Blessed Is She Who Believed
Christmas has come and gone, and with it the peak time for Protestants to speak fondly about Mary. But regardless of the season, we need not fear acknowledging that the mother of our Lord owns a place of special honor. Though we know little of her life, the Scriptures testify that she was a woman of profound faith.
God promised to Eve, our first mother, that a “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent. (Gen 3:15) That promised seed was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8) It was Mary that God elected to bear and raise that great promised Son, whom she received in faith with great joy.
But as the prophet Simeon warned her, a sword would pierce her soul as well. (Luke 2:35) She, along with the other women who followed Jesus, stood by the cross as her Son died. (John 19:25) She watched with her own eyes as the chastisement that brought us peace fell on him. (Isaiah 53:5)
That was not the end for her. After Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Mary was with the Apostles in the upper room. With them she waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit. She believed, truly, that the Child she bore, raised, and watched die was the salvation of the world, and she was there when his Church began to spread through all the world.
But the most notable display of her great faith came before all of this, after Mary received a word from the angel Gabriel:
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. (Luke 1:28-29, NKJV)
Mary was unnerved to be greeted by an angel of God in so positive of a manner. If there was a standard form of angelic greeting, it was not that!
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33, NKJV)
The angel answers her perplexed response by telling her in what way God has greatly favored her. Mary, who was not yet fully married, would have a Son, and a truly great Son at that. He would be the long-awaited Son of David, who is also the Son of God. This was astonishing news indeed, as we see from her response:
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:28-37, NKJV)
It is possible that Mary asked the question out of doubt, or she may have simply wanted clarification so she could properly understand the news. A few verses earlier, Zacharias also asked Gabriel how his own promise of a son could be, and he was struck mute as a sign. (Luke 1:18-20)
That Mary was given further explanation instead of muteness suggests that her question was not asked in disbelief. Gabriel explains that the promise is not of an ordinary son with Joseph in the future but of an extraordinary Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. He also tells her of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy, which she could readily verify.
On hearing this, Mary responds with faith, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She heard the word from God, and by grace that word took root within her. She believed, and that faith immediately bore the fruit of obedience. She assented to what the angel declared and welcomed it.
In one way, Mary’s response to Gabriel followed a very ordinary pattern. All who have saving faith are effectually called by the Holy Spirit, who ordinarily works through messengers. Like Ezekiel prophesying to the dry bones, the messenger of God proclaims the word of God. And as in that valley of dry bones, the Spirit of God falls upon the hearer and stirs up life. The soul that was dead in sin becomes dead no longer. Disbelief is replaced by faith and love towards God.
But more than faith had begun to grow within Mary. When the Spirit of God overshadowed her, she also received the Eternal Word, the Son begotten of the Father before all ages. This Word took root within her, and a new life was stirred up in her womb. The Son of God assumed flesh, and that flesh was derived from her own. In that way, the incarnation of Christ mirrored the pattern of our new birth.
Mary’s faith was further demonstrated by what she did next. The angel offered her a sign: her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth was in her sixth month. Mary quickly went to see for herself. (Luke 1:39) Unbelief demands sign after sign, neither accepting any sign nor ceasing to call for more. Faith rejoices to see the promised sign and be strengthened by it.
Elizabeth, driven by the Holy Spirit, greeted her saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth, despite being older and the wife of a priest, addressed Mary as the one of higher status. Both Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist knew prophetically of Mary’s pregnancy. (Luke 1:41-44) This is all the more remarkable because Mary was very early in her pregnancy, possibly too early to have a natural certainty that she actually was pregnant.
Elizabeth further confirmed and encouraged Mary’s faith by saying, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
Mary’s responds to Elizabeth with an eloquent prayer of praise to God:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
Mary has not fully seen the fulfillment of the angel’s promise, but her faith in God’s words is strong. It was the mark of God’s work when He chose Jacob over his older brother Esau. It was God’s rich favor when he made David, the youngest of many sons, king ahead of all his brothers. It was God’s grace to Israel that she, the least of nations, was called God’s people.
And Mary saw God’s hand in lifting up her, a young woman from an obscure village, to be the mother of God Incarnate. May God be praised for His great work through her. Let us call her blessed of God, one of the mightiest women of faith.
Kevin White is a writer and member of Providence Presbyterian Church in Robinson Township, PA.
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