“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word,” Mary declares to the angel of the Lord (Luke 1:37–38). She’s just been told she’s going to bear the Son of God, the Savior of the world! In due course, she travels to the Judean hill country to visit her older relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. Elizabeth has also miraculously conceived a son, after long-time barrenness, and is now six months pregnant. At the sight of Mary, Elizabeth bursts forth in excitement, affirming God’s work in the “mother of her Lord” (Luke 1:39–45). Mary herself breaks out in a song of praise, extolling God’s mercy in using her despite her humble origins (Luke 1:46–56).
Two months later, back in Nazareth, however, Mary finds herself stigmatized because of her apparent unfaithfulness to Joseph. An aura of scandal surrounds her to the point that Joseph considers divorcing her. Were it not for a dream from God telling Joseph to accept Mary’s explanation and to marry her, he would have quietly sent her away (Matt 1:18–22). Mary must go through months, even years, of rejection in living out her calling as Jesus’s mother (John 8:41). And later, she will bear the untold grief of seeing her son nailed to a cross.
Mary and Joseph are among the unusual characters in Scripture whose lives were forever changed by divine, unexpected intervention. God uses such individuals in unique ways to work out his salvation purposes in human history. But why does God ultimately choose people like Mary and Joseph? Though we’ll never know for certain, we can see several qualities that stand out in this young woman: she was pure, she was spiritually mature, and she was receptive to God’s leading. She readily acknowledged that this was the path of discipleship God had for her. Joseph of the lineage of David was an average local construction worker who also shows great maturity for a relatively young man. Willing to move ahead with God’s plan, by faith, Mary and Joseph were both God-fearing. What great godly role models we have in this young couple!
Church history elevates Mary as a special saint and sometimes assigns her the title “Mother of God.” In fact, she was only Jesus’s human mother. From the very beginning she herself acknowledged her son, Jesus, as “God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). Later in her life, we see examples of her limited understanding of Jesus’ mission when she and Joseph couldn’t find him and didn’t understand that he must be in his “Father’s house” (Luke 2:48–51). Even so, she “treasured these things in her heart.” At an even later time, at the wedding of Cana, her lack of spiritual understanding is again evident when Jesus tells her, “my time has not yet come,” in response to her request to perform a miracle (John 2:4). In Mark 3, Mary went so far as to say that Jesus was “out of his mind” (vv. 20–21)! With the crowds pressing in on him, he didn’t even have time to eat, so she and her other sons wanted to take him home, but Jesus refused and continued on his mission (vv. 31–35).
The last time we see Mary in Scripture, after Jesus’s ascension, she is praying in the Upper Room with the apostles and Jesus’s brothers (Acts 1:12–14). Mary had to learn that God’s ways are different from our ways. She had to learn to trust in God’s wisdom and to lay aside her own. In this, too, Mary is a model of self-denying discipleship and humble trust in God.