Bless the Mother of Jesus, but Mainly Be the Mother of Jesus
The veneration given to Mary in the Roman Catholic church is beyond what is warranted by the New Testament. In fact, it is astonishing how little we see of Mary in the New Testament. Let us honor her unique motherhood. Let us count her blessed as the mother of our incarnate Lord. But let us not put her on a pedestal that neither she nor Jesus would have approved of.
After she turns up with the disciples praying in the upper room in Acts 1:14, she is never mentioned again in the New Testament. This is astonishing to anyone who thinks that the veneration of Mary was an essential part of early church life. It was not important enough to be mentioned in any of the New Testament books after Acts.
In fact, in the one place where Paul comes close to mentioning Mary, he chooses not to, and simply speaks of generic “woman”: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Galatians 4:4).
And when she is mentioned in Acts 1:14, she is “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” This inclusion of the brothers has the effect of minimizing any emerging elevation of Mary as having significance only in being the mother of Jesus, rather than the mother of his brothers as well.
Mary is unique among all women in being a virgin when she gave birth to her firstborn son. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Matthew 1:23). When she asked the angel how this can be, he answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Yet amazingly this fact—the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary—is never mentioned again in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean it is untrue or unimportant. It simply means that it was not prominent in the life of the church. Celebrating it was not an essential part of the worship of the New Testament church. Otherwise, it would have been mentioned somewhere in the letters to those churches.
When Mary is referred to during the adult life of Jesus in the Gospels, she is not treated in a way that sets her apart in any unusual way. At the cross, for example, Matthew refers to her without even mentioning that she is Jesus’ mother: “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:55–56).
Calling Jesus’ mother “the mother of James and Joseph” is striking. We know that this is Jesus’ mother because of Matthew 13:55, “Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” “James and Joseph” are the sons in both Matthew 27:56 and 13:55. So Matthew refers to Mary without calling her the mother of Jesus, and a few verses later, he simply refers to her as “the other Mary” (27:61).
Most striking of all is the way Jesus intentionally deflects a certain kind of honor from his mother. Once a woman in the crowd “raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’” But Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27–28). Jesus ranks obedience to the word of God above the special veneration of his mother.
Similarly Jesus was once told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But Jesus answered, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:20–21). Again Jesus ranks obedience above the standing of his mother.
Mary was a magnificent person.
- Her humility shines (“He has looked on the humble estate of his servant,” Luke 1:48).
- Her faith was profound (“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” Luke 1:45).
- Her suffering was deep (“A sword will pierce through your own soul,” Luke 2:35).
- Her God was sovereign (“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones,” Luke 1:51–52).
- And her meditations were full of truth (“Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart,” Luke 2:19).
Therefore, remember her. Admire her. Bless her. Be inspired by her. But do not go beyond what the New Testament portrays. Our calling is to be the mother of Jesus more than to venerate her (Luke 8:21).
Loving and learning from Mary with you,
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org