“I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.” – Luke 1:38
Luke 1:26-38 is the story of the angel Gabriel telling Mary that she will be the one to give birth to the long-awaited messiah. It is incredible and joyous news to Mary–as seen by her song in verses 46-55–but it is not without cost.
As an aside before I continue, much of what I will write on this topic is held with very, very loose hands. There is a lot of reading between the lines and wondering. I could very well be totally wrong about much or all of it. However, I do think that it is worth thinking about as long as we are aware it isn’t explicit in scripture and we hold it loosely.
From verses 28 and 30 we know that Mary is “highly favored” and has “found favor with God”. We can pretty safely assume that she has followed God faithfully and most likely has a good reputation in her community. She is also engaged to Joseph who we know from Matthew 1:19 is “faithful to the law”, but also compassionate in that he “did not want to expose her to public disgrace”. On top of that she is a virgin, meaning she and Joseph have waited for marriage, further showing their commitment to following God’s Word and cementing their good reputation.
As far as we can tell, up to this point in her life Mary has done everything right. And yet, with this wonderful news from Gabriel, she may not be treated as if she has made the right decisions.
We don’t know for certain when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant and revealed what the angel said, but we know at least part of how Joseph reacted. Matthew 1:18-25 tells the story of what Joseph decided to do when he found out.
“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” – Matthew 1:19
We don’t know the details of how this meeting went or how Mary reacted afterwards, but it couldn’t have been easy. It seems that Joseph didn’t fully believe Mary or else why would an angel of the Lord have needed to appear to Joseph in a dream to convince him and change his mind? Joseph may have logically assumed that Mary had gone around his back and slept with someone else. We can imagine that this hurt both Joseph and Mary. Joseph may have thought he was cheated on and Mary may have been hurt that Joseph could think she would do such a thing.
Mary is being faithful to God and now she has to spend the night thinking that in following God and submitting to His will, she is going to lose Joseph. It may well have been a very hard and trying night for Mary’s faith, but from what we see of Mary in scripture, it would seem that her response would be to trust in the Lord. “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”
As we know, an angel of the Lord did appear to Joseph and convince him of the truth and Joseph decided to marry her, but not before Mary had to wait at least a night thinking he would divorce her.
Once Joseph decides to continue with the engagement, we don’t know when they were officially married. It may have been after Mary spent three months with Elizabeth (Luke 1:56) or that may have even been when Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, we don’t know. They may not have even gotten married until after Jesus was born. Luke 2:4-7 makes it sound like they were still engaged when they travelled to Bethlehem and Jesus was born. Whenever they officially got married it seems likely that at least those who knew Mary and Joseph would be able to figure out that Mary was pregnant before they were officially married. Whether she was “showing” at the time she told Joseph or by the time they were married or if they didn’t get married until after Jesus was born, whatever the case was, other than Joseph and Elizabeth and probably Zechariah, how many people would have believed that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit?
Their public reputation and even how their close friends and family looked at them may have been very different because of this. We know from Jesus’s public ministry that many of the people of His hometown did not think highly of Him. Whether this had anything to do with the circumstances of His birth or just that they had seen Him grow up among them we don’t know, but if they did fully believe in the miracle of His birth they most likely would not have reacted the way they did. In fact, Luke 3:23b points out that Jesus “was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph”.
“Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’ – Matthew 13:54-57
(Jesus was born in Bethlehem, however Mary (Luke 1:26) and Joseph (Luke 2:4) were from Nazareth and returned to Nazareth later.)
Though Mary may have faced challenges and her faith may have been stretched by some of these things, she was not left without encouragement. Her time with Elizabeth would have been a source of encouragement to her, especially Elizabeth and the baby John the Baptist’s reaction to seeing Mary (Luke 1:39-45), which also contains another example of Mary’s faith when Elizabeth says,
“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!”
It could be assumed that she would have also been encouraged when Joseph came back and told her that he too had been visited by an angel and believed and would marry her.
Then the journey to Bethlehem and giving birth in a stable of some kind would have been challenging and probably not what she had pictured when told she would give birth to a king.
But the shepherds coming and telling her and Joseph of the angel and the heavenly host they had seen as they came to look on Jesus would have been another confirmation (Luke 2:1-21).
Eight days later they took Jesus to the temple and both Simeon and Anna were moved by the Holy Spirit and came up to them and declared who Jesus was and the new “father and mother marveled at what was said about him” (Luke 2:22-38). They were amazed, but even in this confirmation of who Jesus was, there was a warning when Simeon said, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
As we can see from Mary’s journey as mother of Jesus so far, there are moments of encouragement and confirmation mixed with challenges and hardships. Often as readers–because we know the end of the story–we miss out on what Mary might have experienced in the moment. She didn’t know that Joseph would change his mind about divorcing her. She had to face her community pregnant before marriage. She had to travel to Bethlehem pregnant for the first time and give birth for the first time in a stable. She had the promises of God through Gabriel, but she still had to trust God’s word and live it out.
Mary’s personal journey as mother of Jesus continued its up and down course when the Magi came to visit Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). They had traveled from the east to present gifts for Jesus–whose star they followed–and to worship Him as king.
Shortly after this remarkable visit, Joseph is warned in a dream that their family must move to Egypt because Herod is trying to kill Jesus. So the young married couple fled with their child to a different country in the middle of the night to wait until king Herod passed away (Matt. 2:13-23).
After returning to Nazareth, when Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. On the way back home, they didn’t realize Jesus was not with them until a day passed. They returned to Jerusalem and finally found Jesus in the temple with the teachers after three days. When they found Him, Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Mary didn’t know where Jesus was for days. She revealed that they had been “anxiously searching” for Him. As a parent, this event must have been at least mildly terrifying. Jesus’s response to their search left them somewhat confused.
“Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – Luke 2:49-51
The phrase, “his mother treasured all these things in her heart”, among other things, speaks to Mary’s contemplation of who Jesus was as “Son of the Most High”. She had the words of Gabriel, Elizabeth’s reaction, her own song, the report of the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, this temple experience, and the Old Testament scriptures to reflect on. While all of this gave her some idea of who Jesus was, it was not fully understood by anyone until after Jesus’s resurrection. She knew He was the savior, but how He was going to save or to what extent He was going to save was not fully known.
Mary didn’t know the exact details of how everything was going to work out and how God would fulfill His promises through Jesus. She had to exercise faith and trust in the same ways that every believer must. God’s word has given us the truth about this world and our lives. We don’t know exactly how He will work all of His promises out, but just like Mary we can trust that He will and follow in faith.
After the story of Jesus at the temple as a boy, the next place we find Mary is at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine.
“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’
‘Woman, why do you involve me? Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’
His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing,each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’
What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.” – John 2:1-12
Mary’s faith and boldness sticks out in this story. Even though Jesus seems to discourage her initially stating that His “hour has not yet come” she continues, telling the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus then performs the miracle of turning the water into wine, which “was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
There are a variety of interpretations for what Jesus meant by saying “My hour has not yet come.” It may refer to the hour of Christ’s death, the hour in which He reveals Himself as Messiah, the hour of His glorification, or something else. I am not confident in my study on it enough to put forth an opinion on the exact meaning and so I will leave it to the reader to investigate it further.
What is clear is that Mary believes that Jesus can intervene in the situation and expects Him to do so. God uses her faith to play a role in the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
The next time we see Mary, Jesus’s teaching has gathered a crowd. Mary and a few of Jesus’s siblings are unable to get to Jesus because of the crowd, so they send a messenger in to tell Jesus that they are standing outside wanting to speak with Him. This story appears in Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-34, and Luke 8:19-21. All of them follow the same lines with only some variation on the exact wording. When Jesus is told about His family waiting outside He responds by saying,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Mark 3:34-35
None of the accounts give us anymore details on what happened after this statement. We don’t know if Jesus then made His way out to see them, or they made their way in, or they just continued to wait. Nor do we know how Jesus’s family reacted to this statement.
The point of the story is not to put Mary and Jesus’s siblings down or to focus on them, but to reveal and illustrate the strength of the spiritual family. Jesus is told that His family is waiting outside and most around Him would naturally assume that He would make space for them in some way. However, His response is to take that opportunity to begin illustrating just how incredible our adoption into God’s family is. From later scriptures we learn that we are “co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) and “adopted to sonship” (Ephesians 1:5). Jesus redirects the focus from earthly relationships to spiritual.
There is a somewhat related, albeit different statement made a little later as Jesus is teaching.
“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’
He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:27-28
Here again Jesus redirects the focus from earthly relationships and positions of honor to heavenly and spiritual relationships. Luke 1 clearly portrays that Mary is blessed. In the same manner as the event above, this statement is not meant to put Mary down, but to elevate others, to show the manner in which those who in this case are blessed and in the above are part of God’s family.
Jesus shows that relationship with Himself is not limited by earthly familial relationship. He raises all who follow Him to the same level. Just as His disciples had the same access and relationship with Jesus as His earthly family, so too through Christ we have the same access to the Father through Jesus.
Likewise, while only one person was chosen to be His earthly mother, what truly counts is hearing the word of God and obeying it. Mary’s attitude when told by the angel that she would be the mother of Jesus was to say “May your word to me be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:38
In essence, this is hearing the word of God and obeying it. It is not the rarity of the action or the impact in terms of how many people see it or hear of it, but the obedience itself that is important. In the same way God has different roles for all of us in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12,13) that may outwardly appear to carry differing levels of honor and blessing, when in reality that is not the case.
We should not assume the well-known pastor of a mega-church is any more blessed in the eyes of God than the janitor faithfully carrying on his work. Jesus teaches similar lessons to this over and over throughout His ministry.
The second to last scene that we see Mary present in is the crucifixion.
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” – John 19:25-27
We don’t know what Mary was thinking as she watched her son be tortured to death. Of all the trials and challenges her faith had to deal with, this must have been the most difficult.
Scripture is clear that the disciples did not understand until later that Jesus would die and rise again (Mark 9:32, Luke 18:34, John 20:9). Even when He told them this would happen, its meaning was hidden from them until afterwards.
Mary was most likely in the same situation. She had known Jesus the longest of anyone, she had seen angels and kings, witnessed signs, wonders, and miracles, heard Him preach and teach like no one ever had, and now He was fading away in front of her eyes. On top of that He was giving over the responsibility of taking care of her to one of His disciples.
I don’t know what she was thinking or going through as Jesus died and was buried or during the days He was in the tomb. Confusion, doubt, anger, sorrow? Was she able to hang on to the promises of God even though the son she had miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit was dead? Was she able to trust that somehow, someway God wasn’t finished?
We can only make guesses. Scripture doesn’t tell us. What we do know is that on what must have been the darkest of days for her, God was fully in control working out His perfect plan of salvation for her and the entire world. Mary, who was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus and had known God in human flesh, by Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection, was going to be ushered into a new and eternal relationship with God. The boy she raised that never sinned was paying for her sins on the cross. If she thought she was losing her son, in reality God was making the way for her to be in perfect relationship with Him forever. What could have looked to be the end of her hopes was in reality the beginning of the fulfillment of all her hopes.
At some point, Mary would have shared in the joy and wonder after Christ’s Resurrection. To have watched her son die and then see Him alive again must have been an indescribable joy. To witness the fulfillment of God’s promises in such a remarkable way must left her in awestruck worship.
This worship is what we see the last time Mary appears in scripture. It is after the disciples return from the ascension.
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” – Acts 1:14
Mary is seen here as part of the early church worshiping along with her other children waiting for Jesus’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. She has witnessed firsthand the salvation that God promised long ago. She has seen the faithfulness of God come through situations that might have seemed not only difficult, but impossible. Now she is part of the very first church.
We too have the promises of the Word of God to rely on. Just as we can see the story of Jesus’s earthly life in entirety and know that God works everything out for good and His glory, so too we can trust that God is doing the same now. Let our attitude be the same as that of Mary, trusting the Lord’s Word and His promises.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.” – Luke 1:38