Mary, Handmaiden of the Lord

Luke 1.26-56; Matthew 1.18-25

By Rod Hemphill

Well, we are now in the season of Advent, and while our Christmas anticipation focuses on the Christ-child to be born in Bethlehem, the thoughts of our preparation for Christmas cause us to wonder about our own peace and good will (or the relative lack of it) . . . and the grace with which we handle our problems, for in addition to whatever else we've been struggling with this year, now we have to buy gifts (some of which have been asked for specifically and they're selling out fast), we have to stop procrastinating and clean the house because all those people will be stopping by at Christmas (our friends don't care and they'll love us anyway, but for some reason we feel we have to meet the approval of our relatives), there are cards to address, and . . . well, you know the routine. Christmas delivers to us a whole new bag of problems.

In this harried environment, we decide to look for a few moments of peace by thinking about the Christmas story in the Bible. And so we remember Mary. You know . . . the mother of Jesus. But what did she know about problems? After all, she had God on her side . . . "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Who was this Mary anyway? What do we know about her? We learn very little from the Scriptures. We can surmise that she was just another teenage girl in the town of Nazareth. Girls in that culture typically married at a very early age, and so Mary was engaged to Joseph, the boy down the street. They would be married in a year or so, depending on how soon the dowry could be raised and Joseph could build a house or add a room to his father's house. Joseph was a carpenter, but they were closer to the peasant class than they were to any of the moneyed classes. Mary also had an aunt who was married to a priest and lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem. And apart from unreliable legends, that's about all that we know about Mary.

Except for her ancestry. That is, as in a genealogy . . . those boring lists of A was the father of B who was the father of C who was the father of . . . . Not many sermons are preached on those texts, although too many sermons are about that interesting. Why in God's good graces would he have put those ancestral listings in the Bible? What good are they anyway?

Rest assured however, that although not all parts of the Bible are equally profitable for devotional reading or instruction in righteousness, all parts of the Bible are included in the Scriptures for a reason –and in this case, it's a very important reason. And it contains a puzzle to be solved.

The genealogy in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3 traces the ancestry of Jesus back to his forefather, King David (and beyond, actually all the way back to Adam and God). But Jesus' lineage is also traced in Matthew's gospel, chapter 1. This genealogy is the reverse of the one found in Luke, tracing Jesus' lineage from the ancient patriarch Abraham through King David down to Jesus. And this is where the problems begin.

First, the number of generations is different in the two genealogies. Secondly, the names do not match. And thirdly, Joseph's father is named Jacob in Matthew, but he is identified as Heli in Luke's gospel. And this is where a dry genealogy gets interesting.

Scholars and skeptics have offered explanations for these inconsistencies for years, the skeptics usually insisting that these differences indicate that the genealogies (and most of the Bible for that matter) is pure imagination serving the purpose of the writers –a premise clearly without foundation and totally unacceptable to people of faith who understand the integrity of the Bible and the sound reasons behind that integrity so that it really is the word of Truth and the word of God.

There are several considerations that must be noted here. First, it is unreasonable to assume (with no evidence) that those early Christians who collected the gospels into what has become the New Testament failed to notice across all those years that there was an apparent difference. Yet they believed these records to be the consistent and inerrant Word of God and still did not raise this as an issue. And if these gospels were nothing more than church propaganda as the skeptics insist, would they have really thought that later readers would not notice such obvious discrepancies? Maybe since they were people of that time and place, perhaps they knew something about the culture and language that we have missed some 20 centuries later.

There are several explanations suggested by people of faith, one being that one genealogy is that of Joseph through his father and the other is that of Joseph through his mother. But in general, all of these suggestions seem to be unaware of certain historical facts, unduly stretch facts to accommodate their theories, and have little or no factual basis.

But there is an explanation that is factually based and satisfies the need of being a reasonable explanation. And that explanation is that Matthew's genealogy traces Jesus' lineage through his stepfather Joseph, whereas Luke's genealogy traces it through Jesus' mother Mary.

We can make several observations regarding the culture and language which support this view. First,
the ancient Hebrew genealogies used the words "father" and "son" not only in the direct father/son sense that we do in modern English, but also to simply indicate the line of descent or patriarchal accountability so that "father" was sometimes used as we would use the word "grandfather," or "forefather," and sometimes even as "father-in-law." This means that the inconsistencies between the number of generations is more apparent than real.

Secondly, Luke states that "Jesus was known as the son of Joseph" (3.23) and Matthew says that Joseph was "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus" (1.16). Both of these statements imply that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, and are consistent with the insistence in both gospels of the virgin birth of Jesus.

Thirdly, Matthew is writing to the Jews, and therefore his concern was to demonstrate that Jesus was qualified to inherit the throne of David, as the Messianic prophecies indicated. This was important because the Jews believed that the Messiah was to come from David's royal line and would occupy the throne of David. Although Jesus was not Joseph's biological son, he was Joseph's adopted son, and therefore had all and full legal rights of inheritance as Joseph's son. Since Joseph was of the royal line of King David, Jesus was a qualified contender to occupy the Davidic throne.

Luke, on the other hand, is not writing to people concerned with the legalities of Davidic kingship. Indeed, Mary is mentioned about eleven times in the first three chapters of Luke, and Luke is clearly concerned with Mary's part in the birth of Christ more than any other feature of the Christmas story. But women were seldom mentioned in genealogies, and when they were, it was only when they were prominent in Israelite history, and even then they were associated in the genealogy with a man (as in Matthew 1.5). So it appears that Luke presents Mary's genealogy, and according to the expanded usage of "father" and "son" described previously, we read in Luke 3.23 that "Jesus was known as the son of Joseph, and Joseph was the son [in-law] of Heli."

Now you might be saying to yourself, "Ok, this explains the differences between Matthew's and Luke's genealogies, but why is this so important?" I'm glad you asked . . .

When the Babylonians took all that was left of David's kingdom into captivity in 586 B.C., the last of the kings was a fellow named Jeconiah (also called Coniah, Jehoiachin and a few other things). Anyway, God had finally had it with Israel's rebelliousness and on again/off again wickedness (usually more on than off), and this was the reason he allowed Jerusalem to be sacked, the temple destroyed, and the people hauled away into slavery.

But Jeremiah 22.24-30 records that the Lord swore that none of Jehoiachin's children would ever sit on the throne of David to rule in Judah! This is known as the curse of Jeconiah, it has been literally fulfilled. Even though the Jews were released from their captivity after 70 years and restored to the land of Israel, never again has there been a king to occupy the throne of David. Israel has been ruled by governors, by priests, by foreign powers, by politically appointed "kings" not of David's line, and more recently by prime ministers and the Knesset, but the curse of Jeconiah continues to be fulfilled.

And since this curse cut off David's royal line of descent, the curse rules out all contenders for David's throne, so that it would appear that no-one would ever again be able to occupy David's throne, even though God said that he was establishing David's throne forever. Except that Jesus, though legally qualified to inherit the throne as Joseph's (adopted) son, was not of David's bloodline through Joseph and Joseph's forefather Jeconiah, since Joseph was only his stepfather. But Mary . . .

Mary's lineage was also through David, but hers was via Jeconiah's brother, Nathan, and thus the curse of Jeconiah did not affect her line of descent. So Jesus was of David's bloodline through his mother Mary, and of David's royal line through his stepfather Joseph. Jesus is legally of David's line through Joseph, and literally of David's line through Mary.

But there is more. The Jews at the time of Jesus expected that one of them, born normally with a mother and father, would be anointed by God to be the Messiah, especially since this person would be of David's lineage. What they had difficulty accepting was that the Messiah would be God himself, come in human form. Mary was chosen to become the vehicle through which the Almighty Infinite One would enter the finite world. He who was incomprehensible to us would come to us within our finiteness in order that we could know something of Him, could love Him, and could live as beings created to bear the image of His character and be reflections of His glory. This was the whole point of the virgin birth of Christ.

And now you know the rest of the story.

But how did we get involved in all this anyway? Oh yes, we asked "Who was this Mary anyway?" Well, we can say she was an ordinary person with real problems and aspirations, just like all her friends. It is apparent that she was a virtuous, pious Jewess, probably just like her friends.

We observe that she questioned the angel for understanding, and that she accepted the Lord's will for her regardless of the consequences. She would depend upon the Lord to work out the problems. And such problems they were! It is at this point that Mary becomes uncommon.

Let us not think for a moment that Mary was some pious saint unaffected by the vicissitudes of life. There is no reason to think that life for her was any different from that of anyone else. She would have had the same kinds of hopes and aspirations, expectations and problems as any of her friends. And if she was floating on clouds at the angel's message that she would be the mother of the Messiah for whom all Israel was in passionate longing, it would not have taken long for reality to come crashing down upon her.

How was she going to explain a virgin birth to her parents, or to her friends? And to Joseph? She stood to be an embarrassment to her family, scorned by her friends as an adulteress, divorced by Joseph. Her society would never let her forget that she was an object of shame, a person to be ostracized, and if some few of them got worked up enough in their cloak of self-righteousness, she could even be stoned to death. Her son would always be thought of as the "bastard son of Mary," whom nobody would consider helping getting ahead in life and would presume that he would never amount to much, thus more than likely creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet in the tradition of her heroic forbearers in Israelite history who chose to trust God when they found themselves in desperate and impossible situations, Mary chose to put her faith in the Lord. A few years later, another Jew expressed it this way, "I know the One in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to keep that which He has committed unto me until the day of His coming" (2 Timothy 1.12).

Not only did she trust God to take care of her and her baby, and to work out the problems which would otherwise overwhelm her, but she trusted to the point where she could rest from their worry, and she rejoiced in what the Lord was doing in her (Luke 1.46-55).

Even at her young age, Mary was not one to take her religion "with a grain of salt." She was well versed in the scriptures, she believed the scriptures, and she lived by the scriptures. She did not subsist on a "feel-good" diet of religiosity.

I said a moment ago that through her faith in God, Mary rested from her worries. The term is discussed in the book of Hebrews 3.1 to 4.16. Being able to rest in the Lord comes only to those who surrender all things to the Lord. It's a characteristic of the person who is facing overwhelming stresses and is powerless to do much of anything about it, but instead of sinking in an endless rehearsal of an unsolvable problem (this is worry), this person says "What is the worst that can happen? And if that happens, what then?

You may be told that you have cancer and it is not be curable. You could spend the rest of your life worrying about it, and that would be a living death. Or you can say,

"What's the worst that can happen?" "Well, I'll live only another 3 months and then die." "Yes. Well, what then?" "Well, I'll be in heaven, and my sufferings will be over." "Ok. What then?" "Well, I'll be with Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and wait with them for my children to arrive. All my tears will be wiped away, and I will be with Jesus forever and ever. It will be more wonderful than anything I could experience here on earth." "Ok. What then?" "Well, I'm no longer afraid of dying. It's the door way to heaven!"

And it's only at this point where you are trusting God for everything in life and death that you can rest from the insurmountable problems and worries of life. And it's only when you have lost your fear of dying that you are able to start living!

So Mary was the handmaiden of the Lord, and she rejoiced in it! She rested from her worries. She was a good and faithful servant. She became the mother of mankind's Savior and Lord, and is honored to this day. She did all this, not because she knew what to expect, but because she trusted God whatever was going to happen!

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you've delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little Baby you've kissed the face of God.

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping Child you're holding is the Great I Am.

Words by Mark Lowry, Music by Buddy Greene


  • Our Roman Catholic brethren refer to Mary as the Mother of God. In this they remind us who this baby, born in a manger, really was. (See John 1.1-14; Philippians 2.5-11; Colossians 1.15-23)
  • What was the whole point of the virgin birth of Christ? Is there a clue here?
  • If Mary was not some super-saint, but a person like you, what does this mean for your life?
  • Do you surrender your problems to the Lord, or do you take them back again when your prayer is finished?
  • Do you find "rest" in the Lord (Hebrews 3.1 to 4.16) or do you continue to worry about your problems? (Define "worry" as the endless non-productive rehearsing of unsolvable problems.)
  • Consider "resting" in the Lord, as Mary did:
  • The Lord may be closing a door either for your good or to redirect you.
  • He may be opening a door to something even greater.
  • The Lord uses all things for your good if you are following Him (Romans 8.28).
  • The Lord will never, never abandon or forsake you (Hebrews 13.5).
  • The Lord's words can be applied to you too, when he wrote "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name, and you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk though the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43.1-3)
  • The Lord loves you, writes your destiny and will accomplish it. (2 Timothy 1.12)
  • Coming to terms with life: "What if the problem is fulfilled?" "What then?" And then, "What then?" And if it finally moves you into God's destiny for you, and if you are ok with that, then you will find rest for your soul (Matthew 11.28-29).


  • Have you ever questioned God? Was it for understanding, or was it because of doubt, or perhaps you didn't like what He was telling you?
  • Did you embrace the Lord's will like Mary did, or accept it reluctantly, or run from it like Jonah, or reject it out of rebellion? And how did this turn out?
  • Do you look to the Lord to guide you through your daily activities, and to change your character –even your personality –into making you the kind of person He wants you to be?
  • Consider how Mary handled her situation as the handmaiden of the Lord. Although the particulars of her situation are different from yours, it was her attitude and relationship with the Lord that brought her through. How will you apply her example to your life?