Point of Reference
by Fred Price
So warned Simeon as Mary and Joseph took their new son to the Temple to be “consecrated to the Lord.” Simeon, a devout man, had been promised he would not die till he had seen the Messiah. Having done so, he prophesied that Jesus was, “…destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:25-35 Adding one more incident to Mary’s life to be “pondered.”
Undoubtedly, as Mary stood at the foot of the cross many years later, this cryptic message finally – and fully – made sense. But, thank God, that wasn’t the end of the story. At Jesus’ resurrection, everything changed. Mary’s life showing how even those who choose to follow God aren’t promised lives free of adversity, but in the end any adversity we experience proves worth it. God working through our circumstances – however tough they may be – to bring blessing out of pain. (See Romans 8:28) Jesus asserting, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,…” John 11:25,26 (See also John 14; 6) Those words not always changing our circumstances, but reorienting our perspective, giving us hope in the most trying times.
Jesus’ story begins with Mary being approached by Gabriel, an angelic messenger announcing that she had been chosen to be a “God bearer.” Her qualifications were humility, a heart for God, and a willingness to be used by Him as He saw fit. The reason I mention this is because Jesus’ birth is inextricably linked to his death; without Christmas there couldn’t have been an Easter, without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t have mattered. Jesus’ resurrection changed how Mary and we express our grief; persuading us that our present life is not all there is and that the world will not always be as it is now.
I believe this caused Mary – as it should us – to be fully engaged in her son’s Great Commission, bringing people to God in practical ways; such as feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, taking God’s love to the imprisoned – loving neighbor and enemy alike. ( Matthew 25:31-45 & 5:43,44) By doing so, our “light” shines so brightly that all may plainly see and, hopefully, praise God. ( Matthew 5:16) Looking back on her life through the lens of Easter, Mary could be content in the purpose of it all and find solace in the promise she would see he son again.
That had not always been the case. Mary had pondered much and quite frankly, didn’t understand it all. ( Luke 2:19) She, like others, had expected her son to be a conquering hero to his people instead of the suffering servant he turned out to be. So much so that at one point, she and her family tried to take charge of him, for they feared “…He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:20 And then, standing “near the cross of Jesus,” she had to have been horrified at the culmination of his life and ministry. ( John 19:25)
No one, fully grasped Jesus mission to “save his people from their sins.” ( Matthew 1:20,21) No one could comprehend how a child born in a manger, even accompanied by angels and Magi; was destined to be the Messiah of Israel as well as the Savior of the world by going to Golgotha’s hill to be crucified on a cross. No one understood yet that the most profound gift of Christmas was the forgiveness of our sin accomplished on the cross of Calvary. At the moment, no one could comprehend “good news” embodied in a bloody cross. Over time, Christmas took on its special significance in light of the cross, and more specifically, the resurrection. ( Romans 1:4)
There had been much that had hinted at this outcome, though rather obliquely. Jesus name literally means “God Saves.” But many have been called Yeshua – Joshua. His titular name – Immanuel – means “God with us.” But how do you interpret God’s presence? The Holy Spirit’s conception of Jesus, making him literally God’s Son, was frankly considered by some to be outrageous. (Can you imagine Mary approaching her parents and Joseph with the fact of her pregnancy yet telling them, ‘It’s o.k. God did it!’) Later, Jesus claimed to fulfill even some of the more obscure and controversial aspects of the Law and Prophets, which was still more easily embraced by his followers than his function as the Passover lamb.
The stark reality of the cross is the message that sin has been committed, guilt rightly aroused; the cross forcing us to see the seriousness of our sin, our alienation from Him because of it, the cost of our forgiveness and the magnitude of His love. (In a way the Jewish sacrificial system had only hinted at.) This moment, like so many others, was a defining one for Mary, the disciples, Israel and the world; Jesus’ life and death highlighting a prominent theme of his teaching – a reversal of values. His title as Savior ultimately referred to a cross. His Lordship denoting not slavery but freedom to live a new life in response to his invitation of, “Follow me.” Mary was a peasant girl, Joseph a laborer. Jesus was born in a stable, his first visitors being lowly shepherds. His first disciples were fishermen, a tax collector and a political zealot, etc. Yet they were instrumental in His story.
One of the more memorable lessons Jesus taught them was through a duty usually reserved for a servant/slave; washing a guest’s feet prior to a meal. Explaining, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:15 As, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44,45 A call to humble service repeated throughout the gospels.
The angel Gabriel referred to Mary as highly favored and full of grace, blessed among women. But for Mary, this Annunciation brought confusion, hardship and fear – as well as joy. Which is not unusual for God-favored people, whose lives are often challenging at the least. But through it all, God is at work.1 So, “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms;… I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go… I will come back and take you to be with me…” Matthew 14:1-4
1From Adam Hamilton’s book, Not A Silent Night – Mary Looks Back To Bethlehem , Abingdon Press
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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