When it comes to the study of women in the Bible, there are those who find it easy to select Mary as the most prominent of all due to her role as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we were to count her receiving a visit from the angel Gabriel, being acknowledged as highly favoured, and blessed among women, Luke 1. 1, together with the import of the message she was given, we would have grounds to present her as the most important in a long line of women used by God to carry out His sovereign will. Whilst Mary had a unique place in the divine plan of God, the message from Gabriel does not place her as ‘the most’ blessed amongst women, and so, for the purpose of this short study, it is important to keep the right perspective, neither with understatement or overstatement. With regard to her place in history, Mary has to be viewed as a recipient of grace, which must be emphasized, and can be supported by the use of the word ‘favour’. It was God who chose Mary to be the virgin of which the prophets wrote, and through whom our Lord would be born.
When we begin to think of her finest hour therefore, it would be hard to argue against the view that the visit of Gabriel was exactly that – her finest hour. Might I suggest, though, that this is indeed the record of her ‘first hour’, as presented in scripture, but, as we consider the life of Mary, her finest hour comes much later in her experience!
There are a number of ways which we could view Mary: we could consider what she said, what she sang, or try and understand what the message is for us in her often silent actions. By tracing the expression used in scripture that refers to Mary as the mother of Jesus, in this article we will embrace her whole life, and thereby gain profit from a most godly lady who enjoyed a multifaceted life, its features bringing us lessons and encouragement.
‘When as his mother was espoused to Joseph’, Matt. 1. 18; Luke 1. 27.
Mary speaks twice to the angel, and her first question is thought-provoking. Zacharias, when faced with similar circumstances, has the same thought in his mind, and yet we have two opposite results, Luke 1. 18-20. In both cases the message concerned the birth of a son, and in both cases, naturally speaking, there appears a conundrum. Of Zacharias, naturally speaking, we might say it is too late in life, with Mary too early, but sovereignty always works out its purposes, and where a lack of faith marks his question, with Mary there is a genuineness of heart for which she is given further understanding by her question. Gabriel knew the difference, and the man of prayer had a faith that was not consistent with his prayers, whereas Mary, only a young girl, was willing to subject herself to the will of God immediately, despite what, to her, was quite outside the norm. The second time she speaks to Gabriel confirms her heart: ‘be it unto me according to thy word’. Her interaction with Elizabeth, and songs following, display her spiritual character, and confirm to us her grasp of Old Testament truth, a worthy study in itself.
‘They saw the young child with Mary his mother’, Matt. 2. 11
Wise men arrive, bringing their treasures to the little one. Do we appreciate the distance travelled, the rivers and deserts crossed, to acknowledge the greatness of the infant? It is doubtful that they gave a second thought, or considered that we, two millennia later, would see these gifts, and appreciate their typical and symbolic importance and preciousness to Christ. This is the first reference to worship, and Mary, His mother, saw the gifts presented, and, as when the shepherds came and stood by the manger so on this occasion, Mary stands in silent wonder, considering the person of Christ. While we enjoy the expressions of worship when the saints are gathered on a Lord’s Day morning, there is, in one sense, a beauty and a glory to the silence as we meditate upon the glories of Christ.
‘And his mother knew not of it’, Luke 2. 43.
Mary is speaking again, and, after realizing the Lord is not with them, they go back to the temple and, finding Him, she says, ‘Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?’ We see sadness, a concern from Mary as she is perplexed at Christ’s decision to stay behind. What is important to note is that her question is not said angrily. We can learn from this that it is okay to ask God why when the circumstances of life give us concern, as long as it is said with the right motive and tone. Consistent with her question to the angel, she is seeking further information, and trying to reason out the answers, and so she asks reverently, as she knows who Christ is. ‘Why?’ May we have the same attitude of heart when we come to the throne of grace with ‘why?’ upon our lips!
‘The mother of Jesus saith unto him. They have no wine’, John 2. 3.
Behind her question, the Lord can see her motive, and it has others in mind. She is, at it were, asking on behalf of, and for the benefit of, others. This suggests the true way to pray. It is not prayer when we tell God what to do. She simply stated the fact, and trusted Christ to act. So should we! By contrast, when she speaks to those tasked with filling the water pots, it is with a sense of urgency, as she recognizes that this is the moment when Christ is not only going to reveal Himself, but that He will work out the circumstances they faced. Behind this sense of purpose is a woman who has lived for thirty years with the Lord, and, knowing Him the way she did, had given her this comprehension as to the person and work of Christ. Christ, in speaking to her, had called her ‘Woman’, tenderly. In this situation she manifested again the spiritual depth of character as she knows how, and when to speak to the Master.
At the end of the Lord’s life, it should come as no surprise to see Mary ‘stood by the cross’, John 19. 25. As she had stood in silence by the manger, and in the house, so too at the cross, looking upon her son. There is a poignant expressiveness in her silence this time; it stands in stark contrast to the ‘bulls’, and ‘dogs’ and roaring lions of Psalm 22, as in quiet contemplation yet within speaking distance to Christ, she stands. Some have seen their mothers die, and it is very sad. Much more in the case of Mary, who, as a mother, has to look upon her firstborn as He suffers at the hands of men, and she says nothing. She would have been quite justified to stay at home, and not be a witness to the horrors of Calvary. Like Mary, there are times when it behoves us to stand in silence and wonder as we contemplate the death of Christ.
‘And Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren’, Acts 1. 14.
We now arrive at the last mention of ‘Mary the mother of Jesus’. We reach what, in the writer’s view, is ‘her finest hour’. When we contemplate her life, from the visit of Gabriel, to what she had to witness of her firstborn at Calvary, to see her ‘continuing’ is astounding. Her life had seen, like many of us, times of mountain peaks, and very deep valleys, great highs and equally great lows. Yet, here we see her still going on!
As a young maiden, her world had been turned in a direction she would never have expected for a minute. She had carried out the initial acts of motherhood, witnessed the first acts of worship, and marvelled at the things spoken by Simeon, Luke 2. 33, and instructed workers at the first miracle. She would have witnessed the unbelief towards Christ in the family, John 7. 5, no doubt being well aware of the many times men sought to trip up the Lord, and catch him in His words. When we think of the depth of the valley she trod at Calvary as a mother, to see her sitting in the upper room, in full fellowship ‘with his brethren’ is a testament in itself to her character, spirituality, and steadfastness. We do well to imitate Mary in her devotion to the Saviour, and, in a day when many are turning away from simplicity, to imitate her in her desire to continue, with her brethren in assembly fellowship until we see our Saviour face to face.