John Bradshaw - Mary
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. She's the most famous woman in all of history, more famous than Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Mary, Queen of Scots, Joan of Arc. Her impact on history is greater than virtually that of any other human being. Oddly enough, we don't really know that much about her. Mary the mother of Jesus appears in the Bible only a handful of times. The story of the birth of Jesus is found in Matthew 1 and 2, and, of course, Mary features prominently. The same story is repeated in Luke 1 and 2. In Matthew 13 the question is asked, "Is not His", that's Jesus', "mother called Mary"? In Mark 3:32, they say to Jesus, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You".
John 2, the wedding feast of Cana, when Mary informs Jesus that the wedding host has run out of wine. Mary is presented at the cross in John 19, and it's mentioned there that she has a sister. And then in Acts, chapter 1, it says that "these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers". Acts 1:14. And that's basically it. Now, admittedly, the story of the birth and infancy of Jesus is a good long story, but once Jesus is a boy, Mary barely features again in the Bible. And that's not surprising. The New Testament is the story of Jesus, after all. There's a good amount of myth surrounding Mary in Christianity today, but as we continue our series, "Great Characters of the Bible," we're going to investigate Mary. She doesn't appear a lot in the Bible, but she's an extremely important figure, and she made an immense impact on all of history.
This is the story that introduces us to Mary. We'll pick it up in Luke, chapter 1. "Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!'" That's Luke 1:26. That's quite an experience for a young woman. She was betrothed, engaged, to Joseph. And she's approached by an angel. We read that she was troubled by this greeting, was trying to make sense of it. "Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.'" The angel goes on to say, "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. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end".
What we can be absolutely sure of is that Mary came from a dedicated, devout family. She would have been familiar with the prophecies that pointed forward to the advent of the Messiah, and she'd have known that Isaiah had written that "a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel". Isaiah 7:14. But she asked the question, "How can this be, since I do not know a man"? She'd never slept with Joseph. How could this possibly be? Now, she might have answered and said, "Sure, we plan to have children after we're married". But God's messenger had other news. "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.'" Luke 1:35. "Mary, you're going to become pregnant. It will be a miracle. This is something God will accomplish".
And as if to confirm that this was possible, this miracle birth, the angel told her that her cousin Elizabeth, in her advanced age, had conceived and was also going to have a son. Just imagine Mary's emotions at a time like this. To find out you're pregnant is one thing, and usually a very happy occasion. But Mary was unmarried. Now, there's not as much of a stigma today in being pregnant out of wedlock, maybe none at all, but in that day, it was scandalous. Adultery was punishable by death. Intimacy prior to marriage, society didn't take that well. Mary was told that "with God nothing shall be impossible". And I want you to notice Mary's response. This is key and a great example for us. Mary said, "'Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her." Luke 1:38.
You wonder why Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, and you find the reason right there. She realized this was going to seriously impact her life. You'd expect that she was awed by the prospect of having to raise the Deliverer of the world. But when God picked her for the most solemn assignment ever committed to a human being, Mary's response was full of faith. "I am the maidservant of the Lord," she said. "I'm the servant," or maybe even, "I am the slave of the Lord". Simeon later told Mary that "a sword will pierce... your...soul". Luke 2:35. But she went into this saying, "[I'm the servant] of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word". It's pretty easy to hear someone else say those words, but this is where the theory of Christianity becomes the reality of Christianity.
It isn't hard to be a believer in Jesus when everything is going well, when faith in God is popular, when there's no cross to carry. But when the heat gets turned up... This is what we like about the story of Daniel in the lions' den or the story of the three boys who didn't bow to the statue, but instead were cast into the fiery furnace. They were faithful. They stood up for God even when their lives were in jeopardy. Mary was told she was going to deliver the Messiah. No one would have faulted her if she had said, "I'm not worthy. The responsibility is too great. I just want to live a simple life". But instead, Mary said essentially what Jesus would say more than 30 years later when He prayed to His Father, "Not my will, but Yours, be done". Mary said that here: "Let it be ...according to your word".
And that, my friend, is what faith is. I'll do it God's way. I'll trust God with this, not my will but God's will. So let me ask you, what is God asking you to do that you're dragging your feet on, something that you're reluctant to do? Is there some area of your life where you're not wanting to surrender? God might be asking you to read the Bible more and know Him more deeply. He might be calling you to pray. God might be calling you to surrender your bad attitude. He might be asking you to move out of a living situation you know that He doesn't approve of, or take those bottles of alcohol in the cupboard and pour them down the drain. It might be God is calling you to be faithful with your finances, to surrender a destructive habit, or to yield to His call to serve Him in some capacity. Is God calling you? When He called Mary, she said, "I'm willing to do Your will". Can you say the same? This is why Mary is one of the truly great characters of the Bible, because she gives us one of the truly great examples of faith and trust in God. I'll be back with more in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. After discovering she was going to be pregnant with the Son of God, Mary visited her cousin in the hill country of Judah. Elizabeth greeted Mary by addressing her as "the mother of my Lord". God is confirming again and again that Mary was going to give birth to the Messiah. She would be the mother, not of God, but of Jesus, the One who would be fully human and fully divine. You know, there are a number of myths surrounding Mary, and it's important that we don't trip on them. I just mentioned one. She wasn't the mother of God. Mother of Jesus? Mother of the Messiah? Sure. But mother of God? No, she wasn't that. She was the mother of Jesus, who came to this earth in the flesh, laying aside His divinity as He did so.
Mary wasn't taken to heaven bodily without seeing death. If there's no evidence in the Bible that something happened, you can't appeal to tradition or say that because the Bible doesn't say it didn't happen, then maybe it did. You can understand the can of worms that that would open up. You know, there are some good traditions in the world: white wedding dresses, Thanksgiving in North America, baby showers, standing for the national anthem, all positive traditions. But when you start bringing traditions into your Christian experience, traditions that are not based on the Bible, you're not far away from entertaining traditions that run contrary to the Bible.
Some people pray to Mary. There's nothing in the Bible that says you should, and plenty that says you should not. Paul wrote to Timothy that "there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time". That's 1 Timothy 2:5 and 6. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, "Our Father," and He said nothing at all about praying to His mother. Praying to Mary, or anyone else outside the Godhead, for that matter, is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". That's Matthew 11:28. He said, "Whatever you ask in my name, ...I will do [it]". John 14:13.
John wrote in 1 John 5:13-15, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him". I understand if, if you're used to praying to a certain person, a saint, someone you consider special, this could be a challenge. But remember, Mary herself said to the angel, "Let it be to me according to your word".
And that's Christianity: surrendering to the will of God in order to serve God and to receive Him more fully into your life. We do His will because He loves us. Obedience to God's will and not our own is a foundational tenet of the Bible. You don't want to deify Mary. You don't want to insert Mary into the plan of salvation. She has nothing to do with redemption or mediation. But that doesn't make her any less special. Elizabeth greeted Mary by saying, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb"! Blessed among women, Mary holds an extremely special place among all people of all time. But we want to keep that in perspective. She was a special woman, there's no question. In some circles, her contribution to faith might even be undervalued. But there's nothing to suggest Mary never sinned. It's clear that she and her husband Joseph were intimate after they were married, and, of course, that would be normal and natural. And she isn't the queen of heaven.
And that picture in Revelation 12? It says, "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars". That's Revelation 12, verse 1. That's referring to the church, to the line from which God raised up the Messiah, to the body God had preserved from which the Savior of the world would come, the church of the Old and New Testaments. Look in verse 17: "And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ". Revelation 12 is a chapter that spans history, and rather than referencing Jesus' mother, it's referencing the church down through time. Mary is an example of faith and devotion and love and commitment.
As a mother, she prepared Jesus for His life on this earth. And you'll notice Mary bore her considerable shame with dignity. She was called by God and accepted the call, even though she'd have to walk a rough road, literally. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while she was great with child would have been arduous, an unmarried, pregnant woman in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. And the people knew about the circumstances of Mary's life. One day, as Jesus' words brought conviction to certain hearts, they sneered at Him, and they said, "We were not born of fornication". You read that in John 8:41. That was a nasty swipe at the miracle of Jesus' birth. The people who should have welcomed Jesus instead turned it all around and insulted Him. And this stunned Mary. They knew. They knew she'd become pregnant out of marriage, and they weren't letting her forget it, but she carried herself with dignity. She didn't have to worry about their petty insults because she was living with assurance in the sight of God.
She was right with God. She didn't have to let their nastiness drag her down. And you can be the same. You don't have to let the slights or criticism of others drag you down. If you're living with integrity in the sight of God, that's all that matters. The details of your past life, the mistakes you made, the sins you committed, the things you got wrong, you don't have to be haunted by that, held back by that, weighed down by that. When God forgives you and calls you, you owe no one an apology, not for the direction God has called you and not for your past. Look at 1 John 1 in verse 7: "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin".
If you're standing with God, if you're following God's calling in your life, if you have surrendered your life to Jesus, live in peace with your past and let the barbs and attacks and insinuations and criticisms of others roll right off you like water off a duck's back. Must have been difficult for Mary to be the recipient of the malice of others, and it was malice. But Mary lived in integrity before God. Peter wrote, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed". First Peter 3:15 and 16. In just a moment, some of the best advice Mary ever gave.
One of the most remarkable characters in the Bible was Mary, the mother of Jesus, the only woman in history called to do what she did. It was a privilege, but an awesome responsibility. She was a humble woman. She gave birth in a stable. She endured hardship, having to flee with her husband and baby to a foreign country in order to save their lives. She experienced incredible grief. She lost her Child. In fact, she witnessed His brutal execution, standing by while He was crucified. Mary was strong. Just how do you endure that? And Mary was faithful. After the death of Jesus, she didn't give up on God. She didn't allow grief or anger to derail her. She carried right on and identified and associated with the disciples. Her faith didn't falter. And Mary, she was brave, courageous. She didn't disassociate from the disciples for the sake of her own safety. She pressed forward and wouldn't allow even the authorities to shake her from her faith. And keep this in mind. She wasn't perfect.
Now, understand what I'm saying here. For one thing, she was a sinner just as everyone is a sinner. The Bible says that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" in Romans 3:23. But beyond that, Mary wasn't above making mistakes. They were in Jerusalem, a bustling, busy place, not New York City or Lagos or Tokyo, but still busy, especially at the time of the Passover. Afterwards, the family set out for their home in Nazareth. Jesus was just 12 years old. Luke 2:43 says, "When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions". Luke 2:43-46. Now, I want you to think about this. Mary and Joseph were, no doubt, responsible parents. They set out for home and somehow managed to leave their 12-year-old Boy behind. They thought He was in the group, maybe with relatives or friends. But He wasn't. You know, I'm not finding fault with Mary and Joseph, I mean, not really. But what I am saying is that even they were not beyond making a mistake. I haven't met too many parents who always get it right. So if you're a parent and you've ever made a parenting mistake, you can know that you're in good company. But there's something Mary said one day that I want to draw your attention to. At the wedding feast in Cana, the hosts ran out of refreshments, and Mary said to Jesus her Son, "They have no wine," and then she said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it". You find that in John 2, verses 3 and 5.
Now, the context doesn't make clear whether or not Mary expected Jesus to work a miracle, but that's not really the point. It's what she said: "Whatever He says to you, do it". Now, that's advice that we can take to heart today. What's faith in God? Faith is acting upon the Word of God and expecting the Word of God to do what it says it will do, so that when God speaks, our natural response is to say, "Yes, Lord, whatever You want". Some people get hung up on obedience as though it's a bad thing, as though grace means that you can disregard whatever God says. Nothing could be further from the truth. Obedience isn't only a good thing; it's an inevitability as you grow in your relationship with God and surrender to Him more and more.
Jesus said in John 15, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing". When Jesus lives in the life of a believer, that person bears much fruit. When you're surrendered to Jesus, you're living for the glory, for the honor of God. When you're just living for yourself, you're pleasing yourself, and your intent isn't the honor of God.
Mary gave wise counsel: "Whatever He says, do it". Read the Bible, and you'll find God providing guidance and instruction. He says, "Have faith". So we do. He says, "Keep my commandments," and so we do, because it was His idea. When He says, "Give me your heart; trust me," that's what we do. "Whatever He says, do it". Very good advice. And how is that accomplished? As Paul wrote, "It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". Philippians 2:13. Truly surrender your heart to Jesus, and He'll do His will in your life. That's what it is to live a life of faith. Although she gave birth to the Messiah, Mary lived a life of faith, a life that was at times challenging, at times wonderful, at other times, brutally difficult. But Mary was constant. Honored by God in a way no other person has been or will be honored, she was faithful, looking to God. You can do that, too. Are you willing today? If you'll open your heart to Jesus, He'll abide in you, and you'll abide in Him...for all eternity.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You today for the example of Mary, who gave birth to our Savior Jesus. She brought the Messiah into the world. It was a miracle. And we thank You for the miracle of her life, of her example of faithfulness and humility. We thank You that in Mary we see qualities worth emulating. And we thank You that Mary's life pointed people to Jesus. Direct us to Him now, Lord.
Friend, as we think of Jesus, the Savior of this world, I wonder where you are in relation to Him. Have you surrendered your heart to Him? If you have not, that's why we have this moment together now. Would you do so? Would you pray the prayer that says, "Jesus, take my heart. Father, make my life Yours. Holy Spirit, fill me", can you pray that prayer? Let's do it now.
Father, take our hand; guide us; our hearts, live in us; our lives, make them Yours. Friend, are you reaching out to Jesus now? When Jesus returns, we want to be ready to meet Him and be with You, Lord, in eternity. Let it be so, we pray. And we thank You in Jesus' name, amen.