Saturday, December 15, 2018

Mary’s Journey: On the Road to Bethlehem

On Mary’s arduous trip to Bethlehem, she was ready to deliver at any moment, fearing that her water might break with each bump in the road, with each plodding step of the donkey (Luke 2:4-6). Yet her journey began long before, and ended long after, with God leading her every step of the way (Psalm 37:23).

With God there are no accidents and no surprises (Romans 8:28-30). From the beginning of time, He had chosen Mary for the awesome privilege, yet tremendous challenge, of carrying, delivering, and raising His Son. He knew that even though she was a young virgin (Luke 1:27,34), she would humbly and willingly accept this mission (Luke 1:38,48), giving glory only to Him (Luke 1:46-55).

Her family would be from the line of David (Luke 3:23-38) in keeping with the prophecy that the Messiah would rule eternally over the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). But she was also related to Elisabeth, who hailed from the priestly line of Aaron (Luke 1:5) – a fitting ancestry for One Who would be our great High Priest (Hebrews 5:5-6).

Mary would be born into a devout family so that she would have knowledge of Scripture even without formal education, as evidenced by her song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) mirroring that of Hannah when God answered her prayer to have a son (1 Samuel 2:1-9).
Her social circle would include Joseph, so that the young couple could fall in love and become engaged (Luke 1:27). Joseph was also handpicked by God to raise and protect Jesus and his mother, and he too was of the line and house of David (Matthew 1:1-16). Like Mary, Joseph was of humble means and yet had great faith in God and willingness to serve and obey Him.

Once the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary with the astounding news that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Son of God within her womb, Mary did not falter (Luke 1:26-38). Her faith far exceeded that of Zacharias, who, despite his maturity and status as high priest, doubted the news that his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-18).

Unlike Zacharias, Mary did not demand proof that what Gabriel said was true. Instead, she offered herself willingly as the handmaiden of the Lord (Luke 1:38,48). No doubt menacing shadows darkened the path before her, as she wondered if she should run away.

Would Joseph reject her (Matthew 1:29), her family despise her, her village ridicule her, and would she even be stoned to death? (John 8:4-5) But the light of God’s Word (Psalm 119:105), delivered through the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and personally by Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38), illuminated her dangerous, difficult journey.

First, alone and pregnant, she would travel “with haste” to a city of Juda in the hill country, to visit her cousin Elisabeth (Luke 1:39-40). That would be a long trip under the best of circumstances, and particularly for a young woman dealing with morning sickness. But God rewarded her perseverance with the joy she shared with Elizabeth and John the Baptist, as all were filled with the Holy Spirit. John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb; Elizabeth knew through the Spirit that Mary was carrying the Son of God; and Mary sang a hymn of praise (Luke 1:41-56).

Mary needed that confirmation from God as she set out three months later (Luke 1: 56).on her long journey home. By now she would be starting to show – how would Joseph, her family, and her village react to what they would naturally assume was proof of her infidelity? But God would pave the way, sending His angel to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary was carrying His Son and that he should marry her as planned (Matthew 1:18-24).

God even used pagans to work out the details of Mary’s journey. When Caesar commanded everyone to return to the city of their lineage to be taxed, Joseph and Mary would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of the lineage of David (Luke 2:1-6). Mary would deliver there, fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; John 7:40-42).

Caesar’s decree meant that Mary would journey by donkey, for that is a reasonable assumption given the limited transportation options in that day for an 85-mile trip along a rocky, hilly road. She would not have been able to walk that distance, and riding side saddle while at full term (Luke 2:5) was probably not much better.

But thanks to God, Mary had a devoted and loving protector in Joseph, and without him, that journey would have been impossible. He put her needs and those of the unborn Child ahead of his own, refraining from marital relations until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:25). 

No doubt Joseph eased Mary along the painful path to Bethlehem and fought off wild animals or bandits who may have threatened them. He encouraged her to hang on just a little longer, and searched tirelessly for shelter once they arrived in the crowded city, where there was no room for them at the inn (Luke 2:7). A stable was probably the last place either of them envisioned that Mary would deliver the Son of God. 

Or did Mary know that the stable was God’s predetermined, perfect destination (Isaiah 55:9) for this miraculous, paradigm-shifting event? Or did she trust Joseph’s decision to accept this poor accommodation, or was it just desperation as her labor pains demanded she give birth right away? 

Thankfully, that phase of Mary’s journey finally ended with the precious, long-awaited sound of her Newborn’s cry, with her cuddling, nursing and gazing with adoration at the Son of God, her Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), symbolizing His future burial as He came to die as the perfect sacrifice to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:16). She laid Him in a manger (Luke 2:7) among the animals, this lowly beginning representing His first coming as a humble Servant (Philippians 2:5-8)

As always, God was faithful to lavish blessings and confirmation on His handmaiden, as the shepherds told Mary of the angel’s Good News that her Infant was the Saviour, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8-18). They told her of the glory of the Lord that shone around them, and the angelic multitude praising and glorifying God for the peace and goodwill He had brought to the world. And Mary thought long and hard on these things, wondering at the new direction of her own life and perhaps even at the changed destiny of the whole world (Luke 2:18). 

But God had made a Way (John 14:6) between His holiness and man’s sin where there was no way (Isaiah 40:3). Jesus Christ, God the Son and God Himself (John 1:1-2), took on human flesh (John 1:14) to be the perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins (Romans 3:25). In that plan of redemption, designed by Triune God since before eternity began, all who trust in the death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of Jesus as the only Way to Heaven shall have eternal life. Once we are born again by trusting in His Name alone, may we have the humility and faith of Mary, trusting God each step of the way! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
Yours is an excellent step-by-step commentary on the nativity story.
Here I have special commendation for Joseph after discovering Mary's pregnancy yet decided to "put her away quietly" - assuming that this meant excluding her from his family and letting her go away freely, in a society demanding a death penalty in accordance to the Law of Moses.
With most other men finding themselves in Joseph's situation, they would have used the Law as legal justification to vent their own revenge against the young woman, rather than obedience for the sake of God's glory.
Joseph's willingness to marry his fiancee who is carrying a child which is not his, is a good demonstration of how the power of divine love can exceed the demands of the Law.
An excellent post, and wishing you and your family a happy Christmas. God bless.

Aritha V. said...

Thank you Laurie. It was so good for me to read. How great is our Lord.

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Praise the Lord for His perfect plan surrounding the birth of His Son, including His provision of a Godly, loving, faithful husband in Joseph.
Thank you as always for sharing your insights. May you and Alex have a blessed Christmas also!

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Aritha! To Him be all the praise and all the glory, for He alone reigns above all. Thank you for your comment and God bless,

Brenda said...

Hi Laurie,
yes, as your post about the story of Mary and Joseph confirms, the greatest thing we can do as born again Christians is believe the Word of God spoken to us by the Holy Spirit - which we could not even have if Jesus had not been obedient and said to the Father 'Not my will but Your will be done'.
This is how our growth in the Lord will increase, when we are not only 'hearers' but are 'doers' of the Lord's Word to us individually, through now being parts of the 'body of Christ on earth' and having the mind of Christ and not listening to the opposing word of the enemy in our carnal minds.
God bless you Laurie.

Laurie Collett said...

Amen, Brenda! Praise the Lord for His sacrifice and for sending us the Comforter to instruct and guide us. May we yield to the Spirit daily!
God bless you too,

Donald Fishgrab said...

As we see the prophecies fulfilled in the story of Christ's birth, we are reminded again of the amount of planning that went into Christ's sacrifice for us, As you pointed out Roman law required them to go to Bethlehem at the proper time. In his birth Jesus fulfilled a number of prophecies, and sometime later, Herod the Great fulfilled another by having the babies in the region killed in an effort to stop Christ. Although they are incomplete and missing details, Roman records indicate this was probably in 5 BC, supporting the biblical record.

Laurie Collett said...

Praise the Lord that so much of what He has said was fulfilled in Jesus, proving that we can believe the prophecies that will be fulfilled in the future. Praise Him for His incarnation and that we can look forward to the Second Coming!
God bless,