THE EARTHLY MOTHER OF JESUS
by Timothy Cross
Sadly, Mary the mother of the Jesus is something of a controversial figure. The ‘cult of Mary’ which has grown up around her has no Scriptural warrant at all. There are those who worship and pray to the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary.’ This however is misguided at best and idolatrous at worst. Only God Himself is to be worshipped, and only the omnipresent God is able to hear our prayers. Mary was not and is not God. Mary also figures much in the artwork produced by Christendom. She has been variously portrayed both in painting and sculpture over the centuries. Scripture however gives us no indication as to her physical features, so such art is pure speculation - a representation by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:29).
Perhaps to avoid the above errors, Mary does not feature much in Protestant thinking at all, if at all. Yet Mary cannot be ignored totally, as she does figure in the Bible, and in the creeds and subordinate standards which seek to distil the message of the Bible. The ‘Apostles’ Creed’, for instance, reminds us that the Lord Jesus ‘was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary …’ We must then seek a Scriptural balance, and neither overplay nor underplay the significance of Mary in the saga of redemption.
What then does the Bible teach about Mary? The answer is ‘Not a great deal’, for the emphasis of the Bible is not on Mary but on Mary’s Son - that in everything He might be pre-eminent (Colossians 1:18). The following four points however give us a Scriptural perspective on Mary, the mother of Jesus:-
i. Mary’s Virginity
Mary’s main significance in the saga of redemption is that, of all the women in the world, Almighty God singled her out to have the honour of giving birth to His Son, the longed for Messiah and Saviour of the world. Scripture is adamant that Mary was still a virgin when Christ was conceived in her womb. At the time of Christ’s conception, Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, but was not actually married to Joseph. Scripture is clear that whilst Christ’s birth by Mary at Bethlehem was normal, His conception in Mary at Nazareth was not normal. His birth was natural, whereas His conception was supernatural:-
Christ the Son of God became man by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin (Shorter Catechism).
The eternal Son of God then entered the world supernaturally, just as he eventually exited from the world in a supernatural manner by ascending into heaven. The only way to explain Christ’s conception is by using the explanation which the angel Gabriel gave to Mary herself. Puzzled as to how she could conceive a child without a human father, the angel Gabriel explained to Mary ‘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’ (Luke 1:35).
The ‘virgin birth of Christ’ is one of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. It is vital, as Mary’s virginity is bound up with Christ’s impeccability - that is, His sinlessness. Had Christ been conceived by the instrumentality of a human father, such as Joseph, He would have been born a sinner, having inherited Adam’s sinful nature. And had Christ been born a sinner, He would not have been able to offer up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. Scripture however is clear. Christ had no human father. God was His Father. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and He thus had a sinless nature. He was like us, yet paradoxically unlike us, for He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), committed no sin (1 Peter 2:23) and in Him there is no sin ((1 John 3:5). Hence He alone was qualified and able to offer up His sinless life as an eternal and saving sacrifice like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19). The four ‘building bricks’ of Christ’s ‘virgin birth’, sinless life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection then are all apiece, and inextricably bound up with the Christian’s eternal salvation. Take one brick away, and the whole house falls down.
Mary then was a virgin when she conceived the Saviour. Her joy at being singled out by God for such an honour emitted from this godly young woman a peon of praise known as the ‘Magnificat.’ ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden …’ (Luke 1:46 ff.).
ii. Mary’s Normality
Her conception of Jesus apart, Scripture records that Mary was not untypical of the women who lived in Israel in that day. She married one Joseph, a carpenter by trade, and had several children by him (Mark 6:3). Mary thus knew the joys and trials of motherhood and family life. 1 Timothy 2:15 states woman will be saved through bearing children. The reference here is not to salvation from sin, but more to finding one’s true role and fulfilment in God’s world. The verse - contrary to modern feminism - suggests that womankind will find true happiness and fulfilment in motherhood - in cooperating with the way in which God has designed her - by bearing, birthing and bringing up children.
Luke 2 suggests that Mary was a devout Jewess, for there we see that she was regular in her attendance at the annual feasts of the Lord in Jerusalem, as laid down in the law of Moses. In John 2 we glimpse Mary’s attendance at a wedding celebration at Cana in Galilee. There she shared in the joy of the day, and also witnessed her Son’s first miracle of turning water into wine. Otherwise, Scripture is silent as to the details concerning Mary’s life and her rearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The suggestion is that she was widowed fairly young, as Joseph has no mention after Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem aged twelve, whereas Mary does.
The silence of Scripture apart, can we not employ sanctified imagination? In Luke 13,20,21, Jesus told a parable about a woman making bread. As a child, He surely witnessed His mother Mary doing this. In Luke 15:8 ff., Jesus told a parable about a woman who had lost a precious coin - probably the coin in question was a ‘nuptial coin’, worn as part of a headdress. The woman was almost frantic. She lit a lamp, swept her house and did not give up until she had found her precious coin … The vividness of the parable suggests that the Lord Jesus was relating an incident which really happened to make His point. Was the woman in the parable based on Mary His mother?
Scripture then records Mary’s normality. She was a mother of children. She worshipped God. Her life was bound up with both divine and family obligations.
iii. Mary’s Perplexity
When the infant Jesus was presented to the Lord by Mary and Joseph in the temple at Jerusalem, in obedience to the law of Moses, an aged man named Simeon was led by God’s Spirit to make a specific prophecy to Mary. Luke 2:34 ff. records Simeon … said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also … Simeon thus predicted that a sharp sword of sorrow would, in a coming day, break Mary’s heart very badly. Mary must have wondered what Simeon’s prophecy meant. Thirty three years later however she would know only too well.
Thirty three years later, Mary witnessed her beloved, first-born son suffer the most unimaginable cruelty possible. She witnessed cruel men taking Him, nailing Him to a plank of wood and hanging Him up to die. Crucifixion was the ultimate as regards public humiliation and personal excruciation. ‘A sword will pierce through your own soul also …’ The sword prophesied by Simeon did indeed pierce Mary’s soul without mercy, as John 19:25 records that standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and His mother’s sister … We cannot comprehend the sorrow, pain and perplexity of Mary’s heart as she witnessed the public crucifixion of her Son. Yet with our New Testament hindsight we know that the cross was no mere act of man but an act of God Himself. It was necessary for our redemption, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
Paradoxically, the cross of Christ - that which lies at the heart of the Christian Faith - is both terrible and wonderful, for if we belong to Jesus, we have salvation from His suffering, atonement from His agony and life by His death. Mary watched the indignity and cruelty of her Son’s death at Calvary. But Jesus was dying there to procure her salvation as much as He was dying there to procure the salvation of every one of God’s elect. Redemption was wrought at Calvary!
Jesus was slain for me - at Calvary
Crowned with thorns was He - at Calvary
There He in anguish died
There from His opened side
Poured forth the crimson tide
Pardoned is all my sin - at Calvary
Cleansed is my heart within - at Calvary
Now robes of praise I wear
Gone are my grief and care
Christ bore my burdens there
iv. Mary’s Christianity
Scripture records that Christ held His earthly mother in the highest esteem. The law of God commands Honour your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12). Jesus certainly did so. When He died at Calvary, all of God’s elect were on His heart. Yet this notwithstanding, He ensured that His earthly mother was well cared for, physically and emotionally. Whilst dying at Calvary, Jesus entrusted His mother to the care of the apostle John: When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26,27).
Go forward now three days to Easter Sunday. Witness Peter and John’s running to the tomb of Jesus. They found it was empty! The grave clothes lay there undisturbed. Christ had risen. He had defeated death and conquered the grave. John went in, and he saw and believed … Then the disciples went back to their homes (John 20:8,9). John then was one of the first witnesses to the fact of Christ’s resurrection. He saw and believed and then he went back to his home. Who was now resident in his home? Mary was! Mary the mother of Jesus was now under John’s care, so John had the joyful task of telling Mary that Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified … has risen (Mark 16:6). Scripture however is as silent as to Mary’s ecstatic joy as it was to her deepest sorrow.
Our final glimpse of Mary in the Bible is that of her being an ordinary - though no doubt highly valued - member of the Christian community which met together to worship their common Lord and Saviour. The early Christians in Jerusalem met in the upper room (Acts 1:13) - a place with so many sacred associations. Luke records that in that upper room, the early church with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers (Acts 1:14). From this we see that Mary had no special prominence in the church at all. The prominence given to Mary in later Christendom can only be described as an unscriptural aberration. The early church did not worship Mary, but rather joined Mary in worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary was just an ‘ordinary’ Christian - if any recipient of God’s saving grace in Christ can be described as ‘ordinary’ - for Mary was a sinner saved by grace, and so she took her place in the Christian congregation to give thanks and praise to God for His mercy. The stress of Scripture is not on Mary but on Mary’s Son, for the Son of Mary is also the eternal Son of God. He alone is to be worshipped, trusted and adored.Last Update: 2013-08-12 16:41