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Entries in Mary (3)

Tuesday
Jan192016

Believe for Greater Things - Mary

Luke  1:34-38.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 17, 2016. 

This series has been an adaptation of a sermon preached by George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God USA, on August 6, 2013, at its biennial meeting in Orlando, Florida.

So we first looked at Sarah who laughed when she heard God’s plan for her.  Then we looked at Naomi who simply plodded through God’s plan for her.  Last week we looked at Hannah who wept before God regarding His plan in her life.  Today we will look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, and see how she submitted to God’s plan in her life.

We will pick up the story in verse 34 after the angel has given Mary the news that she is going to have a child that will be called the Son of the Highest, would have the throne of David, would reign over the house of Jacob forever, and whose kingdom would have no end.

The Faith of Mary

We are not told how young Mary is.  We only know that she is old enough to have children and young enough to not have been given to her fiancé Joseph yet.  She is most likely in her mid-teens.  It would not be hard for her to realize that the angel is describing her giving birth to the Messiah for whom Israel had been waiting.  Thus this brings up a question for her.

Mary’s question is not so much about doubts she has about what God is going to do.  Rather her question is about the “how” of the plan.  Doubt can arise anywhere.  But the angel’s response makes it clear that Mary is honestly curious.  True faith always has questions and spends time in prayer asking those questions of God.  However, they won’t be questions that doubt God’s ability.    Mary may simply wonder if she is going to be impregnated by Joseph.  How is this going to be?  Sometimes God gives us answers to the how and to what is next in the plan.  Yet, He doesn’t always give us an answer.  Even the answers that we do receive can dredge up more questions.  Thus faith will have questions and even receive some answers.  But, at the end of the day, it will still have to trust God and believe Him for both the “what” and the “how.”  In fact, the “how” will always take care of itself in the end.  God will make a way.

The angel makes it clear that Mary will not become pregnant by Joseph.  Rather, she will conceive by supernatural intervention from the Spirit of God.  Such a miraculous conception would not be believed by the people around her.  Mary knows that if this happens she will be publically disgraced.  Thus true faith accepts and endures public disgrace.  Mary would know exactly how a girl who got pregnant “early” would be treated in that society.  Kids very quickly understand public disgrace and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  Yet, Mary accepts this.  By doing so, she accepts being labled a harlot, or promiscuous girl, perhaps even an unbeliever.  Who would believe such a story?

On top of this Mary would be risking her relationships with family and Joseph.  But, true faith risks its present relationships for the sake of the Lord.  Mary makes the choice to accept what God wants to do.  But, she could not control how others in her life would respond.  Most likely she thinks Joseph will divorce her, maybe even publically to protect his reputation.  How would her father and mother respond?  This is way too risky a proposition for a young girl, and yet, Mary accepts the risk because she trusts God.  No relationships in this world can mean more to us than our relationship with the Lord.  Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  Hate in this context does not mean “to despise and desire harm.”  Hebrews used this term to cover a wider range of situations than the English language accommodates.  In this context the point is that none of these relationships can mean more to us than Jesus.  He doesn’t want to ruin these relationships.  But all of them have to make a choice, and some will not like you being a disciple of Jesus.  We have to put all relationships in our life “on the altar.”  We have to love everyone in our life.  But our love for them cannot come between us and God.  Would anyone stick with her?

True faith also embraces the unknown hardships.  She knew the path ahead would be extremely difficult from what she could see.  But, what about what she couldn’t see?  She couldn’t foresee giving birth to her baby in a stable and laying him in a manger.  She couldn’t foresee having to flee to Egypt and living in a foreign land for years because a king wants to kill your baby.  She couldn’t foresee the rejection of the Messiah and his public execution in such a shameful way.  The angel does not tell her all that lay ahead.  However, she received advanced warning from Simeon the prophet.  When Jesus was 8 days old and at the temple, Simeon warns Mary, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2:34-35).  All along the way Mary would be tested, over and over again.  Would she keep following the Lord or try to save her own life?

Finally true faith submits to the Lord’s plan.  Mary’s words, in verse 38, point out two powerful things.  First, she makes a powerful declaration that she sees herself as a slave of God.  I know that translations are generally “handmaiden.”  However the word is literally a female slave.  A slave has no choice.  It is their duty to do the will of their master.  Of course, we tend to shy away from such language today because of the history of slavery in our nation.  However, Mary strongly declares she is God’s slave.  Now we might be tempted to say that after the cross we are no longer slaves to God.  However, the apostles called themselves slaves of God.  Paul does it in Romans 1:1.  In Philippians Paul calls himself and Timothy slaves of Jesus Christ.  James the half brother of Jesus says in James 1:1, “James a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Later in James 4:13 he reminds believers that we should not be presumptuous about what we are going to do.  But rather should say, “if the Lord wills we shall live and do this or that.”  He is pointing out that our will is not what matters, but the Lord’s only.  Jude, another half brother of Jesus, also calls himself the slave of Jesus Christ.  How could these men who taught about the freedom we have in Christ call themselves slaves and teach Christians to be slaves of God?  How can we be both slaves of God and His children?  The answer is simple.  We were slaves to sin like Israel was a slave in Egypt.  God sent His deliverer to set us free from that sin (Pharoah).  We were purchased from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ and thus go from being slaves to sin to being slaves to God.  Yet, this master, does not treat us like sin did.  Rather, he adopts us into His family and lets us share the inheritance with His One and Only Son, Jesus.  Being a slave to God is not about being forced to do something.  Rather it is about being free to serve him.  The early believers chose to not entertain a choice.  Mary chooses to not have a choice.  “Look, the slave of God.”  May this same spirit be in each of us.  Submission is never to be forced among God’s people.  It is volunteered by those who love Him and are loved by Him.  Are you submitted to the master or are you trying to master Jesus?  Are you being corrected and transformed by Him, or are you doing the shaping and fitting Jesus into your life?  The latter will never work.  You will only find yourself frustrated and lost.  But when we lay our life down and say, “I am your slave, I submit to your plan,” then we will find the true life of being a disciple of Christ.

Remember believing God involves laughing at the audacity of His plan, plodding through the difficulties when we don’t see the end, weeping before Him over our experience, and submitting to Him.  None of these things are easy, and yet, they are the path that the faithful have taken from the beginning of time.  Let’s believe God for Greater things.

Mary audio

Tuesday
Nov182014

The Blessing of God's Word

Today we are going to look at the passage in Luke 11:27-32.

Have you ever noticed that it is easy to see the blessings that others have and overlook our own?  Whether it is self-pity, or the ignorance we have of the lives of others, we get stuck in blindness towards what true blessing is.  In fact, that is the case even when we have the best of motivations.  However, we often are envious of what others have and too greedy to be content with what we have.  This only makes the situation worse.  May God help us to be thankful for the portion we have received from Him and to put it to good use.

The context of this passage involves Jesus ministering in miracles and in teaching the Word of God.  His powerful command over an evil spirit and knowledgeable teach about how evil spirits operate amazed the crowd.  This leads to a woman in the crowd crying out how blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus, must be.  She is so smiled on by God.  She is so lucky.  I wish this was my son!  Of course, I don’t know what all is in this woman’s heart.  But the greatness of Jesus caused her to think about how nice it would be to be his mother.  Jesus takes advantage of this interruption to teach them and us something about what really makes us blessed by God.

We Misunderstand God’s Blessings

This woman and her outburst is a good illustration of the natural condition of our human hearts.  We so easily overlook the blessings that God has given us.  Yet we have “hyper-sight” of the blessings of others.  This spontaneous exclamation gives us insight into what is happening in our hearts as humans all the time.  Although we may have learned to control our words and outbursts, we all have the same visceral reactions to life.  “How lucky that person is!  I wish I was even half as blessed as them!  God sure blessed them.  Why doesn’t He bless me?”  When we think this way we are truly thinking foolishly.

This woman ends up comparing and contrasting her situation with that of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  When she sees Jesus she sees what she doesn’t have- a son who is amazing the people of Israel.  Even if her sons had turned out great and had good reputations, they couldn’t compare to Jesus.  “What must it be like to have such a great son?  That Mary is so blessed!”  Yet, the truth of Mary’s blessing is far more complicated than that.  In Luke 2:35-36, when Joseph and Mary brought the eight day old Jesus to the Temple, the prophet Simeon said to her, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  Mary had good times.  But she would also have extreme soul-piercing times as well and most likely far more than this woman would ever have.  In 2 Corinthians 10:12 we are told that we are not wise to compare ourselves to others.  We can’t know the half of what it is like to walk in their shoes.  We need to learn to focus upon our self and not by contrast with others.

James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights.  He is the source of our blessings.  The “woe is me” attitude causes us to look down upon the blessings that God has given us, which is looking down upon Him.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing.  In fact, we today can be envious of the fact that she got to physically see and hear Jesus.  Yet, later Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Please catch the fact that we do not understand what a blessing is.  We look to all the wrong things and say that is a blessing.  Yet, Jesus corrects us and points us back to what our true blessing is.  This woman misses the reality of her own blessing because she is looking at Mary’s lesser one.  We focus on what we think are big blessings, when all along we are overlooking those that really are big.  Mary was blessed, but not any more than her.  Even to this day groups within Christianity will look to Mary in awe because she was the “Mother of God.”  Of course that statement misrepresents the reality that Mary only mothered the physical flesh that God took upon Himself in Christ.  Mary was not near to God because she birthed the Messiah.  In fact, we can end up with a heart that has to have a son who is Jesus in order to be content.  Does God have to do such and such in order for you to believe that He has blessed you?  Does God have to bless you with a certain something in order for you to be happy?  Be careful, because that thing has become an idol in your life.

Jesus answers the woman with the truth about who was blessed.  The Word of God is the greatest blessing that we can receive.  In that sense they were all just as blessed as Mary.  Many who have had material blessing in this life will go into eternity lost and ill prepared for judgment.  Don’t envy the material blessings at all.  They cannot save you and are not proof that God loves those people.

Yet, the Word of God must always be mixed with faith; belief.  Think of it this way.  Was Judas blessed?  Yes, in that God gave him a great position in His band of followers.  Yet, in the end Judas wasn’t blessed because he failed to trust Jesus.  Thus Jesus emphasizes hearing and keeping the Word of God.  The word “keep” means to guard, watch over, and nurture.  It is also in the present tense.  Blessed are those who are hearing the Word of God and keeping it.  Are you guarding God’s Word to you this morning, or are you allowing the evil one to use every manner of tricks to plunder it?  Get this deep into your heart.  When you truly understand blessing, you will understand that the greatest blessing is simply receiving the Word of God and then doing it.  This is what brings us near to the heart of God.

The Evil Generation

Jesus then turns to speak about the generation of Israel in His day.  It was an evil or bad generation.  Of course, not every single individual was bad.  But overall they did not trust the Word of God.  Rather they trusted the word of men.  They lack faith in God and obedience to Him.  Are we part of an evil generation here in America?  Forget about Iran or ISIS.  What about us?  I think it is clear that we too have crossed a threshold where we as a people have decided that God has nothing to say to us.  We can figure it out for ourselves. 

Jesus says that an evil generation looks for signs and wonders.  They demand spectacular proof from God.  Now Jesus did many miracles, but they weren’t enough.  They always wanted Him to do something greater.  In that sense our desire for God’s miracles can come from a place of hypocrisy.  We want God to jump through our hoops in a very specific way and then we will believe.  However, we never get to belief because our unbelief keeps asking for something greater.  You can never please or convince a person who doesn’t want to believe.  Even if it takes a ridiculous argument, they will come up with reasons why your argument isn’t enough, or why God hasn’t done enough.

Yet, it is God who chooses the signs we will receive.  God will not put himself in a position of scrambling to please every whim and desire of those who refuse to believe Him.  He chooses the signs and gives enough to those who want to believe.  We are not in control He is.  If you want to be blessed then be quick to trust Him rather than continually challenging His love and care for you.  If His commands lead you to a cross then say, “Your will be done.”

Jesus tells them that the sign they are going to get from God is the sign of Jonah.  Although in Luke this phrase is not explained, in Matthew 12:40 we are told, “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  Now the story of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish or sea creature is an amazing one.  When you read Jonah chapter 2 and the prayer that Jonah prays when he has been swallowed, you get the impression that Jonah may have actually died.   Whether he did or not, God miraculously causes him to be transported and regurgitated onto the beach.  Having spent 3 days in stomach acids he must have been a sight to behold.  He was probably pale and lacked any hair on his body.  Whether or not there were any witnesses to his projection onto the beach, he would have looked like he had been in the belly of a fish.  Thus he is a picture of a prophet of God coming back from the dead to proclaim the Word of God.  This picture corresponds to the Resurrection of Jesus.  That is the main sign that God would give to their generation and to ours.

Now Jesus then points to other generations that the people of Israel would have thought of as evil.  In the time of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba traveled a great distance to hear the wisdom of Solomon and believed in him.  But Jesus had brought greater wisdom to that generation and most did not believe in him.  Yes, they were amazed, but most did not mix it with faith.  Are we guilty of this today?  Do we scour the internet and the whole world for wisdom and yet look down upon the Word of God, or never even give it a hearing?  Jesus wasn’t in some far off country.  He had brought the Wisdom of God right to them and yet they were rejecting it.  Jesus said that the Queen of Sheba would be Exhibit A in the case against them.  Even if we try to say, “but God you can’t expect me to believe that,” He need only point to those who responded to far less.

Another example of this is the Ninevites.  The Ninevites repented when Jonah warned them of the coming Judgment.  Yet, Jesus was greater than Jonah and preached a greater message, yet few repented.

We are swimming in the blessing of God in this world.  The gospel has gone out to the world.  Especially here in the West, we have God’s Word everywhere.  God’s Word has never been more prevalent and more accessible to mankind, and yet we persist in demanding greater proof and refuse to seek it out; refuse to repent.  Even though we think our reasoning is air-tight, God need only point to those many people through each generation who believed with far less than us.  No, we truly are an evil generation.  Judgment hangs over us.  But you can be spared.  Jesus calls you to come, pick up your cross, and follow Him.  Join the band of people who not only heard God’s Word but also mixed it with faith.

 

Blessing of God's Word audio

Thursday
Dec122013

The Prophecy of Mary

Note:  We apologize that an audio of today's message is not available.

We have been looking at the Christmas story in Luke 1 and 2.  So today we pick it up in Luke 1:39-56.  Mary has just received the news from the angel Gabriel that she is to become pregnant by the Creative power of the Holy Spirit.  However, he had also revealed to her the miracle that her relative Elizabeth was now 6 months pregnant.  This situation opens the door for Mary to leave her home town in Nazareth and go down to the Jerusalem area and stay with Elizabeth till she delivers.  Elizabeth would need the help and Mary could use her company and understanding.  Who else would truly understand her pregnancy?

When Mary comes into their house and greets them a strange thing occurs.  It is not strange for babies to kick and move in the womb and by now Elizabeth would know that.  However, there is a large movement of the baby and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. She breaks out in a praise and prophetic declaration under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Verses 42-45 record this outburst.  First of all Mary hasn’t said anything yet, but by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, “my Lord.”  Not only does she recognize that the Messiah has now come, but she also blesses Mary for her trust in the Lord and encourages her.  How invaluable this moment, and many more encouraging ones afterwards, must have become to Mary.  She who would be looked upon as a sinner without understanding, had one individual in Elizabeth who understood the miracle of what God was doing through Mary.

Mary’s response to this is referred to as a song because it is in a poetic style and has been used as a hymn by the Church from its beginning.  It is also called the Magnificat (Latin) because of Mary’s opening line of Magnifying the Lord.  However, this is more than a song.  It too is a prophetic pronouncement and praise by Mary.  This prophecy is given in the same style and Spirit as Hannah the mother of Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 2.

Mary Magnifies the Lord

In verse 46 Mary magnifies the Lord.  To magnify the Lord is to cause His reputation to be greater.  God is what He is and no one can make Him greater.  But we can cause the greatness of who He is to be recognized more.  In a world that has cynically rejected the greatness of God, we need people who will magnify the Lord with their words and their deeds.  Our lives can increase or diminish the view that others hold of God.  An interesting thing about this is that God loves to be magnified by the lowly.  Mary is no great person in the political scene of Israel and, yet, she is able to magnify the Lord.  In fact, God has made it abundantly clear that he prefers the praise of the lowly over the false words of the great.

How highly and how great do you see God as?  Is He only a figment of the imagination of an ancient culture?  Is He just a good idea that is inspiring to us today?  Or, is He the Mighty One who loves to help the lowly?  We can never think too highly of the Lord.  May God increase our understanding and may we magnify Him in the eyes of others.

Mary Rejoices that God Is Her Savior

We can rejoice in the general things that God has done for us all.  He has created a planet with all that we need to live and enjoy life.  He has provided salvation for us.  He has given us His Word in living and written form.  He has made His Spirit available to all who believe in Jesus.  But we should also rejoice in the things that He has specifically done for us.  Mary gives praise specifically that the Lord has chosen her to bear the Messiah.  Only one woman of all history would ever have this distinction, not even Eve herself.  Yet, our praise of the specifics God does in our life should never be in comparison to others.  Even though God has not done a thing of such magnitude through you, don’t diminish what He has done.  Learn to take joy in those things which God does for you.  In fact, as bearers of Jesus we find ourselves in a similar situation as Mary and able to rejoice that God has chosen us to bring Christ into the lives of others.

I would point out that in verse 47 Mary recognizes that she is a sinner in need of a Savior, “my savior.”  She was not some salty sailor of extreme wickedness.  But, neither was she a sinless, immaculately conceived being.  She was a young girl who believed the promises of God and was living for Him.  And yet, she also knew that she needed a savior.  She too was tainted by sin.  What a joy to know that the time had come that her sins and the sins of her people would be removed by the Messiah in one day!

God Notices the Lowly

In verses 48-50, Mary recognizes the mercy of God in choosing one who is lowly.  Now Mary is a young girl who is part of an off-shoot of the Davidic line.  She is not of a family that is in line for the throne nor involved in the politics of the day.  They couldn’t be much more removed from power and influence than to live in Nazareth.  Neither do they appear to be of any great economic stature.  Mary sees herself as lowly in the estimation of the world around her.  Yet, God took notice of her.  O friend, what is it in a person that catches the eye of God?  It can only be by keeping ourselves lowly of heart.  Mary could not control her circumstances, but she could control her heart.  Even when we are doing great in the estimation of the world, let us lower ourselves as Christ did.  Dying to the life of ease so that we can tend to the burdens of others is the hallmark of our Lord.  More than food, and health, people need the salvation of Christ that touches the burden of their sin.  How horrible it would be to feed someone and clothe them and yet do nothing for their soul.  God does not need great people.  He simply needs someone who is humble enough to greatly trust Him.  Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord and He will lift you up in due time.

God is Against The Proud And Mighty

Next Mary exults that God not only notices and chooses the lowly, but He purposely rejects the proud and mighty of this world.  Yes, He notices them.   Yet, He refuses them.  In fact, He has pledged Himself to judge them.  1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ “  Also, in James 5 read verses 1-7.   “

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.  Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.”

We cannot count on justice in this age.  But, God promises a day of judgment in which all will stand before Him and give account.  All things will be rectified by God.  Much evil is done in this life in the name of getting justice.  Beware of the fact that the enemy loves to use good things as a cover for all manner of evil.  Also recognize that God has made the rationale He will use on that day abundantly clear throughout the Scriptures.

God Remembered His Promise

Israel itself is a type of the lowly.  When God needed a nation to bring forth Truth and the Messiah, He did not choose the proud and mighty nations of the world (Egypt, Chaldeans, Assyrians, etc…).  Rather, he found a single, lowly man, and made a nation out of him.  Among the nations of the time, Israel was the “slave nation” who would not even exist if it wasn’t for the help and grace of God.  God had made promises to Abraham and his children.  Now it was being remembered as the Messiah was conceived.  God is a God who remembers and helps the lowly.  Even to this day, the nations of the world look down on Israel as something that should not exist.  To them the world would be better if she disappeared or were completely destroyed.  Be careful when you are standing in line judging others that you are not loading the ammunition that will be used against you by the Lord.

May God help us to be faithful to the Lord in our generation.  God help us to trust Him.  God help us to believe that no matter how lowly we are in the world’s eyes and by the world’s measures, God will exalt us in due time and put down the proud.