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Mary's Challenge

Jesus, The Strong-Willed Child

Erwin W. Lutzer | December 14, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

Mary had the most difficult job of job of any parent—she was raising the Son of God. Jesus brought conflict into her life. Herod acted murderously; Mary and Joseph had to desperately search for Him; and at a wedding in Cana, Jesus wouldn’t let her dictate and rule over His ministry. 

Mary learned a lot along the way. Recognizing her sin, she knew that she was parenting her Savior

Her name is Mary, derived from the Hebrew word Mara which means bitter. We know her as the woman who said yes to both pain and to glory. Yes to pain, because as was mentioned by Simeon, “an arrow, a sword shall pierce your own heart,” and probably few women on Planet Earth endured as much pain as Mary. But she also said yes to glory because it is true indeed that all generations do call her blessed, and today we do call her blessed, just as she predicted. She said yes to pain and yes to glory.

But let me ask you a question. Was Jesus an easy boy to raise? Was he your typical compliant child? The answer to both questions is no. Oh yes, I know he was sinless. James, for example, was one of his half brothers and I can imagine James saying, “Mommy, Jesus just lied to you. Well, no, he really didn’t, Mommy. I’m lying to you now.” Jesus never lied; Jesus never deceived. Imagine raising a boy who never used foul language ever, but on the other hand, Jesus was on a trajectory. He came for a specific purpose, and it was not easy for Mary and Joseph to adjust. Remember this. You see, we read the text and we think, “Well, Mary knew that Jesus was going to be the Messiah, and she pretty well knew everything that was mapped out.” No, she didn’t. She had to learn as she went along. As a matter of fact, I’m going to show you a text in a few moments where it says that Jesus said some words to his parents and they didn’t understand what this twelve-year old boy was trying to communicate to them. It wasn’t easy. It’s a good thing that Mary was a strong-willed woman because she was going to raise a strong-willed child, and there was going to be conflict.

When the angel came to her and said that she was going to bear a son, the fabric of her life just tore apart. It just ripped. It wasn’t just the stigma of having a child outside of wedlock. It was a lot more than that. The questions were, “How would Joseph understand? How would he relate to her? What would her friends think? What stories should they tell to their neighbors?” 

And now Mary begins to bear her cross long before Jesus bore his. And Jesus is going to create conflict, and what we are going to do is to look at three conflicts that Jesus Christ created for Joseph and for Mary, and then we’re going to summarize it by bringing it down to our own lives. That’s the agenda for the next twenty minutes or so.

The first conflict has to do with Herod. Take your Bibles and turn to Luke 1. Scott McKnight wrote a book entitled The Real Mary, and by the way, I am indebted to him for some of his thoughts as I preach these two messages on the challenge that Mary faced. Scott McKnight says that in 1980 the Magnificat was banned in Guatemala and it was not to be read publicly. Why? It was because it was seen to be a subversive document. Well, let’s look at why.

Luke 1:46 says, “Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.” By the way, it’s called the Magnificat because the first word in Latin in this wonderful song (this poem) that Mary sings is the word Magnificat, and then it goes on to say, “My soul does.” In other words, it means magnify. Magnify my soul the Lord is the way it starts, but then we’re going to skip to verse 51. We’re going to get to the subversive part. “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” 

Who else could she be referring to when she speaks about this Messiah dethroning those who are rich and are exploiting others, except Herod who was ruling in Jerusalem at the time? And what you have is a king here who is an egomaniac. Someone said during Herod’s lifetime, “I would rather be his sow than his son.” He killed some of his own family members, and he was the kind of man who had a great tax program because he was trying to appease the Jews by building the wonderful temple that was eventually destroyed. And so Herod is ruling, and Mary is saying that he brings kings down from their thrones, and he is the one who is going to be king, and Herod isn’t.

Now it’s a remarkable story because it was really the “‘we shall overcome’ of the Civil Rights Movement” of the time, but notice that this particular statement was acted out and it became a reality. When the Magi came from the East to Jerusalem to find out where Jesus was to be born, they didn’t worship Herod, but they did go to Bethlehem and they did worship the Christ child who was in a house at that time. He was perhaps a year and a half old and they did worship him. Word gets back to Herod and he is so threatened. I’ve often thought about this. Why should Herod feel threatened by a baby? Even if he is called the King of the Jews he can’t rule for many, many years, and Herod should have known by that time he would be dead, but Herod nonetheless becomes very, very fearful, and he gives orders just to make sure that Jesus is going to be wiped out. He has his soldiers kill all of the male children in the environs, the suburbs of Bethlehem who are two years of age and under, thinking “Surely I’ll get him (Jesus) too,” but of course he didn’t know that the holy family had escaped to Egypt.

When Mary heard about the fact that perhaps twenty or twenty-five (that’s the estimate of the number of children who would have been that age given the populations of those days) little ones were slaughtered because of her son, she felt the pain, and she knew why. She knew it was because Herod was not going to be king, but her son would be, and so she had to endure all that.

Mary wasn’t the typical woman that we sometimes see in statues who was somber, and perhaps somewhat disengaged and so heavenly that she wasn’t connected with the earth. No, no, no! I see her to be a woman who is strong-willed. I see her as one who is courageous. I see her as one whose eyes are filled with both determination and hope, and she recognized that her son was on a trajectory here to the cross, but she did not understand how it was going to be played out, and here it is. These children are dead because of her boy. She knew he was the Messiah, but didn’t know that it would create so much conflict.

So the first conflict really was between Jesus and Herod, but now let’s look at a second conflict. It had to do with Jesus and his fathers – plural. Turn to Luke 2:41. You know that the Passover was a feast that commemorated the Jews being taken out of slavery, and it lasted a week in Jerusalem, and everyone was supposed to go to Jerusalem and participate in all of the ceremonies, and the way they traveled in those days is they caravanned. So imagine a caravan leaving Nazareth with perhaps 200 or 300 people (or more) including relatives, friends and neighbors. It became a community event and they go to the city of Jerusalem, and they are there a week, and then they caravan back.

It says, “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.” Many people think that this was the bar mitzvah of Jesus, although the idea of bar mitzvah the way it is commemorated today evolved during the centuries, but it is interesting that Jesus is twelve years old and he is going to now assume some responsibilities of adulthood. I think of what I was like at twelve years old. I mean, what were you like at twelve years old, wondering whether or not you were dressed cool enough? And the twelve-year olds today wonder whether or not their cell phone is as cool as the kid’s next to them in class. Here’s Jesus at the age of twelve. He’s going to Jerusalem with his parents.

Verse 43 says, “And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Just pause for a moment. Let’s do the math. They are one day from Jerusalem, and you say, “Well, how could they not have noticed that Jesus wasn’t in the company?” Well, think of it this way. When they were there at the Passover Jesus was probably connecting with other twelve-year olds or boys his own age, and they were all relatives, and if not, they were acquaintances, and so they begin their journey and they say to themselves, “Well, you know when we were in Jerusalem he was with these friends, and we know that these friends are with us, so we assume he’s along,” and they go one day without him. Then they have one day to go back, and then three days looking for him in Jerusalem.

If you want to know how they felt, have you ever lost a kid at a Cubs game for example? I think you’re pretty frantic. My wife and I have a lovely granddaughter by the name of Emma. Emma was lost for about two hours. She was with her grandmother on her father’s side – Grandma Betty – and little Emma just simply disappeared, and suddenly Betty began to wonder where she could be. There was a pond back of the house. Could it be that little Emma had drowned? There was an armory of the Missouri National Guard about a block away. She enlisted the help of all those who were part of the National Guard. They began to think that they were going to have to search the pond. An hour and a half later little Emma was found in a closet. When she found out that her grandma was looking for her and shouting for her she became so scared she continued to stay in that closet and when more people came into the home shouting, she was even more frightened, and so she hid behind the coats. (laughter) Grandma Betty cannot explain to this day why she didn’t have a heart attack. (more laughter) Can you imagine that?

Now, here’s Joseph and Mary. Why don’t they find him for such a long period of time? Listen, if your twelve-year old were lost here in the city of Chicago, you’d go from home to home. You wouldn’t say, “Well, I think he’s probably at the church discussing theology with the pastors.” (laughter) You probably wouldn’t think that. So finally they find him and Mary is restraining herself. She’s the one who is doing the talking, by the way, which has its own interesting point to make. It says in verse 48, “And when his parents saw him, they were astonished.” His mother is being very, very cautious and restrained and she says to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Underline great distress. 

Now look at his answer. “Why where you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Excuse me. What would you say if your kid answered that way? “Why are you looking for me? I have to be in my Father’s house.” Wow! What Jesus was saying in the clearest possible way is first of all, “I am uniquely my Father’s son,” and here he’s not talking about Joseph obviously. You’ll notice he doesn’t say, “I am in our Father’s house (this temple).” He says, “I am in MY Father’s house,” and Jesus is saying to his parents, “You have to take second place. You have to recognize that I have the call of God on me. You must realize that my relationship to my parents is trumped by my relationship to my Father,” and you’ll notice the Bible says that Jesus was sitting, and he was asking questions, but he was also instructing because those who were there with him were amazed at what he was saying.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking as they went home? Well the Bible goes on to tell us that they couldn’t figure it out. It says in verse 50, “And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” And just in case you think that he turned out to be a rebellious teenager, it says in verse 51 and 52, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

He wasn’t being rebellious. He was just simply helping his parents to understand and said in effect, “I’m sorry but my commitment to my heavenly Father takes precedence over my commitment to my earthly father – to my parents.” In fact, he was dedicated in his Father’s house, and so Jesus is saying, “I need to be in my Father’s house, and my need to be here is more important than returning to Nazareth with you at the time that was scheduled.” Jesus knew he had a higher calling.

So we find in this passage of Scripture that Jesus Christ has conflict, of course, with his fathers, and by the way this is the last time in the Bible that we hear about Joseph. Now we know that Mary had other children. In the next message I’ll point that out to you, and their names are actually given. These were Jesus Christ’s half brothers, but Joseph at some point passes off the scene. Perhaps he dies. He is nowhere around when Jesus Christ is crucified. At least it’s not recorded in the Scriptures that he is there, and Mary turns out to be this single mother who is dealing with all of Jesus Christ’s critics, and all that is going on, basically alone.

So first of all you have a conflict with Herod. Secondly, you have a conflict with his fathers, and thirdly you have conflict with his mother. Turn to John 2 to the familiar story of Jesus turning water into wine. It says, “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Very interesting! Number one, how did she know? We don’t know how she knew. Maybe she was part of the catering. Maybe someone whispered in her ear that there was no wine. That was very embarrassing in those days, by the way. And also, what was she expecting Jesus to do about it? You say, “Well, she was expecting a miracle.” Well, possibly, but remember that up until this time Jesus had not performed any miracles at all. This is his first miracle, but nonetheless (bless her heart) she says, “They have no wine.” Look at Jesus Christ’s response. “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’”

You say, “Well, was he being disrespectful by calling her woman?” He was not being disrespectful actually, but making it very clear that she had invaded his space, and that she could not get to him on some kind of an inside track. She was his earthly mother, but he was a heavenly son, and she was not to think that because she was his mother that she would have a kind of authority over him. Very interestingly nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus ever call Mary mother. Now Mary is referred to as the mother of Jesus, but we shall see this particularly at the cross, how important it was for Jesus to not call her mother, even at the cross when he says, “Woman, behold thy son,” referring to John as Jesus was handing her off for John to look after, and then, “Behold thy mother,” but he didn’t call her mother ever, so far as we know.

Jesus was saying in effect, “Woman, you have to understand that there is a distance between us here,” and then he says, “My hour is not yet come.” What hour? In the Gospel of John, the hour that is referred to constantly is the hour when Jesus was going to be glorified and crucified. What does that have to do with the text? What Jesus was saying is, “Woman, you need to understand that I have a schedule from my heavenly Father, and only I know the timing. When the time is right I’ll perform a miracle here, and when the time is right, I will die on the cross, but for now, you must understand that I’m related to my heavenly Father and it is his orders and his timing that I obey.”

Well, Mary (God bless her) then says to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it,” and they do it, and it’s a marvelous story as Jesus created there 180 gallons of the best wine that anyone has ever tasted at a wedding.

We look at this and we say to ourselves, “What are the lessons that we can learn from Jesus and his relationship to his parents as well as his relationship to God?” Let me give you three.

First of all, in raising Jesus, Mary had to be sensitive to two different directions – two different spheres if you want to put it that way. She had to be sensitive to the earthly because she had to take care of his needs, and raise him with other members of the family, but she also had to be sensitive to his relationship with God which would take precedence over even her understanding and her involvement.

Parents, we need to do the same. Now in one of the greatest understatements I’ve ever made from this pulpit could I humbly say that you, my parent, are not raising Jesus? All right? I know this. My parents didn’t raise any Jesuses, and you would indeed agree with that if you knew my oldest brother especially. (laughter) We didn’t have any Jesuses in our family, and you don’t either, but the principle is right. What you must do is to be open to the possibility that the hand of God is on your child and not tell that child or insist that that child follow your vocation or any other vocation. I thank God that my parents never interfered with our vocations. There are no preachers on either side in my family going as far back as we know. There are no pastors or missionaries and yet my two sisters became missionaries, one to Mexico and the other to Africa. Our parents always gave us the freedom to seek God’s will on our own, and they never told us that because this was their vocation it should be ours as well. You see, you have no idea how God has hard-wired your child. It may not be to follow your vocation or any vocation that you choose for him or for her. It’s very important that you allow God to show them what they should be doing.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, is it ever right for a child to disobey his parents?” The answer is, “Yes, of course, we should disobey our parents if they ask us to do immoral things, if they ask us to do what is wrong,” and when we become old enough we should be free enough to make our own decisions and not follow them because they might be misleading us. I’m sure that there are students today at the Moody Bible Institute who are there without the blessing of their parents, but these students feel the call of God. They believe that God wants them perhaps to be a pastor or a missionary or to be in some vocational Christian work, and they want to be trained, and the parents may not be exactly happy with what they are doing, but they know that there is a call of God that is greater than the call and the insistence of our parents, and that is to God. Mary had to learn that, and we need to learn it as well.

There’s a second lesson. Follow this carefully. Mary learned that in order to honor God she had to honor her son. What a lesson for a mother to learn. This was a unique son. This was a special son, and later on Jesus would say these words. He would be very clear in saying that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father, and who ever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father. Wow! If he’s the one who is the unique Son of God, and if he is the one who understands God’s timing and the one who has come down from heaven not to do his own will but the will of his heavenly Father and to redeem fallen humanity, if Jesus did that, then it is necessary for us to honor him, and Mary had to honor him in order that she might honor the Father. And that’s a lesson for all of us to learn.

You say today, “Well, I want to honor God.” Well, that’s very good but you cannot honor the Father, Jesus said, unless you honor the Son. In fact, we should honor the Son, he says, just as we honor the Father. Mary and Joseph had to learn that.

There’s a final lesson, and that is simply this. When Jesus was in the home of Mary, she was raising her own Savior. Do you remember in the Magnificat she said, “I rejoice in God, my Savior.” She was a sinner just like the rest of us and she recognized that she too needed to be saved from her sins, and so she was raising the one who would be the redeemer and who would die on the cross so that we might be forgiven. Mary understood, as we do not, that the real issue between God and us is a sin issue. That’s why right from the beginning the angel said, “He came to save his people from their sins.” That’s why Jesus Christ came to this earth. If you ask why choose Christianity and not some other religion, it is because there is no other religion in the entire world that has an answer for our sins. There is among all the religions of the world only one Savior. There are many teachers, many gurus, and many instructors, but there’s only one Savior who is able to save us from our sins. 

Maybe you came here today and you feel as if you are distant from God. Maybe you came with a heavy conscience and a guilty sense of alienation from God. And I say, “Good for you. You came to the right place.” The reason that we preach the Gospel is because all of us understand if you come here feeling that way, the good news is that God pursues us and brings us to the point where we realize that our Savior can only be the Lord Jesus and we recognize him to be the Savior, and we receive him as our very own.

It was 1981 in Minnesota. The police were chasing a stolen car, and it was on the news. They were doing all that they possibly could to apprehend the thief, and the reason was because there were some crackers on the front seat that were laced with poison. The owner of the car had intended to use them as bait for rats and other animals, and so what the police wanted to do was not to just recover this stolen car. What they really wanted to do was to keep this thief from killing himself. You know, that’s the way it is when God pursues us. It isn’t just that God is after us because we’re sinners. No, no, no. It is in mercy that he pursues us because he knows that sin is going to destroy us. It is going to kill us, and so his real motivation is not to get us but to help us, to save us, to redeem us – to save us from ourselves and to save us from our sins. That’s why Jesus came, and that’s why we have the opportunity of saying to you today, “For as many as received him, to those he gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe in his name.” Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, God, the very God, came to redeem you.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we do want to thank you for Mary and for all that she was willing to endure to raise Jesus, and yet to give him the freedom to grow, and the freedom to do your will. We thank you, and now we ask that the Holy Spirit of God who has been given to the Church may work mightily in all of our hearts. May we appreciate anew all that Jesus did for us; and for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, I pray that even as they listen to this that you might pursue them. And may they understand that it is because you care for them, and you love them, and you want to show mercy to them. We ask, Lord, that you will enable them to receive you as Savior, even right now, and even today. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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