My wife and I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit with my son, daughter-in-law, and new grandson only a few hours after the birth of that grandson. This was their first child, so this event brought with it the whole myriad of emotions, thoughts, and concerns that the birth of a first child often brings. When we think of the birth of that first child, we tend to focus entirely on that child and the miracle of life that he represents. However, the child is not the only one born that day, for this is also the first day for a new mother and father. Two, who were only a few short years ago children themselves, have been born anew as parents. A new mother stares with wonder at this beautiful little child and hides the fears that accompany the responsibility and life changes that this little one will bring. Likewise, the new father’s mind also races through thoughts of their future as a family.
It was interesting to witness the responses of our son and daughter-in-law as they began the process of nurturing this beautiful little boy. My mind was swept back 30 years when my wife and I went through the same experience with the birth of our first child. We also witnessed that birth with a mixture of wonder and fear, yet also with the resolution that this child would be raised in a Christ-centered home. This was how our journey started, and now we find ourselves at a point in our lives where both of our two children are now parents. We have witnessed the restart of that cycle of life, the completion of a second generation as both of our children are now parents. The 30-year journey has been one of a series of experiences that are common to many.
This journey is also one of the most important in all of life. The decisions that are made will determine the context and direction of the family for the rest of their lives.
The journey is not always an easy one. Events and circumstances often challenge one’s will and emotions. We experience the joys of the mountaintop when we witness accomplishments in our children. We also experience the sorrows that fill the valleys when difficulties and problems arise. The guidance that we receive and our submission to that guidance both play an important role in parenting our children through those formative years. When one seeks to raise children in a Christian home, much of that guidance can be found in God’s word where we find examples, both positive and negative. Those examples, plus the direction teaching on the subject of parenthood, provide an important resource as a young couple seeks to build a strong and godly family.
The gospel of Luke contains many of the experiences of Mary as she traveled this journey as a mother who nurtured Jesus from the cradle into His adulthood. Internal evidence suggests that Mary was the source of much of the content of this gospel. Because of this, we have an account of Mary’s journey, one that is full of the joys and sorrows that are a part of the real life experience. As we consider how Mary dealt with the issues of motherhood we may find an example of how mothers today can find strength and direction in what is the most important task to which they are called.
1. A Humble Beginning.
Mary’s journey started with the announcement of an angel, certainly not the norm for any young women whether in ancient times or today.
Luke 1:30-33. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He 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, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
When we read these verses during the Christmas season we celebrate with joy the conception of the Christ child, the Promised Messiah, the Son of God. Our impression may be that this event was one that was received with joy by all concerned, Mary, Joseph, their family, and their community. However, as with all real-life events, the news was not that well-received. Mary and Joseph were not yet married, and few would believe the story of the Angel’s annunciation. It was easier to believe that Mary and Joseph made up this story to cover their sin. Consequently, throughout Jesus’ life He was referred to by the people as the Son of Mary (e.g. Mark 6:3), not the Son of Joseph, and certainly not the Son of God.
As Mary bore the Son of God she would also carry the burden of rumors and prejudice of those around her. Today the majority of first-conceptions in America take place outside of the bonds of marriage so much of the stigma surrounding this status has ebbed. Still, however, many new mothers face similar challenges and can identify with Mary’s circumstances. As difficult as this circumstance would be, Mary believed in her heart that she was in the center of God’s purpose for her life. This gave her the confidence to bear the burden without faltering.
The timing of Jesus’ birth coincided with Caesar’s demand that people travel to their family homes for a census, fulfilling a prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Mary found herself far from her Nazareth home, far from family, and was forced to give birth in a lonely stable that was meant for animals, not for newborn infants. One might expect that in such circumstances Mary would have reason to complain that this setting was not appropriate for the birth of the Messiah. Certainly few today would submit to this experience without rebellion. However, again, Mary was confident in God and His purposes in her life, and for the life of her baby, and so she also bore that burden without faltering.
2. A Home of Faith
When Mary and Joseph had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
We have no Biblical accounts of the challenges that faced Mary during Jesus’ pre-teen years other than those that can be inferred from the culture that we do find in scripture. We do find that Mary and Joseph had “done everything required by the Law.” This was the appropriate way in their culture to honor God. At this point of their lives this included the circumcision and dedication of their child to God. It involved their presence in the temple at appropriate times for appropriate events. It is clear that Mary and Joseph had a sincere faith in God at a time in their culture when such faith was unusual since they, like families today, were immersed in a godless and sinful culture. They gave their faith a priority in their lives that empowered them to rise above the secular culture to form a home that was built on faith.
Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom.
Each year Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. This again illustrates the depth of the faith of these parents. This was a long and difficult journey. One can imagine that it would have been easier to simply stay home and resolve to go “next year” when the travel may be easier. How many of us stay away from the temple when the fellowship gathers? We are not faced with a walking journey of several days. Yet, sometimes a threat of rain, the presentation of a sporting event on television, or any of many other distractions serves to dissuade us from attending. By our absence we testify to the minimal commitment we have to build a Christ-centered home. Such a minimal commitment significantly compromises the foundation of strength that we need to face the issues in this life in a godly manner. In Mary and Joseph we see a tremendous example of commitment to God as they grew as a family.
2. A Harrowing Experience
A home that is built on faith has the power to face challenging moments, and there is little doubt that Mary was faced with many difficult experiences as she and her husband raised the child, Jesus. We do have the written record of one event that took place when Jesus was a pre-teen, an event that would certainly strike terror in the heart of any mother: her child was missing.
After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem with a group that was made up of their relatives and friends. They did not travel alone. Consequently, it is not that much of a surprise that Jesus was not missed when they first left Jerusalem to return home. It was not until they gathered in their family groups for the evening meal that it was discovered that Jesus was not among the travelers. One can only imagine Mary’s feelings of panic when her son is missing, possibly lost in the city, lost along the road, or fallen among any of a number of thieves or slave traders.
There is probably no fear that strikes the heart of a mother that is greater than that surrounding the loss of a child. We hear almost every day of the plight of those who have lost a child to illness, or even more harrowing: to abduction. We pray for those who are suffering this grief and may wonder how they survive the tremendous burden. If we focus on the biblical account of this passage we can find in the language that Mary was profoundly grief-stricken. Upon learning of his absence, Mary and Joseph left the travelers and returned immediately to Jerusalem to search for Jesus.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
We often fail to realize that Mary and Joseph did not find Jesus until the third day of their search. One can only imagine how the anxiety in their hearts would build with each passing day, a day that ended with a fitful and agonizing night filled with prayers and little sleep. Let us not forget that this was a household of faith, a faith that would be shortly rewarded in a very unusual way.
How do people get through such times when they do not have faith in God? What do they hold on to when the storms of life batter so violently? In our God is a solid rock that serves as a foundation and strength when the difficult times come. Mary and Joseph were able to stand on that rock and weather the storm.
It may be interesting to note that it took them until the third day to inspect the interior of the temple as they searched for Jesus. If we are searching for our child, we will look first in those places where Jesus would be expected to visit. I can remember on more than one occasion when I would fail to return home from school in a timely manner, my mother would call around in an attempt to locate me. Her first call was usually the correct one when she would call the church parsonage where I would be there, playing the piano or organ, and visiting with my pastor and his wife. Why did it take Mary and Joseph three days to check the temple? As much as theirs was a home of faith, apparently theirs was still much like ours, a home that is also filled with many other priorities and interests.
Still, the power of the faith in their home was evident in their child who preferred to spend his time in the temple listening to the teaching of the rabbis and asking them questions.
When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Often the conflicts that we experience in our families are the result of a lack of communication. Mary’s anxiety is evident in this passage, and yet we see that Jesus is also surprised at his mother’s testimony. Evidently, Jesus was simply expecting that his parents would come by the temple and get him when it was time to leave town.
Jesus was now coming of age, able to make decisions and allegiances for himself. A young child will usually consider his mother to be the center of his/her world. However, there comes a time in the maturation process when dependence upon the parent starts to be replaced with individual independence. This is a tough time for any mother as she measures her own success in the ability of her children to grow and become self-sufficient. When Jesus spoke to Mary he used the word for Father that describes the fatherly attribute of God. At twelve years of age Jesus was beginning to relate to God as his Father, a shift of allegiance that Mary would find to be a bittersweet blessing. She was witnessing the beginning of that time when Jesus would leave the dependence He had on her, and would strike out on his own.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
There were still a few years left for Mary and Joseph to nurture this growing young man. There is little doubt that these years were filled with opportunities for Mary to learn more and more about the faith that she had brought into the home. She would find that faith tested on more than one occasion, and ultimately, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Anna the prophetess, her heart would be broken.
3. A Husband Lost.
This passage contains the last reference to Joseph in scripture. It does state that Jesus was obedient to “them”, indicating that Joseph was still with Mary during these years. However, the lack of any reference to him during the ministry and passion of Christ leads us to believe that Joseph had died prior to His baptism by John. The tradition of betrothing young women to older men led to a society with a lot of widows, and it is evident that Mary may have been in that number.
4. A Heart is Broken.
We find very little recorded about Mary through Jesus’ adult years. An important reference to her is recorded by the author of the Gospel according to John.
John 19:25. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
One can only imagine what was going through Mary’s mind when Jesus was first taken prisoner and questioned by the authorities. There are probably few words to describe how she felt when she saw Him after the beating and scourging that he suffered at the hands of the Roman guards. One would think that something inside of her died that day when she watched the brutal crucifixion of her son, the One who had brought her so much joy and so much hope. By this time the faith she had in God had been mixed with the faith she had in her son whom she now accepted as the Messiah and her own Lord. She shared the grief and confusion of those around her who did not yet understand the meaning of Jesus’ promise to rebuild the temple in three days. But, those three days would pass.
5. A Hope is Reborn
Luke 24:10. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.
Only Luke records the presence of Mary at the tomb where Jesus had been buried, and upon the death of Jesus, she is referred to as the mother of James, a literary device that is formed more from their culture than from any theological intent. Each of the gospels tend to focus on the experience of Mary Magdalene at this point in the narrative. Though Mary, the mother of Jesus, has slipped into the background of the gospel narratives, we find that she was present to experience Jesus’ resurrection, an event that would restore to her the hope and joy that she had come to find in Jesus. She would now come to more fully understand how Jesus could be her son, yet also be her Lord, and now her Savior.
She now came to understand that when Jesus died on that cross He performed a miracle that only God could do, taking upon Himself the punishment for her sin as well as the sin of all who would place their faith and trust in God. Mary was a woman of faith from her childhood, a faith that was emboldened by the visitation of an angel and her status as the mother of the Christ Child, the Messiah. Still, it was necessary that Jesus would die for her sins. As Jesus had stated of so many others that He had ministered to, Mary’s faith had made hew whole.
Mary’s journey, though unique in her status as the mother of Christ, is not that dissimilar to that experienced by mothers today. She was found to be pregnant at a young age, enduring the social stigma that this status brought upon her for her entire life. She experienced both the joys and sorrows of motherhood from the mountaintop of angelic proclamation to the valleys of the terror of a missing sun, and her witness of his death. However, through it all Mary held firmly to her faith, a faith that led her to form a home that was built on that faith. Hers was a home that demonstrated the true sacrifice of obedience to the God of her faith as she led her family to an intimate association with the temple and other people of faith. That faith was the priority of her life, one that gave her the resources to embrace the mountaintops and endure the valleys of life.
Mary’s journey can be an example to all mothers today who face the entire range of experiences of this life.
First, mothers are to be women of faith. How much needless suffering and strife exists in our homes today simply because God is not the center of the home? For some, God may just be a warm and fuzzy feeling that is experienced on Sunday mornings, but largely ignored during the remainder of the week.
Second, mothers are to nurture a household of faith. Children will not learn of faith and come to embrace the LORD in their lives if they do not see that this is a priority in the life of their mother. Of course, we cannot ignore God’s call upon fathers to accept the responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the family.
Third, mothers are to nurture their children within the context of the local church. The sacrifice that Mary made to assure that their family was active in the life of the temple is significant. Few of us are called upon to make such a sacrifice, so many make none at all. It is not for the survival of the church that we bring our children and youth. We bring our children and youth to church in order to nurture their spiritual survival in a world that is trying to drag them in an entirely different direction.
Finally, as with Mary, God gives every mother the opportunity to witness the birth and maturation of their children safely within the comfort, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit. When her family is safely in the fold, she has built for them a family that can weather the storms of life. She has built a family that can fully realize the joy and peace that salvation brings. She can live her life knowing that she and her family will spend eternity with the LORD.
Is there any better journey to take?