A Reflection of Trust

December 18, 2011

She was a critical piece of the puzzle.  And she truly is what makes Christmas Christmas.  She was the original Madonna and she put the word “Virgin” in songs two thousand years before “Like a Virgin” became a hit.   Through the years she’s been called The Holy Mary, Saint Mary, The Blessed Mother, The Mother of God and on and on and on.  But in the Bible she is simply called Mary.
Max Lucado has twenty-five questions that he wants to ask Mary the mother of Jesus; here are a few of my favourites.
What was it like watching him pray? 
When he saw a rainbow did he ever mention a flood? 
Did you ever feel awkward teaching him how he created the world? 
When he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter did he act differently? 
Did you ever try to count the stars with him . . . and succeed? 
Did he ever come home with a black eye? 
Did he have any friends by the name of Judas? 
Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under your own roof
Did you ever accidentally call him father? 
What did he and his cousin John talk about as kids? 
Did you ever think, That’s God eating my soup?
Mary is my hero.  She was the one chosen to change the diapers of God.  But before that she was just a young lady, with all the dreams and aspirations that young ladies 2000 years ago had.  She was going to get married and she was going to raise a family.  Nothing complicated.  And the first part of the plan was already coming together in the scripture that was read earlier it says Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. The plan became derailed however with the next line in that passage, But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And I know that there are folks out there who poo poo the entire idea of the virgin birth, and even some pastors and churches who say that it’s not possible for a virgin to conceive and then they assure their people that it’s not really necessary to believe in the Virgin birth.   They would tell you that Matthew simply meant that Mary was a young woman, or perhaps a young unmarried woman. 
If you’ve ever been to Greece then you might have had the opportunity to visit the “Parthenon” in Athens.  This is considered to be the most important surviving example of Classical Greek architecture.  It was built around 400 years before the birth of Christ and it was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena, here is a stature of her which is called Athena Parthenos, or literally Athena the Virgin.  Parthenon the building literally meant the Virgin’s Room.  Why is that important?  Because the Greek word Parthenos is the word that is used time and time again to describe Mary.   
And really there are only two options, either Mary was a Virgin or someone other than Joseph got her pregnant before the wedding. 
Entire sermons have been preached on the Virgin birth, as a matter of fact I have preached entire sermons on the virgin birth, but the bottom line is you either believe it or you don’t believe it, the choice is yours.  I believe it.
It was Mary who was there when Jesus was conceived, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was born, it was Mary who was there when Jesus was murdered. 
Two weeks ago I spoke about Mary’s husband Joseph and the part he played in the beginning of Jesus’ life and then we looked at another Joseph.  Joseph of Arimathea who was there when Jesus died and who gave up his own tomb for Jesus’ body to be laid in.  The title of that message was “A Reflection of Sacrifice.” 
Today’s message is entitled “A Reflection of Trust” and Mary the Mother of Jesus is not the only Mary who plays an integral part in the story of Jesus.  
There was another Mary and we find her at the end of the story.  She has been vilified and deified.  Her name is Mary Magdalene and through the years she has been surrounded with myth and legend.  With the exception of Mary the mother of Jesus there is no other woman from the bible who has been the subject of so much discussion and speculation as has Mary. 
In the year 591, Pope Gregory the Great in a sermon preached to a gathering of Bishops declared that the Mary of Luke 8 was indeed the sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7 and was actually a prostitute.  If I had done that people would say; “interesting theory Denn has”, but when you’re Pope and considered infallible when you say someone’s a prostitute then they are a prostitute.
It wasn’t that Gregory had anything against Mary; he was simply using her for an illustration of how Jesus can change your life.  I’m not sure the sermon had the effect Gregory was hoping for because we are told a Magdalene cult spread throughout Europe.  
The French were so taken with Mary that they made her French. Around 1260, a Dominican monk published the Golden Legend, which claimed that after Jesus’ death Mary had fled Jerusalem and ended up in southern Gaul. Her spirit, the story said, protected the French, although she must have been on vacation between 1914 and 1945.
Later the Catholic Church apologized and in 1969, declared that, for the first time in 1400 years Mary should not be thought of as the sinful woman of Luke. I guess you’re only infallible while you’re still alive. And then in 1988, Pope John Paul II called Mary Magdalene “apostle to the apostles” in an official church document and noted that in Christians’ “most arduous test of faith and fidelity,” the Crucifixion, “the women proved stronger than the Apostles.” 
At different times in history Mary of Magdalene has been identified as Lazarus’s sister, the “sinful” woman mentioned in Luke 7:32 and the woman caught in adultery in John 8 that would be the entire “Cast the first stone” story, but there is no evidence for any of those theories.
Mary came back to the lime light in Dan Brown’s novel that swept to the top of the best sellers list at turn of the century.  In the Da Vinci Code Mary has been lifted to a new level for millions of readers and movie goers.  If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie the hypostasis is that Mary Magdalene and not Peter was the head apostle, that it was Mary whom Christ had entrusted his church with and Mary who was supposed to lead it.  That she was removed from her position by Peter and the other apostles because they resented her leadership and that she had to flee to France in order to save her life.  And it is in France that her descendants still live.

The book and movie also tell us that not only was Mary an important disciple of Christ’s but that she was also his wife and was pregnant with his child, a daughter named Sarah when he was crucified.  And that is the secret that is hid in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. 
The major part of the book’s theory lays in the interpretation of Da Vinci’s painting the Last Supper.  We are all familiar with it, if not here is a picture of the painting. 
Now the Bible tells us that the Last Supper was attended by Jesus and his 12 apostles.  But in the Da Vinci Code we are told that this person here is not actually John but instead is Mary Magdalene. 
What do they base that on?  First of all it’s based on how girly John looks, but really what does that tell us, look at Phillip, he’s not as pretty but he could be a handsome woman. Artists of that era and Leonardo in particular tended to paint young men in a feminine manner, here is Da Vinci’s painting of John the Baptist.  Then the book tells us that everyone knows the V is the feminine sign, I didn’t, but presumably everyone else does.  And here we see the V.

Here is a secret they don’t tell you in the Da Vinci Code, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the last supper 1000 400 years after Christ and his Apostles celebrated the Last Supper, and he wasn’t working from a photo.  Here’s a painting of the last supper where all the Apostles are black, and here is one with all the Characters from Star Wars, Da Vinci could have painted them all Smurfs and wouldn’t doesn’t mean anything.
All we really know about Mary Magdalene is what the Bible tells us.  If you were to look in the Bible for Mary Magdalene you would find twelve instances recorded, all in the four Gospels.  We know that she was from the community of Magdala, from her name, which if we pull down our trusty map of Israel we see here is the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem.  And right here on the Sea of Galilee we discover the community of Magdala, here is a picture. I know, not much of a village, it’s actually no longer there. 

In Luke 8:1-2 we read He took his twelve disciples with him along with some women he had healed and from whom he had cast out evil spirits. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons . . .  So from that one passage we know that Mary followed Christ as a disciple, that Christ had delivered her from seven demons, we don’t know what those demons were and if anyone tells you what they were they are simply speculating, read my lips we don’t know.  What we do know is that it was a life changing experience for Mary.

The next time we see Mary is at the cross  Mark 15:39-40 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene . . . 

But her devotion didn’t stop at the death of Jesus, we read in Mark 16:1 The next evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices to put on Jesus’ body.
 And in John 20:11- 18 we are told that she was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection, John 20:18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  And that is all we know about Mary.  We know that Jesus changed her life and she in turn committed her life to him.

Two Mary’s one story.  But what do they share, besides their name?
Jesus Changed Their Lives  Two lives changed by the introduction of Jesus.  Jesus Literally made all the difference in their lives, there can be no debating this.  It wasn’t as if they met Jesus and life continued with very little change other than what they did on Sunday morning.  Their lives were turned upside down and inside out, nothing would ever be the same.   For them Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians were a reality 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
In his mother’s case it may not have been for the better, at least not in the practical sense.  We kind of get the highlights, Mary was engaged to Joseph, she became pregnant by the Holy spirit, she travelled to Bethlehem with Jospeh, Jesus was born, they got married and they all lived happily ever after.  The end.
But do we stop and think about the upheaval in her life.  Her plan, I’m sure, was to get married and then get pregnant, not the other way around.  Her plan never included the scorn of people in her community, the distrust, if only for a while of her fiancé and ultimately the stress of raising the Son of God.
Think about it.    We all worry about messing our kids up but what if you had the added pressure and responsibility of that child being the child of God?
Mary Magdalene’s life was radically changed as well.  We don’t know all the details of what the Bible meant when it tells us that Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary.  Most of us are so far removed from that part of the spiritual realm that it is like something from fiction.  In a church service in Ghana I had my first encounter with someone controlled by a demon and it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t understand all that was happening but that doesn’t mean it was fiction.   
We have to assume that those demons manifested themselves in a way that would have limited what Mary could do and had a negative effect on Mary’s life, because from the point of her deliverance on she is identified with Jesus and his apostles.   No more would her life be directed by forces beyond her control, she had choice a new path and a new direction.
Jesus did not come so we could have the same old same old, if you have chosen to follow Jesus your life should be different, because you have chosen a different path than the majority.
In both cases their lives changed for one reason and that was because They Trusted God  So we know the story.  An angel appears to Mary and tells her that she is going to have a child, when she objects that this is impossible because she is a virgin.  Because regardless of how you want to play around with the original Greek it is summed up in Mary’s statement in Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” Because Mary doesn’t actually use the word virgin here instead what she is saying is “I have never been with a man.”  And the angel’s response is one of my favorite verses in the bible because it is here that the angel tells Mary,  Luke 1:37 “For nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing, No-Thing is impossible with God.  We often quote this when we want to do the impossible but what it tells us it that when God wants to do something nothing will stop him. 
But the most awesome part of the story is the very next verse where it says Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
That’s the tough one isn’t it, it’s all well and good to say you believe that God has your very best at heart, it’s easy to say that you believe that God can do anything.  But Mary was basically saying not only do I believe it here, in my heart,  but I’m allowing you to work it out in my life.  I may not understand it, I might not even agree with what you are proposing but you are God so bring it on.
She willing gave up her reputation and her plans for the future in order to be obedient to God.
When Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene from the seven demons she never looked back.  We are told that she became one of those who followed Jesus.  There is an interesting note in the scripture that we read earlier remember Luke 8 where Mary was counted with those who followed Jesus, at the end of that passage about who was in the group it says Luke 8:3 . . . and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.   
You see Mary was one of those who not only gave of herself and her life and her time she gave of her finances, she trusted that what she gave to Jesus would last forever and that she would have what she needed.  But her trust went deeper than that because we are told that when the majority of Jesus disciples had deserted him Mary was at the cross.  Still trusting that God was in control she did was she knew was right.   And when it appeared that for all intents and purposes that Jesus had lost, when his dead and broken body was taken from the cross, Mary was there.  And when it would appear that Jesus’ enemies had won and his cold dead body was laid in the tomb, Mary was there.  And the next day when the disciples had scattered, in the cold dawn of the early morning we are told that Mary had already gone purchased the things that would be necessary to embalm her friend. 
And it was because of that trust and commitment that it was to Mary that Jesus first appeared after his resurrection.  
Mary his mother may have been the first there at his conception and birth but it was Mary Magdalene who was the first to witness his victory over death, the first to realize that Jesus wouldn’t be kept in the cradle and couldn’t be kept in the grave.
 And as we close my prayer for you this Christmas season is the same as Paul’s prayer for the church in Rome 2000 years ago
Romans 15:13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.