MARY ON A PEDESTAL
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 20, 2016
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
— Luke 1:26-45, ESV
Miriam never thought she would be famous, let alone leave a controversial legacy. She was, in the words of a song, “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.” All she wanted in her provincial Jewish life was to worship God, make her arranged marriage work, and have children who would fondly remember her after she was gone. While biding time before the wedding, however, her life took a dramatic turn.
Two thousand years later, everyone knows her name. She is called Mary, the Virgin Mary, sometimes even the Mother of God. Non-Christians generally respect her. Roman Catholics veritably worship her, pray to her, and iconify her in their sanctuaries. Protestants, perhaps embarrassed by the excesses of Catholicism, tend to downplay her role in redemptive history.
Today we shall put Mary where she belongs, on a pedestal! She is a bonafide heroine of the Christian faith, a wonderful model of devotion to God, and in the very words of the word of God, “Blessed … among women.” We will not worship her, for Scripture clearly commands us to worship God alone. We shall not pray to her as if she is our intercessor, for the Bible identifies another, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the one mediator between God and man. But we will admire her and acknowledge that through Mary, Christ and Christianity have come to us.
Mary Had an Audience with an Angel
Angels are mentioned about three hundred times in the Bible, and Bible-believing Christians believe in angels. I think there are millions of them roaming the highways between heaven and earth at all times. It is extremely rare, though, to recognize one, much less have an audience with an actual angel.
Only two are named in Scripture. Michael is mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation. Gabriel can also be found in Daniel, and we see him in Luke delivering the birth prophecies of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Gabriel who meets with Mary to announce God’s choice of her to play a most special role in the plan of salvation.
Mary is one of the infinitesimally small group of people on earth to have a definite encounter with an angel and live to tell about it. Gabriel appeared to her and spoke with her, personally, and the meeting shook Mary from her headdress to her sandals. This makes her special, worthy of putting on a pedestal, at least for the moment.
Mary Showed Purity in Her Virginity
The second thing we learn about Mary is more controversial. She is identified as a virgin. The term in Hebrew can admittedly mean either a young woman, or a woman who has had no sexual relations with a man. In olden days the two definitions were virtually synonymous, since young unmarried women did not have sex with men. Alas, times have changed.
But had they changed by Mary’s time? Critics of conservative Christianity who deny the miraculous claim the first definition for Mary, both in the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and the fulfillment narratives in Matthew and Luke. They claim she became pregnant out of wedlock and concocted the angelic story as a coverup. I, however, would rather take Mary and God at their word.
In the Greek language, only the latter definition of virgin will suffice. Furthermore, the context of the story reveals Mary’s own confession that conception for her would be impossible, since virginity in her case clearly meant she had never known a man. This is why Gabriel had to convince her that nothing is impossible for God, including conception for the barren Elizabeth and the virgin Mary.
Now let’s tackle the great virgin controversy, part two. After this promise was fulfilled and Mary gave birth to Jesus, she did not remain a perpetual virgin, as Catholic teaching suggests. Such a claim is a synchronism of Christianity and Greek mythology. Athena is fictional, Mary is real, and Scripture is clear that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had children in the normal, procreative way (ref. Matthew 1:25, 13:35; Mark 3:31; John 6:42).
But let’s keep Mary on the pedestal, please. Her pre-martial virginity makes her a model of obedience to God and resistance to temptation. It solidified her status as a believer, elevated her self-esteem, provided her with a precious gift to give to her husband, and put her in a position to be used by God in a spectacular way. Virginity today is highly underrated, so let us honor Mary for her purity and commitment.
Mary Was Chosen by God to Mother the Messiah
Angels and controversies aside, let’s go now to Mary and the gospel. Mary is special because her story is part and parcel of the gospel story. She is not the beginning, nor the end, but a monumentally important part in the middle.
Different Bible scholars identify over a hundred prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament. Among them are definitive predictions that the Messiah would be Jewish, from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David, and born to a virgin mother in Bethlehem. There stands Mary, on a pedestal, part and parcel of the fulfillment of all of these prophecies concerning the Savior of the world. How great is He, but how important is she! Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ!
Why did God choose Mary? It was by grace, as “found favor with God” mentioned by the angel Gabriel literally means, by the grace of God. What did Mary do in response to the grace of God? She had faith, she “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” What did grace through faith produce in Mary? Good works, of course, as she maintained her virginity, married a man who was also a descendant of David, gave birth to the Lord Jesus Christ, and stood by Him through storms of doubt all the way to the cross and beyond. Mary’s life is the gospel life, and for this we gladly put her on display.
Mary Was a Servant of the Lord
If Mary were here with us today, however, she would not want the pedestal. She did not think of herself as a great person of great power and great privilege. She though of herself in the normal way all true believers and followers of Jesus Christ should feel, like a servant.
Perhaps the most important thing said about Mary in this text is said by Mary herself, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What God was asking her to do was as terrifying as it was terrific. She would have to endure scorn and shame, doubt and ridicule, hardship and death threats, widowhood, and the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent, which is to have your child die before you do. Furthermore, consider the way her child died.
A boy and girl got two parts in the annual Christmas play, one as a shepherd and one as Mary. The boy said to the girl, “Being a shepherd is hard,” to which the girl replied, “Being a virgin is hard, too.” Keeping sexually pure in a sex-soaked world is hard, as is keeping the other commandments of God in an increasingly godless society. In this egocentric world it is hard to give up your will to the will of another, even if the other is God. But that is what servants do, that is what Christians do.
And, that is what Mary did. So keep her on the pedestal after all, and let her tell the world about Jesus.
Mary Shared the Good News
When you want to tell the world about Jesus, you should begin at home, with family and friends. Mary went running to Elizabeth, a relative, who had also been part of the good news given by Gabriel. The two women compared notes, caught up on family issues, and marveled at the gospel of God concerning John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is good news given to be shared.
Too many confessing Christians are not confessing Christ. Instead, we ought all to be on a pedestal. The world needs to hear, and the least we can do is tell our world. Our world consists of our relatives, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers. Like Mary, God has chosen us, not to keep Christ to ourselves, but to tell all we know to all the people we know.
Someone suggested that Mary is in Heaven now, probably tired of saints walking up to her and asking, “Mary, Did You Know?” Of course Mary knew, she knew before anyone else did. Mary knew she was special, and Mary knew she was normal. Mary knew she was chosen by God for a special purpose, as is every member of Christ’s church. The normal thing to do now is serve the Lord, like Mary did, especially by telling others the good news about Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org