Blessed Virgin Mary

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Three Christmas Miracles

Posted by on 24 Dec 2015 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Martin Luther

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

The word, “miracle” is used in television commercials for the cleaning properties of a particular soap. “It’s a miracle!” that I got a pay raise from that miserly company. Miracle has come to mean anything unexpected that brings pleasant results. The expression, “It’s a miracle” has now become trite and meaningless in our culture.

Conversely in theology, a miracle is an extraordinary event revealing God’s intervention in the everyday affairs of men and women. Martin Luther comments on the three miracles of Christmas day: the incarnation, the virgin birth of Christ, and the Blessed Virgin Mary’s obedience. Luther marvels that the greater of the three miracles is Mary’s faith: her willingness to obey God even though it meant hardship, misunderstanding, and loss of reputation.

Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of these three. The virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be mother of God.

Had she not believed, she could not have conceived. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day-to-day. Otherwise, Christ is born in vain.

Martin Luther, “The Maiden Mary” in Nancy Guthrie, ed., Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 26.

Mary, Anna, and the Prophetic Word

Posted by on 08 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Prophecy

And there was a prophetess, Anna . . . . She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:36-38

Anna, a female prophet, lived her life in the Temple courts: she was dedicated to worship, fasting, and praying. Anna represents wholehearted devotion to God and commitment to enjoying his presence (Luke 2:37).

Like Simeon, her fellow prophet (Luke 2:25-35) spending time in God’s presence means knowing God’s heart, and to know God’s heart is to hear his voice, and to hear God’s voice is know his ways (Isa. 55:8-9). Immediately after Simeon’s word, Anna confirms that this child will bring about the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38). To be the redeemer of Israel is to be the Messiah, the chosen one, who would free Israel from her bondage. Anna’s word further confirms to Mary and Joseph that the God of Israel has major plans for their son, bigger plans than they can imagine.

Luke does not record the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response to these two prophetic words, but we know that in another situation, she chose the “ponder these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19 KJV). Pondering is not passivity. Pondering says to God, “I trust your prophetic word, I may not understand it, therefore I will not talk about God’s instruction until he reveals its meaning to me.” Pondering is faith, pondering is waiting on God, pondering is giving God opportunity and time.

The season of Advent is a unique time for hearing and obeying God’s prophetic word. Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to Spirit-waiting, Spirit-listening, Spirit-anticipation, and Spirit-obedience. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are called to Father-directed submission, Spirit-led action, and Christ-follower trust.

We may not identify with Anna’s call to prophecy or her living situation, yet her commitment to the Spiritual Disciplines of prayer, fasting, and worship–a life focused in mind, body, and activity on engaging God–is a commitment we all can pursue.

“Anna,” The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, eds., Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene H. Peterson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 1889.

Mary, Simeon, and the Prophetic Word

Posted by on 06 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Advent, Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Prophecy

 

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’

Luke 2:34-35

On this blog, we have discussed the word of prophecy (1 Cor. 12: 10), its importance during the season of Advent, and how to respond when given a confirmed prophetic word. Today’s post focuses on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model for receiving and acting on prophetic words. Luke 2:25-40 describes two prophetic ministers, Anna and Simeon, reaching out to Mary when the baby Jesus is being presented at the Temple for circumcision.

Simeon was united in Christ in righteousness, “righteous and devout” (v. 25a), yielded to Christ trusting his delay, “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25b), and remained in Christ enjoying his manifested presence, “Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25c). Simeon was intimate with God for Simeon knew his voice, “you would not die” until he sees Messiah (v. 26), and Simeon was led by the Spirit for he was directed by the Spirit “into the Temple courts” (v. 27).

Simeon’s prophetic word consisted of two parts: public in Temple (v. 29-32) and private to Mary (v. 34-35).The public pronouncement focuses on Jesus–God’s salvation found in the baby. This salvation is for the Gentiles and the Jews bringing about the healing of the nations.

Simeon’s personal word to Mary is strangely negative: the proud, self-absorbed, self-assured, and hard-hearted will be revealed (v34-35). Israel will resist Jesus’ ministry, and as result, their worldly, unbelieving hearts will be exposed.  In turn, Israel’s rejection of Mary’s son, the Son of God, will break her heart as well. [Stephen D. Swihart, ed., Logos International Bible Commentary(Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1981), 439.

Some may ask why Simeon’s word of prophecy is negative in tone, “Are not all prophecies to be ‘strengthening, encouraging, and comforting'” (1 Cor. 14:3)? “Are not all prophecies to be positive and uplifting”? A prophecy can contain a rebuke, correction, or warning and still be comforting and healing. When Jesus corrects or rebukes, he also gives the grace, the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, to obey his word of command. Jesus gives prophetic words to the seven churches of Asia: five of the seven are rebuked or corrected for their lack of holiness, obedience, or perseverance. Yet, all five are encouraged, graced, and offered a reward for choosing obedience (Rev. 2 & 3).

Simeon’s warning to Mary is the Holy Spirit’s way of helping Mary avoid the pain and shock of unexpected suffering and rejection. It is good that Mary knows now that her precious child’s future death will break her heart in the most painful of ways–the Cross.

Simeon and Anna are the senior citizens of Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth, and they know and understand more than anyone else. Of all the people that Jerusalem’s streets were teeming with the day that Jesus was named–the rich, the powerful, the young, the holy,–only Simeon and Anna are given insight into who is being carried into the Temple courts in his parent’s arms. In fact, they know more than Mary or Joseph, who are astonished at what Simeon says about Jesus. It is clear that God has placed great value on Anna and Simeon and that he does not think he is wasting the Holy Spirit on two seniors who have passed the prime of life.

Murray Andrew Pura, “Luke,” in The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, eds., Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene H. Peterson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 1887.

The Humility of Mary

Posted by on 18 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, John Stott

Surrender to the Will of God

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

Whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox, one has to admire the courage, self-surrender, and devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bible gives us no background to her childhood, the circumstances of her life, or the manner of her love for God. Yet, this fifteen-year old girl was sovereignly chosen by God to be the instrument for giving birth to the Savior of the world. Mary was willing to be ostracized, rejected, scorned, and ridiculed for her obedience to God. God was everything to Mary and she was willing to be an empty vessel for his greater glory.

We need the humility of Mary. She accepted God’s purpose, saying, ‘May it be to me as you have said’ . . . We also need Mary’s courage. She was so completely willing for God to fulfil his purpose, that she was ready to risk the stigma of being an unmarried mother, of being thought an adulteress herself and of bearing an illegitimate child. She surrendered her reputation to God’s will.

I sometimes wonder if the major cause of much theological liberalism is that some scholars care more about their reputation than about God’s revelation. Finding it hard to be ridiculed for being naive and credulous enough to believe in miracles, they are tempted to sacrifice God’s revelation on the altar of their own respectability. I do not say that they always do so. But I feel it right to make the point because I have myself felt the strength of this temptation.

John Stott, The Authentic Jesus (London: Marshalls; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 66.

HT: Langham Partnership Daily Thought

Luther on the Three Miracles of Christmas

Posted by on 17 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Faith, Martin Luther

The Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and Mary’s Faith

The word, “miracle” has become trite and meaningless. The word, “miracle” is used in television commercials for the cleaning properties of a particular soap. “It’s a miracle!” that I got a pay raise from that miserly company. Miracle has come to mean anything unexpected that brings pleasant results.

Theologically, a miracle is an extraordinary event revealing God’s intervention in the everyday affairs of men and women. Martin Luther comments on the three miracles of Christmas day: the incarnation, the virgin birth of Christ, and the Blessed Virgin Mary’s obedience. Luther marvels that the greater of the three miracles is Mary’s faith: her willingness to obey God even though it meant hardship, misunderstanding, and loss of reputation.

Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] declared there are here three miracles: that God and man should be joined in this Child; that a mother should remain a virgin; that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. The last is not the least of these three. The virgin birth is a mere trifle for God; that God should become man is a greater miracle; but most amazing of all is that this maiden should credit the announcement that she, rather than some other virgin, had been chosen to be mother of God.

Had she not believed, she could not have conceived. She held fast to the word of the angel because she had become a new creature. Even so must we be transformed and renewed in heart from day-to-day. Otherwise, Christ is born in vain.

Martin Luther, “The Maiden Mary” in Nancy Guthrie, ed., Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 26.

Advent, Mary, and Prophetic Hope

Posted by on 16 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Advent, Blessed Virgin Mary, Gift of Prophecy, My Sermons

The Blessed Virgin Mary Receives Personal Prophetic Words

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’

Luke 2:34-35

On this blog, we have discussed the word of prophecy (1 Cor. 12: 10), its importance during the season of Advent, and how to respond when given a confirmed prophetic word. Today’s post focuses on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model for receiving and acting on prophetic words. Luke 2:25-40 describes two prophetic ministers, Anna and Simeon, reaching out to Mary when the baby Jesus is being presented at the Temple for circumcision.

Simeon was united in Christ in righteousness, “righteous and devout” (v. 25a), yielded to Christ trusting his delay, “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25b), and remained in Christ enjoying his manifested presence, “Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25c). Simeon was intimate with God for Simeon knew his voice, “you would not die” until he sees Messiah (v. 26), and Simeon was led by the Spirit for he was directed by the Spirit “into the Temple courts” (v. 27).

Simeon’s prophetic word consisted of two parts: public in Temple (v. 29-32) and private to Mary (v. 34-35).The public pronouncement focuses on Jesus–God’s salvation found in the baby. This salvation is for the Gentiles and the Jews bringing about the healing of the nations.

Simeon’s personal word to Mary is strangely negative: the proud, self-absorbed, self-assured, and hard-hearted will be revealed (v34-35). Israel will resist Jesus’ ministry, and as result, their worldly, unbelieving hearts will be exposed.  In turn, Israel’s rejection of Mary’s son, the Son of God, will break her heart as well. [Stephen D. Swihart, ed., Logos International Bible Commentary (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1981), 439.

Some may ask why Simeon’s word of prophecy is negative in tone, “Are not all prophecies to be ‘strengthening, encouraging, and comforting'” (1 Cor. 14:3)? “Are not all prophecies to be positive and uplifting”? A prophecy can contain a rebuke, correction, or warning and still be comforting and healing. When Jesus corrects or rebukes, he also gives the grace, the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, to obey his word of command. Jesus gives prophetic words to the seven churches of Asia: five of the seven are rebuked or corrected for their lack of holiness, obedience, or perseverance. Yet, all five are encouraged, graced, and offered a reward for choosing obedience (Rev. 2 & 3).

Simeon’s warning to Mary is the Holy Spirit’s way of helping Mary avoid the pain and shock of unexpected suffering and rejection. It is good that Mary knows now that her precious child’s future death will break her heart in the painful of ways–the Cross.

Anna, a female prophetess, lived her entire life in the Temple courts: she was dedicated to worship, fasting, and praying. Anna represents wholehearted devotion to God and his presence (Luke 2:37). Like Simeon, spending time in God’s presence means knowing God’s heart, and to know God’s heart is to hear his voice, and to hear God’s voice is know his ways. Immediately after Simeon’s word, Anna confirms that this child will bring about the redemption of Israel (Luke 2:38). To be the redeemer of Israel is to be the Messiah, the chosen one, who would free Israel from her bondage. Anna’s word further confirms to Mary and Joseph that the God of Israel has major plans for their son, bigger plans than they can imagine.

Luke does not record the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response to these two words, but we know that in another situation, she chose the “ponder these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19 KJV). Pondering is not passivity. Pondering says to God, “I trust your prophetic word, I may not understand it, therefore I will not talk about God’s instruction until he reveals its meaning to me.” Pondering is faith, pondering is waiting on God, pondering is giving God opportunity and time.

Mary’s humble acceptance of the divine will is the starting point of the story of the redemption of the human race from sin.

Alan Richardson, The New Book of Christian Quotations, comp. Tony Castle (New York, Crossroad, 1982), 158.

In summary; Advent is a unique time for hearing and obeying God’s prophetic word. Like Simeon and Anna, we are called to Spirit-waiting, Spirit-listening, Spirit-anticipation, and Spirit-obedience. Like Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are called to Father-directed submission, Spirit-led action, and Christ-follower trust. The Holy Spirit still speaks through the gift of prophecy. As we anticipate Christ’s second return, we can expect more guidance from our heavenly commander.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Mary in the Mind of the Early Church Fathers

Posted by on 23 Dec 2008 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Early Church Father, Evangelical, Roman Catholic Church, Surrender

My communion is the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.), a convergence movement denomination that attracts clergy and lay people from various Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox backgrounds. We love one another and have as a common goal the knowledge and love of Christ. However, our different backgrounds bring differing perspectives about various theological truths. Mainly truths and issues that have been debated since the Reformation. (Please note that the Historic Church has been in substantial agreement on major doctrines like the Trinity since its beginning.) Therefore, when I attended seminary at Beeson Divinity School, I choose essay topics that would examine these various “problems.” One of my goals in studying at this fine institution was to research and examine these “controversial” theological questions: questions that came up during our many clergy gatherings and friendly poolside debates. One such discussion involved the Blessed Virgin Mary: Was she sinless? Was she assumed into heaven? Did she contribute to our salvation? Was she a model of the church?

My essay, “What Did the Church Fathers Believe About the Blessed Virgin Mary?”, examines these questions in light of the literature of the first six hundred years of church history. I tackle these questions and attempt to draw conclusions about the Patristic period’s understanding of Mary: Did they believe the same as present day Evangelicals, or Roman Catholics, or did the Fathers hold to a different understanding that neither group possesses? Check out my essay and conclude for yourself.

What Did the Church Fathers Believe About the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Rev. Canon Glenn E. Davis

Introduction

No subject stirs passionate emotion between members of the Roman Catholic Church and adherents of Evangelical Protestantism then a discussion about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Recently, this theological controversy was brought to the forefront again by an article featured in Newsweek magazine. This essay pointed out the vast amount of lay support in the Roman Catholic Church for declaring Mary co-Redemptrix and co-Mediatrix with the Lord Jesus Christ:

This week a large box shipped from California and addressed to “His Holiness, John Paul II” will arrive at the Vatican. The shipping label lists a dozen countries–from every continent but Antarctica–plus a number, 40,383, indicating the quantity of signatures inside. Each signature is attached to a petition asking the pope to exercise the power of papal infallibility to proclaim a new dogma of the Roman Catholic faith: that the Virgin Mary is “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God.[1]

The Evangelical world was aghast for it had hoped that the Roman Catholic Church was moderating its position about Mary. Recent ecumenical dialogues with the Roman Catholic theologians had resulted in warm and responsive discussions; Evangelicals looked forward to continued rapprochement. However, Evangelicals were not only grieved that Mary would be elevated to a redeemer status, but also that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility could be invoked in order to establish Mary as a co-Redemptrix and co-Mediatrix with Christ. The mere mention of the concept of infallible Papal authority renewed many old theological anxieties for Evangelicals: tensions, debates, and antagonisms of the Reformation period were renewed. The reaction was immediate and strong from the Billy Graham founded magazine, Christianity Today.

The possibility, however remote, of the pope’s responding to the grassroots groundswell by giving Mary titles that blur the New Testament’s clear vision of Jesus’ unique role in our salvation endangers this uncompromising achievement of clarity [the Evangelicals and Catholics Together Joint Statement on Salvation]. All of which prompts us to say, Don’t. Don’t give to Mary that which belongs to Jesus. Do keep on the road established at Vatican II. [2]

The Roman Catholic Church already has such an official high view of Mary that many Evangelicals feel such that a belief diminishes the centrality of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church presents Mary as the ever-virgin, sinless handmaid, and heavenly intercessor. Rome encourages the faithful in their devotion to Mary:

Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.[3]

This statement, and others like it, upset many Evangelicals fearing that the Roman Catholic understanding of Mary distracts from the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross, his unique mediatorial position, and his ministry of heavenly intercession. Therefore, the question needs to be asked, “What did the Fathers of the Church believe about Mary, the Mother of Jesus? Did they lay the groundwork for present Roman Catholic doctrine? On the other hand, did the Fathers simply affirm what modern Evangelicals believe today? The purpose of this essay is to answer that question.


[1] Kenneth L. Woodward, “Mary: A Growing Movement in the Roman Catholic Church Wants the Pope to Proclaim a New, Controversial Dogma: That Mary is a Co-Redeemer. Will He Do It, Maybe in Time for the Millennium? Should He?” Newsweek, July 25, 1997 [article-on-line].

[2] David Neff, “Let Mary Be: Why the Pope Shouldn’t Give Mary that which Belongs to Her Son.” Christianity Today, Vol.41, No.14 (December 8, 1997), 14.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church web site, (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2679.htm) 2679.

Read the entire document on Scribd: Mariology in the Early Church


How Should Protestants Understand Mary?

Posted by on 20 Dec 2008 | Tagged as: Blessed Virgin Mary, Christmas, Surrender

Mary, a Role Model for All the Faithful

Below is an excerpt from an interview conducted in 2002 by Christianity Today magazine with theologians, Thomas Oden and J. I. Packer, on the issue of the early church, Evangelicalism, and devotion to Mary. Both theologians are respected by Evangelicals worldwide and by the bishops and clergy of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.).

How did official church thinking about Mary change?

Thomas Oden responds:

In 431 A.D., there was the ecumenical Council of Ephesus, which raised the question as to whether the liturgy is right or wrong in calling Mary, theotokos. That Greek word means “Bearer of God.” There was a certain party that said, “We should not say theotokos, we should say only christotokos.” They were saying, “No, Mary didn’t bear God, she just bore Jesus Christ.”

The council affirmed that the liturgy is right—not that Mary is the source of God but rather that Mary is the bearer of the Incarnation. She is the one through whom the fleshly incarnate Lord becomes living history for us. That was a key point of doctrine that Protestants later took. Both Calvin and Luther affirmed the term theotokos.

Why should evangelicals pay attention to Mary?

J. I. Packer summarizes:

I think we (i.e., Protestants) lose by not focusing on Mary. On the one hand, she is a magnificent model of total trustful devotion. She’s being told she is to fulfill the public role of an unmarried mother. Yet she says, “Be it to me according to your will.” We evangelicals ought to remember Mary for that.

Secondly, we ought to take the theology of the Magnificat seriously and celebrate Mary, the mother of the Lord, as head of the line of those who are blessed to be saved sinners.

Read entire interview.