November 29, 2015
The veneration of Mary has been well established since the 2nd century. Mary has been venerated by Catholics in prayers, visual art, poetry and music. Cathedrals have been built to venerate Mary. Interestingly enough Bishop Ambrose is credited with starting a Marian cult of virginity in the 4th century. It was through the preaching of Ambrose that Augustine came to Christ. I only mention this because a good bit of our theology comes through Augustine.
But hey, we are Baptists! Do we venerate Mary? Well, if venerate refers to worship, then, no. We do not venerate Mary. But if venerate refers to holding someone in high regard with respect like the dictionary defines it, then, yes. We venerate Mary. This morning we are looking at Mary, the mother of our Lord. And I want to say that Christians honor Mary.
I. CHRISTIANS HONOR MARY FOR HER FAITH. Lk.1:45
Most of us are familiar with the story of how the angel came to Mary to tell her that she was going to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit of God. Understandably this gave Mary pause because while she was engaged to be married to Joseph, she was not married yet, and was a virgin. Mary was not a medical doctor, but she did know where babies come from and they don’t usually come via the Holy Spirit.
She asked the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and through the power of God she would conceive. And just to be clear, there is no sense in this conversation that God intended for Jesus to be born through Mary and Joseph. God is the father of Jesus, not Joseph. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.
In v.36-37 the angel goes on to say, “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."
Elizabeth and Zechariah were up in years. They had no children and this was a great sadness for Elizabeth. In that day, barren women felt unfulfilled and disgraced. God had not blessed them with children. But 6 months earlier while Zechariah the priest was in the temple in Jerusalem lighting the incense, an angel appeared to him with the message that his wife Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son who was to be named John. This was none other than John the Baptist.
So, when Mary was told that Elizabeth was in her 6th month she was overjoyed. Verse 39 tells us that Mary went with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah, to visit Elizabeth. Why did Mary do this? Did she go because she didn’t want her pregnancy to be discovered? Probably not. After all, she returned after 3 months and it wouldn’t be long before everyone knew. Rather, since the angel pointed to Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a sign that nothing is impossible for God, Mary went to see this wonderful sign.
When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s door and greeted Elizabeth, Elizabeth was excited. Her baby leaped in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. “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?”
As I was reflecting on this it struck me that Elizabeth was not just excited to know that Mary was carrying the Messiah. She was also excited because Mary was the mother of the Lord Jesus. It was an honor for Elizabeth to see Mary. Now if Mary paid a visit to Forest Park Baptist, I expect that all of us would also feel greatly honored to see her. She is the mother of our Lord Jesus.
We do not venerate Mary in the same way that Roman Catholics do. We certainly do not worship Mary. We do not believe that Mary suffered with Christ under the cross or offered his sacrifice to God as some Catholics believe. Nor do we believe that Mary is a mediator between us and Christ. We do not pray to Mary or light candles to Mary, but we do honor her.
We honor Mary in a similar way that we might honor a beloved great grandmother who is the matriarch of a large family. We would show deference and respect to Mary. And we would thank her. What would we thank her for? Well for one thing we would thank her for her faith.
Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” This was very significant for Elizabeth. It was significant because when the angel appeared to her husband, Zechariah, Zechariah did not believe. In Lk.1:20 the angel says to Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." Mary showed great faith. She believed what the angel Gabriel said to her. I wonder, would you have believed the angel?
Mary’s faith was not primitive, nor was it simpleminded. Mary knew full well what she was being asked to believe. She was having to believe something that was ordinarily impossible. How can a virgin conceive? But God gave Mary some information to help strengthen her faith. For one thing, the angel was standing right there before her. And there was Elizabeth.
Men and women as Christians we are called to exercise the same kind of faith. We are called to believe in God and his word regardless of what the world thinks is possible or impossible. We believe God because he is God and because he has revealed himself in Christ and his word. And what is more, those who believe in Christ receive a new life to live. It is an eternal kind of life and it is a transformational kind of life. The believer is forgiven of all their sin and changed to become like Jesus. Everything God has said, he will do.
II. CHRISTIANS HONOR MARY FOR HER SURRENDER TO CHRIST.
Now this statement is really just an extension of the first. But I believe it is important because there are some who think that belief is separate from action, as if one can believe in Christ without any real follow though. That is never the case.
I love Mary’s response in v.38. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” This is not just a commitment of faith; this is a commitment of body and soul. The word translated “servant” is really, bond slave.
You might be thinking, “Well really, what choice did she have. By believing the angel she was offering her body whether or not she did this in any formal way.” And that’s exactly my point. The commitment of her body was part and parcel of her commitment of faith. She just expressed it in a heartfelt. When we believe something we believe it with our whole being.
There are a few examples in Scripture in which we see some kind of belief in Christ, but it is not true faith. For example, in Jn.2:23-24 it says, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Later in Jn.6 Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. In Jn.6:14-15 we read, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, "This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” You see, these people said they believed but they did not follow Jesus. They did not commit themselves body and soul to Jesus. They were only interested in what Jesus could do to enhance their lives. They were going to take Jesus by force.
You do not get that sense from Mary. You don’t get the feeling that Mary was thinking to herself, “Wow! Just about every Jewish woman who has ever lived hoped to be the mother of the Messiah, and now I’m the one. What a great day for me. I always knew I was special.” Instead there is a very humble offering of herself to the Lord
Many often refer to Jn.3:16 as being the gospel in a nutshell. It is taken to be a very simple presentation of the 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.” People will point out that one only need believe. But in Jn.1:43 when Jesus called Phillip, he said, “Follow me.” And in Jn.10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. In Jn.12:26 Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.”
Men and women, there are not two kinds of Christians. There are not Christians who just believe in Jesus and Christians who are on a more advanced track who believe and follow Jesus. No. To believe in Jesus is to follow him, surrendering body and soul to Jesus.
I would imagine that just about everyone here would say they believe in God and in Jesus. But I wonder if everyone here has surrendered themselves body and soul to Jesus. Before ascending to the Father, Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples teaching them to observe to do all that he commanded. Obedience to Christ is the fruit of true faith. Paul writes in Rm.12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Have you surrendered your life, body and soul to Christ, to live for him and obey him?
III. CHRISTIANS HONOR MARY FOR BEARING DISGRACE FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.
Once her pregnancy became public knowledge there is no way Mary was going to come out looking good. Everyone would conclude that Mary had been intimate with Joseph and if not Joseph then someone! No one would believe Mary’s story about the angel and the Holy Spirit.
Now let me point out that being pregnant is never a sin. Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is always a sin against God and the other person, but it is not a sin to be pregnant.
Let me also direct your attention to Lk.1:24-25. It says, “After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people." For Elizabeth, God’s gift of pregnancy freed her from the reproach or disgrace of being barren in a society where barrenness was like a curse.
But consider Mary’s situation. What the Lord asked of Mary could only bring the reproach or disgrace of society on her. Elizabeth believed Mary. Hopefully, Mary’s parents believed her. And we know that Joseph eventually believed Mary. But no one else would believe her. One can only imagine the unkind things that were said about Mary and the insinuations that were perhaps spoken even to her face.
Mary was asked by God to bear reproach or disgrace for the sake of Christ. It is interesting to read Heb.11:24-26. It says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” In other words just as Jesus willingly embraced the disgrace of the world in order to carry out the will of God, so Moses embraced the same kind of disgrace in fulfilling the will of God in Egypt. And Mary also bore the reproach or disgrace of Christ when she willingly offered her body to bear the Lord Jesus.
Mary was greatly favored by God, but the favor of God will often bring us into conflict with the world. Why is that? It is because the goodness and righteousness of God runs in opposite directions from the ways and thinking of the world. As Paul tells us, the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.
God has greatly blessed us in Christ Jesus with life and peace in the kingdom of God. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. But in receiving the blessing of salvation in Christ, we have become aliens and strangers in the world. This world is not our home. So, just as Jesus experienced the reproach of the world, we will also experience the same reproach or disgrace that Jesus received.
Recently I read about some of the Christian martyrs that were beheaded by Isis. As they were being beheaded they shamelessly and boldly shouted out the name of Jesus. We honor Mary for bearing disgrace for the sake of Christ. And as followers of Jesus, we also willingly bear the disgrace of the world for his sake.
Interestingly enough, Bishop Ambrose venerated Mary as an example of the Christian life. I did not know that until I did some reading this past week. That is how I look at Mary. She is an example of Christian living. She was a woman of great faith. She was a woman who surrendered herself to Christ. She was a woman who gladly bore the disgrace of the world for the sake of Christ. And we are called to do exactly the same thing. Do you know Jesus? Are you surrendered to Jesus? Are you ready and willing to bear disgrace for the sake of Jesus? Amen