“And the angel came in unto her, and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” ~ Luke 1:28
In the opening sentence of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, he declares that she is “highly favoured”. This phrase is commonly used/misused today and it is worth examining what it means.
Luke chapter 1 informs us that Mary was a poor young woman from Nazareth. In those times, that was a horrible resume: she had four strikes, four negatives, against her:
- she was poor
- she was a woman
- she was young
- she came from the wrong neighborhood
Then, as now, the poor were at the lowest rung of society. In those times, women were second class citizens with very little rights. Likewise, the young generally had much less power and influence in their society compared with their elders. And finally, Nazareth was not a well-regarded town to live in. Effectively, Mary was at the bottom rung of Jewish society in almost every way. To go any lower, she would have had to be a leper.
Therefore, the first things we can learn about being “highly favoured” with God is that
- It has nothing to do with social standing: we can’t ascend to it.
- It has nothing to do with material wealth: we can’t buy it.
- It has nothing to do with age: we can’t age into it, we can’t age out of it.
- It has nothing to do with gender, family history, culture, or ethnicity: we can’t be born into it.
Since we can’t acquire favour by the usual human means, the question is, How does one become “highly favoured”?
Thankfully, the Bible makes the answer quite clear. As examples, consider the following three passages:
“6 But He giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” ~ James 4:6, 10
“For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:11
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” ~ 1 Peter 5:6
Clearly, the one that humbles himself/herself is the one that God exalts, the one that is “highly favoured”: humility brings God’s favour.
Sadly, in many Christian circles today, humility seems to be in short supply. And, accordingly, God’s favour is in short supply too. Many churches seem to exalt those who are the loudest and proudest. Many leaders annoint and appoint themselves as “bishops”, “elders”, “apostles”, etc. It is rare to see a leader accept the role of most menial servant. But God favours the humble, and so should we.
What is the result of being “highly favoured”?
We have already seen that despite her low standing in human society, Mary was “highly favoured” by God because of her genuine humility. However, examining Mary’s life from Gabriel’s announcement going forward shows us a few things that God’s favour does not guarantee:
God’s favour did not make Mary rich, the biblical record suggests she was poor for her entire life.
God’s favour did not put Mary into a nicer neighborhood, she lived in Nazareth at least up to the time Jesus instructed His disciple, John, to take care of her.
God’s favour did not even make Mary’s life “easier”, her life became more challenging than ever:
- she nearly lost her fiancé, due to her pregnancy;
- she would live the rest of her life with the suspicion of her neighbors (“Was Mary an adulteress?”);
- she would be widowed fairly early in life.
- she would see her child die a horrible death.
So, what is the benefit of being “highly favoured”?
Our text gives us the answer: “…the Lord is with thee…”. The benefit of being “highly favoured” by God is His abiding presence with us.
“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” ~ Psalm 16:11
Complete, supernatural, extraordinary joy in available in the presence of God. When God is with us we can have the true joy of life. Without God’s presence, when the Lord is NOT with us, we have no joy and no access to joy.
for I have redeemed thee,
I have called thee by thy name;
thou art Mine.
When thou passest through the waters,
I will be with thee;
and through the rivers,
they shall not overflow thee:
when thou walkest through the fire,
thou shalt not be burned;
neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour…”
~ Isaiah 43:1b-3a
When we are “highly favored”, we have The Lord with us: we have God on our side: we live in God’s presence and, by grace, we walk in His will.
Indeed, God’s presence is His greatest and essential gift to His (saved) children:
“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” ~ John 14:16-17
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” ~ Luke 11:13
“Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” ~ 1 John 4:13
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16
The priceless benefit of being “highly favored” by God is being able to have fellowship with Him, being blessed to live in His presence where there is fullness of joy.
But there is a second benefit of being “highly favoured” by God, namely, we are blessed to serve. Gabriel hailed Mary as “blessed art thou among women”. However, this blessedness was not for Mary to become self-serving, it was a blessedness that allowed her to become more God-serving. She was elevated to serve more and at even greater personal cost. Often we perceive God’s blessing as a call to suffer less, to have more for ourselves. However, God’s blessing often calls us into deeper service, where we have less for ourselves and suffer more for Him.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” ~ Philippians 1:29
Being blessed meant Mary was challenged to risk everything to serve God even more.