The story of Mary is one that we have heard over and over, how she humbled herself before the Lord, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and bore us the Messiah. May her name be praised! Francine Rivers takes this story and tells it in a more intimate way, opening to us the struggles Mary endured because she was the mother of Jesus, the Christ. Even before she was visited by the Angel of the Lord, Mary was constantly on her knees, joining many others in prayer, asking for God to send them the long-awaited Messiah. In addition, she asked God to make her a woman pleasing to Him, at the time she was already betrothed to Joseph the carpenter;
“‘Oh, Lord, when will you send us a deliverer? Rescue us from the foreign oppressors who carry golden idols, arrogantly proclaiming their capricious emperor a god!’… ‘Oh Lord God of Israel, I don’t understand these things. Is it wrong to want to belong to you? My soul longs for you. Help me to be obedient, to be a proper wife to Joseph, for you are sovereign and must have chosen this man for me. Make me a woman after your own heart. Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.’”
And so when the angel visited her, amidst the thoughts of doubt that crossed her mind, she fought them, did not allow them to weigh her down, she humbly accepted and surrendered herself wholly to be used as a vessel to bring the Messiah to the world. She put all her trust in the word God had sent through his angel and waited for His glory to be shown. And yes, she waited in complete trust, sure, that everything will be alright. When Joseph found out she was with child he thought the worst of her, but Mary kept assuring him, for she knew what was happening, she trusted God and so she kept saying to Joseph;
“‘You will believe, Joseph…You will, I know you will.’”
And in spite of the fact that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph as well, people talked. They could not begin to imagine that a peasant girl would be chosen to bear the Messiah; the king who had been promised them, to come save them from oppression. But Mary and Joseph, after getting married, both put their trust in God. He was going to see them through.
Mary’s humility is one most significant quality. She knew she was carrying the Messiah, but she remained submissive to her husband and obeyed him. The prophecy said the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, which meant, when time for the census came, she had to travel to Bethlehem with Joseph although she was almost due. Her mother did protest, and one would have thought Mary would protest too, but she knew what the prophecy had said and so she knew the part she had to play, and so in the face of the long, stressful journey, and pregnancy that was dangerously near full term, she went with her husband. She was positive that God will take care of them all;
“‘Will the Lord himself not watch over His own son? Has the Lord ever made a promise he did not keep?’”
And the answer is no. This reminds me of another book I read just recently; Men of the Bible by Dwight Lyman Moody, in which he said “If God has sent you to build the walls of Jerusalem, you go and you do it!” In other words, do not doubt your strength, or fear any obstacle, or question the reason for that duty handed to you. Trust the God who gave you that assignment and do it; wholeheartedly. Remember when Jonah tried to avoid the assignment God had given him to do? You remember what happened? (Read the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament to refresh your memory). God will never forsake you on the journey He has sent you on. Trust that.
The prophecy was fulfilled and Jesus was born in a manger, in Bethlehem. The story does not end there though. It goes right on to Jesus’ death and the resurrection, but what we see here is how Mary constantly had to keep herself in check. She never let herself be carried away too far by pride or by doubt. First of all, the people were expecting a revolution, the overthrow of Herod and the enthronement of the Christ. It was hard for them to grasp the fact that none of that was going to happen and that the king they had been promised was that of a different nature, who had come to teach them to love their neighbours and their enemies, their tormentors as well, one who came to teach to not repay evil with evil but with good, who told them to turn the other cheek when one was slapped, to forgive debtors and many other things they were not used to. Who was this usurping their king? Mary went through all those too. She had also thought her son will grow to take over the kingdom. And at moments when she felt that was about to happen, she almost let herself swell with pride;
“Her heart filled with pride as she stared down at Jesus. The men of Nazareth surrounded him and celebrated his first time reading the Torah before the congregation. It was a great and glorious day! The women around her pressed closer, congratulating her for such a fine son. ‘He reads so well, Mary… He has such dignity…’ One of the elders began to sing a song of celebration, and the other men joined in until the sound of their voices swelled deep and strong, and rising. ‘My son! My son!’ Mary stared down at Jesus…He looked straight at her, and she suddenly realized the directions of the thoughts…My son. My blood. My child will reign! Staring back at Jesus, she pressed cold hands to her burning cheeks. ‘Oh, Lord God of Israel, forgive me! Jesus is your son, He is a child of the Holy spirit. I am only the vessel to fulfill your promise.’”
She caught herself drifting and right there and then, asked for forgiveness. We all have our gifts, and sometimes we get carried away by the attention this makes us get. As a writer I understand this very well. To acknowledge that you are only a vessel and that God is the reason why you are who you are or do what you do, then you are doing it right. God must be given the glory due Him. To not do this, will be an act of ungratefulness. And this self-check that Mary did, was what saw her through all the hard times, when she had to finally accept that the son of Man was not going to fight back (although she knew he could do wonders). As she stood before Him, on the mount where He was nailed to the cross, she fought back the grief that threatened to break her down. She struggled to make sense of what was happening…she was in pain as her son cried out on the cross
“‘My God, my God,’ Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Mary covered her face, her body shaking with heart-wrenching sobs as her heart cried out the same question. ‘Why? Why?’ All His life, Jesus had fought and triumphed over sin. She had seen him fight the battles and win. And now, during her people’s most important celebration, her son’s blood was being spilled like that of a Passover lamb.’”
This very scene reminds me of a poem I wrote many months back after I first heard G.F. Handel’s “Surely He Was Wounded,” titled Passion.
In their hands
In a wondrous tale
That shapes me now
I shiver too
And she cries too
He was our Passover lamb indeed, and like the first Passover that delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, and the second, more private one that delivered Rahab death in Jericho, the grandest and final Passover was what was witnessed, with Christ’s crucifixion. He dipped the entire world in red, both Jew and gentile, so death lost its grip on humanity. Eternal damnation passed us over and now we are a free people, born anew. The intensity of this act is amazing! That he died, unto sin, for us, once! And now the grace has been gifted to us, that we no longer live under sin, but under his loving mercies, fit to be called children of God. And of cause, Mary played a major role.
What I learned from the woman Mary;
- Complete surrender
- Fighting spirit against sin
Stay tuned for my take on Grace.