Unbelievable: The Woman Who Believed In a Preposterous Message

Luke’s narrative about Mary’s conversation with Gabriel described her reaction to some unbelievable news. If you think about it, there is much to learn from Mary’s response to God’s messenger. (And BTW, the Greek word for angel is anggelos, or messenger—simply put, a courier who brings a message, or a word from someone else).

Put Yourself in Mary’s Shoes…

In Mary’s case, she was clearly being given direction from God, and like any of us she could have said, “No”. I guess it’s conceivable that she could have fought against it or rebelled against such a life-changing commission; but she didn’t. In fact, that option is always available to us, isn’t it? Perhaps YOU have heard a message from God yourself lately, or even read one on your own somewhere…Maybe even HERE, reading this: How did you react to it? Was it too unbelievable to believe? I know a lot of people find the virgin birth to be unbelievable. Mary wasn’t one of them.

unbelievable

A Quick Word

After she heard what Gabriel had to say, she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” His word was this: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33, NIV)

Basically, Gabriel brought a word from God, quoting the word of God about the Word of God, and Mary (and Joseph as well) had absolute faith in the message. In response, she affirmed it verbally, and then she lived it obediently. It may have seemed unbelievable on the surface, but Mary believed it and accepted it.

An Amazing String of Promises

Surprisingly, the first-born son was not going to be Bar-Joseph according to custom, but was to be given a name indicative of who he was (a big concession by Joseph, which lends credence to the unusual nature of the Angel’s announcement). Jesus is a shortened form of Joshua, derived from Jehoshuah, which in the Hebrew means “Jehovah is salvation.” Gabriel points to Isaiah 9:6-7, which says “unto us a son is born”, and refers to God’s promise of an eternal throne to David’s line in 2 Samuel 7:12-14.

As Mary listened to his message, she undoubtedly found comfort in the fact that this birth had been foretold…There are in fact over 400 references in the Old Testament that are prophesies connected to Jesus’ birth, life and death. (You can Google that!) They are like hundreds of threads woven in to the Old Testament out of all space and time to create a tapestry of hope, pointing towards Jesus of Nazareth. The authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah) wrote independently and without any way of knowing the timing, the person, or the outcome of their books– but their words connected the dots between God’s covenant people and the promised Redeemer.

So You Don’t Believe It?

Let’s say you’re skeptical about that, or just don’t think all four hundred plus prophecies really apply… Maybe that seems unbelievable to you. Even if some of them are a bit of a stretch, or if some of them are hard to connect—let’s say we throw out half of them—wouldn’t you think that someone whose birth and life were foretold by a couple of hundred predictions from centuries before would justify some serious thought?

Those writers certainly didn’t know who Jesus was going to be, or when he would be born, but there were too many uncannily accurate prophecies about Jesus’ arrival to easily dismiss. From the Tribe of Judah. (Micah 5:2) From Jesse’s family (Isaiah 11:1) and David’s line (Jeremiah 23:5-6). Announced by a messenger (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). Preceded by a star (Numbers 24:17). Born of a Virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Called Immanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14). Weeping in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). Flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1). He would be worshipped and presented gifts by kings (Psalm 72:10).

Worth Looking Into

Consider this: there is NO other historical figure’s arrival (including Mohammed and Buddha) was foretold in such volume and detail, so far in advance. No. One. Since the angel was pretty specific in mentioning these OT quotes in his message to Mary, they at least bear some consideration relative to who Jesus was.

Ok, so why am I talking about the messenger, and the message to Mary? Because when Gabriel made his announcement to her, it was also a message to everyone who would come after. It was a message to me. And it was a message to you as well. It seems we all have the same choice before us that Mary had: we can believe the word of the messenger, and then live differently because of it; or we can dismiss it, and go on as if nothing had happened. I think something happened. If Gabriel’s word was fulfilled, as Mary hoped and affirmed, then it’s worth looking into.

The Angel and the Virgin

What Gabriel said to Mary must have scared her through and through;
As unbelievable as it seemed, the picture that he drew
Affected Mary’s very life! But she did what she needed to.
Well, what if Gabriel’s message, then, was also meant for YOU?
What about the prophecy and things that men foreknew?
Would it change anything if you believed that it was true?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Mary Had to Make a Choice; But Really, Doesn’t Everybody?

Mary was called by God to perform a unique mission. On the surface she did the logical thing and seemed to make the obvious choice; So, a great question is, why Doesn’t Everybody Do it?

It Seems Obvious NOW

The last woman mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy is the most obvious one: “and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:16, NIV). Mary lived a remarkable life, and was certainly a remarkable young woman. A ton of legend and adulation has grown up around her. With all of the Da Vinci code supposition and mystery, Mary stands as possibly the most revered woman in history. Based on a literal Gospel vantage point, there is not all that much material in the Bible about her. We can read the Gospels to get to know her, but she seems to be a fairly normal, if somewhat more devout girl of her times.

Mary and the Angel

Living in the Real World

She was chosen for a mission that rearranged her life in the most uncomfortable ways possible—pregnant and possibly disgraced on the cusp of her nuptials, targeted by gossips and disapproving eyes, forced to go live with her cousin in the hill country…
Not everything was easy and glorious for Mary. Even years later, the Pharisees, arguing with Jesus about his paternity, sneered, “WE are not illegitimate children!” (John 8:41). Apparently, Mary’s predicament of being pregnant outside of marriage was public knowledge, and the story followed Jesus into adulthood.

It may be hard to see from this side of history, on this side of the veneration and adulation of Mary, but at one time she was a simple village girl from Nazareth who was visited by a messenger who had a word from God. She responded fearfully and a bit skeptically (you can read about it in Luke 1), but after weighing her options and resolving her questions, said to Gabriel: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

Closer to Home Than You Think

It strikes me that this answer probably contains pretty good clues about attitude for all of us when life throws us a curve ball. First, remember who God is and who we are. Mary calls herself “the Lord’s servant”, meaning that when she calls God, “Lord”, she means it. He is above her, and she is willing and ready to put him first, even in some crazy circumstances. If you think about it, this is a good attitude for us to have when life gives us unexpected difficulties.

Obviously, it helped Mary to have an angel deliver God’s Word, but we aren’t off the hook on that one, since we have the Word at our disposal 24/7. We can whine, “God didn’t give me a message!”—but maybe it’s been available to us all along and we just haven’t read it. Has God sent you a messenger lately? Are you listening?

The Answer All of us Could Give

Second, she is obedient to God. No protest, no argument. She asked a puzzled question about logistics, but that’s it. Mark Lowry sang and shared in our worship service, and humorously suggested that Mary might have asked Gabriel, “Do you think you might stop by my parents’ room on the way out and maybe let them know?”

But she said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (I love the King James, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word.”) I’d suggest that if all of us took TODAY, and prayed this little prayer–“May your Word to me be fulfilled”– (and meant it), we’d have a different outlook, and a different kind of day. And if we did it EVERY day, we’d have a different kind of life. Mary certainly lived differently: not by magic, or even by angelic proclamation, but by her obedience and faith. This Christmas day, you are faced with the same opportunity Mary had. Those are the tools. Here is your day.

The Choice

Christmas is a happy time, so full of joy and giving!
It is a time of hope, reminding us that life’s worth living!
We all enjoy the lovely sights of mistletoe and Christmas lights,
And gathering with family to eat our Christmas-time delights.
We watch our favorite Christmas movie features on TV,
And marvel at the stack of presents underneath the tree!
But tell, me as you think of Christmas (maybe with some snow!),
And shop for presents dodging Christmas traffic as you go,
Would there be a Santa, would there be some mistletoe?
What would our world be like today if Mary had just said, “No”?

If Mary said no, this world would be a totally different place,
Without our Christmas giving, and with far less hope and grace.
If she said no, our world would hold more shame and more disgrace.
Well, what if YOU said “No” to God? What difference would there be?
What grace and hope would future generations fail to see?
Which priceless gifts would languish under history’s Christmas tree?
Mary changed the world by saying “Yes” to God’s request;
But what if God called all of us, and ALL of us said yes?
You know how God used Mary’s “yes”; I guess you know the rest…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Reliable Information From a Completely Unreliable Source

You would assume that the writers of the Gospels would have taken great pains to insure that their sources were completely reliable. So why did John say THIS? “After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was distraught because she thought someone had taken the body. John 20:14 says, “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman”, he said, “Why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking that it was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

reliable

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:14-18, NIV)

I love the honesty of this story, because it captures the full range of Mary’s emotions and confusion. A work of fiction would probably not have included details like her initial failure to recognize Jesus, and the way she thought at first that he was the gardener. If John had been making it up, he would have used a more reliable and acceptable source, and there were better literary devices he could have used to create drama and impact. After all, the story is not about Mary’s confusion but about Jesus’ resurrection!

Any normal, self-respecting Hebrew literary work from this time would not have made a mere woman such a central character in this discovery—women were not considered legal witnesses, and did not have social standing that justified her inclusion in this event. No serious Jewish reader would accept a woman’s testimony as reliable in that time and place. John actually risks all credibility by telling the truth, so why didn’t he just make up a better version of the story?

Replace Mary with a man whose testimony would be considered reliable, tweak the events just a bit, keep the central part about the resurrection, and boom! You’ve got yourself some front page news. Since he goes out on a limb by including Mary, and since a lie here would have served him better than the truth, the logical conclusion is that this has to be TRUE.

If John’s narrative was an attempt to convince others of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection, he went about it all wrong! He should have had someone important like Peter or James meet the risen Lord first, and he should have made it seamlessly perfect. He didn’t need to include details about Mary’s initial conversation with the supposed gardener. But Mary’s testimony is valuable because it IS true, and it has significance because it is told so simply and so accurately. John’s gospel is noteworthy because he ignores social convention. He tells the truth when a lie would have been easier. Probably a good practice for all of us.

John, How Could You?

John, the scholars tell me that your gospel might be phony!
No Hebrew writer would have used a woman’s testimony.
A woman couldn’t offer proof in matters of the law,
So why on earth did you record the things that Mary saw?
If you had used a man to see the proof, and to receive it,
The temple elders might have bought that story, and believed it!
Instead, you told the truth when falsehood might have served you better:
Since Mary saw the Lord, you wrote the truth down to the letter,
Insuring that the Word of God would not let us forget her!
Mary made the statement that just could not be ignored;
With trembling lips she told the others: “I have seen the Lord!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Mary Treasured Jesus in her Heart. God Treasures You the Same Way

Out of the several accounts of the life of Jesus, only Luke offers us this quick observation: Mary treasured Jesus. That’s a logical thing to say about how a mother would feel about her child, but it speaks volumes about Mary and Jesus. It also might speak volumes about YOU. After twelve-year-old Jesus had been left behind in Jerusalem and was found teaching in the temple, Luke offers us our only glimpse of his childhood and development:

“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 2:51-52 NIV)

It’s a little intriguing to think about Jesus as a boy, and we can speculate about what he must have been like. Comedians have always joked that it must have been tough being Jesus’ sibling, since you would always hear, “Why can’t you be like Jesus? HE behaves!”

treasured

In the Apocryphal gospel of Thomas the boy Jesus is depicted as performing some whimsical miracles, which is probably why that book stayed apocryphal and didn’t become part of the Canon. But in point of fact, not much is written about the boy Jesus, except for Luke’s anecdote about Jesus staying behind at the temple at age 12 while his parents headed back to Galilee. It doesn’t tell us everything, but even this brief account reveals a few things that are interesting to me.

Luke reminds us that Jesus grew in four ways: wisdom (mentally); stature (physically); in favor with God (spiritually); and in favor with man (socially). This well-rounded growth indicated a life balance that all of us should consider while making those New Year’s Resolutions. It also indicates that Jesus was developing into a young man who was preparing to fulfill his mission.

Jesus (at aged twelve) was obviously gifted as a teacher and amazed the scribes and rabbis in the temple. In his interaction with them and his parents, he seems to demonstrate a poise and maturity beyond his years; but most of his amazing qualities were kept fairly private.  Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart”, even if they weren’t vividly evident to others who were there.

If you are a mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or friend of the family, perhaps you have spent time around a toddler or a small child. Think of being amazed at their development. Think of being overwhelmed by little things they do, from imitating you to discovering something with wide-eyed wonder… When you have a toddler in the house, you don’t need to watch tv! All of the cuteness you can stand is right there in front of you!

treasured children

What things have you observed in little ones and treasured in your heart? Mary knew all of those things about Jesus and she treasured them. But don’t miss this: since we are made in our Father’s image, it stands to reason that God feels the same way about us; He watches our development, he sees us grow from spiritual babes into spiritual toddlers, and he treasures us in his heart. Have you ever equated how your Heavenly Father feels about you with the way you cherish an infant, or laugh out loud at a toddler’s antics?

I bet He takes the same delight in you, and is just as interested in your growth and development. Your picture is in His wallet; your crude but well-meaning artwork is on His refrigerator. God loves us not just for who we are but also for who we will become as we trust Him to help us navigate our path in a complex and fallen world. Certainly He enjoys our growth the same way we love seeing our children and grandchildren grow.

Luke says that Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. Like you, Jesus grew up in the real world. Like you, he was treasured, appreciated, and loved. That’s probably a good thing to remember as we head into the New Year. Treasure those things in your heart, and grow.

Treasured

Mary watched as Jesus grew, and marveled at the things he knew;
From the humble manger’s start, she treasured Jesus in her heart,
Like any mother’s heart would do. Did you know someone treasures you?
One who loves to watch you grow, desires to teach you all they know,
One who loves with all His might, and watches you with great delight!
He loves you now, and every minute; His wallet has your picture in it!
He adores your every move, and offers you a Father’s love.
By every way it can be measured, understand this: You. Are. Treasured

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread