Saturday, April 23, 2016

Triplets of Mary’s Witness: Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ministry

Once we are saved by placing our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), we know that our eternal destination is in Heaven (John 14:2-3). As we proceed in our Christian walk (Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:8), our direction is more important than our current location. God is less concerned with what we did yesterday, whether good or bad (Psalm 103:12), and more interested in whether we are moving closer to Him today, growing in faith, and becoming more conformed to His image (Romans 8:29).

Mary, mother of Jesus, is a wonderful example of someone who believed with childlike faith (Matthew 18:3-4), fought the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7), and finished strong in the victory only Christ can give (1 Corinthians 15:57). She suffered as she witnessed His crucifixion; she rejoiced in seeing the evidence of His resurrection; and she obeyed God through her ongoing ministry of witness.

As we have seen in previous posts, Mary submitted to God’s will for her life (Luke 1:38), followed His plan, and nurtured Jesus as His loving mother. God led her on this path through confirmations that she had understood His mission, encouraged her by bringing her joy in her Son’s miracles (John 2:1-11), and strengthened her faith by allowing her to endure trials.

All this had prepared her for the ultimate crisis, the worst nightmare any believer in Christ as the Messiah could face, yet especially cruel, terrifying and heart-wrenching for His mother. As Simeon had predicted when Jesus was still an infant, the same sword that would pierce Our Savior would pierce His mother’s soul also (Luke 2:34-35).

How could it be, that the King of Israel would be arrested, falsely accused, and unfairly condemned? How could the Anointed One be rejected by the people He came to save, sold into captivity by one of His own twelve apostles, and humiliated by all who passed by? How could God’s own Son be whipped, tortured, and allowed to suffer the excruciating punishment of the cross?

The twelve apostles had one another for moral support, yet they scattered like frightened sheep at the first sign of trouble. Judas had betrayed Him (Matthew 26:25; 27:3); Peter denied Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75); and only John remained at His side through His ordeal.

For all practical purposes, Mary had no male family support to sustain her through this trial. She had evidently been widowed, for the last that Scripture mentions Joseph is when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-52). When Jesus preached in His own country, those who belittled Him did not mention Joseph by name, but mocked Jesus for being just a common carpenter; with Mary as His mother, and four brothers (Mark 6:3).

In a similar passage in Matthew, Jesus responds that a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country and his own house (Matthew 13: 53-58). We know that Joseph would have loved, honored and respected Jesus to the death, so the implication is that Joseph had already died and that the half-brothers of Jesus did not believe He was the Son of God.

So Mary faced the ordeal of Christ’s crucifixion without comfort from the other men in her family, yet she was not alone. God surrounded her with the women who had followed Jesus (John 19:25), with the apostle John whom Jesus had appointed to act as her son (John 19:26-27), and with His own guiding hand, for He will never leave nor forsake His children (Hebrews 13:5).

Mary’s three female companions sharing her grief as she stood by the cross were her sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25), all of whom loved, obeyed and worshipped Jesus. This was Mary’s darkest hour, yet what an amazing consolation it must have been to hear her Son’s tender expression of love.

In the midst of His own immeasurable agony, Jesus saw Mary’s need, answered it by offering John, the disciple whom He loved, to be her son, and ensured her future protection by commanding John to care for Mary as his own mother. John obeyed immediately and completely by taking Mary into his own home from that same hour (John 19:26-27).

At the cross, Mary was an eyewitness of our Savior’s suffering, His love, and His power. As He cried out with His dying breath, the temple curtain tore apart from top to bottom, signifying that man could now boldly approach the Holy of Holies in Heaven (Hebrews 4:16); the earth heaved in a great quake, and the rocks split apart (Matthew 27: 50-51).

Even more miraculous than this display of God’s command over nature was His power over death and salvation of the souls of sinful men. The graves opened, bodies of the faithful saints arose, and they appeared to many in Jerusalem (Matthew 27: 52-53).

All of this led the Roman centurion and his fellow soldiers, Gentiles who within the preceding hours had mocked Jesus, gambled for His coat, and pierced His side, to be saved, fearing God and confessing that truly Jesus was the Son of God! (Matthew 27: 54).

Three groups of women witnessed all these events: Mary herself, who had been at the foot of the cross when Jesus entrusted her to John; a group of women afar off who had followed Jesus from Galilee to minister to Him; and three specific women mentioned by name (Matthew 27: 55-56; Mark 15:40-41). Matthew singled out Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children (Matthew 27: 56), and Mark refers to these as Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40).

But the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus were only the beginning of Mary’s triplets of witness. Her sorrow at His death paved the way for her joy in His resurrection and her endurance to continue her ministry of witnessing to others, as we shall see next time! May we follow her example!

© 2016 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Triplets of Separation: Jesus Leaves Mary for His Ministry

As we saw last week, Scripture shows us three incidents exemplifying the transitions Mary encountered as Jesus entered His earthly ministry: His remaining in the temple (Luke 2:41-52); the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-13), and an attempt by Mary and her other children to visit Jesus (Mark 3: 31-35).

Following His miracle at the wedding at Cana, which we can consider the unofficial start to His earthly ministry, Jesus traveled to Capernaum with His mother, His siblings, and His disciples for only a few short days before He went to Jerusalem: (John 2:12-13).

This was their last recorded family outing, for then Jesus would become fully entrenched in the demands of His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), leaving home to teach (Matthew 13:3; 20-1-16, etc.), preach (Matthew 5:1- 48, etc.) and perform miracles of healing (Luke 17:11-19, etc.), casting out demons (Matthew 8:16;9:33, Mark 5:1-17, etc.), and even raising from the dead (Mark 5:38-43; John 11:38-44).

No doubt Mary’s life changed dramatically as she adjusted to having Jesus leave their home, continuing to raise her younger children (Mark 6:1-3; Matthew 13:55), and experiencing widowhood at some point.

Scripture does not mention Joseph after the incident at the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-52). Had Joseph still been living, no doubt he would have been at the foot of the cross alongside Mary, and Jesus would not have had to entrust Mary’s care to His beloved disciple John (John 19:26-27).

Mary must have felt blessed, joyful, and thankful to hear of all the wonderful deeds of Jesus, yet she must have missed Him terribly and prayed for Him fervently. So we should not be surprised that she gathered up His half-siblings, traveled to where He was preaching to a great crowd, and stood outside asking to see Him. The Gospels contain three parallel passages concerning this event (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21).

But when the crowd told Jesus that His family had come, He responded that His brothers, sisters and mother were those surrounding Him who did the will of God (Mark 3:32-35). At first that sounds harsh, as if He were disowning Mary and His half-siblings. But Jesus, Who is Truth (John 14:6), always spoke the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and I believe His statement had three implications.

First, whoever does God’s will by trusting Christ enters the family of God, becoming God’s child (Romans 8:16; Galatians 3:26), joint-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), and sibling to all brothers and sisters in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). What a great blessing to all believers to be reassured that we are members of His family!

Second, Jesus knew that Mary had always submitted to God’s will, becoming His handmaiden as she accepted His amazing mission for her life (Luke 1:30,38, 46-49). In the spiritual as well as in the biological sense, Mary would therefore always be His mother, as He indicated so tenderly on the cross when He asked John to take her in (John 19:26-27).

Third, Christ’s statement was a warning to those who think they can be saved by association. At that time, Jesus’s siblings did not believe He was the Son of God (Mark 6:4; John 7:3-5), and if they were to die without trusting Him as Lord, they would go to hell (John 3:18).

Similarly, anyone born into a Christian home must not think that their Godly heritage alone is their entry to Heaven. They must make their own personal decision to trust Christ by placing their faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6).

Still, my heart goes out to Mary if she heard Jesus apparently favoring His new followers over herself and His half-siblings. Perhaps that is why Mark makes a point of telling us that she and the children waited outside while Jesus had this exchange with His disciples (Mark 3: 31-32). In any event, she was only human, despite being highly favored and blessed among women (Luke 1:28), and she may have been hurt, disappointed, and perhaps even a little resentful of His new family.

Many mothers experience similar emotions when their child gets married to start their own family (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31), or perhaps joins the military or a religious cult. The first circumstance is usually joyous, despite some growing pains and adjustments.

The second brings honor and pride in the child’s willingness to sacrifice, but also worry for the child’s safety. And the third circumstance brings sorrow over the child’s wasted life, separation from family, and ultimately destruction in hell for rejecting Jesus as Lord and Savior.

So what was Mary thinking as Jesus gave her some tough love? Despite the initial shock over what may have seemed like rejection, I believe Mary allowed God to use this trial to strengthen her faith in His perfect plan for her Son (Romans 8:28) and to rejoice that He was fulfilling that perfect plan (Luke 1:47).

Yet as she pondered the events of this day, Simeon’s words may have come back to haunt her. Feeling hurt at her Son’s behavior may have been only the first glimmer of that sword that would pierce her soul as it pierced His side (Luke 2:34-35). God may have allowed this trial into Mary’s life to help prepare her for the physical separation from Jesus that would follow as He no longer spent time with her, as He died on the cross (John 19:30), and after He ascended into Heaven (Acts 1: 9-11,14).

From then on, Mary was in the position all born-again believers (John 3:3-8) are in today. We do not experience the physical presence of Jesus Christ (John 20:29), yet His Holy Spirit lives in our heart (2 Corinthians 1:22), He elevates us to heavenly places with Him even in this life (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6), and He will return for us so that we will always be in His presence in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

May we be reminded by this trial in Mary’s life that God allows trials in the lives of all His children for three reasons: to strengthen our faith in Him (1 Peter 4:12-19); to conform us into Christ’s image through suffering (Philippians 3:10); and to empower us to encourage others going through similar trials by giving us experience, wisdom and compassion (Galatians 6:2).

© 2016 Laurie Collett
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