Vol. 6, No. 1
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In God's eyes, motherhood is to be exalted. God could have sent Jesus into the world as a full-grown man. Instead, by the way of the womb of a "woman" (Galatians 4:4) Jesus "became flesh" (John 1:14). If the Creator has thus chosen to honor motherhood, human beings should do no less! Normally, women "will be saved through child-bearing if they continue in faith and love and dedication with good sense" (1 Timothy 2:15). [Paul said] "I want the younger women to marry, to bear children, to manage the household, and to give no occasion for criticism" (1 Timothy 5:14).
But a woman does not have to become a mother. If she chooses to remain single, yet putting the Lord first, the Scripture blesses her: "The unmarried woman and the virgin care about the Lord's things, that they may be dedicated, both in body and spirit" (1 Corinthians 7:34).
However, God's plan for Jesus was for him to be formed in Mary's womb, and for her in her ninth month to ride on a donkey's back some 60 miles, Nazareth to Bethlehem. God could have planned for Jesus to be born in a palace. Instead, Joseph and Mary were turned down at the inn. Mary said to Joseph, "'Take me down from the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth.' ...Joseph took her down, and he found there a cave, and let her into it" (The Protoevangelium of James, XII, 10-14, a 2nd century apocryphal book).
In the cave was a stable, and "While they were there, the time came for her to give birth, and she delivered her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a feeding trough" (Luke 2:6-7). There, "God in the flesh was God in the straw." Clothes for a newborn baby certainly were not available in the cave stable that Joseph had found. This means that Mary had exercised foresight before she left Nazareth, getting swaddling clothes ready, and carrying them to Bethlehem. Moving little arms, hungrily sucking a fist, the infant was like any other newborn baby.
After eight days, Joseph and Mary took Jesus from Bethlehem to the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:21-24). There Simeon, a "righteous man," led by the "Holy Spirit," took the baby Jesus "in his arms and praised God" (Luke 2:25-28), but he also warned Mary that "a sword will pierce your soul"(Luke 2:35). Apparently, there was no optimism when Mary herself was born, for somebody named her "Mary," a Hebrew (marah) name meaning "bitter," and Simeon was even less optimistic to the mother of Jesus about what was in store for her.
As time went on, Joseph and Mary became the parents of four more sons (James, Joseph, Jude and Simon) and of at least two daughters (Mark 6:3). The last time that Jesus' stepfather is mentioned was about a year (29 A.D.) before the crucifixion, when people asked, "Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" (John 7:42).
Joseph, being an "honorable man" (Matthew 1:19), would have stood by Mary's side at the cross if he had been alive. Mary, then, must have been a widow less than a year on crucifixion day (Friday, April 7, A.D.30), "standing by the cross" (John 19:25), with "a sword," as Simeon had predicted (Luke 2:35), figuratively piercing her "soul."
Since Jesus on the cross was nearly naked (five garments having been taken off of him by the four soldiers of the crucifixion detail (John 19:23-24), likely Jesus' mother could see Jesus' bloody feet and some of the "blood and water" coming from his spear-pierced side (John 19:34). Many other people have been nailed to crosses, but has any other mother in all history watched as her son was being crucified?
Thank God, three people stood at the cross by Mary's side: (1) her sister, Jesus' aunt, also named "Mary"; (2) Mary Magdalene; and (3) John, a son of Zebedee, whom Jesus loved specially (John 13:23; 19:25-26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).
But where were Mary's other six (or more) children (Mark 6:3)? Though Jesus' brothers [and probably his sisters] did not believe in him (John 7:5), why did they not stand by the cross to support their mother?
The dying Jesus looked down from the cross and noticed that not one of Mary's other children, his brothers and his sisters, was there to support their widowed mother. Since none of Jesus' blood-kin was standing by Mary's side, Jesus was forced to turn to a non-family member to take care of his widowed mother, his beloved John, saying to her, "Woman, behold! Your son," and saying to John, "Behold! Your mother" (John 19:26-27). From "that hour," John "took her into his own home" (John 19:27).
Likely, Jesus' brothers and sisters were watching from a distance, and saw how their brother was cruelly treated, and perhaps heard him pray for his murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Likely, on that Friday afternoon, they all became believers, because 43 days later (Matthew 12:40; Acts 1:3), on the day of Jesus' ascension (Thursday, May 18, A.D.30), when Jesus' eleven apostles and some disciples (about 120) went to an "upstairs room" in Jerusalem to pray, in the group were "Mary, the mother of Jesus" and "his brothers" (Acts 1:14). Surely, Luke's word "brothers" is generic, including Jesus' "sisters" (Mark 6:3).
Jesus' brothers (and sisters?), now praying believers, likely were baptized on Pentecost Day (May 28, A.D.), being among the "about three thousand souls" baptized (Acts 2:41). Later two of Jesus' brothers, James and Jude, God used to write two of the New Testament books. Thus, the sadness of their neglect of their mother on crucifixion day turned into gladness in the rejoicing that God had forgiven them (Acts 2:38), and used them the rest of their lives as vessels of honor.
We happen to know that the afterlife of James (the Lord's brother, Galatians 1:19) points to a humble Christian man doing everything he could to please the Lord. Hegesippus (140-175 A.D.), quoted in The Epistles of James and John by Alexander Ross, reported that James spent so much time in the temple on his knees that they became as "horny" as the knees of a camel. Josephus (Antiquities, 20, 9, 11) reported that in 62 A.D. James was sentenced by the Sanhedrin (Ananus presiding) to death.
Clement of Alexandria (150-220 A.D., quoted by Robertson) wrote that James was flung from a temple gable. On the ground, continued Hegesippus (quoted by Eusebius, 311 A.D., Book II, 1, 2-5), James got on his knees and prayed, "I beg you, O Lord God, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Then he was stoned and clubbed to death. We do not know about the afterlife of Jesus' brother Jude, but we have his statement that he was "a slave of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James" (Jude 1).
The last biblical word we have about Mary is that she was present in the prayer meeting of about 120 disciples after Jesus had gone back to heaven (Acts 1:14), but there is no reason to doubt her continued faithfulness to the One who not only was her son but also her Lord and Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).