After the message on Sunday, my friend Matt asked a couple of good questions about Mary and the virgin birth. Both were valid questions worth considering, and both are questions that people have struggled with as they read the Scriptures over the years.
Question #1: Why Don’t We Hear About Mary and Joseph later in the Bible?
Joseph: First, let’s wrestle with Joseph’s place in the gospel narrative. In the gospel of Luke, Joseph’s primary qualification was that he was of the lineage of David. So Joseph gives Jesus a certain qualification to take the throne of David as king.
Aside from that, Joseph leads his family in a Scriptural way, taking Jesus to Jerusalem for a dedication, providing for the family, and bringing Jesus to the temple at the age of twelve for Passover (Luke 2). In Matthew, an additional narrative includes Joseph taking his young family to Egypt to wait out the death of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:13-23). Other than that, the Scriptures are silent on Joseph. Joseph is called to a very specific role, a very limited role, in the upbringing of Jesus. That seems to be all Joseph is needed for.
Mary: Mary, however, continues in her role and relationship with Jesus through his life. She appears at his birth, she appears at his death. And she appears after his death, with the disciples in Acts chapter 1. Her place as the vessel that God uses, transfers into a relationship with Jesus. Now, many Christian traditions over emphasize Mary’s role and make her–well, the mother of God. That is completely unsubstantiated in the biblical record.
While Mary accompanies Jesus and even seems to have participated in some form in his adult life, her role is not primary. In fact her role seems to be entirely that of a caring mother for whom her oldest son (Jesus) has an obligation and responsibility to care for. So, she is with him out of necessity. He provides for her family because that’s what a good son does. And she remains with him, traveling with him when she can, living with the disciples, because she is his mother, not because she is divine, or co-redeemer, or in any way shape attached or connected to his work as Savior.
Question #2: Why did God choose Mary?
The Scriptures never tell us why God chose Mary and not another woman. There were certainly many virgins of marriageable age at her time and in times previous. Virgins kind of occur naturally, so they are never hard to locate. There must have been something unique about her and the Scriptures do record that Gabriel the Angel refers to her as “full of grace” or “greatly favored.”
The Roman Catholic tradition holds that this statement implies that Mary was in some way conceived without sin, called the “Immaculate Conception”, but there is no biblical basis for this. What the angel is telling Mary is that she has been chosen.
Grace is never a part of the human beings existence. It is imputed to a human being by God’s sovereign choice. So Mary is not “full of grace” because of something she has done or the lifestyle that she has lived or some kind of immaculate miracle at her birth. She is “full of grace” because God has chosen her.
Luke does give us an indication that God was setting up a scenario of interrelated miracles. Mary’s family, including her cousin Elizabeth, are participants in the unfolding of Jesus’ advent. Elizabeth conceiving and giving birth after menopause, when she had been barren, is miraculous and acknowledged to be so by many. This first miracle opens the door for a second and greater miracle – Mary conceiving and giving birth before sexual activity. The first miracle makes the second miracle more conceivable (pun intended).
Luke also gives us indication that Mary was uniquely placed as both the cousin of a priest’s wife and also betrothed to the descendent of David. This unique combination sets her son up to fulfill both the Law and the Kingdom.
But really, do we know why God chose her? Good genetics? Good complexion? Nobody knows. Any statement made about the reasons that God chose Mary would be completely and utterly hypothetical.
It is often confusing and befuddling that God chooses the people he chooses to do the things he has chosen to do. His choices are rarely the logical ones. And the people that we would choose almost never the ones that God chooses. And as my father often reminded me, “where the Bible is silent the wise and be like the Bible.”
What is important is that God chose her. God chose Mary. She was “overshadowed” by the Spirit of God, conceived in her womb a child, and that child was born, lived, died on the cross, and was raised again to life by God, declared to be the son of God (Romans 1:6), and is our Savior and King Jesus Christ. We don’t know why very fulfilled the role she did, but she did and she was the mother of our Lord.