Four Reasons Why the Virgin Mary Deserves More Attention in Protestant Churches
In the tiny Texas town where I grew up, a Bible-belted and beer-banned community, the virgin Mary had her annual fifteen minutes of fame when December rolled around. You had your shepherds, your angels, and your young maiden kneeling beside the swaddled babe. But after the presents were unwrapped and the nativity brouhaha had quieted down, Mary drifted back into the shadows once more. Why the Catholics made such a big deal about her never made sense to my Baptist mind. Yes, of course, she had a sweet, heart-warming part to play in the Jesus story, but, to me anyway, she was merely a minor character.
My appreciation for Mary’s place in the Gospel story has changed significantly over the years. When I became a Lutheran, I was introduced to the early church fathers, who opened my eyes to see how Mary’s place in the story of salvation was far from a footnote. I delved more deeply into the Scriptures to discover amazing parallels between Eve and Mary. I pondered the Incarnation, the fact that God became man inside Mary’s womb, and grasped more fully that Mary was indeed the mother of God. All of this has led me to understand a bit more about why the Catholics make such a big deal about her. And although I believe my Catholic friends say more of Mary than can be biblically justified, I also believe that many of my Protestant friends say less of Mary than the Bible demands.
Here are four truths about the virgin Mary that I wish would find a prominent place in more Protestant pulpits, songs, and classrooms. Each of them, by telling us more about Mary, actually tell us more about Jesus, and our saving relationship with Him.
1. Mary is the mother of God. The baby who was miraculously conceived in this virgin’s womb is the Son of our heavenly Father. As such, Jesus shares His Father’s nature, even as my human son shares my human nature. Jesus is fully divine; He is not only Lord and Savior but God. Now if Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the mother of God. It’s that profoundly simple. No other woman had been, was, or ever will be God’s mother except this Israelite virgin. If we say less of Mary, then we say less of Jesus, for if we are not willing to confess that she is the mother of God, then we cannot confess Jesus is God. And if Jesus is not God, then His saving work is insufficient to save us, and we are lost. It is therefore the best of news that Mary is God’s mother, because that means we are the Father’s children in Jesus Christ.
2. Mary is the first person to be one flesh with God. John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Word, the Son of God, was embodied inside Mary. Everything human about Him derived from His mother. She was literally one flesh with God. Divinity not only dwelt in her, like God did in the temple’s Holy of Holies, but in the deepest part of her being she was united to God. As such, she was the first person to share this most intimate union with the Savior. But—and this is vitally important—she not the last. For we who partake of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper are united with Him in the most intimate of unions as well. We are bodied and blooded with Him, one flesh with God, even as He became one flesh with us. In Mary, therefore, we see what the Father desires for all of us, and provides for all of us in the Supper of His Son.
3. Mary is the model hearer of the Word. When the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will be the mother of the Messiah, that God Himself will become incarnate in her womb, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38). She does not put forth a string of rational arguments against such a preposterous claim. She acknowledges her place as a servant of the Lord. She takes God’s messenger at his word for it is the divine word he utters. She knows that God cannot lie, so anything He promises is true and trustworthy, even if it seems irrational or downright crazy to the human mind. As such, Mary is a model hearer of the word of God, who shows us as Christians how we are to receive the divine message. God speaks, we hear, we believe, we confess with Mary, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
4. Mary is like a new and better Eve. When our first mother ate of the forbidden fruit, her sin was not one of consumption but of rejection. When the fallen angel twisted God’s words, she believed his lie and so disbelieved divine truth. Her rejection of the word, as well as her husband’s rejection, ushered sin and death into our world. Yet to Eve God gave the promise that her seed would crush the head of the serpent, even as the serpent would strike that seed’s heel (Genesis 3:15). Mary is like a new and better Eve in two ways. First, when the angel spoke God’s words to her, she believed. Her reception of that word was the reception of the Word Himself, who became flesh inside her, thereby initiating His ministry of ushering forgiveness and life into our world. Second, Mary was the “Eve” who bore that promised seed, who crushed the power of our ancient foe, even as the venom of death struck that seed in His crucifixion death. Indeed, if any woman should have the name Eve, it should be Mary, for the Hebrew word for Eve means “mother of life.” And such Mary is, for she gives birth to the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life for us.
These four reasons for Mary’s importance in the Scriptures could be multiplied. And I encourage you to add your own thoughts (or objections) in the comment section below. If you haven’t given much thought to the Virgin, or thought that was only a Catholic thing to do, or fear that such attention to Mary will distract from Jesus, then I encourage you to reconsider.
To talk about Mary is to talk about Jesus. To give our attention to Mary is to give even greater attention to Jesus. What Mary shows us, again and again, is that the child she bore is the Son of God, who became one with us, dies for us, and rises on our behalf, that in Him we have life in abundance with the Father. The good news about Mary is the Good News of Christ.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!