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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Thank God for Mary, Mother of Jesus
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-10-30
Updated:2016-10-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 116:1,4                                                                                    

Hy 1

Reading – Luke 1:26-56; Luke 11:27-28; Belgic Confession, Article 18

Ps 132:5,6,8,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 14

Hy 17:1,2,3

Hy 20:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, if you asked people to name five women in the Bible, Mary the mother of Jesus would probably make it onto everyone’s list. She is well-known, despite the fact that Mary doesn’t appear in the Bible all that often. We meet her in the beginning of Matthew and Luke, we see her once or twice during the ministry of Jesus, at his cross, and then at the start of the book of Acts. That’s all.

But even with that relatively small place in Scripture, Mary is known for her big part in the work of salvation. This is because she brought into the world the incarnate Son of God! For this important task, Mary has been praised and adored by many millions of people. We probably all know about the veneration of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church. Mary has been painted countless times, sculpted often, and she has been commemorated in the names of towns and streets and churches all around the world.

We condemn that idolatry, how some treat the virgin Mary. But we shouldn’t make the opposite mistake. Which would be to completely ignore her. Beloved, we cannot ignore Mary! Think of it: every Sunday of the year, we confess her name in our creed. Belgic Confession, Article 18, even refers to her as “the blessed virgin Mary.” She has an undeniable place in our faith, because she has a role in God’s great plan of redemption. Let’s then consider that this afternoon, focusing on Mary in Scripture and Lord’s Day 14 of the Catechism,

We give thanks to God for Mary, mother of Jesus:

  1. she was one like us
  2. she was a virgin
  3. she was faithful

 

1) she was one like us: So who was Mary? When we first meet her, she lives in the little town of Galilee, in the northern hinterland of Palestine. At the time of Luke 1, Mary may have been only a teenager—some have said that she was as young as thirteen or fourteen. In that culture, the early teens was considered an age when a young woman was ready to get married.

And this young woman was pledged to a man named Joseph. When Luke speaks of being “betrothed” (v 27), this means something different than engagements today. A Jewish betrothal involved two steps. There was the formal engagement, which included the paying of the dowry to the bride’s father. And because it had been formalized in this way, an engagement was considered legally binding. Then about a year later, the wedding would take place.    

Another thing about Mary was that she and her fiancé Joseph were “of the house of David” (v 27). Which meant that a child born to this humble mother and father would be of a royal line, a prince, even a potential king. But so what? Having a king for Israel’s throne was more like a cruel joke, since the Romans ruled the land. Still, the family tree of Joseph and Mary is essential. Remember what Isaiah had prophesied about the Messiah, “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom forever” (9:7). And that echoed what God had promised David centuries before, that he’d have someone on his throne, even eternally.

To have a king from David’s line wasn’t just a nod to the past, a bit of nostalgia. The sons of David had often led Israel with strength and wisdom, and brought in a period of justice and in peace. When you look at Israelite history, it’s a general truth: As the king goes, so goes the people. A good and holy king meant all kinds of blessing for the nation, while a bad king meant disaster. So to have a king again like the great David spelled good things for God’s people. No wonder they looked forward to a man from this line. If the house of David made a comeback, it’d be a new day!

But back to Mary. Picture this young woman, in the backwaters of Israel. Leading an unassuming life on the farm, counting down the days to her wedding. And then Gabriel, one sent directly from God’s presence, shows up. And he’s got a life-changing message! God has ordained that through her, the Redeemer would be born.

God chose Mary, because she was a daughter of David. But He chose her for another reason that’s obvious, but absolutely necessary: she was human. Through this woman of flesh and blood, God will bring into the world a Saviour, one who is also flesh-and-blood.

Now, it’s kind of surprising that the Catechism here mentions none of the Roman Catholic theology about Mary. It’s an obvious place to do so. It’s surprising, because the men of the Reformation certainly mentioned Catholic false teaching often in their writings. Mary was another of the issues that was hotly contested with the church of Rome, like the teaching about justification by faith, or about Holy Supper.

Of course, it’s not entirely absent from the Catechism. The Catholic teaching about Mary was alluded to recently, in Q&A 30. Remember the question: “Do those who seek their salvation or well-being in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else, also believe in the only Saviour Jesus?” And you know how the answer begins: “No. Though they boast of him in words, they in fact deny the only Saviour Jesus…” When the Catechism was written, Mary was someone that people prayed to, along with many other saints. For centuries already, people had been seeking her intercession before God. Who better to speak with God, than the mother of Jesus?

Sadly, since the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic adoration for Mary has only increased. Have you ever heard of the “the immaculate conception”? Sometimes people will think that term refers to Jesus, that it means He was conceived without the stain of sin. But the “immaculate conception” refers not to Jesus, but to Mary. It is claimed that she was born without original sin, and that she remained sinless throughout her life. She also remained a virgin for her whole life, according to the claim.

And if you start with a sinless conception, followed by a spotless life, what’s the next logical step? For Roman Catholic doctrine, it means that Mary did not die. Instead, at the end of her life she was taken up with her body to heaven. And that’s where she is now, carrying out her saving role next to God’s throne. According to Roman teaching, she assists her Son in the work of redemption. Mary continues to obtain gifts of salvation for the church.

I mention all this by way of contrast, to emphasize how very different is the Bible’s picture of Mary. There she is never seen as some kind of exalted being, one who is far removed from this world’s temptations or concerns. Mary didn’t always understand what her son came to do. And in Luke 1:47 we hear her rejoice in God her “Saviour.” Who rejoices in a Saviour, but one who needs a Saviour? Who rejoices in a Saviour, but one who’s a sinner?

Finally, and most importantly, what was it that made Mary so special? When Gabriel comes to her in Luke 1, hear what Gabriel says: “Rejoice, highly favored one!” (v 28). Literally, he says that Mary is “full of grace.” That’s not a statement of Mary’s qualities, that she has lots of grace to hand out to those who ask her. No, that’s a statement of God’s goodness: He had set his free and undeserved love upon her—He chose her out of his good pleasure. After all, she’s hardly an obvious candidate for a holy calling. She’s young. She’s a woman. She’s from the countryside. Yet the LORD gave her a role. It was God’s call that made her blessed!

Doesn’t that still say it all, for every child of God? Apart from God’s grace, we’re really nothing at all. We have no reason to expect favours from God. But as Mary sings about in her song, it’s the lowly whom God exalts. Those who are humble, the LORD lifts up! What happened to Mary should remind us that greatness is never a matter of education, or class, or charisma. It’s only God’s grace that gives us worth. It’s only by his grace in Christ that we live.

So this will be Mary’s role: “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son” (v 31). It was simple, really: God wants the Saviour born of a woman. She didn’t need a halo. She didn’t have to be wonder-woman. She just had to be human. It’s as simple, and as essential as that. It had to be this way, so there can be salvation for sinners like you and me. This is what we confess, “The same human nature which has sinned should pay for sin” (Q&A 16).

So by God’s boundless grace, that’s how it happened: Jesus took on a human nature, and He took on a human flesh, because He was born of his mother Mary. We give thanks to God for Mary, because she was one like us.

 

2) she was a virgin: Gabriel announced “good news” to Mary. But she might not have receive it as such. Sure, it’d be great to have a child. But in the proper time, and the proper way! For Mary wasn’t married. Actually, she hadn’t had sexual relations with a man. But God chose Mary for this reason too: she was a virgin.

Why is that important? To see why, we go back to Genesis, that place of so many important beginnings. One ugly thing with the fall into sin is the change of our nature from righteous into sinful. We had been created in God’s image, but we fell from our privileged place.

Yet even on that day of our rebellion, God promised salvation. And He said this is how the promised Messiah would arrive. The Saviour wouldn’t descend from the heavens in a blaze of glory. He wouldn’t be carried in on the wings of angels. No, He would be born. The Saviour would arrive like everyone else does. “Through the woman,” God said—meaning that Christ will come through the same human line that needs saving!

That’s expecting a lot, isn’t it? The Saviour would arrive via the same line that is so troubled by sin and weakness. We know it from experience. Parents don’t have to teach their children to sin. That’s one lesson we don’t have to spend time on. Unlike long division, or the books of the Bible, or how to ride a push-bike, kids learn to sin just fine on their own. Pride, anger, jealousy, unkindness: it’s all self-taught! Comes natural.

Sure, there’s always the bad example we set. Children learn a lot from the way that we parents talk about other people, or how we react to disappointment, and children watch how older siblings treat each other. But even so, children get the hang of sinning very quickly. Because it’s genetic, it’s part of who we are. In this line, from father and mother, to child, to grandchild—from generation to generation—sin is passed down.

Because that’s the case, you really wonder how a sinless Saviour can be born! How can that genetic chain of sin be broken? You don’t get gold from garbage. So God has to change the way a child is conceived. And that’s what God would do. He’ll bring Christ into the world in a new way. It’d still be by a woman, but there’d be no earthly father.

So the Saviour of the world was conceived in Mary’s womb. The King of the universe used to be microscopic, then growing and developing. Jesus went from looking like a little tadpole, to looking like a real baby, complete with tiny fingers and toes. And all along, He was completely dependent on his mother Mary: hidden in her womb, nourished by her vitality, protected by her body. Then, He was born naked, born helpless. This is how the Messiah, Son of God, our Redeemer, will enter the world.

Mary’s question is only natural: How could she ever conceive without a man? Listen to the words of “explanation” that are spoken by Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (v 35). Notice it’s not a HOW-kind of explanation, but a WHO-kind. This is who will bring it about! We’re not told what the Spirit did to cause conception in Mary’s womb. No clinical report is given, no details unveiled. It just is.

Some theologians will speak here about the phenomenon that is known as parthenogenesis. If you have a bit of Greek, you’ll know that parthenogenesis means “virgin birth.” In botany and biology, this is a form of asexual reproduction, where the growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization. This happens naturally in many plants, among some invertebrate animal species, and a few vertebrates too, like some fish and reptiles. Among these species there is, in a manner of speaking, “a virgin birth.” That’s all very interesting, but, as you might expect, parthenogenesis is unknown among humans. Every book will tell you that a “virgin birth” is impossible.

What’s the answer, then? In the words of Gabriel: “With God nothing will be impossible” (v 37). With this amazing deed—bringing a sinless child from a virgin woman—God shows He has all the might and ability. If God wants to bring about salvation, then He can’t be stopped!

Let’s expand on that point for today. This truth means there’s no earthly obstacle for our God. We know that of course, but sometimes we think God must’ve scaled back, that since Bible times He’s toned things down. Maybe He’s still capable of doing miracles, but He doesn’t. So we shouldn’t ask him to, either.

But our God is unchanging: He is unchanging in his power, and infinite in might. A virgin womb’s was nothing to him. And today, neither is a cold heart, or a stubborn mind, or a hardened will—to God, these aren’t barriers. To us they are: these are places from where we expect nothing good to come. When we see long-term sin, we become frustrated. When we see a pattern of unfaithfulness, we begin to check out. We conclude there’s no hope, it’s just going to be this way. Yet the virgin’s womb tells us differently. It says that God can always bring something out of nothing. He can always bring life from death.

That’s true, also when there are prayers that haven’t been answered yet: prayers to receive children, prayers for healing, prayers for repentance. Then too, we have that word of the angel: “With God nothing will be impossible” (v 37). By faith, that word from the angel can answer every question of “how.” How is this possible? How can we make it? “With God nothing will be impossible.” Let that put in its place every doubt, and let it restore in you a spirit of hope.

And let it move you to keep praying. Pray for your unbelieving neighbours, and pray for your unrepentant loved ones. Pray for those who are stuck in what seem to be impossibly broken situations. Pray in faith, because you believe that with God, nothing will be impossible.

For just remember who it was who came from the virgin’s womb: Jesus Christ! Even more astonishing than the virgin birth is how that little child who arrived was God the Son. The same one who existed from all eternity together with the Father and the Holy Spirit was willing to come down, and to be humbled in the work of redeeming sinners. Says the Catechism, “He is our Mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, in which I was conceived and born” (Q&A 36). Christ came for us. He came to restore sinners, to heal brokenness, to rebuild what’s been wrecked. Christ came to give us life.

 

3) she was faithful: Imagine what it was like for Mary. Soon it’d be known that she was pregnant. And what would Joseph think? And everyone else? Instead of being “highly favoured,” she’d be “lowly regarded.” She’d face insults and accusations and nasty comments. Joseph would probably drop her, left in a precarious state, a single mother maybe only as old as a girl in Grade 8 or 9. All that, on top of a message that was really quite unbelievable: that the child conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit—a child who’d be the promised Messiah.

So this makes her answer to Gabriel all the more astounding. She responds with quiet humility. She accepts this high honour in lowly spirit: “I am the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (v 38). That captures the whole of the Christian way of life: when we say, “Lord, I’m your humble servant. May your will be done, and not my own.”

She’ll accept her place, and even accept any suffering that goes along with it. And Mary will, because of what the angel said: “The Lord is with you,” and, “With God, nothing will be impossible.” With those truths firmly fixed in her heart and mind, she can step forward. Come what may, she’ll do her part in God’s plan, and she’ll carry out his will.

Mary’s a willing instrument. And so the Holy Spirit conceives in her the child. Later on, we see her and Joseph in David’s royal city of Bethlehem. We hear the angels, singing praise to God. We see the shepherds, invited to come and see the Messiah. And in the midst of all these events we notice Mary, mother of Jesus. Luke says she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (2:19, 51).

What does that mean, that Mary treasured these things? She turned them over in her mind, and cherished them, thinking of what Gabriel had once said. Somehow she had conceived a son, carried him to term, nursed him and wrapped him up. Later, she would do everything else a faithful mother still does today. She’d instruct her son in the way of the Scriptures, and she’d make sure He had clothes to wear and square meals to eat. Just how He would bring blessing to God’s people, lift the lowly and restore the weak—that was unknown. She wondered about that.

For there were also the words of Simeon, that old man at the temple in Luke 2. When the infant Jesus was presented, Simeon had been very kind, but he also prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. This young mother would be subject to one of the worst pains that a parent can imagine: seeing one of her own flesh and blood being tortured, seeing her child killed, while she could nothing. The sword that pierced her son on the cross would pierce her too. Even so, Mary trusts in God’s will, for her, and for her Son.

So after going through the agony of seeing him on the cross, and buried in the ground, imagine the joy of his resurrection. Not just her Son has risen from the dead, but her Saviour! Luke tells us in Acts 1 that Mary “the mother of Jesus” is among that early group of believers who were busy in prayer every day, as the church waited for the Holy Spirit. Mary, his mother, was also his disciple and follower!

Yes, God was pleased to use the blessed virgin Mary in his plan of redemption. We thank God for her, and for what she did! But we know from Jesus’ own mouth that He really doesn’t want the attention put on his mother. He loved his mother, and cherished her. But his focus was always elsewhere.

I point you to an event in Luke 11. Jesus is speaking, and Luke reports that “a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” (v 27). That was a common way to bless someone in those days, to honour a mother or father for the accomplishments of their children.

But when Jesus hears that, He’s not so interested in honouring his mother just because she’s his mother. More than anything, Jesus wants people to know and to do the will of the Lord. So Jesus says in reply, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (v 28). That’s what really matters, not some family connection. The real followers of Christ are those who do his will! If you want to see a disciple of Christ, then look for those who are single-minded and whole-hearted in devotion to him.

Today, that’s the legacy that Christian mothers want to pass on to their children, and that Christian fathers want to pass on: a life of faithful obedience to the Word of God. That’s the style of life we should all resolve to lead. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” So wherever we are, whatever our circumstance, say to the LORD, “I am your servant, LORD. Use me, God, as you will.” Because with God, all things are possible.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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