Janet Parshall: Some people love the afternoon and the evening, and they call themselves night people, and that's when their energy starts to flow. How many of you are night people? Yeah, how many of you are day people? You really get going. Why? Just why? For those of you night people and you're really not awake until this afternoon, I join you. I'm glad that you're here.
Here's some things about women I want to share, 10 things that only women understand.
Number 10: A dog's facial expressions
Number 9: The need for the same style of shoes in different colors
Number 8: Why bean sprouts are not just weeds
Number 7: Fat clothes, can I get an amen?
Number 6: Taking a car trip without trying to beat your best time
Number 5: The difference between beige, off-white, and egg-shell
Number 4: Cutting your bangs to make them grow
Number 3: Eyelash curlers
Number 2: The inaccuracy of every bathroom scale ever made in history—right?
Number 1: The top thing that only women understand, other women. So would you turn to the woman next to you and say, “I'm a True Woman”?
Well, let me tell you something. When Nancy Leigh DeMoss calls and asks you if you would be a part of the speaker team and on top of that gives you a specific assignment, you listen very carefully. And Nancy's specific assignment to me for this conference was to talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary. Really, Nancy, Mary? the mother of Jesus? I mean, really, couldn't you have asked me to talk about the Samaritan woman? She was sexually promiscuous? That's a whole lot easier to talk about. Or how about Martha? Who doesn't like a clean house, right? Or how about talking about Lydia? She was a successful business woman, the head of a weaver's guild. That's easy to talk about. Or how about talking about Eve? Don't we love to gossip and blame somebody else? But Mary, really, Mary? I mean, the mother of our Savior? Thanks, Nancy.
Well, as I began to study who this woman was, I mean, really dig into His Word, really dig into His story, and really start to understand His truths, I began to learn anew what it means to be a woman with a humble, submissive, obedient heart. So Nancy, thank you.
Think of all the great women in history. Talk about Cleopatra. She was the queen of Egypt; she was the wife of Caesar—a legendary beauty, still hailed to this day. Or we could talk about Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was the virgin queen who it is said when she ascended to the throne quoted from the 118th Psalm, “It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (verse 23). She was a female ruler that changed the course of history and further opened the doors for spiritual reformation.
Or you could talk about Abigail Adams, whose love for her husband and love for her country guided us through some of our early tempest-torn years. Or you could talk about Rosa Parks, a woman whose dogged, yet gentle, determination fanned the flames of liberty for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin. But added to that list, most assuredly, has to be the name of Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, revered for generations, honored, worshiped by many, and adored. But when does she first make her appearance on the stage of history? It might surprise you.
Her first appearance is not found in the Gospels, her first appearance is actually found in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 7:14 we read, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel.” There she is, in Isaiah 7:14. She's not named, but there she is. Now, friends, there are over 1500 prophecies in Scripture and to date, 500 or so of those 1500 or so have been fulfilled. Jot and tittle, exactly as they were prophesied, and this was another one of those prophesies. And every single one will be fulfilled exactly as it was prophesied, and this was one of them.
But our next introduction to Mary comes in two of the four Gospels, the books of Matthew and Luke. Maybe the most complete story of all is found in the first chapter of Luke. But before we turn there, I'm going to ask us to do a couple of things. I'm going to ask us to put away in our thinking, to really challenge us in our thinking, to put away the Christmas ornaments, to really stop thinking about the cookie exchange, to really not remember who is all on our gift list, and to focus, really focus on the person of Mary.
Not in the context of the Christmas holidays, which is about the only time of the year we really start to think about her, but to really pull back and see her in the context of who she was, where she was in human history, and what were the customs of the day. All of that swirls and wraps itself around the person of Mary. So let's start with a word of prayer before we open His Word.
Our gracious heavenly Father, this is an amazing story because it's the woman that You chose out of all the women of human history to bear your Son. And as a result of that, the word associated with Mary is “blessed.” We pray our preconceived notions, or small thinking about who she is, or seasonal thinking about who she is will be changed. And today as we plumb Your Word, we would begin to understand exactly who this woman was and why she was in every sense of the word a “True Woman” of God. Guide and direct us now, Father. Clear away the clutter in our mind; focus us on You. Let us hear from Your voice; You be the teacher, the instructor. Father, with Your pen, write truth in the tablets of Your heart and change us forever. Guide and direct me now I pray, in Your Son's precious name, amen.
Luke 1, if you turn there, and when we begin our story, we have to drop this in the context of Scripture and realize it has been 400 years since there's been a miracle. There has been 400 years where presumably God was silent. In fact, not since Malachi had promised the coming of Elijah had there really been any sense that we had been hearing from God. That's an awful long time to be waiting and hoping and praying for the Messiah to come. But in those dark times, in those quiet times, there is always a remnant of God's people who are watching and praying and trusting and hoping.
And that takes us to where our story begins. Luke 1:26,
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, from the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (verses 26-33).
What amazing news! Two times in this passage, by the way, the word virgin is used to describe Mary. And later on we will see in verse 34 that Mary herself describes her condition as being a virgin. That hearkens back to the prophesy in Isaiah, a virgin. No question whatsoever on her status—she is a virgin. I think it's important for us to understand the Jewish custom of betrothal. Let me give you the Cliff's Notes if I can on what a Jewish betrothal is all about. It's very germane to Mary's set of circumstances.
The first step in a Jewish marriage was, in fact, the betrothal. It was involved at the establishment of a marriage covenant. By Jesus' time, it was usual for the covenant to be established by the prospective bridegroom taking the initiative. The prospective bridegroom would travel to the house of the prospective bride, and he would then negotiate with the father a price, called a mohar, a price for the bride. Step back a minute and just realize how our heavenly Father loves us so much, and He's so willing that none would perish, that He tells us and tells us and tells us again, so you can't say you “ain't” been told. And this is a classic example of that.
The bridegroom negotiates with the father, the mohar, for a price to buy the bride. You and I, as the followers of Christ Jesus, have been bought with a great price. He is the Bridegroom. We the Church, the followers of Christ Jesus are His Bride. Look at the symbolism here. We have been bought just like the bridegroom negotiates the price for the bride. Well, once the bridegroom has paid the price, the marriage covenant is established and the young man and the young woman from that point going forward are deemed to be husband and wife but no intimacy is allowed to take place yet. And from that moment on, the bride is set aside as consecrated, sanctified, and dedicated exclusively to her bridegroom, just as we the Church are to be consecrated, sanctified, and dedicated to the Bridegroom, Christ Jesus.
As we look at this, we see the symbol of the covenant relationship that once it's established, it’s done in a very unique way. The bridegroom and the bride drink a cup of wine over the betrothal benediction once it's been pronounced. This makes us look at the last supper. You and I often take communion and we hear just before we get the cup, “drink this in remembrance of Me.” It's symbolic of the blood that was shed for our sins. But there's also a hint of the fact that the cup is the reminder that He is the Bridegroom, that the covenant has been sealed. When Christ willingly mounted up on that cross and paid the penalty of our sins, there was the sealing of the covenant relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom and we, His Church.
After the marriage covenant had been established, the groom would then leave the home of the bride, back to his father's house, remain separate from the bride over 12 months. The bride would take the 12-month period, she would start work on her trousseau, get her mind and heart prepared for what married life was going to be like, and then the bridegroom would come himself. While he was occupied, he would stay in his father's house. While he was there, he was occupied with the preparation of creating living accommodations in his father's house to which he would bring his bride.
Can you hear Jesus here, “I'm going to my Father's house to prepare a place for you” (see John 14:2). The Bridegroom is preparing a place for us, His church, His beloved. So at the end of the period of separation, the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. And He is coming again. And He is coming to take us, His Bride, home!
Now, in light of all of that—and I’ll say this one sentence and then I’ll move on very quickly—you begin to understand that marriage is a whole lot more than what is the color of the bridesmaids' dresses? And how many tiers do you have on the cake? You begin to understand that very early on in the book of Genesis, God Himself establishes the model of marriage as one man and one woman. And it's affirmed throughout Scripture, and Jesus Himself reaffirms the model of one man and one woman. You begin to understand it's more than a romantic linkage, it's a model for this profound relationship between the Church and the Savior. In light of that, are you surprised that marriage is under attack in America?
Can you see the spiritual warfare? The father of all lies, the accuser of the brethren hates the model of marriage because it speaks with eloquence to the relationship we have with our Savior—that intimate, eternal covenant relationship with the Church, you and me as followers of Christ Jesus with Him evermore.
Understanding the Jewish custom is important. This bit of history sets the background culturally for what it means for Mary. In her day and age, Jewish men got married in their late teens, early 20s. The rabbi set the age of marriage for the woman and the age, the minimum age a woman could get married was twelve. Twelve! That meant Joseph was older than Mary. Mary was twelve, thirteen, maybe fourteen years old. She's a teenager; she's a junior high girl—twelve, thirteen, or fourteen. Mary is a girl from a small town. She is in every sense of the word a small town girl from the tribe of Judah, the royal line of David
Most likely she was poor. Most likely she was illiterate. Girls in those days were never given education but that doesn't mean—we'll see this in a minute—that she was in any way, shape, or form ignorant. She knew the Torah; she knew the Word of God. Out of the abundance of her heart the mouth would speak. The Bible, by the way, never mentions her parents, never describes her physically, and the only way you really get to know Mary is the way in which she starts to react to this profound news delivered in a pretty amazing way. “And Mary said to the angel,” and we read this now in verse 34,
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God (verses 34-35).
Now the question she asks is not a question of doubt, it's a question of curiosity. She's a teenage girl, understands she's a virgin and isn't quite sure how all of this is going to happen. The answer is this: The third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is going to enable you to conceive, and it's going to be a miracle. Now, Scripture doesn't tell us the day, the hour, the moment when this occurs. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Scripture draws a veil of privacy across that moment, and we are not allowed to peer in. Calvin said this, “It's mysterious secrecy, withdrawn as if by a cloud from human scrutiny. That magnificent, miraculous moment was between Mary and the Holy Spirit, and none other.”
So as she goes to this experience it's amazing to me, not the question that she asks, but rather the questions she doesn't ask that really tell us who Mary is.
- She doesn't say, “What's Joseph going to think?”
- She doesn't say, “What's this going to do to my potential marriage?”
- She doesn't say, “What are my parents going to think?”
- She doesn't ask, “What is going to happen to my reputation?”
- She doesn't say, “What will my future in this town be like going forward?”
- She doesn't say, “How am I supposed to raise the son of God?”
- And she doesn't say, “Why me?”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones has something beautiful to say about this. He says, “Love is not just a sentiment, love is a great controlling passion, and it's always expressing itself in terms of obedience.” And that's really the story of Mary, isn't it? It's obedience.
Mary takes in this news, and because of her heart condition, humbled, submissive, obedient, she says pretty profound words, “Behold, I'm the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (verse 38). Now, her words actually foreshadow what her baby boy will say some 30 years hence when in the predawn hours on his knees in a garden, perhaps leaning against an olive tree he says, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine.”
Mary doesn't argue with the illogic of the announcement. Mary doesn't wrap her response around her circumstances. Mary does not barter with God for what she thinks might be something better. In fact, she knows nothing is impossible with God. Say that with me. Nothing is impossible with God. Say it one more time like we really believe that. Nothing is impossible with God.
I love this translation from the 1901 version of the American Standard Version of Scripture. It says, “For no word of God shall be void of power.” Does that not take this Book and make it all the more amazing? “No word of God shall be void of power.” This is not just a book on your night stand. This is not just a book among many books in your house. This is a vibrant, living, powerful, inspired, God-breathed, truth setting free, liberating text of love letters from our King.
No word of God shall be void of power. God accomplishes His purposes through the power of His Word. So Mary declares that she is a—and this is an interesting word—a doula, a servant, a handmaiden. It's interesting to study handmaidens throughout history, because handmaidens would often sit quietly and wait in the chambers of their mistresses. With simply a wave and hand, the mistress would direct the handservant to do anything. Without dialogue or discussion, in immediate obedience, the handmaiden would respond when the mistress waved her hand.
And in the hierarchy of help, handmaidens were deemed to be the lowliest of servants. So when Mary calls herself a doula, a servant, she empties herself completely of her, and allows the Holy Spirit to completely fill her. That's what a handmaiden does: obeys and obeys and obeys without question. No wonder the word “blessed” is so subscribed to the definition of Mary.
Mary knew who God was; she knew His Word and had learned to trust Him. And when His messenger sends the most incredible news to a 13-year-old girl from Nazareth, she is ready, she is prepared to say “yes.” Yes.
“Yes” would have meant that Mary's plans would be changed forever.
- “Yes,” when it meant that her reputation might be smudged.
- “Yes,” when it meant that her child was going to be called names.
- “Yes”, when it meant her husband may never trust her again.
She said “yes.” Now what would you or I have said in that set of circumstances?
Would we be willing to go where God calls? Or would we be hesitant?
- Would we say “yes” if it meant that people would mock us?
- Would we say “yes” if it meant people would marginalize us?
- Would we say “yes” if it meant going from a safe place to a place where all we could do is trust God?
- Would we say “yes” because our hearts are humbled, submitted, and obedient?
You can't tell the story without understanding what's going on at the same time in the life of Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. Now remember the other part of the angel's message, “And behold [the angel says], your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren” (verse 36). Now this means the angel has delivered not one, but two pre-birth announcements in one angelic appearance.
Elizabeth's story starts in Luke 1:5, so look back a little bit. Here is a quick overview of Elizabeth's story. Elizabeth is married to a man named Zechariah. Zechariah is a priest. Elizabeth comes from a long line of priests from the tribe of Aaron. The Bible uses a wonderful word to describe this couple: They are called righteous.
I don't know about you, but if you and I were fortunate enough to be named in Scripture, what adjectives would you like to have used to describe you? Righteous is pretty amazing. But it gets even better than that. Scripture says that "they walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord" (verse 6)—a pretty remarkable couple. And we learn more by understanding that they are righteous, they are walking blamelessly, but they have a broken heart.
You see, they have no children. And in that age and in that era, that would have given Zechariah the right to divorce Elizabeth, to move on, and to be able to say that he could get a different wife. Because he was entitled to children, and if she couldn't deliver, that could have been the end of it. But he didn't divorce his wife. They stayed together, and they prayed constantly. They walked blamelessly, and they were in every sense of the word, righteous. Even though they prayed for a child and the answer was a constant “no,” they still trusted God and continued to pray.
But finally in verse 13 we hear the angel say, “Your prayer has been heard.” I found this amazing when I was digging in, “Your prayer has been heard.” The tense there is the present tense. Maybe it's just me, but let me see, Zechariah is old; she's barren, but they are still praying for a child. That says something about the level of trust in our great king, doesn't it? So they are still praying. Elizabeth and Zechariah never stop praying, and finally get the answer they have been praying for. “No” gets turned into “yes.” And this is an important place for us to stop and really allow the Lord to teach us what it means to be a true woman of God.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, walking blamelessly, but brokenhearted. They constantly had a prayer that constantly was answered no. In fact, their dream was denied. But as we are going to see it wasn't really denied; it was delayed. But they didn't know that. They just kept praying and praying, these righteous people, blameless in their walk, and trusted and trusted. And here are words you never hear describing their marriage and their relationship: bitter, angry, spiritually dry, divorce, resentment, affair. None of those words describe this couple. Now, Zechariah knew that if there were no children, that would be it—no legacy, no history, no staff with the genealogy of his family passed down.
Elizabeth could have been cast aside years ago. That says something about their love life and how much they loved each other and how much their love of God kept them together. By the way, it's a necessary component in strong, healthy, vibrant marriages. This is a real husband and a real wife asking for a real child and hearing a real “no.” Step into the space of the words here. These are not some plastic Bible superheroes. These are real people, and despite the ongoing answer of “no,” they continued to honor and worship God. How is that possible when God keeps saying “no," how can we still trust and obey and submit? How?
Well, I think something in Zechariah and Elizabeth's life teaches us that. They knew God. They spent time with God and trusted God and loved God. They left the answers to their prayers in His hands regardless of the result. The interesting thing is that despite the long, long, tearful years of praying for a child, and always hearing a “no,” it didn't make their faith go dry. The years of “no” actually made their faith go deep. That's an important lesson for us. God had not turned His back. God was not in absentia. God heard; He cared, and He answered according to His good and perfect will. And righteous, blameless people walking in all of His commandments know how to say, "Nevertheless, Lord, not my will, but Thine.”
So they submitted. But then their answer came and their world changed dramatically, and what a result it was. Here is Zechariah on his rotation duty in the temple. This is always very interesting. As a priest, his responsibility was two times a year to go down to Jerusalem and serve at the synagogue, at the temple down there. It was his turn. And more importantly, because of the choosing by lots, he was given permission to light the incense. This is also a lofty position, because there are more priests than days in the year to allow incense to be burned.
It was a really a marvelous time in Zechariah's life. He had been chosen by lot to burn the incense. The incense was outside the veil from the holy place that separates it from the most holy place, so it was a marvelous day in Zechariah's life. He was being a priest doing his priestly duties, had been chosen to burn the incense, and he was near the sacred place where the Spirit of the Lord dwelled.
Could it get any bigger and better than that? Yes, and it did! It's amazing because Scripture describes this so beautifully. And I love it, by the way, when it gives us direction and says while he's lighting the incense there standing on the right was the angel Gabriel. The guy must have about had a heart attack—he is an old man. He's lighting the incense. This is an amazing moment, and there he is.
The Bible tells us this angel's name, and it's the same angel who shows up for Mary, his name is Gabriel. You know what is exciting about this? In the whole study of Angelology, out of all the angels that serve our great and glorious king, and there are thousands and thousands of them, and they are keeping watch over us, and they are unaware among our midst. And we praise God for them. We don't worship them, but it speaks to His majesty.
But out of all the angels, there are only two that are named—Michael and Gabriel. Gabriel is an M.V.P. for God. He shows up. He is there, standing to the right of the incense. Boy, this has to be an amazing moment. There is this priest who is righteous and blameless and keeping all the commandments, and there is the angel. He has the special task and the special place doing a special job, and you just don't expect to be touched by an angel. And there was Gabriel, and here is what the angel says. I'm so thankful Scripture lets us read the moment. Verse 13, the angel said,
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.
Now this is marvelous, by the way, because John means “Jehovah has shown grace.” Perfect name. Verse 14,
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (verses 14-17).
What a message, it's a boy! He's going to be bold and uncompromising and stand for the Word of God. He's going to be the last great prophet. He's going to make ready the way of the Lord. He's going to be filled with the Holy Spirit, awesome, amazing, hallelujah! And what does Zechariah do? He gives the angel some lip. This is a priest. Bad move, Zechariah. And what does he say, verse 18, “How shall I know this? I'm an old man, my wife is advanced in years.”
Wait a minute, didn't Mary say, “Let it be according to thy word?” Didn't Jesus say, “Not my will but thine?” Didn't the angel say, “Nothing is impossible with God.” And this priest says, “How is this going to happen?” No word of God shall be void of power. I love what C.S. Lewis says about that. "There are two kinds of people, those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then have it your way.'" I prefer the first. Zechariah, this is an angel, he knows your situation. You are a priest. Don't need to argue with him.
As I was thinking about this I thought to myself, “Janet, you are so quickly pointing a finger at Zechariah. How many times have you done that to God? How many times have you said, ‘But God, but God?’” And I start telling the King of all creation my circumstances. He knows me inside out and upside down. He knows the numbers of hair on my head. Before I breathed my first breath outside my mama's womb, He knew me. He has all my days laid out before me. My name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and how dare I argue with the King? But I do it. I repent, I do it.
But God, oh, that I could exorcise those words out of my vocabulary. How many of us are like Zechariah? When we take a look at our circumstances rather than look at our King, we let our circumstances define our response and our reaction rather than understanding it is a great and powerful God we serve.
Elisabeth Elliot, as only Elisabeth Elliot can say it, “I really don't think you are in a bargaining position with God. He is the master. He is the commanding officer. It's not for you to have input. It is simply for you to accept the orders as the orders are given.” Elisabeth Elliot, right on. So he gets a rebuke. The condensed modern Parshall version is, “The angel says, ‘Zip it.’”
But here is what he says. When you think about what is going on, it has to send chills down your spine.
Zechariah is standing in the significant spot in the temple, doing the significant job. This angel, one of the two only named in Scripture, he is a magnificent angel, and you can just see him standing next to the altar. And when Zechariah starts to give him some talk-back, can't you just see Gabriel just slightly perhaps starting to open those wings? And he says “I am Gabriel.” And as if there were any doubt in Zechariah’s mind, he says, “I stand in the presence of God.”
At that point I think I'm a pile of goo on the floor. He goes on to tell Zechariah,
And I was sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and you will be unable to speak until the days that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time (verse 20).
So take a look at how these two people reacted so differently to the messages of Gabriel.
- Zechariah is in the temple.
- Mary is in the small town of Galilee.
- Zechariah is a priest.
- Mary is a commoner.
- Zechariah is a mature, older male.
- Mary is a young girl.
- Zechariah responds with unbelief and a challenge.
- Mary responds with trust and praise.
- Zechariah is silenced.
- Mary is called blessed.
What a reminder, what a reminder and encouragement that God is so not impressed with our station in life, or our credentials, or any of that external stuff. He is interested in our heart, in our heart.
This young girl out-shined a privileged priest. No wonder she's called the favored one. The story gets more exciting because it says as we go on in verse 39, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town called Judah.” Now can you imagine if Mary, this 13-year-old girl, had gone to her parents and said, “I'm pregnant! Isn't that wonderful? And Joseph is not the father. It's actually the Holy Spirit who performed a miraculous act. The baby is going to be a boy, and it’s going to be the Messiah who we've been waiting for! Can anybody say “mazel tov?”
Not exactly, not exactly. So who was she going to tell? Mary can't go tell the rabbi. She can't go tell her neighbors. We don't know of any kind of reaction she had with her family, but odds are she wasn’t telling her mom and her dad. So what does she do? The one person she can tell is her cousin Elizabeth, because Elizabeth got the same heavenly “Western Union” that she did.
So she wants to go see Elizabeth. So the young girl from Nazareth takes off on a village drive that probably would have been 75-85 miles. It would have taken in those days about three to four days, and the odds are that she traveled alone because of her circumstances. But she wanted to get there with haste.
So Mary knows, Mary knows that Elizabeth, her older cousin, is going to understand full well.
Mary knows that Elizabeth has had a miraculous experience as well. So Mary, when she sees her elderly, formerly barren, now pregnant cousin, Mary knows this is going to physically confirm the message Mary has received. “If Elizabeth is truly pregnant, oh my, oh my, that means everything that Gabriel told me is going to come to fruition as well. Hurry up little donkey. Go faster, go faster, go faster!”
Elizabeth at this point could use some company. She is six months pregnant; she is about to enter her third trimester, and she's old. And her husband, he's not talking so much these days. She then decides that she is going to confine herself at home, after all, this is Elizabeth. She is a senior citizen. She's a card-carrying member of the AARP, and now she's in her third trimester. Her legs are swelling, who knows what morning sickness was like. “I'm not sure I want to be the ridicule of the neighbors. They know the Zechariah’s household has been praying for years. I'm not sure I want to go out yet."
The Bible says she confines herself, and I think it was about not just preparing her body but preparing her heart for what God had planned for her. She was carrying a miracle child. And this faithful woman of God wanted to be ready for all that was in store for her.
Mary finally shows up, and what a meeting it is. Scripture describes it in beautiful detail, starting with verse 40.
She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (verses 40-45).
The baby leapt. Remember what Gabriel had said, that this baby boy would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even in utero, he would be filled with the Holy Spirit? He manifested that joy, that leaping joy of recognition, that from inside his mama he knew. It was his job, his joy, his mission to foretell the Messiah is coming. And he was doing his job even before he drew his first breath outside of Elizabeth. He was proclaiming from the womb that Jesus is Lord.
Now, do I need to stop here for a moment to discuss the sanctity of human life? Does that sound like a blob of tissue dancing to you? Is there any question that women of the Word are pro-life? So Elizabeth, too, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and I love this. “With a loud cry she shouts out.” Loud cry, loud cry.
We have evidence in verse 62 that her husband could not speak but probably was deaf as well. Mary is standing in front of her. Loud cry? She can hear you—she's in front of you! Why do you need a loud cry? She recognizes that Mary is carrying the Lord, the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. She wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and John jumps just to confirm that message. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (verse 42).
Elizabeth wasn't jealous of Mary. She was carrying a prophet; Mary was carrying a king. The older woman calls the younger woman blessed. Now notice it doesn't say that she was blessed above women. It says she was blessed among women. And nowhere in Scripture do we read that she was described as a co-redemptrix, or in fact that she was ever without sin. But for her obedient, believing heart, for her faithfulness to the call God placed on her life she was indeed blessed. She's blessed because she carried the greatest child.
Now, the two pregnant women spent roughly three months together. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in those three months. What did they talk about? Did Elizabeth mentor Mary on how to be a good and faithful wife? Remember, Mary was in that period of the betrothed where she was getting ready to get married. Did they talk about what their pregnancies would be like? Did they talk about the fact that Mary was going to have an interesting first two trimesters because Elizabeth could speak from experience? Did they talk about the baby boys? Did they talk about Gabriel's appearance? Did they have any idea whatsoever that both of their baby boys would die—one for proclaiming the truth, and the other for being the Truth?
Then Mary breaks into song. It's called her Magnificat. The song is called the Magnificat because the Latin version of Luke 1:46 is the magnificat anima mea Dominium.
Remember when I said earlier that Mary may have been illiterate? That didn't mean she didn't know the Word of God. Out of her mouth in the Magnificat poured multiple references from the Old Testament. She knows the covenant God she serves. She declares what God has done for her. She recalls His prophets; she remembers His psalms; she knows His law; she points out that even she needs a Savior.
She recognizes her humble state. She sings of what God has done. As Warren Wiersbe puts it, “For the helpless, the humble, and the hungry.” She offers praise for what God has done for Israel. She remembers how He kept His promises to the nation, how He protected them. She understands that there is eternal and profound connection between Israel and the Messiah. Then Mary sings her confidence in praise because God is powerful, sovereign, mighty, merciful, worthy, gracious, savior, Lord. She worships Him because she knows who He is.
His Word is hidden in her heart, and she will need to remember His Word and her song in the days and the years to come. Life in so many ways will not be what Mary had expected or what Mary had planned. Henry Blackaby says,
God's commands are designed to guide you in life's very best. You will not obey Him if you do not believe Him and trust Him. You cannot believe Him if you do not love Him. You cannot love Him unless you know Him.
Mary knew God, and she loved Him.
Roman taxation would cause her to make a long and painful trip in the last days of her pregnancy. She would not have a clean bed with clean linens and the attending help of women and a midwife on her delivery date. Being nine months pregnant, she will have to stay in a barn. Some people call it a stable. It's a barn. Ever slept in a barn? Animals make noise at night. They move at night—not only the barn animals, but there are insects, mice, spiders. And stables have to be mucked. For you non-farm hands out there, I’ll let you figure out later what that means. So take out of your mind that tidy, neat, little nativity scene that you put up each year. Mary is tired and pregnant and in a smelly barn—not what she expected.
Maybe she remembers the words of old that said, “His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” She had expectations, but God has a perfect plan. Shortly after the birth of her precious boy, she has company in the barn. “Oh, great! Guests who deal with animals—just what I need.” The shepherds come and affirm because remember, they, too, had a visit from the angels. “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). And these Bedouin shepherds come and affirm again the message she heard so many months earlier from Gabriel, that He indeed is the long-awaited Messiah. They confirm the message, and she remembers in her heart the words, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the most high and Mary pondered these things” (see Luke 2:51).
When I was a little girl growing up, my mother used to use that phrase all the time, “and Mary pondered these things.” She would often say it when something significant happened in her life, or something significant happened in her family. If one of those seminal moments occurred, that every family has to deal with, she would look at me. This godly, precious woman, now in the presence of our king, and she would say, “And Mary pondered these things.”
Women, sisters, I think you and I from now until the day the Lord calls us home should do what Mary did and have those moments of pondering where we quietly take the treasures that we have learned and received, and we put them in our heart. Then in those dark moments, in those trying moments, in those alone moments, we can take out one of the treasures that we have been pondering and remember it again. Mary's pondering would come into play in the years ahead.
Then being observant Jews, what did Mary and Joseph do? They take baby Jesus to the temple to have him dedicated. When they get there, there is this old righteous, faithful man named Simeon. He confirms yet again for Mary the truth of what Gabriel has said. He says,
Lord, now you are you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
But Mary hears Simeon, this aged man, who knew the significance of this baby, who knew exactly who he had been waiting for. He said something else, something that would significantly impact Mary. He said “and a sword will pierce your soul” (Luke 2:35). The word sword here, believe it or not, is defined as the same word used to describe the big, huge, broad sword that Goliath used. What he is saying in the use of that word is that this is going to be a deep, piercing pain in your life—not what Mary had expected when she said “yes.”
A.W. Tozer said, “The true follower of Christ will not ask, ‘If I embrace this truth what will it cost me?’ Rather, he will say, ‘This is truth. God help me to walk in it. Let come what may.’”
So Mary and Joseph and their small son have to flee the country because of a maniacal, paranoid king who wants to kill all the little boys he can. They went to Egypt, not to Nazareth. She would have loved to have gone back to her town to raise her precious baby boy and talk with the neighbors and start living her life the way Mary expected it to be. But things had changed. They go to a foreign land, and once again the veil of Scripture is closed. The Word is silent of what happened in those young years of Jesus' life. But being a maidservant, a handmaiden, a doula, Mary knows that she is giving her plans, her timetable, and her expectations to the one whom she has entrusted her life. It's not what she expected when she said “yes.”
She would give birth to Jesus' brothers and sisters, who would not believe their brother was the Messiah until after Jesus had died. She would watch her son turn water into wine and hear her baby boy call her “woman,” not “mother.” And she recognized that the real separation was starting to begin, that Jesus was not just her son, He was the Redeemer of all the world.
She would listen as others called her son names, thinking him mad, or in league with the devil. In fact, even a family delegation would go and try and get Him and pull Him back and get Him to tone down a little and avoid the public criticism. “Be less controversial, Jesus.” And she would hear Jesus respond by saying, “Who is my mother, or my brothers?” And then Jesus would answer His own question. He would say, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother.” Not what she expected when she said “yes.”
While He was hanging on that piece of lumber, on that hill outside Jerusalem with the distinctive shape, before the mocking guards and the scoffing crowds, she would hear her firstborn son say, “Woman, behold your son.” And to the tender-hearted young man named John standing next to her, He would say, “Behold, your mother.” There is that precious word, that defining term, that privileged position, that painful job called mother. He was her son, and He was also her Savior.
Mary had pondered; she remembered it all. Mary would love her child and watch her child die. Mary would have the joy of raising her child, while not fully understanding until after His death all that He was, or is, or will be. Mary would come to know God more deeply through Jesus. Mary would watch her son, her Savior, die for her sins. Simeon was right; it did hurt deeply. Not what she expected when she said “yes.”
A small town girl, little education, less money, visited by a messenger from God who carried news no one ever heard before that day and no one would ever hear after that day. She was willing to give up her own plans, her own goals, her own timelines, her own dreams, to be a doula. She was humble, obedient, submissive, and she changed history. If God can do that with Mary, blessed as she was among women, what could God do with a woman today who is willing to be a servant? A woman today who is willing to say, “God, give me your desires for my heart. Lord, be first always in my life. Father, not my will but Thine.”
Henry Blackaby also said this. “He has the right to interrupt your life. He is Lord. When you accepted him as Lord you gave Him the right to help Himself to your life any time He wants.” If we take that same position as Mary, I think we are pretty much guaranteed that things won't be as we expected, but He has the right to our life. We have been bought with a price. We are His Bride. And we are His handmaiden.
Mary loved God; she knew His Word; she waited for Him. When His messenger arrived, she didn't doubt, or argue, or debate, she submitted and life wasn't always easy for her, but she trusted God and His plan for her life. Ellen Redpath said,
We are prepared to serve the Lord only by sacrifice. We are fit for the work of God only when we have wept over it, prayed about it, and then we are enabled by Him to tackle the job that needs to be done. May God give to us hearts that bleed, eyes that are wide open to see, minds that are clear to interpret God's purposes, wills that are obedient, and a determination that is utterly unflinching as we set before the tasks he would have us to do.
Mary with her humble, obedient, submissive heart said “yes,” and so should we.
Our gracious heavenly Father, how You chose this young teenager from Nazareth to be the woman who would carry your Son, is a profound message to the rest of us. What can happen when we choose to be humbled and submissive and obedient before You? Father, I thank You also for the reality of the biography of Mary's life; that saying “yes” doesn't mean it's going to be easy or simple, without challenges, or without tears. In fact, it might almost guarantee the latter. But Father, if we love You, truly love You, if we desire to know You and recognize our position as Your Bride, then Father, our hearts should burn with a passion to be obedient to serve, to be humbled and ready to die to self. In the words of that great last prophet, John the Baptist, “That we might decrease, and You would increase.” Oh God, as we dig deeper into Your Word, as we long, pant after You, wanting more than anything to be a “true woman” of God, help us, Lord, to learn how to say “yes.” We pray this in Your Son's name, amen.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.