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I Believe Jesus Was Born of the Virgin Mary

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:26–38, ESV

The virgin birth has been one of the highly disputed doctrines of orthodox Christianity. The spectrum of dispute is wide, from those who deny the teaching to those who have carried it all too far. They have made Mary divine, in a sense, and she becomes a mediator between man and Christ. The announcement from the passage above has become, in the Roman tradition, a prayer to Mary:

Hail Mary, full of grace,  
The Lord is with you.  
Blessed are you among women,  
and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.    

Holy Mary, mother of God,  
Pray for us sinners,  
now and in the hour of our death.  
Amen.

One of the most famous versions of the Ave Maria was composed by Franz Schubert. Classical in style, few have not heard its melodious verses.

Ave Maria! Maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden's prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish'd, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden's prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria

Ave Maria! undefiled!
The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem this down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern's heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden's prayer,
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

Ave Maria! stainless styled.
Foul demons of the earth and air,
From this their wonted haunt exiled,
Shall flee before thy presence fair.
We bow us to our lot of care,
Beneath thy guidance reconciled;
Hear for a maid a maiden's prayer,
And for a father hear a child!
Ave Maria...

You can listen here.

Does Mary deserve such treatment? Yes, and No. Luke specifically quotes Gabriel who says to Mary, “You have found favor with God.” It is important, though, that Mary does not claim to have deserved such favor. Neither does Gabriel suggest that God is blessing her for her good heart, or her good works. This is pure grace and clear election. The birth of our Savior was repeatedly prophesied from the fall of man. That Mary was chosen to be the vessel for the fulfillment of the promise had not been revealed. Even Isaiah 7:14 does not provide a hint. The closest we have is the very first promise of a Savior in Genesis. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, ESV) In this sense, Mary is the offspring of the woman through whom sin entered the world. This is not a good recommendation for the work she will perform, but it is a prerequisite.

So, the two extremes within the church should be checked. Protestants should not shy away from the honor with which God graced Mary. Catholics should stop praying to her and making her a mediator. There is only ONE: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5, ESV) There is no justification for elevating her beyond God’s blessing or denying her an honor distinct from other women.

The Creed comes straight to the point, “I believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born of the virgin Mary…” Nothing more and nothing less.

It appears to me that faith is quite simple, but we make it far more complicated than it has to be. “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matthew 23:24, ESV) Can we really claim to be better than the Pharisees? We often don’t want to believe what God has said without knowing how such a thing can be possible. We want to know why God chooses to do something. What was going on in the mind of God? Oh, the sin of testing God and his Word. Seeking greater understanding is good. However, going beyond what God has revealed is not. If God wanted us to know more, he would have said more.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary. Now if we want to know how a virgin could conceive without mating with a man, the phrase just before says that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost. This is essential doctrine. It goes to the heart of the two natures of Christ Jesus clearly revealed in the Gospels.

Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24) We recognize the material wealth of the young man to who Jesus is speaking. But is it possible that there may be other kinds of wealth that can have the same effect? To suggest just one, how about the wealth of education and knowledge? Even the above saying of Christ has been picked apart by so called scholars so that the eye of the needle does not mean the eye of a needle. Supposed scholarship has denied the authorship of many portions of the Bible. It has convoluted the historical Jesus. It has said that virgin does not mean virgin. Scholarship tends to ask questions then seek evidence to confirm their presupposition.

True scholarship is good. Scholarship in this sense means to collect all of the evidence possible and let it speak. There is a reason theology has been called the Queen of the Sciences. Theology combines the disciplines of all studies and finds what is truth or not using the foundation of the Hoy Scriptures. The Bible is the beginning and the end of our knowledge. Not so with humanism.

Our medieval ancestors understood theology to be the queen of the sciences. Her twin sister Sophia (the Greek word for “wisdom”) was also venerated in the discipline of philosophy. It was hard to tell the two beauties apart, but together they once ruled the many domains of human knowledge. Philosophy and theology departments today, however, are increasingly irrelevant backwaters in the modern university, engaged in seemingly solipsistic debates. If they want to reclaim exalted status in the university and society, they would do well to embrace Big History as the primary “revelation” and the Great Matrix of Being as foundational knowledge.

Grassie, William, Metanexus Institute, The Queen of the Sciences, Huffington Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-queen-of-the-sciences_b_2876470

This is scholarship? It is nothing more than a humanistic approach to materialism. Such scholarship begins with a denial of Theology (the study of God) and substitutes the mind of man. Wealth is often viewed as power. Power either comes from God or it comes from man. If the former, power is regulated by the Law of God. If the latter, there is no meaning. God is the only meaning as he created all there is. Those scientists who are honest may not believe in the Creator God, but they know they cannot scientifically deny him either.

…the Fall was a claim by man to define good and evil autonomously, in terms of himself. It was a claim to the power of meaning, the power to define, to be the yardstick in terms of which reality is to be judged. All things are made relative to autonomous man and his will as the principle of definition. Because meaning and definition are made relative to man rather than God, they change as man changes. Situation ethics makes morality relative to man, because man is the new absolute and the source of all definition. In Scripture, ethics is relative to God, who is the source of all meaning, and man, as a creature, must conform to the absolute law of the absolute God. The power of meaning in Scripture belongs entirely to God who is the only source of definition and interpretation, and the only source of power. According to David, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Psalm 62:11). Moreover, with respect to all powers within the universe, they are derivative. According to St. Paul, there is no power but of God: “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). Not only power but also meaning is derivative. The God who created all things is the only source of their meaning and interpretation. God Himself is beyond definition.

Rousas John Rushdoony, The Death of Meaning, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2002), 93.

What does this have to do with the virgin Mary? The autonomy spoken about it the quote above is to be independent of God. The church would be foolish to deny that there are those within her who have sought and grabbed this position of power over God. They can be found among those who oppose the doctrine of the virgin birth. Likewise, they can be found within the ranks of those who elevate Mary to give her greater status and honor than that which God bestowed.

Therefore, I don’t know how, but I do know why Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. God has revealed it, and anyone who cares to become a true scholar of the Word of God can know it too.

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Obedience

Many years ago, Keith Green wrote a song for the church called “To Obey Is Greater than Sacrifice.” The words [1] are powerful: (you can hear it here)

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money, I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat
And I can’t help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring my words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
‘Cause if you can’t come to me everyday
Then don’t bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice
And I’m coming quickly to give back to you
According to what you have done
According to what you have done
According to what you have done

The words of the song, though, gain their authority from the Scriptures.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, ESV)

Jesus referred to the Hosea passage as recorded by Matthew and Mark. His disciples are going through the fields gleaning grain on the sabbath. When the Pharisees saw this they complained that Jesus and his disciples were breaking the law. Jesus reminds them that David gleaned on the Sabbath, but then he teaches us all a tremendous lesson, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.”

I think it interesting that steadfast love requires a greater sacrifice than many of the things we consider sacrificial. The sum of the Law of God is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength. This love if God requires loving our neighbors as well. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

Loving God fulfills the Law. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to love God, and God alone. This is the beginning. Faith starts here. Anything that is not loving God is a distraction from our purpose and life. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

So, what keeps you from total obedience loving God? I don’t need to make suggestions for you to discover your distractions. We all have them. The bottom line is, what takes you away from God? What has become more important than him? What prevents you from gathering at church? What keeps us from fellowshipping with other believers? Whatever it is, we should strive to put it aside and love God as best as we can. Our prayers will change from asking God for things to praising God for what he has already given. Our time with God will excite us to study his word with diligence because if God said it, it is the most important thing for me to hear and know. When we read Scripture, we will not skip over the hard stuff, or the boring stuff, because we know that God gave it all to us for our benefit.

To obey is greater than sacrifice. True obedience takes a lifetime to learn.

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, ESV)

 

[1] copied from https://www.metrolyrics.com/to-obey-is-better-than-sacrifice-lyrics-keith-green.html

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Maundy Thursday

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

On this evening, we remember the upper room supper with Jesus and his disciples. The ancient church did more than just remember. They lived the evening through their liturgy. The importance of Maundy Thursday is expressed by Robbert Webber:

The three great days from Maundy Thursday through the Great Paschal Vigil of Saturday night is the source of our spirituality. Our spiritual journey throughout the year springs from this week, the great paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it returns to this week to die with Christ and to be born anew in him. (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 123–124.)

The word Maundy means commandment and refers to John 13:34. Surely the events on this night reflected the love Jesus commands. He washed his disciples’ feet. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He gave his final instructions to his disciples. He prayed the great prayer recorded in John 17 which included all disciples of all ages.

Likewise, the things that happened to Jesus demonstrated his love and truth. He did not resist the betrayal of Judas. When he was arrested in the garden and Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, he put it back on the man and healed him. He went quietly with the Temple guard “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

We are called to enter and experience all of these things on Maundy Thursday. The whole Church of Christ around the world joins together not only to remember but to participate.

It takes the worldwide community of God’s offspring back to the originating event and calls on us to enter once again into the meaning of it all. (Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 123.)

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
‘Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Johann Heermann (1630)

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Holy Wednesday

Holy Week begins on Monday following Palm Sunday and ends with the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday morning. Most Christians recognize Holy Week by one or more of the days called the Paschal Triduum. They include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But few outside of Eastern Catholocism may know about Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday.

The names for this day come from either of the two events it remembers. First is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Second is the deal Judas Iscarius makes with the Chief Priests to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:6–16, ESV)

Because of human nature, I sometimes think we spend too much time talking about Judas. We love scoundrels. However, today is holy because of the act of faith, hope, and love by one woman. I confess to being as pragmatically oriented as the disciples. Oh, how I need to learn the devotion of this woman.

Sometime in the first half of the Ninth Century, there was a Byzantine abbess and nun named Kassia. She was a devout woman of God who wrote poetry and music. One of her hymns is still used in the liturgy on Holy Wednesday in the Byzantine Church. I include it here because it helps me to reflect on the anointing of Jesus and allows me to worship him.

Troparion of Kassiani (Chanted during Holy Week on Great and Holy Wednesday)

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh-bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! What night falls on me,
what dark and moonless madness
of wild-desire, this lust for sin.
Take my spring of tears
Thou Who drawest water from the clouds,
bend to me, to the sighing of my heart,
Thou who bendedst down the heavens
in Thy secret Incarnation,
I will wash Thine immaculate feet with kisses
and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair;
those very feet whose sound Eve heard
at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of Thy judgment,
O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless”.
               (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Troparion accessed 04/08/2020, 10:58 am.)

 

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