She saw the precious, little child to whom she gave birth, now a man full grown, suspended between heaven and earth, beaten, bloodied, mocked and nailed to a cruel, Roman cross. As she gazed, not just upon the God who condescended to man’s low estate (Phil. 2:5ff), but also upon the man who was her son, surely a sword pierced her to the very soul, just as old Simeon had prophesied thirty-three years earlier (Luke 2:35). What a blessed burden this woman bore throughout her life. It is no wonder that she, above all women, was chosen by the Lord to be the vessel which carried Him from the Throne of Heaven to this mundane, mortal sphere.
No less than a personal call from the angel Gabriel would suffice to announce to her the glorious events which unfolded in her life and changed the world (Luke 1:26). She was highly favored by the Lord and blessed among women (1:28). Needless to say, she was “troubled at his saying” that she would bear the Son of God (Luke 1:29, 32, 35). Yet her words, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” marked her meek acceptance of Gabriel’s shocking announcement and demonstrated her deep faith and humble spirit. This is the same humble attitude the Lord exhibited in the garden when He said, “Not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Luke 26:39).
Who better to understand and relate to what she was experiencing than Elizabeth? Gabriel had mentioned her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also blessed to “conceive a son in her old age” (1:36). She was already six months with child when Gabriel announced Mary’s conception and when the two met, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (1:44). Mary’s subsequent praise of the Lord demonstrated a great humility and a long and intimate acquaintance with Holy Scripture, especially Hannah’s song of thanksgiving (cf. I Sam. 2:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55). These two women spent the next three months communing with one another likely until just after John was born (Luke 1:56). Now she had to face Joseph.
How does a woman tell her betrothed that she is with child that is not his but that she has not been unfaithful to him? That this child is the promised Messiah and is a supernatural work of God? How would a man accept that? It was difficult enough for Joseph, himself a just and compassionate and holy man, for he thought it best to put her away privily to spare her the shame. Even in what he thought might be her sin, her character spoke for her until the Lord assured him that Mary was innocent. He would thenceforth share in any reproach brought upon the family by those assuming the child had been born out of wedlock (cf. John 8:41).
Mary’s composure throughout all the tumultuous events of her life testify to her faith and grace. Money was scarce for them (cf. Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12:6-8). Traveling at this time for the census would be difficult (Luke 2:1), giving birth to Jesus in the manger because there was no room in the inn (2:7), dealing with the speculations of those who heard the shepherds’ report of the heavenly host’s announcement (Luke 2:8-20, see esp. v. 18), taking Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord forty days later (Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:2,4 – and where she received Simeon and Anna’s prophecies – vv. 25-39), receiving the magi (Matt. 2:10-12), fleeing the country to escape Herod’s cruelty (Matt. 2:13-15), returning to the lightly esteemed Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; John 1:46), running his business and rearing other sons and daughters (Matt. 13:55,56; Mark 6:3) would no doubt challenge this family.
When Jesus was twelve years old, when the family went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover and returned back home, Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, arguing with the doctors of the law (Luke 2:41-45). When they discovered that He was not with them and went back to Jerusalem, Mary reproved Him having treated them thus. However, Mary was gently reproved by the words of the young Jesus when He told her: “How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” (2:49). And though she did not yet fully understand all these things, she kept them in her heart (Luke 2:50,51).
After his cousin John’s endorsement of Him (John 1:29-37; Matt. 3:7-15), particularly after the Father in Heaven’s announcement of His divinity (Matt. 3:16,17), and after His temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), Jesus publicly announced Himself as Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He had already gained fame as a teacher in the synagogues in the region (Luke 4:14,15). Though this is where Mary and Joseph had reared Jesus, no mention is made of her presence there or of her other children, when the multitudes attempted to kill Him (Luke 4:28-30). As is usually the case, Mary kept herself in the background.
Mary also bore the burden of a divided family. Her other children, James, Joseph, Simon, Judas and at least two daughters (Matt. 13:55,56; Mark 6:3), did not believe Jesus’ claim that He was the Messiah or that He could perform miracles. They urged Him to go to into Judea, which was unsafe for Him at that time, to show Himself to the disciples (John 7:3-5). While His brethren at first did not believe Him, it seems after some time they were converted (Acts 1:14). James and Judas, at least, became believers for they wrote the New Testament epistles which bear their names. What role Mary played in their conversion, if any, cannot be known.
In Cana of Galilee, Mary appealed to Jesus to remedy a mundane social oversight–there was a lack of wine at the wedding to which Jesus was invited. Perhaps Jesus’ own presence there had caused the problem, because many more people might have come knowing that He would be there. And perhaps this is why Mary wanted Jesus to do something which would prove His claims. And though she is gently rebuked by Jesus for assuming she could control His actions, she, nevertheless, informs the servants to do whatever He tells them. She acts the part of a loving mother who desires to see her child succeed.
It must have been excruciating for Mary to see her son treated as He was by the multitude, doubted, despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. She spent the greater part of His life with Him in Nazareth as He carried on Joseph’s trade until He began to publicly proclaim Himself as Messiah. If the Lord ever appeared to Mary after His resurrection, there is no Record of it. The last we see of Mary is when she continued with one accord with the apostles and disciples, the women that followed and supported Jesus, and her children. None of the New Testament epistles directly mention her again.
She was a sincere, humble and godly woman, devoted to the Lord and His Cause. She was a woman most worthy to be emulated, but not worthy of worship. She was, after all, a woman, a wife and a mother.
Eric L. Padgett