Mary: God Chose the Low and Despised

In Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent from God’s presence to a city of Galilee named Nazareth. The town was an obscure village 70 miles north of Jerusalem. It didn’t have a good reputation. (John 1:46; 7:52). “While Galileans were despised by Judeans, Galileans themselves despised people from Nazareth… [the town, mentioned nowhere else in Scripture] was an insignificant village without seeming prophetic importance.”[1]

The God who chooses the weak in the world to shame the strong was pleased to elect a poor, young virgin from a seemingly worthless village as the mother of the incarnate Son of God. But then Scripture is filled with unexpected candidates of God’s grace. The powerless, the foolish, the despised, the sinner--you and me--are chosen “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

Gabriel enters Nazareth, to the home of a virgin betrothed to a simple carpenter of the house of David (Luke 2:27). The place and people were appeared commonplace but God’s word to Mary was anything but that:

Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! [...] Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:28-33).

Women before Mary had carried children whose births were foretold by God (Isaac, Samson, the Shunammite’s son). Others had mothered mighty deliverers in Israel (Moses, Joshua, David). But what mother had ever heard these words? Mary’s son would be called the Son of the Most High. God would give Him the throne of His father David.

No king had sat on David’s throne since Zedekiah was dragged away to Babylon in the siege of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:11-21). Yet God had promised David an everlasting throne; he would have an offspring whose kingdom would never end (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 89:3-4). Would this be Mary’s son? If so, the young woman had a question to ask: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)?

No mother in Israel had received Mary’s promise, and certainly no woman in history had ever heard these words: “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).

Mary’s first born child would not come by natural means. The Holy Spirit would overshadow the virgin and the eternal Son--though in the form of God--would submit to the Father’s plan to be conceived in the womb of a poor, humble girl (Philippians 2:6-7).  

God’s words in Genesis 3:15 were rushing to fulfillment. A Second Adam was coming to crush the head of sin and the serpent and bring eternal life (Romans 5:18). God was sending the Seed of the woman! And lowly Mary would be that woman.

Her response to the angel’s message is: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary’s submission is astounding. Her “yes” meant the threat of stoning (John 8:3-5; Deuteronomy 22:13-21). It meant the likely end of an engagement (Matthew 1:18-25). And it amounts to lifelong suspicion and stigma (John 8:39-41). Yet she submits.

The word “favor” in Luke 1:28 is rendered “full of grace,” and Mary was certainly full of grace. Obedience that pleases God is one empowered by His own enabling grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). Mary’s decision to submit to God’s Word was indeed her choice--yet without God, she could do nothing (John 15:5).

Contrary to certain teachings, Mary was a recipient (and not a source) of grace. Her song of praise in Luke 1:47 rejoices in God her Savior. A person without the taint of original sin (as taught of Mary by the Catholic church) does not need a Savior. But according to Scripture, this young woman, full of grace, carries in her womb the One whose life and death brings her salvation.

God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Human wisdom would have painted the mother of Christ as rich and powerful. Instead we find a poor, seemingly insignificant girl with the ignominy of a curious pregnancy.

Yet Mary is rich. One day, on Calvary's hill, a sword pierces through her soul as another enters the crucified body of her Son (Luke 1:34-35; John 19:34). On that cross, “our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for [our] sake he became poor, so that [all who believe] by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Mary's pain, poverty and sigma were only light and momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17) In Christ, the weak, the poor and the despised of the world have become strong, rich and eternally beloved.  

*Thanks for reading! This post is part of my Mothers in the Bible Series; we are looking for glimpses of the gospel in the lives of biblical women, from Eve to Mary, the mother of Christ. Click here to see other writings. And please let me know your thoughts!

[1] The MacArthur Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 1537.