Who Is Mary?

It seems to me that most Christians today
— especially Protestants — spend little time
thinking about Mary.

Oh, once a year she shows up on a
Christmas card, shown either riding on a
donkey’s back or keeping a silent vigil beside
the newborn Christ child in the manger. Even
then, she may be scarcely noticed amid the
animals, shepherds, and wise men.

On those occasions when we do think
about Mary, our main concern may be
maintaining the proper balance between
reserve and respect for this remarkable
woman. Yet we can’t fully understand the
miracle of the Christmas story if we fail to
consider Mary’s role. She’s really the central
human figure in one of the most important
events in the history of mankind.

Who was Mary? What relevance does her
life have to our personal faith?

I am astounded by her comprehension and
calm acceptance of the monumental miracle
the angel Gabriel announced would happen.
Imagine a poor, uneducated peasant girl being
told she would conceive and give birth to a
great king, the Son of God! Yet Mary
understood… and she believed.

Perhaps one of the few people Mary could
confide in during this time was her cousin,
Elisabeth, who was to be the mother of John
the Baptist. Elisabeth confirmed that what was
happening to Mary was divinely ordained, and
encouraged her. Blessed is she that believed, said
Elisabeth, for there shall be a performance of
those things which were told her from the Lord

(Luke 1:45).

In the midst of today’s relaxed (collapsed?)
moral standards, it may be difficult for us to
realize the sacrifice Mary had to make to agree
to yield herself to the Holy Spirit. In her
culture, for an unmarried woman to be found
with child could have resulted in a death

At the very least, she faced
misunderstanding by most people, probably
rejection by her betrothed, and scorn and
shame in the eyes of her contemporaries.

Which of us would have the courage and
strength to subject ourselves to such an ordeal?
But Mary’s strong faith moved her to
cooperate with God’s plan. Her simple,
humble response was, Be it unto me according
to thy word
(Luke 1:38).

Mary stands out in the gospel story as the
symbol of the true humanity of Jesus. She is
the link between the divinity of Christ and the
humanity of Jesus. She is the link between the
divinity of Christ and the humanity of all
mankind. Jesus could not have been
completely God and completely man without
Mary’s role.

Without question Mary and her husband,
Joseph, played an important role in shaping
and influencing the developing years of the
young Jesus. As a youngster, Jesus was taught
the scriptures and the laws of God. When He
amazed the learned scholars in Jerusalem at
age 12, one can say that His divinity shone
through… but He also had been taught and
trained to do His homework.

And it may well have been at home that
Jesus learned the words He cried at
Gethsemane — “Not my will, but thine be
done!” Certainly His mother had set an
example before Him of humble submission to
the plan of God.

The character exemplified in the life of
Mary is an inspiration and challenge to every
believer. She was courageous, committed,
compassionate, and concerned.

Mary’s Courage

I envision Mary having great strength and
durability, yet retaining complete and perfect
femininity. She was courageous, going calmly
and with dignity where few others would have
been willing to go. She faced hardship,
opposition, even danger, with no complaints.
She was willing to let God’s will be done in her life.

After facing the ostracism and personal
humiliation of being pregnant without a
husband, Mary had the strength and courage
to mount a donkey only a few days before
giving birth and make the long, hard journey
to Bethlehem.

And it must have taken courage of another
kind to deal with the throngs of strangers who
came to visit her newborn son — shepherds,
wise men from the East, and doubtless other
curious onlookers.

Later, when Herod sought to kill all babies
in the land, she helped save Jesus from the
slaughter by journeying to Egypt with Joseph
and the child to live among foreigners. Did
this take courage? Absolutely!

And let’s not forget the courage demanded
of Mary to take on the responsibility for
rearing and nurturing Jesus through his
childhood and into manhood. It takes great
courage to be the parent of any child — how
much more to be the mother of the Son of God?

Mary’s Commitment

Once Mary heard and responded to the
angel’s announcement that she was chosen for
a divine commission, she was committed.
From that moment on, she never wavered or
looked back.

Her commitment was complete — she set
aside any personal ambitions and dreams to
make herself available to God’s plan. Her
whole life was dedicated to carrying out the
divine mission to which God had called her.

So seriously did she take her responsibility
that the crisis of losing and finding her Son
again in Jerusalem when He was 12 prompted
her to scold Him for causing her such concern.
And Jesus gently rebuked her by reminding
her that He must be about His Father’s

And a few years later, at Calvary, her
commitment kept her at the front of the cross
while almost everyone else fled. Even in the
face of what must have been tremendous
anguish to see her Son’s suffering, she
remained committed to God’s plan.

Mary’s Compassion

From the beginning of her adult life, Mary
lived her life for others. She put the needs of
others before her own, and ministered to those
around her — husband, family, friends.

I imagine Mary as being the perfect
embodiment of all the marvelous qualities of
the virtuous wife described in Proverbs 31. She
was humble, but supremely capable and
efficient in her efforts to serve.

Can you imagine this woman going around
very arrogantly, saying, “Treat me special — I
am the mother of the Son of God?” Of course not.

Surely Jesus patterned part of His life after
her example. When he promised rest to those
who labor and are heavy laden, He said, I am
meek and lowly in heart
(Matthew 11:29). I am
sure He must have observed the qualities of
humility and compassion in her daily life.

Mary’s Concern for Others

The story of Christ’s first miracle in turning
water into wine at the wedding in Cana
provides a very telling insight into the
character of the mother of Jesus. Even in a
situation where providing the refreshments
was not her responsibility, Mary was
concerned for others. When it became obvious
that there was not enough to drink at the
wedding feast and the host was about to be
embarrassed, she got involved.

She was aware of what was going on around
her… and was concerned about the problems
of others. But more than feeling sympathy for
them, she had a solution. “I know my Son can
take care of this,” she said.

After making Jesus aware of the problem,
she told the servants of the house, Whatsoever
He saith unto you, do it
(John 2:5). And, of
course, the Lord did meet the need and the
beverage He provided was recognized as the
best of the evening!

So Mary’s life is an inspiration to us — her
courage, commitment, compassion, and
concern. Her Christian character and devotion
is an eloquent witness that, with the help of
the Holy Spirit, we can be strong enough to
withstand any test, even the crucifying
tensions of modern life. Perhaps the key to
Mary’s spiritual life is found in that beautiful
Bible passage known as the Magnificat (see
Luke 1:46-53). In those wonderful verses it
seems one can hear her opening her innermost
heart as she cries — “My soul doth magnify
the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God
my Savior… holy is His name. And His
mercy is on them that fear Him from
generation to generation.”

Thank you, Mary, for the inspiration and
godly example of your faith-filled life! May
God help us to magnify the Lord, rejoice in
our spirits, and receive His mercy… today,
and until His perfect plan is fulfilled in all the earth.