How many times have you heard the term used by a TV evangelist or pastor, "Highly Favored?!" Unfortunately, it is often followed by a plea for us to pledge great sums of money so that we may, in return, have God's favor! Or it is used by a smug Christian to show how they have such grand standings before our God...That He will grant special status for them to have a happy, healthy and materially blessed life! Rarely have I personally seen this title before God, and all that it entails...BIBLICALLY INVESTIGATED AND EXPANDED UPON!
What does it actually mean to be, "Highly Favored?" Is it even possible? Would you ever WANT to be seen this way by God? That status is reserved for God alone to decide...And many of us picture great missionaries, pastors and evangelists as those who have attained such a position with God... If any at all do?! We seldom, if ever... Even think that WE could be a person that God would view in this way! With our average education... Average life... Average talents...Living our simple, uneventful lives...Well... Let's once again drop all pretenses and see what Scriptures actually say about one who held this title before God!
Plain... Simple... Mary.
Luke 1:26-31 (NKJV)
At the beginning of one of the most beautiful stories of Scripture, the Nativity... Mary is told SHE has been chosen for this great mission of literally bringing God into the world as a Babe!! And she is told God has chosen her because she is, "Highly Favored!" Let's investigate just WHY this may have been? Many myths and legends have built Mary into an almost "worshiped" symbol... Far above God's Plan for her in history...Nothing in Scriptures ever even hint to her being... "Immaculately Conceived"... (Without sin) Or that she was "Assumed", or taken up into heaven without death...Or that she was a, "Perpetual Virgin", after Christ's Birth... (Had many children/mentioned 8 times/4 brothers and sisters besides) Or of anything else even remotely supernatural about her...
On the contrary... With what little we do know about her...Scriptures give ALL of us HOPE that we might be seen by God the same way! Because Scriptures do make it apparent that she...Was very, very young...
Probably about 13 or 14 years old at this point! Teens - You are of an age that God sees you as accountable & able! She was born to a simple family...In a very, "Backwoods" small town called Nazareth...That is so insignificant, it is not mentioned in the OT, by Josephus, or the Jewish Talmud...With a population of about 200 people...Living in very simple homes...With no bathhouses, palaces or even paved streets...She was not highly educated...She had no great position or ministry...And as a poor, simple WOMAN of that culture, she had almost NO influence over anything or anyone...In a nutshell...She was a very young, very simple nobody...Who had nothing outwardly special about her...And had done nothing of significance up to that point... In God's Kingdom or man's!
Are we ALL still in the game so far?! Yep! I still get so very frustrated at times, when I see some...Even in this congregation... Who, through attitude and even speech...Look condescendingly towards others around them with less skill, education, or "holiness”...In smugness over how they feel they must look to God...Actually, to read more into the life of Mary than the Scriptures allow...Would completely ruin the entire message...That her life and her place in history reveals to us today!
So... WHY WAS Mary so special to God? Well, first notice the most obvious fact in this passage as a major clue...It was BEFORE Mary had been called to go anywhere or do anything…That the Angel Gabriel had already called her…"Favored" of God!” So what could possibly have made her favored up to that point in life?!
The Answer is so clear and so repeated throughout Scriptures...And yet we don't Scriptures with the seriousness and literalness we should! We have recently spent months as a congregation...Discovering how Scriptures tell us God has only ONE measuring stick for a man or woman... THE HEART!
Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)
Listen again to this very short, very powerful statement by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount... For the answer to why Mary received favor:
Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)
"Pure in heart" means undivided, wholly given...And this Scripture, as well as others...Does not just mean "See God later", but NOW! We will find Him when we seek with ALL OUR HEARTS! (Jer. 29:13) Before God called Mary, "Highly Favored"...SHE, IN HER HEART, HAD ALREADY HIGHLY FAVORED GOD!!! Mary had a passionate, totally surrendered heart to God BEFORE He ever approached her on that faithful day! And that FAVOR she had for God...That trust in Him...That complete surrender to His will for her life...Became glaringly apparent the instant she was approached by Gabriel! Listen to her response to God's calling!!!!
Luke 1:38 (NKJV)
The word for "maidservant" is doule (doo'-lay)...Which is clearly and literally translated as FEMALE SLAVE!
When Mary was told what God wanted her to do...Her instant response was..."I am a willing SLAVE to anything my God wants of me!" Before you go saying, "Well that's how I feel too... So why am I not 'Favored?'" Listen to just what that willing submission truly entailed in the life of Mary! Mary's complete surrender to God's will cost her so much more than many of us have ever truly contemplated...First of all, she was very young with obvious plans for a good start in life with a betrothed husband who loved her dearly...In her heart she had to know and prepared for…What actually occurred for a short time in the beginning of this pregnancy...The loss of her husband and any hope for a happy, normal life in society! How crushing for a teenage bride to make a decision to lose her love in disgrace just weeks before their wedding! How many here would be so completely willing to give up their intimate relationship with no questions if God asked you to do so? Many a so-called devoted Christian have denied Christ for the love of a mate God has called them away from!
Mary was instantly shamed and ruined in the eyes of all of those around her... Her life was socially ruined for all her days! Joseph even had the right to have her stoned because of the severity of her crime in the eyes of the culture!! In his kind love, he had determined to break the betrothal quietly! But even though he was told by God that she truly carried the Messiah... And he stayed with her afterwards...The public shame ruined the entire life she would have had otherwise! Mary stayed the first few months with kinfolk, Elizabeth and
Zechariah... Elizabeth was probably her cousin) To share in the joy of what God had done for both of them...
And no doubt, to avoid the terrible stigma of her predicament in the beginning! She most likely was rejected and shunned even in her religious community and much of her own family! This may be why she traveled with Joseph on such a long hard journey during the census...And stayed for years rather than months afterwards...And this degrading position did not go away with time!!! It followed her all of her days, even after marriage...Listen to the words written by the Sanhedrin about Jesus and His mother in the Talmud, a collection of Jewish civil and religious law...
"I found a genealogical roll in Jerusalem wherein was recorded, Such-an-one is a bastard of an adulteress."
- Sanhedrin Yeb. IV 3;49a:, R. Shimeon ben Azzai
How many of us would be willing to permanently destroy our reputation in the public's eye for the rest of our lives on Jesus' behalf? Even in the eyes of our church family? All for doing the RIGHT THING! For living one of the most righteous lives in history! And yet, even during this trying, terrifying time...Listen to Mary's attitude and heart as she spoke these words to Elizabeth!
Luke 1:46-49 (NKJV)
Mary worships God... SHOWS GRATITUDE that He would use HER...And praises the great things He has done FOR HER! So often when we DO SAY YES to God...We complain and brood over how difficult our calling...We think WE are doing something for God... When in reality... (Stop… Get this!) IT IS HIM DOING GREAT THINGS FOR YOU WHEN HE CALLS YOU INTO HIS PLAN! Mary had to endure horrible pain and loss…As she watched her precious Child grow up to be hated, mocked, tortured and murdered before her very eye!!! I have personally seen people give up on God because of the hardship on their children…She was
warned of the terrible pain she would endure even when Jesus was a small Babe at the Temple... By an old man named Simeon who was promised by God that he would see the Messiah before he died:
Luke 2:34-35 (NKJV)
Can you possibly imagine seeing your own Son murdered the way Jesus was right before your eyes, as you stood helpless? So Mary not only lived from that point as a harlot and adulteress...But as the mother of a horrible, blasphemous, rejected Criminal as well! THIS WAS MARY’S COST FOR HER COMPLETE SUBMISSION!
What do we usually think and mean when we respond to a…"How are you doing?"…With the words, "I'm blessed brother!"? Healthy... Financially secure... Family is doing well... Right?! And this is how many
evangelists or slightly smug Christians will describe blessings from God if you are "Highly Favored!"
But listen and think closely...Mary was the one called "Highly Favored" and "Blessed" by God in Scriptures...
And she received none of these things in her "Favor!" Instead, she received...A ruined reputation and a tainted life...Poverty, fear and hardship...A broken heart...So then why was her life considered so "blessed?" Why so "Favored?"
Because she received the amazing privilege of knowing and loving Jesus more intimately than anyone on earth! Of seeing every facet of His deepest emotions, character and heart from a young age through adulthood! IMAGINE THIS!! KNOWING GOD THAT INTIMATELY!! Because she was quite possibly the
private audience to more personal experiences of His Power and Miracles than anyone else! Because by the time Jesus performed His first miracle in public at the wedding...Mary had full confidence and expectation in Jesus' ability to do as she asked of Him supernaturally!!! Can you imagine some of the events that may have led to this confidence and expectation? Bath time with Jesus..."You have to actually get down into the water, Honey!" Sorry, no more pie left in the cupboard Son..."Go check again mom, I'm SURE there is some left!"
Family rabbit stepped on by a donkey..."Jesus, look at how crushed your brothers and sisters are...I'll bet Trixy is just sleeping right?!"
And think on this…Mary had the incredible Favor of being loved in a more intimate and precious way than any woman on earth!!!! Can you imagine the precious bond she shared with Jesus as His earthly mother?!!
The closeness of being loved that intimately by the One who was the Epitome and Essence of what True Love is!! All because she said, "Yes" to surrendering her entire life...No matter the cost to joining Him in His Work... In His Calling here on earth!! And it cost her everything!
THIS IS WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM MARY'S INCREDIBLE LIFE!! Can you and I be "Favored" of God? Can we be greatly, "Blessed"? I absolutely believe that we not only can...But, that it is the Hope and Expectation for each one of us from Christ!! And it all begins if we whole-heartedly want Him so badly...
Love Him so much... Favor Him in our lives so greatly...That we give ourselves as His slave in abandonment and joy!!! Because He became a Slave in His work to save US!
Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
The EXACT same word for Jesus is used here that Mary used in her description of herself to God! doule (doo'-lay), meaning literally a SLAVE! And if we do this... You can guarantee that Jesus will call you to join Him in His Calling here on earth as well!!! Not because He is so desperately needs you to complete His work...But because He wants you to be blessed and favored as well! You and I grow to know and love Jesus the same way Mary did!! We feel His love in a special way as we submit to His will in trust and obedience... No matter the cost! We see Him work as we step into His Will and ask His blessings! We discover His Heart and Character by sharing in a common love and struggle for His people! We bond closer than we could ever imagine as we share in the work and even the suffering together at times...
THIS IS WHAT GOD CALLS BLESSED AND FAVORED!!!! Not what the world...And even much of the Christian community considers "Blessings" from God! Because God considers a life well lived by a far different criteria than we usually judge ours by!!! That criteria is simple and yet so profound! Was it a life given in sacrifice and service FOR GOD AND WITH GOD? Was it a life given to love? Was it a life lived for others? Money, health, security, notoriety...None of these things will ever be considered as part of a blessed life by God... Only as tools for use in the true blessings!
The equation is so simple... “Mary, did you know?” Yes, she knew the answer! To be Highly Favored of God…You must Highly Favor HIM FIRST! And that favor is shown by your willingness to give Him only one thing... EVERYTHING! But there is so much to receive in return! How badly do you want more of Him?
How badly do you want His favor and intimate Presence? One reply will take you there...
"Behold the Blood-Bought Slave of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word."
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