What About Mary? Part II - Bearing the Messiah
by Ed Vasicek
Last month, we looked at the huge differences between the Roman Catholic perspective on Mary and the Bible-oriented evangelical perspective. In what we understand to be the Biblical perspective, Mary was a sinner who needed a Savior (Luke 1:47), she remained a virgin only until Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25--please note the term 'until.'), and she had other, naturally conceived children with Joseph as their biological father (Luke 2:7--please note the term "firstborn," Matthew 13:55-56).
Before we look at Mary's eagerness to be the mother of the Messiah, we need to understand the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and how they relate to Mary's role.
After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God pronounced a curse upon all involved in the transgression and creation in general. We will pick up midstream with Genesis 3:14-15: "Then the LORD God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."
Note that the serpent (Satan--see Revelation 12:9 to document this) would harm the "seed of the woman" (the Messiah), but this "seed of the woman" would completely crush the serpent's head. The "seed" is the Messiah, Jesus Christ--and the woman is Mary.
In ancient times, a person's lineage was traced through the father. But in the Garden of Eden, God predicts that it would not be the seed of the man, nor of the man and woman together--but the seed of the woman that would crush the serpent's head. This is the first implication of the Virgin Birth.
The second implication of the Virgin Birth is Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah probably saw a less-literal fulfillment in his day. A young woman, who was a virgin at the time of the prophecy, married and ceased being a virgin. She conceived a boy who was named Immanuel. But the more literal fulfillment occurred centuries later, when a woman (Mary/Miriam) conceived while still a virgin (this is a real sign) and gave birth to a Son who actually WAS Immanuel ("God with us").
When Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:21 and applied this passage to Jesus, he added the translation of the name Immanuel ("God with us") to make this very point.
The Virgin Birth was certainly a miraculous sign in its own right, but it also fulfilled an important theological function. In order for the Messiah to redeem the human race, He had to be our "kinsman," yet sinless. Christ was conceived miraculously so that He did not inherit a sin nature (the predisposition to sin that you and I have--nor the guilt of original sin), yet He was truly a descendent of Adam.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Luke 1:31, he made this announcement: "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."
Mary could not understand this, so she inquired: "How will this be...since I am a virgin?"
Note the angel's explanation in Luke 1:35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." So Jesus would be born a holy infant, not tainted by original sin.
Mary's response of faith is meaningful indeed. She was fully submissive to the will of God: "I am the Lord's servant.... May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). What an awesome attitude she displayed!
Mary knew that few people would believe such an account. Compared to other people groups, the first century Jews were not a particularly superstitious people and would be skeptical about a virgin conception, despite the Old Testament prophecies. Whether Mary even tried to relay the angel's message to others beside Elizabeth is hard to tell.
Joseph had certainly concluded the worst. He decided a quiet divorce was the best route: "Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly" (Matthew 1:19).
Joseph and Mary were in a marital state unlike anything we have in modern western culture. In first century Israel, it was typical for a couple to be "betrothed" or "engaged" for about a year before they lived together as man and wife, living separately with their parents. When betrothed, they were considered legally married and, if they broke up, they would need to acquire a divorce. The average man would take that year to construct an addition to his father's house. Then, when the building was completed, the wedding feast was stealthily planned; he would then whisk his bride away in surprise, bring her to the wedding feasts, and then consummate the marriage. Incidentally, this is the imagery of John 14:1-6 and the Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) who had to be ready on a moment's notice to accompany the bride to the surprise feast.
Joseph and Mary had been betrothed, and this made them legally married, but they had not yet consummated the marriage. It was during this "in-between" time that Mary became pregnant. Joseph knew that he and Mary had not come together, so his assumption naturally was that she had been unfaithful. Joseph experienced a change of heart when an angel appeared to him in a dream and verified that Mary was indeed supernaturally pregnant (Matthew 1:21-25).
Throughout Mary's life, she would carry the stigma of having been promiscuous, and Jesus would be accused of being illegitimate. Jesus' arguments with some unbelieving Jewish leaders carries a harsher picture if we postulate that they were attacking His dubious parentage. We join one such argument midstream (John 8:18) with Jesus speaking: "'I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.' Then they asked him, 'Where is your father?'"
Later, in the same chapter (John 8:41), Jesus is again arguing His case: "'You are doing the things your own father does.' 'We are not illegitimate children,' they protested. 'The only Father we have is God himself.'"
But the greatest insult came in John 8:48, "The Jews answered him, 'Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?'"
The nature of the accusation that Jesus was "demon-possessed" is beyond the scope of this article, but the accusation that Jesus was called "a Samaritan" is not. The Samaritans were half Jewish and half gentile. Jesus' enemies were implying that Jesus' father was a gentile (a non-Jew). Decades later, rumors circulated that Jesus' real father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. About 200 A.D., the church father Origen wrote against this rumor:
But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced [Celsus], speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that 'when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera;' and let us see whether those who have blindly concocted these fables about the adultery of the virgin with Panthera, and her rejection by the carpenter, did not invent these stories to overturn His miraculous conception by the Holy Ghost: for they could have falsified the history in a different manner, on account of its extremely miraculous character, and not have admitted, as it were against their will, that Jesus was born of no ordinary human marriage. (Origen Against Celsus 1: Chapter XXXII)
Origen argues if Joseph had been Jesus' true father, there would have been no need to concoct this story about Panthera.
Did Mary realize the stigma she would face when she told the angel, "May it be to me as you have said?" Probably so. Although every Jewish woman dreamt of mothering the Messiah, they probably did not understand that the Messiah would be conceived this way. The scandal of Christ's birth was but a foreshadowing of the scandal of the cross. While the unbelieving community looks at her as just another woman who went astray, we are among those who recognize that she was truly blessed by God (Luke 1:45).
Join us next time for part three of our series, "What About Mary?"
Reprinted from the April 2007 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA