Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Example of Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays a prominent role in the Christmas story. She is also a tremendous example to the rest of us. The story of Mary begins with the angel visiting her. To link this visit with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, Luke mentions that it occurred in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Since she wasn’t yet married, Mary wondered out loud how her pregnancy was to occur. The angel explained to her that it would be by the power of the Holy Spirit. As a recent example of the miraculous work of God, the angel referred to her cousin Elizabeth by saying (in Luke 1:36-37):

What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (NLT)

Mary responded those famous words of faith and obedience (Luke 1:38a): “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (NLT)

That’s the attitude that we are supposed to have: faith in God’s word and obedience to God’s calling. We are all called in various ways, and God wants us to be obedient so that God is glorified and we are blessed. As Jesus said in Luke 11:28 (NRSV): “Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

Obedience Has a Cost

We have to realize that there is usually a cost to obedience, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. There can be a cost in time, money, inconvenience, hardship, or self-denial. I believe Jesus was referring to the cost of discipleship and obedience when he said in Matthew 16:24: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (NRSV)

1. Costs of Obedience

There were some pretty serious costs to Mary that we don’t often think about, but I suspect she probably considered before saying yes:

For example, there was the disgrace of becoming pregnant before marriage, which was a capital offense in Israel. Although they didn’t stone people for adultery much anymore, a woman’s reputation was ruined by a pregnancy before marriage.

There was a risk of losing her fiancĂ© Joseph. When he found out that she was pregnant and he had nothing to do with it, Joseph was planning to break off the engagement and send her away. An angel had to appear to Joseph to assure him that Mary hadn’t been naughty, and this was God’s work. The angel spoke to him in a dream, saying (Matthew 1:20b-21):

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (NLT)

When the angel said “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” he was referring to the meaning of the name Jesus. Jesus in Hebrew is Y’shua, which means “Jehovah saves.”

Another cost was the stigma that she would carry in her village for the rest of her life, since the people didn’t know about the work of God in her. She would live with a cloud over her the rest of her life because of this “questionable” pregnancy.

Probably the most serious cost was the indescribable grief she bore 33 years after Jesus’ birth. She watched her Son being beaten by the Roman soldiers, being paraded through the streets carrying a cross, being mocked as a criminal by the people along the way, and then she watched as he died an agonizing death on that terrible cross.

(As a parenthetical statement, this suffering by Mary at the cross in no way makes her co-redemptrix along with Jesus, as some in the Roman Catholic Church claim. Only God can redeem the human race once for all, not any one mere mortal. Claiming her as co-redemptrix is heresy of the worst kind and detracts from the finished work of Christ on the cross. Moreover, there is nothing in the Bible that even hints at such a thing – quite the opposite.)

2. Benefits of Obedience

But the benefits of her obedience still outweighed the costs. She mentioned a number of those benefits in her song of praise. For example, she said in Luke 1:46-48a (NRSV): “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” She had the joy and gratification of being in God’s will and bearing the Messiah, the dream of every Jewish girl.

She also said in Luke 1:48b-49 (NRSV): “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” She has been honored throughout the generations, because God did great things for her and thru her as a result of her obedience.

Application to You and Me

This is a season of giving, but we don’t often think of giving of ourselves. Yet out of love God gave of himself by coming to earth, and Mary gave of herself when she agreed to take on the job of being Jesus’ mother. The giving of ourselves can be the best love gift to people, and it is surely the best gift we can offer to God. British missionary William Carey’s famous quote is meaningful to those who have received a calling from God or who are facing a challenge. His quote is: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

Like Mary and Joseph, we may be called by God to walk a path that we never expected, and may seem impossible to us. Sometimes those paths involve facing challenges that seem impossible or even unbearable, and we wonder how we will get through them. That’s when we have to remember what the angel said to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NRSV)

We are to listen for God, obey God, and then depend on God. All this involves trusting in God and his promises, expecting great things from God, and then attempting great things for God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let the example of Mary help you to live a life of obedience and trust in God.

No comments: