17-2-2 The Spiritual Ambition Of Mary
It seems to me that Mary had prayed to be mother of Messiah,
thus showing the ultimate level of spiritual ambition. Consider the evidence:
- In Lk. 1:48 Mary exalts: " he hath looked
upon…" (ASV). Mary is reflecting how God " looked upon"
Elisabeth and also gave her conception- ‘looking upon’ is an idiom for
answered prayer or God's response to human request (Gen. 6:12; 29:32;
Ex. 2:25; Dt. 26:7; Jud. 6:14). All this implies that Mary like Elisabeth
had requested to have this child- to bear Messiah. She sees what God
has done as “His mercy” to her (1:50), as if a request had been granted.
- She was “graciously accepted” (Lk. 1:28 AVmg.); she
“found favour” with God (1:30), using the same word as in Heb.
4:16 about us finding answers to prayer.
- Lk. 1:42 “blessed be the fruit of thy womb” alludes
to Dt. 7:13, where the fruit of the womb was blessed if Israel kept
the words of God's covenant. For Mary to have the fruit of her womb
blessed therefore implied that she was being rewarded for her obedience.
She was not just a channel for the fulfilment of God’s purpose to the
extent that any womb or woman could have been used.
- “Hail!” is translated by e.g. the LNT as “Congratulations!”,
as if a request had been heard, and an honour striven for.
- Hannah’s prayer of thanks is clearly the basis for
Mary’s emotions; and Hannah had prayed for a child, and received it.
As Hannah described herself as “thine handmaid” (1 Sam. 1:18), so now
did Mary too (Lk. 1:38). God remembered His mercy in making Mary conceive
(Lk. 1:54), just as God had remembered Hannah in answering her prayer
(1 Sam. 1:19). And just as Hannah “rose up” and went to Ramah, so Mary
“rose up” and went to Judea (Lk. 1:39). Yet there is reason to think
that Hannah too desired to bear Messiah. She speaks of how her “horn”
has been exalted in the same way as Yahweh’s horn has been (1 Sam. 2:1,10);
and the language of a horn being exalted was understood to be referring
to Messiah (Ps. 89:24).
- Gabriel appeared to her; yet Gabriel in the OT is
nearly always the Angel associated with answered prayer.
- To me the clearest indication that she had prayed
for Messiah to be her baby is in her joyful reaction to the Angel’s
message. She was engaged, and then suddenly she is told that she will
soon be pregnant, before she marries, but not from any human being.
On a worldly level, her life had just been messed up. There would have
been major doubts in her mind as to whether Joseph would ever believe
her story. And her parents…her brothers…the villagers… But amazingly
enough, she is ecstatically joyful (Lk. 1:47). This would be psychologically
unlikely, unless she had specifically requested this honour. She'd have
been hopelessly confused and worried and upset that her planned marriage
would likely founder because she had been made pregnant. The fact Mary
so rejoices, and joy is a major theme both of her words and of the OT
allusions she makes, is to me the greatest proof that she had requested
to be the mother of Messiah, and now this was being granted.
- She knew that Joseph her boyfriend was the rightful
king of Israel, according to the genealogies presented in Matthew 1
and Luke 3. Yet for the promise to David to be fulfilled, that of the
fruit of his body according to the flesh there would come Messiah, Mary
must have been also in the direct line of David. Jesus was “born of
the seed of David” (Rom. 1:3)- this passage surely implies that Mary
was also “of the seed of David”. Likewise Heb. 7:14 says that Jesus
“sprang out of Juda”, which could only have been true if Mary was of
this tribe too. Mary had to go to Bethlehem to be taxed presumably because
she was from Judah. The Old Syriac [Sinaiticus] text of Luke 2:4 says
that Joseph and Mary went “to the city of David because both
were [AV “he was”] of the house and lineage of David”. Yet
her cousin Elisabeth was from Levi. Mary would have perceived that she
was in an ideal position to give birth to a king-priest, which various
OT prophecies implied Messiah would be. She therefore would have thought
that the offspring of Joseph and herself would be ideally suited to
be Messiah. Hence her confusion when she was told that her child would
be produced without intercourse with Joseph. It has been suggested that
the fact Luke makes no reference to the parents paying five shekels
to by back the child (required for non-Levites under Num. 18:15,16)
is because Luke frames Jesus as a Levite who would remain in the Lord’s
- The Angel repeats the words of 1:28 in v. 30: “Thou
that art highly favoured…Fear not Mary, for thou hast found
favour with God”. She had some understandable tendency to self-doubt.
After all, could it really be that she alone was to be pregnant without
any man’s intervention…? It must have all sounded like a fairy tale
or pagan myth, or maybe a hallucination. No wonder she ran off to see
Elisabeth and see whether these strange pregnancies really were possible
in reality; whether prayer really was heard in the way it seemed hers
had been. ‘Finding favour’ is an idiom for prayer / request being heard.
She is being comforted that yes, her prayers really had been heard.
We too can struggle in just the same ways- for the Gospel is often too
good news for us. That we, the nothing and nobodies, really are the
highly favoured ones.
- She comes to see the solid truth of it all when she
exalts in Lk. 1:48 that God ‘took notice of me’, another idiom for prayer
- Jn. 1:13 in some texts reads: " Who [i.e. Jesus]
was born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the
will of man [Joseph], but of God [through the Holy Spirit]. And the
word was made flesh..." . This was John's account of the virgin
birth. My point is that the Lord was born not of the will of the flesh-
but of the spiritual will of a woman.
For all these reasons, she was motivated to ask to be the
mother of Messiah. And yet when the Angel appeared and told her that it
had all been heard and arranged, she was scared. Initially she was scared,
and then becomes ecstatically joyful that her dream is coming true. This
has the ring of truth and likelihood about it. We can pray for something
and yet when it comes true, disbelieve it. Consider how when a prayer
meeting was called by the early brethren for Peter’s release, they considered
any such possibility that he had actually been released, i.e. that their
prayers had been heard, as being absurd. Zacharias and Elisabeth had prayed
all their lives for a child but when it was announced as coming true,
Zacharias just didn’t believe it. And so we must be the more careful what
we ask for, and live in the real expectation it will come true. Jeremiah
prayed for hard things to come upon the men and women of Jerusalem; and
then spends the whole of Lamentations praying for God to lift the effects
of his earlier prayers.
Mary And Ambition
All this reflects the level of spiritual ambition to which
Mary attained. Her self-perception went beyond that of Leah to whose words
she alludes (“all women call me fortunate”, Gen. 30:13 LXX). Elisabeth
had said the same: “Blessed are you among women” (Lk. 1:42). But Mary
perceives that all generations, not just all contemporary women, would
call her blessed. Yet she was the most humble woman- who was the most
highly exalted. In this she not only lived out the pattern of her dear
Son, setting Him an example, but she showed us a lesson: that humility
does not mean that we do not have a high self-perception. She saw her
strength, i.e. her humility, and perceived the high status of her place
in God’s plan without being proud. It seems to me that our view of human
nature has resulted in our feeling we are lumps of sin walking around
on this earth who can never please God. But we are made in His image,
we may be animals in the way that we die, but we are still wonderfully
highly perceived by our maker if we are in Christ. We can only love our
neighbour if we first of all love / respect ourselves. This is a fundamental
truth we do well to reflect upon more deeply. Lake of self respect means
we will not truly respect or care for anyone else either. We are seen
by Him as His beloved Son. And this is the essence of being brethren in
The fact we have the opportunity to be spiritually ambitious
raises the question of whether God has a predetermined plan that He forces
men and women to fulfill. We would rightly reject this view of predestination;
rather, we have total and real freewill to chose to serve God. Mary could
have declined to be the mother of God’s Son; she could have simply focused
on her boyfriend and upcoming marriage, and never given a thought to daring
to wish to be the virgin of Is. 7:14. But she rose up to this height.
She says that “nothing said by God can be impossible” (Lk. 1:38), as if
to imply that although God is almighty, there is an element of possibility
and conditionality in His promises. Nothing He says need be impossible;
but it can be impossible if we refuse to do our part. And she continues:
“May it be to me as you have said” (NIV), as if her agreement was required
for God’s wondrous plan to be realized. Hence the comment: “Blessed is
she that believed, that there may be a performance of those things which
were told her” (Lk. 1:45- same construction Acts 27:25). Thus the wonderful
promise that she would have a child that would be God’s Son was all conditional
upon her faith and agreement and participation, even though that condition
isn’t directly stated.
In Lk. 1:49 Mary speaks of “He that is mighty”. The Greek
word dunatos is translated " possible" 13 times, "
able" 10 times, " mighty" 6 times. She speaks of the possibilities
of God in that she knew that it was due to her prayers, her spiritual
ambition, that she was to be the mother of Jesus. God's mightiness is
His possibility, which we limit. All things are possible to God, and all
things are possible to the believer (Mk. 10:27; 9:23)- in that we limit
what God can do. All the dunamos family of words carry not only
the idea of naked power, but more of possibility. This means that God's
power is under various possibilities of directing it. Recall how the man
asked whether, if Jesus could do anything, He would. And the Lord replied
by putting it the other way: If you can believe, all things are possible
to him that believes. The believer limits the Lord’s ability; He Himself
has boundless possibility. Mary believed so that there was a
performance of what God had promised (AVmg.). Without her faith, God’s
promise would not have been fulfilled, just as her dear Son was to have
the same struggle later on. Only by His obedience would the Scriptures
be fulfilled; but there was the real possibility that He could have failed.