Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an inspiring character. For good reason, women throughout this New Testament age have looked to her as a shining example of selfless obedience and of faith. But to get the full impact of her testimony, I think it’s important to look, not just at the honor of her position, but also at the great sorrow that came with her calling. Mary’s heart went through the gamete of highs an lows, filled with both treasures and sorrows. The favor she found in the eyes of God did not bring her a life of ease.
But the reality is, anyone who chooses to offer herself in obedience to God’s call can expect the same! Is it worth it? Do we think Mary regretted her choices?
Let’s see what the Bible has to say, and ask God to use our study to help us put into perspective the trials we’re called to endure in His Name. As we weigh the cost of our own obedience, may He help us understand that a pain-free life is not the marker of His favor. In fact, the very opposite might be true! May He bring us out fully committed to His will, no matter the cost!
Mary’s Heart Found Favor with God
What comes to mind when you think of Mary before she became the mother of Christ? I think most of us assume she was a godly young lady, but the Bible doesn’t tell us much about the details of her life before that day Gabrielle showed up. We’re simply told she was a virgin, and that she was engaged to a man named Joseph, who the Bible tells us was a righteous man. (Matthew 1)
But when Gabriel does show up, we learn a little more.
Luke 1:28-30 – Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!“
The text doesn’t give us the reason for the favor just yet, but a few paragraphs later, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uttered these words, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said.”
Mary’s heart was a heart full of faith in God.
We can see it in the way she responded to the angel, offering herself to the Lord’s plan without hesitation. It is evident, also, in the few interactions we have recorded of her life, and by the fact that a man of faith like Joseph would have chosen her as his wife.
In Hebrews, we’re told without faith it is impossible to please God. And also that He rewards those who believe Him, and earnestly seek Him. Mary did believe God, and seek Him with all her heart, and because of her faith, she found favor with God.
God’s Favor Did Not Exempt Mary’s Heart from Pain
Of course, it is not a stretch, from our vantage point, to see that Mary was favored by God. The great honor she was given is easy to recognize – selected from all the women throughout time to mother the Savior of the world! But what about the trials that came with that magnificent calling? We can not pretend the job Mary was asked to do was an easy one. It certainly was not.
I imagine as Mary lived her story she must have sometimes questioned God’s favor, as I occasionally do. Surely she felt that God’s plan often seems strange and maybe even a little unfair. After all, it’s hard to see the big picture from inside each of our stories. Mary had great faith, but she was still a flawed human woman in need of a Savior.
Joseph and Mary’s Back-Story
- Both Mary and Joseph were members of the tribe of Judah and descendants of King David. It’s also likely that Mary had some ancestry in the tribe of Levi, since we know Elizabeth was her cousin. They had a noble and proud heritage, and their families were likely well respected in their communities.
- Mary and Joseph were people of integrity and character – well versed in Scripture and obedient to God. They would have had impeccable reputations, which was likely why they were chosen for each other.
- They were betrothed. (or engaged) A relationship which, in that time, would have been arranged and was contractually binding, requiring a legal divorce to terminate. To become pregnant during this time, though not unheard of, would have been a great disgrace to the family.
- To become pregnant during this time by someone other than Joseph would have been considered adultery on Mary’s part. This sin was punishable by death, though divorce and public humiliation were a more common practice.
- After Mary found out that she would become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth and stayed with her for 3 months.
- Mary didn’t tell Joseph she was pregnant until she returned home from this stay with Elizabeth. (She would have been 3 months along by then)
- After the angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife anyway, He married her the next day.
The Implications of the Facts
Based on those facts, we can assume that since Mary went to stay with Elizabeth for 3 months, by the time she got home and married Joseph it was too late for there to be any appearance of propriety in their situation. Jesus would have been born after they had been married for only 6 months.
The people could do the math. The assumption would be Mary had either been unfaithful to Joseph, or the two had been intimate outside of wedlock. The baby she carried would have been a disgrace either way.
Joseph chose to marry her in spite of the pregnancy, which suggested to the rest of the world that the baby was his. So, the marriage would have brought shame on both their families.
The Questions Raised by God’s Plan
Gabriel could have appeared to Joseph right away. The two could have been married right at the beginning of the pregnancy, erasing any appearance of impurity. So it’s hard to understand why God’s plan demanded they wait three months.
Why was Mary asked to endure the shame of a sullied reputation for the rest of her life simply because she agreed to carry and give birth to the Messiah? It doesn’t seem fair. Does it?
The Obedience of Mary’s Heart
And yet, the Bible records no objections from Mary. Before she even knew how Joseph would respond, she humbly conveys her willingness to do whatever is asked of her. Without question.
Luke 1:38 – Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Obedience to God is Costly
It would be nice if the difficulties of Mary’s story ended once Joseph believed Gabriel, and took Mary as his wife. I want to tell you the worst things she suffered were the smug, disapproving looks of friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, raising the Son of God wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
Life for Mary and Joseph was one strange occurrence after another. From giving birth in a stable, to fleeing to Egypt in the dead of night, to believing they’d lost the Son of God in a crowd, the early years of Jesus’s life were anything but ordinary.
Still, as Mary observed each event the Bible records her continued obedience and humility with these words, “His mother treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”Life for Mary and Joseph was one strange occurrence after another. Still, they continued in obedience and humility as Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. Click To Tweet
Mary’s Life of Hardship
History tells us Joseph died shortly after that. Left as a young widow, Mary had no small challenge caring for and raising Jesus and the rest of her children with Joseph all on her own.
As Jesus’s earthly ministry began, Scripture reveals Mary always believed He was the Messiah, but her other children did not. Navigating those complicated relationships, all while watching and listening as the people of their hometown rejected her son (believing Him to be, at best, a lunatic, and at worst, a blasphemer and a devil), no doubt, broke her heart.
Worst of all, she had to stand by and watch as her precious Son, the One she knew was God became flesh, was tried, convicted, beaten, and killed. All while knowing it was for her sins, too, that He hung on that cross.
The fact is, things never got easier for Mary. I’m sure Jesus’s resurrection brought her joy, but it didn’t erase the pain of her life. There was significant persecution for those who chose to believe in and follow Jesus after His ascension.
Mary saw her other children, who had previously rejected their brother’s Lordship, become believers, and then lose their lives as some of the earliest Christian martyrs. Her life serves as a testimony that the favor of God often does not result in a life of ease and comfort.
I Will Not Offer to God what Cost Me Nothing
Simeon the prophet warned Mary, days after Jesus was born, that her calling wasn’t going to be easy.
Luke 2:34-35 – Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Still, the attitude of Mary’s heart continually echoed her words to Gabrielle, despite the warning from Simeon.
Her obedience reminds me of the words of David in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.”
Mary seemed to understand at least a little bit about a life offered up as a sacrifice to God. Aware that it would cost her greatly, the faith that brought her God’s favor in the first place reassured her that God’s plans were good, even when they hurt.
Will We Choose to Follow the Example of Mary’s Heart?
What can we learn from the attitude of Mary’s heart? Perhaps that our stories are part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that the pain we endure is not an indication of God’s displeasure.
Mary’s pain brought about the chance for people everywhere to be saved! Our pain may end up being the catalyst to the redemption of many others as well.
What if Mary had said no? What if she had rejected the opportunity to be the mother of the Lord because the cost was too great? She may have had a much easier life. But, she would have missed out on being a critical part of the greatest story ever told! And in so doing, she would have missed out on God’s best for her, too. When it was all said and done, I seriously doubt she would have chosen any other role, even knowing the trials.
When I reflect on that truth, I’m able to see my own trials and heartaches through a different lens. I realize, I want to be willing to endure anything in order to play the part God has chosen for me in His magnificent saga! It is my desire for my life to be an offering to Him, and I don’t want to consider the cost, no matter how high, too great to pay. Just like Mary’s heart, I want my heart to be filled with faith. I want my faith to be pleasing to Him, and to draw His favor.
Most of all, I want to treasure in my heart each moment of my life, as I acknowledge that God is clearly working! I want to ponder them there, as Mary did, choosing to trust God’s sovereignty.
How about you? Will you dare to believe in His plan? Will you offer yourself in humility as a servant to His will? Oh, I hope so friend. For if you do, you will surely look back one day with sincere gratitude coupled with the awe and wonder of a life lived in His favor!
***Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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