Mary Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Name: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Meaning of name: “Star of the Sea” or “bitterness” or “Sea of bitterness” or “rebellion”
Ancestry and family life: Luke 3:23-38. Luke’s genealogy of Christ differs a lot from Matthew’s. Most scholars see the line in Luke as that of Mary’s, Joseph being her representative and the son-in-law of Eli, since Luke didn’t mention any women in his genealogy. Therefore Mary also descended from David, but not from Solomon, instead from Nathan. As a young woman, Mary would have been expected to help out in the home in whatever way she could. Women at that time married at a young age, often times around 14. This has led many to believe that Mary was only a young teenager at the time. We don’t know much about her own family, but we do know that her husband, Joseph, was a carpenter. We also know that she had other children, at least four other sons and two daughters (total of at least 7), after Jesus. Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3. And while Mary is mentioned several more times after the birth of Christ in the gospels, Joseph is not. This means it is very likely Mary became a widow at a young age, which would have been the reason Jesus asked John to take care of her at the cross.
Also she and Joseph were poor. Luke 2:24 shows their sacrifice was one offered by someone who could not afford the normal one. It was called the “offering of the poor.”
Training and occupation: Most likely she was a homemaker. Her training would have consisted of practical responsibilities for managing a home and garden/field, cooking, cleaning, teaching her children, as well as training in understanding the OT.
Place in history: Luke 1:28, 43. The angel called Mary “favored one” and said that the Lord “is with you”. Mary has the honor/blessing of being the only woman in history with the distinction of being the mother of Christ as well as the only virgin to ever conceive. This is a very honored position indeed. Obviously God thought very highly of her, which is why she was chosen for this honored role. She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb. She nursed him and fed him and bathed him and taught him. She watched him as He grew up and had the opportunity to know all those minute details about His character, youth, and childhood that we know nothing of. She saw His sinless behavior and perfect obedience. She truly was a favored one. We can definitely learn from her testimony, her response to the angel, and her faithfulness to the Lord.
At the same time, we should be careful not to put her up on a pedestal. She would have been the last person to want to take any focus or attention away from Christ. Gabriel calling her “favored one” in fact shows that she was the recipient of and not the giver of grace. While she was a remarkable and godly woman, she was still a woman and still a sinner. As for the Catholic position to pray to Mary and even worship Mary, this goes directly against the commands in the Bible to worship the Lord God only. She has no ability to answer our prayers. Neither was she a perpetual virgin as they teach. We see she had at least six other children besides Christ and none of those were born out of virginity. See Matthew 1:25 which implies that Joseph only kept her a virgin until Christ was born. Also consider that God doing a miracle 6 other times to her other children by allowing her as a virgin to conceive them would somewhat lessen the miracle of Christ’s birth and not be as strong of proof that Christ is the Son of God. Neither is she somehow the mediator of God’s grace to us or was she sinless (see Luke 1:47 where she admitted God was her Savior.)
Special traits: God enabled her to have a child although she was a virgin. Except for this remarkable miracle, she was just a normal, albeit godly, lady.
Meditation. Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51. All of these verses portray Mary as a very thoughtful person. She is not shown as saying a lot, but she is shown as thinking/contemplating a lot. Is this good? Why or why not? Mary was a firsthand witness of a lot of amazing miracles and astonishing phenomenon. What possible reactions could a person have to that? Firstly, a person could dismiss the things happening as coincidences. An agnostic might not place any importance on many of these events or care enough to try to understand them. So one possible reaction is indifference. Secondly, a person might become puffed up and act as if he/she knew or understood a lot more than they really did about what was going on. They might use the events to try to get some power or become a leader. Mary didn’t respond pridefully or indifferently. She responded in humility. In fact, she didn’t understand everything that was going on. Much of it was a mystery to her. Luke 2:33. But she stored the things in her heart for meditation and tried to make sense of it. That is the best response when put into this kind of situation. One more manifestation of this desiring to understand was her question to the angel in 1:34. What was the difference between her question and Z’s when Gabriel said he and E would have a son? How might the shepherd’s visit and then the wise men visit have affected Mary? What would you have thought if you were Mary?
Faith – Luke 1:38. This was a very difficult thing to believe. In the history of the world it had never happened. It is a fact or a law of science that virgins cannot have children. That is something everyone is taught (now in school) or before by their own parents. Yet she didn’t argue or express doubt. She didn’t ask why her or demand to know exactly how it would happen. Neither did she laugh at it (like Sarah did a similar promise) either by herself or to her friends. Some people say that seeing is believing, but actually Mary didn’t see any proof or any signs. Neither did she ask for a sign like Z or Gideon or Hezekiah. Many people will not believe no matter how many signs they see (even if their dead relatives come back from the dead to preach to them), but some like Mary will believe without the first sign. True faith is actually not dependent on proofs or signs. This doesn’t mean it is unreasonable. It is not unreasonable to expect that God could accomplish this miracle nor that He would want to. Her faith increased later in her life. Can you think of any other examples where she showed faith? See also John 2:5. She had faith when Jesus was grown that he could do something about the lack of wine at the wedding. It certainly appears she expected him to do a miracle. Her faith at his birth was increased throughout his life.
Submissive – 1:38, John 2:5, Matthew 1:24, 2:14. Even if someone believed this miracle was possible, it doesn’t mean they will like to be part of it. Why might Mary have objected or become bitter about this?
It is very possible that by following this plan, she could have lost Joseph as her future husband. In Matthew we learn that when Joseph learned Mary was pregnant he naturally didn’t want to pursue marriage from her. The only logical conclusion was that she had been unfaithful. God did take care of Mary and prevent Joseph from putting her away. However, Mary had no way of knowing that that would happen. Besides losing Joseph, she could have lost any possibility of a future marriage.
It is very likely that Mary was ostracized publicly for being pregnant. Even if she told them what Gabriel said, who would believe it? Would you believe it? It would sound like a very farfetched and outlandish excuse. Nowadays in the big Chinese cities it is not really shameful to be pregnant out of wedlock. In the past and in rural areas now it is/was shameful. People would talk behind her back, forsake her friendship, and in general want nothing to do with her. She would have likely been an outcast among her own people.
“I will be stoned.” The OT penalty for fornication/adultery is stoning. While it may not have been practiced at that time, it would have been a possible response once people learned that Mary was pregnant, but not married. Many women, out of fear for their own lives, future, and friendships would not have wanted to be involved.
Mary, however, did not raise any of these objections. She didn’t ask for any assurances that t hese things wouldn’t happen. In fact, she was willing to obey even if they did happen. This is t he true mark of submission and sacrifice. Last week we discussed that principles from the Word should be placed above circumstances. We are to obey regardless of the outcome or consequence. Submission is only difficult when it is either against what we ourselves want or comes with a price. Mary calls herself the “bond-servant” of the Lord and acts like it. It is not empty words. Are you a bond-servant of Christ? In addition, she was submissive to Joseph and later to Jesus. Any examples? She went with Joseph to Bethlehem, followed his lead to flee to Egypt and come back again. Also, she submitted to Jesus in John 2 and let Jesus deal with the issue in His own private way.
Extremely familiar with Scripture. Luke 1:46-56. This section is filled with allusions to the Old Testament including the law, the psalms, and the prophets. She shows a deep understanding of His past work in Israel, His character, His might, His care for the humble, His holiness, His “Saviourness”, and His grace extended to her personally and to all of Israel. This is called the “magnificat,” after its first Latin word. It is true that scores of generations from her time has called her blessed. All of these verses reveal her close relationship to the Lord and her realization of His grace in her own life.
Humble – How do we know she was humble?
She didn’t argue with Gabriel.
She accepted what he told her to do.
She admitted her humble state in Luke 1:48.
6. She was a good mother. She was concerned for Jesus when they couldn’t find Him after going to Jerusalem. She was there, even though it would have been extremely sad and difficult, when He was crucified. This showed she supported Him even until His death. After He died, she went with some other women to His tomb to properly prepare His body. All of these things are what good mothers will do, but not everyone does it. See also Acts 1:14 where she continued in prayer and worship of Christ with the other believers even after Jesus ascended into heaven.
Important acts and events:
Receiving the message from Gabriel.
Going with Joseph to Bethlehem
Giving birth to Jesus.
Receiving the wise men into her house.
Fleeing to Egypt.
Returning to Nazareth.
Taking Jesus to Jerusalem when He was 12.
Asking Jesus to help when there was no wine.
Watching Jesus die on the cross.
Visiting his tomb.
How she died: Unknown, However, she, like all people, did die. Nowhere is her miraculous assumption into heaven taught in the Bible. It is an offshoot of the false doctrine that she was sinless and therefore death has no hold on her.
Lessons from her life:
God can use those who are faithful to Him in His plans to accomplish great things.
When God gives a command that has consequences to obey, He will also give the strength to accomplish it and doesn’t neglect or forget the person making the sacrifice. God didn’t cast her aside once she had Jesus. He continued to protect the entire family as well as provide for her future.
God uses men and women to accomplish His plans. Yes, all the characters we have studied so far in the Bible have been men, but here we see an amazing woman and how her dedication to the Lord helped change history.
Nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37. If He can cause a virgin to conceive he can go above the laws of nature to fulfill His purposes. In your life also, God can overcome any obstacles, no matter how big or how difficult. When has God overcome a big obstacle in front of you?
John 19:26-27 – Jesus cared deeply for Mary. Even on the cross when He had the weight of the sins of the world on His shoulders, He made sure to make provision for a believer taking care of His mother. One side note is that asking John to do this instead of one of His brothers shows the emphasis Jesus put on being part of God’s family over and above that of being part of His physical family.