Imitate Their Faith
“Look! Jehovah’s Slave Girl!”
MARY looked up, wide-eyed, as the visitor entered her home. He did not ask for her father or her mother. He was there to see her! He could not be from Nazareth; of that she was sure. In a small town like hers, strangers stood out. This one would stand out anywhere. He addressed Mary in a way that was altogether new to her, saying: “Good day, highly favored one, Jehovah is with you.”—Luke 1:28.
Thus the Bible introduces us to Mary, daughter of Heli, of the town of Nazareth in Galilee. We meet her at a crossroads, in a sense. She was engaged to marry the carpenter Joseph—not a wealthy man but a faithful one. So her course may have seemed to lie neatly mapped out before her—a simple life of working supportively as the wife of Joseph, raising a family together with him. Suddenly, though, she found herself faced with this visitor who brought her an assignment from her God, a responsibility that would change her life.
You might be surprised to learn that the Bible does not tell us much about Mary. It says little of her background, less of her personality, and nothing at all of her appearance. Yet, what God’s Word does say about her is revealing indeed.
In order to get acquainted with Mary, we need to look beyond many preconceptions about her that are promoted in various religions. So let us set aside the countless “likenesses” executed in paint, marble, or plaster. Let us set aside, too, the complex theology and dogma that bestow on this humble woman such lofty titles as “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven.” Let us instead focus on what the Bible actually reveals. It gives us priceless insight into her faith and how we can imitate it.
A Visit From an Angel
Mary’s visitor, as you may know, was no mere man. It was the angel Gabriel. When he called Mary “highly favored one,” she was “deeply disturbed” by his words and wondered about this unusual greeting. (Luke 1:29) Highly favored by whom? Mary did not expect to be highly favored among men. But the angel was speaking of the favor of Jehovah God. That mattered to her. Still, she did not proudly presume that she had God’s favor. If we strive for God’s favor, never haughtily assuming that we already have it, we will learn a vital lesson that young Mary fully understood. God opposes the haughty, but he loves and supports the lowly and humble.—James 4:6.
Mary would need such humility, for the angel held out to her an almost unimaginable privilege. He explained that she was to bear a child who would become the most important of all humans. Gabriel said: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Mary surely knew of the promise God had made to David more than one thousand years earlier —namely, that one of his descendants would rule forever. (2 Samuel 7:12, 13) So her son would be the Messiah that God’s people over the centuries had been hoping for!
What is more, the angel told her that her son would “be called Son of the Most High.” How could a human woman produce God’s Son? Really, how could Mary produce a son at all? She was engaged to Joseph but not yet married to him. This question Mary put into frank words: “How is this to be, since I am having no intercourse with a man?” (Luke 1:34) Note that Mary spoke of her virginity without a trace of shame. On the contrary, she treasured her chastity. Today, many youths are eager to cast off their virginity and quick to ridicule those who do not. The world has certainly changed. Jehovah, however, has not changed. (Malachi 3:6) As in Mary’s day, he values those who adhere to his moral standards.—Hebrews 13:4.
Although she was a faithful servant of God, Mary was an imperfect human. How, then, could she produce a perfect offspring, the Son of God? Gabriel explained: “Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.” (Luke 1:35) Holy means “clean,” “pure,” “sacred.” Normally, humans pass on their unclean, sinful state to their offspring. In this case, though, Jehovah would perform a unique miracle. He would transfer the life of his Son from heaven to the womb of Mary and then use his active force, or holy spirit, to “overshadow” Mary, shielding the child from any taint of sin. Did Mary believe the angel’s promise? How did she respond?
Mary’s Response to Gabriel
Skeptics, including some theologians of Christendom, have a hard time believing that a virgin could give birth. For all their education, they fail to grasp a simple truth. As Gabriel put it, “with God no declaration will be an impossibility.” (Luke 1:37) Mary accepted Gabriel’s words as truth, for she was a young woman of great faith. However, that faith was not gullibility. Like any reasoning person, Mary needed evidence on which to base her faith. Gabriel was prepared to add to her store of such evidence. He told her about her elderly relative Elizabeth, long known as a barren woman. God had miraculously enabled her to conceive!
Now what would Mary do? She had her assignment before her and had evidence that God was going to do all that Gabriel had said. We should not assume that this privilege presented no fears, no hardships. For one thing, she had her engagement to Joseph to consider. How could their marriage proceed when he found out about her pregnancy? For another thing, the assignment itself may have seemed a daunting responsibility. She was to carry the life of the most precious of all of God’s creatures—his own beloved Son! She would have to care for him when he was a helpless infant and protect him in a wicked world. Indeed, a weighty responsibility!
The Bible shows that even strong, faithful men have sometimes hesitated to accept challenging assignments from God. Moses protested that he could not speak fluently enough to act as God’s spokesman. (Exodus 4:10) Jeremiah objected that he was “but a boy,” too young to take on the task God assigned him. (Jeremiah 1:6) And Jonah ran away from his assignment! (Jonah 1:3) What about Mary?
Her words echo through the ages in their simple humility and obedience. She said to Gabriel: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.” (Luke 1:38) A slave girl was the lowliest of servants; her life was entirely in the hands of her master. That is how Mary felt about her Master, Jehovah. She knew that she was safe in his hands, that he is loyal to those who are loyal to him, and that he would bless her as she did her best with this challenging assignment.—Psalm 18:25.
Sometimes God asks us to do what may seem difficult, even impossible, in our eyes. However, in his Word he gives us ample reasons to trust him, to place ourselves in his hands as Mary did. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) Will we? If we do, he will reward us, giving us reasons to build even stronger faith in him.
The Visit With Elizabeth
Gabriel’s words about Elizabeth meant a lot to Mary. Of all the women in the world, who could understand her situation better? Mary hurried to the mountainous country of Judah, a trip of perhaps three or four days. As she entered the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah the priest, Jehovah rewarded Mary with further solid evidence to bolster her faith. Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting and immediately felt the infant in her womb leap for joy. She was filled with holy spirit and spoke of Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” God revealed to Elizabeth that Mary’s son would become her Lord, the Messiah. Further, she was inspired to commend Mary for her faithful obedience, saying: “Happy too is she that believed.” (Luke 1:39-45) Yes, everything that Jehovah had promised Mary would come true!
In turn, Mary spoke. Her words are carefully preserved at Luke 1:46-55. It is by far Mary’s longest speech in the Bible record, and it reveals much about her. It shows her thankful, appreciative spirit, as she praised Jehovah for blessing her with the privilege of serving as mother to the Messiah. It shows the depth of her faith, as she spoke of Jehovah as abasing the haughty and powerful and helping the lowly and poor who seek to serve him. It also hints at the extent of her knowledge. By one estimate, she made over 20 references to the Hebrew Scriptures!
Clearly, Mary thought deeply about God’s Word. Still, she remained humble, preferring to let the Scriptures do the talking rather than speaking of her own originality. The son who was then growing in her womb would one day show the same spirit, saying: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me.” (John 7:16) We do well to ask ourselves: ‘Do I show such respect and reverence for God’s Word? Or do I prefer my own ideas and teachings?’ Mary’s answer is clear.
Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months, no doubt receiving and providing a great deal of encouragement. (Luke 1:56) Both women remind us of the importance of friendships. If we seek out friends who truly love our God, Jehovah, we are sure to grow spiritually and draw closer to him. (Proverbs 13:20) Finally, though, it was time for Mary to return home. What would Joseph say when he learned of her condition?
Mary and Joseph
Mary likely did not wait for her pregnancy to reveal itself. She no doubt had to speak to Joseph. Beforehand, she may have wondered how this decent, God-fearing man would respond to what she had to tell him. Nonetheless, she approached him and told him all that had happened to her. As you might imagine, Joseph was deeply troubled. He wanted to believe this dear girl, but what she told him about was something that had never happened before. The Bible does not say what thoughts went through his mind or how he reasoned. But it does say that he decided to divorce her, for engaged couples were then viewed as being married. However, he did not want to expose her to public shame or to punishment, so he chose to divorce her in secret. (Matthew 1:18, 19) It must have pained Mary to see this kind man agonizing over this unprecedented situation. Yet, Mary was not embittered.
Jehovah did not let Joseph go ahead with what seemed to him the best course. In a dream, God’s angel told him that Mary’s pregnancy was indeed miraculous. That must have been a relief! Joseph now did what Mary had done from the start—he acted in harmony with Jehovah’s leading. He took Mary as his wife, and he prepared to take on the unique responsibility of caring for Jehovah’s Son.—Matthew 1:20-24.
Married people—and those contemplating marriage—do well to learn from this young couple of 2,000 years ago. As Joseph saw his young wife fulfill the duties and cares of motherhood, he was surely pleased that Jehovah’s angel had directed him. Joseph must have seen the importance of leaning on Jehovah when making major decisions. (Psalm 37:5; Proverbs 18:13) He no doubt remained careful and kind in making decisions as the family head.
On the other hand, what can we surmise from Mary’s willingness to marry Joseph? Although at first he may have found her story difficult to comprehend, she waited on him as the man who would be the family head. That certainly was a good lesson for her, as it is for Christian women today. Finally, these incidents likely taught both Joseph and Mary much about the value of honest and open communication.
That young couple certainly started their marriage off on the best of foundations. They both loved Jehovah God above all and yearned to please him as responsible, caring parents. Of course, greater blessings awaited them—and greater challenges too. Before them lay the prospect of raising Jesus, who would grow up to be the greatest man the world has ever known.
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Love of God is the best foundation for marriage