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One of the glorious attributes of the Gospel is revealed in the way God raises up the lowly, bestows honor on the unlikely, works good out of the worst circumstances, and uses great trials to bless His special ones. Christianity is no religion for the proud and haughty, for it contradicts man’s fleshly wisdom and carnal reason. For instance, who would have thought the Messiah of God would arrive on earth from the womb of a lowly young girl?
As we consider Mary, we cannot separate her character from her remarkable circumstances and unique trials in bearing and mothering our Lord Jesus Christ. Her great blessing was accompanied by great suffering; indeed, in Scripture these are rarely separated. Her reverent demeanor toward God, her ready belief in God’s Word through the angel Gabriel, and her obedience to her husband in the midst of great trials all commend her to us as a faithful, humble servant of God.
When we first meet Mary in the gospel of Luke, she is greeted by the angel Gabriel, who had identified himself to Zacharias as one “ ‘who stands in the presence of God’ ” (Luke 1:19). His astounding announcement to Mary must be overwhelming to this young woman, but her response is simple belief, with a question: “ ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ ” (Luke 1:34). Her question is legitimate. It was one thing for the aged Sarah to conceive, since she had a husband, but Mary is still a virgin. But the angel answers her and encourages her with news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Mary’s famous response should always humble and convict us: “ ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’ ” (Luke 1:38). She does not argue, ask impertinent questions, or disbelieve in silence. Mary identifies herself as the Lord’s servant or slave, willing to accept whatever He has for her. She does not have the full picture. She must have many questions that have to go unanswered. But she speaks to Gabriel in reverence, expressing her faith, her obedience, and her willing spirit. True humility always bows joyfully to God’s plans and purposes in our lives, no matter how inscrutable they may seem.
Her reverence is displayed even more fully in her God-exalting song of praise (Luke 1:46–55). She magnifies the Lord, contrasting His manifold mercies shown to His servant Israel with His judgment of the proud. She acknowledges her “lowly state” and calls herself His maidservant. Humility delights to praise God’s power, holiness, might, and authority while remembering man’s lowly dependence upon His mercy and grace. It rejoices in this doctrine of the bigness of God and the smallness of man. Mary is overcome with reverence and awe for her mighty God, who has blessed her and done great things for her. He does the unexpected, raising the lowly and putting down the proud, feeding the hungry and sending away the rich. This knowledge fills her with a humble reverence. Indeed, true reverence springs only from a heart that is humble before God.
Mary hurries to Elizabeth to share her news and to confirm the angel’s report. At this meeting, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and blesses Mary: “ ‘Blessed is she who believed’ ” (Luke 1:45). We see that Mary’s blessing is linked to her faith and simple belief in the angel’s announcement. But Mary does not take credit for believing. She continues to exalt God’s amazing kindness to her, not her own impressive response of faith, for even this is credited to God. Humility is self-forgetful. It responds in faith because it is focused on the great Giver, not on self as the recipient. Faith is not looking in at faith, but looking up at the Faithful One.
This faith is not giddy, but it is full of joy, for humility joyfully believes and submits to God. “ ‘And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior’ ” (vs. 47), Mary sings. Her song recounts God’s mighty deeds in the past and speaks of His promise to Abraham’s seed. She knows her Bible—in this song, she quotes from more than 10 psalms. And she obviously believes that not only is God doing what He has promised to do, He has chosen her to be His special vessel.
We know her faith is tested, for Simeon’s blessing in Luke 2:34–35 warns Mary of a piercing of her own soul. Though Mary is to be called blessed for all generations, it will not be without great cost to her soul. Affliction both reveals and refines faith. Mary’s piercing probably begins even before Bethlehem. Matthew tells us that Joseph is a just man who considers divorcing Mary quietly when he discovers she is pregnant. Mary’s faith likely is tested as she waits for his decision. Then comes the trip to Bethlehem: Now? Just at the time of delivery? And, of course, at the stable: No room for the Messiah to be born? Her piercing continues in the flight to Egypt: Herod trying to kill the Promised Child? And it certainly culminates in His death: Was this to be the end of the promise? Her faith is tested again and again, and yet we see a woman who perseveres in faith, receiving the shepherds and wise men, following Joseph’s leading to Egypt and back again, and not forsaking her Son, even at the cross.
Humility is always characterized by such a persevering faith. Scripture does not tell us much about Mary’s struggles. But such faithful humility is always quiet. Hearing Gabriel’s message, she “considered what manner of greeting this was” (Luke 1:29); when the shepherds hasten to see the child, reporting what had been told them by the angels, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19); at Simeon’s blessing, she “marveled at those things which were spoken of Him” (Luke 2:33); when Jesus is left behind in Jerusalem at the feast and is found among the scholars, Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Mary’s faith is thoughtful: she considers, ponders, marvels, and keeps. Humility pays attention to God’s Word, meditates upon it, and stores it away. Mary does not coast on an emotional high, but rather thinks about what is happening and being said, and responds to it all in faith.
Mary has a high view of authority and submission. This is clearly displayed in her response to the angel. Gabriel tells her fantastic things: She will be pregnant with “the Son of the Highest” and her elderly relative Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy with a son. Gabriel concludes: “ ‘For with God nothing will be impossible.’ ” Mary presents herself as believing and obedient in both passive and active forms. In this case, she is passively obedient: “ ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’ ” But we also see active obedience in her rushing off to see Elizabeth. She believes what the angel has said—that God can do what seems to be impossible—and she acts upon it.
We also see her active obedience in her relationship to Joseph. She obviously views him as her head, for she follows him wherever he leads. After Joseph takes Mary to be his wife, he is the one to receive guidance for the family. The angel appears to him in dreams four times to give him directions. Joseph’s instant obedience tells us much about his character. He takes Mary as his wife though she is pregnant; he hustles his family off in the night to Egypt to escape Herod; he returns to Israel at the angel’s command; and he turns aside to Nazareth after “being warned by God in a dream” (Matt. 2:22). Mary is wedded to a godly, faithful man, and she is an obedient, submissive wife. Their life together is anything but settled and comfortable, for the Child is born on the road and they run for their lives in the night, to dwell in a foreign country. In all these afflictions, Mary is led by her husband. This active obedience in the midst of difficulty and trial is only possible in a life characterized by faith and reverence toward God. Mary is teachable and lead-able, both impossible without humility.
Remember the angel’s greeting: “ ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ ” (Luke 1:28). These words must come back to Mary over and over. She does not see the blessing before her eyes, but believes it by faith. We can only imagine how she ponders these things, storing them up in her heart. But I am sure she reaches deep into these stored treasures when she sees her Son crucified. God prepares her for affliction and gives her the resources to endure them, so that when her soul is pierced, she can respond in humble faith and submission.
Mary has a very special status among women of all time. God was with her in a remarkable way. She is blessed above all women, but the blessing came with piercings. I am sure she would say the piercings were the blessings themselves, for without them the world would not be saved.