Mary: Portrait Of A Powerful Faith
There was one line in the television commercial which I can’t seem to get out of my mind…
The commercial to which I refer is the one produced by the Mercedes Benz Automobile Company. It showed a Mercedes Benz being rammed into a wall in order to reveal how the car’s frame was designed to protect the passengers in case of accident. In the commercial, an observer of this crash test asks the Mercedes spokesperson “Why have you not secured a patent on this crash-absorbing design? Obviously you have given your research to other car makers and they are copying you? Why did you do that?” The Mercedes spokesperson responds—and this is the line that has stuck with me: “Some things in life are too important not to share!”
That is precisely how I feel about the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the Christmas story. Her faith is too important not to share! Of course, when we see her portrayed so beautifully in Christmas pageants and on Christmas cards and as part of nativity scenes, she looks serene and lovely and the whole matter seems so simple and so easy and so touched with joy. However, the truth of what happened is far different. In fact, it must have been an incredibly difficult experience for Mary—what with all the whisperings behind her back, the pointed fingers, the false accusations, the raised eyebrows, the crude jokes, the cruel laughter, the malicious gossip, not to mention the long hard journey mandated at a time when an expectant mother should not have been traveling anywhere except to the nearest hospital, or the risky birth in an unsterile stable with no doctor, no midwife, no medicine, no anesthetic.
Think of it, here was this teenage girl from a poor family who lived in an obscure village in a tiny nation which itself was under subjection to a despised foreign power. One day, out of the blue, an angel appeared to her with a message from God. The angel said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great and He will be called the Son of the Most High…”
Now, be honest. Would you have believed that? The remarkable thing is that Mary did believe it. She didn’t have to be convinced or cajoled. She didn’t demand proof. She didn’t clamor for answers to her questions, she just believed! She was willing to trust God even though it placed her in an awkward, difficult, complicated, and dangerous position. I mean, how was she ever going to tell Joseph? They were legally betrothed. They had not yet consummated their marriage, but in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of society, they were as “good as married.” In those days, when you were formally betrothed, as they were, the only way you could be separated was through divorce. So how could she, or would she tell Joseph and how would he handle it?
It was a terribly tough situation, Mary faced, and under similar circumstances most of us would have asked the Lord to find someone else to do the job. Not Mary. In fact, her reply to the angel stands as one of the most magnificent statements of faith in all of Scripture. She said: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” In Mary, we see a powerful portrait of great faith painted in three bright, bold, colorful strokes. Here they are:
First, Mary’s faith enabled her to hear God’s voice.
Quite obviously, Mary was tuned in to God. She was open to God’s leading in her life. She was listening with the ears of faith for anything God might say to her at anytime. Thus she was able to hear God’s message and respond. She was always alert to the workings of the Lord. I am convinced that God is speaking and acting just as clearly today, but sadly so few people are tuned in to His wavelength. Too many people give in to what I call “the sin of the closed mind.” We have ears but we will not listen and we do not hear. We have eyes but we do not seem to see.
Back in the year 1870, the Methodists in Indiana held their annual conference on the campus of a Methodist college. The president of that college addressed the assembled delegates and said: “We are living in a most exciting age. In fact, I think we are going to see things happen in our lifetimes which right now seem impossible.” The Methodist bishop of Indiana was intrigued by that statement and so he asked the college president if he could be more specific. The president replied: “Well, yes, Bishop. One example is that I believe the day is coming soon when people will be able to fly through the air like birds.” The bishop harangued in reply: “Why that’s absurd! Besides, it’s heresy. The Bible says that flight is reserved only for the angels. Enough of such drivel! What a ridiculous notion!” The bishop was guilty of “the sin of the closed mind.” He was no longer alert to God’s working in the world. And do you know what? When the conference was over, the bishop went back home to his wife and two sons. By the way, the bishop’s last name was Wright—and his two sons were Wilbur and Orville! The bishop had tuned out. He could not see or hear with the eyes and ears of faith—and think what he missed.
In contrast, let me share with you a true story told by Michael King about an incident which happened in, of all places, the “red light” district of Amsterdam. In that notorious place, women advertise the selling of their bodies by displaying themselves in picture windows in front of the various parlors of perversion. A particularly attractive woman was in business on that street and was displayed in the window. One day, a man came by and stood in front of her gazing quietly at her face. He was nicely dressed and was carrying a book in his hand. She went through the motions of her trade but nothing she did drew any response from him. He just kept looking at her eyes. Then he walked away. The next day, he returned—and the next, and the next. Always the same thing happened. He just stood looking at her. She became a bit apprehensive about him—and yet she found herself strangely drawn to him because he didn’t look at her the way other men did. Then one day when he stood and looked at her, for the first time, she looked back into his eyes. His eyes disarmed her. His eyes seemed to say “What a waste!”, but his eyes said much more. In fact, as she looked into his eyes, suddenly she began to see what he saw. In his eyes she saw faith and hope—and in his eyes she saw the woman she could have been and still might be, the woman who once longed to love and be loved and might again. The experience hit her so hard that her eyes welled up with tears. His eyes then grew luminous in response to the tears that were trickling down her cheeks. He smiled—and she did too. Then he was gone. The next day he returned but the chair behind the window was empty. He felt a touch at his arm. He turned. It was the woman from the window. She looked down at his hand and saw that the book he carried was a Bible. Then she looked up into his face. She couldn’t say a word. All she could do was offer him thanks with the only thing she had—a simple embrace from her heart. With that, she turned and walked away forever from her sordid life on the streets of Amsterdam. Why? It was because she had encountered someone who saw in her all that she could be and it had changed her life!
That’s exactly what happened to Mary. She encountered the God who saw in her all that she could be, and it changed her life. At Christmas, we encounter the God who tells us and shows us all that we can be. That’s what happened to Mary on that first Christmas. Her faith enabled her to hear God’s voice. May our faith be the same…
Then Mary’s faith enabled her to obey God’s will.
In the original New Testament Greek, the word which we translate as “faith” actually meant “believing obedience”. In other words, faith means believing in God so much that we commit ourselves heart, mind, body and soul to the doing of His will, come what may.
A recent “Peanuts” cartoon had Linus, the official statistician for Charlie Browns’ baseball team, bringing Charlie Brown his final report. He says: “Charlie Brown, I’ve compiled the statistics for our baseball team for the whole season. In 12 games, we almost scored a run. In 9 games, the other team almost didn’t score before the first out. In right field, Lucy almost caught three flies, and once almost threw out a baserunner.” Then Linus added: “Charlie Brown, we led the league in “almost’!” That’s the way many people are in regard to obeying God’s will—they lead the league in “almost”. They obey God’s will almost, but not quite.
Back when the great missionary David Livingstone was serving in Africa, he sent an appeal to England to send new workers to help him spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. The answer came back from England: “We would like to send some workers to help you, but first you must tell us if there is a good road to the outpost.” Whereupon David Livingstone shot back his reply: “If you are offering to send workers who will come only if the road is easy, I can’t use them. Tell them to stay at home!” David Livingstone understood that obeying God’s will in life can be a costly proposition, but he was committed to pursuing that will regardless.
In that sense, he was a lot like Mary. Mary’s faith led her to a profound obedience to God’s will even though she knew that the cost of that obedience would be high. She said: “Here am I, servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” Her faith enabled her to obey God’s will no matter the cost. May our faith be the same…
Then Mary’s faith enabled her to trust God’s power.
That day the angel came and turned Mary’s life upside down, did she understand all that it would mean? Did she have any idea that once the child was born, she and her little family would have to run for their lives to escape the wrath of a murderous king? Did she somehow know that her child would be more God’s Son than hers, or his Father’s than his mother’s? Did it ever cross her mind that one day she would have to watch as the child to whom she had given life had His life brutally snuffed out, that she would see the child conceived in her borrowed womb buried in a borrowed tomb? I do not know if she knew all of that or not but what I do know is this: when you hear her great affirmation of faith from the pages of scripture, you know that she trusted the power of God completely. She said: “Here I am, Lord, do with me as you will. I entrust myself to your power.”
Terry Anderson—you know that name—was a news correspondent who on March 16, 1985 suddenly stopped reporting the news and began making it. That was the day he was kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon. He spent the next 6 1/2 years as a hostage. It was an incredibly difficult ordeal, but he came through it with amazing strength. After his release, a number of interviewers from the news media tried to get him to articulate the secret of his strength. The answer came in his answers to their questions. Let me share with you three of his most powerful comments:
First, when he was asked what enabled him to survive this horrendous experience, he answered without hesitation: “My faith, my companions, and my stubbornness.” Next a reporter said: “You have declared that you do not hate your captors. Can you help us understand that?” Terry Anderson replied: “It is very simple. I am a Christian. The scriptures teach us to forgive. I do not hate anybody.” Then he was asked: “Did you ever lose hope?” Terry Anderson thought for a moment and then said: “Hard question. Of course, I had some blue moments, some moments of despair. But fortunately, right after I became a hostage, one of the very first things that fell into my hands was a Bible. Over the last 6 1/2 years as a captive, I have spent a lot of time with that Bible. That’s helped me so much because it’s about hope, and it’s about trust in God. That’s what gave me the strength to make it through each day.”
That’s great faith isn’t it? That’s the kind of faith Mary had. That’s the kind of faith we need—a faith that enables us to hear God’s voice and to obey God’s will and to trust God’s power.
Well, tuck this away in your heart…
Some years ago, an evangelist had a card printed with a message on both sides. On one side of the card was the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Printed below it was the answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” On the other side of the card was another question: “What must I do to be lost?” Below the question was the answer: “Nothing.”
In her life, Mary didn’t “just do nothing.” Mary had faith enough to believe. May our faith be the same…