Jesus put Nazareth on the map
Raised by a single mother in a New York City housing project, Ursula Burns worked hard at school. After graduating from high school, she earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She worked as an intern at printing company Xerox, before being hired permanently. She rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2007-2016, earning the distinction of being the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. So her background didn’t limit her career.
A change in status
Nazareth was a small farming village between the sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. In about AD 30 when Nathanael was told that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked, “Can anything good come from there” (Jn. 1:46NIV). But why did Nathanael say this? Was Nazareth insignificant, isolated, remote and outside the mainstream of Jewish life? Were most of the people poor? Or was his skepticism, scorn and derision inter-town rivalry – Nathanael was from Cana (6km north of Nazareth)? (more…)
Why didn’t Jesus respect His family at Capernaum?
Recently I was asked this question by a person who said, “In our (Chinese) culture we always respect our family”.
The town of Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee was the headquarters for Christ’s ministry in Galilee (Mt. 4:13; Mk. 2:1). Once when Jesus was teaching a crowd of people in a house in Capernaum, He was so busy that He didn’t have a chance to eat. (Mk. 3:20). The event described below is recorded in three gospels (Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21).
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ He asked.
Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mk. 3:31-35NIV).
Why didn’t Jesus obey the request from His family? To answer this question we need find the purpose behind it.
The news about what Jesus was doing “spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mk. 1:28). After it reached His family at Nazareth they became concerned and travelled about 50 km (30 miles) to reach him at Capernaum. His mother and brothers were outside the house where He was teaching but they weren’t able to get near Him because of the crowd (Lk. 8:19). So they sent a message saying they wanted to speak with Him. The reason for their visit is given as “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mk. 3:21). The Greek word translated “out of His mind” is exeste (Strongs #1839). In the other verse of the Bible that uses the word in this sense (2 Cor. 5:13), it means the opposite of a “right mind” (NIV, ESV) or of a “sound mind” (HCSB, NET). When they heard about the crowds that gathered around Jesus, they thought He was insane. As the brothers didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God (Jn. 7:5), they may have thought He was a religious fanatic, or deluded or had a mental illness.
The fact that Joseph is not named possibly indicates his death. This means that at this time Jesus, as the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for His widowed mother. Instead of this He was away from the household and crowds followed Him everywhere.
In that culture someone who was insane or out of their mind would bring shame and disgrace on their family. So they probably believed that the leader of their family was bringing shame and disgrace on them. Therefore, the family wanted to “take charge of Him” (NIV), or “to seize Him” (ESV), or “to restrain Him” (HCSB, NET). So they wanted to take Him away from society so that crowds couldn’t follow Him.
But Christ’s mission was “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). He was sent to earth by God to save the people of the world from the penalty of their sinfulness (Jn. 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:5). This was done by preaching and dying. He came to preach by calling sinners to repent (Mk. 1:38; 2:17). He also came to die sacrificially for the sins of mankind (Rom. 5:8).
So the purpose of His family’s visit was to stop Jesus preaching by taking Him back to the family home. They were seeking to stop Jesus’ ministry. As this was against God’s will, Jesus didn’t comply with their request. Instead He used this situation to teach a spiritual truth.
Instead of heeding the family’s request, Jesus changes the topic from the small biological family to the large spiritual family. He says that whoever obeys God is part of His spiritual family and that this spiritual family is more important than our human family. When there is a conflict between the two families we are to obey God. Like Jesus, we should respect God’s will more than we respect our family.
This doesn’t mean we are not to provide for our family. After all, Paul wrote “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). And when He was being executed, Jesus introduced John to His mother Mary as a surrogate son to take care of her (Jn. 19:26-27).
Fortunately at a later time the family had a change of heart as Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers were amongst the believers after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:12-14).
Have we changed by turning around to follow Jesus? When there is a conflict between something in our life and God’s will for us, which do we give priority to? Do we put God’s interests above those of our family? Do we love Jesus more than our family (Lk. 14:26)? Are our relationships with fellow-Christians stronger than with unbelieving relatives? Do we also care for and not neglect our family?
Written, June 2015
What is the Christian “good news”?
Recently I heard someone say that all our problems would be solved if we followed the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you”. It was their key to harmonious and peaceful relationships. Whereas the Bible says that the good news about Jesus Christ is the key to solving our problems and restoring our relationships.
The Pope’s recent exhortation to the Roman Catholic church “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” encouraged them to spread the message of the gospel; the good news about Jesus Christ. But the exhortation makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that are inconsistent with the Bible. Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)?
The Bible’s “good news”
The word “gospel” is the translation of a Greek word that means “good news” (Strongs #2098) and the word “evangelist” is the translation of a Greek word that means “a preacher of good news” (Strongs #2099). Paul summarised the Biblical gospel, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved … For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4NIV). He said that Christ’s death and resurrection is the key to solving our problems.
The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned – resulting in separation from God and eternal punishment (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). In the beginning of time, God created a perfect world where there was no sin. But this world changed and there was disease, suffering, decay and death after Adam and Eve sinned. Now we all inherit this sinfulness. Because sin separates us from God, we are excluded from heaven. But God planned to rescue us from our sinful ways by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. Jesus took the punishment for sin that we deserve by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can live with Him eternally in heaven. Jesus also summarised the Biblical gospel, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The “good news” is also summarized in the Postscript.
The characters involved today in the good news of salvation for humanity are:
- God the Father planned it.
- Jesus Christ obeyed the plan.
- Missionaries and preachers communicate the message from the Bible (Rom. 10:14-17).
- The Holy Spirit empowers the messengers, convinces people of their sinfulness and need of salvation, and empowers them to repent and turn to Christ in faith (Jn. 16:8; 1 Cor. 2:4-5; Ti. 3:5).
Mary has no role at all—she is not mentioned in the Bible after the church commenced on the day of Pentecost.
A different “good news”
Paul was astonished when the Galatians turned “to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He states that false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.
A “different gospel” differs from the Bible’s good news. It either adds to it or takes away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6). For example, the Pharisees and Sadducees added extra rules and regulations to the true gospel (Mt. 16:5-12). This gospel says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved. Paul rebuked Peter in Galatia because he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14).
The Pope’s “good news”
Although the Pope’s exhortation addresses “the proclamation of the gospel”, it is difficult to determine his understanding of the gospel from this document. He says “Christians have a duty to proclaim the gospel” (p. 14), but doesn’t explain the gospel very well. For example, “Before all else, the gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others “ (p. 34). How are we to respond? He mentions preachers “bringing Jesus” to others (p. 85). What do they preach? There is little mention of sin, confession and repentance in the exhortation (Lk. 15:7; p. 14-15).
The best statements on the gospel in the exhortation are:
- “Those who accept his (Jesus’) offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (p.3).
- “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (p.6).
- “The heart of its message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ” (p.10).
- The missionary mandate of Jesus is quoted, “go and make disciples” (Mt 28:19-20; p. 19).
- “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead” (p. 31-32).
- “Let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ” (p.41).
- “Evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority” (p. 89)
- “Witness to the saving love of the Lord” (p. 98).
- “Bring the love of Jesus to others” (p. 103).
- “But always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship” (p. 103).
- In a sermon “the Lord, more than his minister, will be the centre of attention” (2 Cor. 4:5; p. 110).
However, “Journeying together to shrines” is given as an example of evangelization (p. 101) and the exhortation concludes with a section on “Mary, the Mother of evangelization” (p. 211-217). This is a great concern because as Mary is no longer alive on earth, she has nothing to do with evangelization today. Instead her body has decayed to dust and her soul and spirit are with the Lord in heaven. She is not “Jesus’ gift to his people” (p. 211) and not the “Star of the new evangelization” (p.214) and not the one to pray to for help “to proclaim the good news of Jesus” (p.216).
Although the Pope rejects syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice) with the followers of non-Christian religions (p. 187), he accepts scyncretism between the Bible and extra-Biblical teachings on Mary.
Does it matter?
Paul said that the gospel advanced when he was imprisoned in Philippi: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:14-18).
Those that preached Christ out of envy, rivalry and selfish ambition had the right message but the wrong motives. But Paul rejoiced because the gospel message they preached was true. When the Pope preaches about Christ, the message is true, but when He introduces Mary as an essential part of evangelization and Christianity, the message is jeopardized. Paul rejoiced when the message was true, but he rebuked when it was false (Gal. 2:14). So we can rejoice when the Pope and the Roman Catholics preach about Christ, but we should rebuke them when they are “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” with regard to Mary (Gal. 2:14).
So the gospel message in the Pope’s exhortation contains a combination of truth and error. In this sense it is different to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). The main error is the inclusion of Mary as an essential part of Christianity. Although God can use the truth, people can be deceived by this error. This false teaching about Mary is a significant addition to the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19). It is syncretism (the fusion of different or opposing forms of belief or practice).
When we proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, let’s remember it’s all about Jesus, and not Mary.
Postscript – Summary of the “good news”
God loves you and wants you to have a full and satisfying life:
- “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
- “I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10).
We are separated from God because we all disobey God, and so we can’t know and experience His love or have a full and satisfying life:
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
- “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
The only way to be free from the sin that separates us from God is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible to remove our separation from God:
- “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
- “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
We must personally invite Jesus to come into our lives and take charge:
- “To all who did receive Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
- “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Here’s how to respond to the “good news”:
- Admit that you are a sinner.
- Believe that Jesus Christ loves you so much He died for you so you can be close to God.
- Change your mind about sin—be willing to break your sinful habits and build good habits by obeying God’s word, the Bible. The Bible calls this “repentance”. It’s a 180 degree turn towards God.
- Ask God to live in you through His Spirit, to forgive you for the sinful things you have done and take charge of your life.
Written, January 2014
Also see – What does the Bible say about Mary the mother of Jesus?
What does the Bible say about Mary the mother of Jesus?
The Pope’s exhortation “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” issued in November 2013 to Roman Catholics makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that seem to be inconsistent with the Bible. Let’s look at some of them.
Don’t exalt, revere or worship Mary
Prayers to Mary?
The exhortation concludes with a long prayer to Mary that asks her to “pray for the church” and “pray for us” (p.216-217). Also a “prayer for help from Mary” is said to be “the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit” (p. 102). Furthermore, the Pope asks her “to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn” (p.214).
Most prayer in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. There are instances of prayers in the New Testament addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, which is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (Acts 7:59; 1 Tim. 2:5). As Mary is neither divine nor a mediator between God and mankind, the Bible never suggests that people should pray to Mary and it gives no explanation of how Mary could answer such prayers.
Between Christ’s ascension and the day of Pentecost the apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14NIV). Notice that they prayed with Mary, not to her. She was waiting with them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. She wasn’t different to the other believers. This is the last mention of Mary in the Bible.
Mary like Jesus and God?
The Pope says, “As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for people’s suffering …” (p.213) and “Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God” (p.213). Also, “Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: ‘Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?’”.
In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like Jesus Christ and God the Father. In the Bible, Jesus is the one who said “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and is a sign of hope (Jn. 14:1; 1 Tim. 1:1NIV). God is the one who “brings forth new children for God”.
But Mary was not divine. When she praised God for what He has done for her, Mary said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). Because God was her Savior, she was not sinless. Mary didn’t have the power to do miracles, but she knew that Jesus could. When the wine was used up at the wedding at Cana, Mary told the servants “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).
Mary like the Holy Spirit?
In the Pope’s prayer to Mary he asked her to “Obtain for us now a new ardour … Give us a holy courage … help us to bear radiant witness …” for evangelism (p.216). He also says, “With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people” and her prayer “made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost” (p.211) and “She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love … she constantly surrounds us with God’s love” (p.213).
In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit lives in each believer and gives power for evangelism (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:9).
Shrines to Mary?
The Pope endorses shines to Mary (p.213).
When the Magi sought “the one who has been born king of the Jews”, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt. 2:1-2, 10). Here the Magi worshipped Jesus, not Mary.
After John was given great revelations by an angel, twice he fell down to worship him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Twice he was told, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you … Worship God!”. He was told to worship God, not the angel. If John had worshipped Mary, he would have been told to worship God, not Mary. The worship of any created being (angelic or human) is a form of idolatry. Christians are not to worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6) and not to worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; 1 Jn. 5:21). This was stated as the first and second commandments in the Old Testament (Ex. 20:3-6).
Mary is not mentioned any of the letters in the Bible that were written to the early church. Instead we read that the apostles and prophets laid the doctrinal foundation of the church in what they taught about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20). Those with the most important spiritual gifts in the early church were the apostles, prophets and teachers (1 Cor. 12:28). They wrote these letters, not Mary. The letters describe their ministry, not Mary’s.
Next we look at some of the titles given to Mary in the Pope’s exhortation.
Don’t give Mary a special title
The Pope often gives Mary the title Mother (215):
- “Mother of the church” (p.211). The Pope states that on the cross “Jesus left us his mother to be our mother” and “Christ led us to Mary” (p. 212). The reason given is that “The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood”.
- “Mother of the living gospel” (p.214).
- “Mother of evangelisation” (p.284).
- “mother of all” (p.213).
None of these titles occur in the Bible. Also Mary is never called “the mother of God” in the Bible, because God has existed eternally.
When Christ was being crucified He said to Mary, “Woman, here is your son,” and to John “Here is your mother” and from that time on, John took her into his home (Jn. 19:26-27). Notice that Jesus didn’t call her “Mother”, but he instructed John to care for Mary as if she was his own mother. Jesus also called Mary “woman” at the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:4).
When a woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you”, He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk. 11:27-28). So a believer who hears the word of God and obeys it more blessed than the mother of Jesus. This means that Mary was more blessed as a believer than as the mother of Jesus.
Although the son mentioned in Revelation 12 is Jesus Christ, the mother symbolises Israel, not Mary. She is associated with the sun, the moon and 12 stars like in Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:11, Rev. 12:1). The stars represent the tribes of Israel. Revelation 12 refers to the end times and is similar to Daniel 12. At that time the angel Michael protects the Jews (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7-9). The woman’s offspring represent those who come to faith in the end times (Rev. 12:17).
The Pope also gives Mary the tile, “The Virgin Mary” (p. 212, 216, 217).
The Bible mentions Mary’s virginity to teach that a man wasn’t involved in Christ’s conception (Mt. 1:20; Lk. 1:31-35). As Jesus had brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and sisters (Mt. 12:46-47; 13:55-56; Mk. 3:31-32; 6:3; Lk. 8:20-21; Jn. 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19), Mary didn’t remain a virgin after Christ’s birth. This is consistent with Joseph being told “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt. 1:20).
The Pope also gives Mary other titles:
- “Our Lady of help” (p.215).
- “Bride of the eternal wedding feast” (p.217). But at the wedding of the Lamb mentioned in the Bible, the bride is the members of the church, not Mary (Rev. 19:7).
- “Star of the new evangelisation” (p.217).
None of these titles is mentioned in the Bible.
Jesus taught that there is no place amongst believers for distinctive titles which elevate a person above the others; “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah” (Mt. 23:8-10). Instead our speech should reflect the equality between believers and distinctive titles should be reserved for the Godhead. If we shouldn’t elevate a person as our spiritual father, then we shouldn’t elevate another person as our spiritual mother.
The Pope’s claims about Mary that we have looked at above are inconsistent with the Bible. Presumably they come from extra-biblical traditional sources within the Roman Catholic church. Do they add to or take away from the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19)? Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)? That will be the topic of my next post.
Mary was a woman who was given a special role to be the mother who raised Jesus to adulthood. After the day of Pentecost she was a faithful member of the church in Jerusalem. Let’s imitate Mary’s faithfulness.
In the meantime, let’s exalt, revere and worship God the Father and Jesus, not Mary; and pray to God, not Mary.
Written December 2013
Also see – What is the Christian “good news”?
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
What can we learn from her life?
About 2,000 years ago, a young teenage girl named Mary lived in Nazareth, Israel, a despised town of which people said, “Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46 NIV).
Mary lived under her father’s authority and had been trained by her mother to protect her father’s honor. In public, she dressed according to their social standing, behaved according to good manners, and spoke to men only when spoken to. Otherwise she would bring shame to her father.
In her day, a Jewish woman’s words didn’t count – everything had to be supported by male witnesses. Every day, the Jewish man thanked God that he had not been born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women received little education and were not taught the Law of God. In public, they were veiled; an uncovered head could result in divorce. Their social relationships were confined to other women. They did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking to women.
Mary’s mother managed the household under her husband’s direction. She managed the budget, prepared the food and saw to the welcoming rituals when her husband entertained. She reared and educated the children, the father taking over the son’s education and discipline at puberty. When she left the house to go shopping, she was usually accompanied by a suitable companion to protect her husband’s name from mistakes she might make.
At puberty, daughters were expected to marry, and suitable husbands were found by the parents. Daughters had no choice in this, otherwise they would bring shame on the family. Marriage age was low – 18-24 years for the man, 13-16 years for the girl. It was a patriarchal society which placed women in the same category as one’s ox, donkey or possessions.
A women’s security in her husband’s family was limited by his legal right to divorce her if she caused an “impediment” to the marriage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent for reasons ranging from unchastity, to burning a meal, or finding a fairer woman. When they went to the synagogue the women sat separate from the men. At social occasions the women were always in the background.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, the contract probably being arranged by their fathers and finalized in a public ceremony in the town square. If the husband-to-be wanted to break the betrothal, he had to get a bill of divorce. Let’s see how Mary responded to the circumstances in her life and what we can learn about that for mothers.
Fear And Confusion
When an angel visited Mary she was afraid and confused. She was “greatly troubled at his words,” but the angel said “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 1:29-30). She knew about angels from the synagogue and an angel had visited Zechariah, the priest in the temple (Lk. 1:11). Angels usually visited men, not women. This was most unusual. What was going on? Why did it visit her, the least important one in the family, and not Joseph or her father? How would she tell Joseph about it; there were no male witnesses? Would he believe her being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35)?
Then there was the fear of rejection. To be pregnant while engaged was scandalous. If suspected of unfaithfulness she could be divorced or even put to death (Dt. 22:23-24). Would she be rejected by Joseph and left to bring up this child alone in a culture hostile to women – and probably remain unmarried for life? If she was also rejected by her father she could be forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
An Illegitimate Child
Although Jesus would have been easy to love, Mary faced many struggles. A child born during engagement was considered illegitimate. There would have been suspicions of adultery. People would have wondered, who was the father? Did the child look like Joseph? Mary would have faced this stigma for years, as the whole community would have known.
A Hated Child
Then she had to face the fact that people hated her child. Joseph and Mary escaped into Egypt when Jesus was a baby because the king wanted to kill Him (Mt. 2:13). Later, the respected religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus. They accused Him of blasphemy – of mocking God by claiming to forgive sins – and of breaking the Law (Lk. 5:21; Mt. 12:2), and planned to kill Him (Mt. 12:14). Mary would have felt this hatred as well, as she identified closely with her special son.
A Missing Child
Then there was the occasion when Jesus was lost for three days at the age of 12. Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched frantically for Him until they found Him among the teachers in the temple courts (Lk. 2:41-51). When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Lk. 2:48). She didn’t know whether her firstborn was dead or alive. Who was He with? Had He been kidnapped? Where did He spend the night? She was very concerned for His safety.
Mary faced two tragedies that are not often thought about. First, Joseph probably died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old, leaving her to raise the children alone. The fact that Joseph is not named in Matthew 13:55 possibly indicates his death. This means that Mary was a single mother and Jesus, the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for his mother, brothers and sisters. This would have been a difficult time for Mary, bringing up her children without the support of a husband.
The second tragedy was when Jesus gave up His carpenter’s occupation and left home. The eldest son was expected to follow his father’s trade and position in society. In people’s eyes, Jesus dishonored His dead father when He left home on His messianic mission. He brought great shame on the family by giving up His responsibility as head of the household. That’s why Mary tried to get Jesus back into the household (Mk. 3:31-32).
A Rejected Child
His family said Jesus was insane; respected Jewish leaders said He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:21, 22). How would a mother cope with that? When she went to talk with Him, a messenger was sent through the crowd, but instead of replying to her concern, Jesus used the incident to teach the people the importance of putting God’s interests above family interests (Mk. 3:31-35). Mary could have felt rejected at this time. On another occasion we read that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). How difficult for Mary, with such disputes between her children.
She Saw Her Child Die
Then Mary had to endure watching Jesus being crucified. Although most of the disciples had fled, she didn’t abandon Him (Jn. 19:25). When Jesus was eight days old, Simeon said that Mary would suffer as though she had been stabbed with a sword (Lk. 2:35). What suffering it would be for a mother to see her firstborn wrongfully accused, humiliated and executed.
How did Mary cope with motherhood that brought fear – the shame of an illegitimate child who was hated by the king and who went missing, being a single mother of a son who brought disgrace on the family and was rejected by society and executed before her eyes?
Followed God’s Will
Although she was afraid when the angel visited her, she accepted God’s will. After being told that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary accepted the situation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). She calls herself a female slave, one who waits on her Master and obeys in complete submission.
She believed that it would be a miraculous conception involving the Holy Spirit and God’s power, because the angel said “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike Moses, she readily accepted the task. When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he was not good enough, and asked God to send someone else (Ex. 4:10, 13).
Mary rejoiced so much in what God was going to do with her life that she wrote a song about it (Lk. 1:46-55). She trusted that God was going to bring much blessing out of her life as mother of the Messiah. She knew that children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).
In her song Mary praised God for His salvation (Lk. 1:46-49), for His mighty deeds (50-53), and for His faithfulness to Israel (54-55). Her song is full of Old Testament references. Clearly, Mary trusted God and the Scriptures.
A mother who praises God and knows His word makes a difference in her children and family. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on their Christian faith to him. Because Mary accepted God’s will for her life and praised Him, she was highly favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30).
Protected Her Children
From the moment Jesus was born His life was in danger. When King Herod threatened His life, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and escaped to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15). Mary also protected Jesus’ identity. Though she knew He was the promised Messiah, she kept this to herself. At His birth she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” and as he grew up she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19,51).
Showed Love and Devotion
Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus began before He was born and lasted beyond the cross. She stood near the cross when He was crucified (Jn. 19:25-27) and was present with the believers in the upper room after the Ascension (Acts 1:14). Mary’s was an enduring love and devotion.
Mary was rewarded: she was there when Jesus was raised from the dead; she was among the 120 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost; she saw her other children accept Jesus as Messiah; and today she’s in heaven.
A Supportive Husband
Although Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was pregnant, so he “wouldn’t expose her to public disgrace,” he changed his mind after an angel appeared to him (Mt. 1:18-25). Joseph obeyed the angel’s message and married Mary. Mary had a supportive husband for at least 12 years. They were partners in raising Jesus to adulthood.
Husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, helping them grow, and making them feel special (Eph. 5:28-29). This means supporting them by expressing confidence in them rather than controlling them, and praising them rather than criticizing them or taking them for granted.
An Understanding Friend
Mary visited Elizabeth, an older relative who was also expecting a child through miraculous circumstances – she was past the age of childbearing. Her child was John the Baptist. Elizabeth encouraged Mary during a difficult time.
Extended families are important and this should include the local church. Look around and you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Or maybe you could offer to baby-sit so a husband and wife can have a day or evening to themselves. When her children were not present to support Mary in her grief at the cross, John was asked to care for her (Jn. 19:26-27), an example of the extended family.
A Model Mother
Mary was a special mother who had a special child. She lived in a society that was very different from ours, yet she had to deal with fear and a child that was hated, rejected and abused. She endured tragedy and suffering and she didn’t always understand what her child was saying or doing (Lk. 2:50). Yet the characteristics of the mother God chose to nurture His Son are a model for motherhood: she followed God’s will, knew His Word, praised Him enthusiastically, protected her children from danger, and showed them much love and devotion. She also had the support of her husband and friends in the family of God. Mothers play a most important role in our families. They deserve our honor and support.
Published, May 2003
There are two advents: He’s coming again!
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10NIV)
Don’t worry, He’s returning
News stories on the internet, radio, TV and newspapers often arouse our fears of impending danger, trouble and evil. They seem to feed on the fact that we all experience anxiety and worry. For example, we can be worried or alarmed about: unemployment, money, relationships, loneliness, security, crime, terrorism, illness, aging, climate change, technological change, cultural change, moral change, our circumstances, our choices, the future, or the unknown.
About 2,000 years ago, Mary lived in Nazareth, a village about 115 km north of Jerusalem, which was more than two days of travel. She was far from the capital city of Israel. One day God sent an angel to visit her: “The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! God is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (Lk. 1:28-29TNIV).
Mary would have been surprised by the angel Gabriel, because she had never seen an angel before. Six months earlier the priest Zechariah was “startled and gripped with fear” when the same angel appeared in the temple in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:11-13). If an old Jewish priest was terrified by the angel, then it is understandable that a young woman would also be terrified by the appearance of the same angel. Being alone with an angel could be scary.
Mary was worried about what the angel’s message meant. She would have known that God used angels to proclaim important messages. Was it bad news? She would have also known that angels can be God’s agents of judgement. Was she feeling guilty? As this was a circumstance that she had no control over, she may have felt helpless.
Then she was told, “Don’t be afraid”. Why? Because she had found favor with God and would have a son named Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk. 1:30-33). God had chosen her to be the mother of the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, who would establish the kingdom of God on earth. This was a radical change in her life, because a baby changes everything, particularly the first-born. Nevertheless, her fears and anxieties were allayed and replaced with joy which she expressed in a song of praise for all that God had done (Lk. 1:46-55).
The Shepherd’s Anxiety
Nine months later the shepherds at Bethlehem had a similar experience: “they were terrified” when an angel appeared to them and God’s glory blazed around them like a supernatural search light (Lk. 2:9)! An angel appearing in the countryside during the night with a bright light would be scary. This was totally outside their experience. What was going to happen next? Were their lives in danger?
They were given the same reassurance as Mary, when the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Lk. 2:10NIV). Mary’s promised baby had been born and they were told how to find Him. After seeing the baby Jesus for themselves, they also praised God “for all they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20).
The Disciples’ Anxiety
According to the Bible, the baby Jesus grew up to be a man who was the unique Son of God who came to take our judgement. After Jesus told His disciples that He was about to die and return to heaven, they were “filled with grief” and wept and mourned and felt abandoned (Jn. 16:6, 20TNIV). After all, they would be without the leader that they had followed for at least three years. But like Mary and the shepherds, they were told, “Do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:1, 27bNIV).
Three reasons were given for not being afraid of their new circumstances. First, they were assured of a home in heaven if they trusted Christ – because Jesus was the only way there. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in Me” and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to God the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:1b, 6). That’s why the shepherds were told that the baby was a Savior; one who could rescue them. Faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life which is the ultimate cure for our anxieties and worries.Second, Jesus would return and take them to be with Him; He said “I will come back and take you to be with Me” (Jn. 14:3, 28). Although He was going away, they could look forward to a reunion with Him. Third, in the meantime the Holy Spirit would always be within them – the Holy Spirit “will be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16). They would not be like orphans (Jn. 14:15-21, 25-27). This was like having Jesus with them all the time, not just sometime!
So, they had a Savior who was going to take them to heaven and God the Holy Spirit was always going to be with them. Like Mary and the shepherds, Jesus said that their grief would be turned into lasting joy (Jn. 16:20-23). The illustration He used was how a mother’s pain turns to joy after the birth of her baby.
The First Advent
At Christmas we remember the unique birth of the Lord Jesus Christ who was both divine and human. This was His first advent. He was sent to earth by God to die for us in order to enable us to be reconciled with God. The Bible says that God so loved the people of the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). After His death, Jesus was buried and He rose back to life three days later.
Those who accept His free gift have peace with God and an inheritance of eternal life. We must receive what Christ has done for us before God will give us eternal life. However, those who don’t accept the gift face God’s judgment of eternal punishment; that’s what the word “perish” means in John 3:16 above.
The Second Advent
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended back to heaven by disappearing in a cloud. Then the eleven apostles were told, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11NIV). So, Jesus is going to return to the earth. This will be His second advent.
At Christmas we look back to the first coming of Christ and look ahead to the second coming of Christ. In His first coming He suffered and died; in His second coming He will conquer and reign. In His first coming He came as a baby and a suffering servant ((Isa. 52:13-53:12); in His second coming He will be a conquering king ( Rev. 19:16). That’s when He will be the king of the Jews. In His first coming He came to be a Savior; in His second coming He will be a Judge. The first is characterised by a cross and the second by a crown.
Did you know that all of God’s creation looks forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth? When the Lord returns to set up His kingdom, the creation will be released from the affects of humanity’s rebellion and re-created to be “very good” like it was in the beginning. The Garden of Eden will be restored (Acts 3:21). There will be harmony between all of God’s creatures. This is when, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat” (Isa. 11:6-9TNIV).
All the wrongs will be made right. All evil will be judged. Satan will be bound and unable to deceive people (Rev. 20:1-3) . All environmental problems will be solved. There will be justice and no wars. That’s when believers will be blessed materially as they rule with the Lord. In the meantime, they are already spiritually part of this new creation. Those who believe that the Savior died for them don’t have to worry, because Jesus is returning.
Between the advents
What can we learn from this as we live between the two advents of Jesus Christ? Mary and the shepherds faced supernatural circumstances and the disciples faced the loss of their Master and closest companion. We may not face supernatural circumstances, but at times we all face difficult circumstances and the loss of those who are near and dear to us. Like them, there are circumstances that we have no control over. Like them, we can experience anxiety, fear and worry, which can lead to panic and depression. But in their case, God’s solution led to joy.
Do not be afraid!
Remember the message, “Do not be afraid”. The reasons given to the disciples also apply to us. If we have trusted Jesus as our Savior our fears can be changed to joy and we can look forward to eternal life instead of eternal judgement. If we have not , then we will face Him as our judge. If we are true believers, the Holy Spirit is in us all the time. This transforms our lives. As believers we can look ahead to the second advent when the Lord Jesus will come and rule over a restored creation.
Another way to remove anxiety and fear is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those that mourn” (Rom. 12:15). This involves sharing the feelings and the emotions of the good times and the bad times. This means listening to what life is like for others and validating their feelings. This means helping them realise that they are not alone. This means praying with them. This means talking about God and what He has done and what He has promised. These encouraging activities can help us get through all circumstances. He’s always with us and He’s always on our side, no matter how bad it gets. Believers are never alone; they have both spiritual and human resources to draw on.
So, don’t worry, Christ has been here once and He’s coming again to fulfill all of God’s promises.
Published, December 2011