“It is time for evangelicals to recover a fully biblical appreciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in the history of salvation.” So wrote Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School. Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular do not have much appreciation for Mary. To many of us she is just another woman from the Biblical story, but the gospel account itself testifies that “all generations will call [her] blessed” (Luke 1:48). We should pay particular attention to Mary’s faith. Mary models well faith in the revealed character of God.
As a Protestant I can certainly see how Mary’s spiritual value has been over-inflated in other traditions. She is seen as the mediator between God and man; an idea finding no Scriptural support. She has been deemed worthy of prayer and praise; an idolatrous move. She has also been hailed as the eternal virgin, despite having other children after the birth of Jesus. There are many problems with Mariology in the Roman Catholic Church, but we ought to appreciate what is true of Mary according to the Scriptures. As the Mother of our Lord, and the faithful servant of God we ought to appreciate he demonstrations of obedient servant-faith in the face of unbelievable promises. We ought also to ask what we can learn from her faith.
Many know the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and pronouncing the birth of Christ. We read in Luke 1:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (26-33)
This must have been a tremendous and somewhat troubling sight. But more troubling for Mary is the reality that she is a virgin. She asks:
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34)
Note that she does not necessarily doubt the word from God here. Her question is one more of logistics, more of confusion than disbelief. The angel answers her, saying:
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (v. 35)
The angel asserts that the conception is brought about by the Holy Spirit of God. God has made the impossible possible (v. 37). And though there are surely still many questions, much confusion, and shock, Mary has only one response:
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (v. 38)
She believes and submits.
How can Mary so reasonably believe what seems impossible? She knows the character of God. When you know the God of the impossible you know nothing is too hard for Him. When you believe in the God of the miraculous, the God of the Old Testament, the God who parted seas, raised bones, and toppled kingdoms then you believe even virgin conceptions.
Mary’s faith continues to grow, as revealed in the Magnificant. In verses 46-55 we read her song.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Her song recounts the many mighty works of God. Her faith is not arbitrary it is rooted in the testimony of the self-revealing God of the Bible. She knows this God and so she knows that even this pronouncement of conception is possible. She knows she can trust His word of promises because He has revealed His character over and over again to Israel.
Faith is not always simple. Doubt can be a regular feature of our Christian lives and a stressful one at that. There are many features of our faith that are difficult to accept on the surface. Perhaps you struggle with the doctrine of Creation, or a talking serpent, or an ark filled with animals, or a virgin birth, or a resurrection from the dead. God certainly does ask us to believe in some seemingly impossible things. And He asks us to believe in many hard things in our own lives too. He asks us to trust Him when life is hard, when we lose loved ones, when our marriages fall apart, when our kids get sick, when we lose our jobs. He asks us to be faithful to Him when we suffer, when we are sick, when we are depressed, when we are being maligned. He asks us to wait on Him when we don’t understand. It’s not always easy to believe, to express faith, and in those moments we can learn from Mary.
Mary’s faith is not arbitrary. It is rooted in the revealed character of the self-revealing God. God tells us who He is. He reveals Himself in the Scriptures to His people. He calls us not to believe in some random deity, some far-off distant god. He calls us to trust in the God who displays His character across the storyline of Scripture, and across the storyline of our own lives. God proves His faithfulness again and again. He proves His power and love. He has been trusted and He can be trusted. Mary believes not because she has some naïve optimism, but because she knows this God.
Do you know this God? Is your faith rooted in the character of the God of the Bible? Mary’s was. And at Christmas time we have all sorts of reasons to see and believe. The Virgin Birth, hard as it is to accept is part of the larger story of all that God has done. If God is who He says He is, then you can trust Him. Faith at Christmas is like faith all year round. It is a trust in the revealed character of the God of Scripture. Thanks for the example, Mary.