Jesus' MotherErwin W. Lutzer | December 9, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
God destined Mary for favor, a miraculous birth of her Son, and a mission of suffering. What was her response? She faithfully obeyed.
But why was she qualified to be the mother of our Savior, and what lessons can we learn from her trials and hardships?
And so I begin today with a question. Did Mary know? The choir has just sung a song with about 11 or 12 questions about how much Mary knew.
Well, if you’re asking the question of how much did she know when Jesus was born, the answer is probably very little in terms of what the implications were. Of course, as time went on she began to understand that indeed her Son would walk on water, and she began to see more clearly that He would indeed take blind men and make them see, and that He would deliver He and how it would be done, but for Mary, when it all began to come together, no wonder she pondered these things, because for her the future was uncertain and unclear.
Who is this woman that the world calls blessed? You know, sometimes as Protestants we begin to get a little bit nervous when we talk about Mary because of some of the excesses among our Catholic friends, but we also honor her and stand in admiration of Mary.
In the fifth century there was a debate–it was a raging debate that went on for a long time-as to whether or not Mary could probably be called the mother of God, the Theotokos, the God bearer. Eventually the theologians-the best theologians–in the church said, “Yes, she can be called the God bearer.” Now that was said not because they wanted to exalt Mary. It was said because they were very anxious to preserve the humanity and the divinity of Jesus and say that both were in the same person, and they thought that if Mary was not spoken of as having given birth to a divine child, it would diminish the divinity of Jesus and call into question the unity of His two natures.
So it is believed that Mary can indeed be called the mother of God, and as long as we understand that she did not originate the divine nature, we as Protestants also affirm with our Catholic friends that indeed Mary gave birth to a Son who was divine, therefore she is spoken of, properly understood, as the mother of God.
Now the question is, “What was it like for her to have experienced this?” Today we’re going to look to Mary as indeed the mother of Jesus. She is the one who nursed Him. She gave birth to Him. She’s the one who held His little hand as they crossed the street. She’s the one who taught Him His early prayers.
Luke chapter one is the passage of Scripture for today, and it’s a very familiar passage, but we need to look at it again to fully appreciate what Mary experienced and who she was as this blessed person. Now the Bible is very clear that the angel Gabriel was sent to her. I’m picking it up in verse 26 of Luke chapter one.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man, whose name was Joseph of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.” You’ll notice God says, “Gabriel, what I want you to do is to go to a certain woman in Nazareth.” Now I am sure that Gabriel didn’t have to even look it up on MapQuest to see where this was, because God showed him who it was and where she lived and he was to encounter her.
Now it’s very clear that Mary did not choose her destiny. It’s not as if Mary said, “I want to be the mother of the Messiah.” No, she was chosen by God. This was the role she was to play. She was destined. That’s a perfectly good word. She was destined to play this role by the sovereign choice of God. In fact, God prepared her for it. There’s no doubt about it.
Can you imagine this young woman after she has this experience, and this is her cousin, Elizabeth? She gives us the Magnificat, and in it there are twelve allusions or references to the Old Testament. How could she know all that? Almost certainly she was not able to read, and even if she were able to read, there was no way that they would have manuscripts of the Old Testament in their homes. She was a careful listener to the Word of God as it was being read in the synagogue, and she picked up enough ideas, enough knowledge and enough phrases that she could give us that marvelous poem that exalts God and understands her own role in the process of redemption.
And so God prepared her and she has two qualifications that she absolutely needs. Now there were others in Israel who perhaps would have qualified–other young women, but first of all she had to be a virgin. That was absolutely necessary, and also in her genealogy she had to be a descendant of David. That was very important, and you’ll notice I’ve already read it there in the text. Why? It was because the Son that she was going to bear would fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament that God had made to David that someday he would have a descendant who would rule on his throne, and rule there forever. So Mary had to be a descendant of David, and the text tells us that she was.
Well, all right, what was she destined to receive from God? That’s the agenda for the next few moments.
First of all, she was destined to receive the favor of God. An angel comes to her, specifically Gabriel. Verse 28 says, “He came to her and said, ‘Greetings, oh favored one. The Lord is with you.’” How would you react if an angel came to you? You know, you’re there in the kitchen and an angel shows up, and it’s not your husband. [laughter] You are there in the bedroom and an angel shows up. Tradition says that she was beside a well, but we don’t know whether or not that’s true.
But an angel comes to her and says, “Hail, favored one. You have been blessed by God,” and notice that the divine favor is upon her for a specific reason, “You will have a son. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold you will conceive (verse 31) in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the most high and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Now, think of this revelation, and think of the theology of the moment. “You shall bear a son. His name shall be called Jesus, which means Savior.” You will bear a son, but this son will also be the son of the Most High.” Right there you have the humanity of Jesus and you have his divinity: dual sonship–son of Mary, son of the Most High. Throughout the centuries theologians will try to get their minds around the whole question of how these two natures could exist in one person so that Jesus may be properly spoken of as divine, and yet human, without splitting His personality, but unified in one person; and so Jesus Christ is going to be just that.
And then the angel says to her, “And the Lord God will give unto him the throne of his father David.” That has not yet happened. Jesus has never ruled from Jerusalem over the territory that David ruled from. That is going to happen in what is known as the millennial kingdom when Jesus comes to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. This is the kingdom to which Isaiah looked forward, and Micah and Jeremiah and others when Jesus will still rule from this earth over the house of David, over the territory of David, and He shall rule there forever because the earthly kingdom shall eventually be swallowed up into an eternal kingdom, but the ruling has not yet taken place on this earth.
Now we can say that Jesus is king in heaven today and he rules, but this prophecy has not been fulfilled. Isaac Watts was getting a little bit ahead of himself when he gave us the last stanza of Joy to the World-“He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of His grace.” That’s not happening today. You pick up the newspaper and discover that the nations are doing their own thing. Jesus is not making them prove at all His righteousness, but the day will come when it will happen.
The first thing that happens here is Mary receives favor from God by a sovereign choice on God’s part.
Secondly, she also receives something else, and that is a miracle from God. You’ll notice that when she receives this word, it says in verse 34 that she says, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” She doesn’t argue about whether or not it will be, but just simply, how will it be? She’s trying to figure out how can this be that I can give birth to a son, and you’ll notice what the angel said.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the son of God, and your relative, Elizabeth, is also going to give birth,” and notice it says in verse 37, “for nothing will be impossible with God.” “The power of the most high will overshadow you.” This is actually terminology that is used in the Old Testament when it speaks of the Shekinah Glory coming to the tabernacle.
For example, in the fortieth chapter of the book of Exodus it says, “And the glory of the Lord overshadowed and came to the tabernacle.” In effect, Mary is going to be the Holy of Holies in which this child is going to be conceived.
Martin Luther used the very vivid figure of speech when he said that Mary’s body was the workshop in which the incarnation was going to be fashioned. Right there within you the Holy Spirit of God will overshadow you and a child will be born. This, of course, is a reference to what is known as the virgin birth; that Jesus would be conceived not by Joseph, but by God himself, and the reason is given. It says here that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, therefore, the child to be born will be called holy.” The reason for the virgin birth is to preserve the sinlessness of Jesus, to help us to understand that Jesus was indeed divine. Joseph and Mary together could not have produced a divine child.
Maybe you are here today and you doubt the virgin birth, and you think to yourself, “Well, I can’t accept that.” There have been some who have written books trying to show the similarity between the virgin birth stories and the paganess of mythology that speak about supernatural births such as, for example, Alexander the Great. Supposedly his mother conceived when she swallowed a pomegranate, and in mythology you have all kinds of gods having sexual relations with women. Notice that this story is not similar to that. It is radically different than that-radically different because what we have here is an account that is bathed in holiness, and the early church would have never accepted the myths and the pagan ideas that swirled around them.
If you have difficulty with the virgin birth the real answer is that you have difficulty with God, because you’ll notice that it says in verse 37, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I looked it up in the Greek text yesterday and discovered that actually literally it means, “At the word of God nothing is impossible.” I love that. At the word of God nothing is impossible. At the word of God the heavens were created. At the word of God the will of God is done. At the word of God nothing is impossible. So if you doubt the virgin birth, you are having a problem doubting God and His ability to do this, which had to be done if Jesus was to be a divine child.
Notice also that Mary then is going to say, “Let it be according to thy word. At the word of God nothing is impossible, let it be according to thy word.”
So Mary was destined first of all to find favor with God. She was also destined to receive this great miracle from God, and she was also destined to receive a mission from God, which was a mission of suffering. I’m only going to refer to it very briefly but in Luke chapter two Jesus has been born. Mary and Joseph take Him into the temple and you’ll notice that in the temple Simeon has this prophecy. I wish I could read it all but I’ll simply pick it up for you there in verse 34: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, ‘Behold this child is appointed for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (that will be spoken against as one translation says), and a sword will pierce through your own soul also so that the thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.’” Wow.
You think of the sword that Mary endured. God says, “Mary, you’re going to have a son, but with the son is going to be a sword that is going to pierce your heart.” She was a woman who was called by God to suffer. There’s no question about it. I mean, just think. She leaves Bethlehem and they go into Egypt because of the dream and the revelation God gave them about Herod’s intentions, and then she hears later that about 20 or 25 children in the environs of Bethlehem are slaughtered, all those who are two years of age and younger, all boys that age are killed by Herod, and she knows it’s because of her son. She knows that they died because she had a special baby that Herod was trying to get rid of.
And then as he grows up you have the whole problem of how the knowledge begins to spread of the origin of this child, and she begins to understand the suffering, and then she sees her son being so steadfastly rejected and spat upon, and then eventually she goes to the cross and at the cross her own heart was split in two.
Artists who draw pictures of Mary with a white lily to show her purity ought to take that lily and stain it in blood because of her pain. God says, “You get a son, but with the son comes a sword.”
Well, that briefly is the story of Mary. Why should we be changed forever because we’ve listened to this story? What is the take-home? Why should you, today, having come here, leave transformed by God’s power because of Mary’s story?
Let me give you very quickly some lessons that jump out of the text to us. First of all, there is a lesson in suffering, isn’t there? When God breaks into our life oftentimes it is a breaking that causes a great deal of us rearranging our lives. It causes us pain, and I believe that there are some people whom God has specifically called to suffer. Some people go through one tragedy after another. It may be a health issue; it may be a relational issue, but that also is part of God’s calling. The calling of God has its good and optimistic side, but it also has its challenges, and Mary is there to remind us of that, but there’s another lesson, and that is the lesson of obedience.
You’ll notice that the text tells us Jesus is going to be born, and you’ll notice in verse 38 that Mary says, “Lord, I am your handmaid. Let it be to me according to word.” The word “servant” which is translated here as servant actually means handmaid, and it’s the lowest form of a servant of a female slave, but what Mary is really saying is, “God, whatever. Whatever it is that you want, I’m here for it.” The role of a servant is to ask one question in the morning. “How can I please my master?” There are not two agendas in the life of a servant. The servant does not say, “How can I do my own thing? How can I also please my master?” What she is saying is, “Lord, I want to be your servant. Whatever you want is fine. I accept it.”
You know sometimes we so romanticize this story that we forget that these were real people in real situations, and they couldn’t see all of the things that we do today with the writing of the New Testament, because obviously it hadn’t happened.
Put yourself in the shoes of Mary for just a moment. She is engaged to Joseph and in those days an engagement was as strong as a marriage. That’s why they were already called husband and wife, but they had not come together. The marriage had not been consummated, but they were engaged, and that will cause the problems that Joseph will have as to what to do to her, and what to have done to her as we’ll notice in the next sermon in this series when we talk about Joseph.
So now Mary receives this revelation from an angel, and she has to tell Joseph, “Joseph, I’m pregnant. An angel came to me and told me that I am going to give birth to the Messiah. You will not be His real father. You are going to adopt Him, aren’t you? Aren’t you going to care for Him as if He were our own, Joseph?” Imagine. Do you think he believed her the first time she told him that?
And so, she’s in the middle of all these things that she has to be thinking about, but at the end of the day she chooses the path of obedience and says, “Let it be according to thy word.” Wow. What a statement.
You know it’s interesting that the apostle Paul in the New Testament also says, “I am a slave of Christ.”
There was a man who had a t-shirt, and it’s a pretty good t-shirt, I think. On the front it says, “I am a slave of Jesus,” and then as you look at the back of the tee shirt that he was wearing, it says, “and whose slave are you?” We are slaves to something aren’t we? We may be slaves to ourselves. We may be slaves to our own lusts, slaves to our own desires, but we’re all slaves.
The apostle Paul says in the sixth chapter of Romans, “We are indeed slaves, either to righteousness or to unrighteousness, either as servants of God or servants or our own desires and our own agendas,” but we’re all slaves in that regard, and Mary says, “Lord, let me be your slave. Whatever you want is fine.”
Calvin Miller who has written many interesting things wrote on the issue of what it is like to be living with the desire of pleasing God only (to live in the pleasure of God I think is what I intended to say), and he uses Brother Lawrence as an example. I don’t know how many of you have read the book by Brother Lawrence. I read it many years ago. Brother Lawrence was a monk who just lived for God. Everything that happened in his life he was thanking God for. It did not matter how difficult, how painful, how menial–nothing mattered. He constantly was giving thanks to God, so this is what Calvin Miller says.
He says, “Brother Lawrence scrubbed pots in a monastery kitchen. He did not glory in the scrubbing as a way to praise, but he did glory in such mundane work as an opportunity to praise. The grime of his hands was not the goal for it only distracted his hands, leaving his heart free to continue to sing its praise to God, and before the throne of God. His menial work afforded him seating room at the throne of God. Thus there was nothing that could prevent him from continuing to appropriate the power of God’s pleasure. Then the pleasure of heaven brought joy to the dishwater and the marriage of pleasure and joy elevated his living. How often I have discovered that the church is full of frowning saints. I can only surmise that we have missed Brother Lawrence’s path to pleasure. We have begrudged the scrubbing of pots as a hell to be escaped rather than a heaven to be enjoyed. In the larger context Brother Lawrence’s scrubbing joy becomes a way of life to all who cherish the gifts of the Spirit. They are the scrub work of God.”
You see, that’s a life lived in obedience. “At thy word nothing shall be impossible. Lord, let it be according to thy word.” What area of your life today do you struggle with, that you chafe against? You fight against it, and yet it’s been destined by God for you and there you are unwilling to accept it, fighting against things that you know you cannot change, circumstances that are way beyond you and you refuse to see God in the midst of it. Mary said, “Though it is difficult, let it be according to your will.”
There’s another lesson and that is a lesson regarding God’s acceptance of us. Now, you’ll notice in the text a very famous phrase. The angel comes and says, “Hail, favored one.” My translation says, “Greetings, oh favored one. The Lord is with you.” “Hail Mary” is, of course, a very famous and popular phrase. “The Lord is with you. You are highly favored.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were Mary? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were to hear God say to us, “You are highly favored.” The Greek word actually is taken from the word caris, which means grace. The verb form is caratao, that is “to be graced,” and it has a prefix that emphasizes it. Maybe I could translate it roughly as “God is here to be-grace you. You are be-graced, Mary.”
We say to ourselves, “That would indeed be wonderful if God were to say that about us,” but actually he does. In Ephesians chapter one verse six the Bible says, “We are begraced.” It’s the same word, the same prefix. We are begraced in the beloved one. Because of Jesus we receive the same grace that Mary received, and because of that we can rejoice. Mary herself needed to be saved. In the Magnificat she says, “I rejoice in God my savior.” She was a sinner like the rest of us, needing redemption, and the son that she bore, as the song says, “The son that she bore also delivered and saved her,” and it saved finally all those in the Old Testament whose sin was deferred until the coming of Jesus Christ, and saved us as well if we believe in Jesus. That death on the cross was a death for all who believe, and Mary was a part of those who needed the redemption that her son brought to the world. And so here we have Mary, yes indeed, highly favored of the Lord, but today I can say to you as a believer, that you too are highly favored of the Lord, and the same grace that saved her and gave her forgiveness and a good standing before God is the very same grace that save us and gives us the same standing in God’s presence, all because of her beloved son. It is through Jesus that redemption came.
So we can be thankful for Mary. We can be grateful that she received grace. We can also be grateful that because of her son we too can be graced. Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is a painting that is very famous by Matthias Grünewald. This painting is one that hung in the study of the famous Swiss theologian, Karl Barth. In the painting Jesus is dying on the cross. He’s hanging there on the cross. John the Baptist is there and is pointing people toward Jesus, but Mary is there too as is also John the apostle, and Mary is praying to Jesus because she knows that her redemption also is being purchased at that moment.
So Mary is one whom we honor. We do not pray to her. We pray to her son and we receive from him the same blessings and the same grace and the same mercy that she herself received. It is that Mary whom we honor, the Mary who understood that because of the divine child, redemption would come to all who believe.
So I have a question for you today. Have you trusted the divine son? I am not asking if you know about him, because I know you do. Nor am I asking if you admire him, because I’m sure you probably do that as well, but my question is, “Have you trusted him for the redemption that he came to bring?” It’s an individual decision. Your parents couldn’t make it for you because you were baptized. No one else can interfere with that decision except God and you as you respond to the Good News of the gospel.
Let’s pray together.
And so, Father, today we do want to thank You so much for Mary. We thank You that this dear young woman was willing to say, “Let it be according to your word.” Oh, Father, we pray grant us the same faith. Grant us the same obedience, the same yieldedness to accept Your will, that which You have chosen for us.
And now, if you are here today and you’ve never trusted Christ as savior, you’ve never believed on Him, why don’t you–even where you are seated say, “Jesus, be mine. I want to receive the redemption that Jesus came to bring, the forgiveness of sin, the reconciliation with God.” You talk to God if God has talked to you.
Hear our prayer, oh Lord God, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.