And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. 28But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. (Luke 11:27-28)
NEVER had she met any man like this Man – the Man Christ Jesus.
She shared the wonder of all who saw Him cause the dumb to speak (v.14). She marveled at the gracious words which then proceeded out of His mouth (Luke 4:22). The force of truth as He rebuked His adversaries, the beauty of holiness which shone in His manner, all simply swept her away – so moved her soul, that she forgot herself, broke all her habits of reserve and propriety, to blurt out these words. Words of a woman's affection; words of a mother's heart.
She meant well – she wanted to honour Him by honouring her, in that roundabout way of ancient Palestine we ourselves still vaguely keep – as mother, so son. We see it in King Saul's crazed abuse for Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30). We see it here in her effusive praise for the Master.
Yet for all that, she was wrong: wrong in shifting the focus to the mother from the Son; wrong in placing her blessedness in simple, physical motherhood.
How kindly does the Lord Jesus correct her! Is He not truly “meek and lowly of heart”? He accepts what truth she has spoken in part, yet He adjusts her view to take in the whole – “Yea, rather.” Conceding the truth, He corrects the error, and so teaches us that half-truth is untruth; that a single truth divorced from all truth, disproportioned and distorted can be as deceptive as outright deceit.
No mother in all history has been more misunderstood than the blessed Virgin Mary. So like this well-meaning, mistaken woman, untold millions since have fallen into “the error of the wicked” as “the unlearned and the unstable” have “wrested the Scriptures” about her “to their own destruction” following “cunningly devised fables” patterned “through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men... and not after Christ”. (2 Peter 1:16, 3:16-18; Colossians 2:8)
Christ tells us that His mother was blessed, but that we may be more blessed. Let us now , as so often she did then, keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts. (Luke 2:19)
We cannot be more scriptural than Scripture; we dare not seek to be more ‘Protestant’ than the Bible itself. There simply is no question the Virgin Mary was blessed; the Saviour concurs with the woman's words. Her words begin to fulfill the Spirit-inspired canticle which flowed from Mary's own lips (Luke 1:48). Now how was she blessed?
Mary was blessed as she hoped for A Saviour. Mary carried the bloodline of King David and with it the promise of a Saviour for mankind (Luke 3:23-28), just as Joseph bore the title to David's throne (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 2:4). She lived in the times foretold when David's house had declined (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:14-17). So she was content to become a carpenter's wife (Luke 1:27; Matthew 13:55). Yet her song of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55 reveals a godly, contrite heart steeped in Old Testament Scripture; well would she know the promise of the coming ‘Seed of the Woman’ (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Psalms 69:8; Micah 5:1-8). She needed a Saviour, and hoped for Him.
The Bible's portrait of our Lord's Mother gives no place for the Roman Catholic dogma of “The Immaculate Conception”. Begun from the speculations of Augustine, Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas to explain Christ's sinless humanity despite the teaching of (Luke 1:35), the Council of Trent 1546 exempted Mary from all original and actual sin; and at length Pope Pius IX proclaimed that Mary had been sinlessly conceived in his bull Ineffabilis Deus 1845. This dogma is now asserted on the sole ground of papal infallibility as a saving essential of ‘Catholic’ faith. Sincere Roman Catholic people are thus turned aside to fables (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Mary was blessed as she bore the incarnate Christ. As the angel Gabriel brought to her the Word of the Lord, that she should bear the promised Messiah, Mary revered that Word. Her question sought to understand it, not to challenge it (Luke 1:28-34). The angel's answer disclosed the Gospel mystery of the Virgin Birth: God the Holy Ghost overshadowing her, would take of her sinful humanity, make it sinless and form a body, ‘that holy thing’ by which from conception the eternal, only-begotten Son would enter the world (Luke 1:35; Hebrews 10:5-10; John 1:1,14; 1 Timothy 3:16). Thus God would answer the age-old riddle beyond man's power or wit: ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’ (Job 14:4). Elizabeth's encouragement; Joseph's protection and acceptance; the witness of the shepherds; the welcome of Simeon and Anna; the visit of the wise men, all vindicated her submissive faith (Luke 1:38-2:40; Matthew 1:18-2:23).
The same misguided shift of focus to mother from Son which caused the ancient matron in the crowd to err, lies behind the most common term used of Mary in Roman Catholic devotion - “Mary the Mother of God”. The term was originally coined with the worthy purpose of safeguarding the reality of Christ's two natures as God and Man in the integrity of His single Person. The 5th century Council of Ephesus proclaimed the term to preserve the truth that Christ was both God and Man in His incarnate state from conception - His full Deity was not ‘bestowed’ upon Him at some later point. Tragically, the term only served to heighten the pagan trend to regard her as a virtual mother-goddess and to invoke her in a manner fit only for Christ Jesus Himself (Acts 4:12; John 14:6).
Mary was blessed as she raised the Lord Jesus in her family. The Bible makes very plain that after the Saviour's Virgin Birth, Mary and Joseph truly married and entered into all the joys and sorrows, duties and pleasures of married life. (Matthew 1:25; Hebrews 13:4) A large, close-knit family filled the carpenter's house in Nazareth. The Lord Jesus acted as Elder Brother of seven at least - four boys, and two or more girls. (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). The New Testament, in Greek as in English, calls them ‘brothers’, not ‘cousins’. (Mark 1:16; Luke 1:26; Colossians 4:10). Beginning with Him, Mary nursed, trained, and prepared them all for life. Along with Joseph she taught them the Holy Scriptures, and took them to worship on the Sabbath, nurturing them in the fear and admonition of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Luke 1:41-42, 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15; Ephesians 6:4).
The Bible's historical accounts leave no room for the belief, popular since the 4th century, that Mary was a ‘perpetual virgin’. This concept which requires our Lord to have ‘seeped out’ of His mother in anything but a natural birth, contradicts (Micah 5:1-8) and practically violates (1 John 4:2-3, 5:6). The great church father Jerome first advanced it in the trend of his times to exalt celibate monastic life and deem the married state less ‘spiritual’ cf (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Mary was blessed as she surrendered her earthly claims upon her Son. As our Saviour entered His manhood at twelve, and His public ministry at thirty, He made it clearer and clearer with time that He had entered a path of obedience to the Eternal Father's will, in which His mother had neither part nor lot. In the Temple at twelve, He answered her fretful complaints with guileless astonishment: “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?” (Luke 2:48-50). At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, He gently but firmly rebuffs her motherly meddling: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” (John 2:4). All she may do is leave matters in His hands: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” (John 2:5). Astonished at the crowds, and terrified of the scribes, she with all the family feared for His safety and sanity . They sought to take Him home, even if it ended His public work; all this met He plainly repudiated. (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35). “Who is my mother, and my brethren?” Over and over she would learn and re-learn that only the bonds of faith unite us to the Saviour.
The Bible bears credible witness to the actual, human struggles of our Lord's mother to understand and submit to His purpose, just as the disciples wrestled with their long-held prejudices to comprehend the nature of His Messianic calling. Nowhere does her physical kinship give her Christ's access, favour or preference. Far, far removed from this, the mediaeval traditions and popular piety of Roman Catholicism has exalted Mary more and more into a Co-Mediatrix whose merits and pleas mollify a severe, distant Christ from damning the ‘faithful’ for their post-baptismal sins. Indeed, in his 1891 encyclical Octobrimense, Pope Leo XIII declared, “Nobody can approach Christ except through the Mother”. With the need to seek Mary's supposed “intercession” has come the practice of offering her “veneration” which takes the very words fit only for divine worship and applies them in the extravagance of adultation. To her are offered the vows, praise, and prayer which Scripture reserves for the true and living Triune God alone. The Second Vatican Council has only strengthened this trend by calling on “all sons of the Church generously to foster the liturgical cult of the Blessed Virgin”. Every ordinary Roman Catholic who tells the beads of the rosary will recite the Ave Maria (Hail Mary) 50 times, and the Pater Noster (Lord's Prayer) 5 times.
Mary was blessed as she stood by the Cross. All the reproach and sufferings of Christ as the Servant of the Lord grieved His mother deeply (Mark 6:30; John 7:5, 8:41; Luke 34-35). Only finally, fully at the Cross did Mary comprehend and surrender to that will by which He offered up Himself alone as the Lamb of God to save His people from their sins. In His last act of obedience, as a firstborn Son, the Lord Jesus committed His widowed mother into the care of His beloved disciple and cousin John . (John 19:25-27). With her removed, with none to care for His soul, He trod the winepress of divine wrath alone, and died, the Just for the unjust to bring us to God (Psalms 69:8-9, 142:4; Isaiah 63:1-5; 1 Peter 3:18).
Just as Mary was passive in the Incarnation; just as she was excluded from the public ministry of Christ, just so she was discharged from any involvement in the Passion and Atonement our Lord Jesus wrought for sinners at Calvary's cross. The most recent developments in the Marian cult move in complete opposition to Scripture. The entire trend through the centuries to bestow piecemeal upon ‘the Mother’ the sinlessness, intercession, worship and divine glory of ‘the Son’ is now coalescing to invest her with a coherent role as Co-Redemptrix , ‘sharing’ with the only Mediator between God and man the entire work of salvation. This term has come into vogue since the reign of Pope Benedict XV in 1922. Pope Pius XI (1939) declared, “With Jesus, Mary has redeemed the human race”. In his 1943 encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pope Pius XII asserted that Mary offered Christ to the Father upon Golgotha in direct contradiction to (Hebrews 9:14). The current Pontiff is not a whit less extreme. In his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater John Paul II claims that the sinless Virgin was bodily assumed to heaven without death in order to co-operate with her Son in the work of redemption, intercede and protect the Church and world, and to reign as Queen of the universe. To her he freely ascribes the biblical titles of Christ - “Advocate”, “Mediator” and “Morning Star”.
Mary was blessed as she shared in the Church's life as a believer. Never again did our Lord's blessed mother stand out among the circle of Christ's people. She has no mention among the women named who early that first day of the week came with sweet spices to discover the empty tomb, and hear the angels' message, “He is risen”. (Luke 24:10) Under John's roof and care, she undoubtedly shared the wondrous joy that greeted the Saviour's resurrection. (John 20:2). Hers was the special gladness of seeing her other sons, chief among them James, come to faith as the risen Lord appeared to them. 1Cor.15;7. Last of all the 120 members of the infant Church, Mary and her sons joined all the disciples eagerly awaiting the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13-15). Among the many witnesses of the Gospel, she just may have told out the events she had treasured in her heart directly to Luke while as Paul's companion he visited with James in Jerusalem, and while he attended the Apostle to the Gentiles in Caesarea (Acts 21:18-19, 24:27; Luke 1:1-4). Of her death, as of the deaths of the Apostles, we have no record in Scripture - and need none. Like all saved sinners who trust in the only Saviour, our Lord's mother served her generation by the will of God; her body fell asleep in Jesus, and her soul departed to be “with Christ” - “which is far better”. Only when Christ returns shall the last enemy, death itself, be subdued under His feet.
The era which spawned the notion of “The Immaculate Conception” at the beginning of Mary's life also produced the idea of “The Assumption” of Mary to heaven at its end. For why should a sinless, stainless Mother of God need to die? First attested in 4th century apocryphal gospels (e.g. “The Passing of Mary”), later mediaeval theologians contested the truth of these ideas (Gelasius declared it false, John of Damascus true). By 1740 Pope Benedict XIV pronounced it ‘a pious opinion not to be elevated as an article of faith’. By 1950 in his bull MunificentissimusDeus Pope Pius XII did elevate it to another saving essential of ‘Catholic’ belief “on pain of damnation”. Earnest, sincere Roman Catholics, willing to do God service with a zeal not according to knowledge, are thus constantly led away from the Son of God, the only Saviour, the Lord Jesus, to “the Mother” - a virtual female deity and complete counterpoint to Christ in person, office and work.
IN THESE SEVERAL WAYS, as a believer under both Old and New Testament; as the Virgin Mother of the incarnate Son of God; as a central eyewitness to the person and work of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel, Mary the Lord's Mother was uniquely, undoubtedly blessed.
It is tragic that so few of those who so often reflect on her know who she really was, nor have heard nor heeded her most vital message: “Whatsoever CHRIST saith unto you, do it!”
Can we really be more blessed than the blessed Virgin Mary?
Christians generally tend to succumb to a certain nostalgia and sentiment that it would seem distances (and excuses?) them from expecting to enjoy the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.
“If only we had lived in the days of the New Testament! If only we had the power to do miracles! If only we had seen the Saviour for ourselves! If only we could have witnessed His mighty works, and heard His mighty words!”
This is altogether wrong: just as wrong-headed as the wishful thoughts of the woman who acclaimed the Saviour's mother. For everything the Scriptures reveal assure us that in fact we now enjoy the highest of all privileges of grace under the New Testament, walking by faith in the Spirit and under the Word of Christ.
Do we envy the greatness of John the Baptist? Hear the Saviour: “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”. (Matthew 11:11)
With the open Bible before us, and the Holy Ghost within us, fact is we are as good as there - no need for a costly “Holy Land” tour to “walk where Jesus walked”; no need to ask and guess “What would Jesus do?”
Listen to the disciple He loved, the apostle John:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:1-4) “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)
We are more blessed than Mary, for our blessing is the same as hers in kind. This is what Martin Luther meant when he said, “At Christmas I remember three miracles, each greater than the last - a virgin conceived, God became man, and Mary believed!” The essence of the Virgin's blessedness was that she trusted herself to the Word of God - “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me even according to thy Word” (Luke 1:38). The meaning of her experience lay in pondering that Word - “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51). The value of her life lay in obeying and pointing others to that Word - “whatsoever He saith unto you, do it!” (John 2:5). And what have we ourselves less?
We are more blessed than Mary, for our blessing is far greater than hers in measure. This is the key to that fascinating, enigmatic promise the Lord Jesus vouchsafed us when He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12)
We stand in the fullest light of the Gospel - the bright wonders of the Saviour's person, office, work and purposes blaze before us from the open Bible, as the Comforter, the Holy Spirit sent from the Father and the Son continually leads His people through the ages into all the truth of the faith once delivered to the saints. Well may He say of us, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Luke 10:23-24)
We receive the greatest blessings of the Gospel - for we are childish to clamour for the temporary more than the permanent, the physical more than the spiritual, the extraordinary more than the ordinary.
Glorious it is that God was made manifest in the flesh, that the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth should dwell among us. But to what end did He come? That by the power of the Spirit in the inner man He might indwell the hearts of all His people, and that together they might in Him be made an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Marvellous it is that our Saviour raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, healed the sick, and cast out demons. But to what did all of it point? He tells us: “the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.” The apostles “went everywhere preaching the Word, and confirming it with signs following”. Why? That the devil's works in our souls be destroyed, that by His stripes we are healed, that our hearts be purified by faith. So now ascended on high, He gives gifts to men as evangelists, pastors and teachers and fulfills the promise: “The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of the preachers”. That is why Paul said he had rather speak five words to edify, that gabble in a thousand unknown tongues.
We may witness the greatest glory of the Gospel - for God is pleased to call His people to live, walk and serve in the simplicity of faith. Do we long for the certainty of Thomas in touching the Saviour's wounds? Listen to Christ: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Listen to Peter, who walked with Him, sat at His feet, confessed Him, denied Him, an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ and the glory to follow: Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:5-9)
Blessed indeed was the blessed Virgin Mary; well may we thank God for her faith, her hope, her love - like us a saved sinner, like us redeemed by the precious Blood of a faithful glorious Saviour! “Yea, rather” more blessed are we “that hear the Word of God and keep it.” Are we hearing it - attentively, intently, diligently, prayerfully? Are we keeping it - with humble faith, and obedient love?