not happen all the time—if they did they would not be miracles. But nothing is impossible for God, and if God is God, then he can create a virgin birth. And he did.
It is the great miracle of the humility of God, the humiliation of the Christ, that he became flesh and dwelt among us to redeem us. Really, the greater miracle is not the physics involved with this miracle, but the theology: that God, in all power and glory, would take on the nature of a servant and become obedient to death, even death on a cross. Such is the extraordinary story of the gospel. And it is this that draws us, with certainty based upon the “nothing is impossible with God” principle, to worship at the feet of the baby born King, Son of the Most High, Jesus God Incarnate, Lord of All.
To receive God Centered Bible devotionals directly in your inbox, sign up here.