Once the angel Gabriel told the virgin Mary she was going to give birth to Israel’s promised Messiah, things happened quickly.
“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
The idea of “Mary arose in those days” is that when Gabriel left her, Mary prepared quickly and made a fast trip (“with haste”) to visit Elizabeth. We know from reading further in the first chapter of Luke that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. I’ve heard some people surmise that Mary left Nazareth quickly because she or her parents or Joseph her espoused husband were embarrassed about her being pregnant and unmarried, but that doesn’t fit the context or the historicity of the event.
Even as Luke tells about Gabriel’s personal encounter with Mary, Matthew tells about Gabriel’s meeting with Mary’s espoused husband Joseph. Comparing the two accounts gives us wonderful insight into what happened after Gabriel visited Mary.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man,and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’ Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.”
What we see from Matthew 1 and Luke 1 is that Gabriel visited Mary first, then Joseph. The two angelic visitations may have been close together. Here’s why I say that. God “came upon” and “overshadowed” Mary as soon as Gabriel finished his announcement and she received God’s Word (“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”). One of the keys to how fast everything happened is in the words of Luke: “In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.” The context of Luke 1:24-26 shows that the sixth month referred to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Elizabeth became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. Gabriel visited Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months before returning to her home in Nazareth. The next thing Luke tells us is that Elizabeth gave birth to her son. The numbers six and three added together are the nine months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
One theory is that Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy between the time the Holy Spirit “came upon” her and when she traveled to see Elizabeth. Another theory is that Joseph saw Mary after she returned from her visit with Elizabeth and suspected that she was pregnant. Either way this was quite a problem for Joseph. Mary was promised to Joseph, was a virgin and was pregnant. She was found with child of the Holy Spirit “before they came together.”
Mary was legally bound to Joseph as his wife. The official marriage ceremony had not happened yet, but they were promised to each other legally in the eyes of Hebrew law (betrothal was a formal contract). One Old Testament example is 2 Samuel 3:14: “So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, ‘Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” Another example is found in Deuteronomy. Notice how brave it was for Mary to tell Joseph that she was pregnant.
“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.”
A woman betrothed to a man in Israel was legally his wife. According to Jewish Law, Joseph could have demanded that Mary be taken outside the village and stoned to death. But what did he do instead? “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” This tells us a lot about the kind of man Joseph was. His response was to take care of this situation privately rather than make Mary a public example.
The coming together of the pregnant virgin Mary and the previously barren Elizabeth was sure to be an amazing scene, and it was!
“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting and the baby leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The baby inside Elizabeth was going to be named John. Gabriel’s prophecy concerning John would be that he would become a prophet of God and would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) John would become known as John the Baptist and would one day preach the coming of the Messiah, who was the child in Mary’s womb. The unborn John leaped in his mother’s womb at Mary’s greeting. John’s mother was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Whenever someone in the Bible is “filled with the Holy Spirit,” special things happen. God granted Elizabeth an amazing insight into who was in Mary’s womb.
“Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
God revealed to Elizabeth something that Mary had not had time to tell her and that an angel had not told her. This revelation was straight from the Holy Spirit of God. Elizabeth knew that Mary was the “mother of my Lord.” The Greek word used to describe Jesus as Lord is used here for the baby in Mary’s womb (kurios). Notice also the insight about the impact of Mary’s visit on Elizabeth’s unborn child: “the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” God’s Spirit shows us that the unborn John the Baptist was filled with joy when he heard the greeting of the woman who would give birth to his Messiah. Elizabeth also knew, before Mary had time to tell her, that Mary had believed the Word of God and that all the things the angel had told Mary would be completed (fulfillment).
Question: how could an unborn child “leap for joy” in his mother’s womb? Remember what the angel Gabriel told John’s father?
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Luke 1:13-15
Mary’s visit had a profound impact on baby John, Elizabeth, and I’m sure Zacharias as well. That visit also led to one of the most famous and memorable of all pronouncements in Scripture, and it came from the mouth of the young virgin pregnant with the Son of God. We’ll look at what she said tomorrow and how it has affected the people of God for centuries.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”