• Mark Ledbetter

Mary Did You Know?

The message of Christmas is captured beautifully by carols that have transcended the years, songs such as “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,”[1] “O Holy Night,”[2] “Silent Night”[3] and others written and composed in the 1800s. Recording artist feature their unique renderings annually reviving the carol’s messages and capturing the sacredness of the Christmas Season.

There is a more modern artist, however, that, in my humble opinion who deserves “Christmas Carol Status,” and that is Mark Lowry’s, “Mary Did You Know?”.[4] Written by Lowry in 1984 and set to music by Buddy Greene, the song asks the question if Mary comprehended the impact of the birth of her Son, Jesus? Did she understand that her Son would change the course of human history, did she fully understand that her Son would be mankind’s Redeemer and Savior? Mary, did you realize what it meant when you said, “Yes!”

What we do know that after the surprising visit of the shepherds Mary is said to have “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), i.e., she collected in her thoughts and reflected upon their meaning. As her Son’s life unfolded He certainly gave her many things to “ponder.”

Ponder this!

Mary’s miraculous conception parallels other Matriarch’s of Faith who experienced Divine Intervention when conceiving and giving birth to a special son.

We might begin the Christmas Story with the miraculous birth of the Messiah’s forerunner who we refer to as John the Baptist. Luke records the circumstances of his birth, and while an answer to the prayers of an older couple too advanced in age to have children, John’s birth is an interesting series of similar births dating back the Israel’s matriarch, Sarah.

Sarah, like Elizabeth the mother of John, was well beyond child-bearing, but God intervened and serving God’s purposes, Sarah’s shame was removed with the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:6). In response to Isaac’s prayer for his barren wife, Rebekah, God responded by enabling her to conceive, thus continuing the fulfillment of God’s plan (Genesis 25:21f).

God’s intervention on behalf of the barren is once again found in Manoah’s barren wife giving birth to Samson, a judge raised up by God to relieve Israel’s oppression (Judges 13:1f). Then, in a time when a barren Hannah prayed for a son, a time of spiritual darkness, a time God needed a man to serve as Priest, Judge, and Prophet, Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:1f).

Like the matriarch’s of old, when Elizabeth miraculously conceived, she recognized God’s favor was upon her and declared that He had taken away her “disgrace among men” (Luke 1:24-25).

But Mary – she was different. She was young, engaged, and by the words of her own mouth: “I know no man,” a virgin (Luke 1:34). She wasn’t barren or beyond the age of child-bearing, but she was carefully selected to give birth to One who would be a savior to the world, the only Begotten Son of God.

As the Gospel’s history and tradition suggests, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was and remains a chief focus of in the birth of Jesus.

While we are introduced to Mary early in the Gospel narratives, Mary’s story actually begins long, long ago, in a time when there was just one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve. Thousands of years prior to Gabriel’s visit to Mary, God set His plan for man’s salvation into motion.

“Her Seed”

From the Genesis account in Chapter Three we learn of the tragic fall of man into sin; and while both the serpent and the Woman were both implicated and judged for their role in the fall, it was the Man whom God held responsible and for his disobedience the stain of sin fell upon all of mankind.[5]

His judgment of the serpent is significant for the Christmas story and Mary’s role. To the serpent, God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (emphasis added).

“Seed”[6] here is unique in that generally it is associated with the progeny of the male and reflects a whole line of offspring. [7]Here, however, with these words God announces the epic struggle between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s. Yet, the struggle is not simply an enmity, a hostile response to the host of reptiles descending from the literal serpent, but also the ensuing spiritual battle between the tempter and all of the Woman’s seed, all of humanity.

Yet, when announcing the serpent’s “bite” will bruise Messiah’s humanity, His heel, the Messiah’s bruised heel will crush the authority, i.e., the serpent’s head, there is a subtle shift from the collective thought of humanity to the prophetic promise the Messiah comes from the “seed of a woman”[8] transferring the singular hope of the Coming of the Messiah Redeemer who renders Satan’s authority useless.[9]


In the town of Nazareth, a small community in western Galilee, lived a young woman named Miriam[10], rendered in English as Mary, except for tradition, of this Mary we have little reference.

From the Scriptures we learn she is a virgin, viz., “…I am a virgin,” or literally, “know no man.” We know she is betrothed to Joseph, who is a descendant of David. In those days to be betrothed, or espoused, is similar to being engaged, yet with some very strict features; although they had not consummated the marriage they were regarded as married, and the arrangement dissolved only by death or infidelity.

Gabriel’s Visit (Luke 1:26-38)

Gabriel is apparently a select angel who is commissioned to deliver important messages. He is the same angel who appeared to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21) and Zechariah (Luke 1:19). When he appears to Zechariah he announces himself as, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”[11]

Gabriel’s Greeting

And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

It should be no wonder that Mary was “perplexed” by the salutation she received. Visitations by angels were often met with fear and concern. Obviously, such visitations were outside the norm. She was equally perplexed by the nature of Gabriel’s announcement.

First, he declared she had found favor with God. She had been chosen out of all women in Israel to give birth to God’s son. The child would be called the Son of the Most High. Such thoughts were considered blasphemous in the religious circles of that day. Perhaps they had forgotten the Prophecies of Psalm 2, Isaiah 9, and the declaration of Proverbs:

Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (30:4)

Second, she is to name her son Jesus. His name and his mission is one of the many “word plays” found in the Gospels. Yeshua, rendered Jesus in English, is the Aramaic version of the Hebrew Yehosuah meaning “Yahweh saves.” Each time we say His name, Jesus, we are announcing His purpose – to bring salvation to mankind.

Give Him the Throne of David

There can be no clearer Messianic overtones than this announcement. Mary’s son, Jesus, will fulfill the Messianic promise of God’s covenant with King David, ruling in the “house of Jacob” forever. The expression “there will be no end to his kingdom” fulfils two Messianic Prophecies.

Isaiah’s Announcement:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Daniel’s Announcement:

“I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Mary’s Concern

As incredulous as Gabriel’s announcement might be, that she would be the mother of the Messiah, it wasn’t the possibility of being the mother of the Messiah that created her concern. It was the aspiration of Jewish women to be the mother of Messiah. Mary had found “favor” with Yahweh.[12]

In Mary’s eyes, however, the process posed a problem. Since by her own admission that she was a virgin,[13] it was difficult for her to understand how this was to be accomplished. Gabriel alleviated her fears with more information: “The Holy Spirit will come over you [will come upon you], the power of the Most High will cover [overshadow] you. Therefore the holy child born to you will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:25).

Like others in the Law and the Prophets, the Holy Spirit will come suddenly with power and effectiveness.[14] Mary will find herself under the “wings of” God’s glorious presence and through the Spirit she shall conceive. The child she shall bear will be the Messiah, the Son of God.

For people of faith this is a marvel rather than an impossibility. If one can believe that Elohim created the universe out of nothing, why should it be so hard to believe in the Virgin Birth? Through His word He spoke and by His Spirit He created. Just as the Spirit of Elohim “hovered” (brooded) over the formless earth and brought to forth that which He spoke (Genesis 1:2ff), the same Spirit overshadowed Mary, supernaturally made her conceive, and that child conceived within her was a male child, the Son of God.

Conceived of the Holy Spirit Jesus is divine and possessed the spiritual attributes of His Father – He was righteous and good in the perfect sense, and without sin. Born of a virgin, Jesus possessed human attributes, the ability to experience hunger, fatigue, and capable to be tempted to sin. As Yahweh’s son, He was entitled to the “executive privileges” yet, He divested Himself of such privileges so they would not circumvent the purpose for which He came (Philippians 2:5-8). Within Himself He would contain the great paradox of God-Man, a dynamic tension that brought balance to His mission, but an attribute that His own could neither comprehend nor accept (John 1:11).

Mary’s Response

Perhaps another cause of concern the young maid had was the social backlash she would face. Having entered a commitment of marriage, her pregnancy would not only bring shame upon her, but also her betrothed and community. She would be subjected to public shame by the members of the village of Nazareth. Regardless, once understanding Gabriel’s message, Mary responded, “I am the servant of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said”[15] (Luke 1:38). Knowing the social and legal repercussions such an event would create, Mary agreed to what Yahweh desired.

From the conception to birth, Mary becomes one of a few women who conceive and give birth to a special son, but none so special as Mary’s son for her son “will be called the Son of the Most High.”

Your Christmas Gift to God

Indeed, giving is one of the hallmarks of the Christmas Season, and indeed it is always delightful to know someone thought enough of you to give you a gift. God’s gift to you is His Son, who is our Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption,( 1 Corinthians 1:30) our Eternal Life (John 17:3).

Perhaps you are like those who receive an unexpected gift and feel an obligation to return the gesture by giving back to the one presenting you with a gift. While we may feel underserving of the gift God has given us, and certainly unworthy to give back to Him, there is a gift you can give to God, a gift that He desires, not just during the Christmas Season, but every day. What is it? We can take a cue from Mary.

Cue from Mary

Mary was highly favored among women and chosen to be the vessel to give birth to God’s only Begotten. Though the ramifications of accepting God’s purposes would be difficult, read again Mary’s response to Gabriel once she understood God’s intentions:

“I am the servant of the Lord; may it happen to me as you have said” Luke 1:38

Mary deemed herself to be the Lord’s servant and accepted God’s plans, emptying herself of personal hopes and dreams, surrendering her will to the Lord’s, even subjected to public shame and ridicule. Can we do no less knowing that through the sacrifice of His Son’s life, having been purchased by His blood, should we not be willing to surrender our lives to Him?

Living Sacrifices

Redemption is to purchase someone from another, just as Yahweh redeemed Israel from Egypt. The purchase price included the blood of the innocent lamb applied to the door post of each Israelite house. In similar fashion, we have been redeemed, but with a price more valuable than Israel’s redemption:

“…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19

The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit Who resided within them, which they received from God, “and that you are not your own...for you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”[16]

So, how shall we respond? What gift can we give to the Father?

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1

Regift the life you have received by giving your life to God in faithful devotion and service.

We have been Born-Again for such a time as this.

[1] Written by Edmund Sears in 1849 and set to music in 1850 by Richardson Storrs Willis. [2] Based upon a poem by Placide Cappeau (1843) set to music by Adolphe Adam in 1847. [3] Lyrics by Joseph Mohr and composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818. [4] Lowry’s rendition is captured here, “Mary Did You Know?” Well worth the time to hear it anew or a refreshing moment of inspiration. [5] Romans 5:12-19. [6] zeraʿ [7] In the Hebrew context the word is “regularly used as a collective noun in the singular (never plural). This technical term is an important aspect of the promise doctrine, for Hebrew never uses the plural of this root to refer to ‘posterity’ or ‘offspring.’” Though singular in form it is used to represent the whole line of descendants; yet while “seed” is most often rendered descendants, the Hebrew is the singular form. [Kaiser, W. C. (1999). 582 זָרַע. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 253). Chicago: Moody Press.] [8] But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Romans 4:4-5. [9] “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) [10] No doubt named after the Miriam, the sister of Moses. [11] To Daniel, Gabriel announced that he was to give Daniel to give him “insight and understanding” of the vision Daniel had received. (9:20-23). [12] “Favor” is from the Greek charis from which we get the word “grace.” The Hebrew equivalent is chen, which is frequently found in the expression, “found favor in the eyes of.” Like Noah (Genesis 6:8) and Moses (Exodus 33:12), Miryam had found favor in Yahweh’s sight. A passage that gives a concrete rather than abstract definition for favor/grace is found in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (NASB). It is Yahweh that gives both the desire and the ability to accomplish His will. [13] For the Roman Church and Evangelicals, the Virgin Birth is the bedrock upon which the understanding of Jesus’ life and mission rest. It is embraced dogmatically in most cases, while there are those that refute it or dispute it. For some, the controversy stems from the wording of Isaiah 7:14, the passage Matthew cites. Most major versions of the Bible read that a “virgin” shall give birth. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) translates it as “young woman,” as does the Complete Jewish Bible. The Hebrew equivalent to the Greek parthenos (παρθένος, Greek New Testament, and the Septuigint), is ‘alma (עַלְמָה). While the general rendering is “young woman” or “maid,” the context in which ‘alma is found suggests more. In Genesis 24 Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. The one selected is Rebekah who is described in verse 16 as being “very beautiful, a virgin, and no man had had relations with her.” Here the word “virgin” is from the Hebrew betulah (בְּתוּלָה). In verse 43 it is obvious that the servant is looking for such a woman and refers to her as a “maiden” (‘alma). In all the passages in which ‘alma is found, everyone refers to a young woman of marriageable age but not married (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Isaiah 7:14; Psalm 68:26; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8). [14] Japhthath, Judges 11:29; Saul, 1 Samuel 16:23). See Boman, 48. [15] Or, “from your lips to God’s ears.” [16] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

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