Dear radio friends,
We read the Word of God in Luke 2:19, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
Let us join the virgin Mary today and ponder in our hearts the marvel and the mystery of Christ’s birth. We could ponder, that is, think deep and hard on the birth of any child, for it is a great mystery and marvel. Ecclesiastes 11:5: “Thou knowest not…how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” The delicate and awesome work of God in secret in the womb of her that is expecting a child! Now special photography is able to show us that amazing development.
And then, to think that at the moment of conception a soul is imparted by God—a never-ending life, either to the justice of God in hell or to the glory of God in heaven. Pondering such things, we respond with the psalmist in Psalm 139:14, “Marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
But Mary’s child is like no other child. The child that Mary held in her arms is the child that is incomprehensible. He is the marvel and the mystery of eternal God in the flesh. I Timothy 3:16: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.” The familiar hymn: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’ incarnate Deity.” God of gods, now in flesh. A newborn in Mary’s arms.
Why? Now we get to the heart of the mystery. Because God loved us (John 3:16): “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”
Let us ponder for a while, let us marvel over the mystery of God’s love for us in the gift of His Son in our flesh.
But we might say that we cannot unlock all that was going on in the virgin Mary’s heart that night in which she held her son in the cattle shed. She was the woman whom Gabriel had said was highly favored of the Lord. And we cannot possibly, you say, understand everything that was going on in her mind and heart and soul. True. But, remember that Mary was a believer. Some may fault her, that, throughout the Lord’s life she showed an inadequate conception of her Son’s work and kingdom. Be that as it may, from the very beginning, when Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Lord, even unto the end when Jesus Christ ascended up into heaven, Mary stands on the pages of Scripture as a believer. Mary believed that night that the little boy to whom she had just given birth was the long-hoped-for Messiah.
We might say, Yes, Mary understood that. And we understand that now. And it is true that we share Mary’s faith. But we cannot actually relive everything she was experiencing. Our pondering this marvel, you say, is at a great distance from the virgin Mary. But then, you see, we miss the point. For our text tells us that the things that caused Mary to marvel are the things that are available to us. We read in Luke 2:19, “But Mary kept [or treasured] all these things [better translated: all these words], and pondered them in her heart.” The Holy Spirit, beginning in verse 15 of Luke 2, has been emphasizing that it was all on the words. It was the words concerning this child that were creating all the stir. The shepherds had said in verse 15, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing [no, this word] which is come to pass.” Then again, in verse 18: “And all they that heard it wondered at those things [words] which were told them.” It was the Word of God concerning the child that Mary pondered in her heart. So we may ponder with her the same marvel and mystery.
Ponder this: The Baby in the manger, maybe nursing at the breast of the virgin Mary as she is pondering, is the eternal Son of God, who spoke worlds into existence; who, according to Hebrews 1, upholds all things by the word of His power; who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18); who is the Son of the blessed before whom angels veiled their faces. Now this One, the eternal Son of God, is united with flesh and blood and is an infant, a little baby. The infinite, the glorious, the eternal God, who made all, has now taken on the finite. The eternal is in time.
But Mary kept [treasured] all these things in her heart. The word “but” there is in contrast to the many in Bethlehem that night to whom the shepherds had made known the word that was told them by the angels concerning the child that Mary had given birth unto. We read concerning those people of Bethlehem, “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” They wondered. They said, “Isn’t that interesting? Oh, well. I need to hurry on tonight with my business.” That wondering was an unbelieving wondering. A momentary thought of their mortality, perhaps, and of God, of sin, and of the emptiness of their soul. But then, quickly shake it off and back to this life. It was a momentary recognition of what the gospel is saying. Like the preaching of the apostle Paul at Antioch on his first missionary journey— of this also we read that the audience “wondered.” After setting forth the gospel and seeing the rejection in the eyes of so many in his audience, the apostle quoted from the Old Testament. He said, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” Many in Bethlehem that night, when they heard the word concerning the child, wondered. A bit shocking, arresting: Messiah, Savior, Lord, eternal God, born, God come to save, sin, judgment, accountability to God—oh, bother. Another day will come. What do shepherds know. Back to our business. And then a warm supper tonight.
Is that the way you wonder about the Christ-Child? It cannot be really about any sin in me that needs atonement. Do you think about the fact that you stand accountable before the eternal God? Or do you simply say, “Oh, it’s the holiday season. Let’s have some warm, fuzzy feelings.”
But Mary, in contrast to superficiality, pondered. She turned it over in her soul. She mused over it. She heard the voice of her conscience activated by the spirit of her sin, of her mortality, of God’s grace, of His promise, of her baby. She knew who this baby was. She knew that He was the eternal Son of God in her flesh. She knew God was the father of this child. Others might have wondered about that. Many, even Joseph for a time, believed what human reason dictated, that Mary’s son had been conceived in adultery and was illegitimate. The looks of everyone said, “We believe that child is like any other child.” But Mary knew. This seventeen-or-eighteen year-old mother—she knew. No man was His father. She knew that the word spoken by the angel Gabriel had come to pass. Luke 1:31-33: “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest:…he shall reign…for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” And when she had asked Gabriel, “How can this possibly be? I know not a man, I’m not married,” the angel had responded: “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.” She pondered.
Ponder with her. He who is nursed by a Hebrew maid is Lord of all. Does she open His hand and pry His little fingers? Yet, in His hands are earth and sea and all deep places. His the strength of all the hills. Now is come Immanuel, God with us, not ceasing to be what He is—God. He has become what He was not—man, so that we might become what we are not—pardoned and righteous in God’s sight. Ponder.
So heavy, so hot, so dreadful the load of sin and grief is ours that only eternal God come in the flesh can lift and bear and take it all away. Could such thoughts have been hers, you say? Well, they can be and they must be ours.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart, says our text. What words? Well, the words of the shepherds. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph what the angel had told them. Mary mused on the words that she had received second-hand from the shepherds. Shepherd boys in poverty-shred clothes had come excitedly to the manger. Maybe they were all talking at once. They told Joseph and Mary: “An angel of the Lord appeared to us. And then all the host of heaven erupted around us in glorious anthems of praise. The angel before that had said that there were good tidings and great joy unto all of God’s people, for unto us is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord! And this, he said, shall be a sign unto us, that we would find your baby wrapped in these swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”
The shepherds had used the words for her son, “Savior”—Rescuer from sin and death. They had used the word “Christ,” or “Messiah”—the long-awaited Servant of God entrusted with all the work of God. They had used the word “Lord”—Royal one, power and majesty. She pondered. The child is the fulfillment of the promise that came from the heart of God—the promise to which Adam and Eve had clung; the promise that Abraham held fast in his heart; the promise for which Moses endured all things; and the promise of which David, the sweet psalmist, sang. Now Immanuel arises. Light of light. God of God. The Redeemer is come into the world. Mary began that night the pondering that the church has engaged in ever since and will engage in to eternity. The Creator, the living God, to whom nothing can be added, has humbled Himself and come in the form of a servant to redeem those who have sinned against Him.
Mary pondered what He came to do. It all makes no sense unless you see why He has come and what He has come to do. Mary pondered. That word “ponder” does not mean perplexed, in a quandary, befuddled. But that word means to sense the depth of something but be unable to see to the bottom of it. All these things, these words, these events moved across her soul and her mind. She sensed that something vast, something marvelous, something as vast as the heart of God was taking place through her. There was something about God’s Son born in the flesh that stirred the host of heaven. Angels saw into the reason. Angels that night saw not just the fact that their darling, God’s Son, had covered His glory and was wrapped in rags resting on straw. But they saw also the reason for all of this, and it awed them. This moved them to come down to Bethlehem to sing their Hosannas: Glory to God in the highest.
And now Mary ponders the same thing. It was the reason, it was the marvel of the love of God for unworthy sinners like you and me and Mary. She knew that the reason for the birth was not an earthly kingdom, though she struggled with that as any other mother would. As a mother, she wanted earth’s best for her son—honor and power, ease and happiness. But none of that was to be. And she sensed it. Oh, yes, she sensed that. She gave birth while lying on straw and smelling manure. She gave birth to this boy after rich men had said, “No room for him.” She sensed the rejection this world held for her son. This was somehow, she understood, the place for the Father’s Child to be born, for it spoke of what He had come to do. He had not come to lead armies. He had not come to marry well and have children. He had not come to bring about a peaceable understanding among nations and to eradicate poverty and make the world a better place for His passing through the world. No! He had come to be rejected, to be despised as no other man, to be hated without a cause, to be cast out. He had come for a cross. He had come to suffer hell for her and earn for her a garment of a queen and of everlasting life.
You see, we ponder the birth of Jesus Christ but we ponder that which we cannot comprehend. We ponder what we know is a fact. But we cannot fathom it. We consider today something that is deeper than the universe and heavier than the oceans—the great, great, great love of God. Why was He born? Why did God’s eternal Son come into our flesh, born in such poverty in a manger and then make His way to a cross to suffer and die? Children! Why did He do that? You say, “Well, He came to save us from our sins.” Yes. You say, “He came to save surely all the elect given to Him of the Father.” Yes. But, you see, although both of those statements are true, absolutely true, nevertheless, it still puts the matter outside of you, it sets it outside of the personal question, why did He do this? Because He loved me. That is the answer of a child of God. Galatians 2:20: “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Only by His coming, only by His death, can my sins be forgiven. There is no other way. Only by His appearing now on earth, in Mary’s arms, as her son in the flesh. Only in that way can the burden of my guilt be lifted from me and eternity be earned for me. Ponder.
Ponder this. At that moment, the uncountable and immeasurable load of your sin was placed on this child, so that you would never have to bear it. And this child must carry this load of sin to the cross and suffer for it all. Why would He do that? Could He gain something by doing this? Did He become something He was not before? Did He earn something that He did not have? What one thing could come to Him that was not His? He is God’s Son. He did this because He loved me. He loved freely and graciously all the elect of the Father. Why?
I do not know. Except He willed to do so out of His own eternal heart for the glory of His name. Figure that out, if you can.
Ponder it and be lost in the depths of the love of God. Ponder this: Never did God appear so beautiful as when Mary held Him as Babe and pondered the mystery of God. Out of Him, out of her Babe, shone the mercy, grace, and love of God. Angels worshiped. Heaven sang. Mary pondered in her heart. And we, now, ponder and bow and worship.
Mary, on the night that our Savior Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, pondered all of these things as she was in a stable—a lowly place. It was a dark night. Joseph was there. And He had probably tried to make the place as comfortable as he could. The stars the Creator had made shone forth in their brilliancy. Perhaps some of the animals that He had made were near by. And God, in flesh, had been born through childbirth, out of her womb. He had been born to set His people free. The promise had been fulfilled. And the promise she held in her arms. And Joseph and Mary, pondering these things, lost in thought that night, no doubt bowed down and worshiped and said, “My God, how great Thou art,” and sang: “His grace abideth ever!”
You do not need to go to Bethlehem or find that manger to join in this pondering, in this wonderful treasuring of the love and grace of God. You have before you the very things that were available to her and to Joseph. In fact, you and I have more. We have the entire Word of God—the Word of the living God—to treasure. And that Word, in the birth of Jesus Christ, is the Word that declares to us that He took to Himself our flesh and blood and came among us, Lord of all—that He did not despise the shame of our sin but took it upon Himself. That birth of Jesus Christ declares that He came to be crucified, to take our sins to the only place where they could be destroyed—upon the cross. That birth declares the truth that He is the One who has risen from the dead, ascended to the Father, and now dwells within us by His Holy Spirit to assure us of our pardon and to preserve us unto eternal glory.
We have so much to ponder—so, so much. And in our pondering we ask, “Why, Lord? Why was this done for me?” And we hear the answer that cannot be fathomed, an answer so rich, so clear, and so free: “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Let us pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, as we bow before Thee we pray that our minds may be filled with awe and reverence and love for Thee. How wonderful Thou art. How great Thy grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.