Voices of Christmas: Mary.

Without Mary, there would have been no birth of Jesus, no Christmas, no Easter and no salvation.  This doesn’t mean that she is the Savior, but simply that she was the channel through whom the incarnate God came into this world to be the Savior.  As we saw in our last post, it’s unlikely any other Jewish maiden would have qualified to be the mother of the Messiah.  (NOT “the mother of God.”)

Beyond the fact that she was a virgin, the NT tells us very little about this young woman. She lived in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, Luke 1:26, a town evidently not thought of very highly, John 1:46.  She was betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, Luke 1:27.  We’re told nothing of her parents or any siblings.  We do know of a elderly relative named Elizabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist.

At the same time, it tells us a great deal about her.

We’re told she was a virgin.  This means very little today, but it meant a lot back then. There would have been no bumper stickers saying that “virginity is curable.” Girls realized that they could only give themselves the first time – one time.  So did young men, for that matter.  That was of surpassing importance, something to be valued, cherished, and protected.  And it was only to be to her husband – after they were married.  There was no moving in with each other to “see if it works out.”  There was no “it’s just sex,” as if that were just another sandwich for lunch or deciding which TV show to watch.  There was no such thing as “casual sex.”  It was the consummation of marriage, something looked forward to, not the commencement of “a relationship,” taken for granted.

To be sure, there probably were those who didn’t agree with all this.  Mary was not one of them.  She was a virgin.

At the same time, she was aware of marital activity and its result.  When told by the angel that she was about to become a mother, she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Luke 1:34.

A valid question.

The angel answered, “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 of you will be called the Son of God,” Luke 1:35.  She would be the recipient of a miracle.

Now, there are those who deny any possibility of “a virgin birth.”  And, humanly speaking, they’re right.  It is impossible.  But that God Who created the whole universe in a week and made Adam out of a pile of dirt, and Eve out of one of his ribs, would certainly have no trouble creating that which would unite with an egg in Mary’s body to produce the infant Lord Jesus in her womb.

Of course, these same unbelievers also probably deny creation and redemption, so that a miracle conception is unnecessary as well as impossible.  They’re quite willing to believe that Matthew and Luke made up stories to make the best of an unpleasant situation.

But, if Jesus were an illegitimate child, there would have been, and are, repercussions, even if that means nothing to our society.  It meant something to hers.

As a betrothed young woman, she was considered as good as married, even though the wedding hadn’t yet taken place.  Divorce would have been required to break that engagement.  Joseph couldn’t simply have written her a “Dear Jane” letter.  Because of her status as betrothed, if Jesus were illegitimate, Mary herself would have been liable to death, Leviticus 20:10.  Jesus Himself would not have been recognized as a member of the nation, Deuteronomy 23:2.  If His were an ordinary conception, whether in or out of wedlock, He would have had a fallen human nature and, as such, would not have been able to satisfy the Law’s righteous requirements, even for Himself, let alone for others. He could not have been the Savior.

The Virgin Birth means something.  It meant something to Mary.

We’re told nothing of what happened when it became discovered that she was pregnant, when she came home after three months from visiting Elizabeth.  She would have begun “to show.”  What did she tell her parents?  How did she break the news to Joseph?  What did the neighbors think?  Remember, this was a small village, and human nature is human nature.  There were probably rumors and whispers.  So, you see, it meant a great deal to Mary – and to Joseph.  And to her parents.  Her reputation was likely gone – and Joseph’s when he went ahead and married her.  And her parents – where did they “go wrong” in raising their daughter?

Perhaps I’m reading more into this than is there.  Perhaps everybody concerned was cool with it, though I doubt it, at least to start.  Even if they were, though, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth cast a long shadow.  Years later, it was cast into His face by His enemies. In one of the many confrontations with Him that they had, they said, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father – God,” John 8:41.  And the “we” and “of fornication” are emphatic in the original language.  Now, they might simply have been asserting their own descent from Abraham, but I think there may have been a dig at His own background as well.

Mary was a virgin.

She was also righteous.  What was her reaction to what the angel explained to her?  “Behold the maidservant of the LORD!  Let it be to me according to your word,” Luke 1:38.  We have no way of knowing how much of what we have written might have gone through Mary’s mind as she was digesting what the angel told her, how far through she might have thought it.  She’d just received the mind-blowing news that she was to become the mother of the Messiah!  Her!  Mary!  That was enough!  “Let it be….”

Luke includes one of the many “human-interest” stories for which his gospel is known. The next verse says that she made “haste” to go to her relative Elizabeth, whom the angel had told her, perhaps by way of confirmation of his message to Mary, was also pregnant, and this “…in her old age.  For with God nothing is impossible.”

Children were highly valued and loved in that society.  They were looked on as blessings from God, cf. Psalm 128:3, 4.  There were even provisions in the law that if an expectant mother were hurt during a fight so that she delivered prematurely or if the child were hurt in some way, damages and/or judgment was exacted of the guilty party, Exodus 21:22-25.  By the way, this is one of the two places in the Law where “an eye for an eye,” etc., occurs.  And her husband had something to say about it.

Children, even the unborn, were loved, and protected.

And a wife considered it a great calamity to be barren.  Cf Elizabeth’s own reaction to the angel’s message to her, Luke 1:24, 25.

So Mary hurries to her relative to share in the good news.  And probably to share her own good news.  With whom else could she share it?  “I’m pregnant with the Messiah.”  How would/could anyone believe her, apart from divine intervention, like there was with Joseph?

We’re going to have to write something on Elizabeth.  We weren’t going to, but there’s just too much here.  Probably more on Mary, too.

There was confirmation of  the angel’s message to Mary when she got to Elizabeth’s home.  Perhaps Zechariah chimed in, so to speak, since he couldn’t, with his own experience with an angel.  Mary’s reaction to all this is recorded in Luke 1:47-55.  It’s one of the great psalms of praise in the Bible.

Mary, highly favored, highly thankful, highly blessed.

Mary, the mother of our Lord.

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The Voices of Christmas: “Hail, Mary….”

These words are…?

1.  The beginning of words used millions of times a day.

2.  A long, desperation pass to the end zone in the last seconds of a football game, a pass thrown with the hope of snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat.

3.  An approximation of the beginning of an angelic greeting to a young Jewish maiden who would otherwise be totally unknown.

4.  All of the above.

All four are true, although only one is Scriptural.  I have no idea where #2 came from, although if it works, it’s very exciting.  I’m sure there’s an explanation if I wanted to look it up.  However, the Virgin Birth was not a “desperation” move by God to try to salvage something out of the mess Adam made of the human race.  It was the continuation of a carefully thought-out plan for the redemption of mankind, the defeat of Satan, the vindication of the Divine purpose and the revelation of the glory and grace of God.  All this rested on the shoulders of a young Jewish girl who had no idea of it at all.  This does not mean it was dependent on her in the sense that she could have messed it up if she hadn’t been “willing.”  It just means that she was the only girl out of the hundreds or thousands in Judah who could have been the mother of the Messiah.

How is she the only one?  There are several reasons.

First, the fallen human nature is passed from father to child.  This is seen in the very first generation of children.  In Genesis 1:26, 27, we read that Adam was created in the “image of God.”  This doesn’t mean that he was a little “god” or that he looked like God.  Genesis 5:1 repeats this:  In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.  However, v. 3 says, And Adam…begot a son in his own likeness, after his image….”  Whatever “the image of God” was, Adam lost it and became the father of children who were like him:  fallen sinners.  The chain of fallenness continues to this day. I got it from my father, who got it from his father, and I passed it down to my kids, and they to their kids, etc., etc.  So, the Messiah could have no human father, though He could have and did have a human mother.  This is how He was fully human, through her, but not a fallen human, like a human father would have been.

Some try to get around the problem of sin by saying that Mary herself was sinless, which she herself denies.  Besides, this just passes the problem back one generation and would have required her to be virgin-born as well.

A second reason is found in her lineage as compared with Joseph’s.  She and Joseph were both descendants of King David, but through different sons:  Matthew 1:6, Luke 3:31.  This is significant.  Because of Jeconiah, otherwise known as Coniah or Jehoiachin, David’s line through Solomon became cursed, Jeremiah 22:24-30.  Jesus could never ascend to the throne of David if He were actually Joseph’s son.  He will ascend to the throne through Mary.  For a complete treatment of this, see my post on Zelophehad.

A third reason is that it was time, Galatians 4:4.  If we could put it like this, Mary was the right girl at the right time.  There probably weren’t very many young Jewish maidens alive at the time who had the lineage and right of inheritance that Mary had.  Even if there were, she was the one highly favored.  She was the one through whom the incarnate God would come into this world.

She was the one to whom the angel would say, “Hail, thou who art highly favored….”

Voices of Christmas: The Place

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting, Micah 5:2.

Oh, there is so much here!  Thousands and thousands of words would be needed to even begin to touch the hem of the garment on this verse.  As it turns out, we’ll only have 716.

The place where our Lord chose to be born – yes, He did! – was not a large city, not Jerusalem, not Rome or some other notable city.  He chose to be born in a tiny, obscure village, in a relatively small nation, among a people who were, and are, hated and despised:  the Jews.   This speaks to what Paul wrote years later in Philippians 2:7, He made Himself of no reputation. 

Israel has never shaped the affairs of this world in the way other nations have.  We read of no “Jewish Empire” that spanned the globe, like the Roman Empire or the British Empire.  Israel has never been a militaristic nation, never been intent on acquiring land other than that promised to her.  Yet she has shaped the affairs of this world, and will shape them, more than all the nations put together – because of this One born in her midst.

Who was He?  What did He do?  What will He do?

Does it matter?

One way or another, all these questions are answered in Micah 5:2.

He was one whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.  In the words of John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  This was to be no mere human child, conceived out of wedlock and a nice story invented to make the best out of a bad situation.  This One was God incarnate, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, yet to come into humanity a helpless Babe. Though He was conceived in the virgin womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit, He was dependent entirely on the care and protection of Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His foster-father.  Who can understand such things?

Yet out of you shall come forth to Me….  This phrase covers all of our Lord’s earthly life, from His birth to His Ascension.  Micah doesn’t tell us in this verse what all was involved in that life, but he does in v. 1, They will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.  This is a prophecy of the abuse our Lord was to suffer before His crucifixion.  But He didn’t just die and His body left to molder in some unmarked grave like a common criminal.  He was to come forth to God, which He did at His Ascension.

Yes, but is He going to do anything?  Or is He done?

Micah answers that as well, the One to be ruler in Israel….

I know there is a lot of discussion about what this phrase “ruler in Israel” and verses which talk about “the Kingdom” really mean.  After reading the entire Bible more than 50 times, and the New Testament an additional 25 or more times, (I’ve quit counting.  The numbers are meaningless,) I can say that I’m simple enough to believe what it says in prophets, like Micah:  that there is coming a time when there will be an actual, literal, earthly kingdom of God centered in Jerusalem.  I know these adjectives call forth a lot of scorn and derision on the part of those who believe it’s all going to be fulfilled in some kind of “spiritual” kingdom.  I can’t help that. If God didn’t mean what He said, then why didn’t He say what He means?   Our Lord will yet be Ruler in Israel.

Our Lord will yet be glorified in that very place where He was vilified and crucified.  And I tell you, a thousand years, Revelation 19 and 20, isn’t nearly long enough to make up for the murder of the incarnate God.  God, of course, cannot die Himself.  That’s why the Word had to become flesh, John 1:14.

To live.

To die.

To rise again.

To return to this earth, to take His rightful place, not as a babe for whom there was, and is, “no room,” but as its Lord and God. 

Yes, it matters!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!