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Women of the Bible


Mother of our Savior

Lesson audio

No person in the New Testament is more controversial than Mary, the mother of Jesus. This fits poorly with her character, for we shall see that humility and sweetness of soul are her prime characteristics.

Things external

We shall work our way in from the outside. First, we shall consider those things which are events concerning Mary.


There are many Scriptures which prophecy the coming of the Christ, but only three which deal with the virgin birth. Of these, only one is clear in its intent; the others are seen as prophetic looking back. They are:

Gen 3:15 NASB And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

Isa 7:14 NASB "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Jer 31:22 NASB "How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth-- A woman will encompass a man."

That, as far as I can find, is the extent of prophecy on the subject of the virgin birth. It is an essential part of God’s plan, but not one subject to much dispute.

In the Gospels

For all the hoopla over Mary (see next session), she is mentioned very little after the birth of Christ:

  • She is present at, and instigates, His first miracle: the changing of water into wine.[1]
  • She seeks to talk to Him once, and His reply is, “Who are my mother….”[2]
  • She is at the Cross, where Jesus gives the responsibility for her care over to his best friend, John.[3]
  • After the resurrection, she is found in the company of the Apostles.[4]
Roman Catholic Additions

The primary controversy over Mary today comes from the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholics have added greatly to Mary as found in Scripture. In dealing with a Catholic, you should remember that they hold the “magisterium of the church” (i.e., traditional beliefs not found in Scripture) to be on an equal footing with the Scripture. Given this, there is little sense debating it. I confine myself to short commentary on each doctrine so that you will understand what they teach.

  • Immaculate Conception. This teaching is that Mary was born without original sin.[5] The argument is philosophical; how could God be born into the world in such sin?
  • Perpetual Virginity. This doctrine states that Mary never had sex. It comes out of the honor given to celibacy in the 4th century AD. (There are some serious implications on the doctrine of marriage from this.)
  • Bodily Assumption. This states that Mary was translated to heaven bodily, and did not die. Again, a late addition.
  • Intercessor. Catholics hold that praying to Mary is not only possible, but required.
  • Mother of God. This is perhaps most disturbing one of all. It implies Mary’s authority over Christ. Most protestants will use “mother of Jesus”; the Eastern Orthodox churches use the Greek theotokos, meaning “The bearer of God.”

You should note that these beliefs are held dearly, especially by those who accept tradition and church teaching blindly. As Khrushchev once put it, “Weak point – shout!”

Henry Halley, a Bible commentator of the 1920s, described the Papacy this way:

 “It arose on the ruins of the Roman Empire, in the name of Christ occupying the throne of the Caesars; a Revival of the Image of the Roman Empire inheriting the Spirit thereof; ‘the Ghost of the Roman Empire come to life in the garb of Christianity’ ... It brought itself to power through the prestige of Rome, and the Name of Christ, and by shrewd political alliances, and by deception, and by armed force;  and by Armed Force and Bloodshed has maintained itself in power“ (flaming capitals in the original) -- from which you can see how he felt about the Catholic church.  Yet see how he views Mary:

“Mary was a quiet, meditative, devoted, wise woman, most honored of women, queen of mothers, sharing the cares common to motherhood.  We admire her, we honor her, and we love her because she was the mother of our Savior.”

The Character of Mary

From the Annunciation

From the angel’s announcement to Mary we can learn of her character:

  • She is highly favored. She is also a nobody, just another Jewish kid as far as the world is concerned. The word is used only twice in the New Testament; the other reference uses it to describe the church.[6] We have the picture of a simple, almost anonymous, devoted follower of God.
  • The Lord is with her. The same greeting was given to Gideon, who evidenced plenty of reasons to make sure of that. She accepts it as the truth.
  • She declares herself to be the bondslave (NASB) of the Lord. (Others have “servant” or “handmaiden.”) If there is a key to Mary, it is in her unquestioning obedience to God.
Her meeting with Elizabeth

Elizabeth has evidently been given some degree of revelation concerning Mary’s child. In her greeting to Mary she gives us some additional information:

  • She confirms that Mary is “blessed.” As we shall see in the next section, this adjective is attached to her name through all generations. (So it is not a sin to call her “blessed.”)
  • Note, please, that Mary comes to Elizabeth, not the other way around. Elizabeth is older, but Mary’s child is more important. That fact is irrelevant to Mary; she walks in humility.
  • Mary is one who believes what the Lord said.[7] She has the simple faith of those who trust in God completely.

It’s a list that would grace any Christian.

From her conduct
  • It is clear that Mary is a woman of purity. (Joseph’s reaction?)
  • She also makes motherhood a great desire and the source of honor for her.[8]
  • And as we saw at Cana, this is a woman who cares for others.

There is no sense of “strut” in Mary’s conduct. She obtained more than her heart’s desire because of that.

The Magnificat

Luk 1:46-55 NASB And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, (47) And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. (48) "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. (49) "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. (50) "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. (51) "He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. (52) "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. (53) "HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed. (54) "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, (55) As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."

My soul exalts the Lord

The Psalms often begin with praise to the Lord. It may seem ornamental in the poem, but it actually is essential:

  • It is a source of equality among us, for rich and poor alike can exalt the Lord. It is not my standing based on my works, but my standing as one who exalts the Lord.
  • It is a remedy for pride. If I am looking up to God, it’s much harder to look down on everyone else.
  • It is a cause for rejoicing in hope. His word is sure, you can see His deeds of old – and know that His promise is sure as well.
He has done great things

Here’s a challenge for you: has He done great things in your sight?

  • Think back on all the times you have felt His presence – or seen Him at work within you. Are not these worthy of praise?
  • He has done great things for others. It is a mark of genuine humility when you can look what God does in the lives of others and praise Him for it.
  • And, to be specific, He has uplifted the humble and brought down the proud. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of “the proud,” you know what a great victory that is.
In remembrance

It is not just that He has done great things for us. We also need to look back over all of time to see how His character has not changed:

  • See that He has fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs.
  • See the help that He has given Israel.
  • See the great mercy He has, perfected at Calvary.

[1] John 2:1-12

[2] Mark 3:31-35

[3] John 19:25-27

[4] Acts 1:14

[5] It is not the virgin birth, though this is a popular misconception (pun not intended).

[6] Ephesians 1:6

[7] Luke 1:45

[8] Luke 1:42

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