A few months ago, our ladies ministry had a neat fellowship, in which they painted little decorative signs for their homes, with a portion of scripture on each one. The ladies painted some good verses: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me;” “Be still and know that I am God;” and so on. It was a fun fellowship for them, and they came away with some good scriptures for their homes out of it.
The other day while I was reading Luke 1, I came across a little part of a verse that I thought would be good on one of those signs. It’s from when Mary had gone to visit Elizabeth, who gives Mary a blessing, as the mother of the Messiah, and she said to her in :45, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” I thought, “Blessed is she who believed …”, that would be good on one of those signs! But more importantly than just making a good verse for a sign, it’s a great verse for us all to apply to our lives today!
Certainly it’s a fit scripture for Mothers Day: “Blessed is she who believed” — but the application is only for women, but for ALL of us: “Blessed is she who believed …”, or we could also say “Blessed is HE who believed …”, or “Blessed are ALL who believed … that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to them by the Lord.” Let’s look together for a few minutes at the example of faith that God gave us through Mary, and a couple of ways that we can apply her example in our lives today.
I. Keep a Biblical Balance Regarding the Person of Mary.
I think we need this point of introduction first, because people often go to one extreme or another regarding Mary: they tend to either idolize her, or ignore her — and both of those two attitudes miss the mark.
A. Some people tend to idolize Mary — and I use that word almost literally. They have made an idol out of her. John Calvin famously said that the human heart is an idol factory, and he was spot on when he said that. We’re always looking for someone or some-thing to replace God with, and make an idol out of. I mentioned last Sunday how John Newton said that he had for a time basically made an idol out of his wife — expecting her to be to him what only God should be. And sadly we tend to do that: we tend to elevate even good people and good things, beyond the place God designed for them to have. Some people, like Newton, may do that with their spouse; some people do it with pastors and other religious leaders — put them up on a pedestal when they are just men like everyone else — and many people have done that same thing with Mary the mother of Jesus as well.
For years, different religious groups have elevated Mary to a place which has crossed the line to worship. I have heard some defend their actions and say, no, we don’t “worship” Mary we only “revere” her — but the fruit of their actions often reveals otherwise.
When Cheryl & I were on a mission trip to Europe, we were in a cathedral which had a great painting of heaven, featuring God the Father, the Lord Jesus — and the Virgin Mary. Folks, the Father, the Son, and the Virgin Mary are NOT the Holy Trinity! They are giving her a place that should only be given the one of the members of the Triune Godhead:
— When you elevate Mary to a place that should only to be given to God, that is worship.
— When you address a prayer to Mary instead of to God, that is worship.
— When you call Mary the “co-redemptrix” of salvation — “co-redeemer,” as many adherents call her — that is worship, and that is going too far.
See, as Christians we are to be people who are governed by the word of God. When you attribute to Mary qualities, and render to Mary practices, which go beyond what the scriptures teach, then you have gone too far.
— sinlessness in scripture is only attributed to Jesus, not to Mary or anyone else.
— prayer in scripture is directed to only God; not to Mary or anyone else.
— salvation in scripture is attributed to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — to our Triune God ALONE, not to Mary or any other human agent.
We should never attribute to Mary any qualities, or direct to Mary any practices, that are beyond scripture, and which belong to God alone. When the Apostle John was tempted to fall at the feet of the angel who had brought him the Revelation, the angel said: “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.” (22:8-9) If Mary were able to address these religious groups who are giving her worship today, I know that she would say the same thing to them as that angel did: “Do not do that … worship God.”
B. On the other hand, there are those who have seen how many have “idolized” Mary, and so they have gone the totally opposite direction, and basically ignore her. Or keep her in a little “box” that they only open at Christmas time. (When’s the last time you heard Mary the mother of Jesus mentioned in a service that wasn’t at Christmas time?!)
There is also a popular school of thinking today that says that we need to stop making heroes of other people in the Bible; that Jesus is the only hero of Scripture. They say we shouldn’t have sermons like “three lessons that we can learn from David’s courage against Goliath,” as if David were the hero; that Jesus is the hero of the Bible. Now, I agree: Jesus IS the focus of scripture — and I get that; I do believe that Jesus is the Ultimate Hero of the Bible, and that all scripture ultimately points to Him.
But I also think we would be making a big mistake to say that there are not things we can learn from other characters in the Bible as well. Hebrews 13:7 says: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, IMITATE THEIR FAITH.” So the Bible commands us here, that we CAN and SHOULD imitate the faith of those who have gone before us — that includes Joseph in Genesis, and David in I Samuel, and, yes, Mary in the Book of Luke. We should’t put her on a pedestal as an idol — but there ARE things we can learn from her faith.
So we need to keep a Biblical balance regarding Mary today. Don’t put her up on a pedestal as an idol; and don’t lock her in a box and ignore her either. Rather, keep the Biblical balance and “imitate her faith.” The scripture tells us here: “Blessed is she who believed.” Hebrews says we should imitate her faith. So, in light of that, how can we learn from Mary’s faith, and apply it to our lives today?
II. Imitate Her Faith in Your Circumstances
What WERE the circumstances in Mary’s life, in which she believed God? Well, they were some of the most bizarre, and extraordinary, circumstances in all history. The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and told her that she was going to bear a child, who would be the promised Messiah, “the Son of the Most High, whose kingdom would be forever.” Her first response was that she didn’t know how this could happen, since she was a virgin, but when Gabriel explained that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her, and that she would carry the Son of God, she said in :38, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” She accepted God’s word, she believed it, and she entrusted herself to God in her situation. Mary had faith in what God told her would take place. She trusted God with her circumstances. She believed that “there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary is a good example to us today in that regard. Like Hebrews says, we need to “imitate her faith” — and believe that what God has said to US about OUR circumstances too, will also be fulfilled.
This has such good application for us today, in this COVID-19 crisis.
As I mentioned in my newsletter article earlier this week, there is a lot of uncertainty in our society still, isn’t there — which is why many folks have not come back to services at church yet — and I totally understand that. Let me make it clear, again: I do not disparage anyone for continuing to stay home to watch our services on Live Stream. There is a lot of uncertainty out there: how long will this last? Are people still contagious? Will there be a “second wave,” or a “third wave” or whatever. Like Mary questioned Gabriel about how she could have a child, we have a lot of questions today about our circumstances today too.
But ultimately, even with her questions, Mary believed God, and we should imitate her faith. Even though we have some questions; even though there are some things we don’t know or understand, we have the bottom line assurance that what God has spoken to us about our circumstances, WILL take place. We should trust Him, and submit our lives to Him. And know His will is going to be done. “Blessed are those who believe” God in the midst of their circumstances.
As God’s people, we should not be crippled by paralyzing fear regarding our circumstances. I am reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, considered one of THE great Presidential biographies. In it he relates about John Adams’ wife, Abigail, who was a remarkable woman on her own account in many ways, but she continually worried about her husband. She wrote in her letters about how her mind was constantly paralyzed with fear regarding John as he traveled between Boston and Philadelphia, or on the ship between the United States and France, which he had to do several times. Abigail was a Christian, and she should have known better, and trusted her husband, and her situation to God.
And that’s true for us and OUR circumstances today too. We shouldn’t be consumed with fear about ourselves or our loved ones, and what is going on today. God says: “Blessed are those who believe …” what God has told us about the circumstances WE are in today. So … what has God said to us about our circumstances?
— We know He said in Romans 8:28 says that He is causing all things to work together for good for us.
— We know Philippians 4:19 says that He will provide all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ.
— We know that Romans 8:18 says “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
— We know that Romans 8 goes on to say that NOTHING shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
And on and on. If you are troubled by a situation you find yourself in, then you need to: 1) find out what specific things God has to say in His word about your situation, and then 2) like Mary you need to just BELIEVE that what God said, He is going to DO! Just like Mary: “Believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you by the Lord.”
If you have been troubled about some particular area of your life, then be faithful in your normal daily Bible reading every day. As you do this, almost certainly, God will make some verse, or some part of a verse, just “jump off the page” at you. When that happens, understand: this is God is speaking to you through that word! So when you get that word, then BELIEVE what God has said to you. Like Mary, “believe that there will be a fulfillment of what the Lord has spoken to you.”
Now, again, this presupposes that you ARE spending time every day in God’s word; that you are giving Him an opportunity to speak to you every day as you read. And it also presupposes that you are not just “rushing through” your reading, but that you are carefully watching and listening for what God is saying to you through your reading – you are hunting for His word like you would be hunting for gold! If you will give His word that kind of attention, God will speak to you. And when He does, you write that down and you STAND on it, and believe it.
DO NOT get caught up in fear in this crisis. Take hold of this word today: “Blessed is she who believes;” — “blessed is HE who believes;” “blessed are ALL of us who will believe” in the promises of God during this crisis, who will stand on His word and trust in Him through this. Believe that there will be a fulfillment of what He’s promised you in this time.
III. Imitate Her Faith for Your Salvation
The greatest blessing of faith, is the blessing of salvation, which comes to the one who believes what God says He will do for them in Christ.
This was at the heart of Mary’s faith:
— In :47 she called the Lord, “God my SAVIOR.” She knew that she, as well as others, needed God’s salvation, and that God was accomplishing this salvation through this Child who was being born through her.
— In :50 she recognized that she (as well as all of us) needed God’s mercy – because we’ve not been who we should have been.
— Luke 2:21 tells us that after Jesus was born, Mary brought Him to the Temple, and she gave Him the name “Jesus,” which means “YHWH is salvation.” She knew what He came for: to be the Messiah; the Son of God; to save His people from their sins” as Gabriel told Joseph in Matthew 1.
Mary had faith in God’s word for salvation through Jesus. She believed what God told her about this child, and Elizabeth could say to her: “blessed is she who believed” — because Mary’s belief in what God was going to do through Jesus, led to her salvation.
And that is exactly how ANY of us are saved: through believing what God tells us in His word, that He for us through Jesus:
— The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith.”
— Romans 10 says “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
— John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever BELIEVES in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
When we BELIEVE what God for us, in sending Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins, the Bible says we are SAVED by that faith. It was personal for Mary: she knew she was a sinner who needed God’s mercy; she KNEW this Child had come to save us from our sins; and she personally believed it, and so Elizabeth could say to her: “Blessed is she who believed”! Mary was saved by her faith in Jesus.
And the same thing can be true for YOU too! If you realize that you are a sinner and need God’s mercy; if you BELIEVE that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and commit your life to Him as your Lord & God; then those same words can be said to YOU: “Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you by the Lord.” Put your faith & trust & confidence in this same Jesus that Mary did, for your salvation.
Do you have that belief, that confidence in God, like Mary did, for you salvation? SO many people have doubts. If you do, just put your trust in Jesus for your salvation. NOT how many times you go to church or how good you are, or how good you are going to be. Put your trust in HIM; in what HE did on the cross for you. Realize that He did what He did, for people just like YOU! And “nail down” your salvation. BELIEVE that what God did through Jesus, He did for YOU!
Years ago, John Newton, who wrote the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was writing to a Miss Mary Barham, a young lady who has having doubts about her salvation. He wrote to her:
“You say, ‘It never came with power and life to my soul, that he died for me.’ If you mean, you never had any extraordinary sudden manifestation, something like a vision or a voice from heaven, confirming it to you, I can say the same. But I know he died for sinners; I know I am a sinner: I know He invites them that are ready to perish; I am such a one; I know, upon his own invitation, I have committed myself to him; and I know by the effects, that He has been with me hitherto, otherwise I should have been an apostate long ago: and therefore I know that He died for me.”
(John Newton to Miss Mary Barham, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., pp. 221-222)
Basically what John Newton was telling that Miss Mary, that he just believed what God said in His word about his salvation:
— God’s word said we’re all sinners. He says, I believe that. I am a sinner.
— God’s word says Jesus died for sinners. He says, I believe that.
— God’s word says He invites people to come to Him; he says, I came to Him!
And in that confidence, he says I know I am His, and that He died for ME.
Some of us may need to “nail down” our salvation in that same way today. If you do not know if you have ever been saved, or if you have been having doubts about it; do what John Newton did; do what he encouraged Mary Barham to do: think about what God says about salvation, and YOU believe it, and apply it to YOUR own life. Say:
— God, Your word says I am sinner. I believe that.
— God, You said Jesus died for sinners. I believe that, and that means Jesus died for ME.
— God, You said whoever would come to You, You would receive into Your kingdom. God I COME TO YOU RIGHT NOW. Receive me, forgive me, save me; help me to follow You from this day forward. I BELIEVE THAT.
Tell God right now; I believe that. I receive that. I am nailing that down right now. And if you are really that, then it can be said of you, just like it was of Mary those years ago: “Blessed is she who believed.” “Blessed are YOU who believed too” today — because God’s word says if you believed in Him, you too will have eternal life!
Let’s bow our heads together …