22 April 2008

"Blessed Be"--Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:26-35; 46-55)

We have seen how the apostle Peter was a man who dearly loved the Lord, and a man whom God used in a great way. But we also saw how Roman Catholicism has elevated him to the point that they consider him to be the "first Pope"—an office he never held, or claimed to hold. Today, we're going to look at another person who was highly blessed and favored by God, but who has been given a title by Catholics that is even higher—we're going to look at Mary, the mother of Jesus and whether she is "Queen of Heaven", as the Roman Catholic Church claims she is and whether we should be praying to her. We're going to look at what some Old Testament prophecies say about her, what the gospels say about her, and what the Roman Catholic Church believes about her from their own man-made "traditions", and whether these traditions are to be believed.

Please join me in turning to Luke 1. One thing you find when you read about Roman Catholic beliefs is that they sure make it sound like they know what they're talking about. Of course, they’ve had about 1500 years to work on it. And when you read things like their Catechism—which is basically the rulebook for being Catholic—they put a lot of Scripture in there. Problem is, they take it out of its biblical context. They’ll take a phrase from this verse and one from that verse and cobble it all together to make it sound like it means something it doesn’t. Which is one reason they don’t like their people to actually read the Bible. Which is why men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were in danger of being executed for trying to put the Bible in the language of the people. So let's see what the Bible really says about Mary.

First we see that Mary was a VIRGIN. Luke 1:26-35.

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.

The Old Testament prophesied that the birth of Christ was to be a miraculous thing. But there are some who say that word "virgin" simply refers to a "young woman." There are a lot of "young women" who conceive and give birth to children. That would not really be any kind of miracle. But a virgin giving birth? Forget what anybody says—Mary was a virgin. Look at verse 34. "I have not known a man." There's a passage from Isaiah that we hear every year around Christmas time. Isaiah 7:14Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. This prophecy from Isaiah was simply one of many clues that God gave us in pointing us to the Messiah. That a woman who had never "known a man"—in the biblical sense—would conceive and give birth.

We find this prophecy coming true not only here, but in the first chapter of the Book of Matthew. You don’t need to turn there, but it is in Matthew 1:21-23The angel said to Joseph, “…do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Now, why would she have to be a virgin? Well, we have to go back even further to find that out. In fact, all the way back to the first book of the Bible.

The first prophecy about Christ is in the Book of Genesis. After Adam sins, God tells the serpent (Satan), Genesis 3:15"…And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." God is telling Satan that the Seed of a woman will destroy him. As I've mentioned before, in the Bible, "seed" refers to the sons of the father. Read through the begets and begats and you'll find that only the male members are mentioned. And if you read the accounts of Jesus' human ancestors, only men are mentioned, although Matthew does mention 4 women in his account. And when he gets to His earthly parents, he writes that Joseph was the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. By doing this, he sets the birth of Jesus apart from all the other begets and begots and he shows us that Jesus did not inherit the sinful human nature that the rest of us do.

Mary HAD TO BE A VIRGIN. Jesus could not have inherited the stain of sin that He would have had if He were born of a human father. You see, when we're born, we inherit the "sin gene" from our fathers. It started with Adam, and it got passed down to all their children, then Cain and Seth, and the other male children passed it along. Now, the gene is passed down by the fathers, but the disease of sin affects everybody. Consider a condition like…baldness. The gene for baldness is passed along by the mother, but it affects all the children in the family, male and female. The same is true for sin, the disease infects all the children, but the gene is only passed through the sons. Daughters are born with the disease of sin—but the gene for the disease does not get passed along unless the children have a human father. How many children have human fathers? All of them. Guess who the disease of sin gets passed along to? All of us.

And don’t let anyone tell you that it was Eve who sinned. It was Adam. Sorry, men. Romans 5:12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. 1st Corinthians 15:21-22For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. Eve did not sin—she was deceived. Sorry ladies. 2nd Corinthians 11:3But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Go back and look at that verse from Genesis—God said, "I will put enmity between…your seed and her Seed…" Guess who God is talking about when he refers to Satan's "seed." Everyone who has ever had a human father. This makes verses like Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21 even clearer. These both speak about us being "enemies of God." Ephesians 2:3 says that we were by nature children of wrath. In that passage in Matthew 1, it says they would call His name Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins.

Now, you’ve probably heard the term "Immaculate Conception." This does not refer to Mary being a virgin when the body of Christ was conceived. It is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that when Mary was conceived, God protected her from inheriting the "sin gene." That while she was indeed born to earthly parents, God shielded her from the penalty of sin from the moment she was conceived. That is simply a misinterpretation of the Greek word κεχαριτωμενη (kecharitoméne), "full of grace." Here's one thing you need to understand—Mary did not need to be "sinless from conception" in order for Jesus to be sinless.

Jesus did not have an earthly father, so He would have been born sinless regardless of whether Mary was or not. So in the end, that argument is pointless. Was she "highly favored"? I won't argue with that. She was chosen to give birth to the Savior. They were to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Some people say that they're saved because they try and keep the Ten Commandments. By doing that, they condemn themselves. You can't just "try" to keep the Ten Commandments. You have to keep the whole Law perfectly, and no one can do that. They'll say, "Well, I haven’t done anything too awfully bad." Maybe not according to man's standards. "Yeah, I like to get drunk once in a while, maybe smoke a little weed, bump it with my girl—hey, we're all human!" Man's standards. But we're not judged by man's standards. We're judged by God's standard—singular. And His standard demands perfection. Matthew 5:48"Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect." Friends, that isn't hard—that’s impossible. James 2:10For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. Only one Man has ever kept the Law of Moses perfectly. Only one Man has ever been able to say, "I've done it all."

We can try all we want. But it ain't gonna work. We have that warning all throughout Galatians 3. We read that no amount of law-keeping can save us. Galatians 3:21If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But there is no law that can give life. Only Jesus can give us life. Only He can save us from God's wrath that we deserve because of our sins. And in order to save us from our sins, to be the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), He Himself had to be born without sin. He could not have a human father. So, Mary had to be a virgin when the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived inside of her. Mary was a VIRGIN.

Mary was VIRTUOUS. Verses 46-55.

46 And Mary said: “ My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. 50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. 54 He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

This section is often referred to as the "Magnificat", or the "Song of Mary." The Bible doesn’t talk too much about Mary. We don’t know a whole lot about her. And what some people claim to know is nothing more than speculation. But we do know this: that she was chosen by God to bring the earthly body of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world. And we can speculate about this much: that she must have been a very godly young woman in order for the angel to tell her in verse 30, "You have found favor [grace] with God." We're going to look at that in a moment. Look how she starts out: "My soul magnifies the Lord." That word "magnify" means, "To declare, extol, celebrate, praise." This song was Mary's way declaring to not only her own generation, but to all generations the glory of God.

This was a woman who realized that she needed a Savior as well. Look at verse 47"…my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." You see, Mary was born to a set of parents—a mother and a father. And what did she inherit from her father? The disease of sin. Just like the rest of us. We're going to look at that a little later also. There has only been one person who has ever been born without the stain of sin. That would be the child she carried in her womb. And she knew this. And she knew that God was her Savior. She had probably read or heard the Scriptures.

She had probably heard the heart of David, from 2nd Samuel 22:47"The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted!" Or his words in Psalm 25:5Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day. Habakkuk 3:18I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. She knew she was no different from anybody else—she needed salvation.

She saw herself as the handmaiden of the Lord. Verse 48"For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed." A maidservant. In other words, "A maid that waits at her master's hand; a female slave, servant or attendant." A woman who is at the very beck and call of her Master. A woman who is dependent upon that Master for everything. She is waiting at her Master's hand. She listens for His words, and seeks only to do His will. She does not seek for her Master to do her will. For even Jesus said in Matthew 10:24, "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord." She does not think more highly of herself than she should. She does not want anyone to think more highly of her than they should. And because of her obedience to the Lord, and because she did not exalt herself to the position of telling the Lord what to do, she says, "…all generations shall call me 'blessed.'"

In other words, while she was called "blessed", she is not to be exalted to a position she does not deserve. I do not believe for one minute that she would want that. Notice verse 30, the angel tells her, "You have found favor with God." Not, "You were born favored." No, he says, "You have found favor with God." That word "favor" can also be translated "grace." We find this phrase used several times in the Bible. And it always talks about obedience first, then favor.
There are many examples. Here are but a few:
Genesis 6:8But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Exodus 33:17So the LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name."
Esther 5:8—She tells the king, "If I have found favor in the sight of the king…then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them…"
This phrase "To find favor" always talks about someone who has been obedient, and that obedience is then rewarded with an even greater blessing. And rather than "find", it means "To get, or obtain, or see." "You have obtained favor from God."

And indeed, she was a very blessed woman. And we should always consider her to be a model of godliness and virtue. A woman of faith—a girl, really, she probably wasn’t more than 15 at the time—who saw herself not as some queen or someone who should be thought more highly of than anybody else. She was a VIRGIN. She was VIRTUOUS. However, she is NOT TO BE VAULTED ABOVE HER POSITION. This is where we get into the Catholic position.

Notice something here. In verse 48, Mary calls herself a "maidservant." Remember, the maidservant does what the Master says, not the other way around. See, this is where the Roman Catholic Church begins their downward spiral in their devotion to Mary. Notice I did not say they "worship" Mary. That's a fine line I ain't walking today.

But they do bow down to statues of her. They do invoke her name in prayers. They say that Mary has a little more pull with Jesus than we do. That sometimes we have to ask her to give her Son a little nudge to speed things up. Friends, that is heresy. Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Whose throne is that? It ain't Mary's! THE throne of grace belongs to God. And it is by bowing before that throne that we obtain mercy and find grace—from God alone, and no one else!

1st Timothy 2:5 says For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. Now, to say that we need someone to go to Jesus—and not just any one, but a person who is dead—is ridiculous. What, do they think Jesus needs help in interceding for us? Do they think that Jesus doesn’t know what we need, or doesn’t care, so we have to call on mama to talk some sense to her boy? See, Catholics see Jesus as the judgment side of God. He's just too stern and rigid for us to talk to. But Mary—she has more mercy, more compassion. But they’ll tell you, "Well, don’t you ask your friends to pray for you?" Yes—but they're still alive. And what about praying to dead people? Should we do it? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Isaiah 8:19-20And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony!
Deuteronomy 18:10-12There shall not be found among you…a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD.
Now, the Catholic will tell you, "Oh, we don’t consult with wizards and psychics." Oh really? By calling on the dead, are they not indeed making themselves mediums and sorcerers? If it's got feathers and a bill, and webbed feet and it quacks and waddles—I don’t care of you call it a Cadillac, it's still a duck! If you want to read about the consequences of calling on dead people, read what happened to King Saul in 1st Samuel 28. They'll tell you "Oh, we don’t pray to Mary, we pray through her." You're kidding me, right? So, how do they get in touch with Mary? When they pray their Rosary, part of that Rosary is prayed to Mary!

Here are, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, their official positions on Mary. The Catechism is like their rules—or dogmas—and they're laid out in paragraphs. Paragraph 969

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she…gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.

In other words, Jesus isn't doing a good enough job as our one Mediator between man and God. He needs His mother to help Him. Kinda makes ya wonder why Jesus said, in Matthew 6:9, "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name." And not once does He mention invoking the name of Mary. Or any other saint, or even angels. I guess He just forgot. No, He didn’t forget. He didn’t mention it because we aren’t supposed to do it.

We are not to pray to the dead. We have one Mediator between man and God. If we think that praying to dead saints is going to help, then that means there is more than one Mediator, and God is a liar, because His word says there is only one. Well, what about bowing before statues of Jesus, or Mary? No. No. No.
Exodus 20:4"You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them."
Isaiah 44:9-11Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together.
The Catholic will tell you, "Well, we don’t worship those statues. We use them to remind us of…" whatever. What part of "Thou shalt not bow down to them" don’t they understand?

Oh, then they’ll give you this one: "Well, God said for there to be images of angels in the tabernacle, and on the Ark of the Covenant." True. But what would have happened if, say, the high priest went in there and bowed down to those angels on the wall, or on the Ark. I think it's safe to say he wouldn’t have been high priest any longer. For that matter, he probably wouldn’t have been alive any longer.

In so many places, Mary is held up as the one we pray to. In fact, many Catholics have some kind of little statue or doll that they claim to be "Mary" that is supposed to ward off evil or some such nonsense. There is nothing Mary can do for you. But Rome will insist that if you put a statue of the Virgin Mary in your house and you pray to her, everything will be okey-dokey. In a book called Stones of Venice, John Ruskin says,

"...Take the vilest doll that is screwed together in a cheap toy-shop, trust it to the keeping of a large family of children, let it be beaten about the house by them till it is reduced to a shapeless block, then dress it in a satin dress and declare it to have fallen from heaven, and it will satisfactorily answer all Romanist purposes."

And folks, that ain't too far from the truth. You could take a Bratz doll, call it Mary, and the Pope would probably bless it. Pope John Paul II thought almost as highly of Mary as he did Jesus. In fact, at the start of his papacy, he declared to Mary that he was "Totus Tuus sum Maria"—"I am totally yours, Mary!" He was saying, "Mary, all my devotion is to you." He was considering, in his later years, using his papal infallibility card to name her as Co-Redemptrix, and make it dogma—in other words, "Believe it or you're damned." And he went to his grave fully devoted to the one they call the "Blessed Virgin." He even had a large "M" on his coffin, signifying "Mary" and his devotion to her. And do you know, even apart from the Rosary, there are hundreds of Catholic prayers and devotions to Mary. One of the most widely admired "saints" in all of Catholicism was a man named Alphonsus de Liguori. He wrote many prayers and devotions to Mary. Listen to this one:

The most blessed Virgin can obtain everything from God, because she is his true Mother, and is so much beloved by him; and she will do everything for us…Let us, therefore, always try to gain her friendship… And let us…have recourse to her, have confidence in her; and through her security in life, security in death, security through all eternity…

Some more quotes from de Liguori (From Redemptorist Fathers, 1931):
  • "All who are saved are saved only by the means of this Divine Mother... Salvation of all depends upon preaching Mary, upon hearing of Mary and upon having perfect confidence in her intercession."
  • "…the Lamb (Christ) followed her, having become subject to her."
  • "At the command of Mary all obey, even God."
  • "Since, then, the Mother must have the same power as the Son, Mary became omnipotent because Jesus is omnipotent. Of course, the Son is omnipotent by nature, where Mary is omnipotent only by grace. This is proved by the fact that the Son never refuses the Mother anything she seeks."

I could go on but I think you get the picture. Now, the Roman Catholic Church will say this is not their "official" position, and this is just one Catholic author and his thoughts. True. This is one man’s thoughts, and it is not the official position of the Roman Catholic Church…yet. But here's what happens: The Roman Catholic Church will say it isn't an official teaching of the church. But they won't come out and say he's wrong. Then, after enough years, after the teaching is accepted by enough of the faithful, it is considered to be "Tradition." And if it's "Tradition", then, it's "official." You see, Catholics don’t just look at Mary as a woman to be highly esteemed. They don’t look at her as a woman whose devotion to the Lord is to be admired, respected, and even imitated. They look at her as being someone who can pull a little extra weight with our Father in Heaven, because Jesus just can't quite do it by His lonesome, bless His Sacred Heart.

Another Catholic belief is that she was taken up to Heaven—body and soul—after she died. Paragraph 974 of the Catholic Catechism—

The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son's Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of his Body.

As far as her being assumed bodily up into Heaven—there's nothing in the Bible that says anything about that. That's another man-made tradition. The Catholic website New Advent says that her assumption took place between 3 and 15 years after Christ's ascension. Well, the first New Testament book to be written was the book of Matthew, about 10 years after Christ ascended. John wrote his books 50-60 years after. You mean to tell me, in all that time, the Holy Spirit couldn’t have squeezed in a few words about this "Queen of Heaven?"

The next question is, "Was she a virgin her entire life?" NO. You know, it's amazing the difference one little word can make in a passage. In 1st Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul is running down this list, and showing us how miserable we would be if Christ were not risen. Our preaching is empty, our faith is empty, we are false witnesses of God, our faith is futile, we're still in our sins, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished, and we are of all men the most pitiable. "But…" One three-letter word changes the whole mood of the passage. In Matthew 1, one little word destroys the belief about Mary being a virgin her entire life. In verses 24-25, it says, then Joseph…did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

What's the word we're looking at? "Until."

He did not "know" Mary UNTIL she gave birth to Jesus. What's the big deal about one word? Well, by saying he did not know her UNTIL she gave birth to Jesus, it tells us that he DID know her AFTER she gave birth. WAL-MART—KROGER. The Holy Spirit did not tell Matthew to say that Joseph "did not know her even after she gave birth…" or maybe Joseph "… never knew his wife…" But we don’t have that. By using that word "until," Matthew is saying that after she gave birth, they had normal husband-wife relations.

There is so much more we could go into concerning Catholicism. Purgatory, the Eucharist, the confessional, sola scriptura, justification by faith. Suffice it to say, much of what is practiced by the Roman Catholic Church is not found in the Bible. Now, there are some words and phrases we use and some doctrines we believe that are not spelled out word-for-word in the Bible. But the concepts are there, and you can easily point them out. But much of Catholicism is based on speculation, wishful thinking, and more than a little paganism. All generations will call Mary blessed. I will never argue against that. But I will, until my dying breath, fight against thinking more highly of her than she would want us to.

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