************ Sermon on Luke 1:28 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 14, 2003
I was a little surprised by a recent article in Christianity Today. It asked,
... does Protestantism have a place for the Blessed Virgin Mary? Can we understand and honor Mary in ways that are scripturally based? Are we to be included among those of every generation who call Jesus' mother 'blessed'? (Christianity Today, December 2003, p.36)
The reason these types of questions are being asked is because of the kind of devotion to Mary that continues to flourish among many of the Roman Catholic faithful – chief of whom is the current pope. First, there is a real and concerted effort – unsuccessful so far – to have Mary officially recognized as "mediatrix of all graces" or as "coredemptrix with Christ Himself." In this vein, various texts of Scripture have been rewritten with a Marian slant:
-1 Corinthians 15:22 becomes, "as in Eve all die, so also in Mary shall all be made alive."
-John 3:16 becomes, "Mary so loved the world that she gave her one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life."
-the Lord's Prayer begins with, "Our Mother who art in heaven ..."
All of this is but a denial of Christ as the unique Savior and only mediator between God and man!
Second, we find nothing in the Bible to support some of the current Roman Catholic teachings about Mary:
-her perpetual virginity - the belief that she had no children after Jesus and remained a virgin throughout her life
-her immaculate conception - that she was born without the stain of original sin
-her bodily assumption - that she was taken body and soul into heaven after she died instead of having to wait for the general resurrection
According to Christianity Today, "Protestants are right to be concerned about these issues, especially when such extreme devotion to Mary remains unchecked at a popular level. But in reaction to [Roman] Catholic excesses, have we gone to the other extreme? Must nearly everything we say about Mary be couched in the language of dissent and disbelief? The fact is, evangelicals often say less about Mary than the New Testament does. She is seldom mentioned in our sermons or worship services, except for her honorary appearance in the annual Christmas pageant." (Christianity Today, December 2003, p.36)
This evening, in looking at Mary, we want to honor her. But, we want to honor her in a way that does not compromise our understanding of grace and faith and salvation. We want to honor the Mary of the Scriptures.
I You Who Are Highly Favored
The same angel that spoke to Zechariah in the Temple was sent by God to Nazareth of Galilee. He appeared to Mary and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
"Mary was greatly troubled" at these words (vs 29). She recognized the angel was greeting her in a rather special and exalted way.
At this point, of course, we want to part company with all faithful Roman Catholics who interpret this greeting to say that Mary is full of grace and the mother of grace. A better translation is what we find in the Bible in front of us: that Mary is "highly favored." Or, as the angel puts it in verse 30, "you have found favor with God." Of further help to us is the greeting of Elizabeth in verse 42: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear."
Mary is high favored – by the Lord. She is blessed – by the Lord.
II Blessed as the God-Bearer
A Mary was called blessed not because of her virginity, not because of her humility, but because of her son. God gave to Mary a distinction that He gave to no one else in the history of the entire human race. God gave to Mary the privilege of giving birth to His one and only Son.
There is a Greek phrase that we use here that caused considerable argument and controversy in the early church. The Council of Ephesus (431) used this phrase and branded as heretics those who did not use it. That phrase is "theotokos." We translate it as "God-bearer." Mary was exalted and blessed and favored because she was chosen of and by God to be the God-bearer. She was chosen to carry the second person of the triune Godhead, the eternal Son, from conception until birth. It was through her that the "Son of the Most High" took on our flesh (vs 32). She was appointed to give birth to the Messiah (vs 33).
In this Christmas season we celebrate Mary as the God-bearer. But don't forget the original purpose of the title – not so much to exalt Mary as to celebrate the union of the human and divine in her son. We use "God-bearer" language not to exalt Mary unduly but to confess Christ completely – to assert that the beloved Son of the heavenly Father was "born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).
B But Mary did more than just carry the Christ-child to term. She was also the mother who cared for the physical needs of Jesus the infant and boy. She nursed Him at her breast and changed His diapers. With Joseph, she brought Jesus to the Temple to have Him circumcised and presented to the Lord. With Joseph, she nurtured and taught Him the ways of the Lord. And with Joseph, she was the one who taught Him to memorize the Psalms and to pray.
Mary was blessed or favored by God as the "God-bearer." She was chosen to be the mother of the Savior.
III Blessed for her Servant Attitude
A Mary asked Gabriel, "How will this be since I am a virgin?" (vs 34). Gabriel, in his answer, told her about the virgin birth through the conception of the Spirit.
Now, to be pregnant and to give birth out of wedlock in that time and place held terrifying consequences for single women. Yes, she was engaged to be married to Joseph, but his reaction to her pregnancy could be expected to be quite strong. In fact, Matthew's Gospel tells us that Joseph did decide to quietly divorce Mary (Mt 1:19).
The virgin birth. Mary knew what this meant. She knew people would have a difficult time believing her claim to be pregnant by and through the Spirit of God. She knew Joseph would probably leave her. She knew her friends, neighbors, and family would probably brand her as an adulteress. She knew she faced persecution, snickers, laughter, mockery. As the Law commanded the death penalty for pre-marital sex, Mary even faced the awful possibility of death by stoning (cf Deut 22:13ff).
The virgin birth. Mary knew what this meant. She knew she faced life without a husband. She knew she would be pregnant and helpless, with no visible means of support.
The virgin birth. Being the mother of the Messiah. Mary knew what this meant. Looking ahead in Luke's Gospel we see the prophet Simeon. Simeon warned Mary about the cost, about the hurt, about the pain. "And a sword will pierce your own soul too," he said to Mary (Lk 2:35).
B Mary knew full well what the virgin conception and birth would cost her. Yet, what was her response, what did she say?
(Lk 1:38) "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."Mary weighed the cost and decided that it was worth it.
Why? Was she a glory hound, someone who wanted to be immortalized throughout history as the mother of the Messiah? This can't be the reason because Mary was far too modest to be after publicity. Don't forget, it bothered her that the angel greeted her in such an exalted fashion (vs 29). Did Mary have a martyr's complex? Was she a masochist who loved hardship, pain, and suffering? This too is not the picture of Mary presented by Scripture. After all, who can forget the picture of the grieving mother who stood before the cross? What we are to see here, congregation, is a Mary who responded to the Word of God as a true and obedient disciple.
C "I am the Lord's servant." The Greek word translated as "servant" means "a female slave." In that time and place this was quite a thing to say. A slave, you see, was reckoned to be less than human. By law, the slave was classified as a piece of merchandise, a piece of moveable property. She had no rights and could own no property. Even her own family did not belong to her. The rights of a master over a slave were absolute and no one could hinder or prevent a master from doing with a slave what she wanted.
"I am the Lord's servant." Before God, Mary adopted the status and attitude of a slave.
The Greek word for "Lord" means "supremacy, supreme in authority." What a good description of and for God. God is almighty, supreme, and worthy of authority.
"I am the Lord's servant." Mary adopted the status and attitude of a slave before the almighty God.
D "I am the Lord's servant." What exactly does this mean? A slave's calling in life is to serve the master. She has no other purpose. She has to devote 100% of her time, gifts, talents, and abilities to the master's service. Together with service there must be obedience. A good slave serves the master by being obedient, fully and completely obedient at all times.
"I am the Lord's servant." Mary was stating here that she was dedicating herself to the Lord's service. She was expressing her willingness to follow the Lord's leading and to live before Him a life of obedience.
Jesus recognized this about His mother. Luke tells us of a time that Jesus' mother and brothers came to see Him, but they were not able to get near Him because of the crowd. When someone told Jesus this, do you remember how He praised His family? He said, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice" (Lk 8:21). The physical, earthly family of Jesus was truly His family because they heard the Word of God and obeyed it.
Do you also remember what Mary said to the servants at the wedding feast – when Jesus changed water into wine? She said, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). When you think about it, that is a marching order for every disciple of Jesus. And, that certainly was Mary's marching orders.
In this Christmas season, we want to call Mary blessed for her obedient surrender to the heavenly Father.
IV Blessed for her Faith
In this Christmas season, we look at Mary and we see one more reason she is called blessed or favored. Again, we look ahead to the words of Elizabeth. When Elizabeth greeted Mary she said, "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" (vs 45).
Mary was blessed because she heard the Word of God and responded in faith. "Mary was a disciple of Christ before she was His mother, for had she not believed, she would not have conceived" (Christianity Today, December 2003, p.38).
We see this belief throughout the Gospel. Mary was present at the cross – even though every disciple but John had fled in fear. Mary stood under the cross not to point attention to herself but to point attention to Christ alone.
This is also the Mary we call blessed and favored. This Mary calls us to join her in believing that her son is the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, the Savior from sin, the Lord of the universe.
Mary – highly favored, blessed, exalted. Because she was chosen to bear God. Because hers was an obedient surrender to the heavenly Father. Because she believed before she conceived.
None of us can be God-bearers, of course. That blessing belongs to Mary alone. However, we can imitate her obedient surrender to the heavenly Father. And, we can imitate her faith. Then, we join her in also being blessed and exalted, forever.
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