Christmas is a great time of year for ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ.  People in general have “Christ” in their frame of reference.  Many are more willing to attend a church service, and therefore be exposed to the gospel.  The Charlie Brown Christmas special alone has broadcast the gospel message to millions over the years.  

Alas, Christmas also brings certain challenges, one of which is the worship of Mary.  Adherents of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity insist they do not worship Mary or other saints.  In my opinion, to pray to a being is to attribute to that individual a privilege that God alone deserves.  However saint worship is justified, the sad truth is practically millions of people seek help from Mary and other “saints” before and more often than they seek help from God.

The worship of saints, including Mary, is entirely absent from the Bible.  Mary herself knew that she was priveleged to give birth to the Messiah only by God’s grace.  She responded to that blessing with worship of God, not exaltation of herself (note Luke 1:46-55).  Then where does the worship of Mary come from?  As with many heresies, prayer to and worship of Mary developed over time.  Here’s a brief rundown:

Perpetual Virginity

In the second century AD, sometime around AD 150, the non-inspired Gospel of James was written.  This is the first place where the idea of Mary’s “perpetual virginity” is found in a written source.  This concept grew out of a negative view of sex and an exaltation of celibacy.  In the Bible Jesus has brothers and sisters (cf. Mark 6:3), which clearly refutes the idea that Mary was perpetually a virgin.

Mother of God

The exaltation of Mary continued as an unintended consequence of debates over Christology in the fifth century AD.  Nestorius, a church leader of that time from Constantinople, held that Jesus had two separate natures.  He taught that Jesus was human given his human mother Mary, and only later in his life became the Messiah, Logos, and divine.  In part of this discussion, Nestorius posited that Mary should not be referred to as the “God-bearer” (θεὸτοκος), but rather as the “Christ-bearer” (Χριστοτοκος).  The Council of Ephesus in AD 431 was the first attempt by Christians to address this teaching.  Very long story short, Nestorius’ view was rightly rejected, and Mary continued to be called the “God-bearer.”  This label for Mary snowballed later into “mother of God,” which is theologically inaccurate and gives Mary undue prominence. 

Mary Worship in Ephesus 

Not long after the Council of Ephesus, the tradition regarding the Assumption of Mary emerged in Ephesus.  The Assumption of Mary is the belief that Mary never died a physical death, but was assumed into heaven directly.  This is not found anywhere in the Bible.  Ephesus had been a center of the worship of the goddess Artemis since 550 BC.  Since the town was used to a female deity, it is not surprising that after embracing Christianity, Ephesus latched onto an exalted Mary.  Ephesus even had its own “church of Mary.”

Hyperdulia

Later, in AD 787, the Council of Nicea II attributed to Mary hyperdulia.  Dulia means veneration, or homage.  Hyperdulia means the highest form of veneration given to created beings.  Thus, according to this church council, Mary is worth more veneration than any other human being.  Significantly, regular saints were accorded only dulia (where does that leave the rest of us?).  To be fair, those at the Council of Nicea II were trying to make a distinction between worship of God (latria), and veneration of saints via images (dulia).  They thought they made a clear distinction, but in practice there’s not much difference today between worship of God and veneration of saints.  

The Immaculate Conception

One thousand years later, Pope Pius IX declared the immaculate conception as Roman Catholic dogma.  The core concept of the doctrine of “immaculate conception” is that Mary was free from original sin from her conception.  This has no basis in the Bible.  It became a popularly held Roman Catholic teaching, and was made official Roman Catholic teaching in AD 1854.

The Assumption of Mary

In AD 1950, Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary as official Roman Catholic doctrine.  While it had been popularly believed since the fifth century AD (see above), it was never formalized as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church until 1950.  Some  Roman Catholics hold to the Eastern Orthodox version of this teaching, which holds that Mary died, was raised from the dead and then assumed into heaven.  Others simply hold that she never died and was assumed into heaven.  Neither version is found in the Bible.

Queen of Heaven, Co-Redemptrix, and Mediatrix

Several other Roman Catholic traditions about Mary developed over time.  Some believed Mary to be the “Queen of Heaven” who reigns in part over the world.  Others, again building on traditional beliefs dating to the middle ages, believe that Mary gave consent for Jesus to live and die as the Redeemer of mankind.  As such, she is referred to by some as the “co-redemptrix.”  Another popular belief is that Mary argues on behalf of sinners to God.  In this role she is referred to as the “Mediatrix.”  None of these teachings are found in the Bible.  Many were discussed at the Roman Catholic church council called the Vatican II, but they have not yet been dogmatized, though several popes refer to Mary as Jesus’ associate in redemption.

The key observation in this brief historical survey is this: none of the traditions that exalt Mary are based in God’s Word.  Mary is blessed, because she was chosen to give birth to the Messiah.  She considered herself to be God’s humble servant, and recognized that she needed God’s mercy.  She worshipped God, and did not exalt herself.  She is never stated as having any role in the salvation of sinners.  She is presented as a model of faith, not as a super-human to be prayed to and worshipped.  

Don’t pray to or worship Mary; she wouldn’t want you to.  In fact, she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48).  We would do well to follow her example.

 

Broad Subject:  Elizabeth hearing Mary’s greeting and proclaiming Mary blessed… Elizabeth giving birth to John and Zechariah being able to speak again…

Narrowed Subject (why? how? so that? results in?): …results

Complement:  …results in Mary praising God.  …results in Zechariah praising God that he is sending the Messiah to Israel.

Text BI:  Elizabeth hearing Mary’s greeting and proclaiming Mary blessed results in Mary praising God for blessing the humble.  Elizabeth giving birth to John and Zechariah being able to speak again results in Zechariah praising God that he is sending the Messiah to Israel.

Contextual BI:  Elizabeth hearing Mary’s greeting and proclaiming Mary blessed results in Mary praising God for blessing the humble in Jesus.  Elizabeth giving birth to John and Zechariah being able to speak again results in Zechariah praising God that he is sending the Messiah to Israel, who is Jesus.

Canonical BI:  Elizabeth hearing Mary’s greeting and proclaiming Mary blessed for her faith results in Mary praising God for blessing the humble in Jesus with mercy.  Elizabeth giving birth to John and Zechariah being able to speak again results in Zechariah praising God that he is sending his mercy to Israel in the Messiah, who is Jesus.

Homiletic BI:  God’s mercy comes through Jesus.

Title: Worth Singing About

 

Introduction:  Mercy… what is mercy?  (kindness or concern for someone in need)  do we need mercy?  What is our need?  God sees our condition (better than we do), and did something about it.

 

God’s mercy comes to us through Jesus.    

 

  • Mary’s Visit (1:39-45) 
    • Nazareth to the southern hill country would have taken 3-4 days (80-100 miles). 
    • She is making known the mind of God regarding what she is speaking about.
    • The phrase “most blessed among women” is also used of Jael in Judges 5:24 and Judith in Jdt. 13:18.  
    • In these cases the woman either delivers Israel (Jael) or bears the deliverer of Israel (Judith).  
    • Elizabeth uses “Lord” here to refer the coming Messiah
    • Mary stands in contrast to Elizabeth’s mute/deaf husband who was skeptical of Gabriel’s message.

ApplicationGod’s mercy comes through Jesus.  

Mary’s visit confirms God’s message to her.  John is clearly filled with the Spirit.  He will continue to have a special relationship to Jesus.  She is blessed because of Jesus!

 

Elizabeth’s prophecy emphasizes Mary’s faith- God is explicitly setting Mary up as an example.  Faith means taking God at His Word.  

How do you respond to God’s messages to you?  He has spoken- do you listen?  do you believe

Transition:  God’s mercy comes through Jesus, and Mary was especially aware of this…

  • Mary’s Praise (1:46-56)
    • Starts from personal to corporate
    • Shifts in 1:51 to prophetic aorists (?)
    • God exalts humble and destroys proud
    • This is in line with promise to Abraham- they will be blessed and source of blessing.
    • God’s character is not separated from His mercy.

Application God’s mercy comes through Jesus: to the humble.

While Israel expected a conquering hero, Mary here indicates that God’s work is to be done in those who are humble.  What God is doing with her also what He will do with His Holy Spirit in Israel.  We know that this is how He also works with all mankind.  Mary is an example of faith.

Transition:

 

Mary- Why do so many worship her?

    • Gospel of James, 150 AD, perpetual virginity
    • Council of Ephesus, 431- “church of Mary” – strong cult of Diana (Artemis- 550 BC).  
    • Nestorius- 2 natures in X- human from Mary and Logos from God later
    • Thus Mary is only Cristoto/koß, not qeoto/koß
    • “Instead of God-Man, we have here the idea of a mere God-bearing man”
    • Council of Nicea- 787- Mary gets hyperdulia, saints just dulia
    • Immaculate Conception (Mary was sinless) – dogmatized 1854 pope Pius IX
    • Assumption (Mary never died)- dogmatized 1950 pope Pius XII
    • Vatican 2- Mary role as mediator in salvation, movement for co-redemptrix

Ryan serves as the Senior Pastor of Green Pond Bible Chapel in Rockaway, New Jersey. He is married with four children.

One Comment on “The Magnification of Mary

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