What Made Mary Special?

What made Mary special? Was there something in her background that made God choose her? Did she have a high place in society?

Let’s look at some background to try to answer those questions.

Mary was a young girl (maybe as young as thirteen) from an obscure town. Actually, when one of Jesus’ future disciples heard where Jesus was from he said, “Nazareth?! Can anything good come from there?”

The person Mary was engaged to be married to was a not a wealthy man. He was a carpenter. Mary likely had a hard but normal upbringing. Mary’s name in Hebrew (“Miriam”) could be connected to the Hebrew word for “bitter.” It’s not hard to imagine that Mary had already faced much in her life that was bitter and in her lifetime she certainly would.

So, Mary’s background, upbringing, and social status did not make Mary special. What made Mary special? What does the Bible say?

Luke chapter 1 (specifically verses 26-56) is where we see the most about Mary. We can make a few observations from this passage and see why Mary was special.

1) Mary was Favored by God

Mary was favored by God (Lk. 1:28,29,30). What does that mean? The word favored here means that Mary received grace, not that she is a source of grace for others. The favor Mary received was unmerited.

So, was Mary normal? In some ways, yes. You might even say, plain. Mary herself says that she was of “humble estate” (Lk. 1:48; 52).[1] However, as John MacArthur says, “She was the one sovereignly chosen by God—from among all the women who have ever been born—to be the singular instrument through which He would at last bring the Messiah into the world.”[2] So, was she normal? Yes and no.

Some assign Mary a very special place indeed. Some say Mary is “full of grace”[3] and sinless.[4] Some say she was a perpetual virgin.[5] Some believe Mary is a mediator (or mediatrix).[6] Pope John Paul II believed Mary is special enough to credit with saving him from dying from an assassin’s bullet in 1981.

When I say Mary is special I am not saying that she is special in those ways. I believe those views do not accurately portray what the Bible itself teaches.[7]

Luke 11 is helpful as we think about this subject. A woman said this to Jesus regarding His mother: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (Lk. 11:27). Look at how Jesus responded. Jesus rebuked her and said:  “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (v. 28). Jesus says obedience to the word of God, like the obedience that Mary demonstrated, is far more valuable than venerating Mary as a person (see also Lk. 8:20-21).

“Mary is exemplary because of her submission to God’s will.”[8] So, she is a special example of obedience and she was used in a special and unique way but Mary is not a central figure in Christian doctrine. Mary actually doesn’t show up that much in the New Testament. We see scenes with her in a few places (see Matt. 1:18-25; Mk. 3:20-35; Lk. 2:19, 22-23, 41-51; Jn. 2:1-11; Acts 1:14) but she does not have a large place in the New Testament and certainly not in Christian doctrine. Though, as I have said, she is clearly to be emulated for her steadfast faith.

Mary is also special because although she is low she is also favored by God and so all generations call her blessed (Lk. 1:48). It was God who favored/blessed her. Mary did nothing to deserve the LORD’s blessingb. She was normal in herself and special by God’s favor. Mary is not special in the ways that some people think, though she is certainly special in that she is the only virgin to ever have a child. She is “blessed” (Lk. 1:42, 48) because the LORD “favored” (Lk. 1:28, 30) her.

Through reading the account in Luke we see that God blessed Mary. God set His affections on her and He chose to use her to be the mother of the Messiah. It is important to notice here, however, that being favored by God is not always easy.

True Mary enjoyed many blessings that I am sure we cannot begin to understand. Yet, she also endured some difficult blows.

Think about it. Ridicule. People must have thought she was both unchaste and insane. I’m sure she faced all sorts of fear (though we clearly see she had faith). Joseph was a righteous man and was going to handle the situation kindly even before the angel spoke with him but Mary must have felt all sorts of fear. Mary likely thought that Jesus was going to come as the Messiah that would immediately bring rescue from enemies (cf. Lk. 1:71). Yet, it eventually would be made clear to her why it was prophesied that her heart would break (Lk. 2:35).

We can think of many others who were uniquely favored and yet also had unique struggles. Think

about Moses. Moses was repeatedly called to do the impossible.

So, Mary was special because she was favored by God for a special task in the LORD’s plan of redemption. That is not all that made Mary special though. Mary was also special because…

2) Mary had Faith that God would Fulfill His Promises

Mary had faith in God (Lk. 1:37-38, 45, 55).

God told Mary that something impossible would happen but is anything impossible with God?

So, Mary had faith that what God said would actually happen and that He’d provide.

It can be hard to trust the Lord. This can look all sorts of ways but the LORD is worthy of trust. He’s shown Himself to be worthy over and over again! And He’s God! Nothing is impossible for Him!

Mary believed God’s promises (Lk. 1:45, 55) and responded in praise (v. 46-55).

All throughout biblical history and all of history, God uses people. We have purpose! God uses us in powerful ways! But, it’s really all about Jesus Christ! He is the Savior of the world. And the good that we do is actually by His empowering. He sent the Spirit to be with us as our Helper and He is with us even to the end of the age.

This is really not about Mary. It’s about the LORD’s marvelous mission, mission to send Messiah Jesus and save the world. In the passage most about Mary—Luke 1:26-56[9]—that passage is most about Jesus! So, if we are looking at who Mary was (esp. seen in Luke 1) we can’t help but look at who Jesus is!

In Luke 1:32 we see that Jesus will be great, greater even than John the Baptizer. John will say that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal. We see that Jesus will be “called Son of the Most High.” We see that Jesus will have the throne of David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16).  We see in Luke 1:33 that He will reign over the house of Jacob. Further, we see that His Kingdom will never end (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16; Ps. 89:4, 29; 132:12; Is. 9:6-7; Dan. 7:13-14).

Jesus is without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5) but no where in the Bible do we get the idea that Mary (or anyone else) is. It is in Christ that we have new resurrection life (Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-15), not in Mary.

My son said something important the other day, he said sometimes it’s hard to believe that Jesus is coming back because it’s been so long… Can you relate to that?

What are some promises God made? How long ago did He make His promises?

Sometimes it may seem like the Bible and Jesus and church are not relevant… it happened soooo long ago. Will God really keep His promises? Does this really all matter?

Guys! Christmas (the true meaning of Christmas) shows us that God does keep His promises and this totally matters!…

Jesus—God in flesh—came to earth to save! And save in amazing and unexpected ways. 

So, what made Mary special? God! This is really all about God, right?

God favored Mary… Mary had faith in… who? God! Because He’s faithful! God fulfilled His promises and came in the form of Jesus Christ to save!

  1. In what ways or areas is it hard to trust the Lord and do what He tells you? What helps build your faith?
  2. In what ways do you rejoice like Mary that God was true to His promises to send Jesus the Promised Messiah?
  3. How can you celebrate Jesus this Christmas season? 

[1] All over the place in Scripture (from God choosing Israel among the nations to God choosing David among his brothers) God makes it clear that He uses the weak to shame the strong and He unexpectedly uses plain and unremarkable jars of clay to show His surpassing power (2 Cor. 4:7). So, if anything, God showing favor to Mary highlights just how “unspecial” she is in herself.

[2] John MacArthur, Twelve Extraordinary Women, p. 107.

[3] “Full of grace” was an inaccurate translation from the Latin Vulgate.

[4] Scripture, however, disagrees. The Bible says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Jesus says, “No one is good except God” (Mk. 10:18). Mary like David, like all of us, was brought forth in iniquity (Ps. 51:5). The sinlessness of Mary is different from though connected to the immaculate conception. The sinlessness of Mary and her immaculate conception are both affirmed by the Catholic Church. It is interesting to note that “the immaculate conception wasn’t formally declared to be church doctrine until 1854 by Pope Pius IX” (Thomas Schreiner, “Mary, Did You Know?”).

[5] This view, however, is problematic for a few reasons. First, the Gospel of Matthew says that he “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (1:25). This assumes that Mary and Joseph had a normal marital relationship after Mary had given birth. This is seen, second, by the fact that Jesus had siblings (Matt. 13:55; Mk. 3:31; 6:3; Jn. 7:3-5; Acts 1:14). Third, belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary communicates that there is something wrong with sex within marriage but that is never communicated in the Bible (cf. e.g. Gen. 1:31; 2:24). On the contrary, the Bible says that sex within marriage should be practiced (1 Cor. 7:4-5).

[6] So one prayer says: “Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! Amen.” It is vital to contrast that prayer with these verses from Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (see also 2 Tim. 2:5).   See ch. 7 of Ray Galea’s book Nothing in my hand I bring.

[7] This is actually one of the big differences between Protestants and Catholics. Protestants hold that tradition has its place but it is behind and below that of Scripture whereas Catholics have traditionally held that tradition and Scripture together share the place of authority.

[8] Robert H. Stein, Luke, p. 86.

[9] It is important to realize that “Luke was using the literary form of historical narrative and expected his readers to understand that he was recalling history” (Stein, Luke, p. 87) (see also Lk. 1:1-4).

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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