MARY OF NAZARETH, MOTHER OF JESUS
Scripture references: Matthew 1; 2; 12:46–50; 13:55; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 1; 2; 8:19, 20; John 2:1–11; 7:5; 19:25–27; Acts 1:14. See also pages 163–64. Bible Search Tool
Date: 5 b.c.
Name: Mary [in the Hebrew “Miriam”, meaning “rebellion”]
Main contribution: Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Savior.
When Mary was a teenager betrothed to a man named Joseph, the angel Gabriel announced to her that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the promised Messiah. Mary responded with simple faith, accepting the privileged role despite the fact that her pregnancy would seem to Joseph to mark unfaithfulness and might mark her as a harlot in her community. God guarded Mary’s reputation and sent the angel to speak to Joseph. It is interesting to note that although her name means “rebellion”, she was faithfully obedient to the Lord.
Mary and Joseph were wed, but they had no sexual relations until after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Many unusual events were associated with that birth. Mary remembered and treasured these events. During the thirty years Jesus lived with the family and carried on Joseph’s trade, Mary and Joseph provided a home and a number of brothers and sisters for Jesus. While Mary had confidence in her oldest Son, when Jesus began His public ministry, Mary and the rest of her family were puzzled and uncertain. Certainly Mary was devastated when Christ was crucified; her heart must have been broken as she stood nearby and watched His sufferings at Calvary. Yet Mary, perhaps more than any other, was thrilled at Jesus’ resurrection. The last mention of Mary in the Bible pictures her with other believers. They were praying in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Some mistakenly cast Mary as the “mother of God.” She was indeed the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. However, God the Son existed from eternity; Mary was the source only of Jesus’ human nature. However, we should always remember Mary as a truly remarkable woman; her faith and faithfulness set an example for us all.
Mary’s relationship with God (Luke 1:26–38; 46–55). Bible Search Tool Mary’s relationship with God is beautifully portrayed in the account of Gabriel’s visit to her and in Mary’s psalm of praise known as the Magnificat.
Mary’s humility (1:26–30). Gabriel’s greeting troubled Mary. Mary was not frightened at the appearance of the mighty angel; she was troubled at the “manner of greeting” (v. 29). What Gabriel had said was, “ ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ ” (v. 28).
Mary had never thought of herself as special. She was simply a young Jewish girl, probably about thirteen to fifteen years of age—the typical age for betrothal in first-century Galilee. She worshiped God, as did her family and friends in the little town of Nazareth. But “ ‘highly favored’ ” and “ ‘blessed . . . among women’ ”? She would not have used words like that to describe herself. Like Moses, Mary could be described as “very humble” (see Num. 12:3). The humility it had taken Moses some eighty years to achieve was native to the young Jewish girl. Later she would describe herself as the “ ‘maidservant of the Lord’ ” (Luke 1:38). Mary simply saw herself as a person who loved God and who was privileged to serve Him any way she could. To her pure mind this hardly made her special; every human being owed that to the Creator.
Mary’s calling (1:31–33). Bible Search Tool Gabriel explained the role that God’s favor had decreed for Mary:
• She would conceive and bring forth a Son.
• She would name her Son Jesus [“Savior”].
• Her Son would be great.
• Her Son would be “ ‘the Son of the Highest’ ” [that is, God].
• God would give Him the throne of David.
• Her Son would reign over Israel forever.
• Her Son’s kingdom would never end.
God would grant Mary what all pious Jewish women desired: to be the mother of the promised Messiah!
Mary’s question (1:34–37). Bible Search Tool We can measure the depth of Mary’s faith by the question she asked—and the questions she did not ask.
The question Mary asked was a natural one. How could she have a child since she had never had sexual relations with a man? The question arose out of curiosity, not doubt. And the angel answered her:
“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 will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Bible Search Tool
What is significant is not so much the question Mary did ask, but the questions she didn’t ask. Questions like: “But, what will Joseph think?” “What will people think of me when I’m found to be pregnant?” “But, what about the disgrace? What will happen to me?”
These questions, so natural under the circumstances, never crossed Mary’s mind. Or, if they did, she quickly dismissed them, and instead accepted God’s will: “ ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ ” (1:38).
Mary’s Magnificat (1:46–55). Bible Search Tool Luke records a magnificent praise poem that gives further insights into Mary’s relationship with God. In it we see her joy at the opportunity she had been given to magnify God’s name, her recitation of praise to Him for His attributes and His actions on Israel’s behalf. Most significantly, we see her focus on the covenant God made with Abraham as the foundation of His faithfulness to His people. Mary’s faith was not based on emotion but on knowledge of God’s purposes and confidence in God’s faithfulness. Mary not only trusted God; she knew God well.
Mary’s relationship with Joseph (Matt. 1:18–25; 13:55). Bible Search Tool We know little about Mary and Joseph’s relationship. Tradition suggests that Joseph was older than Mary, and from what we know of the marriage practices in first-century Judaism, this seems likely. Quite frequently young girls were betrothed to older men who had established themselves as able to support a family.
We also know that Joseph died before Mary, and probably before Jesus began His public ministry. Matthew 13:55 calls Jesus ‘ “the carpenter’s son,” ’ while Mark 6:3 quotes some of Jesus’ neighbors calling Him “the carpenter, the Son of Mary.” As eldest Son, Jesus would have learned His father’s trade, and when Joseph died, He would have taken his place as “the carpenter.”
We know other things about Joseph and Mary’s relationship. Matthew tells us that when Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, he considered a private divorce. Joseph was sensitive and fair. Although he must have been hurt by Mary’s supposed unfaithfulness, Joseph was not vindictive. A quiet, private voiding of the marriage contract into which he had entered with Mary’s father might offer Mary some protection from gossip and proscription. Joseph was also a man of faith. When an angel told Joseph that Mary had not been unfaithful, Joseph listened and went ahead with the wedding.
Joseph gave no thought to his personal reputation or the fact that the community might conclude that he and Mary had had sexual relations before the marriage. Joseph loved and trusted God and was willing to obey Him. In this vital quality, Joseph and Mary, despite any disparity in age, were well matched.
Their relationship produced a large number of additional children. Matthew specifically mentions four brothers—James, Joses, Simon, and Judas—and an unspecified number of sisters (Matt. 13:55; see also John 7:3–5). Mary had a healthy and normal relationship with Joseph. Together they provided an ideal home for Jesus and their other children.
Mary’s relationship with Jesus (Luke 2:33, 51; John 2:2–5; Mark 3:31–35). Bible Search Tool Despite the early evidence that Jesus was indeed special, the Gospels suggest that Christ grew up as such a “normal” child that even Mary’s vision of His identity was clouded.
Mary’s relationship with the child Jesus (Luke 2:41–51). Bible Search Tool While the apocryphal books tell imaginative tales of miracles supposedly performed by Jesus as a child, the Scriptures draw a curtain across Jesus’ childhood years. Luke gives us our only glimpse into Christ’s childhood. Luke relates a visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve. There the young Jesus amazed aged scholars with His insights into Scripture and was so engaged in His discussions that He missed the family caravan back to Nazareth. Later, when His parents found Him, Mary rebuked Jesus: “ ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously’ ” (Luke 2:48). Jesus responded, “ ‘Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ ” (Luke 2:49). While Jesus was aware of His identity and mission, Mary seemed unaware.
Luke concluded his remarks by saying that “then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). Jesus lived the life of a normal, growing boy. That Jesus was so normal a child in her large family must have led Mary to treat Jesus with the same love and discipline as her other sons and daughters.
Mary’s relationship with Jesus changes (John 2:1–5). Bible Search Tool Jesus’ baptism by John and His identification as God’s Son initiated a significant change in Jesus’ life. He had lived in Nazareth and followed Joseph’s trade as a carpenter. At some point Joseph had died, and it was Jesus’ responsibility—along with His brothers—to care for their widowed mother.
On the way back to Galilee after His baptism, Jesus stopped to share in a wedding celebration incant. When the wine ran out, Mary found Jesus and reported, “ ‘They have no wine’ ” (John 2:3). Jesus’ responded in words that must have shocked Mary. Jesus addressed her as “ ‘woman,’ ” and added the Greek phrase that means literally “ ‘what to me and to you.’ ” This is an ambiguous phrase, but one that clearly implies separation.
Mary asserts her trust in her son’s obedience to her (as per the 10 Commandments), but also asserts the fact that she knows that Jesus must make His Own decisions now, and says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (2:5). Jesus is now subject to the Father alone, and because of that, all humankind is subject to Christ as Lord (p. 221).
Mary fails to understand (Matt. 12:46–50; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21). Bible Search Tool Each of the synoptic Gospels notes that shortly after Jesus’ opponents have charged him with being either mad or in league with Satan that “His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him” (Mark 3:31). Clearly this was a family delegation, coming with the intent not of listening to Jesus but of speaking to Him. The context is important, for they came at the moment when opposition to Jesus was becoming open. It is also important to remember that long after this time “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5).
Why had the family delegation come? They had come to counsel this Son and Brother who was stirring up the countryside. They had come to try to calm Jesus— and probably to urge Him to be less controversial!
Jesus’ response clearly fits this interpretation and makes an important point. Jesus did not go out to meet with His family. Instead He asked, “ ‘Who is My mother, or My brothers?’ ” (Mark 3:33). Looking at those around Him, Jesus then answered His own question: “ ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother’ ” (Mark 3:34, 35). Bible Search Tool Any human being can have a family relationship with Jesus, but that relationship can only be established by putting that trust in the Savior that God requires.
As sensitive and responsive to God as Mary was, she was puzzled by Jesus’ ministry and uncertain about what He was doing. Mary’s confusion was not due to any lack of faith. However, Jesus’ ministry did not conform to any of what the “teachers” of the Law had been saying. He did not come as the conquering Messiah who would destroy the Romans and establish His earthly throne (with the priests and Pharisees in important positions).
Mary among the disciples (John 19:25–27; Acts 1:14). Bible Search Tool We next meet Mary standing near the cross with women friends and John the disciple. We cannot imagine Mary’s pain during those bitter hours. What happened reveals Jesus’ special concern for His mother.
As he hung on the cross Jesus took note of Mary and John. Fixing his gaze on Mary, Jesus nodded toward John and said, “ ‘Woman, behold your son’ ” (John 19:26). And then gazing at John, he nodded toward Mary, saying, “ ‘Behold your mother!’ ” John understood Jesus’ request, and “from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:27). Despite Christ’s earlier statement about family relationships, He did honor His mother, and make sure to provide for her, even as He was on the Cross.
Only after the resurrection shed its light on Jesus’ mission and His essential nature as God’s Son did Mary fully and completely believe in her Son. The last mention of Mary in the New Testament pictures “Mary the mother of Jesus” with His brothers (Acts 1:14) meeting with the disciples, praying to the One with whom they had been so familiar but never truly known.
The relationship between Mary and Jesus was complicated by the fact that although Jesus was God the Son He lived in this world as a true human being. He grew up as a child subject to His parents. At thirty He set out on a course the direction of which neither Mary nor Jesus’ brothers could understand. Only after His death and resurrection did the family finally understand that the Son and Brother who had lived among them was indeed God incarnate. Then, and only then, did all become clear, and Jesus’ earthly family worshiped Him.
MARY: AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY
• Every believer should have a faith similar to Mary’s. Each day we should pray, “ ‘Behold the [servant] of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ ” (Luke 1:38). Bible Search Tool This is a simple prayer of faith and submission to God’s will.
• Mary valued her commitment to God far above others’ opinions. Rather than hesitate to accept the angel’s commission because of what others might think, she chose God’s will. It is not what people think of us that counts but God’s assessment.
• Even Mary did not understand fully the import of Jesus’ teachings. She had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit and visited by an angel telling her to name her son “Jesus” (Savior). She had also been told that the “Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). So it shouldn’t surprise us if we don’t understand the plan God has for our children and us.
• Mary’s life reveals meditative wisdom. Mary remembered the wise men’s words and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). After finding the boy Jesus in the temple debating with the sages, Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (v. 51). There are special incidents that we may not fully understand, but, like Mary, we should store them in our hearts until God provides further insights.
• Mary kept herself sexually pure. Before marriage, in fact until after the birth of Jesus, Mary had no sexual relations with her husband. She continued to be a faithful wife to Joseph and a celibate widow after her husband’s death. God’s best plan for every man and woman is to live a sexually pure life within the context of God’s Word and teachings.