Woman, who art thou? Mary: Blessed Among Women (Part One)

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Welcome to the sixth blog in my series called “Woman, who art thou?” which explores key women in the Bible and how their examples are relevant to us today.  In this blog, I’m going to be exploring the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in particular, her visit from the Angel Gabriel and her response.  I write with a little reticence but only because I want to make sure that I do her justice, being that she is the mother of our  Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The blog will be in three parts.  The second blog will focus more on the Magnificat – Mary’s response of worship.  The third blog will focus on Mary’s relationship with her son.

So, who was Mary?  Mary was a first century  BC Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth. She was young – probably a teenager, poor and female.  It was quite normal for girls of that culture to be promised in marriage while they were still as young as thirteen years of age.  Marriages were ordinarily arranged by the bridegroom or his parents through the girl’s father.  To be honest, she had all the characteristics that, to the people of her day, would make her unusable by God for any major task.  But yet God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience He has ever demanded of anyone.  Centuries earlier, God had promised David that David’s kingdom would last forever (2 Samuel 7:16).  This promise was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, a direct descendent of David, whose kingdom will never end.

Motherhood is a privilege, a painful one, but a privilege nonetheless.  Mary, at a young age, had the unique privilege of being mother to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  This is why she is seen as being blessed among women. She had found favour with God.  Mary herself, in the ‘Magnificat’, testified that all generations would regard her as profoundly blessed by God.

“….for he has been mindful of the humble servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name”

Luke 1: 48-49

Was she being proud? No, she was recognizing and accepting the gift God had given her. Mary was showing complete humility and glorifying God in song for what God was going to do for the world through her.

Until the visitation of the Angel Gabriel, Mary’s life was quite ordinary.  She had recently become engaged to a carpenter, Joseph, and was anticipating married life.  She had no clue that her life was about to change in such a dramatic way.  This was not the first time that the angel had appeared. Gabriel had visited Zechariah, as well as Mary and even the prophet Daniel, some 500 years earlier.  Each time, he brought important messages from God.

I would imagine that, once Mary had got over the shock of being in the presence of an angel (if that is even possible!), when Gabriel greeted her she might have been puzzled as to what was coming next (Luke 1:29).  What did this heavenly being want with her?! Maybe she felt like she had won the grand prize in a contest that she had not even entered.  It’s no wonder she was puzzled and frightened.  What came next was the news that almost every women in Israel hoped to hear – that her child would be the Messiah.  God’s promised Saviour and the fulfillment of scripture.  God’s announcement of a child to be born, throughout scripture, was met with various responses:

  • Abraham’s wife laughed (Genesis 18:9-15)
  • Zechariah doubted (Luke 1:18)
  • By contrast, Mary submitted, she believed the angels words and agreed to bare the child, even under humanly impossible circumstances.
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Mind Blowing!!

What really stands out to me about Mary is that she does not doubt what the angel tells her, not even for a second!  She does not refuse to believe it or laugh it off as an impossible task.  Rather she asked how pregnancy would be possible because she was still a virgin.  Gabriel told her that her baby would be God’s son.

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his Kingdom will never end.”  Luke 1: 31-33

“…The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” Luke 1: 35

His blessing on Mary, the honour of being the mother of the Messiah, would cause her much pain and come at a high cost to her personally: with her story about being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she risked being considered crazy; her peers would ridicule her; her fiance would come close to leaving her; her son would be rejected and murdered. But through her son would come the world’s only hope, and this is why Mary has been praised by countless generations as the young girl who ‘found favour with God’.  Mary’s submission was part of God’s plan to bring about our salvation. I’m quite in awe of her willing obedience to God, something I can only aspire to!

“I am the Lord’s servant….May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38)

When Mary said that, she didn’t know about the tremendous opportunity she would have.  She only knew that God was asking her to serve him, and she willingly obeyed.

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  • Mary may have been young in age but I have a feeling  that she is mature in her faith and relationship with God.  Initially, when the angel appeared to her, she may have been afraid BUT she listens to what he has to say from God and accepts it
  • At no point does Mary doubt that what the angel has told her will come to pass – “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1: 38).  If anything she is curious as to HOW it will happen but she does not doubt that it WILL happen
  • Mary willingly submits to the will of God and is obedient despite the potential risks to her personally, socially, culturally etc.  She doesn’t ask “Why me?” or say “I cannot do this!”.  She basically says “Okay God, let it be, let’s do this!”
  • Mary, being young, poor and a woman, may have appeared insignificant to others in society but she definitely was not insignificant to God.  God chose her for a task that would require an extreme amount of obedience.  Don’t ever feel that your ability, experience, or education makes you an unlikely candidate for God’s service.  Mary’s story shows us that this isn’t the case where God is concerned.
  • Don’t limit God’s choices.  He can use you if you trust Him!
  • If sorrow or sadness weighs you down and dims your hope, think of Mary and wait patiently for God to finish working out His plan.
  • “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1: 38) – When Mary said this, she didn’t really know about the tremendous opportunity she would have.  She only knew that God was asking her to serve Him and she willingly obeyed.  Don’t wait to see the bottom line before offering your life to God.  Let’s offer ourselves willingly, even when the outcome seems disastrous.  God has a plan for our lives and knows the bigger picture – we just have to trust in Him 🙂  I’m sure God waits to hear a similar response from us.
  • God’s best servants  are often ordinary people who make themselves available to him
  • God’s plans involve extraordinary events in ordinary people’s lives
  • A person’s character is revealed by his or her response to the unexpected

Be blessed!

Ali x

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Delight Part 2

Delight Part 2 – What does God delight in?

‘This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight“, declares the Lord’.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

People tend to admire four qualities in others: human wisdom, power, kindness and riches.  But God puts a higher priority on knowing him personally and living a life that reflects his justice, righteousness and love. In Jeremiah, this is listed first before all the other qualities.  Jeremiah tells us that God delights in these things.

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We don’t need to offer God year old calves or thousands of rams with ten thousand rivers of oil or offer our first born child as a sacrifice in order to have our sins forgiven.  God has shown us what is good.  God wants changed lives.  He wants people to be fair, just, merciful, and humble.  God wants us to become living sacrifices: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship” Romans 12:1 – so not just doing religious deeds, but living right.  God wants us to walk daily with him, to be in relationship with Him and not just carry out a religious duty.  It is impossible to follow God consistently without his transforming love in our  hearts.

Throughout history,  people have tried all kinds of ways to please God (see Micah 6:6-7) but God has made his wishes clear: he wants people to be just, merciful and to walk humbly with Him.

Isaiah 1:15 says “When you spread out our hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood”.

It is no good going through the motions, acting out of religiosity – God can see though all the pomp and ceremony – He looks at our hearts.  In Isaiah, the people continued to offer sacrifices for forgiveness but they did not feel sorry for their sins.  Gifts and sacrifices mean nothing to God when they come from someone with a corrupt heart.  God wants us to love Him, trust Him, and to turn from our sin; after that, he will be pleased with our ‘sacrifices’ of time, money and service. God hates false worship by people who go through the motions out of pretence or show.  If we are living sinful lives and using religious ritual and traditions to make ourselves look good, God will despise our worship and will not accept what we offer.  He wants sincere hearts, not the songs of hypocrites.

Amos 5:22-24 “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs.  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream”

An old song but apt – Graham Kendrick “O Lord, the clouds are gathering”

Religious rituals can help people understand God and nourish their relationship with Him.  That is why God instituted circumcision and the sacrificial system in the Old Testament and baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament.

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But a religious ritual is helpful only if it is carried out with an attitude of love for and obedience to God.  If a person’s heart is far from God, ritual will become empty mockery.  God didn’t want the Israelite’s rituals; he wanted their hearts.

 

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God wants a broken spirit and a contrite heart.  You can never please God by your outward actions – no matter how good – if your inward heart attitude is not right.

This kind of humility please God.

‘And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  In your hearts do not think evil of each other”. Zechariah 7:8-10

Zechariah explained to the people that their ancestors brought God’s great wrath on themselves by hardening their hearts.  Any sin seems more natural the second time – each repetition is easier.  Ignoring or refusing God’s warning hardens you each time you do wrong.  Reading God’s word and applying it to our lives sensitively and submitting to God’s word can soften our hearts and allow us to live as we should.

So….

  • God delights in us when we understand and acknowledge that He is Lord of our lives and relationship with Him
  • God delights in us when we  offer our lives as living sacrifices – love and obey God
  • God delights in us when we have a broken spirit, are humble and have a contrite heart
  • God delights in us applying His word in our lives – exercising kindness, justice and righteousness
  • God delights in the sacrifices offered with a pure heart like time, money, service

 

I’ll close with a song…again, it’s an oldie but still a goodie. I hope it will be a prayer for us all today too: Soften My Heart

 

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Delight Part 1 (2/2)

Part 1: What Should We Delight In?

2.  We should delight in the law of the Lord

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The “law of the Lord” means all of Scripture; the first five books of Moses, the Prophets, and the other writings.  The more we know of the whole  of God’s word, the more wisdom we will have to guide us in our daily  decisions. By the way, just to clarify, I don’t mean daily decisions like “what colour t-shirt shall I wear today?” or “Shall I have Weetabix or Cheerios for breakfast?”.  I think we can be too spiritual about life if not careful.  I believe that God has given us intelligence and freedom to make choices.  God doesn’t control us like a puppet on a string but instead gives us the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not.  Yes, there are eternal consequences to the choices we make about God – that’s a topic for another blog perhaps.  I’m referring to those situations we find ourselves in where we need to make a decision between right and wrong. You know, those instances where we need a bit of wisdom.

Verse 3 of Psalm 1 goes on  to say

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prosper”.

There is a simple wisdom in these first two verses, isn’t there? – The more we delight in God’s presence, the more fruitful we  are. We will prosper and be fruitful. So, delighting in the law of the Lord means to delight in His word. Meditating on His word. And no, we do not need to spend hours sat like this cute little fella below in order to meditate on God’s word.

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Meditating on God’s word, to me, means spending time reading and thinking about what we have read.  It means asking ourselves how we should change so we will live as God wants.  Knowing and meditating on God’s word are the first steps towards applying it to our everyday lives right?  If we want to follow God more closely, we must know what it says.

“If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.  I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” Psalm 119:92-93

Phil Ware on a devotional website called ‘Heartlight’ uses the analogy of a parent giving rules to a child.  Rules like: don’t walk out from behind cars, don’t drink what’s under the cabinet and so on.  As a parent we give our children rules because we love them and we want them to not come to harm.  In the same way, God’s rules are not there to restrict us, but to protect us. If anything, and as the Psalmist proclaims “for by them you have given me life”, God’s rules protect us and give us freedom – freedom to enjoy life in Christ, free from sin and guilt, and to fulfil all that God has planned for our lives.  Obedience to God’s laws is the only way to achieve real happiness and stay on the right path in life. This can be seen in verse 105 where it says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path”.  This verse always reminds me of Amy Grant, a Christian music artist I listened to in my late teens at university.  She wrote a song called ‘Thy Word’ about how God’s word is a light and guides us whatever situation we may face in life. Listen.

“You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies, for [Your words] are ever before me.  I have better understanding and deeper insight than all my teachers , because Your testimonies are my meditation” Psalm 119: 98-99 AMPC

God’s word makes us wise – wiser than our enemies and wiser than any teachers who ignore it.  True wisdom is more than accumulating knowledge; it is applying knowledge in a life-changing way.  Intelligence does not necessarily equate wisdom. Wisdom is allowing God’s teaching to guide us.  Meditating on God’s word means that we are then able to not just recall it from memory but we are also able to apply it to everyday situations we face – “for [Your words] are ever before me” (vs 98).

“Turn my heart towards your statutes and not toward selfish gain.  Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word”

Psalm 119: 36-37

Here, I believe, the Psalmist is asking for God’s help, to help him focus on God’s laws (and put them into practice) rather than his own selfish desires – so that his focus is not on worthless things that cannot bring lasting happiness but instead is on God who is the life-giver. These days it is all so easy to covet financial gain isn’t it? That English idiom of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s”.  Money can easily replace God, we can become obsessed with money.  It’s true that having money can help us feel more secure in life and certainly more comfortable.  However, obedience to God is much more valuable than wealth.  It’s a heavenly treasure rather than an earthly one. Priceless!

bible-verse-luke-1234-where-your-treasure-is-there-your-heart-will-be-also-2014Luke 12.33-34

Sources:

Life Application Study Bible (NIV)

http://heartlight.org