8. What does it mean that Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit?
In a nutshell, this simply means that God caused Mary to become pregnant without sexual intercourse. More details can be found in Luke 1:28-35, which speaks of the Holy Spirit coming on her and the power of the most high overshadowing Mary to cause this to happen. The Greek word that is translated to overshadow is episkiazo. Episkiazo (ep-ee-skee-ad'-zo); to cast a shade upon, i.e. (by analogy) to envelope in a haze of brilliancy; figuratively, to invest with preternatural influence. Preternatural simply means supernatural or exceeding what is normal in nature.
Luke was a Greek, a physician, and historian. He undoubtedly interviewed Mary before he wrote this account as indicated in Luke 1:1-3 where he says he carefully investigated everything in the book of Luke and again in Acts. As a physician, it would have been very hard for him to explain something like the virgin birth of Jesus; however, he was able to explain it in terms of who God is – supernatural and all-powerful. What God wants to do, He can do. He can and has laid aside the laws of nature on numerous occasions to accomplish His will.
This has to be one of the hardest things about the Christian faith for people to accept. It is so hard that many have denied the virgin birth. In doing this they have made Jesus fully man and not fully God. They deny what the angel told Mary. Luke 1:35 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. (NIV) Note that Jesus is called the holy one and the Son of God. Neither of these things could be true if Jesus were conceived by natural means and Mary was not a virgin. If Jesus were not holy, then He would have had to die for His own sins. Denying the virgin birth ultimately denies that our sins have been forgiven on the cross. Jesus then only becomes a “good teacher.” However, as I’ve discussed before, if Jesus were not God, then He couldn’t be a “good teacher” because He claimed to be God.
9. According to the Law, what kind of public disgrace would Mary have undergone had the Law been imposed?
God’s sovereignty is seen again in Joseph’s actions after finding out that Mary was pregnant. It was quite clear in Jewish law that a person who had sexual intercourse while betrothed to another was guilty of adultery and should be stoned. Lev 20:10 If a man commits adultery with another man's wife — with the wife of his neighbor — both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. (NIV) See also Deut 22:13-21 which would apply even in the case of Mary as any unfaithfulness during the betrothal would be punishable by death.
Even though the law would have required stoning, it was not always practiced. This can be seen in John 8:3-9 where a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus to see if He would follow the law and condemn her to stoning. If He agreed, then they could report Him to the Roman authorities. In John 18:31, the Jews verified that they didn’t have the authority under the Roman government to execute anyone. In addition, I suspect that stoning was unusual because King David and Bathsheba were not killed when their adultery was exposed. See 2 Sam 12:13 where he is told he will not die because of his sins.
So Joseph, not even wishing to expose her to public ridicule wanted to quietly divorce her. We can again see God’s sovereignty as His angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Consider what the angel said. Matt 1:20 "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife …” (NIV) More than likely, part of Joseph’s reason for the divorce was to protect his own reputation. He was afraid of the ridicule and perhaps even being ostracized in his community. Think about the ridicule that Jesus faced later. In John 8:38-41 Jesus claimed God as His Father and the Jews essentially called Him illegitimate.
When God is moving and directing, He often tells us the same thing. “Do not be afraid.” When we have eternity in mind, we don’t fear what other fear. Death isn’t the ultimate fear but our entrance to being with Jesus forever. In the rest of Matt 1:20-21 the angel confirms that Joseph didn’t need to fear because God’s plan went way beyond the unpleasantness of people’s reactions. The angel confirmed that Mary had done nothing wrong. (It is always easier to face accusations when you know they aren’t true.) But the most significant reason not to fear was that Jesus would save us from our sins. At this point, Joseph had the opportunity to go with God in His plans to save all mankind or to protect his own feelings.
Fears often seem overwhelming. But look at what the Lord told the nation of Israel.
Isa 43:1-3 But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (NIV)
Remember all the promises in these three verses. They are repeated many times in the Old and New Testaments. God has created us, formed us, redeemed us, and calls us by name. It doesn’t matter what disaster strikes us, He is with us and will never leave or forsake us. (Heb 13:5) He does this because He is the Lord our God, the Holy One, our Savior. Joseph was reminded that Jesus is the Holy One, our Savior. Perhaps these words from Isaiah came to him as the angel spoke to him.
What are you going through today? Do you have confidence that God is with you in it or are you going your own direction and can’t claim these promises? I certainly want to be going where God is and to go with Him.