This week's chapter in the book Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur is about the most well-known woman in the Bible - Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"Of all the extraordinary women in the Scripture, one stands out above all others as the most blessed, the most highly favored by God, and the most universally admired by women. Indeed, no woman is more truly remarkable than Mary. She was the one sovereignly chosen by God--from among all the women who have ever been born--to be the singular instrument through which He would at last bring the Messiah into the world."
I don't think MacArthur could have given a better introduction of Mary. She was given outstanding grace and privilege and humbly understood that she was profoundly blessed. But while acknowledging Mary as the most extraordinary of women, it is important to note that we should not elevate her too much. She was afterall, a woman--not a demigoddess or deity as some religions and cultures seem to personify her. She herself was never portrayed in Scripture as a source or dispenser of Grace, but as a woman whom God bestowed upon His holy grace. Some seem to think of Mary as more approachable and more sympathetic than Christ and superstitiously imagine that she regularly appears and delivers prophecies to the world. I think we all remember the stale grilled-cheese sandwich that sold for $28,000 on eBay because it purportedly had the image of Mary supernaturally etched in the burn marks of the toast. I think I once saw a t.v. broadcast of a woman who got this grilled cheese image tattooed somewhere on her body. Clearly this whole idea of spiritual meaning behind it is a hoax and utterly absurd. There have been other "sightings" of Mary, all of which are entirely without biblical warrant. In fact, it is completely contrary to what Scripture teaches (Rev. 19:10).
MacArthur points out that prior to Mary's miraculous conception she was an average girl from a poor region of Israel. If you were to encounter her prior to Jesus' birth you probably would not deem her life to be very extraordinary at all. I think sometimes we as women, as humans for that matter, think that our social status has a lot to do with how God views us or how he determines our worth and that just simply isn't true. That is a very human way of thinking and judging. God sees the heart, he values a humble heart that is willing to love and to serve Him. It doesn't matter what circumstances we came from, God will bless those who are faithful to His Word. Mary is an excellent example of this. She was, in a sense, a nobody but she humbly acknowledged her own personal need for a Savior and would later be the very vessel used to bring the Savior into the world.
Now as a woman who was once a young teenager with somewhat strict parents and who grew up in a society where teenage pregnancy was severely frowned upon, I cannot imagine what went through Mary's mind when she was told she would have a child as a virgin teenager. She must have anticipated rumors, a slandered reputation and the chance of losing her newlywed husband. But despite all of those thoughts that must have raced through her mind she responded to the angel's news by saying "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) She instantly, humbly and joyfully submitted to God's will without further doubt or question demonstrating a young woman of mature faith.
I for one will admit that as a teenager I don't know if I would have responded as well as Mary did. I probably would have freaked out! I would have dreaded telling my parents because of the fear they would not have believed me when sharing the story that I was a virgin but was also pregnant and my child would be the Son of God. I mean, imagine having that conversation with your parents as a teenager girl! It's fair to acknowledge that in today's society, in Mary's situation, she would have been encouraged to abort her child. She could have avoided any negative responses or confrontation by discarding the evidence (the child) but had Mary been given the option and exercised her "right" to have an abortion...the fate of all mankind would have been gravely different. Sometimes what society views as a "mistake" or "problem" is really a blessing in disguise. Scripture also tells us that Joseph at first did in fact doubt the validity of Mary's story and even considered divorcing her until the angel appeared to him in a dream and confirmed the truth. So imagine how virtually alone and misunderstood Mary must have felt at that time.
I know I have had similar emotions when it comes to my faith. There are those who question and doubt what I know in my heart to be true. There is zero doubt in my mind that my Savior not only exists but that He loves me beyond comprehension. Sadly, there will always be people who are on the outside judging something that they themselves do not fully understand and refuse to try and understand. But our job is not to convince people that God exists, our calling is to serve Him faithfully and love others just as He loves us. Some days are more challenging than others but thankfully God's mercy, grace and love are unfaltering! And I'm thankful for His Word that is filled with biographies like Mary's and others who bring comfort in a world that is full of religious persecution. God understands our pain, our frustrations and fear and replaces them with his love, compassion and courage. I so desperately need Him and I am eternally grateful and stand in wonder that He is always there when I need Him especially when everyone else in the world seems to turn their back.
I cannot imagine the emotions that Mary endured when the time came for Jesus to bear all the sins of the world and give His life so that you and I may be saved from a life without hope. She knew that His death was necessary and unavoidable but I'm certain her motherly instincts made it incredibly difficult to witness the death of her Son. While Mary watched her firstborn Son die, others were screaming insults and taunts at Him. Her sense of injustice being done to Him must have been profound. She had raised him from infancy, she understood His absolute sinless perfection and no one could have loved Him more than she did. Mary must have understood that her steadfast presence at Jesus' side was the only kind of support she could give Him during that dreadful moment. Again, Mary was in no way a part of the world's redemption. HE was bearing the sins of the world, she could not assist with that, nor did He need her to. "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1Timothy 2:5).
As a matter of fact, while Jesus was in the midst of suffering on the cross it was Jesus who would come to her aid! It was during this time that Jesus acknowledged His human relationship with Mary. John describes what happened: "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26).
So one of Jesus' last earthly acts before His death was to make sure that Mary would be cared for throughout the rest of her life. That act epitomizes Mary's relationship with her firstborn Son. She was His earthly mother; but He was her eternal Lord. She understood and embraced that relationship. As a mother, she had provided all His needs, but in the ultimate and eternal sense, He was her Saviour and provider.
"Mary herself never claimed to be or pretended to be anything more than a humble servant of the Lord. She was extraordinary because God used her in an extraordinary way but she clearly thought of herself as simply ordinary. She is portrayed in Scripture only as an instrument whom God used in the fulfillment of His plan. It is a shame that religious superstition has, in a sense, turned Mary into an idol. She is certainly a worthy woman to emulate but Mary herself would undoubtedly be appalled to think anyone would pray to her or worship her in anyway. Her life and her testimony point us continuously to her Son. He was the one she worshiped. He was the one she trusted with everything. He was the one she recognized as Lord. Mary's own example, seen in the pure life of Scripture, teaches us to do the same."
It is important to remember Mary as a significant Biblical figure, and a truly extraordinary woman, but to not elevate her (or anyone else for that matter) to a level and status that no one could ever achieve and a role that cannot be filled. There is only One who is worthy to be praised.