Julia L. Smail
As Christian mothers nurturing our children and training them up in a godly manner, we search the Holy Scriptures for the best role model of a mother we can find. Mary, the mother of Jesus, definitely receives highest honors in our evaluation of her godly role. There is so much of worth and value to be gleaned from Mary's example.
From Luke's account of Jesus' birth, we learn that Mary was "highly favored" by the Lord (Luke 1:28). She was granted the highest privilege of giving birth to the Holy One (the Son of God), who was to be called Jesus, "because he will save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
Mary, a young Jewish woman pledged to be married to Joseph, did not understand how she would conceive this child through the Holy Spirit. But her amazing and beautiful response was one of humble submission to God: "I am the Lord's servant," she said to the angel Gabriel, "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). Later she said, "My soul glorifies the Lord" (Luke 1:46).
Mary's faith in God was so great that she trusted him completely to guide her in this chosen role. God sent her to her cousin Elizabeth (who had been chosen by God to give birth to John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus later on). Mary needed a "mentor-mom" to encourage her in her pregnancy and motherhood. Elizabeth was older, was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and was a godly role model. Mary resided with Elizabeth during her first trimester, benefiting from her tutelage, while baby Jesus grew and developed in her womb. (Both godly women valued God's divine creation plan, as outlined in Psalm 139:13-16 and Psalm 127:3-5.)
God the Father was surely with Mary at the manger on the night of Jesus' birth, since she did not have a gynecologist, midwife, or pediatrician. Joseph, her faithful husband, stood by her as encouraged by God. These humble parents of the Messiah were honored by the shepherds who visited them, praising and glorifying the Lord. Mary must have been filled with a quiet joy as she "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Sometime later, wise men from the East followed a special star to Bethlehem, where they worshiped Jesus and presented gifts to him. Mary's heart was full!
Later, in accordance with the Law, these parents presented Jesus to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22). There the prophet Simeon blessed Jesus and verified his identity (vss. 34-35). Also, the devout prophetess Anna "gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (vs. 38). Not only did these parents dedicate their child to God, but they obeyed the Law explicitly (vs. 39). These parents took Jesus home to Nazareth, where they reared him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and watched him as he "grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" (vs. 40).
As mothers, we can imagine Mary lovingly nursing Jesus, tending him, rocking him, and praying for him. In our mind's eye, we can see her putting him to bed and tucking him in for the night. Like most godly mothers, Mary surely must have leaned over his cradle and kissed his cheek. There is a poignant question in a contemporary Christian song which asks: "Mary, did you know that you kissed the face of God?" The beautiful lyrics of this song go on to say that Mary's son, Jesus, is the great "I AM"! Mary truly had much to treasure in her heart as she lovingly nurtured her son, the Holy One, to adulthood. Perhaps she "homeschooled" him, along with his brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3), or sent him to the local synagogue, but she no doubt kept God's commands in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 faithfully, too, in rearing Jesus. Mary had a special relationship with God, and so she must have prayed diligent, effectual prayers for his constant watching over Jesus.
When Jesus was twelve, he was lost from Mary for three days. They had gone to the Feast of the Passover at the temple in Jerusalem, and when they started home, Jesus stayed behind, "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47). Mary's reaction displays Christian concern for her son; perhaps she blamed herself for mistakenly thinking he was in their extended family caravan traveling home. She may have been busy with her other children, but she must have had sleepless nights of worry. Mary questioned Jesus' behavior, and he reminded her, "I had to be in my Father's house" (vs. 49). Nonetheless, "he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them" (vs. 51), in deference to his heavenly Father and the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12). Here again Mary must have meditated long on Jesus' obedience to his heavenly Father, and on his vast storehouse of knowledge and understanding (vs. 51b). "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (vs. 52).
Mary was privileged to train up her son, and he probably mastered Joseph's carpenter trade. Mary had occasion to know Jesus better and was well aware of his special abilities, and so she suggested he do something when wine ran out at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus replied that his time had not yet come to perform miraculous signs and wonders, perhaps implying that he had to wait for a heavenly directive. Yet Mary encouraged his assistance in this matter, and in the end he complied with her request. She apparently believed that he was "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17).
At one point in Jesus' ministry, his mother and his brothers came to speak to him, but when Jesus was informed, he did not see them (Luke 8:19-21). His response was, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." Here is an inkling of God's plan of adoption for those who come to him in Christ, whom he will make heirs of the kingdom. Also, we remember that Mary herself, in her beautiful Magnificat, said, "My soul glorifies the Lord," calling herself his "humble ... servant" (Luke 1:46, 48). Although Mary must have desired some private time with her son, she had to give him over to the heavenly Father.
We conclude with Mary's visit to her beloved son as he hung on the cross at Golgotha (John 19:25-27). There she stood, lending her mother's love and support to Jesus almost until his death. And when Jesus saw his mother, he addressed her by his special form of endearment, "dear woman," which was indicative of his love and affection for her.
Significantly, he did not neglect his mother even during his suffering and agony on the cross. He asked his disciple, John, whom he especially loved, to take care of her. He asked John to be Mary's son, and Mary to be John's mother. Jesus held Mary in high honor and did not forget her, but provided for her welfare by placing her in the care of his own beloved disciple whom he had mentored. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
What a beautiful account of Mary's mothering! We can glean much encouragement from her, and strive to emulate her high standard of excellence. We can search ourselves to see if we are using Mary's godly methodology in our nurturing roles. Do our souls magnify the Lord? Do we fully trust our lives and mothering to God? Do we acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, the great I AM, and worship him alone, and not other gods or saints?
Do we honor God's creation plan? Do we pray for or seek out a godly mentor-mom? Do we act as a godly mentor-mom to someone else? Do we consider our son(s) "a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3)? Do we treasure our children and ponder them in our heart? Do we offer up effectual prayers to God on behalf of their souls? Do we present them for baptism as covenant children, in the sight of God and the church assembly? Do we bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Do we impress God's commandments upon their hearts, and do we pray for God's providential care over them, day and night?
Do we pray diligently when our toddler gets lost from us, our adolescent runs away, our teen is rebellious, or our adult child turns away from his godly upbringing? Do we encourage our children on their pathway to eternity, from their first baby steps and baby talk, to their student days, to relationships and marriage, to church membership and a faithful walk with the Lord, and perhaps even to death? Do we stand firmly with them even when their cross is hard to bear? Do we ask God to equip them adequately for witnessing the gospel to others, and going forth to do good works in Christ's name?
Do we ask God for our children to grow in wisdom and knowledge and in favor with God and man? Do we teach them to respect their parents, grandparents, and elders, and to love their neighbors as themselves? Do we instill in them that Jesus wants them to be their brother's keeper? Do we encourage them to take care of their mothers, their brothers, their sisters, and their friends in Christ? Are we nurturing mothers like Mary, the mother of Christ? Are we godly mothers, striving for an inheritance in heaven one day for ourselves and our whole household? Are we humble servants of Christ, as Mary was? We have much food for thought; let us treasure all this and ponder it in our heart for God's glory.
Let us pray that even as God in his providence fully equipped Mary, the mother of Jesus, he will also fully equip us as we face the challenges of mothering today.
Mrs. Smail is a member of Westminster OPC in Hollidaysburg, Pa. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 1998.