“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”Luke 1:38, ESV
This morning I read from the book of Jonah. I have been pondering the incarnation for the last several days and the wonder of Christ’s birth, and then I read Jonah. To put it lightly, Jonah had problems. Massive spiritual problems. I’ll come back to him in a bit.
All too often in Protestant churches, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has scorn heaped upon her because there are some who have taken this woman of God and have worshipped her. But that isn’t Mary’s fault! From my reading of the New Testament, Mary was a gracious and beautiful example of incredible faith that we should emulate–such as the passage I cite in Luke 1:38 above. Yes, Mary was a sinner, and she too needed a Savior. But look beyond this and see her humble submission as well.
I’ll let the scholars handle the age of Mary, but I think most agree that this woman was still very young. But her words, particularly in what has been called the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), show a spiritually mature child of God. She is not a scholar, nor of the priestly line. She is a simple, humble woman from a back-woods town who is preparing to marry a humble carpenter. That is why her words should stop us in our tracks: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
She is saying through the angel to the Lord God, “I am yours. Do with me whatever you see is right. I am nothing, you are everything. Whatever you want, I will submit to you wholly.” O, how we need more people of God with this heart! But she isn’t alone in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, we find Abram willing to leave everything he has ever known–land, family, language, comfort, safety, the familiar, the safe. He leaves it all because he is following his God (Gen 12:1-4). Again, the spirit of Father Abraham is that the Lord is Sovereign. He commands, and we joyfully follow; even into the unknown darkness. Later, when he has received his son Isaac after many years of waiting, Abraham is asked to sacrifice this beloved gift (Gen 22:1-19). There is no argument, or pleading with God to reconsider what he is asking. Genesis 22:3 simply says that Abraham rose early in the morning and set out to obey his Master.
I saw this same commitment to humble submission when I recently re-read the book of Hosea. In Hosea 1:2-3 it says:
“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”(Hosea 1:2–3, ESV)
We can understand the purpose of God in doing this because the Bible is clear about the reason for this request–to be a shockingly visible illustration of the way that Israel was toward the Lord God. But that didn’t make Hosea’s obedience and heartbreak any easier. The shame he endured as God’s man must have been unbearable at times as his unfaithful wife continued to bear children fathered by other men. Yet, Hosea continued to faithfully and humbly submit to all that the Lord asked of his servant.
That brings us back to Jonah.
Mary endured shame, scorn and great pain in order to bring the Savior into the world. Abram left everything and was willing to sacrifice his most beloved son. Hosea walked his entire life in the darkness of a broken relationship for the cause of illustrating the enduring love of God in the face of rebellious and idolatrous Israel.
And Jonah…he sulked and ran and was enraged because he wanted to be the master of his life. Jonah wouldn’t rejoice at the repentance of the lost. He wouldn’t rejoice at his salvation from the fish’s belly and a new opportunity to be used by God. He wouldn’t even enjoy life, but would rather be struck dead because he was such an angry little man.
I recently read the biography of the great missionary to the Pacific, John Paton. In Paton’s day, the church had taken on the attitude of Jonah. They loved their comfort and ease. They didn’t like it when men and women of God wanted to take the gospel to the world because they didn’t want their comfort to be unsettled. Some were bribed with money to stay. Some were belittled and treated with contempt–being told that God would’t use them because they were ungifted. Some said that the primitive people would never be able to appreciate the fine education they had earned, so why waste it? Others were so fearful of the dangers of cannibalism and disease that they forbid anyone from going to these people. Serve Jesus in England, where it is safe. You can serve Jesus here. WE need him too!
But Paton, and a few others accepted the call and braved the hardship and ridicule heaped on them back home and face the dangers in the Pacific. They humbly submitted their lives to the Sovereign they loved more than life itself. Most died, but the Lord raised up many more servants until the Pacific was won for Christ.
But the Jonah spirit is alive and well in many hearts and churches today. I take comfort in the fact that there are also still in Christ’s church Mary’s and Abraham’s and Hosea’s among us. Those who will submit to the Lord their God with joy and humility. If that is you, don’t allow the Jonah spirit in the church to dissuade you. See the joy in the hardship. Know that the Lord is greater than any hardship you may endure. As Luther wrote,”Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!”
And if you see too much of Jonah in your own heart, then Jonah’s message to Ninevah is God’s message to you too. Repent. This life isn’t for you. It isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. Humble yourself before the mighty hand of God, and he will lift you up (1Pet 5:6).