A Mother Without Peer
Introduction: Do you know the origin of Mother’s Day? It’s not a biblical holiday, of course, though the honoring of mothers and of motherhood is certainly a biblical idea. Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908 in a little church in Grafton, West Virginia. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her own mother, which she did by declaring the day “Mother’s Day.” Today it is a widely recognized opportunity to express our love and appreciation for our mothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers.
I am not given to observing many special days in my preaching. Christmas, Easter, and maybe Thanksgiving are generally the only days I depart from our normal expository series. However, since we have had the privilege of dedicating these babies this morning, I thought it might be good to focus the entire service on the theme of motherhood.
I thought it only fitting that we use as the theme of this message the greatest woman of faith and the most honored mother of Scripture. Though more is said in the Bible regarding this woman than any other, I have never heard anyone preach about her, though I have been in evangelical churches all my life. The woman I am speaking of is, of course, Mary, the mother of our Lord.
To some she may seem to be a strange choice to serve as an example and encouragement for the moms among us, for she was unique in all of history. Why not choose a woman of like passions as you experience, someone whose life was full of problems like yours is, someone who had 3 or 4 screaming kids around the house, whose children were not as interested in spiritual things as you would like them to be, whose husband was just an ordinary guy, someone you could really identify with?
There is some rationale to this objection. Mary is the only virgin mother ever and she did have a perfect child, something none of the rest of us can claim. (My mom claims it, but she’s a little biased). But in most other respects Mary is quite easy to identify with. She was a woman of like passions as the mothers here this morning. She did have similar problems, or, more likely, greater ones. How many of you moms had to ride miles on a donkey when nine months pregnant and then have your baby in a stable? She didn’t have 3 or 4 screaming kids around the house—she had at least six, besides Jesus. Her children did have spiritual problems—her four boys, at least, were not believers until they were adults. Her husband was an ordinary uneducated laborer. If you have trouble identifying with Mary, it is probably because your life is much easier than hers rather than because she is unique.
But there is an even better reason for choosing to speak about Mary, and that is that God chose her. It was the heart longing of every godly woman of Israel to bear the promised Messiah. But God chose this lowly maiden from Nazareth as the Mother of His only begotten Son. The angel Gabriel himself told Mary, “Blessed art thou among women.” If God set her apart above all other women, it seems to me that she is a fitting subject for a Mother’s Day message.
I think we as Protestants have reacted against the veneration of Mary practiced by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. And well we should. The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, her Bodily Assumption into Heaven, and her intercessory work as Co-Redemptrix, have no biblical support whatever. These doctrines teach that she was herself born without sin, that she remained a virgin throughout her life, her children being actually Joseph’s by a previous marriage, that she ascended into Heaven at her death, and that she participates with Jesus in our redemption; and such beliefs should be clearly labeled as heretical. But because we reject the veneration of Mary as practiced by others does not mean that we have to depreciate her significance or her position as a great woman of God.
The life of Mary can be divided into two basic categories:
1. We can look at those spiritual qualities which make her an example to all believers in general.
2. We can look at those parental qualities which make her an example to all Mothers in particular.
Mary possessed spiritual qualities which make her an example to all believers.
I find at least five basic spiritual qualities in the life of the Mother of our Lord: purity, submission, worship, meditation and prayer. And I believe it was because of these qualities that God chose Mary.
She was a woman of purity. (Luke 1:34) We see this in the very first reference to her in the Bible—Matt. 1:18: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” Notice that though Mary was engaged to Joseph, she had kept herself pure. Joseph is called her husband in the next verse, but that is only because the Jews called engaged couples “husband and wife,” as is obvious in Deut. 22:23-24. They were not actually married yet. And lest anyone think that her virginity was something later followers attributed to her without her knowledge, we find in Luke 1:34 that her first question when the conception of her child was announced to her was, “How can these things be, since I am a virgin?”
There are only two alternatives concerning Mary—either she was the purest and highest of women or she was an immoral woman and a liar. The latter is the choice of everyone who challenges the Bible’s clear teaching regarding the Virgin Birth. Without the Virgin Birth we have a human Jesus, a fallible Bible, and a degenerate Mary. But the Scriptures are clear regarding the character of our Lord’s mother—she was pure.
She had an amazing spirit of submission. (Luke 1:38). When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she had been chosen to bear God’s Son, her response, as recorded in Luke 1:38 was, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord. Be it unto me according to your word.” That is an astounding response considering the circumstances. Mary loved Joseph. The two peasant lovers had planned a wedding and were eagerly looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together. Imagine the anguish Mary experienced that evening when she had to tell her lover that she was pregnant. She knew she couldn’t explain it to Joseph—he may have been a godly man, but even he couldn’t be expected to accept her explanation. This is probably why she went in haste to Elizabeth’s house to spend three months. But she was totally submissive to the will of her heavenly Father. She would rather risk losing her lover than displease her savior.
Elva McAllaster has written, “In the instant of the angelic greeting, did Mary have any prophetic awareness that her acceptance and submission would mean an arduous trip over interminable hills during the final stages of pregnancy? Did Mary have any inkling that ‘be it unto me’ would mean an exile in Egypt, and the sword piercings that would come to her own heart when He was pierced by a Roman blade? Perhaps she did. One would think, however, that she did not yet know what she gave assent to; that like any of us she agreed sight unseen; that her acceptance of God’s will was just that, acceptance of God’s will. Acceptance of the unknown, the never before experienced, the potentially ominous; acceptance of that which may carry a bitter price to the ego of the one who says, ‘be it unto me.’ Mary had an amazing spirit of submission.”[i]
She knew how to worship. (Luke 1:46-55) Her Magnificat in Luke 1 gives ample display of her ardent spirit of worship. Note the characteristics of God she mentions:
This one hymn displays a remarkable knowledge of God from the OT. Mary was apparently saturated with the Scriptures and a true worshiper of God. One of the tragedies of the 20th century is that so few people really know God. And they don’t know God because they don’t know the Scriptures.
She practiced the art of meditation. (Luke 2:18, 19:51) I’m not talking here about Transcendental Meditation. Shortly after the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, shepherds came and told her what the angels had spoken to them (Luke 2:18-19). Others wondered out loud about the significance of these things, but we read that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Mary perhaps had more about which to ponder in connection with the birth of her son than do other mothers with their children, but there is sufficient of the mysterious, the supernatural and the wonderful in the life of any child to cause a mother’s heart to ponder over whence that life came, what it will be, where it will go, and what it will accomplish. Mary was a woman of meditation.
She was a woman of prayer. (Acts 1:14) Probably the clearest example of this is found after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In our current study of Acts several weeks ago we noted that a group of 120 believers gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:14 we read, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus.” Ask yourself, “Where would I be if I had just lost my eldest child six weeks before?” In a prayer meeting? Perhaps, but not likely for most.
I would imagine Mary had a number of things to pray about—the void in her life, her attitude, her other children, as well as the important event that was about to take place, namely the coming of the Holy Spirit. She was a woman of prayer.
Mary is a spiritual example to all of us. She was a woman of purity, submission, worship, meditation and prayer. The choice of her to be God’s special instrument was not a mistake.
No one here this morning is going to be called upon for the specific task that Mary was chosen for. But God would like to use each of us in a special way, and the lack of these same qualities in our lives may limit his doing so.
So far we have seen five qualities about Mary that make her an example as a believer. In purity, submission, worship, meditation and prayer she is a beautiful picture of what God would like to see in each of us.
But Mary also had qualities which make her a striking example as a mother.
She was an example in:
- Her nurture and admonition of her child
- Her proper exercise of parental authority.
- Her understanding of her child
- Her love for her child
She nurtured and admonished her child. (Luke 2:21ff) The first reference to this is found in Luke 2:21ff: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
Mary didn’t wait until the age of accountability before trying to nurture her child. By the eighth day she had him in the temple, performing the spiritual covenant of circumcision, dedicating him to the Lord and offering sacrifices. And while at the temple she placed him under the care and blessing of two elderly saints—Simeon and Anna.
But Mary didn’t stop with the child’s dedication. We read in Luke 2:40 that “the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” This doesn’t happen by accident. Even the Son of God had to be fed in order to grow. It seems somewhat anomalous for a finite human mother to be spiritually feeding the very Son of God. But apparently that’s what happened. And if it was a necessary task for Mary to perform with Jesus, how much more is it a task for mothers whose children are not perfect and sinless.
Mary was a regular attender at the House of God, and we may assume that she took her children with her. We read in Luke 2:41, “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.” The long trip to Jerusalem was in the nature of a pilgrimage to the temple, for their synagogue was at Nazareth, which we may assume they attended every sabbath. Mary’s nurture of her son apparently continued even into the teen-age years, for we read in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Mary’s story in rearing her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord was not entirely a blazing success story. She had other children besides Jesus—four sons and also some daughters. This is seen in Matt. 13:55-56. They were not particularly responsive to the work that God was doing in their midst. In fact, in John 7:5 we read that “not even His brothers were believing in Him.” But I’m sure Mary prayed long and hard for her children. And those prayers were eventually rewarded, for her sons were converted when their half-brother Jesus was raised from the dead. In Acts 1:14 they, too, are mentioned as being present n the Upper Room at the launching of the Church.
When everything is evaluated, I think we must conclude that Mary was a very fine example for mothers in the art of child-rearing.
She exercised parental authority wisely. (Luke 2:48) You recall the incident in the Temple when Jesus was twelve years old, as recorded beginning in Luke 2:43. When his parents finally found him after three days of searching, his mother asked, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” I notice something very interesting about this scene. Mary asks before she disciplines. That is, she gives her son the opportunity to explain what He was doing. Her philosophy was to talk it over first with her son.
My sister is a professional counselor, and long before she entered that career, she was an amateur psychologist with her girls. From the time her oldest daughter was old enough to understand, my sis would always sit down with her when she was crying about something and say, “Let’s talk it over instead of crying.” Well, at one point after a particularly flagrant act of disobedience on the part of Kristin, my sister announced that a spanking was I order. She went to get the paddle only to have Kristin charge after her saying, “Let’s talk it over, Mommie, let’s talk it over.” I think the little girl was unconsciously portraying a very important concept in parental authority—don’t be afraid to talk it over. Don’t discipline the child without first telling him why. Perhaps, sometimes, as happened to the mother of our Lord, you will end up being convicted yourself rather than disciplining the child.
It is quite interesting to me that even after the mild reprimand Jesus gave to his parents at the temple in asking them, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” we read in verse 51 that “He went down with them and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them.” I imagine it was not easy for Mary to exercise her parental authority over Jesus. It would probably be somewhat like trying to rear a child prodigy. But she took her responsibility and exercised it well.
She worked at understanding her child. (John 2:3-5) Mary’s child was unique, and that fact demanded great understanding on her part, but then so are your children unique. Mary’s child had a special mission to fulfill, and so have yours. She wisely did not attempt to pour Him into the same mold as her other children. Perhaps the most telling incident here occurred in John 2, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus was, of course, by this time over 30 years old and no longer under His mother’s authority. But like any mother she still had advice for Him. She tried to tell Him what to do in a subtle manner.
Jesus had to tell her that she had overstepped the bounds of parental authority. He said, “Woman, what is it between you and Me? My time has not yet come.” The words of Jesus here are not disrespectful; rather He is trying to communicate to His mother that she must no longer think of Him merely as her son but rather as her Lord. What is most important for our purposes, however, is Mary’s reaction to the mild rebuke given by her son. Her faith shines through as she tells the servants to do “whatever He says,” even if it seemed confusing to them. She understood him and accepted His words.
On another occasion, recorded in Matt. 12:46ff, Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were waiting for Him and He asked, “Who is My mother and who are my brothers? Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Such experiences had to be puzzling to Mary, but she strove to understand, as only a mother could.
Mary loved her child, as evidenced by the fact that she suffered when her Son suffered. At His presentation in the temple at the age of eight days, the godly old man, Simeon, prophesied to Mary that, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.” Imagine the anguish of this dear mother as she witnessed the hatred and ridicule heaped upon her Son during His ministry, the injustice and cruelty during His trial, the pain and agony of His cross. It must have been all the greater because she, of all people knew that He was not guilty. In all the years she had known Him He had been a perfect child. He had never sassed her like the other children did on occasion, he had never been disobedient, he had always been responsive in his duties toward his parents and toward God.
And now she stood on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, at the foot of a Cross, and she watched Him be die an excruciating death. Mary suffered while He suffered, and Jesus took note of it. The third of the seven last words of Christ on the cross was directed toward her, “Woman, behold Thy Son,”and then he turned to the Apostle John and charged him with the responsibility of caring for her, saying, “Behold, thy mother.”
The Scriptures do not describe the love of Mary for her Son in detail, but I can imagine that One so lovely as He, whom even total strangers loved, must have been the apple of His mother’s eye.
Conclusion: We have seen Mary, the Mother of our Lord, as a spiritual example and as a parental example. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that she is an example for all of us in one final way. She needed the grace of Jesus Christ personally. In her Magnificat she said, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my Spirit has rejoiced in God, my Savior.” Even the Mother of our Lord was a sinner who needed salvation. And the only mother who can be a complete mother is the one who has recognized her own spiritual condition and has gone to the cross for salvation.
[i] Elva McAllaster, citation lost.