It’s hard not to feel pride when you are chosen, and rejection when you are not. Go back to your childhood playground and remember what it was like to be chosen early—or first!—for kickball. Then remember what it may have been like to be chosen last—or even given to the other team!
When you are chosen for something—especially if you are the first one or only one chosen—it is easy to believe you were chosen because you are good—or the best—at that for which you were chosen. And that’s where the margin for pride exists. If you’ve ever seen the swagger of a first-round draft pick in a professional sports draft, you have seen this. Being chosen affirms your value; not being chosen causes you to question it. At least that is how we tend to operate in our fallen humanity.
And that is why this week’s session, Mary Praised God (unit 19, session 2), speaks so deeply to me. In Luke 1, we see that Mary was chosen by God for something incredibly special, but she didn’t respond in pride, but the opposite—deep humility.
Luke opened his Gospel with Gabriel’s announcement of John’s upcoming birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth followed by the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ upcoming birth to Mary. There are clear connections between these two upcoming births:
- The pregnant women—Elizabeth and Mary—were relatives.
- John would be born to a couple deemed too old to have a child—a miracle birth of sorts. Jesus would be born to a couple who weren’t even a couple yet and who hadn’t enjoyed martial intimacy—a true miracle birth.
- John would be the messenger crying in the wilderness of which Malachi wrote. Jesus would be the Messiah to which John pointed.
And then Luke recorded Mary’s visit to Elizabeth where the two women shared their amazing news with each other. John leaped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and shared how blessed Mary was. And it is in this moment where we see how different Mary’s response to God’s choice of her was.
46 And Mary said:
My soul praises the greatness of the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 because he has looked with favor
on the humble condition of his servant.
Notice four things about Mary’s response.
- Mary praised God’s greatness, not her own. Even after Elizabeth had just shared how blessed Mary was, Mary’s immediate response—the first words she spoke—centered on God’s greatness. Mary didn’t fall into the pride trap that so many of us fall into so often. She didn’t turn her focus inward—she continued to look outward to God. In fact, read through Mary’s full response in verses 46-55 and you won’t see any reference to her seeing herself as deserving of God’s selection. It’s the exact opposite. Mary extolled God’s greatness over and over. Mary knew God is great, she is not.
- Mary rejoiced in God’s plan of salvation, which included saving her. Mary rejoiced in God as a saving God, which implies not only God’s attributes as Savior, but also her need of being saved. This gives us a further glimpse of Mary’s humility because it is a necessary component of recognizing the need to be saved. Pride rejects the belief you need saving or seeks to save one’s self. Humility embraces one’s need of salvation and accepts salvation from another. Notice that Mary did not elevate herself into a special class because of God’s choice for her to give birth to Jesus. She still grouped herself with the rest of humanity in need of God’s salvation.
- Mary understood being chosen by God was an act of His grace. Mary recognized that God’s selection of her to give birth to Jesus was solely because of God’s favor, or His grace. Mary didn’t even allow herself to begin traveling down the road of determining why she was better than all other women to be chosen by God—she saw her selection entirely as a gracious act of God. God’s selection spoke to His character—His goodness—rather than anything about her. That is pure grace—a completely undeserved gift.
- Mary maintained a humble perspective of her life. Mary was not wealthy, neither was her fiancée, Joseph, but it seems that she had no illusions that this selection by God would provide earthly riches or comfort. She remained God’s humble servant. She would seek to serve God through His gracious selection of her as the mother of Jesus, not seek ways for God to serve her.
If you continue to look through the following verse, you will see Mary mentions God over and over again as she continues to praise Him and doesn’t really mention herself at all. What an encouraging (and convicting!) demonstration of humility!
But now what? Do we stop here and leave our kids thinking how amazing Mary was? Not at all! We need to take our kids to Jesus. When I see this amazing humility of Mary in response to God’s calling on her life, I am reminded of the greater humility of Jesus when God sent Him to earth on His mission (see Philippians 2). Even more than Mary, Jesus perfectly modeled humble, God-honoring obedience. And it is through His humble obedience that we can be saved when we trust in Him. Mary’s counterintuitive response to her selection by God should quickly take us to Jesus and the cross, a far more counterintuitive event. That the Son of God would willingly give up His life for sinful rebels like you and me should always cause our jaws to drop.
But there is one more step we can take in driving this session home with our kids this week—we can take them to what it looks like (or should look like, more precisely) when we trust in Jesus. Lay the matrix of Mary’s four-part response above with salvation:
- We begin by seeing the grandeur of God.
- Then we see our sinfulness in light of the holiness and beauty of God and our need of salvation.
- We then see salvation as a loving act of grace on God’s behalf.
- Finally, we seek to orient our lives to bring God glory out of loving gratitude for His goodness to us.
Mary summarized the gospel beautifully, didn’t she?
How do you seek to stay humble and grateful for God’s grace in your life? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the March 12, 2017 session (Unit 19, Session 2) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.