In the Bible-belt town where I grew up, the virgin Mary had her annual fifteen minutes of fame when December rolled around. You had your shepherds, your angels, and your young maiden kneeling beside the swaddled babe. But after the presents were unwrapped and the nativity brouhaha had quieted down, Mary drifted back into the shadows. Why the Catholics made such a big deal about her never made sense to my Baptist mind. Yes, of course, she had a heart-warming part to play in the Jesus story, but to me, she was merely a minor character.
My appreciation for Mary’s place in the Gospel story has changed significantly over the years. I was introduced to the early church fathers, who opened my eyes to see how Mary’s place in the story of salvation was far from a footnote. I delved more deeply into the Scriptures to discover amazing parallels between Eve and Mary. As I pondered the fact that God became man inside Mary’s womb, I grasped more fully that Mary is indeed the mother of God. All of this has led me to understand a bit more about why the Catholics make such a big deal about her. And although I believe my Catholic friends say more of Mary than can be biblically justified, I also believe that many of my Protestant friends say less of Mary than the Bible demands.
Here are four truths about the virgin Mary that I wish would find a prominent place in more Protestant pulpits, songs, and classrooms. Each of them, by telling us more about Mary, actually tell us more about Jesus.
1. Mary is the mother of God. The baby who was miraculously conceived in this virgin’s womb is the Son of our heavenly Father. As such, Jesus shares his Father’s nature, even as my human son shares my human nature. Jesus is fully divine; he is not only Lord and Savior but God. Since Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the mother of God. It’s that profoundly simple. No other woman had been, was, or ever will be God's mother except this Israelite virgin. If we say less of Mary, then we say less of Jesus. If we are not willing to confess that she is the mother of God, then we cannot confess Jesus is God. And if Jesus is not God, then his saving work is insufficient to save us, and we are lost. @@Because Mary is God’s mother, we are the Father’s children in Jesus Christ.@@
2. Mary is the first person to be one flesh with God. John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Word, the Son of God, was embodied inside Mary. Everything human about him came from his mother. She was literally one flesh with God. Divinity not only dwelt in her, like God did in the temple’s Holy of Holies, but in the deepest part of her being she was united to God. As such, she was the first person to share this most intimate union with the Savior. But—and this is vitally important—she not the last. We who partake of his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are united with him in the most intimate of unions as well. We are bodied and blooded with him, one flesh with God, even as he became one flesh with us. In Mary, therefore, we see what the Father provides for all of us in the Supper of his Son.
3. Mary is the model hearer of the Word. When the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the Messiah, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38). She does not put forth a string of rational arguments against such a preposterous claim. She acknowledges her place as a servant of the Lord. She takes God’s messenger at his word. She knows that God cannot lie, so anything he promises is trustworthy, even if it seems irrational or downright crazy to the human mind. As such, Mary is a model hearer of the word of God. She shows us how we are to receive the divine message. God speaks, we hear, we believe, we confess with Mary, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
4. Mary is like a new and better Eve. When our first mother ate the forbidden fruit, her sin was not one of consumption but of rejection. When the fallen angel twisted God's words, she believed his lie and so disbelieved divine truth. Her rejection of the word, as well as her husband's rejection, ushered sin and death into our world. Yet to Eve God gave the promise that her seed would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent would strike that seed’s heel (Genesis 3:15). Mary is like a new and better Eve in two ways. First, when the angel spoke God’s words to her, she believed. Her reception of that word was the reception of the Word himself. By becoming flesh inside her, Jesus initiated his ministry. Second, Mary was the “Eve” who bore that promised seed. He crushed the power of our ancient foe, even as the venom of death struck him. Indeed, since the Hebrew name "Eve" means "mother of life," if any woman should have that name, it is Mary. She gives birth to the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life for us.
These four reasons for Mary’s importance in the Scriptures could be multiplied. And I encourage you to add your own thoughts (or objections) in the comment section below. If you haven’t given much thought to the Virgin, assumed that was only a Catholic thing to do, or fear that such attention to Mary will distract from Jesus, then I urge you to reconsider.
To talk about Mary is to talk about Jesus. To give our attention to Mary is to give even greater attention to Jesus. What Mary shows us, again and again, is that the child she bore is the Son of God, who became one with us, dies for us, and rises on our behalf, that in him we have life in abundance with the Father. @@The good news about Mary is the Good News of Christ.@@