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17. Mary, mother of Jesus
17-1 Mary: Our Representative || 17-2 Mary’s Character: 17-2-1 The Loneliness Of Mary || 17-2-2 The Spiritual Ambition Of Mary || 17-2-3 Hannah And Mary || 17-2-4 A Bible Mind: Mary And The Magnificat || 17-2-5 The Faith Of Mary || 17-2-6 Mary And The Virgin Of Isaiah 7 || 17-2-7 The Humility Of Mary || 17-3 Mary In Crisis: 17-3-1 Mary’s Crisis Of Faith || 17-3-2 Mary And Jesus In The Temple || 17-3-3 Mary At Cana || 17-3-4 Mary And Her Other Children || 17-3-5 Mary In Mid-Life Crisis || 17-3-6 The Jesus-Mary Relationship || 17-4 Mary’s Victory: 17-4-1 Mary At The Cross || 17-4-2 The Influence Of Mary || 17-4-3 The Psychological Matrix Of Jesus

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 service.

- 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 being answered.

- 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 Christ.  

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.