Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What We Can Learn From the HIGHLY FAVORED ONE

What We Can Learn From the HIGHLY FAVORED ONE
Lessons from Mary, the mother of Jesus

It is easy to read the Christmas story and forget about Mary after the holidays end. We exclaim over her humility and willingness to be chosen to be the mother of Christ and we love to recite her Magnificat. But Mary was much more than the new mother we honor each December and she has life lessons from which we can glean during the other eleven months of the year.

Before we go into the Scriptures to see what they tell us about Mary, let’s look first at the cultural setting for her story as well as do a little reflection. In first century Galilee it was customary for a young woman to marry once she had started her menses. As soon as she could bear children, she was considered a woman. Some scholars put Mary’s age as low as 12 but she was more likely to have been 13. Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, was between 16 and 22 years of age. It is likely that their marriage had been arranged. Once their engagement was announced, they were considered “married.” Joseph would have paid his prospective father-in-law a sum of money for Mary and Mary would have been considered the property of Joseph. In fact if Joseph died before the marriage was consummated, Mary would have been considered a widow in every respect. Traditionally, it was a year from the date that the couple had signed their agreement that they consummated their marriage and this would be followed by a celebration.

Now, consider with me what type of woman you would have chosen to be the mother of God. Perhaps you, like I, would think like this:
·       Happily married to a godly man
·       Settled into a comfortable home
·       Older with some years of wisdom
·       Coming from a family respected in the community
·       Family be a member of the religious community
Yet, Mary was none of these. Elizabeth George described her this way: Mary was young – unseasoned, inexperienced, unaccomplished, and unmarried. She had never been a mother. Mary was poor – possessing no fortune, no wealth, and no family inheritance. Mary was unknown – boasting no fame or social status. No one had heard of her father or mother…or her. Furthermore, nothing is said about her physical appearance or beauty. Clearly no one would choose Mary to be the mother of God’s Son…except God. Despite what she lacked in the world’s eyes, God sent His angel Gabriel to this poor, humble teen-age girl.  

      In the sixth month God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words, and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But, the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. “ “How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the one to be born will be called the Son of God. …There is nothing impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant. “ Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:26-38)

  Since God didn’t look on Mary’s lack, but rather on what it was she possessed, Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement gives us some insight into her soul, her true self and what God saw.

            Mary listened to the Gabriel’s pronouncement and then simply asked, “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” She wasn’t questioning what God was asking her to do, but rather asking for clarification as to how it would be possible. Perhaps she’s thinking it will take place after the consummation of her marriage to Joseph so that it would appear “proper.” But, Gabriel lets her know that God would be the father of this child in a way totally contrary to biology, after which Mary responds,  “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) It didn’t matter whether she understood all Gabriel was saying or not, she believed that God could do anything and that was enough. Mary’s response was one of absolute submission to God’s will.

Some versions use the word handmaiden rather than a servant. Both show that Mary was so devoted to God and lived in respect and awe of his holiness and power that, even though she was granted the honor of being the mother of the Messiah, the desire of every mother’s heart for her daughter, she still saw herself as just a maidservant or handmaiden. These are terms that refer to a female slave who was obligated to perform her master’s will without question or delay.  Her heart was prepared for this moment by a lifetime of devotion to God, and obedience to the Jewish laws and scriptures. Perhaps it was this servant-heartedness that caused God to select her from all the young Jewish virgins of her day to be the “highly favored among women.”    
Scripture is silent on the reaction of Mary’s parents to this news. I can only imagine that they were somewhat skeptical of her story, perhaps even ashamed and embarrassed by it. I’m sure all of those close to Mary had conflicting emotions just as we would in the same situation.  We do know that Joseph was ashamed and hurt by her pregnancy and planned to break their engagement. I can only imagine how much it hurt Mary to know that Joseph doubted her. Her heart must have been breaking to realize that Joseph was thinking her guilty of the worst thing a virtuous woman could accused of.  As Scripture tells us, he too had a visit from an angel who verified Mary’s Mary learned early on that being a maidservant of God would come with a price. She was viewed as a fornicator and even Jesus would have his “illegitimacy” thrown up to him by the Pharisees when he was a grown man. (John 8:41) It was a shadow over her character all of her life. In addition, Mark 6:3 references Mary’s other sons by name as well as stating that Jesus had sisters and they didn’t believe in him as the Messiah.  Sibling rivalry will always exist, but to doubt the integrity of one another as adults and even undermine another sibling is a hard blow to a mother’s heart. Yet, it was only after Jesus’ resurrection that his siblings recognized his deity. But recognizing Jesus’ deity couldn’t stop the agony in Mary’s heart as she had to observe the cynicism of the religious community toward his ministry, and ultimately to suffer the cruelest of deaths. The Romans wouldn’t even allow any of their own citizens to be crucified, as it was so brutal and painful. They inflicted it on criminals of the people they ruled. And Mary had to stand by, powerless,
as her first-born son was given a sham trial and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was brutally beaten and mocked and then nailed to the cross. Mary and other of Jesus’ loyal women followers stayed at the cross where he could see them and know that they loved him. I wonder if she recalled the words of Simeon who, upon seeing the infant Jesus in the temple, foretold that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul.  Did she think, “It’s coming true.” As all mothers know, when their child suffers, they suffer. But Mary suffered more than anyone has ever had to suffer.   
 Obedience to God and His call on our lives is not always going to be easy. Although Mary found favor with God, her life was not without suffering. None of us will be favored in the way that Mary was, but each of us has been given gifts and talents and God calls each of us to be His ambassadors in the place where we are, using those gifts. We too may be asked to endure false accusations, family problems, misunderstandings, widowhood, and sorrow even though we are a deeply loved daughter of God. Mary’s response was to ponder or reflect upon what was happening and trust in God’s wisdom and humbly be obedient to His plan.

Think of the absolute rapture Mary felt when Jesus rose from the dead. Her darkest moment turned into unbelievable joy upon learning that her son, who was her Lord, was alive!

We last see Mary gathered with the apostles as well as his brothers in Jerusalem where a replacement for Judas was chosen and ultimately the Holy Spirit was given.  She was allowed to see the beginning of the Christian church and most likely was a vocal witness to the veracity of Christ as the Son of God.

John D. Barry stated that, “The underlying theme of Mary’s story isn’t that different from ours. Her story teaches us a profound lesson: the life of faith is made up of a series of steps that bring us closer to the fulfillment of God’s will, but not necessarily farther from the challenges and struggles involved with moving ahead.”

Life’s pain must never keep you from being obedient to Christ and his claims on your life nor ever doubt his total love and care for you.

  The woman who is a woman after God’s own heart is one who, like Mary, is humbly obedient to God, faithful to God’s call on her life, and willing to endure suffering and scorn to experience the joy of eternal life.

Message by Shari Hervold

Here's how:
Admit your sins have separated you from God. (Psalm 14:1-3: Rom 3:23)
Believe that God did something about your sins through Jesus Christ. (The final Pascal Lamb/Messiah.) (Lev. 17:10: Heb 9:19-22)
Commit - yourself to His righteous by confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior. (Isa 53:5; Col. 1:22) and do it today! (Isa 49:8; 2 Cor 6:2).

Father in Heaven, I'm sorry for the things I've done that are wrong: I am a sinner; forgive me. Thank you for living me and sending your Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for my sin. Holy Spirit, come into my heart; Jesus be my Lord and Savior. I give You my life. Amen

"Mary Did You Know" by
Mark Lowery & Buddy Green