Last week we considered what Joseph knew, and obviously Mary knew all the same things, and for the same reason. But she had more direct experience with the marvels that came to earth through her. For example, the angelic communication with Joseph came through dreams, but came to her directly.
“And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
Summary of the Text
At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth in order to deliver a message from God to a virgin named Mary (Luke 1:26). Mary is the English form of her name—to those who knew her at the time, she was Miriam. This is of course the verse from which the famous Hail, Mary prayer is derived, and so we must note a few things about that. The word hail here is simply a respectful greeting by the angel, not a prayer of supplication. He implies the name of Mary without saying it, and notes that she is “greatly blessed,” which the source of the phrase “full of grace.” The distinction is that Gabriel is saying that she is a recipient of grace here, not that she is a reservoir of it for others. And of course, the Latin form of Hail, Mary is Ave, Maria.
Provided we understand these words in their original context, there is nothing wrong with Protestants saying or singing these words—they are in the Bible. To refuse to do so is the display the very kind of superstition we think we are objecting to.
Sorting Some Things Out
Because a cult of Mary grew up in the history of the Church, and certain problematic doctrines came out of that, we have to take a moment to define our terms. As Protestants, we affirm the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. That is to say, we affirm that at the time of Christ’s birth, Mary was still a virgin, never having known a man. This is a distinct doctrine from the perpetual virginity of Mary, which we do not affirm. (This is why we have a comma in our use of the Apostles Creed—“born of a virgin, Mary”). The title the Virgin Mary refers to a permanent status. That is the doctrine that Mary was a virgin throughout the course of her entire life, along with the doctrine that the birth of Jesus was a distinct miracle, not violating Mary’s virginity. Some early Reformers (Luther, Latimer, and Cranmer) held to the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, but it was rightly abandoned by Protestants fairly early. As we noted last week, Jesus had at least six siblings, and Matthew tells us that Joseph refrained from having relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:25).
Another phrase we should be familiar with is the immaculate conception. This is commonly (and wrongly) assumed to refer to the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb, when it is actually referring to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother— who, according to tradition, was named Anne. The concern was to make Mary sinless by a miracle, in order to be a fit receptacle for the sinless Messiah. As long as we are here, we should mention another common confusion—the Ascension of Jesus should not be confused with the Roman doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
And then, of course, Americans have complicated things by dragging these terms into discussions of football— the Hail Mary pass, and the famous Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris of the Steelers.
Taking Care of Background Assumptions
When discussions of prayers to the saints (and to Mary) come up, as they do from time to time, many Protestants don’t know how to answer this argument. We ask one another to pray for each other all the time. We do it in this service. Why can’t we ask dead saints to pray for us in the same way that we ask living saints to pray for us? Why do you have to be alive on earth to pray? The answer is that you have to assume functional omniscience on the part of whatever deceased person you are talking do, and this shapes everything else you do. It becomes, of necessity, a prayer, and not a simple request to a fellow saint.
Now it is a shame we have to spend a lot of time removing clutter in order to develop a biblically high view of Mary. But that is why we should be doing it.
What Mary Knew
We do not know this from Scripture, but based on the customs of the time, Mary was probably between 14 and 16 years of age when Jesus was born. As we consider the remarkable faith of this remarkable young woman, we should meditate on the following things that we know Mary knew.
Mary knew her Bible: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour (1 Sam. 2:1; Hab. 3:18; Is. 61:10; Deut. 32:3). For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed (1 Sam. 1:11). For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name (Ps. 71:19; 1 Sam. 2:2). And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation (Ps. 103:17). He hath shewed strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts (Ps. 89:13). He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree (1 Sam. 2:8; Job. 5:11). He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away (1 Sam. 2:5; Ps. 107:9). He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy (Is. 41:8-9; Ps. 98:2) as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever (Gen. 15 & 17)” (Luke 1:46-55).
Mary knew her calling: After the angel had announced God’s intention for her, and explained it, and answered a basic question, Mary responded with a spirit of glorious submission (Luke 1:38). She did this, knowing that it would result in a very hard conversation with Joseph—and possibly others. This was not a “no cost” obedience. Mary knew her salvation: She knew that Jesus would have an everlasting throne (Luke 1:32). She knew her child would be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). She knew God was her Savior (Luke 1:47). She knew Jesus was that Savior (Luke 2:11). She knew that He was the salvation of the entire world (Luke 2:32). She knew that a sword would pierce her own soul (Luke 2:35). And she was there when it all happened (John 19:25).