The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”
What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect? Take for instance, Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth was the wife of failed presidential candidate John Edwards. They met in law school, married, and had two beautiful children. They were living the American Dream. They had the perfect life. But suddenly one day her life took a turn for the unexpected. Her 16-year-old son was killed in a car accident. After a period of grief, they had two more children. And she was already 52 years old at this time. They moved to DC since John had been elected senator, and he soon set his sights on being President. During his campaign, there were allegations that he was having an affair with a staffer, which he strongly denied. But soon, he was exposed, found out. He had been having an affair and even had a child with this other woman. Elizabeth separated from her husband and later contracted cancer, and died. Her story is sad, really sad. I don’t intend to minimize her suffering in any way. But I can guarantee you that her life didn’t turned out how she expected…
What happens when our lives don’t turn out as we expect? Where do we turn? Who do we turn to? I honestly don’t know who Elizabeth Edwards turned to, but tonight we’re going to study another woman whose life also didn’t turn out how she expected. But we do know where this woman went; we know who she turned to. Tonight we get to study, Mary, the mother of Jesus.
How We Can Relate to Mary, the Mother of Jesus?
The first woman we get to focus on is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is a woman that you and I can relate to, even though it might not be completely obvious at first. You might be thinking: what do I have to do with the mother of God? I’m pretty certain I’m not going to have a virgin birth to the Savior of the world, or be visited by angels. Nobody is going to write a Christmas pageant starring me, but Mary, like us, lived a life that was unexpected. Mary’s life didn’t turn out like she would have dreamed it would as a young woman. She didn’t have the perfect life, in fact, it was far from it. Most likely she would have been shunned and an outcast in her culture, everywhere except in the close community of Jesus’ followers.
Our lives often turn out way different than we expect as well. What are some ways that our lives don’t turn out as we expect? What expectations do you feel there are put upon you? I know most of us grew up thinking that we need to get married by a certain age, have a certain number of children, and stay at home to take care of them, or at least while the children are young. But we know that this isn’t reality for most of us. A lot of you are like I was, young and searching, searching for meaning in life, a job I enjoyed, a man who would love me, so we could have the “perfect” life. The reality is that many of you are still single and maybe “getting older” by the world’s standards, some of you are in hard marriages or have even experienceddivorce. If you’re still really young, you’ve probably experienced a broken heart at least once. Others of you may be finding out that this career you’re in isn’t all that satisfying and you long for something more. Probably none of us expected our lives to look like what they currently look like. Most of our lives have already or will turn out to look a lot different from what we expected. The same was true for Mary. Let’s look at her story.
Mary’s Story- Unexpected Changes
Turn in your Bibles to Luke 1 ~ Mary’s story starts in Luke Ch. 1, verse 26. Right off, we learn that Mary was a virgin and she was pledged to be married to Joseph; these are two important social customs. First, virginity was super-important in this culture. There are actually OT laws that say: if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, then she was to be stoned to death by the men of the city. So there’s a lot at stake in a woman being a virgin on her wedding night. When the angel visits Mary, she is a virgin, she’s not yet married; the author Luke makes sure we understand it. He repeats it in verses 27 and 28, and later in verse 34. It’s a very important fact, especially if he’s going to mention it three times. It’s important because it emphasizes the work of forming Jesus in Mary’s womb is the act of God alone but it also emphasized that Jesus really was human, he was born from a woman in the natural way that children are born. So he’s really human. The second social custom we’re talking about is being pledged to be married was a legal contract, just like marriage. The only way to get out of this pledge, or betrothal, was to file for a divorce. It was different from our modern engagements, which we can back out of, if need be.
When the angel appears to her, she is terrified and wonders: why in the world is this heavenly being standing here talking to me. If this were me, I would probably think, “Oh no, what have I done?” In verse 30, though, we see that the angel tells her not to be afraid and he says her name. “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” He goes on to tell her inverse 31, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
Then the angel tells her a little bit about whom this son will be. Verse 32: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Mary responds to the angel in verse 34, “How will this be…since I am a virgin?” At this moment, life is turning upside down for Mary, she’s not going to get to live the life she expected, and she knows it. I mean, there’s an angel standing there talking to her. Mary’s reputation, her dreams, the respect of her community is going out the window. No one is going to believe her story. Wouldn’t this be the perfect cover-up for getting pregnant before marriage…? “I promise…an angel visited me…” But this is only the beginning; Mary’s life is heading for much more unexpectedness.
In verse 37, the angel says this is all going to happen, because “nothing is impossible with God.” Mary trusts in the Lord then, and accepts what is to happen. She could have questioned him, but she didn’t. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.” She’s basically saying, “Ok, I’ll do it.” Mary’s world is about to turn upside down, but she trusts God’s goodness and plan, and is willing to be used by him. She’s willing to serve God in what he’s called her. She’s not, like you or I might, trying to make excuses, back out, procrastinate, stall, or ignore. But, she accepts and moves forward.
Birth of Jesus
The birth story continues, but now Jesus is the main focus. This is the Christmas story. Mary, fully pregnant, has no access to a clean room or midwife to give birth. She gives birth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. This is not an ordinary son that Mary has given birth to. She knows it. She knows that her life will be nothing like what she might have expected prior to that first visit by the angel.
There are a few other stories including Mary that I want us to look at tonight. We can’t look in depth at all of the stories that the Bible says of her (she’s mentioned at least in 8 different places). I want us to notice how Jesus, her son—who she knows is God—continues to upturn her expectations for her life. And he does this for us too, in our own lives…Let’s look at 2 incidents.
1. Mark 3:31-35.
In this story, Jesus is now a grown man. He has been teaching in a house, and people are beginning to oppose him. They are saying he’s possessed by an evil spirit, Beelzebub, or Satan. Look with me starting in verse 20 for a little context. It says, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” So Mary, along with Jesus’ other brothers, heard he was not eating, they thought he was crazy, and went “to take charge of him.”
So in verse 31, they arrive at the house and send someone in to tell Jesus that they are there. They’re definitely trying to pull rank here, hoping to get through the crowd because of their relationship to him. They’re trying to use their backstage passes, with its perks and privileges, to gain access to Jesus. They want the VIP treatment. When Jesus is told that they are outside looking for him, he turns the situation into a teaching opportunity, like he often does. In verse 33 he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then looking and pointing to the people sitting inside around him, he says “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus is telling the people that there is no special treatment in his kingdom. There are no VIP, backstage passes. No one is better than another. In fact, so long as you do God’s will, you are his family. Jesus is pointing all of them, Mary and his brothers, and us, to the truth of his ministry and the truth of his calling and telling them what his kingship looks like. We all have access to Jesus.
In saying this, Jesus challenges Mary’s expectations. Not only that, but he’s challenging her identity as well. Carolyn Custis James, who will be at PCPC next Thursday, has this to say. She says that she felt her biblical calling was to be a wife and mother. And because of this, she felt lost when she was single (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177). What Carolyn saw is that in this story, Jesus calls Mary to see that her primary role is not as mother, but as a follower of Christ. Jesus calls each of us to see that following him is what ultimately matters and must be foremost in our lives. Our true identity is to be a follower of Christ, in all we do and in all our situations in life.
2. Luke 11:27-28.
This exchange also comes after the same story, where Jesus is accused of being possessed by the demon Beelzebub. As a little background, in the ancient culture, being a mother was really the highest achievement a woman could hope to attain. The more sons the better and the greater the sons were, the greater the honor would be to a woman.
Well, in this story, after Jesus is teaching them, a woman calls out in verse 27, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Jesus, though, in true form, challenges the expectations that a woman should be known by the work of her son. He says in verse 28, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Again, Jesus challenges their expectations and assumptions about Mary’s role as mother, about her identity. He says that it is better to hear the word of God and to obey it: to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and to follow him. Carolyn Custis James again says,
“Jesus zeroed in on two sacred institutions for women—motherhood and family—and redefined them both. According to Jesus, a woman’s life is truly blessed not when she becomes a mother, but when she hears and obeys his Word. The crowning glory for a woman (as for a man) is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is a woman’s true identity and the only path to blessedness. To base our identity on anything else is to stand on shaky ground,” (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 177).
So Mary’s expectations about her life and family have turned out much different than she would have thought. Her life didn’t look like a normal person’s life and then, even in having such a unique and amazing son, her expectation of what it meant to be his mother is also challenged.
Unexpected Ending to Mary’s Story
Now we come to the unexpected ending of Mary’s story. Remember that the angel in Luke 1told her that her son would reign on David’s throne and that his kingdom would never end. Well for everyone, what would happen to Jesus was unexpected, to everyone except Christ. Even his disciples did not expect that he would be crucified. Jesus told them time and time again that he was going to suffer and die and be raised again, but they didn’t expect it, not until they saw him crucified, hanging on a cross, dying the death of a criminal. The people, they were expecting a great military leader, someone who would fight to the death, but would triumph and overthrow the Roman government and give Israel back her land. But Jesus’ death was not what anyone at that time really expected to happen. His story looked different than what they thought. It certainly looked different from what Mary had every right to expect of her son. One minute she’s called blessed among women, and the next her son is traded out for the most notorious criminal, Barrabas, to be crucified. What shame this would bring on her as a mother.
This week, right now, is Holy Week. Christians all over the world are remembering the final week of Christ’s life before his death and the lead-up to his crucifixion on Good Friday, which is this Friday. As we remember this time in Jesus’ life, you and I get to see from the perspective of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well. We get to see her part in Christ’s story and how Christ kept pointing her to his greater purpose, to what his kingdom really meant, what it meant to truly be a follower of Christ: to follow him to the cross. He pointed her beyond her role as mother to him.
Mary was there on the day that Christ was crucified. Imagine the agony of watching the brutality that her own son had to suffer and experience. But even as he hung on the cross in excruciating pain, he saw her and spoke to her. He told John to take care of her, that she was now John’s mother and John was her son. Even in his death, Jesus took care of his own, his followers. But, thankfully, Mary’s story doesn’t end at the cross any more than Jesus’ did.
Mary: A True Follower of Jesus
The last that is written of Mary is actually found in Acts 1:14. Turn there. After Jesus’ resurrection, after his 40 days on earth, the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to wait for the giving of the Holy Spirit, for the day of Pentecost, we see that Mary is there. She’s waiting with them. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” By this time, although nothing in her life turned out as she would have expected, Mary had learned what it meant to trust God. She learned to embrace the truth and the plan that God had for her life. She knew he cared for her and brought her through all of life’s unexpected turns. She quit holding onto the things that she thought should be important and began to turn to the truth: to turn to Christ. “Jesus’ word for Mary is the same as it is for women today: ‘Follow me.’ It is a way that is open to all of us.” Mary helps us find our true identity by being women who follow Jesus (James, Lost Women of the Bible, 180).
Application of Mary’s Story to Our Lives
I want to leave you with a few questions to think over, jot them down and ask yourself these questions during the week or later tonight. Spend some time thinking about them.
- How has your life turned out differently than you expected?
- What were your expectations based on? (Your parents’ ideas? The culture’s definition of success or womanhood?)
- How do Jesus’ words to Mary point you in a different direction?
Remember that Mary’s life didn’t look like what she would have expected or probably chosen for herself. But through her son and her encounters with him and his teaching to her, she learned what it meant to really be a follower of Jesus and to have him be the basis of her identity. She didn’t know how to do this automatically because she was his mother, but she had to learn from him, just like you and I do. God wants us to have life and to have it fully. That’s why he sent Jesus to us. So let Christ be the one to define your life, to give you meaning. Let him be the one by whom you set your expectations by. Pray that you would be able, through the Holy Spirit, to follow God’s will, to hear his word and to obey it, not because you have to, but because you trust your life to the one who overcame death to give you his own life, true life. So, live into this life that Christ has given you.
When life doesn’t turn out as you expect, allow Jesus, even his words to Mary, to point you back to him as our risen Lord and Savior. Jesus has lived the truly unexpected life, so that our lives don’t have to be unexpected, so long as we are following Christ to the cross. We just have to look to his life to understand our own.
Questions for Application and Discussion:
- What did you expect your life would be like? How have you seen the Lord at work in this?
- What does Jesus say is woman’s highest calling? How would your life be different if you really believed this?