"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
WOMEN OF FAITH: Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Of all the faithful women mentioned in Scripture, Mary the mother of Jesus stands out as probably the most privileged yet humble of God’s female servants. The love and dedication she gave to her eldest son was remarkable, as was her unwavering faith in God. We must bear in mind that from her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and her acute perception of just who her son was, there would have been times when the discernment of his impending death, caused her much heart-searching and sadness. Here was an ordinary Hebrew woman who had found great favour with God and was subsequently entrusted with the care, upbringing and nurture of His only Son. Mary was a lowly girl, but possessed all the necessary spiritual attributes to help her carry out the daunting task of bringing up her son. This she did with much dignity and a deep reverence for God. Mary was, without a doubt, a very remarkable woman.
Her Background and Character
From the Biblical record we understand that Mary was not materially rich yet she came from an illustrious background. Her genealogy is found in the third chapter of Luke, and can be traced back to David, that great king of Israel through his son Nathan. The prophet Isaiah through the power of the Holy Spirit proclaimed: ‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.’ [Isaiah 11.1 NIV] Jesse was the father of King David and the ‘shoot’ or offspring that would come from this royal line, was the Lord Jesus Christ. This is further confirmed by Isaiah: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’ [Isaiah 7.14] How remarkable this prophecy was, written some 700 years before the birth of Jesus and fulfilled completely. Mary indeed was the promised virgin who would bear a son. She conceived the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought forth ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God with us.’ [Matthew 1.20-23]
The name Mary means ‘bitterness’ and is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name, Miriam. This is suitably fitting for the mother of Christ, for without a doubt she endured great bitterness and sadness, having to stand by and watch her eldest son suffer a cruel and undeserving death. Yet nowhere in Scripture is it ever recorded that Mary questioned or doubted God. Her age is not recorded but we can glean from the Gospel records that she was probably quite a young woman when God chose her to bear Jesus. It is also very telling that about the same time, Elisabeth her elder cousin gave birth to John the Baptist the forerunner of Jesus. God had indeed chosen a righteous family, both women truly were, ‘Mothers in Israel’ possessing Godly characters fit for the outworking of His purpose.
In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary. We are told that apart from being troubled at the angel’s wonderful message, Mary fully accepts the fact that God had chosen her to bear His Son and she exclaims: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ [Luke 1.38] How we can marvel at her words. Here was a tender and inexperienced girl, who had just been told that she was to be the mother of God’s only Son. Her acceptance of what the Almighty had planned for her, was an outward sign of just how faithful and humble she really was. Mary also had to bear the stigma of ‘being with child’ and unmarried, a truly dishonourable thing for any woman living in those times. Again we are reminded of her faith and confidence that God would deliver her from even the most humiliating situation. This woman was also devoutly religious, not embracing the false outward show of religion that her son would eventually condemn, but having a gentle spirit with an understanding and deep regard for God’s Word. This is confirmed when she expressed her joy to Elisabeth her cousin about her pregnancy. Here on record, is a wonderful selection of Old Testament prophecies which echo the words of another righteous woman of faith, Hannah the mother of Samuel. [1 Samuel 2.1-10] (See article in Volume 17.1 page 11 – January 2001) Both women gave praise to God for the glorious things that He had done in their lives. Even more so for Mary, whose realisation that she was to bring forth the Messiah of Israel, caused to flow from her a great exclamation of joy, which is expressed in her song of praise:
The Early Years
We are not told very much about Jesus’ family life, although his birth is recorded by both Matthew and Luke. We can read of his humble entrance into the world and again ponder the feelings of his mother as she gave birth to her firstborn son. Throughout her pregnancy, Mary would have experienced the wonders of a new life developing deep within her body. Again the knowledge that this child gently growing and unfolding inside her was the promised Messiah, the King of Israel, whose Father was the Creator of heaven and earth, must have been continually on her mind. As she gave birth to her son in Bethlehem in the most modest of circumstances, her only consolation and comfort would be that God was overseeing this momentous event. As her child made its entrance into the world, Mary’s joy would be twofold, firstly that her son had been safely delivered and secondly that here at last was the promised Messiah of Israel.
The courtyard of an inn situated in Bethlehem
With the attendance of shepherds after the birth of Jesus, we are given a small insight into the gentle mind of Christ’s mother. In the 2nd chapter of Luke, we read that after the shepherds had visited the baby, they went and told everyone about this wonderful event: ‘But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ [Luke 2.19 NIV] Perhaps the implications of it all was just becoming more evident to this young mother. With her spiritual outlook and knowledge of Scripture no doubt many of the ancient prophecies crowded in on her mind. The prophet Isaiah through the Holy Spirit, recorded the death of the
future Messiah with all the humiliation and sadness that his demise would bring. [Isaiah chapter 53] Mary could well have understood this and other prophecies. If so, she carried her thoughts silently within her heart right up until the time of Jesus’ death.
When Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem, to offer up the sacrifices necessary under the Law of Moses, we read that they met Simeon, a righteous man, who was patiently awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. [Luke 2.21-24] Guided by the Holy Spirit, Simeon offered up praise to God, recognising that the child before him was indeed the long awaited King of Israel. [Luke 2.29-32] He spoke prophetically to Mary and told her that her child was: ‘destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ [Luke 2.34,35 NIV] How true this prophecy would be. Mary indeed would have a sword of sadness and grief pierce her many times. We are told in God’s word that without suffering, faith is not sharpened and we cannot hope to learn obedience to God. This was no exception for Mary and even more so for her son, Jesus: ‘Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.’ [Hebrews 5.8]
Throughout the young life of Jesus, we can imagine how Mary might have looked upon her son with awe. Jesus would not have been anything like her other children. We can imagine that as a child and young man, he would have shown compassion, untold patience and consideration to his family, friends and neighbours. These Godly characteristics would certainly hallmark Jesus as being very different from those around him. In Luke’s gospel we read how at 12 years of age, Jesus became separated from his parents in Jerusalem and was eventually found in the temple speaking with the teachers of law. [Luke 2.42-52] Again, we glimpse a little of Mary’s natural concern as a mother: ‘Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.’ [Luke 2.48] All parents naturally worry when their child goes missing and Mary and Joseph were no exception. We further read in the same chapter how Jesus explained to them that he was about ‘his Father’s business.’ The record continues that Mary ‘kept all these sayings in her heart.’ [Luke 2.51] Over the years and slowly perhaps, the realisation of how her son matched up to all the Old Testament prophecies, caused his mother to ponder much in her heart.
Sunshine After Rain
The faith that Mary exhibited in her life enabled her to look beyond the suffering of Jesus. Whilst he hung pitifully on the cross, a few women were weeping and sitting at his feet. Mary his mother was there with her sister and John the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved.’ [John 13.23] It was to John that Jesus entrusted his dear mother, knowing that this gentle disciple would indeed care for her and love her as his own. It is very telling that John had a similar character to Christ and we can imagine that Mary would have felt very safe with him and doubtless an empathy would have grown between them, each giving the other comfort and strength throughout the following years.
No doubt after his resurrection Jesus appeared to his mother again in Jerusalem, giving her much consolation and strength before his ascension into heaven. The Scriptures do not reveal the details but it would be in keeping with Christ’s character that he would firstly appear to those whom he had loved and cherished. We can imagine how wonderful this reunion would have been, Jesus imparting words of comfort to the woman who had loved and cared for him for over thirty years. How wonderful Mary’s joy must have been and this most spiritual of women would have offered up many words of praise to God for the glorious act that He had performed, in ‘raising up’ her beloved son to life again. All of Mary’s sad thoughts would now vanish and the sword that had ‘pierced her soul,’ would be withdrawn. She had spent much of her adult life nurturing this special child of hers, influencing him with her godly ways and watching him grow into the full stature of the man of God. She had patiently followed him, no doubt in wonder listening to his words of grace, observing the great acts of kindness to all men and the untold miracles that he performed. All the time, we can envisage how this meek and godly woman was growing in the understanding of God’s plan of salvation which was centred in this her eldest son. As Jesus grew older it is highly probable that the two of them would have spent many hours together pondering over the Scriptures. Jesus gently helping Mary to understand the deeper meanings contained in the Law of Moses and prophetic writings that had become his guide and strength.
The life of Mary had not been an easy one. Joseph, Jesus’ guardian father, is not mentioned later on in Jesus’ life, so perhaps we can assume he did not attain a great age and may have died sometime during the childhood of Christ, after settling in Nazareth. We are told that Jesus had other brothers and sisters, so Mary still had a family at home and had to care and provide for them. When Jesus reached the age of thirty years, his mother watched him going about his ‘Father’s business.’ Like countless other mothers throughout the ages, Mary probably fussed and worried over her eldest son, although now an adult, she perhaps saw in his face a constant weariness and exhaustion. The dedication he gave to his Father’s service was intense and ongoing and no doubt this caring mother often longed just to sit quietly with him and wait upon his needs. But Jesus was never fully hers, in the sense that he was the Son of God and had come into the world to perform a difficult and painful task.
This building found at old Nazareth, occupies the ancient site of a synagogue, possibly where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah. [See Luke 4.16]
We are not told in Scripture when Mary died, but she now rests in the grave just as her ancestor, King David, does. One day soon her son, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to the earth as he promised. [Matthew 24.27] When Jesus raises Mary up from her long sleep, she will hope to see that ‘smile of welcome’ that all of God’s faithful servants long to see and then be ushered into an everlasting Kingdom by her Messiah. Possibly she will recall those beautiful words so full of praise and joy, uttered long ago to her cousin Elisabeth, when she realised that she was to bring forth the Christ, the King of Israel: ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.’ [Luke 1.46,47] In God’s Kingdom on earth, she will indeed magnify the Lord for the ages of eternity and her joy likewise, will continue forever.