There are several instances where the Bible describes important or significant periods of time. Once in a while, because of special circumstances there are universal lessons in them. Last week we considered the seven days after Noah’s entrance into the ark before the rains came. We could also look at the forty days in which it rained, and the year which followed – but I have no plans at this time to do that. The Bible speaks of seven days here and five days there; thirty days and forty days. And we will look at a few of these over the next several weeks.
This evening I’d like to try to put us into a very special ninety days in the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I thought about preaching it this morning, but for the most part this isn’t very evangelical. These lessons for the most part belong to the elect – Mary, Zachariah, Elisabeth and you. Using our imaginations and the scriptures, let’s try to understand what may have been in the heart of Mary before the birth of her first baby.
But first, a part of her story includes 180 days in the lives of Zachariah and Elisabeth.
Zachariah was one of the priests of the Lord, periodically working in the temple. When not in Jerusalem, he served God in the hill country around Hebron, Judah. Both he and his wife were in their sixties, as I am told was the common meaning of “I am an old man.” He also said, “my wife (is) well stricken in years.” Both were godly people – “righteous before God” and blameless before the eyes of their neighbors. I believe that “righteous before God” means essentially the same thing as the statement about last week’s subject – “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” These people were righteous in the eyes of their neighbors because their outward lives reflected their justification by God.
One day, while Zachariah was placing incense on the golden altar inside the Holy Place, there suddenly appeared an angel – and the man’s knees became like jelly while his heart filled with fear. But Gabriel, the angel, told the man not to be afraid, because he had nothing but good news for him. His wife, within the next year, would become the mother of a baby boy, who should be called “John.” When contrary to his usual character, Zachariah expressed a bit of unbelief in regard to the announcement, he was told, “thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed.” Later, Luke 1:62 seems to indicate that Zachariah was not only mute, he was deaf as well, because people had to communicate with him through signs. Once his temple ministration was finished he went home to his wife, with a desire to carry out his regular synagogue duties.
I would hope that when the couple were reunited after a month’s absence, there was a display of godly affection. There should have been hugs and kisses, the holding of hands and long looks into each others eyes. But there was also confusion even consternation at the malady which had overcame Zachariah. How did he share with Elisabeth what he had seen and what had happened? Could he read and write and be able to tell her this way? Could she read and write? Most probably he could because he was a minister of the Word of God, but Elisabeth? If she could read, then he might have used the Word of God pointing to scriptures which spoke of their son, and their Messiah. Then “after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord death with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.”
I don’t want to get bogged down in these days of Zachariah and Elisabeth, but there are lessons here. Elisabeth, for whatever reason, hid herself five and then six months from the eyes of her neighbors. Her only human companion was her husband, and he was mute and deaf. She was essentially alone – like Jonah in the whale and Saul in his blindness. In that quiet reflection she probably began to recognize that what she had considered to be a curse – her barrenness – was being reversed into becoming the greatest blessing in her life. And not to her only, but to all Israel and beyond. She was to bring into the world the forerunner of the Christ. This meant that the long anticipated Messiah was on the door-step. She was probably ecstatic. In the extreme quiet of her home, over the next six months, Elisabeth grew closer to the Lord than she ever could in the hustle and bustle of the ordinary minister’s wife. She probably studied the lives of Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca, seeing things she never had before. For months, her soul probably fluctuated between pride and humility, pride and humility. But eventually humility won out or she would have been shouting her good news to all Hebron.
Let us learn NOT to mourn over what we perceive to be our losses – our barrenness. Let us love the Lord in ALL our circumstances, and remain faithful to Him in our worship and service no matter what our circumstances might appear to be. It may be that in time our spiritual quiver may be made full of spiritual children and grandchildren. Be patient and wait upon the Lord.
After 180 days of quiet contemplation, the silence of their house was broken with the arrival of cousin Mary from Nazareth.
Then for 90 days Mary and Elisabeth enjoyed a profound spiritual fellowship.
How many times as a youth had Mary traveled with her parents down to Jerusalem for any of the feasts? It was not required that girls make that trip, but the more spiritual and/or religious families often did. And it was probably on those infrequent trips that Mary met her much older cousin Elisabeth. In time the spiritual kinship exceeded the filial ties and a bond was formed between the two. After Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about her own great privilege – to bring the Messiah into the world. he added, “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.” “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda,”
There were no cell phones in those days, no telegrams or regular postal service. So the arrival of Mary was probably a surprise. When Zachariah opened the door, and Mary uttered a respectful greeting, “it came to pass that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.” Gabriel had said this baby, John, would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and it was so. At that moment, the movement of this six-month-old unborn child was unlike anything Elisabeth had felt before. This was like the dancing of David when the ark of the covenant was brought into Zion.
Verse 56 – “Mary abode with her (cousin) about three months” before she returned to her own home. For ninety days Mary and Elisabeth, the two most God-blessed women in history shared the joys, the excitement and the worries of their pregnancies. If I was forced to guess, I’d say that Mary returned home just days before the arrival of baby John. But the Bible doesn’t clearly say one way or another.
What was the character of those ninety days? Why had Mary gone to Elisabeth in the first place? Why wasn’t her mother there to teach her about child birth and babies? Had she passed away? Was Elisabeth the closest female relative to this young mother-to-be? Or is it simply that she was the most spiritual woman in the family? Was it the Holy Spirit who sent Mary from Nazareth to Judea? The message of Gabriel to Mary about Elisabeth sounds highly suggestive – “You should visit her.” Perhaps it was a little bit of all of these. Together the two women – one very young and the other quite old – learned together about the physical changes of their bodies and what they would have to expect after their respective nine months.
But what about the spiritual blessing they were to each other? While filled with the Spirit, Elisabeth praised God for His goodness to her young cousin. And she encouraged Mary to praise the Lord as well. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” “Blessed is she that believed” the Lord and the message of His angel. “For there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
Mary – also filled with the Spirit – responded with praise herself – “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” She acknowledged the miraculous in her life – “He hath showed strength with his arm.” “He that is mighty hath done to me great things.” And what had happened to her was absolutely holy – in contrast to the myths of the Greeks, Romans and other heathen cohabiting with women. Mary had asked the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that HOLY thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Now she says, “and HOLY is his name.”
How did those ladies spend their ninety days together? The Bible doesn’t tell us, but we can surmise just a little. With Zachariah unable to perform his usual duties at the synagogue, I picture the three of them at home, pouring over the Word of God. Zachariah may have begun with Malachi, perhaps indicating that Gabriel had used these words – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” He probably pointed to the scriptures about the wives of Abraham and Jacob and how they became a part of these women’s lives. Perhaps daily, he would have Elisabeth read one or two of the Psalms which speak of the Messiah. All of them may have committed many of those Psalms to memory. And then he most likely opened the scriptures to Isaiah and other holy prophets. Did Zachariah understand that the Messiah would give His life for their sins? Did he know that his own son would give his life for the Messiah? Perhaps HE understood, but as we see later, it was not clear to Mary what would become of her son.
That ninety day period was probably an intensely spiritual time in Mary’s life. She learned more of the Bible than she ever had. And she learned to love, to trust, to care for others; maybe she grew in love for Joseph her betrothed.
There are two comments, one from each of the women, which stand out. Elisabeth declared, “The mother of my Lord” has come to me. She recognized by faith that Mary’s child was her Lord. And by the way, how did she even know that Mary was expecting? Since she spoke under Holy Spirit guidance, I am convinced she was speaking of Jehovah when she said “Lord.” The child which was yet to be born of Mary, was already the Lord of heaven and earth.
The second highlight of the initial greetings came from Mary. “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Mary recognized her need for a Saviour, and also that only God could save her. As godly and faithful to the commandments as she had been during her young life, she still needed a Saviour. It is not important that she fully understand that her child was to “give His life a ransom for many.” That will come. I believe that God graciously saved that woman. But the point is, she is not and never has been the co-executrix of salvation as Catholicism claims. She has had nothing to do with the salvation of anyone. She was simply the vessel through which the Saviour came into the world. And her son was, or eventually became, her Saviour.
Eventually, after ninety wonderful days of fellowship with her cousin and her husband, and shortly before or immediately after the birth of John, Mary returned to Nazareth.
And then began the 180 days of Mary and Joseph.
It is highly likely that Mary had been engaged to Joseph through an arrangement by her parents. This may have been in effect for years. But could the absence of any reference to her parents, indicate they had already passed away? Could she have gone down to visit her cousin, at least in one sense, to learn about having babies? Do you suppose she asked permission from Joseph? I honestly don’t know how to answer my own questions.
There was probably one other important reason why she made that long journey south. As I envision it, while Mary was away, the angel of the Lord, probably Gabriel again, visited Joseph in a dream with the news about his espoused wife. “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.” “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin (this virgin) shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Joseph may have had fifty, sixty or eighty days to digest the angel’s news to him, while Mary was in Judah. Then upon her return, Joseph, being a man of faith, “did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” Now, Mary already three months along, moved into Joseph’s house, living with him in a celibate manner for six more months.
How well did Mary know Joseph before this time? Was there already a love between them? To my mind, Joseph is one of the great unsung heros of the Word of God. God spoke and he obeyed, and it didn’t apparently matter to him what the world might say. Then during the next six months, he probably took a back seat, allowing her to teach him what she had learned from Zachariah and Elisabeth – and the Lord. There were probably quite a few years difference between them, but he was humble enough not to let that bother him. Together they studied God’s Word; they prayed together. There were probably tears and there was great joy and anticipation. Both continued to grow in spirit and in the Word of the Lord throughout that period.
Then came the Roman command that everyone had to return to his home town for taxation purposes. By this time, at about 270 days of pregnancy, travel would have been difficult for Mary. But the law was the law. And the grace of God was as powerful as it had ever been. While in Bethlehem the Lord Jesus was born. Perhaps there wasn’t time to send word to Elisabeth. Or maybe she was not yet able to travel even the short distance from Hebron, so there were no friends or family there to greet the Saviour into the world. But it was all done according to the plan of the Lord.
The ninety days spent with Zachariah and Elizabeth were extremely important to Mary. Just try to imagine the spiritual growth which took place during that time. God can accomplish great things in a few days.
What might He do for you in the next three months? Are you ready? Are you willing? What might the Lord do for our church in 90 days?