God's Dealings with Mary

By Steve Zeisler

June is the traditional time of year in our culture to receive wedding invitations, and today I would like to extend an invitation for you to attend a wedding that took place in Cana of Galilee almost 2,000 years ago. It is at this point that we will begin a study of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As a pastor who has performed many weddings, I have concluded that the bride and groom are not often able to appreciate the significance of the ceremony as much as the generation that is once removed from them. This is particularly true of the women involved-mother of the bride, mother of the groom, aunts--who can look back a generation, recall what happened to them on their wedding day, and see all the ramifications that grew from the occasion when a man and woman were given to one another to build a life together. That generation of women is often the most active and enthusiastic in preparing for the event. I have seen women who might otherwise be quiet and self-contained become positively firm and insistent on wedding days to assure that every detail is completed. They desire that everything be perfect for that day and the memories that it will rekindle.

I remember in one wedding I performed there was an aunt in the background repairing a dress. As the bridesmaid stepped out to take her place in the processional the aunt stepped out too, sewing the dress on, making sure that it would not come apart during the ceremony. She was determined that nothing would go wrong at that occasion if she could prevent it.


Mary, the mother of our Lord, was in that role at the wedding of Cana in John 2. Tradition has it that her sister's child was being married that day. It appears from the text that she was in a responsible position and was burdened that the social weight of the wedding and the memories should be exactly right. We will begin to understand this woman a bit when we see her on the occasion of the wedding:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

(In passing, I would point out something about Jesus. Our Lord had just recently invited some men from Galilee to follow him. I think that it is significant that one of the first things he did with these men who would later become leaders in the church was go to a party with them. Our Lord was invited to the wedding, and through their association with him the disciples were included. If anyone perceives the Lord as dour and uninterested in the ordinary joys of people like us then they should change their opinion. Near the beginning of his ministry he wanted his disciples to see him at a wedding reception. He was concerned that the festivities be full, and the bride and groom have all the honor and joy of that occasion.)

This study is the last in a series examining the experience of different individuals to whom God made himself personally known. Jesus' mother, Mary, obviously knew him in a unique way. Yet she, too, needed to hear Christ speak a life-changing truth meant particularly for her.


Christian history has placed Mary in a position that is virtually unapproachable. Roman Catholicism, in particular, has almost deified Mary. The statues, frescos and paintings of Renaissance Italy, for example, are extraordinarily beautiful, but they have the unfortunate side effect of making Mary "other worldly," as if she could not be connected to people like us. In our discussion, we will see that she was a flesh and blood woman, one who had inner needs of the Spirit to understand her relationship with Jesus, just as we do.

The feast at Cana was probably a poignant occasion for Mary. As a relative in a responsible position, she must have thought back to her own wedding and the loss that she experienced at that time. Joseph and Mary were given to each other under the difficult circumstances that accompany premarital pregnancy. In their case, there was misunderstanding and rejection by their culture which detracted from the honor and joy that should have blessed the occasion. Thus she might have had a personal burden to assure the wedding was special for the people involved.

Mary and Joseph began life as a married couple, young, poor, and misunderstood. Has anyone else ever been in that category? There are many Jewish Christians, for example, who have been rejected by their families after coming to Christ and marrying a Gentile Christian. Misunderstood and unsupported, they have nevertheless chosen to follow God while being set aside by the ones who should have cared for them. In that sense, we might identify with Mary if that was our experience.

In addition, this couple was threatened by the political powers of the day. When the Magi told Herod that they were seeking the king of the Jews who had recently been born, he tried to secure his kingdom by slaughtering male babies as far as his reach would allow. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fled for their lives to Egypt. Likewise, I know of refugees from Southeast Asian countries (a number in this congregation) who were forced to escape from the violent hatred of their government out of fear for their lives. Indeed, anyone who has had to begin their marriage and family among foreigners may find a point of contact with Mary's experience.


In Luke 2 it is recorded that years later Mary and Joseph accidentally left Jerusalem without Jesus after their visit during the Feast of Passover. As a l2-year-old, Jesus went into the temple and confounded the elders with his knowledge and questions concerning the Scriptures. When his parents finally found him after three days, he began to relate to them that his life would not be as they expected. As the father of a 12-year-old son I can attest that it can be a difficult stage of life. These young men can strike out on their own and begin the process of insisting that life should be different than it was when they were little. Though Jesus was not like any other child, parents who have seen their young sons and daughters go through the transition from child to adult may be able to identify with Mary's struggle with transition in that area.

Most scholars believe that Mary lived a long time as a single parent. Since Joseph does not appear in the gospel accounts of Jesus' adulthood, it is evident that he died, probably during Jesus' teenage years. Perhaps the reason that the Lord did not leave home to begin his public ministry until he was thirty was because he was the eldest son and had to care and provide for the younger siblings in the family.

There are many single mothers among us who raise their children without the benefit of a father nearby to supply financial, emotional and spiritual support. Those in that role will find a connection with Mary as the mother of Christ. Her life was similar in the circumstances she endured, the emotional struggles she experienced, and the spiritual process through which she progressed. She was not above us on an "other worldly" plane as some might suggest.


Mary did, however, have a unique barrier to faith to overcome. She had to allow her relationship with Jesus to be transformed from mother and son to that of disciple and Lord. Though she would have a learning process that was unique, we all must grow in our willingness to make Jesus Lord.

Most of us allow Christ too limited a role in our lives. We expect him to be smaller, more predictable, and less majestic than he is in fact. We can learn important lessons from Mary's growth in faith.

Mary first began to know the Lord as he kicked within her. She may have talked and sung to him, as mothers often do. She certainly held him close and nursed him after he was born. It was probably Mary who taught him to speak, and held his hand when he took his first few steps.

We went to a picnic the other day where there were many children of different ages. At one point, I looked over at my wife and she had two toddlers sitting on her lap. We have not had toddlers at our house for a long time, but she hasn't lost her touch at all. She was wonderful at raising our little ones when they were that size, and now these other little toddlers were having a glorious time sitting on her lap, she with her arms around them.

Mary experienced motherhood for the first time with Jesus. It was Mary who put bandages on his skinned knees, identified the birds and the mountains, and helped along the learning process. Imagine having a son without a sin nature, who grew up without knowing the pain which sin produces in a life. I'm sure Mary gloried in Jesus and wanted him to be her son without the demands that his role as Messiah would bring. Mary had a process of grief in losing her son that extended throughout Jesus' adult ministry. The Lord had to take Mary through a process of letting go of him as her little boy, and letting him become her master.


Although none of us knew the child Jesus in the fashion that Mary did, all of us will struggle to let Christ be our Lord. Whether we see it clearly or not, all of us have the desire to have Jesus stay in a convenient, predictable sort of pattern. I want you to consider four questions that will reveal whether your God is too small:

(1) Is your Christian experience characterized by adjectives like "cozy", "comfortable", or "routine"? Have the first six months of 1989 in your walk with Christ been a reproduction of the first six months of 1988 and 1987? Can you predict what will happen in the last six months of this year by knowing what you were like last year? It seems to me that Jesus is not Lord if there is not some kind of vitality, a touch from heaven that calls for a response of growth towards becoming more like Christ. God is not a computer, someone who can be programmed and predicted. He's creative, alive, and constantly changing his world. If our Christianity is in a rut, if there is no challenge, then we need to ask ourselves, Is Jesus really Lord?

(2) Another question to ask is, Are you the kind of person who likes to have Jesus to yourself? Remember the old Christian hymn, "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.. .I walk with him, and I talk with him, and he tells me I am his own." If your Christian experience is primarily to be experienced by you alone with Christ, then I wonder if you are letting him be Lord. Somebody else ought to be in the garden with you, you ought to invite a lot of people in there. He did not come to bring us himself to be experienced as if we were the only ones he cared for. He gave us himself so that he could be given away. Again, I would question if we do not have Mary's problem of letting Christ be Lord if there is not a burden to share Christ with other people.


(3) Does the Christian faith exist to insure short-term happiness in your life? Too many of our contemporaries "use the Christian faith" to create happy families, financial security, or warm friendships. Many Christians assume that the principles of the Bible can be applied like mathematics apart from the personal involvement of Christ. If we think that way, then I ask the question again: Is the living Jesus Lord of our life or not?

This week in our pastoral staff meeting, we were discussing the unrest in China and other Iron Curtain countries. It was speculated that just as the evil and hypocrisy of the Roman Empire became a crucible in which real Christianity flourished, it may be that there is opportunity for the church to flower in Communist countries that are experiencing civil unrest. It is also entirely possible that the materialism and spiritual shallowness of capitalist nations will lead to persecution of the church. Perhaps it is our turn to suffer and be led by believers from the East rather than have Christian leadership be centered in the West. There are no guarantees that being a Christian means worldly happiness. We are guaranteed access to Christ and all that we need to handle what life throws at us. We are given intimacy with the Lord, but we are not promised that Jesus will make our lives come out according to a pat formula. If we have chosen Christianity for short-term gains, we may not have made Jesus Lord.

(4) The last question to ask in terms of our limitations on God is, Are you honest about what is going on inside of you with yourself and other people? Are there major elements of rebellion, wickedness, self-serving that are covered with a Christian facade so that a reputation will not be tarnished? Do you want to appear to be Christ-like without the character that is a result of obedience to the Lord? If Jesus is Lord, then we cannot live with that hypocrisy, and must ask him to change us from within.


The gospels present Mary as having difficulty letting Jesus Christ be Lord instead of her little boy. Let us observe her process of learning to make Jesus Lord of her life.

We return to the wedding at Cana recorded in John 2. The interchange that took place beginning in verse 3 has fascinated commentators for years. Jesus' mother came to him and said, "The wine is all gone." I am convinced that Mary came to Jesus with the expectation that she had had for years. As the eldest son of the household, he had been effective in providing for their needs.

His answer in verse 4 appears to be rude: "Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come." If we could read it in the idiom it was spoken we would see that it is not curt or disrespectful. However, he does not call her "mother," but speaks as he would to a woman who was his elder. Jesus essentially told her, "I am going to respond to your request, but I am not going to respond as the eldest son in your household any longer."

Luke 11:27-28 records the cry of a woman who heard Jesus preach:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

Jesus pointed out that there was no special advantage to being his mother; the advantage resides in responding in obedience to Jesus as Lord. That is how a person has a relationship to Christ. I can imagine Mary being in the crowd and hearing that statement, and realizing how difficult it was for her to let him go from being her little boy to being her master.

Mark 3 says:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."

Doesn't that sound like the proverbial Jewish mother in her concern for her son's well being?

Later on that same errand of Mark 3 it says:

Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Again, you can imagine Mary with Jesus' younger brothers, hearing Jesus say that whoever does the will of God is rightly related to him as Christ. His family did not have a claim on him any longer. These family members who had felt proprietary towards him would have to give up their rights to him as a member of their family and come to him as a disciple in obedience to him. There is no other category of relationship to Christ except to be a disciple. Mary must have struggled to hear him say that.

Matthew 10 records Jesus speaking to a congregation:

"Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Mary could not even love Jesus as her son more than she loved him as Messiah and Savior. Throughout the period of Jesus' public ministry Mary had to deal with his repeated urging to give up her rights to be his mother and become an obedient servant to God incarnate.


Finally, we come to Christ's last word to Mary as he hung on the cross. Consider that she had been grieving for years because her son's calling and his nature as God had increasingly taken away the little boy whom she raised and depended on. Now he was dying on the cross. Jesus began his human interaction with Mary in the womb; at the end of his life, one of his last words was said to her personally. John 9 records:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved [that is John] standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman [the same word, by the way, that he used in John 2], here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Throughout his ministry, the Lord had been extracting himself from Mary as her son and was offering himself to her as Lord. At the end of his life Jesus gave her another son out of concern for her. He was saying that she could finally have a son into whose home she could go and who would care for her. However, she could never have the boy Jesus again. He was the Messiah and could be nothing less. So in the same way that he gifts us with family because he loves us, he gave Mary a son in his place.

Although Jesus cared for Mary's welfare, he would not reduce himself in size to meet her human need of him as a son. He is God himself, Savior of the world, Master of creation. In our relationship to him, he must be the one we come to as servants under his command, letting him change us, and not insisting that we have the right to change and reduce him.

In Paul's letter to the Philippians 2:5-11, he describes the incarnate Christ. It begins with the Lord in glory who passes through the incarnation, the death and resurrection, and finally the exaltation of the Lord. You cannot have Jesus Christ if you want him on a basis other than this. This is the lesson Mary had to learn, and it's a lesson I offer to us to learn as well:

....Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Title: Awakened from Grief
By: Steve Zeisler
Series: John
Scripture: John 2:1-11; 19:25-27
Message No: 11
Catalog No:4179
Date: June 11, 1989