People who were Close to God: Mary: A Common Heroine
God’s servant: Do whatever you want with me (Luke 1:38). Role reversal: Mary as an example of how God turns things upside down (Luke 1:46-55).
There are two problems that come up when you talk about Mary. The first is the issue of her being the mother of Christ with no human father. It was a question that Mary herself asked. And the answer to it is in the text. But the second issue that comes up, invariably, stems from the very elevated view of Mary taught by the Catholic church. If you are Catholic, you know that Mary is one of the most venerated saints of all. There have been all kinds of different teachings on her, such as the notion that she continued to be a virgin after she had Jesus. She was sinless. She has a special inroad with her son (so when you pray to her she can intercede for you with Jesus). I don’t want to spend a lot of time up here disagreeing with different Catholic teachings because I don’t consider it to be that big of a deal. But I will say this, that the authors of the Bible anticipated this kind of reaction. Jesus himself anticipated this kind of reverence. There is a passage in Lukeÿ11:27 where a woman talks about Jesus’ mother. Note the response from Jesus, “On the contrary.” His words are an emphatic correction. He’s saying, “Not at all, ratherÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” It’s not that Jesus didn’t love his mother. But he’s resisting this tendency to venerate her. Men and women in the Bible are portrayed as exactly that?men and women. They have lumps, blemishes, sins, screw-ups of all kinds. And Mary is no exception. She’s just a regular person who had the tremendous privilege of being God’s servant. Jesus says what’s important is someone who hears the word of God and obeys it. That’s something we need to keep in mind.
That’s what we want to turn to right now, the role Mary had as God’s servant.
Luke 1:26ff. Gabriel’s announcement
The first thing we’ll look at is the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. Here in Gabriel’s announcement is the answer to the question, “How can a virgin have a baby?” Very simply, is says, “nothing is impossible with God.” He could have a baby have a baby.
I am the servant of the Lord (v. 33ff)
Mary goes on to reply, “I am the servant of the Lordÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” Here is what is outstanding about Mary. It’s not that she was the mother of Jesus. The outstanding thing about Mary was her attitude. To sum it up, when she knew what God’s word was, that was good enough for her. Remember what Jesus said? It’s not that she was his mother that made her special. He said, “Blessed is the one who hears the word of God and obeys it!” Luke is trying to get a message through to us about Mary: a real follower of Jesus Christ. He drives home the point again in relation to his family in ch.ÿ8ÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
Let’s think of alternatives: “You don’t understand, my parents are not very understanding of uwanted pregnancy.” “God, I’m just about to get married! This could ruin the marriage! I could be rejected on account of this type of thing!” And who would fault her? Would anyone jeopardize their upcoming wedding because God told them to do something? God I?m in school right now and it’s really busy. God I’m not strong or brave like a lot of these other peopleÿ.ÿ.ÿ. God I’m not mature enough to handle this right nowÿ.ÿ.ÿ. It would be very reasonable if Mary had argued or declined altogether. Or at least if she had said, “I’m going to have to think about this, talk it over with Joseph, etc.”
Just one problem, if Mary had done the very reasonable thing and said, “This is not the time to be getting pregnant,” we would not be talking about Mary, mother of Jesus tonight. We’d be talking about “Rachel” or whoever. Mary would have slipped into history and obscurity like all the other jewish girls. And here is the point of application for us. Why is it that some people seem to surge ahead in their spiritual growth and begin to really accomplish things for God while others lag behind and sometimes go nowhere? It’s because some hear and obey the word of God and some don’t. Why do some seem to experience the power of God in their lives. They talk about it as if it’s real, you can feel it, etc., while othersÿ are frustrated, “There’s no meat, there’s no experience, there’s no reality to my Christian life!” The answer is that some hear and obey the word of God, others don’t. Some people have to argue with God. Some people drag their feet and procrastinate. Some put conditions on him. Some pretend they didn’t hear. What I want to do is move on in the passage and see a little about why Mary was responsive to God.
The Magnificat (v 46ff.)
This song is calledÿ.ÿ.ÿ. You can see throughout this passage some themes that are going to set the tone for the book of Luke as a whole. One of the strongest is the theme of reversal: That when God is done with human history things will be almost upside-down from what they are now. The humble will be lifted up. The proud will be cut down. The hungry will be fed and the rich will be poor. Connected to this theme is Mary’s own view of herself in relation to God. It’s at the beginning:
Mary’s view of herself
“He notices little-old-me!” And then she goes on and says, “I can’t believe this, but I’m going to be the Madona!” And she’s pretty excited about this, understandably. Mary views herself as a small person who is unworthy of the attention of the God of the universe. And this is the first insight into why some hear and do God’s word while others don’t. Some people believe that they should be noticed by God, and not only that, but that they should be noticed more than others. The idea that God would notice me, or that when he notices me he would be gracious towards me should be a surprise.
Mary’s view of God
The second distinctive of Marry’s attitude in this passage is her view of God. Her view of herself was . . . But her view of God is that he notices us in order to bless us. He notices us in order to do great things for us. This is so important for us and our theme tonight. Why would someone hear and obey the Lord? Because of this. Much of this book is dedicated to this proposition. God notices us and he wants to do great things for usÿ.ÿ.ÿ. !!!<from here out it’s from another version of this teaching>
Christians: Need to hear and obey
This is such a needed emphasis for us, I think. To hear God’s word and put it into action is the essence of someone who is serious about God. I just think about our culture, and maybe it was the same in Luke’s day. Maybe that’s why he was emphasizing this so much. But when I think about our culture, if people are going to follow God it has to feel right. Or we have to be convinced it won’t hurt too much. We have to be convinced that it won’t be inconvenient. Why is it not enough to simply know it is God’s word?
If you’re not a Christian
Let me preface that by saying that I do understand if someone is not a Christian yet. When someone is not a Christian, it means that they may not even be convinced that God exists. Or even if they think God exists, they’re not convinced of his love for them. Example: That’s why I hate the bumper sticker that says, ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” That’s a great sentiment, if you’re already convinced about God. But what about the person who doesn’t even believe God is there?! What about the person who may believe God is there, but he’s scared of him? He’s seen so many weirdos and flakes who claim to be following God that he says, “Sounds like a good person to keep your distance from.” These are issues that have to be settled first. Before you can put this kind of trust in God’s word, you have to be convinced that he is there and that he loves you. There are a lot of stories of people who learned this about Christ in the book of Luke. There is the woman who was a prostitute, in Luke 7. She could’t believe how Christ forgave her and accepted her just as she was. She was so stricken that she wept at Christ’s feet. There was the tax-collector/rip-off artist Zaccheaus in Luke 19, who again couldn’t believe how Christ accepted him and loved him just the way he was, without changing, without anything. And he was so excited about God’s love for him that he wanted to give back everything that he had ever stolen from anyone, and then some. There was person after person who had these joyous encounters with Christ. Because he shattered their expectaion. They expected judgment. They expected someone to frown on them. But instead, Christ said, “I came to seek you out and forgive you.” There is a whole chapter in Lukeÿ15 about “lost things”, as Jesus tried to explain his mission and his purpose. He portrayed himself as someone who came to seek and save people (Lukeÿ15:8-10). So, this is the God we are dealing with. He is a God who wants a relationship with us.
With that in viewÿ.ÿ.ÿ.
And it’s with that in view that Jesus says hearing and obeying the word of God is the mark of a true disciple. And it does amaze me when Christians, who understand God is a loving God. He is an all-knowing God. And still, it’s not enough for them to just hear God’s word. It has to be convenient for them. It has to feel right. It can’t cost too much. Example: I remember as a younger person being exposed to some Christians who took God very seriously. They had Bible studies in their homes. They studied the scriptures. They prayed. They shared with people and gave their time and moneyÿ.ÿ.ÿ. They were serious about following God. I was not. I was convinced that if I got into God, it would mean the end of all my fun. But I knew, if I ever do get into God, it’ll be like that. You see some people’s spiritual life creeps along at a snail’s pace. Nothing much ever changes. They struggle with the same issues year after year and never seem to get very far with them. I think the issue is right here: It’s not enough for them to hear God’s word and obey. I think of someone like Mary here. She was a nobody. She knew she was a nobody. In the ensuing verses she expresses her amazement at how God selected her for one of the most important tasks in history. You could easily picture her, or one of us, saying, “That just sounds like too much. It’s going to alienate my family. My fiance won’t understandÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” She would have continued on in relative obscurity. That’s what a lot of people are doing with their lives. They’re fritering time and their lives away because every little move they make they have to be convinced all over again that “yes, God’s way is best. No, the other ways are dead-ends.”ÿ They might drag on for months about each little issue. By the same token,ÿ there are people who rocket along in their spiritual growth.ÿ They seem to change so fast.ÿ They seem to have success at things.ÿ And I really do see the difference as how responsive someone is to God.ÿ Whether it’s enough for them to know God’s word on something, or whether they need to go through the school of hard knocks each and every time they make progress. Veryÿ practically speaking, I’m talking about finding outÿ that you need to forgive someone and instead of saying, “He makes me angry though!”ÿ You say,ÿ “Alright, this is going to be toughÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” When you find out that studying the scriptures, not, “But I”m not a studying type of personÿ.ÿ.ÿ.” When you find out that God wantsÿ you toÿ share Christ with people, not, “But it scares me!ÿ I don’t think I can do that!”ÿ But, “It scares me,ÿ but I’d better do that!” It comes down to those kinds of choices.ÿ Those choices are the difference between people who are really getting close to God and growing and those who are kind of languishing. I’ll conclude with the thought that there is probably an issue in your life right now that God is trying to speak to you on. He’s trying to make his word known to you.ÿ And if you have Mary’s reaction, you’re going to surge forward in your spiritual growth.ÿ If you have another reaction,ÿ you’re going to stall out.