Archive for January, 2014

My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior for He has had regard for the humble state of His servant; for behold from this time on all generations will count me blessed. (Luke 1:46-48)

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. …And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:33, 51)

In last week’s post we looked at how a young Jewish girl was called to bear the long awaited Messiah. We saw how Mary responded to God with obedience, humility, and courage. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a poor stable in Bethlehem. When Jesus was eight days old Joseph and Mary took Him to be circumcised as required by Jewish statutes. About two months after Jesus’ birth, Mary went to the temple for her purification as also required.

Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt when Herod threatened to kill the baby. Eventually they returned and began their lives anew in Nazareth.

Though Mary’s firstborn Son was special she led a typical life as a mother in a small village in Galilee. There is no evidence that she treated Jesus any differently than her other children. Mary would have fixed meals, washed robes, and schooled Jesus as a small boy. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus did anything other than what ordinary human boys do when He was young.

Christ_TempleThere is only one incident in Jesus’ childhood mentioned in the Gospels. (Luke 2:41-51) On this occasion Jesus astounded the leaders in the temple with His knowledge of the Scriptures and His wisdom in understanding and applying them to life. Of course Jesus is also God, but on this occasion He showed His attention to learning and His devotion to studying about His Father as a human child. We mustn’t forget that in Jesus’ day a twelve year old had already had many years of training in the Torah. Mary would have helped Jesus with His Scripture memory and study even as Christian parents do today.

Jesus returned to Nazareth after this incident with His parents and was subject Jesus,Mary,Josephto them in all things. This means He was not only a good student, but He was a good Son. Luke mentions several times that Mary pondered these things in her heart. (Luke 2:19, 51) All during the years that Mary raised Jesus she would have been wondering just what it would mean that Jesus was the Messiah. What was He going to do?

So Mary enjoyed a normal family life with her children raising them the way all good mothers did in those times. At some point Joseph died. Mary would then be raising her children as a widow. Being the oldest Son, Jesus would have taken over the position of head of the family. He would have assumed the duty of seeing to it that His mother was protected as well as His sisters and brothers. These were all the normal duties of any son in those times.

It was when Jesus reached the age of adulthood and began to make decisions on His own that His relationship with Mary changed. Jesus made His identity as God’s Son public at His baptism. The Father Himself authenticated Jesus’ claim when He spoke from heaven. The Holy Spirit appeared as a dove over Jesus’ head, thus confirming that God is a trinity.

Was Mary present at Jesus’ baptism? The Scriptures do not say, but this was an important event in the life of a Jew; perhaps she was present. If Mary was there then she saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and heard God’s voice from heaven. These things would have reminded her of that time over 29 years ago when the angel appeared to her and announced who her Son would be. She would have recalled Simeon’s words to her and also Anna’s prophecy. The things that she had been pondering in her heart would begin to make sense. As would be true for all of Jesus’ disciples however, it would take time for the mission of the Messiah to become clear.

On the way back home to Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and some of His brothers or friends stopped in Cana for a wedding. At this wedding in Cana we see the first opportunity to witness the change in the way Jesus related to His mother.

The story is well known. At the feast the wine ran out. This was a major embarrassment not only for the bridegroom but also for the steward who was in charge of the wedding feast.

Jesus:CanaMost readers comment on Jesus’ response to His mother, but I would like to back up first for a minute and ask, “Why did Mary even ask Him?” Did she realize that He could work miracles? He hadn’t done a miracle yet. And what kind of miracle was she asking for? Most of Jesus’ miracles would be about doing really important things like healing people or even raising people from the dead. Why was Mary asking Jesus to help with a less than a life or health-threatening situation? Why did Jesus go ahead and do this miracle as the first one of His public ministry?

In light of this, it actually makes Jesus’ answer to Mary very kind and considerate. His response has always seemed harsh to people, “Woman, (note: not “mother”) what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4) At first it seems like Jesus is giving His mother the brush off. We should remember two things.

First, Mary is now in a slightly different relationship with Jesus. Just like any young man who leaves home, Jesus holds His mother in great respect but must make His own decisions.

Secondly, Jesus knows what His life is to be. Remember, at the temple when He was twelve years old He told His parents that He must be about His Father’s business. What did Jesus think of making His first public miracle one of seemingly small importance? He could have told His mother that it was just too bad about the wine but His Father doesn’t want Him doing such trifling works.

Instead somehow Jesus indicates to Mary that He will help. Mary tells the servants to do what Jesus instructs them. In this way, Mary shows that she understands that her Son now has the authority. She is telling Him, “Yes, You are now to go out on Your Father’s business. I will return to Nazareth and You will go and do the work that Your Father has given You.”

Mary had pondered all of the things that were told to her about her Son. Now she is beginning to see the reality of Jesus’ deity. Now she is beginning to understand what the predictions about her Son were all about. There would still be a long way to go as Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth would begin to unfold.

Mary would continue to love, honor, and follow her Son. In the next posting we will look at Mary as a disciple of Jesus.

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But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

And a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:35)

In the next few weeks we will continue to explore the topic of how Jesus treated women. The most important woman in His life, humanly speaking, was of course His own mother, Mary.

Many people have written stories about Mary the mother of Jesus. She is still the most revered woman who ever lived. Some have exalted her to a place that she herself would say in all humility that she would not accept. Mary exalted God alone. Mary would wish us to keep Christ on the throne.

There is so much to praise in Mary who as an ordinary human being had great faith, courage, and piety. She proved her faith with obedience, her courage with humility, and her piety with thoughtfulness, prayer, and submission.

We learn the most about Mary in Luke’s Gospel. Doctor Luke took it upon himself to interview many disciples of Jesus in order to write his story. Luke wanted everyone to know that he was giving the exact truth of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, and so he wrote the things “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,” (Luke 1:2). The main eyewitness was of course Mary who was there from Christ’s conception until His death.

It should not surprise us then that there are so many details about Mary’s interaction with Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Mary was still alive and probably shared all of the stories with Luke personally. Even after the resurrection Mary continued to be a faithful witness. That explains how we know the very conversations that Mary had with the angel, Elizabeth, Jesus, and others.

angel:MaryWe first meet this humble peasant girl when an angel of the Lord goes to Mary’s home and announces God’s plan for Mary to bear Jesus. Most scholars agree that Mary was probably 13 to 15 years of age, the age of betrothal for many Jewish girls.

Having an angel suddenly show up in your room would be amazing, perplexing, and frightening. Mary felt all of these emotions, but she humbly submitted to God.

Some people think that Mary did not believe the angel when she was questioning, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Luke had already told the story of Zacharias who did not believe the angel. When the angel told Zacharias that he and his barren wife would have a child, it was just too hard for him to believe. (Luke 1:5-25)

But this was not the motive behind Mary’s question. Mary was not questioning the angel because she did not believe God. She merely wanted to know how a virgin could get pregnant. Though the Bible doesn’t say, I have to wonder if the humble maiden also wondered why she was the one who was chosen. After all, the Israelites had been waiting for their Savior for hundreds of years. Perhaps Mary thought that she wasn’t good enough to be the mother of the Messiah, nevertheless she believed God.

The angel then explained to her that God would be the Father of Jesus. The Holy Spirit would cause the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Indeed Jesus would be the King who would sit on David’s throne. Mary’s response was of total submission to God, “Behold the bondservant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

And so, Mary’s faith is an example to us. She proved her faith by Mary:Elizabethresponding with humble obedience. Her cousin Elizabeth confirms this, “and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 2:45)

In other words, while it was an unspeakable privilege for Mary to have been chosen to bear the Savior, it was not her motherhood that we should exalt, but her belief in the promises of God.

Mary herself says as much in her beautiful prayer that we have called the Magnificat. (Luke 2:46-55)

After Elizabeth calls Mary blessed, meaning that Mary has received a special favor from God, Mary lifts her voice in praise to God. God is the One who should be praised for all that He has done. Mary wants people to praise God for His mighty acts.

Some scholars have portrayed Mary as an ignorant peasant girl with little understanding of the Scriptures. But Mary’s song of praise reveals that she had studied the Scriptures. She speaks of the promise to Abraham and her Jewish ancestors. She knows that the child she carries is the Savior that everyone has been waiting for. Jesus is the promised king, the promised son of David.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months then returned home. When it was very nearly the time for Jesus to be born, Mary went with Joseph to Bethlehem. Women did not usually travel during the advanced stages of their pregnancies. Was she aware of the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem? We don’t know. We do know that angels spoke to Joseph as well. Perhaps the angel directed Joseph to take Mary with him. We know that whatever came her way, Mary responded in obedience and with great courage.

Even upon arriving in Bethlehem Mary could have wondered if she did the right thing when she and Joseph found that there was no room for them at the inn. Still she humbly obeyed. It would not have been easy to give birth in a stable. Mary trusted God. Though barely out of childbed, she graciously entertained visitors – rugged shepherds who came by to rejoice in the birth of Jesus. All of these things she pondered in her heart.

Mary:Simeon:Jesus:JosephWhen Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph took Him to Jerusalem to be circumcised. Simeon gave praise to God for allowing him to see the Savior before he died. He also prophesied that Jesus would be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” Simeon also gently told Mary that, “this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed — and a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34, 35) Mary was amazed at these words, but continued to ponder all of these things in her heart – something┬áLuke would mention many times in his Gospel. Mary was truly a thoughtful, pious woman.

From the announcement of Jesus’ birth to His circumcision Mary humbly served God. In the next several weeks we will see how she continued to demonstrate her faith in obedience, her courage with humility, and her piety with wisdom and love. As Jesus grew older His relationship with His mother changed in all the ways that human relationships usually do. He respected His mother and yet began to do things His own way.

Jesus did not treat women the way the Pharisees did. This includes the treatment of His mother. The Pharisees twisted and perverted many things with their traditions. On of those things was their treatment of women. We will see how Jesus brought change beginning with His treatment of His own mother, Mary.

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But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 41,42)

Women were not treated with respect in Jesus’ day. The rabbis had a saying, “Talk not much with womankind.” And this statement was found in the Talmud, “It was taught: Do not speak excessively with a woman lest this ultimately lead you to adultery.” In other words, men can’t speak straight across to women as equal human beings.

Jesus, Mary, MarthaJesus broke the mold. By interacting with women the way He did He was directly violating the rules of the Pharisees. In contrast to this the Gospels, especially Luke’s Gospel, show Jesus lifting women to a place of freedom and respect that they had not known before in Judaism.

Jesus showed that He valued women when He spoke to them. This must have been shocking to those around Him. We know from John’s Gospel, for example, that even the disciples were “amazed that He had been speaking with a woman,” (John 4:27).

Jesus knew His Scriptures better than anybody. Women were created in the image of God at the same time as men (Genesis 1:27). Putting aside all of the issues in today’s “gender debate”, let us focus on how Jesus treated women. What can we learn from that?

First, let’s get a picture of the social structure in the early first century.

To start with, not every group of Jews was the same. There were urban Jews and country Jews. Some were rich but most were poor. There were elite groups – Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. These groups all differed from each other and each was convinced that their own teachings were the correct ones. We read more about the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels than the other two groups.


The Sadducees were the wealthy class. They controlled the temple and the high priesthood. They were open to the Greek culture that was prevalent at that time. They were also supportive of the Roman government, which you may recall was in charge of much of Europe and the Middle East. The wives of the Sadducees would have been very different from those of ordinary priests who were much poorer. Probably none of the women we encounter in the Gospels were of the wealthy Sadducee sect.

Often we think of status being given to the wealthiest class, but in Jesus’ time there was already a change beginning to take place. The Pharisees were the scholars of their day. To this day the Pharisees are considered to be the religious authorities. Great honor was given to those Pharisees, such as Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), whose piety and learning made an impression on the Jewish people. The Sadducees were often forced to give way to the rulings of the Pharisees due to popular opinion. A premium was placed on scholarship in the Law rather than just wealth. Hints about the rivalry between the Pharisees and the Sadducees are all throughout the Gospels. (See Mark 12:18 for example.)

The large majority of the population, whether in Galilee or Judea or cities or rural areas were poor. Most of the men were farmers. Many worked as day laborers to supplement their income. There were fishermen, such as Peter and Andrew. There were shopkeepers and many trades-people. Joseph was a carpenter. Many wives worked along side of their husbands, as did children. The wives sometimes sat in the market places and sold the wares that were made by their husbands. The majority of women that we meet in the Gospels were among this class.

The Jews in Judea, especially around Jerusalem, were stricter in their holy land:time of Jesusobservance of the religious rules. The Jews in Galilee were perhaps less strict because they were some distance away from Jerusalem; Samaria was in the middle geographically. A look at a map of the times is helpful in following Jesus’ journeys.


I’ve never heard a sermon on the interaction of Jesus with women. I’ve heard only a handful of sermons on any woman period. This really concerns me. At the very least it leaves the impression that women are not important. At the worst, it gives the impression that we have not learned anything from the Lord Jesus about how to treat women.

My goal over the next few weeks is to show that Jesus began to change things. He changed the way His followers should think about much of what they had been taught. Because of this, Christianity is different from all of the rest of the world’s religions.

While the leaders in Israel would cater to the rich, Jesus would go to the poor. While the Pharisees would only speak with other men, Jesus would speak with women. The leaders would emphasize the externals of religion; Jesus would emphasize the heart condition.

Jesus showed over and over again that the religious leaders did not really understand their Scriptures. One example is found in Matt. 22:29 where Jesus told the Sadducees, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God.” If the religious leaders were mistaken about this, is it just possible that their treatment of women was not biblical either?

I believe that Jesus wanted His followers to worship God in the way they were intended to right from creation. The Jewish leaders had strayed further and further away from true worship. Jesus would teach the right way by word and by example.

My prayer is that women will feel comforted that their Savior esteems them highly. I am not interested in the leftist version of egalitarianism; those women are not Christians. I have a sneaking hunch that they really want control not equality anyway. On the other hand there are many churches that teach that women are somehow second class Christians unable to learn or share in the ministries of the church.

Jesus did not try to replace the patriarchal system of His day; He wanted to reform it. In the course of the next few weeks I hope to show that Jesus treated women as though they could be faithful followers using their gifts and serving in the Kingdom alongside men. Jesus’ teaching is different from any other in the world. I pray that as we look at these stories, we will learn at the feet of the Master the way of true discipleship.

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