Christmas in Zion

The High Favor of God

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)

THE angel Gabriel had been sent to Nazareth, a city in the Galilee district, to Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” he announced, “Blessed are you among women!”

That was quite a greeting — to discover the great favor of God so fully upon her life. She did not know what to make of it. How could it be? She was just a young woman, a teenager. The angel reassured her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Yes, God was for her, not against her. Not only that, He was ready to extend the full weight and authority of His goodness and power on her behalf. For that is what the word “favor” means. It is the Greek word charis — grace!

God’s grace was making an entrance into the world in a manner and fullness never before seen on earth, and it was now being announced to this young Jewish girl. This grace was not just for Mary, but for the sake of the whole world. Mary was blessed as the vessel of entry for this new and ultimate expression of God’s favor upon mankind.  

Beholding the Favor of God

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

Having greeted Mary as the “highly favored” of God, the angel Gabriel began to describe, in wondrous terms, what that favor was about to mean in her life.

“Behold!” the angel said. The word means “to lay hold of,” usually with the eyes. But in the Bible it is used to mean more than seeing with the natural eye. What the angel was telling Mary to behold had not yet happened and could not yet be seen in the natural.

No, the angel was drawing Mary’s attention to the spiritual. The spiritual is no less real than the natural, but more real, because the natural comes forth from the spiritual by the Word of God. To behold means to carefully consider, to focus upon, give attention to. To behold in the spirit means to let the Word of God become more real to you than what you can see with your physical eyes. It is believing what God says more than what your senses tell you.

What was it, then, that Mary was being called to envision?

“You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son.” Gabriel was using the language of the prophet Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son” (Isaiah 7:14). The messianic significance of this was not lost on Mary.

“And shall call His name Jesus.” This name literally means “salvation,” certainly a most appropriate name for the burden-lifting, yoke-destroying Messiah, the “Anointed One” of God (Isaiah 10:27).

“He shall be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.” An exalted name used of an exalted person, and indicative of His divinity. Mary was called to envision the greatness of this Child.

“And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” A reference to the humanity of Jesus — for He is fully human as well as fully divine. In accordance, there is a throne and an inheritance which rightfully and legally passes to Him in the lineage of David. Again, it is of great messianic significance.

“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This speaks both of the dominion and the eternity of Jesus. As we see later in the New Testament, there is a broadening of this house which is called “the Israel of God” to include all those who are in Christ Jesus (Galatians 6:15-16).

Mary was thus called to see in the spirit that which had not yet manifested in the flesh, nor would it manifest until she could see it in the spirit. The Word of God was being spoken to her, and that is what she was called to see, for that is how God works. The Bible says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). First God speaks a thing in the Spirit and afterwards is it seen in the natural.  

Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit

Then Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:34-35)

The angel Gabriel had spoken to Mary about wondrous things which would soon take place — things which would not only change her life, but change her world completely for the better.

“How can this be?” she asked. This was not a question of unbelief, or even doubt, as was Zechariah’s question. When Gabriel announced that Zechariah would be a father after all, he asked in unbelief: “How shall I know this?” In mercy, Gabriel silenced his lips that he might learn to hear the Word of God and believe.

No, Mary’s question was faith seeking understanding. So Gabriel explained: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” In other words, this was not about man but about God.

This was a God thing, reminiscent of work of the Spirit at Creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). The Holy Spirit brooded over the earth, overshadowing it.

On the Sixth Day, God said, “Let us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:26). The root of the Hebrew word for “image” literally means “to shade.” We can read the verse this way: “Let us make man in Our shadow. Let us overshadow Him with Our likeness.”

When God created Adam, breathing into his nostrils the divine breath of life, He was overshadowing him. Now the Holy Spirit would brood over Mary, and the power of God would overshadow her, to bring forth the Second Adam.

“That Holy One who is to be born,” Gabriel continued, “will be called the Son of God.” This was full humanity and full divinity coming together, the eternal Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, taking upon Himself human flesh.

God overshadows us still. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised the disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). This was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2). The Greek words used to describe the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary are the same words used for the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples.

Later, in Acts 5, we see this same Holy Spirit power in action as people lined the way where Peter passed, bringing their sick out on beds and couches, that the shadow of Peter might “fall on” them. The Greek word for “fall on” is the same word for “overshadow” in Luke 1:35. In Luke, this overshadowing produced new life in Mary. In Acts, it produced healing in as many was were touched by it.  

The Rhema of God

Let it be to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

As the angel Gabriel continued his answer to Mary concerning how this great prophecy would be fulfilled, he drew upon the testimony of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth:  

Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. (Luke 1:36-37)

The Greek word translated “indeed” here is actually the same word translated “behold” in verse 31. Gabriel was calling on Mary to behold something again, only this time, it was something she could verify with her natural senses, though its significance still required spiritual understanding. Mary certainly understood that Elizabeth’s conception was miraculous. For Elizabeth, who even in her younger years had been barren, was considerably beyond childbearing years — and yet she was now in her sixth month of pregnancy.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Instead of “nothing” read “no thing.” It is the same meaning in English, but I want to reveal the underlying Greek word. The word which is rendered “thing” is rhema. “With God, no rhema will be impossible.”

So, what is a rhema? It is a word that is acutely spoken or articulated, an utterance or saying that has a personal application or meaning. In the Bible, it is often a word delivered directly from God. That is why, with God, no rhema will be impossible — it comes from Him in the first place. His Word will not return fruitless but will be fulfilled in all His purposes

No wonder Gabriel twice enjoined Mary to behold, for he was bringing a word from the Lord, a rhema that required her full attention and spiritual vision.

Mary’s reply to this was quick and succinct: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary was speaking very directly, and with the same word that had been spoken to her — “Behold!” So Gabriel, who had just brought a revelation of God’s heart to Mary, was now witnessing the revelation of Mary’s heart.

Mary presented herself as the “maidservant of the Lord.” She had seen the servant-heart of God, and now she responded to Him in kind. Surely, this is one of the mysteries angels intensely desire to look into (1 Peter 1:12).

“Let it be unto me according to your rhema,” Mary said. Her heart was now lined up with God’s and she was in full agreement with His Word. She received this wonderful Word, believing it in her heart and confessing it with her lips. Heaven and earth were coming together. His Word would now be fulfilled in her. His kingdom would now come, and His will would now be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

“And the angel departed from her.”

Paul says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word (rhema) of God (Romans 10:17). Mary heard the Word of God delivered by the angel, and faith rose up within her. She believed it, she spoke it, and so it was done.

Truth Laying in a Manger

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

What happened to all the wonderful promises of God which had been announced to Mary by the angel Gabriel? This child was supposed to be a king — the eternal heir to the throne of David. He was the Holy One of Israel, the Son of God. How could He be making His entrance into the world in a lowly stable. How could He be wrapped in common strips of cloth and cribbed in the feeding trough of animals?

But Mary was unperturbed. In the natural realm, all these things simply did not add up. Ah, but Mary was no longer meditating on the natural. Her heart was fixed on the spiritual. She lived in the natural, but dwelt in the Spirit. She was unmoved by physical circumstances, but kept the promises of God close by and pondered them in her heart.

The manger and the stable and the lack of accommodations in the inn were merely facts. But Mary was tapped into the truth. The truth was everything that had been spoken to her by the Lord’s messenger. She received that rhema word and rejoiced in it. She magnified the Lord and let the things of God so fill her heart that there was simply no room for anything else to come and disturb the calm state of her soul. The facts mattered little to her, for facts change and must eventually come into alignment with the truth. But when Mary cradled her infant Son, she held onto the Truth, and so possessed herself in the peace of God.  

Wise Men Discern Kings

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) 

Two years had now passed since that wonderful Christmas night. The infant Jesus was now a young child. Angels in the heavens had announced His birth to shepherds; a star in the East now signified to the Wise Men.

The Greek word for “wise men,” magi, refers to a group of philosophers and priests, probably of Medo-Persia, who were interested in medicine, astronomy and related sciences. Though probably not kings, they would certainly have been sought out by rulers for their wise counsel and penetrating insight.

The Magi in Matthew apparently had some access to the Hebrew Scriptures and developed an interest in Messiah. When they saw the star, they were put in mind of a prophecy in Numbers 24 spoken by Balaam. Balaam was a mercenary prophet hired by the Moabite king to utter a curse on Israel. But try as he might, Balaam was quite unable to perform this task. Instead, he brought forth a far-reaching declaration from heaven.

The utterance of him who hears the Words of God,
and has the knowledge of the Most High … I see Him, but not now;
I behold Him, but not near;
A Star shall come out of Jacob;
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.

(Numbers 24:16-17)

This prophetic star tells us of Messiah who would come blazing into the world with the authority of heaven. The scepter speaks of His rule over the earth from the midst of His people. In Matthew, the “star” is the Greek aster, and literally means “rising.”

The Magi clearly stated their purpose: “We have seen His star [His Rising] in the East and have come to worship Him.” They came to honor the King of the Jews, to bow before Him, to reverence and adore Him, to kiss Him and honor Him with rich tribute.

Now Herod found out about the journey of the Magi, and gathered the Jewish priests and scribes to discover where Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea” came the answer, based on the prophesy of Micah 5:2:  

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.

Having discovered the place, Herod then summoned the Magi to determine the time the star appeared. “That I may come and worship Him also,” he says falsely. His real intent is to kill this rival king, though this was not yet apparent.

The Magi followed the star on to Bethlehem, full of joy when they realized their journey’s end and set their eyes on the young King. They fell down on their faces and worshipped Him. Then they arose, opened their treasures and presented Jesus with extravagant gifts. Do not suppose that these were the three little jars so often depicted in greeting cards. No, the Magi dug deeply into their wealth and brought their gifts out in great quantity — they were honoring a King!

Now, understand that we do not know how many Magi were on this mission. Traditionally, they are numbered as three, but there is no real indication of this in Scripture. There were three gifts presented, but there may have been many wise men presenting them. Indeed, it may well have been a whole company of Magi, along with an entourage — quite a conspicuous caravan.

The nature of these gifts is very significant, demonstrating the wisdom and prophetic insight of these men.


Having worshipped Jesus and bestowed ponderous gifts upon Him, the Magi departed. Being warned by God in a dream that they should not go back to Herod, they returned to their home by another way.

Joseph, a dreamer himself, was warned that Herod was out to destroy Jesus. God told him to take Jesus and Mary into Egypt. When Herod’s men came to Bethlehem, they found the Holy Family had departed. Herod was furious, and the darkness of his heart was fully revealed. He commanded the slaughter of all young boys in Bethlehem, two years old and under, “according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

The Magi were men of discernment, studying the Scriptures, believing the Word and following wherever it led them. And so they correctly discerned the kings: They offered no worship to Herod, and brought him no gifts, but held their honor for the true King only and worshipped Him alone. As they honored God, God honored them, and brought them safely home.

Points to Ponder

Christmas in Zion

For the Lord shall build up Zion;
He shall appear in His glory.
He shall regard the prayer of the destitute,
And shall not despise their prayer.
This will be written for the generation to come,
That a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.
For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary;
From heaven the Lord viewed the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoner,
To release those appointed to death,
To declare the name of the Lord in Zion,
And His praise in Jerusalem,
When the peoples are gathered together,
And the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.

(Psalm 102:17-22)

Is this not the promise of Christmas? Has not the Lord heard from heaven? Has not Messiah come to set prisoners free, to deliver lives from destruction, to declare the salvation of God?

The time shall come, and it shall be fulfilled that all peoples and nations shall gather together before the Lord, to love His name and serve Him alone.
O come, let us adore Him — Christ the Lord!

© 2005 by Jeff Doles.
All rights reserved.

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“JEFF DOLES is a Christian author, blogger and Bible teacher. His books include The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth: Keys to the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew and Praying With Fire: Change Your World with the Powerful Prayers of the Apostles. He and his wife, Suzanne, are the founders of Walking Barefoot Ministries. Visit their website at”

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