Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” – Luke 1:34
God’s ways are different than our ways. They are eternal. They are perfect. His ways are far beyond us at times. Therefore we will not always understand what God is doing. God’s ways and His thoughts are from an eternal perspective. But because God is Holy, righteous, just, good, patient, merciful, loving, and gracious, we can trust Him even though we do not always understand what He is doing.
God is God and we are not. There are things our puny human minds cannot grasp. There are things God does which we in our low limited position presumptively criticize. When we presume to know as much as God, we are headed for humiliation. The eternal truth and reality is, we do not see from the sovereign elevation of Almighty God. God has revealed enough about Himself and His plans to warrant our trust and love. That should be enough for us. The following verses attest to these statements.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NKJV) –
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Isaiah 55:9–11 (NKJV) –
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, 11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
There are going to be times in life when we do not have all the answers or solutions. We will question. We will doubt. That is part of being human. But we would be wise to always end up on our knees before God for His high ways are always right and true.
The portion of scripture from which the title of this study comes is found in The Gospel of Luke chapter one.
Luke 1:26–38 (NKJV) –
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 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. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 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. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
There are some things God keeps secret. But there are things He reveals. He provides revelation in His word. He gives us what we need to come to know Him and to walk with Him in saving relationship (Deut. 29:29).
In Isaiah 55 the LORD states His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. He tells us His word produces fruitfulness. His plans and His word will accomplish His will. In these verses is a key to gaining insight and understanding to God’s revelation. That key I believe is in the words, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” In these words I believe God is pointing us to see what He does from a heavenly perspective, from an eternal perspective. In these words God is telling us that to understand His ways and thinking in situations sometimes we need to step back and step up and look down on what He has done from a higher perspective. We need to look more broadly at what God does to see the context, the bigger picture. When we look at what God does sometimes it helps to step back, rise up and see His work from an overall perspective and then try to by faith see an overall principle; a generally applicable truth that is timeless.
When the angel Gabriel came to young Mary and told her she was going to give birth to “the Son of God” her initial response was, “How can this be?” The ways of God relayed to her by Gabriel defied her understanding. These words were challenging to her virgin character as well as confusing to her thinking. These words of God’s plan called Mary to a complete surrender, consecration and commitment to God and His plan in order for her to be used to the glory of God.
God often works in ways that defy our thinking and understanding. The challenge for us is whether or not we will accept God’s words and ways or will we reject them. If we accept them and trust in God, we will become a part of and see miracles and the wonderful will of God fulfilled. If we reject God’s words and ways, we will miss out on His best and lose the blessing and opportunity to be a glorious part of His plans.
What I would like to do is look at a select few of God’s ways found in His word that are different and defy the conventional ways of thinking. I want to look at some of the miraculous interventions of the LORD in history and see them from an eternal perspective; in a way that we draw from them an overall principle and truth that can be applied to life. Let’s start from the beginning.
- Creation in 6 Days – Genesis 1-2 – God can create something out of nothing and do so in a short amount of time.
“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.” That’s how the Bible begins. The first chapter gives us a revealing account of God creating the heavens and the earth in six days. Now the idea that God could create all things in six days challenges the minds of humanity. In fact, alternative theories such as the Theory of Evolution have been created by the minds of men as an alternative to the Creation Account found in the Bible.
Humanity wants to eliminate God from life’s equation in order to eliminate the idea of accountability to Him. Some people try to marry Evolution with Creation saying days don’t have to be 24-hour days but could be undetermined long amounts of time. The motives behind such explanations are many. Some are embarrassed by the idea that God could create everything in six days. They seek intellectual acceptance in the world. Others simply can’t put their minds around such an idea and sincerely seek to understand creation in a scientifically acceptable way.
There are interesting points to be made on the different sides of the issue. Time and space doesn’t permit us to consider the issue in detail. But what we can do is step back and glean a practical principle from God’s creative work. When we look at creation and think “How can this be?” we learn something about the capabilities God and the way He works. God can create something from nothing and do it with a word in a short amount of time.
This is a tremendously encouraging truth. Just think, are you in a situation where there is nothing where you’d hoped there would be something or maybe much less than what you thought there would be? Have you been waiting on the LORD for something, or committed to a ministry, or involved in some endeavor and it just doesn’t seem to be materializing? Well take heart, God can create something out of nothing and can do it in an instant! With a word from the LORD life circumstances that seem barren and empty and dead can be changed in an instant. Take heart. Hope in the LORD. Rise up and see things from a heavenly perspective: God can create something from nothing and do it with a word in a short amount of time.
- Parting the Red Sea – Exodus 13-14 – God is able to protect us from our enemies and make a way through seeming impassable obstacles.
The children of Israel were in bondage for around 400 years in Egypt. They cried out to the LORD in despair. God heard their cry, called Moses to be His spokesman and worked their miraculous exodus from their oppression (Exodus 1-12). When they were set free they began their journey to the Promised Land, a Land of plenty and blessing. But soon after their departure Pharaoh changed his mind and hotly pursued God’s people to bring them back into bondage.
The people came to the Red Sea. It appeared to be an impassable barrier. And to make things worse and ratchet up their fears and anxieties, Pharaoh and his military forces were fast approaching. What would they do? They were trapped. The Red Sea before them. The Pharaoh and his forces behind. Moses told the people to turn their eyes to God and cry out to Him. They did. God heard. And God parted the Red Sea for them to pass through on dry ground. And then He closed the Red Sea on the pursuing Egyptian army wiping them out.
How can this be? What do we learn from this incredible historical incident? We learn God hears our prayerful cries. We are never truly trapped when God is on our side. And He is able to make a way through when there seems to be no way. He is able to overcome obstacles and use them to defeat our enemies.
- The Walls of Jericho – Joshua 5-6 – God is able to break down walls that seem impenetrable. All we need to do is cooperate and obey Him.
Shortly after miraculously crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land Joshua was directed by the LORD to take the city of Jericho. This was no small task. Jericho was one of the strongest fortifications of that day. The city was surrounded by high seemingly impregnable walls. How would they do it?
First God instructed Joshua to circumcise all the men. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant; that they were belonged to, relied on, and were committed to God. Then the Commander of the LORD’s army appeared to Joshua. (This was a theophany of Jesus.). Joshua was assured God would fight for him if he trusted in Him.
And the defeat of Jericho would take faith. God’s instruction to Joshua was to have the people, led by the priests carrying the ark of God’s presence, quietly march around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day they needed to march around the city seven times and then shout and the walls, according to God, would come tumbling down. “How can this be?” I’m sure they were thinking. But they obeyed and incredibly the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
How can this be? What do we learn from the Battle of Jericho? We learn when we call to God, consecrate ourselves to God, follow the orders of our Commander, and let His presence lead the way, He will bring down the walls of defense of the enemy and provide victory. We have a part to play in such plans. But God is the One doing the bulk of the work. We simply need to trust and obey.
Has God called you to take some ground in a battle of life? Are you trying to tear down a wall that only God can bring down? Maybe it’s time for us to call out to our Commander and get some marching orders. Maybe it’s time for us to follow the presence of the LORD and let Him bring down the walls of the enemy. Sometimes the LORD simply wants us to worship while He wins the battle (e.g., 2 Chron. 20)
- Gideon and the Midianites – Judges 6-7 – God purposely chooses and works through those who are weak. God can work out His perfect plan using imperfect people.
God’s people drifted from the LORD. They entered into sin. Therefore God allowed the Midianites to invade and impoverish the Land. The people repented and cried out. And God heard. He raised up a judge-leader named Gideon to lead them to deliver them from the enemy.
Gideon was a fearful man; hardly a leader at first glance. He resisted and questioned God’s choosing him to resist the Midianites whose invading force numbered 135,000! But God encouraged Gideon and Gideon obeyed the LORD. He mustered the men of Israel to go against the invaders. Gideon was able to assemble 32,000 men. They would be outnumbered 4 to 1.
To Gideon and these men these were not good odds. But to God these odds were too good! God directed Gideon to fight with only 300 men! That’s around 450 to one odds against! God didn’t want anyone to think the victory came from human force but wanted them to see the incredible victory was a work of God.
Gideon followed God’s instructions. At night, the three hundred would surround the Midianite camp, each with a trumpet and a torch inside a pitcher. When they were in place they would sound the trumpets and break the pitchers shining forth the torches and shout, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!”. They did so and the sound of the trumpets and light of the torches awakened the enemy who in confusion thinking they were being attacked began to strike out at each other. The enemy destroyed themselves. God’s people were delivered.
How can this be? What do we learn from this historic account? We learn, God hears us when we call from our place of oppression. He delivers by using those who may be weak and fearful, but who overcome their fear with faith. Then as we obey, even when His plans seem unorthodox, He brings deliverance. God is able to turn the enemy in on itself. God can work out His perfect will and plan using imperfect people. All we need to do is trumpet His presence and shine forth His light.
- Seven Dips in the Jordan – Naaman healed of Leprosy – 2 Kings 5 – God works in unorthodox ways.
A respected Syrian general named Naaman contracted leprosy. I’m sure when his skin began to discolor and it became clear that he had leprosy that at some point Naaman questioned, “How can this be?” It’s always a shock when the illness or disease hits us. We always seem to think such things happen to others and not to us. But eventually something will hit us, and we’ll ask, “How can this be?”
God works in the lives of unbelievers to draw them to Himself. This is prevenient grace; the grace that goes before. In his household was a servant follower of God. The servant encouraged Naaman to go and see the prophet Elisha of Israel. Having no other viable options Naaman went to Israel to the house of Elisha.
Once at Elisha’s house he wasn’t greeted by the prophet with a greeting commanders would normally be given. In fact, Elisha didn’t even go out to meet him but sent his servant with instructions for Naaman. This infuriated Naaman. And then when Elisha’s instructions were to dip seven times in the Jordan River, Naaman blew his top. He felt if all he needed to do was dip in a river that the rivers of his home country were just as good. But Naaman’s servants encouraged him to reconsider, and he eventually did. He took a step of faith and went to the Jordan. He dipped seven times in the Jordan and low and behold his skin was restored like new.
How can this be? What do we learn from this account? We learn, God cares for all people not just His people. God works in ways that humble us. And if in humility we follow His instructions, His will, will be done, and that often involves healing.
- Asa and the Ethiopians – 2 Chronicles 14 / Hezekiah and the Assyrians – 2 Chronicles 32 (2 Kings 18-19) – God is able to defeat seeming insurmountable enemies.
When king Asa came to power he enacted reforms to direct God’s people toward the LORD. He did what was good in the sight of God. But shortly after his coming to be king, a million-man army of Ethiopians came against him. Asa’s forces were half that size!
This was a formidable threat to God’s people. What would Asa do? He went before the LORD and cried out, “LORD, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have n power; help us, O LORD our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against his multitude. O LORD, You are out God; do not let man prevail against You!” (2 Chron. 14:11). Asa trusted in the LORD and the LORD gave them the victory. Difficulty is measured by the ability of the agent to do. Nothing is impossible for God. Therefore, when we call God into a situation we should never see anything as too difficult to do (if it is His will and plan to do).
Later in life another enemy came against Asa but this time he relied on his own strength of military. He won the battle, but God was not pleased. Asa was bitter about this and distanced himself from the LORD in the remaining years of life. Sad.
Later in the history of Israel king Hezekiah came to power. He also worked on many reforms and did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. But a fearsome Assyrian army of 185,000 men came against him and surrounded him in Jerusalem. What would he do? He called Isaiah and they prayed to the LORD. God told them He would take care of the enemy and not to fear. They trusted in the LORD and that night all 185,000 Assyrians were wiped out by the Angel of the LORD.
How can this be? What do we learn from such accounts? We learn, when God is factored into the life equation the size of the enemy is not important. What is important is calling God into the fight! Are you in a fight against an imposing enemy? Call the LORD into the fight and He will provide the victory.
- Shadow of the Sundial Turned Back – 2 Kings 20 – God is able to defy science in miraculous ways.
Towards the end of his life Hezekiah grew sick. He got worse and worse until the LORD told him it was time for him to die. Hezekiah cried out to the LORD and the LORD agreed to extend his life by 15 years. As proof of this decision by God He told Hezekiah He would move the shadow of the sundial 10 degrees backwards. And God did it.
How can this be? What do we learn from this account? We learn that God has our days in HIs hand; He can extend our days if He chooses. But we also learn God is able to do things science says are impossible. For the shadow of the sundial to be turned back 10 degrees involves the rotation of the earth being altered! It’s a scientific impossibility! But God is able to do the impossible. And when He does, it’s no big deal for Him to do so.
Are you in a seeming impossible situation? Is science saying there’s no way out? Turn to the LORD. Science doesn’t have the final say, God does.
- Job and Suffering – Job – God is in control even during times of suffering and loss.
When the book of Job was written we do not know. We also don’t know the historical context of the events recorded from the life of Job. What we do know is that Satan was given permission by God to afflict Job. Job lost everything: his wealth; his position in the community; his children; and even his health. The bulk of this book records a conversation and discussion between Job and four of his friends who are trying to answer the question, “How can this be?” The friends blame Job and say his demise is due to some sin in his life. God’s testimony about Job from the beginning was that he was “blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). On their own Job and his “friends” were at a loss to explain why such terrible loss had come upon this godly man.
Job’s friends accuse him and rebuke him for hidden sin they assume he is guilty of. Job resists their accusations and steadfastly defends himself. During the discussion Job, while not perfect, does maintain his faith. Job is steadfast in his faith in God during all his suffering and loss. We see this in a number of his statements:
Job 1:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Job 13:15 (NKJV)
15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.
Job 19:25–26 (NKJV)
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Job 23:10 (NKJV)
10 But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
During the discussion of Job and his friends God remains silent until the last four chapters of the book. But when God enters the conversation He silences the ignorant speculations of the Job and his friends saying:
Job 38:2 (NKJV)
2 “Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Job 40:8 (NKJV)
8 “Would you indeed annul My judgment?
Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?
Job 41:11 (NKJV)
11 Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him?
Everything under heaven is Mine.
That is God’s response to “How can this be?” And then all Job can do is humble himself before God and repent saying:
Job 42:1–6 (NKJV)
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
2 “I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
6 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”
What we learn from this account is that: First, we need to see life from a scriptural perspective – Job and his friends didn’t have the scriptures to properly interpret the life circumstances of Job, we do. God allowed the story of Job to happen in part to provide humanity this insight into the reality of spiritual warfare. Remember that. Secondly, even when we suffer and go through trials God is still in control. And even though we can’t answer the question “How can this be?” at times, it’s always best to surrender to the LORD and trust Him through the storms of life.
- The Virgin Birth of Jesus / God becomes Man – Luke 1 (Hebrews 1) – Nothing is impossible with God. His ways may cause us to question, but when we surrender to Him He will do incredible things as He includes us in HIs plans.
An archangel of God named Gabriel came to the teenage girl Mary and said, ““Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 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. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Mary’s almost immediate response was, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
Mary was a virgin. She was keeping herself for her husband. She was honorable, pure, and favored by God. The idea of becoming pregnant challenged her morals, her understanding of pregnancy, as well as her relationship with the LORD. This was a challenge biologically, culturally, as well as spiritually.
But when we ask, “How can this be?” types of questions God is condescending and patient with us and will on occasion give us more information. In this case Gabriel explained, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 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. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” That last phrase was the eye opener, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” That was really all Mary needed to hear. And when she heard that it states, “38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” In other words, “Here I am LORD. I’m Your servant. Speak and I will obey.”
Mary was faced with a situation in God’s plans that caused her to question, “How can this be?” And when she realized it was part of God’s plans, the God with Whom nothing is impossible, she jumped at the opportunity to be used by Him for His glory. The rest is history.
How about you, are you facing a “How can this be?” situation? Are you questioning? Are you confused? Are you wondering if God is ever going to work and create something in your life? Are you oppressed and wondering if you’ll ever be delivered? Is there a fortification facing you that seems impregnable? Seem outnumbered? Have you been overrun? Invaded? Are you dealing with a physical problem to which there appears to be no answers? Are you facing something that defies the facts and figures of science? Has the LORD broken into your life with a call to service that challenges you in every way? Are you asking, “How can this be?” If you are, I encourage you to cry out to the LORD. He has a way. And His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. This Christmas He may present you with a package that is unexpected. Receive it. And if it causes you to respond, “How can this be?” Then turn it over to Him. Trust Him and entrust your life circumstances to Him. Follow the example of Mary who said, “ Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Then watch Him work.
- The Resurrection – Death is Defeated – Matthew 26-28; Mark 15; Luke 23-24; 1 Corinthians 15 – God is able to defeat death. He gives eternal life to those who trust in His Son Jesus as Savior.
There is a mountain of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. The eyewitness of the Apostles and those closest to Him. The testimony of over 500 eyewitnesses. Jesus was dead, and three days later He rose from the dead. Jesus is alive proving He defeated death and will do the same for those who trust Him as Savior (e.g., John 11).
One final thought. There are varying perspectives on eschatology or the study of final things in the Bible. The Christian community may differ on when Jesus is coming back, but those who revere scripture believe He will at some point in history return. Jesus promised to return. When Jesus taught His disciples about the End Times, He exhorted them saying, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lor dis coming. . .. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42 and 44). In these verses Jesus speaks of His Second coming at the end of the Tribulation period (i.e., Daniel 9:24-27; Revelation 6-19). Preceding that Tribulation the Bible speaks of the hope of the Rapture of the Church. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). The Tribulation is a time of God’s outpoured righteous wrath on a Christ-rejecting world (e.g., Revelation 6:16-17). Those born again through faith in Christ are saved from the wrath to come (e.g., Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Revelation 3:10). The idea of Christians being removed from this world and later returning to it with Jesus to set up His Millennial Kingdom, well, that may sound impossible and too fantastical to accept to some. But really, considering all the impossibles made possible by God mentioned in this study, is it really something beyond God’s reach? After considering such impossible tasks performed by God, do you think Jesus coming back, just as He said He would? With this sample of God ordained impossibilities made possible, you tell me. Maranatha – come Lord Jesus! Amen.