Thursday, April 21, 2011

An encounter with Mary, the mother of Jesus

I was young, with my whole life before me. I had many questions: How can one person be significant to God? What is His purpose and will for my life? How can I know what that purpose is? I know it sounds strange for a girl to have these kinds of thoughts. In Jewish families, the sons were considered to have the greater purpose, and the daughters were to grow up to be good, healthy wives and have sons. Eve, was the mother of our race; Sarah had purpose in the son of her old age; Rachael and Hannah grieved until they had sons. It’s not that I minded the idea of having children. But was there more to life?

I was a very ordinary girl in most ways. Yet, I spent much of my time thinking. My mother said I was a daydreamer, but I didn’t mind. Many times I felt that my pondering was a kind of prayer…though not the sort of prayers we were taught to say in Jewish homes. I wondered if God ever heard my thoughts and questions.

My name, Mary, means “myrrh,” which was incense used in the worship of God. Because of my name, I believed my life was to be spent worshipping God. But myrrh was also used to prepare a person for burial, and I wondered how that fit into who God created me to be.

The plan for my life was set before me. I was young and betrothed. Joseph was a good man. My father had chosen well, and I was not displeased. Joseph was gentle; a man of God – but, just how much a man of God I had not yet seen. He was talented, a craftsman, who knew wood and could use his hands. He would provide well for our family. My family had never been rich, but we had what we needed. I would soon be Joseph’s wife, and live a good life, and hopefully give him sons.

Then, one day…one day God… Have you ever had a day when God entered your life, and you were never the same again? That day my life was changed forever. It’s as if I had entered into another world or kingdom. I met God’s will face to face. I responded, and my life was never really mine again. It was guided by a different power. It’s hard to explain, unless you’ve experienced it.

It was an ordinary day. People were going about their lives as every other day. I don’t even remember what I was doing…but all of a sudden, right before me stood a being like I had never seen before. An angel. I was so afraid, I couldn’t move. He called me by name. He said the Lord was with me and that I was blessed among women. I didn’t understand. He must have seen my fear, for he told me not to be afraid; that I had found favor with God. Was this real? God’s favor was expected to rest on those who were mighty, rich, or even wise. But on me?

He told me I would conceive a son and would call him Jesus and he would be great and rule on the throne of David. He said the Holy Spirit would overshadow me, and the One to be born would be called the Son of God.

“How can this be? What does this mean? Nevertheless, let it be unto me, your hand-maiden, as you have said.”

I later thought: I stood face to face with an angel. He was talking about the God who created the universe, had set fire to a bush without consuming it, had delivered a whole nation out of bondage and had parted the sea so they could cross over on dry ground, and who made the sun to stand still. And what do I ask… “How can this be?” Of all the questions I could have asked! But he didn’t get upset with me; he simply said, “With God all things are possible.”

God of the impossible. What a mystery, yet a reality. God overshadowed me with His Spirit. It was as though I myself was in a womb of His presence. My life had entered the realm of the impossible, and I surrendered.

He would have to do the impossible…with my family. My mother had prayed all my life, like the other Jewish mothers, that her virgin daughter would be the mother of the coming Messiah. Would she believe it? And her friends? It is one thing to believe God’s word. It is another thing to believe it for yourself.

The impossible…Joseph.

New life was growing within me. What a miracle. I immediately went to stay with my relative, Elisabeth. She understood the impossible, being full of child in her old age. She said she believed God could do anything. And she understood who my child was to be. I was able to talk freely with her. We sought for wisdom together before I returned to my family.

Then, there was a quiet marriage to Joseph. With God nothing is impossible. Truly, he
proved that just with Joseph. My condition was punishable by stoning. But Joseph, too, had an encounter with God, and he knew this was God’s child. His love for God and for me became sacrificial.

He was a simple man, and felt the weight of responsibility for both me and this child. If he ever heard rumors, gossip, or accusations he never let on. I sometimes believed God chose me because He wanted Joseph as His son’s earthly father.

Herod called for a census, so we had to travel to Bethlehem. We were almost there and my time was near. There were no rooms in the town, and it was time. We were finally directed to a stable. There came the pain and the travail. I was away from home and family, with only Joseph, me, and the animals. And then the birth of a perfectly formed baby. He looked so human… He acted so human… He cried so human. Yet there lay the very presence of God. In this child was the hope of the world. Who would think that the burden of an entire world would rest on these tiny shoulders? The weight of government would be upon them.

Shepherds came, praising God and telling stories of seeing thousands of angels. Wise men came who had followed a star, traveling a great distance to bring lavish gifts for the child.

On the 30th day of his life, when we took Jesus to the temple for purification, an old man named Simeon took the baby in his arms, looked into heaven, and said that his life had now been fulfilled. He said, “I can go in peace… I have seen the salvation of the Lord and the Light to the Gentiles, and the Glory of Israel.”

A Light to the Gentiles, and the Glory of Israel? The Glory of Israel had dwelt in the temple, but had departed from Israel because of our nation’s sin. Now this child was being called the GLORY OF ISRAEL. I knew He was God’s child, but there was so much I didn’t understand.

Simeon looked at me and said, “This child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, for a sign which will be spoken against. Yes, a sword will constantly pierce even your own soul also, so the secret thoughts and purposes of many hearts may be revealed.”

A sword…pierce my soul? What could he mean? A sign spoken against? Wasn’t this child to be a king? The Savior of the world? We had such joyful anticipation of a glorious future with the coming of the Messiah. Yet these words reminded me of the prophet Isaiah of long ago. Was it like so many other things about God… perhaps not according to man’s thoughts or ways? I wanted to ask again… “How can this be?” But I knew it would be as God intended, and according to the impossible.

I have often thought back and pondered these things… the angel Gabriel, Elisabeth and her son John, Jesus’ birth…the stable. The stable…kings were born in palaces. Stables were for lambs. I thought about the star, the shepherds, the wise men and their gifts, Simeon. Then in a dream, Joseph was told that we were to go to Egypt…a place that was bondage to our ancestors became a place of protection for us and the child.

Joseph and I both felt responsibility for training this child. We followed Jewish traditions in our home and Joseph spent much time teaching Jesus the law. I remember the time when he was twelve and got lost in Jerusalem. We were there to celebrate Passover. On the way home, we realized Jesus wasn’t with us or with our relatives. We returned to Jerusalem and it took us three days to find him. By then I was near panic. We had lost God’s Son. When we found him, I was so relieved. But I WAS his mother, and I scolded him. He looked at me with a look of wisdom beyond his years and said “Mother, didn’t YOU know I must be about my Father’s business?” I felt pain inside, that sword piercing my soul. I wondered how much he understood of His mission.

As I watched him grow, I knew in my heart that the day would come when he would leave. That’s true about every child. If you’ve ever had to let go of your child, I promise you, you have never been closer to God than when you gave that child up. He understands.

In Jesus there was submission to us as his parents, but it came with an inner submission to God. HE was always obedient, but I knew he was obeying a higher voice.

Many times the 700-year-old words of the prophet Isaiah stirred in my heart. I could easily grasp the words that God would give a sign and a virgin would give birth to a son. I knew its reality; I was part of the fulfillment of that prophesy of Almighty God. But there were other words that were more difficult, even painful, to try to understand concerning the Son of God.

One day, Jesus heard his cousin John was nearby, preaching, and He left home and went to find John. I thought back to my visit with Elisabeth, so many years ago before when neither of our sons were yet born. Her child, John, had leaped within her, and she called me the mother of her Lord. I knew Jesus had to focus on doing the Father’s will. He had a unique purpose. But little did I know what the next three and an half years would hold.

I heard of many miracles he performed. I saw some of the, like when he turned water into wine at the wedding of a friend in Cana, a few miles northeast of Nazareth. Yet, in our town, He could do only a few miracles. The people had seen him grow up in our house, and they did not believe who He really was. Their human reasoning kept their hearts from seeing and understanding; Jesus called it unbelief. It is possible to focus on what we can see with our physical eyes, or what our own mind thinks is right, and miss the Truth.

Jesus was a controversial man which of itself was not unusual in our days. But He was different. He didn’t claim to be a prophet who knew God. He claimed to be the Son of God. I knew who He was and where He came from, and yet at times I didn’t understand. The religious leaders were the ones persecuting him, and they had taught that a Messiah would come.

Only three years after he began preaching and working miracles, He was arrested.

I wondered if God had forgotten what He said about a King and Savior? Yet words of the prophet Isaiah came back to me, “He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter…He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken… …He poured out His soul unto death… And He bore the sin of many

Surely God didn’t mean my son would be “slaughtered and stricken”? I had seen many times that God’s ways are not our ways, but I couldn’t imagine God allowing this to His Son.

Then came the reality of seeing Him beaten, almost beyond recognition, carrying a cross, going to his death. I stood helplessly at the foot of the cross, watching His life drain out. My heart was breaking. He was beaten, bruised, a crown of thorns, and then the nailed Him to the cross. My soul was pierced as never before. Again the question came to my mind, “How can this be?” I kept thinking this was a bad dream… or that God would do the impossible and bring Him down off the cross. Where was the angel? Didn’t God have the power to deliver His own Son from death?

I stood with young John who was flooded with guilt, shame, and sorrow, for having deserted his closest friend. And here before us, Jesus was dying. John was wondering how he could live with such guilt and grief. Then, in the midst of agonizing death, yet so consistent with His character, Jesus reached beyond himself and focused his attention on us. It was as though he was experiencing our sorrow, our struggle and our pain. “Mother, behold thy son. Son, behold thy mother.” In those last few minutes of His life, with labored breath, His concern was for us.

We heard Him say, “It is finished.” And He died.

I find it difficult to describe the next few days. All seemed final, hopeless. Death is so strong. Yet somewhere within me, something was stirring. The God I knew…the God of the impossible…what would He do?

On the third day, my friend Mary went to the tomb, but the stone had been rolled away, and the tomb was empty. She came back saying she had seen Jesus and talked to Him. He was alive. I dared to hope. We had seen Jesus raise Lazarus and others from the dead. It was becoming more clear. He had told us that He was the LIFE. How can life die? Then He appeared to us. It was true. God of the impossible had raised Jesus from the dead. Death did not have the final word. Life could not be quenched. The Joy of God had passed through the poverty of a manger, persecution of the religious, the torment of the cross, and He came through in victory. Jesus was the Christ, the son of God; Savior and Lord. He was the Way, the Truth and the Life. He was the way to the presence of the Father. He was all He claimed to be.

I had the unique privilege of carrying Jesus Christ, the Son of God within me...
TWICE. Once, He was birthed OUT of me. Once, He was birthed INTO me, as I received His Holy Spirit. He would never leave me again. Now I was fulfilling God’s purpose for my life, empowered in a new way. I was Mary, one called to worship to God.

Father God had a unique purpose for my life. He has a unique purpose for yours. I was an ordinary, humble girl who believed God, and surrendered to His will. Is there anything keeping you from surrendering to His plan for you? Are you willing to believe God will do all that He has said He will do? Will you grasp hold of the God of the impossible?

You will have tribulation and will face times when it seems that the final word has been spoken and all seems hopeless. As I stood at the foot of the cross, my emotions could see no further than the pain and agony of the moment. But, God is a God of resurrection. Death does not have power over life. God brings life to that which is dead. If you are in a situation that seems impossible, reach out to God who is more powerful than death.

There are times when the pain of life and rejection seems to control our lives. And often it is religious people who do the hurting. Yet, I heard Jesus, as He was dying on the cross, ask His Father to forgive even those who sentenced Him to death, thinking they were serving God by crucifying Him. Even in His painful death, He had no anger, vengeance or bitterness, only forgiveness. Can we do less? He gives us the power to be like Him and to forgive.

Will you celebrate the resurrection life by reaching out to God this day? He is pursuing you with all of His heart. He died on the cross so you could have eternal relationship with Him. Will you yield to the overshadowing of His Holy Spirit in your life? Allow Him to be born into you, and then revealed to and through you. Allow the Creator, who lavishly loves you, to take control of your life. Let God do what is totally impossible for you to do. Believe that He will fulfill those things He has spoken and promised to you. Now is time.

(This is my perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus, based on Luke 1-2; Luke 3:21-23; Luke 22:54, Luke 23:16-46; Luke 23:52-Luke 24:12; John 2:1-11; John 19:1-John 20:31; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 53; Genesis 4:1-2; Genesis 17, 21:1-8; Genesis 30:1-24; 1 Samuel 1:1-2:19 and other scriptures.)

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