The Son of Mary
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
It has been well said that our Lord Jesus Christ, in His earthly life and ministry, was as much a man as us, but not such a man as us, in every way unique and transcendent. As the natural son of Mary, not Joseph, He was the fulfilment of the Lord God’s promise to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden that the seed of the woman, rather than the man, would bruise the serpent’s head, while he bruised His heel, Gen. 3. 15. As the legal son of Joseph, Jesus Christ is the rightful heir to the throne of David. The virgin Mary was truly blessed to be the mother of the Messiah, but she is not to be worshipped as if she became the mother of God, as some blasphemously teach. She humbly called herself the handmaiden of the Lord and rejoiced in God as her own Saviour from sin. Our study will emphasize the true greatness of our almighty and sovereign God in the whole process and circumstances of His beloved Son’s incarnation. All glory to Him!
The Lord’s genealogy: how God overcame the curse on Coniah
The Lord, through Jeremiah, had pronounced a curse on king Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, for his wickedness, saying that he would be written down as childless, in the sense that none of his many children would succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah, Jer. 22. 24-30. Coniah is otherwise known as Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, and was carried away captive to Babylon, where he died as the last surviving king of Judah many years later. His uncle, Zedekiah, was actually the last ruling king of Judah until Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC, but he was also taken to Babylon and probably died there earlier than Jehoiachin.
This meant that Christ could not be born from Coniah’s line of descent, which included Mary’s future husband Joseph, who was thus the legal heir to David’s throne. Nor could He be born from Joseph’s seed anyway because, as the descendant of Adam, he was a sinner. Therefore, in order to overcome the curse on Coniah, God chose to use Mary’s line of descent from David through his son Nathan, not Joseph’s from Solomon. Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord traces Joseph’s ancestry, in order to establish Christ’s legal right to the throne of David, while Luke’s reverse genealogy traces Mary’s ancestry back to David via Nathan. Thus, Christ was both the natural descendant of David as well as the legal heir to his throne. By this means, God had overcome one major obstacle in the way of His Son’s incarnation. However, there was the other major obstacle, the original sin of all Adam’s descendants.
The Lord’s miraculous conception: how it led to misunderstanding
Both Gospel writers, who explain how the Lord Jesus was conceived, carefully guard the truth that it was accomplished in His virgin mother’s womb by the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing power in a way that we cannot fully understand, but surely believe to be true. Matthew chapter 1 tells us Joseph’s side of the miracle, after he became alarmed that his espoused wife had mysteriously become pregnant before they had come together. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream to reassure him concerning this and instruct him to call the Son, Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. The angel explained that He would literally be God manifest in flesh, Emmanuel, the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the virgin who would conceive and bear a Son, Isa. 7. 14.
Luke chapter 1, on the other hand, tells us Mary’s side of the miracle. There we read that the angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary before she had conceived to explain what was about to happen to her. Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her, so that ‘that holy thing’ which would be born of her would be called the Son of God, Luke 1. 35. His name was to be called Jesus. He would be great, the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God would give Him the throne of His father David forever.
Although scripture thus guards the truth of our Lord’s miraculous conception, it did cause both Him and His mother to be misunderstood by their contemporaries, many of whom probably assumed that some immorality had occurred. For example, when in John’s Gospel chapter 8 verse 41 the Jews said to the Lord Jesus, ‘We be not born of fornication’, they may well have implied that our Lord had been so conceived and born. This was one of the grievous misunderstandings that both He and Mary must have had to live with throughout His earthly life. However, this miracle was necessary if Christ was to be without a taint of Adam’s original sin.
The Lord’s exemplary treatment of His mother
Here we should remember who the Lord Jesus really is and was during His earthly life and ministry, fully God as well as perfect Man, one unique and holy person with a divine mission. This fact will explain His reactions to some of His mother’s approaches to Him recorded in the Gospels. Otherwise, unbelieving readers may be tempted to find fault with His words to her. We should remember the transcendence of God and the precedence of His gracious purposes over our limited and imperfect understanding of them.
In Luke chapter 2, when Jesus had stayed behind after the Passover feast in Jerusalem to converse with the doctors of the Law in the temple, and Mary complained to Him that ‘thy father and I’ had been distressed by His absence from their group of pilgrims, she failed to understand His reply, ‘wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ However, Jesus did return with them, and ‘was subject unto them’. Mary kept all these sayings in her heart, pondering their meaning.
Likewise in John chapter 2, at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, when Mary said to Jesus that the wine had run out, probably implying that He should help the situation, Jesus replied, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come’. He was not being impolite, nor unkind, but had higher purposes to think of in His life. He proceeded to turn water into wine, and thus, miraculously, ‘manifested forth his glory’, but then humbly went down to Capernaum with His mother, brothers, and disciples.
Three Gospels record the occasion when the Lord’s mother and brothers asked to speak to Him, probably to persuade Him to cease His constant ministry of healing and to take some rest. In reply to them, Jesus said that His true relatives were not really His earthly family, but all those who obeyed the word and will of God, emphasizing that spiritual relationships are more important than earthly relationships. Before His resurrection, His earthly brothers did not believe in Him, although later they did so, and James and Jude each wrote an Epistle. Often today, Christians find that they have more in common with their fellow-believers than they do with their earthly relatives.
However, the Lord Jesus did care for His mother and earthly family and attended to their needs. It appears that His legal father, Joseph, probably died while He was young, and He certainly became a carpenter to support His family, for He is called both ‘the carpenter’ and ‘the carpenter’s son’, Mark 6. 3; Matt. 13. 55. To prove His love for His mother, the Lord Jesus, in His hour of deepest distress and agony on the cross, committed Mary into the care of His close disciple John, who then ‘took her unto his own home’, John 19. 25-27. The Lord did have a balanced and caring attitude towards His mother, despite these earlier, perhaps surprising, statements. These were made in view of His overriding mission, the salvation of mankind and the glory of God His Father.
Mary’s sorrow over her Son’s sufferings
This latter scripture is the final fulfilment of the aged Simeon’s prediction to Mary, Luke 2. 34, 35, that ‘a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also’ as a result of bearing Christ. It appears that throughout the Lord’s life and ministry He was not fully understood even by believers like Mary, who is said to have ‘kept’, or ‘pondered’ certain words that He said. He said, ‘no man knoweth [“fully knows”, or “understands”] the Son, but the Father’, Matt. 11. 27. Christ is inscrutable in His nature and person, fully and perfectly human yet fully divine.
This fact must have caused Mary some anguish, but her sorrow was clearly greatest when she stood beneath Christ’s cross, with all its pain, shame, and anguish, as He hung there bearing ‘our sins in his own body on the tree’, 1 Pet. 2. 24. However, whatever she understood about His rejection and crucifixion then, her deep sorrow will have been turned into joy after His triumphant resurrection, and we last see her in Acts chapter 1, with His brothers, waiting for the fulfilment of His promise of the Holy Spirit.
The vital importance of the truth of the virgin birth of Christ
Finally, we must assert from scripture that the virgin birth of Christ is a cardinal truth of our faith, and say that any who deny or doubt it, as some members of the professing Christian community are doing today, are probably not true believers at all, but apostates. It is vital, because otherwise it means that Christ could not have been sinless since He would have inherited Adam’s original sin. That would have meant that He was quite unqualified to become our Saviour and the substitute for our sins.
On the other hand, as the unique son of Mary, His humanity is real and perfect, so that He is able to empathize with us in our weaknesses and infirmities as our Great High Priest in heaven today, interceding with God on our behalf. The Holy Spirit of God overshadowing the virgin Mary in a way we cannot fully understand combined her humanity with His own divine nature to produce a unique and perfectly holy Man, able to fulfil all the counsels of the Godhead for our salvation and His own greater glory. Christ has two natures, divine and human, but is one indivisible person. Praise His name!