Since August, we have been going through Luke’s Gospel exploring the various encounters people had with Jesus. I have found it most illuminating at the cross section of society who had profound encounters with Jesus. Sometimes it was their initiative to meet Jesus and sometimes it was at the initiative of Jesus. Prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, blind and lame encountered Jesus. So too did the rich, power, and religious.
And today we see yet another encounter to a good person who was a nobody in the eyes of the world.
Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ is a most wonderful woman. To be chosen to be the one to give birth to the Saviour of the world – to be the vehicle in which God will come into this world – surely, she was, as her cousin Elizabeth declared: “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42 NIV).
And the mystery around her still fires the imaginations of Christians. For example, if you were raised in a stanch Protestant family then you would know Mary as the mother of Jesus. If you were raised ion a Catholic home you were quite comfortable in calling her Mary – the Mother of God. Now Christians have varying views of Mary the mother of our Lord. We all believe that she was the chosen one but there are some distinctive beliefs held by some and not by others. I would like to define those.
For example, some believe in the Immaculate Conception. This is a teaching that says that Mary was free from actual sin. Augustine is the first notable theologian to declare that Mary was without any sin. This was put into the main teaching of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Pius IX pronounced and defined that Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
Another view is that Mary was miraculously transported, body and soul, to heaven by Jesus. It is called the bodily assumption. The earliest versions of this legend come from the later 4th century. The legend has no historical evidence, isn’t found in the Bible, and contrary to all writings of the first three centuries. But the “feast of Assumption” has long been observed by a number of Catholic churches and “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” was proclaimed a part of Roman Catholic dogma or teaching by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
Why are there differing views about this? If you were raised a Catholic you accepted these teachings. If you were raised a Protestant you didn’t except those things. Why do we have these differing theories? One of the reasons why is that we accept as final authority different things. Let me explain.
I need to take you back in history to the 16th century. There were the Catholics and the Protestants, although the Protestants were Catholic to. What they were were “protesting” Catholics. And sometimes from a distance we say that Catholics and Protestants have nothing in common. But this isn’t always so. We have so much in common!
Here at Reedy Creek Baptist we have that wonderful mixture of people whose backgrounds are Catholic, Protestants, Anglicans, Charismatic, no religion, even Churches of Christ! But we are united by the fact that we are Christians.
Sometimes though it helps to understand from where it all comes from. What happens is this: The Catholic Bible and Church law are accepted as the infallible guides in Catholicism. In Protestantism, it is the Bible alone. And so, to the Catholic, whatever is put into Church Law is accepted as continuing revelation from God. And so, when the Popes make some laws Catholics believe they are inspired by God like the Bible. Those teachings that I’ve just referred to about Mary – that she is the Mother of God, the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption those ideas all came from a definition of Church Law. Therefore, you have the Bible and Church Law.
When the ‘protesting’ started in the 16th century they were Catholic people to. They were Catholic Priests who said that we’ve strayed away from what Christianity was originally and that the Bible is the final authority. Therefore, today we find the Christian church teaches a variety of things about Mary and it really has to be what you accept as final authority. Now most of you would know that this church, made up of Christians from all backgrounds and some who are still checking out this Christianity thing, that we accept the Bible as the final authority. The only authoritative teaching we have is what is found in the Bible. Because we are from differing backgrounds we are not always going to agree on everything. When I grew up in Churches of Christ I used to hear this little saying:
In essentials unity
In non-essentials liberty
In all things love
When we are in a Bible Study group and an issue comes up, because we come from differing backgrounds we may disagree. That is ok. But the things we ask people to believe is that which is found in the Bible and so we at Reedy Creek Baptist have our statement of beliefs that we consider as essential.
And so today I want to go over what the Bible says about this person Mary – the mother of Jesus. It maybe said that Catholicism has made too much of Mary but it can also be said that Protestantism has not made enough of Mary. Can you imagine how special it was to be chosen to give birth to Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world?
If you have your Bibles please turn with me to our reading. The Angel Gabriel had another announcement to make. Some months after he had spoken with Zechariah, Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, and there appeared to a young engaged woman named Mary.
Like Zechariah, Mary was startled and deeply troubled at the angel’s appearance and his greeting. But, reassuring Mary of God’s love, the angel told her she would have a Son. This Child would be the “Son of the Most High God”, fulfilling the Old Testament promises. In this one Person, God and humanity would be perfectly blended. In this one Person, all the promises of God and all the purposes of God for humankind would be fulfilled.
The angel predicted five things about Mary’s Son (Jesus) in verses 32-33.
1. “He will be great” v32.
2. He “will be called the Son of the Most High” v32.
3. “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” v32.
4. “He will reign over Jacob's descendants forever” v33.
5. “his kingdom will never end” v33.
These five reasons alone were enough for the angel to say to those shepherds “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10 NIV).
Like Zechariah, Mary too asked a question. Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 NIV). There was to be no human father. The power of the Holy Spirit was to supernaturally conceive and the Child to be born would be God the Son (Luke 1:35).
To this explanation Mary had only one response: “I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
What a beautiful faith! This young girl, certainly still in her teens, probably may have been confused or scarred but she obeyed.
Mary’s faith-response is even more striking when we realize that, according to Old Testament Law, her pregnancy while still single might well be dealt with by stoning! And certainly, her fiancé, who would know the child was not his, would hardly go through with the marriage. Yet all these things Mary was willing to trust God to work out!
In time, hope filled Mary’s heart. And her praise song, known as the Magnificat (vv. 46-55), was filled with praise for God. What was Mary’s vision of God?
“mindful of the humble state of his servant” (v48)
[He] “has done great things” (v. 49).
“holy is his name” (v. 49).
“His mercy extends to those who fear him” (v50).
“He has performed mighty deeds” (v. 51).
[He] “has lifted up the humble” (v. 52).
“He has filled the hungry” (v. 53).
“He has helped his servant Israel” (v54).
Mary knew God as a God of power and a God of mercy, the One who cares enough for the humble and the hungry to reach down and to meet human need.
Perhaps this helps to explain Mary’s response to the Lord. She had a clear vision of who God is. She knew Him as a God who cares . . . who cares enough to act. May we each know God like this!
When God decided to select a mother for His Son, He went past the fashion clothes shops and beauty parlours. He went past the jewelry section of the markets displaying their diamonds and gold but instead went to an insignificant village called Nazareth. He found a peasant girl. She did not dress in designer clothes. She did not have a sophisticated education. But she was pure and God selected her to be the mother of His only Son.
In Luke 2 we are given a glimpse of the birth of Christ. Mary gave birth in a stable fit for animals. Shortly afterwards she was visited by the shepherds who came to worship Jesus. For Mary we are told in Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NIV). What an incredible young woman.
It was about 30-years later that we next hear about Mary. Jesus was beginning his ministry and was invited to attend a wedding in Canna. Mary must have had organised aspects for this wedding for when they ran out of wine she wanted Jesus to perform a miracle. At this time Jesus had found his disciples but wasn’t ready to let the world know who He is. This must have caused confusion for Mary.
Not long afterwards, as Jesus popularity grew because of his healings and miracles, crowds were flocking to see him. His family wanted to see him but the crowd was too big. And Jesus said some words about family that would have confused Mary even more.
About two years later, when Mary was in her 40s, she was with her son Jesus, this time at the cross watching Him die. John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus, while he was dying asking John to look after his mother Mary.
I can’t imagine what would have gone through Mary’s mind as she stood at the cross watch her son die? Can you? She knew that Christ was special. She knew that He was given to the world for a special reason. But the confusion that would have gripped her as she watched her son die. She would not have thoroughly understood that in a few days He would be raised back to life for the disciples didn’t really understand. And so she stood there trying to understand everything.
Today we stand on this side of the cross. We now know the whole story – from when Jesus was born in Bethlehem to the virgin Mary, to the great teacher and healer, to the Saviour who died on the cross.
And I cannot but help to think that Christmas only make sense when we see it in the light of Easter – the cross.
Today we stand on this side of the cross. We now know the whole story – from when Jesus was born in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary, to the great teacher and healer, to the Saviour who died on the cross.
And I cannot but help to think that Christmas only make sense when we see it in the light of Easter – the cross.
We are all from differing backgrounds. To Jesus, that doesn’t matter for He came for all people. He came for you. The question is, like Mary, do you say yes to God?
God sometimes seems to have a sense of humour when he calls us all to do things that seem a little strange and yet God has a plan in it all. And this is exactly what happened to Mary with the announcement that she will give birth to the Saviour of the world. What a concept she thought, particularly because she is a virgin. But God called her and she said yes. There was something about Mary!
God sometimes wants to take us down paths that we have never dreamt of. Are we willing to say yes? God sometimes calls us to do something for Him. Are we willing to say yes? God calls us to forgive those who hurt us. Are we willing to say yes to that command? God calls us to be baptised. Are we willing to say yes? God calls us to fully devote our lives to him. Are we willing to say yes?
Mary was faced with disgrace or worse, punishment. But God wanted her and she said yes.
God sometimes wants us to minister to others. In Acts 9 Saul was putting out murderous threats against the early Christians. The early church was afraid of people like Paul. They went to great lengths to find Christians and when found persecuted them.
As Paul was going was nearing Damascus on his way to get the Christians in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly appeared to him in a dramatic way. For three days Paul was blind by the bright light and he didn’t eat or drink.
While this was happening, Jesus appears to a man named Ananias. Jesus spoke to him and called him to do something that would require a lot of courage. Jesus called Ananias to go to a certain house in Damascus to find this Paul and pray for him.
Ananias was stunned to hear such a request. He reminded the Lord about Paul and the many reports about him and the harm he has done to Christians. God spoke back to Ananias and told him to go for this man is God chosen person to reach people for Him.
Ananias said yes and went. Imagine the courage and faith needed to face such a man like Paul. But Ananias went. Imagine the thumping of his heart, but God had called him and Ananias said yes. Here he was in this room with Paul. As instructed by God, he went over and placed his hands on Paul and prayed and then said that God had sent him so he may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then we are told that Paul was able to see again and then was baptised. Paul was converted. He was born again. Jesus had entered his life, thanks to the courageous Ananias who said yes to God.
God sometimes calls us to do things that seem unusual or even unfair in our eyes. He calls us to go, to forgive, to show grace, to minister, to do things for Him. Are we willing to say yes?
There was something about Mary. Despite the ridicule or at worse persecution, Mary in faith said yes to God.
May be this Christmas God is calling you to do things that doesn’t to make a lot of sense or even fair, but are you willing to yes to Him?