While looking at the lives of our biblical women, we notice that not one of them was an island growing in grace and faith by themselves. Their fame and feats seemed partly dependent upon their interactions with the other people whom God placed around them. It is the same with our walk of faith. We make personal decisions, but others' words and actions play a big role in our development.
Mary is held by some cultures to be the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, portrayed as a sole heroine advising, if you like, the very trinity to whom she owes her salvation. Mary didn't raise herself up on high, her worshippers did. Similarly, Abraham didn't raise himself on high either, his worshippers did. Paul and Apollos were more interested in humility, but their worshippers also wanted to place them on a wall or make a statue as objects of adoration. That is not God's way.
Other than being the mother of the King of Kings, Mary's life was the same as those who came before her, whose lives she knew well, crafted and shaped to be part of God's team for the time or era. Mary was a woman of God, but she was also guided by the Holy Spirit, protected by her husband's obedience to God, and even fashioned by family, friends and angels whom the Lord placed as sentinels to influence her development.
Luke 1:30 tells that an angel came to Mary, and said, 'fear not, Mary." This was the message of the angel Gabriel, informing her that God chose her womb to bear the King of Kings, to have a child by the Holy Spirit, to bring forth the Saviour of the world.
Around the same time, Matthew 1:20 shows us an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
God used the very same term, “Fear not" on more than seventy occasions through the Bible. Those we hold up as heroes needed this introduction for their next step.
On each occasion this term was used, God was calling these people to do a new thing in their lives. Every one of them had to step up to a new level of faith, a new turn in direction. The predictability of religious repetition was over for them and they had to step onto an unfamiliar stage with an unknown outcome. No wonder the Lord commenced sentences with, "Fear not!"
What phrase did angel Gabriel use on Zacharias in our last story to introduce the coming of John the Baptist? "Fear not, Zacharias." Months later this forgotten old priest was thrust into the limelight forever.
Luke 1:34 tells us that Mary questioned the angel Gabriel, as did Zacharias, but without penalty. Why would Zacharias be dealt with one way and Mary another?
Mary’s questioning came from an innocent youth trying to figure out biologically how it would all happen. Zacharias was a mature believer whose question arose from a base of unbelief.
Pondering the calling
God's callings cause us to ponder. I can see Joseph and Mary wrestling with the information they had just heard, each rolling through their minds the multitude of scriptures and teachings to find a precedent for this new thing. Sometimes there just isn't a precedent. Many biblical events were not only a one-off but very new at the time. The parting of the Red Sea? Where was the precedent? What about the Manna? What about the prophets raising people to life again? And Naaman washing seven times in the Jordan to clear his leprosy? How about the 6500Km long Nile River turning to blood? All new in their times. We are the ones who use repetition. God does what he likes.
Despite the mental and spiritual challenges each was now going through, they were both obedient to the first taste of dealing directly with the Lord. They feared not. Within a very short time, this quiet, humble couple proceeded to the new stage. To do that, they had to defy custom and over-caution as well as the comments of friends and advisors. As Job defied his friends to pursue the oddest calling of his God — to sit for a measured time in brokenness and pain but in faith — so these two chose the path that made all the difference.
Many people, both in the Bible and after it, such as missionaries, nurses, and preachers, have received the message from God to “Fear Not,” and walked a difficult path from then on. The Lord calls some of us to get tough jobs done, requiring us to be spiritually robust. Those roles can only be taken up by followers who have resolved the issue of "God first" or "Me first".
The riches of cousin Lizzie
Gabriel told Mary that Elisabeth was also with child, for about six months now. I can see Mary’s questioning again, "Why haven't I heard that news before? She is my cousin." followed by, "She's too old to have children!" and then came the realisation of knowing she wouldn't be on this journey alone.
When Mary arrived at Elisabeth's house, upon her greeting, Elisabeth's baby leapt in her womb, and Elisabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost and began honouring Mary.
Mary spent about three months with the wise, aged Elisabeth, now full of the Holy Ghost, and her still mute husband. It’s almost humorous when we think of it like that, as these two pregnant women could discuss their present and future, and the possibilities of what life would have for them soon, without Zacharias taking over the conversations. To these girls, it must have been ninety days of bliss, having one aged and one young, with identical faith and spiritual desires.
If we neglect to read between the short lines of scripture, we can miss the blessedness of this period. What an anointing upon that house, having both the preparer of the Way of the King and the King himself in the house and all parents sanctified according to their individual callings. The purity would have been unimaginably palpable, and the holiness in conversation without comparison.
I imagine this was also a time of great learning for Mary through Zacharias. A sort of rapid apprenticeship in prophetical history about the son she is to bare and John who prepares the way. I can see this three-month interval laying a critical foundation for the rest of Mary's life.
Luke 1:38 shows us why Jesus said to remain childlike in our faith and belief. We see Mary, certainly not a child, but still keeping the childlike faith that produces mature results. "And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. This is another paradox of the spiritual journey I find amusing, where childlike belief is a sign of maturity!
Mary made her decision to Fear Not. That first step was over. Now what?
That one decision took her from routine religion and repetitious daily practices to living by faith at every turn. She went from certainty in the natural to uncertainty, but that is often the way with God. He assures our spiritual life, but sometimes the natural one becomes less predictable.
Moving forward to Luke 2, our attention is drawn to an interesting contradiction, as we see two opposing spiritual sides at work. On one hand, we have Satan using his Roman puppet, Caesar Augustus, to steal taxes from the people. This was the birth of taxes across the land and a typically selfish endeavour. At the same time, we have the Lord God offering exactly the opposite, the birth of his only son as a gift. Free salvation, no payment, an eternal pursuit. John 10:10 "The thief comes to steal, but I come to give abundant life."
It seems clear to me that Mary wasn't the average churchgoer. Luke 1:46-55, shows us more than Mary’s belief. We essentially see a deep understanding of the affairs and nature of God; something many of us still lack today.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.
After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph went on to have more children. Jesus had numerous half-brothers and sisters. John 3:16 says For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus was begotten of God. Those who came after Christ were begotten of Joseph.
Matthew 13:55-56 records the rest of his family. Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
What a good-sized family? With Jesus as the older brother, Godly character and wisdom would be set the dinner table every night with the meal. I don't think Mary would have put up with anything less.
When Joseph died, the family mourned and Mary had to forge on by herself, being absorbed in her family and the rising ministry of Jesus. Despite knowing of the upcoming death of her son, I don't think that abated any of the pain and anguish of this poor woman. I think her heart would have been shredded in pieces, the consolation of her family little in comparison.
As part of Jesus' final strategy, he gave Mary another son in whom he trusted and John another mother. A final parting gift from a physically and mentally tormented son with barely an ounce of breath or energy left.
John 19:26-27, When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
Does this gesture have any bearing on the mother, Israel, being given to the New Testament church as its new family?
It doesn't matter which way we look at Mary's life, it was one of exemplary faith, character, resilience and understanding.
It would be thrilling to read her memoirs, but, sadly, they don't exist. I think we would pause for reflection on every page as she expressed her thoughts and feelings, disclosing her wonderful life of faith, her conversations with God, and her daily talks with Joseph. I think we would be humbled as we read of how they battled through the complicated life of rearing the saviour, and of keeping the world's best-kept secret for thirty years, even from their own other children.