Some seven centuries before the birth of Christ, Isaiah prophesied that a certain “virgin” would conceive and bear a son whose name would be called “Immanuel,” an expression which would suggest, “God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14).
The name was symbolic, reflecting what the Person would be, not what his proper name would be called (Matthew 1:21). The inspired Matthew informs us that Isaiah’s prophetic utterance was “fulfilled” in the birth of Jesus to a virgin named Mary (1:18-25).
It is estimated that the population of Palestine in the first century was around 500,000. If a reasonable proportion were female, Mary must have been very special to be chosen as the mother of the Messiah. We do not know the maiden’s age at the time of her betrothal to Joseph, but she was eligible for marriage by her own choice at the age of thirteen.
One may necessarily infer, by her divine selection, that she was an exceedingly devout young lady. She was virtuous, having never been promiscuous (Luke 1:27, 34), even in an age when morality was scarce, among both Gentiles and Jews (cf. Romans, chapters 1, 2). Moreover, she was “highly favored,” having been selected to be the mother of the world’s Savior. Luke says God was “with her” (v. 28).
Though she surely was puzzled at what was happening to her (v. 34), she nonetheless exclaimed: “Behold, the handmaid [slave] of the Lord; let it be unto me as according to your word” (v. 38). She had forfeited her personal “rights” in the interest of a divine plan, wholly surrendering to the Father’s will. And what a courageous act it was, for pregnancy in a betrothed woman was considered adultery, and might well have resulted in a death sentence (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).
Moreover, Mary went to visit her kinsman, Elizabeth, who was married to Zacharias, a priest (Luke 1:39-40). Zacharias could have prosecuted her alleged “crime.”
Finally, Mary’s anthem of exultation (vv. 46-55), overflowing with Old Testament phraseology (some suggest more than twenty passages woven into a marvelous tapestry of praise), reveals the depth of her scriptural knowledge, and the devotion she had for her Creator. She had “stored up” divine revelation in the treasury of her heart (Psalm 119:11).
The Brevity of Data
In contrast to the reckless and inordinate adoration paid to Mary in the ritualism of Roman Catholicism, it is surprising how sparse the New Testament narrative is concerning this godly maiden.
There are the events connected with Jesus’ birth and infancy (Luke 1:26ff; 2:1-39). Joseph and Mary endured a journey to Egypt (some 150 miles) to protect the infant from the brutal king, Herod the Great (Matthew 2:13ff).
There was the incident in the Jerusalem temple when the Lord was twelve, tending to “my Father’s business” (Luke 2:41-51) — the first recorded indication of his awareness of a unique relationship to God the Father.
There was Mary’s presumptive interaction with her son at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1ff). She and Jesus’ half-brothers attempted to interrupt him during a busy preaching session (Matthew 12:46ff).
Mary was at the cross at the time of her son’s crucifixion (John 19:25ff).
Finally, she was in the upper room following Christ’s ascension, as noted by the inspired historian Luke (Acts 1:14).
We now must call attention to the following omissions from the biblical text, that have become so popular in the culture of Roman Catholicism.
- There is no command or example for any veneration of Mary.
- There is no allusion to her as a Mediatrix (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5), as a “Co-Redeemer” with Christ, or as being worthy of prayer as the “mother of God.”
- There is no evidence of the doctrine of Mary’s “immaculate conception,” prior to her birth, thus escaping the alleged “guilt” of “original sin,” as taught in that erroneous dogma (cf. 2 Kings 14:6; Ezekiel 18:20).
- The theory that Mary remained a perpetual virgin is contradicted by New Testament data (Matthew 12:46ff; 13:55).
- There is no testimony that Mary’s body was taken into heaven a few days after her death, as Romanism contends.
The Lord’s Supper
Before we return to Mary, consider this. The night before his death, Jesus instituted the communion supper (Matthew 26:26ff; Mark 14:22ff; Luke 22:19ff). Bread and fruit of the vine were appointed to commemorate Christ’s body and blood in weekly assemblies of the church (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16).
In Paul’s discussion of this matter (1 Corinthians 11:23ff), he emphasized the importance of having one’s mind riveted on the meaning of the Lord’s death as he participates in this memorial ceremony. The Christian must commune with “discernment,” as to the historical reality behind the bread and fruit of the vine in their relation to the Savior’s body and blood; otherwise, he partakes unworthily and comes under strong condemnation (vv. 27-29).
As noted earlier, Mary was present with the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem, forty days after the Lord’s death, and ten days before Pentecost. The church was established on Pentecost Sunday (cf. Leviticus 23:15-21), ten days after the events mentioned in Acts 1:12-14.
At some point on that Lord’s day, the disciples observed the communion supper. Luke records:
“they continued steadfastly” in the apostolic teaching, fellowship, prayers, and “the breaking of the bread” (v. 42).
That this is an allusion to the communion memorial (“bread,” by a figure of speech, standing for the entire supper) has been the prevailing view of scholars in both ancient and modern times.
It is a reasonable inference that Mary was in that assembly, and that she reflected (surely in a way no others did) upon the body and blood of her son. Upon what did she meditate? It is nothing short of thrilling to mentally imagine the possibilities.
A Mother’s Emotions
No modern mind can imagine a young woman’s perplexity and emotional turmoil who is informed that she is to bear a child as a virgin.
On top of that, Mary was told that her child would be the Son of God, that he would occupy “the throne” of his ancestor, David. He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom would be endless (Luke 1:32-33). Her mind must have been whirling.
It surely is an important example of literary restraint when Luke writes:
“But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart” (2:19).
The term “pondering” (literally meaning to “throw together”) suggests that the information tumbled into her mind and she struggled to assimilate it.
Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary brought their baby to Jerusalem to “present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22ff). They met the noble Simeon in the temple complex, who prophesied of the divine ministry of the Savior. The Hebrew couple “marveled” at the report, and doubtless puzzled over the prediction that their baby would precipitate the “falling and rising of many” (depending upon their responses to the Messiah).
Then, for the first time, there was the ominous hint of the child’s ultimate violent death. Mary was told: “a sword shall pierce through your own soul” (v. 35), just as an instrument of death would be thrust into the literal side of the Savior (John 19:34). The most joyous event in human history was to be turned into the greatest heartache any mother has ever known.
A dozen years go by and the child grows. It was a delight to watch her perfect son begin to mature, in both body and mind. Surely there must have been unusual parental musings along the way.
There was the incident when Jesus tarried behind after his family attended Passover (Luke 2:41ff). They discovered the lad discoursing with the teachers of the law — listening, asking questions, even amazing others with his “answers.” Joseph and Mary were astonished; again there is that pensive comment, “his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (v. 51).
Unquestionably Mary’s thoughts on that Pentecost Sunday, as she reflected regarding the body and blood of her son, were more vivid, manifold, personal, and emotional than anything we ever have entertained. It would be interesting to try to put ourselves in her place, as much as is possible, in an impossible situation.
As she ate of the communion bread, with her knowledge of scripture might not she have rehearsed some of the Old Testament passages that foretold the events of the incarnation?
One wonders, for example, whether she might have reflected upon the text from Psalm 40:6, which, in the common Greek Bible (Septuagint) of the day, read: “a body you did prepare for me.” The text is even rendered that way in Hebrews 10:5b, a document addressed to Jewish people!
Had she recalled these words when she first felt the movement of that little body within her womb? In turning the pages of her past in memory, did she vividly recall the first glimpse of her newborn’s face? Did precious memories linger, of a little hand clutching her finger? And what of tiny tears coursing her child’s cheeks? Or a strong young man working in a carpenter’s shop?
And most vividly, she doubtless was unable to dismiss the images of her Lord’s bruised face and the massive wounds carving up his back (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24), as he agonizingly was positioned upon the cross. And this to save his mother’s soul from the consequences of her sins (cf. Luke 1:47).
Whatever it was to others — both then and now — his sacrifice was infinitely more personal to Mary!
When she drank of the fruit of the vine, perhaps her mind wandered back to those Old Testament texts foreshadowing the pouring out of his blood. He was the fulfillment of the Passover lamb whose blood was shed on the 14th day of the first Hebrew month (Exodus 12:1ff; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7b).
A thousand years before his birth a prophet had declared that his hands and his feet would be “pierced” (Psalm 22:16b). Zechariah spoke of the “fountain” that would be “opened ... for sin and uncleanness” (13:1).
When Mary kissed away her tiny baby’s tears, could she have imagined the face, bathed in blood and tears, that she would see a third of a century later (Matthew 27:29; Hebrews 5:7)? When she swallowed the juice, did she review the sight of the spear plunging deep into her Savior’s side?
One can scarcely imagine that this godly mother of our Lord was able to partake of the communion that day, or perhaps any time thereafter, without a fountain of tears springing from memories of bygone years, along with a heart that throbbed with eternal gratitude.
We do not worship Mary! Nor should anyone. We cannot, however, but be thankful for this lovely mother of our Savior. A mother whose agony was rivaled only by her courage.
There is no hint that at the cross she fainted, or that she had to be forcibly removed from the gruesome scene. What a woman she was! How we long to know more about her remaining years.
But, as was usual, the Spirit of God did not satisfy human curiosity with irrelevant information. This is but one of the many evidences of the Gospel records’ sacred origin.