Thursday, December 20, 2012
Mary Needed a Savior Too... she said so.
One of the great mysteries of the faith is the virgin birth. We'll be discussing it Sunday at DPC; it's an absolutely essential doctrine in every way. Without the virgin birth there would be no way to understand who Jesus is or what he was able to accomplish. In fact, there would be no salvation. More on that on Sunday.
But here's a question for you: how did Jesus not inherit a sinful nature from Mary?
We will not be dealing with that precise question on Sunday, but it leads to some rich theological & Biblical insights...
Let's start with what the Roman Catholic Church says. They say that Jesus did not inherit a sinful nature from Mary because Mary herself was free from sin.
Have you ever seen a Roman Catholic church or school named Immaculate Conception? We drove past one all the time when we lived in St. Louis. I was quite surprised one day to learn that the "Immaculate Conception" the name referred to was not the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, but the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother.
This Roman Catholic doctrine was officially proclaimed on December 8, 1854 by Pope Pius IX: "The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception... in view of the merits of Jesus Christ... preserved free from all stain of original sin."
And so -- according to this teaching -- Mary was kept completely sinless during her whole lifetime. She herself was free from every single sin -- inherited sin, original sin, personal sin, all sin. She was pure and uncorrupted.
Is that how Jesus was preserved from sin? Because Mary was preserved from sin?
No, it can't be. Here are a few reasons:
1. That doesn't really solve the "problem." How did Mary not inherit sin from her mother? How far up this line of sinless mothers are we prepared to go?
2. Jesus is sinless because he is -- theologically speaking -- a divine person with a human nature. Are we prepared to say the same for Mary? That she was (is) a divine person? A goddess? Are we moving from Trinity to Quadrinity?
3. We also know that Mary was a sinner because she herself said so. It would be nice if our churches actually taught us how to sing the songs that we find in Scripture; then we would know this immediately. But if we look at Mary's song in Luke 1, we'll find her singing: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Savior. Mary needs a savior. Because she is not, in fact, a divine person. She's one of the unruly children of Adam and Eve. She too inherited a sinful human nature from her parents. Just like you and me.
The New Testament does indeed highly honor Mary. She found favor with God; she's blessed among women.
But she's not a divine person. When Luke 1.28 says that she found favor with God, it's using the same word that Paul uses when he says the same thing of all Christians in Ephesians 1.6.
The Scriptures don't tell us exactly how Mary's sin nature was not passed on to Jesus. There seem to be two options:
1. Perhaps sin is reckoned / imputed to us through the male line. We're all born into the glorious image of God (Genesis 1.26,27), but also into the sinful, ruined image of our earthly fathers (see Genesis 5.3).
While this may give wives an unanswerable trump card to play in the next marital squabble over who's most responsible for the children's sins, it would seem to be fitting. After all, it was Adam who brought his race into sin. Romans 5.12 - "sin came into the world through one man."
2. Or perhaps it was simply the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary that miraculously prevented the transmission of her sin nature. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God." (Luke 1.35)
But the fact is that Jesus never sinned. He "knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5.21). And this is clearly related to who his Father was (see Luke 1.35) and who his father was not (see Luke 3.23).
Therefore, he's qualified to be your Savior. Hallelujah.
Hebrews 4.15,16: "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."