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Mary's Challenge

Jesus, The Submissive Child

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | December 21, 2008

Selected highlights from this sermon

Jesus didn’t play out the people’s expected Messianic script. He went to a cross instead of defeating the Romans.

Mary saw Jesus’ submission to the Father, and as she stood at the cross, she faithfully waited on the plan of God—and her faithfulness should be admired.

I want us to think together today for a few moments about how difficult Mary found it to raise Jesus. When you stop to think of it, raising the Son of God was not easy and the reason is that Jesus was following an entirely different script. This was not what was to be expected when the Messiah came. Last time I mentioned that there was conflict right from the beginning. You know you have Jesus conflicting with Herod. Mary is saying that he is going to bring kings down from thrones, and then Herod, of course becoming intimidated and killing all of the two-year old boys – those that were two years of age and under in the environs of Bethlehem. And then you have Jesus always distancing himself from his parents. He never calls his mother, mother. He always calls her woman when he does speak to her, and he let it be known at the age of twelve that being about his Father’s business in Jerusalem was more important than it was to go back to Nazareth with his parents on time. And so Mary pondered these things because Jesus was following a different script.

Why is it that Jesus was rejected? What was it that made it so difficult? There was no tension between Jesus and the will of his Heavenly Father. He was a submissive son. Last time I spoke on Jesus, the son who was strong-willed. Today I speak about him as the son who was submissive to do the will of the Father. There is no tension in his relationship with the Father, but there was always tension in his relationship with his family as we shall see, and Mary, whom we honor today at Christmastime had to put up with that and navigate it in ways that were very, very difficult. 

Well, it’s because they were expecting in those days that the Messiah was going to be somebody who would unite all the tribes together, and then remember that during that time Israel was occupied by the Romans. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Roman soldier who was demanding a tax from you, and oh how the Jews hated those Romans and they hated the occupation, and they thought that Messiah was going to come and politically overturn all of that. That was their vision of a Messiah. The idea that the Messiah would die on the cross was absolutely unthinkable and contradictory. And that’s why they found it so difficult to accept Jesus, but there were other reasons.

Jesus told the people that it was no longer necessary to fast because the bridegroom was with them and therefore they didn’t have to fast. Fasting was the meat and potatoes of the religious pious people and Jesus is coming along and saying, “As long as I’m here you don’t have to do it.” His disciples go through a field and there is some corn and they are invited to take some of it and thresh it in their hands and eat it, which was perfectly fine according to the law, but not on the Sabbath. And it was the Sabbath and Jesus said it was okay for them to do it. And so what you find is this man is eating with the prostitutes and giving forgiveness of sins to the prostitutes and to the Pharisees and to the sinners, as they are called, and he’s antagonizing the Jewish establishment. They didn’t expect the Messiah to do this. They wanted him to antagonize the Gentiles but not the Jewish religious leaders who couldn’t take him, and things got so bad that Mary herself thought that perhaps her son needed a break, and the family began to think that he was out of his mind.

The story actually is in Mark 3. We’re talking here about Mary and we’re speaking about the challenge that she had in raising Jesus. Now Jesus is performing miracles. He’s healing people. He’s casting out demons. He is a wonder worker for certain, and huge crowds are accompanying him, but the religious establishment accuses him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, the prince of demons, and Jesus gives an irrefutable argument that that’s not possible because what he says is, “If a house is divided against itself, it can’t stand. Satan isn’t going to start to cast out Satan,” but in the midst of all of this confusion we pick it up in Mark 3:20, “Then he went home (Probably it doesn’t refer chronologically to Jesus being there in Nazareth. It may refer to him being in Capernaum. He went to a home. He went maybe to the home of Peter, by the way, whose home was in Capernaum.), and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Scholars tell us that probably Mary was at Nazareth at the time, and if Jesus was at Capernaum she would have had to cross the Sea of Galilee, bringing the brothers of Jesus along with (or at least other family members) and they go to try to talk Jesus into coming home, getting some rest, letting things simmer down because it seemed as if he had a ministry that was out of control. They think he’s out of his mind. Mary begins to doubt. I mean you think of the fact that she’s got the story of the Magi, the shepherds, the angels and the whole bit, but Jesus is not following the script that she thought he should follow. She doesn’t know what to do with him. Again, you know, Joseph isn’t in the picture. Jesus had several brothers – I think four or five are listed in Mark 6 – and at least two sisters, because it says sisters plural, but somewhere along the line, as Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30, Joseph apparently was deceased. At least we think he was. He doesn’t show up in the story.

So anyway, they come to him. In verse 31 it says, “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’” And Mary must have thought to herself, “Was it really worth coming this far to hear that?”

He won’t even meet with her. He loved them but he was saying, “Hey, you know there’s another family going on here. The will of God supersedes the will of my parents,” and what he was saying in effect was that flesh and blood have no comparison to the spiritual family that I am developing. This is a fascinating story. You know, the Bible says in John 7 that his brothers didn’t believe on him. Eventually they will, by the way, and I can show that to you from the Bible. You say, “How come his brothers didn’t believe on him, that he was the Lord?” Well, let me ask those of you who have siblings that are older than you, would you have believed your older brother was the Lord? Would you have believed that? This is tough for the family to accept. And what Jesus was saying was that the heavenly relationship is more important than the earthly, and even his brothers, and even his mother had no special dibs on him just because they were related to him in the flesh. His mother and his brothers did not have a special inside track. It was those who did the will of God, and if they had not done the will of God and if Mary had not believed on Jesus, and if his brothers had not believed on Jesus, they’d have been lost forever because there is no earthly bond that can substitute for the spiritual relationship that we have with God which means a number of things. 

Some of you may be depending on the fact that you have a believing wife. You say, “Well, I’ll get to heaven because my wife is a believer.” No, you won’t. I remember a man saying to me, “I should be okay because I have a brother who is a priest. I have an uncle who was a priest. I have a sister who is a nun. I’ve got it all covered.” No, you don’t have it all covered, thank you.

The Bible stresses the fact that individually we must come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and there is no physical bond or earthly family tie that we can depend upon. We need our personal relationship with God, and to do the will of God, and what is the will of God? “This is the will of him who sent me, that you believe on him whom he has sent.” So we honor Jesus today as the submissive son doing the will of God, and we honor Mary because despite her doubts, she ended up knowing for sure that the son that she had borne was indeed the son of God, but trying to figure this out was difficult. With the angel’s announcement there was no script. She had to learn as she went regarding this remarkable child whom she had borne.

Now, since we’re talking about Mary, we don’t hear about her anymore in the Bible after this incident until we get to the cross, so if you take your Bible very briefly and turn to John 19, here is where we find Mary at the cross. Let’s look at the text together. The Bible says beginning in the end of the 24th verse that “The soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” There were at least three Mary’s at the cross. Fifty percent of all the women in those days were named Mary, so Mary was a very, very common name, and Mary is standing there. Mind you the disciples forsook him and fled, though to John’s credit, he came back. But she’s standing. She’s not swooning. You know the idea that we get of Mary with all the statues and so forth is this somber woman who seems to be a little disconnected with reality, but this is a woman with courage, with strength, with determination, with a look of hope in her eye. She was the one who stood there at the cross and she watched what was happening.

You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this is Christmas. Why are you speaking about Mary at the cross?” Of course the purpose of the coming of Jesus to Bethlehem was the cross. That’s why we can never stay in the manger. We have to get to the cross. You can’t stay in Bethlehem. You have to get to Calvary. 

The brow that Mary had kissed so often now has a crown of thorns. Those hands that she was so familiar with because she would take Jesus by the hand and lead him and teach him to walk and help him cross the street now had cruel nails. And she could not remove the thorns and she could not take out the nails. She would have gladly substituted herself for him, but she doesn’t do that. Not only that, she could go to the authorities and declare him to be insane and simply say that her son was being wrongly crucified, and they probably would have accepted her pleadings, but she does not want to interfere with the divine mystery that is taking place here. She knows enough now to back off and to understand that there was a divine plan that she could have never anticipated, but God bless her, she’s standing there, and we honor her.

But Jesus is dying. Samuel Johnson said that nothing focuses the mind like the knowledge that one is to be hanged, which is really true. You know, Hutz, if you knew that you were to be hung, your mind would be very focused at that time. I would be thinking about myself, about my pain, and what it would be like to die. That’s what I would be thinking of but Jesus, like a good Jewish boy, is thinking about his mother, thinking about the fact that he has the responsibility to care for his aged mother and so this is what happens. He’s able to speak on the cross. He is in pain. He is in agony. It says in verse 26, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved (that’s John) standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman (there again he does not call her mother; he wanted to maintain that distance), behold, your son!’” And of course his eyes glanced toward John. What he was saying was, “Woman, what you need to do is to accept John now as your son.” There has to be an informal adoption that’s going on here. And then he turns to John and says, “Behold your mother!” and it says “From that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” Jesus was handing Mary off and saying, “I can’t take care of you anymore. I have a responsibility to care for you, but I’m giving you over to John who is going to take care of you for the rest of your life. You have a new son, and John has a new mother.” And so Jesus there is speaking to his mother in that way.

How do we look at all of this as we bring together the things that we have learned about Mary? First of all, we admire her because of her faithfulness to her son. Just put yourself in her sandals for a moment. She is the one who is bearing this child who is going to be her Savior. She is bearing this child and she is going to become his disciple. He is going to do the will of God. He’s going to follow the plan of God, and she is going to fit in with the will of God, and as we emphasized last time, Jesus Christ – his death and his sacrifice on the cross – also purchased redemption for his mother who was a sinner and needed to also believe on her son in order to be saved, and in the Magnificat she says, “I rejoice in God my Savior.”

So we admire the fact that she was willing to follow Jesus, and in the end believe on him and join his brothers. Take your Bible now and turn to the wonderful story in the book of Acts. This is in the Upper Room. Jesus has ascended to heaven. The disciples are all gathered together. There are 120 believers that are in the Upper Room. It’s called the Upper Room because it was an upper chamber, and they are all gathered together there and they are waiting for a special promise – a new revelation of how the Holy Spirit of God is going to do the work that he’s always been doing but in a new era.

And here’s what it says in Acts 1:14. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women (there were women in the Upper Room) and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” There you have it. Mary, now having accepted the reality of the crucifixion which she found difficult to accept; his brothers who grew up and didn’t believe on him are up there. And you say, “Well, what about his sisters?” Well, the word brothers can sometimes refer to men and women, especially if it’s referring to siblings, say in a family. Look at the very next verse. It says in verse 15, “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120).” Well, that includes the women. The Bible says women; it includes Mary, and very probably and almost certainly, also includes the sisters of Jesus. They ended up all believing on him and they are all in the Upper Room there, and they are all going to be doing God’s will in the power of the Blessed Holy Spirit who is going to come. So we commend Mary today. We do call her blessed, and we call her blessed because of the faithfulness that she exhibited toward her Son. 

There’s something else that Mary had to learn and that is this. You cannot understand today’s pain unless you understand tomorrow’s victory and tomorrow’s blessing. Some of you are going through pain today and you can’t understand that you must look at eternity. You must look beyond the present, and it is only then that your pain will finally make some sense.

Do you remember Simeon saying to Mary, “A sword shall pierce your own heart also?” This was the final act as that sword entered into Mary’s heart there at the cross and then turned a half turn, and she felt all of the pain that her son was going through and the anguish of a woman watching her son die a horrid and painful death. Yes, the sword, but the blessing was to come.

Now let’s face directly this question. Why is it that the Jews found it so difficult to accept Jesus? You know we look back and we read the Bible through our own eyes, and we say, “Well, didn’t Mary understand Isaiah 53 when it said, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities?’ Isaiah wrote the 53rd chapter as if he were sitting at the foot of the cross. Why did they miss those passages of Scripture that talked about the suffering of the Messiah?” Well, the answer is this. They were reading different prophecies, also true prophecies, but they didn’t understand the sequence. Do you know what they were doing? As far as they were concerned when Messiah came, listen to this passage and then I’ll tell you where I’m reading. It says, “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name, that the mouth of the Lord will give.” It’s speaking about Jerusalem, by the way. “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed desolate, but you shall be called my delight is in her and your land will be like married for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Oh, on your walls, oh Jerusalem, I have set watchmen all day and all night and they shall never be silent,” and on and on it goes to the greatness of Jerusalem.

Now, they read those passages and they said, “Messiah is going to come. He’s going to win the victory over Rome. He’s going to establish Jerusalem. It’s going to be a great city of peace. He shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they war anymore.” 

They were reading those texts and they are saying, “This is what Messiah will do.” What they didn’t understand was the other texts about the suffering of the Messiah. You say, “Well, what about all those prophecies?” They will yet be fulfilled. When Jesus Christ returns in glory to establish his kingdom, Jerusalem shall be exalted. Peace shall come to earth. You know we sing that Christmas Carol, “He rules the world with truth and grace.” What do you mean he rules the world? Just look at today’s headlines. It’s anticipating the fact that the prophecies will be fulfilled, but they didn’t get the suffering before the Savior and the glory. They thought that they could have all of the crowns without the cross, and when Jesus came to die it was difficult for them to accept it. But thank God, eventually Mary did, and eventually the brothers of Jesus did, and they understood that indeed that boy that was raised among them was the Son of God, our Lord and our Savior.

I end today by reminding you of the unpredictability of Jesus. I emphasize the fact that Mary struggled with him, as did a lot of other people because he wasn’t following the intended script, and Jesus doesn’t follow the intended script. For example, let’s talk about you for just a moment. Some of you are here because of the children’s program. Some of you are here simply because you are visiting. You are here for various reasons and we welcome all of you to the Moody Church, but what you didn’t know is that it was God’s intention to have you here today to deal with certain issues in your life, and for some of you to trust Christ as Savior. You didn’t know that God had that in mind. It’s also a part of the unpredictability of Jesus. Well, he is here to be trusted as Savior.

You know there is a story about a man who was walking along (it’s a parable) and he fell and he fell over a cliff, and he was hanging on to a stump. And in this parable an angel came to him and said, “Sir, do you believe that I am able to save you?” The man saw the strong arms of the angel and said, “Yes, I believe that you are able to save me.” The angel said, “Do you believe that I will save you?” The man saw the smile on the angel’s face and said, “Yes, I believe that you will save me.” Then the angel said, “Well, if you believe that I can save you and if you believe that I will save you, just let go,” and do you know what? That is faith. Don’t hang on to the stump of your baptism. Don’t hang on to the stump of your own good works. Trust Christ, Savior, Lord. “For as many as believe on Him to those he gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on his name.”

And there are some of you in whose hearts God is working for this moment, for this hour, for you to trust Christ and see him as the Messiah, to see him as Lord, to see him as Savior to give you the gift of eternal life. And that is the message of Christmas.

Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we want to thank you so much for the faithfulness of Mary. Despite the doubts, despite the uncertainties and the unanswered questions, we thank you that she kept on believing and trusting until she was settled in her mind that the son that she bore was indeed the Savior and Lord, and we ask today for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, may they trust him. And even as we adore him today, may it be with hearts that are filled with gratitude because of your mercy. In Jesus name we pray.

And now if you have never trusted Christ as Savior, why don’t you just where you are listening (maybe your are listening on the Internet, or wherever you are) would you come to believe in Him? Would you say, “Jesus, be MY Savior, MY Savior?” Family ties and race make absolutely no difference in the family of God. You trust him.

Father, we now come to adore you. Amen.

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