Every Child Needs a Mom and a Dad—and so Did Jesus, Part 1


The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:35, announcing to her she would become Jesus’ mother—

Key point: Only a woman could be Jesus’ mother, and Mary was God’s chosen individual to fill that critical role.

All the articles in this series are available here.

One aspect of the Christmas story that sermons and Bible studies often overlook is the contrast between the responses of Mary and Joseph to the birth of Jesus and the differing roles that each individual filled. Such information is extremely insightful in light of our current series on myths that led to the Supreme Court’s redefining marriage in the United States. One overarching myth is that gender differences are irrelevant in parenting. The biblical account of Jesus’ arrival on earth as a helpless baby, as well as Joseph’s responses to subsequent efforts to kill Him, demonstrate that even God’s Son needed both a mother and a father—just as all children do.

What do Mary’s and Joseph’s unique roles in Jesus’ arrival and earliest years teach us? In this post we will consider Mary; next time, Joseph. In all but one instance—Mary’s Quiet Reflections—we’ll mark Mary’s journey with the names of individuals who played important roles in her life.

Gabriel and Elizabeth

The Annunciation by Eustache Le Sueur

Mary was taken aback when, in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel appeared to her suddenly and announced that she was highly favored and would become the mother of the Messiah. Luke records the events from Mary’s perspective.

Mary was submissive to God’s plan, readily expressing a willingness to fulfill her role in it—as awesome as that role was. In fact, she rejoiced in being given both the responsibility and the privilege of being mother to God’s Son.

La Visitation by Philippe de Champaigne

The woman who could understand her situation best was her relative, Elizabeth, of whom Gabriel had declared, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” While it was true that Mary’s and Elizabeth’s situations were more different than alike, they were similar enough to provide the foundation for a special bond between the two women.

Mary was indeed favored by God, but her situation also involved great risk. She was certain to be misunderstood. Pregnancies occur as a result of intimacy between a man and a woman. This was going to be a once-in-history exception—but only Mary and a select few in her life would have to understand this. Of course, Joseph, Mary’s husband-to-be, would have to be one of those select few. Many people never came to understand. Years later, the Pharisees would subtly accuse Jesus of having been conceived illegitimately (see John 8:41; context vv. 31-41).


Joseph would believe and support Mary and marry her as planned, but understandably, God had to intervene to confirm to him what actually had happened. Joseph would be used of God to meet some very critical needs that arose in the early years of his adopted Son’s childhood.

We’ll consider Joseph’s roles of husband and father next time. For now, let’s reflect the swirl of events that culminated in Jesus’ birth and the arrival of shepherds at His bedside. The events we recount here are recorded in Luke 2:1-52.

Robert Campin, 1425-1428

Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the Roman world would be registered, and residents had to travel to the places from which their ancestors came. Joseph, who had descended from David’s line, traveled with Mary, his wife, to David’s hometown, Bethlehem. Mary was quite far along in her pregnancy by this time, so the journey had to be difficult. After arriving in Bethlehem, the couple faced an urgent situation. The time for Jesus’ arrival had come! Unable to find lodging in a local inn, they had to settle for a stable, and there God’s Son was born into the world as an innocent, helpless baby. Let’s put it another way. Mary became the “doorway” through which Jesus, God’s Messiah, entered the world. Only a woman could be used of God in this way.

The Shepherds

That same night, as shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks in nearby fields, a messenger from God—an angel—suddenly appeared! The shepherds were astonished, but the angel reassured them,

10 “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

The Shepherds and the Angel by Carl Bloch, 1879

After making his announcement, the angel no longer was alone, but joined by an army of angels who praised God and spoke of peace on earth “to those on whom his favor rests” (vv. 13-14, NIV). The shepherds wasted no time in making their way to Bethlehem and finding Mary, Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in an animal’s feeding trough, just as the shepherds had been told.

The shepherds’ lives were forever changed! Surely they talked for the rest of their lives about this otherwise ordinary night when the sky had split open and an angel announced the birth of the One who was the Savior, the Christ, and the Lord. Momentarily, we’ll see evidence of their inability to keep quiet. “Lying in a manger,” He Himself would be a sign to them!

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerald van Honthorst, 1622

The shepherds found things exactly as the angel had described them. After seeing Him, they “made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (vv. 17-18). In addition, Luke tells us, “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (v. 20).

Mary’s Quiet Reflections

“But Mary,” Luke writes in verse 19, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” The translators of the New International Version render this verse this way: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

I believe Mary was doing something here that’s is especially characteristic of women. Their ability to do this is such a wonderful trait! It isn’t that men never reflect on things; but, generally speaking, men are practical—action oriented. Joseph had to be. Next time we will see this when we consider him.

Mary, of course, had a great deal to ponder. Author and Bible teacher Beth Moore writes this of her reflection.

Pondered. It is a wonderful word. It is the practice of casting many things together, combining them, and considering them as one. In that moment, a host of memories must have been dancing in Mary’s head. The angel’s appearance. His words. Her flight to the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth’s greeting. Their late-night conversations. The first time she noticed her tummy was rounding. Joseph’s face when he saw her. The way she felt when he believed. The whispers of neighbors. The doubts of her parents. The first time she felt the baby move inside of her. The dread of the long trip. The reality of being full-term. The first pain. The fear of having no place to bear a child. The horror of the nursery. The way it looked. The way it smelled.

The way He looked. God so frail. So tiny. So perfect. Love so abounding. Grace so amazing. Wise men bowed down. Shepherds made haste. Each memory like treasures in a box. She gathered the jewels, held them to her breast, and engraved them on her heart forever.

Soon Jesus’ mother would have even more on which to reflect—some very heavy realities, indeed.


Mary would be called by God to endure a much, and she soon would hear an aged man of God speak of her burden. The Lord had promised Simeon that he would not die before seeing God’s Anointed One. When he saw Jesus at the temple following His birth, Simeon rejoiced and declared to the Lord he was ready to “depart in peace.” He’d now seen God’s salvation, prepared for people everywhere,

“A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Simeon in the Temple by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1631

Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Him. Simeon blessed them both, but then he spoke directly to Mary. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

How would Simeon’s prophecy be fulfilled? Bible scholar John A. Martin writes,

Throughout His ministry Jesus proclaimed that the only way to the kingdom, something the nation had long sought, was to follow Him. The ones who did so would receive salvation; they would “rise.” But the ones who did not believe Him would not receive salvation; they would “fall.” These consequences would reveal what they thought about Mary’s Son.1

Lamentation by Pietro Lorenzetti, about 1310-1329

New Testament scholar William A. Hendricksen observes,

In a parenthesis Simeon, in addressing Mary, states that a sword would pierce her soul; in fact, as the original indicates, a large and broad sword, the symbol of intense pain, of frightful and piercing anguish. For the fulfillment see John 19:25-27.…

What Simeon said was true. But he did not see everything. He did not see that even in the midst of Mary’s sorrow she would receive a measure of comfort. At the suggestion of the crucified Savior the disciple whom Jesus loved would take her to his home. Is it not possible that the very memory of Simeon’s prophecy strengthened Mary in the moments of her deepest agony, proving to her that this too was included in God’s plan and would therefore work together for good? Best of all, because of the resurrection on the third day Mary’s sorrow would subsequently be changed to rejoicing and strengthening of faith.2

There was much that neither Mary nor Joseph understood. Yet Jesus’ parents—His mother and his father by adoption—sought to be the parents to Jesus God wanted them to be. When “they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (vv. 39-40).

Jesus as a 12-Year Old Boy


The family made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing on the journey back. Returning to Jerusalem and finding Him in the temple actively engaged with the teachers there, Joseph and Mary were amazed. Mary asked Him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously” (v. 48).

Luke records, And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them” (vv. 49-50).

Had Mary and Joseph not been bewildered enough already, they sure were now. But the time for the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was still years away. Scripture implies that even then, Mary would not fully understand her Son. Yet for now, He “went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but his mother [—again—] kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (vv. 51-52).

Living with His parents, Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and win favor worth God and man” (Luke 2:52).

Virgin Mary by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, 1640-1650

It’s important to understand that we cannot be faithful to the Scriptures and attribute any divine characteristics to Mary. She was a sinner in need of a Savior like every other human being. Yet she was God’s instrument to bring Jesus into the world and to provide the nurture and assistance only a mother could provide. God needed her in this sense, and He used her to accomplish these wonderful purposes.

Moreover, as the Anointed One of God who came to earth as a human being to die to pay the penalty for human sin, Jesus needed Mary as well.

Mary was God’s instrument to bring Jesus into the world and to provide the nurture and assistance only a mother could provide.

Next time, we’ll consider Joseph. As a man and as Jesus’ adopted father, he was well-equipped to protect and provide for his family. And he did these very things in this real-life, cliffhanger drama.

All Word Foundations Christmas posts and articles are available here.


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted,  Scripture passages are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture passages marked NIV or New International Version are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


1John A. Martin, “Luke” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament edition, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., (Victor Books, 1983), 209.

2William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 170, 171.

top image: Holy Family with Bird, c. 1650, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Christmas—Divinely Orchestrated, Part 2

Becoming One of Us and Paying Our Penalty

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.…For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
John 1:1,14; 3:17

God acts like the judge in this anecdote. It is on record that of two young men who studied law together, one rose to a seat on the Bench, while the other took to drink and wasted his life. On one occasion this poor fellow was brought before his old companion, charged with a crime. The lawyers present wondered what kind of justice would be administered by the judge under such trying circumstances. To their surprise, he sentenced his one-time companion to the heaviest penalty the law would allow, and then paid the fine himself and set his old friend free.…[You see,] God the Father, God the Son [Jesus Christ], and God the Holy Spirit are one God. The same God against whom we had sinned passed the judgment, paid the penalty, and now offers you a full and free pardon, based upon [His own] absolute righteousness.
Robert Laidlaw

Last week we began exploring ways in which God prepared the world for the arrival of His Son. We considered Galatians 4:4-5 in the New King James Version; let’s read it now in the New International Version.

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Using the NIV’s rendering, we indicated that “the set time had fully come” after God had placed on the world stage “all that was required for the birth of His Son as far as the world’s national, political, spiritual, linguistic, and commercial climates were concerned.”

This week we will give attention to these phrases in the passage.

  • God sent his Son
  • born of a woman
  • born under the law
  • to redeem those under the law

God’s work to prepare the world externally for His Son’s birth was remarkable, but equally remarkable were His “internal” actions to involve human beings in the process. The names of these people represent lives that were directly involved in Jesus’ birth and the events surrounding it. While some were willing participants, others God used without their thoroughly knowing or understanding: Zechariah, ElizabethMary, Joseph, Caesar AugustusShepherds, Herod the Great, and Wise Men from the East.

In particular, God’s bringing Mary and Joseph into the process leaves us in awe and wonder. Risking rumor and great misunderstanding, the couple obeyed God and even were honored to have the special responsibilities He was giving them. Remember what the Lord was doing; Paul told us in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” to the earth. Jesus would make a very unusual entrance in some ways and a very ordinary entrance in others.

How was His birth unique? First, His existence did not begin at conception, because He had no beginning. As God, He has been alive from eternity past. Second, He was conceived in a virgin. Mary had had no sexual activity with any man. Third, related to this, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and caused the conception to occur. Fourth, although He became a human being, Jesus never ceased to be God. Finally (although this isn’t an exhaustive list), Jesus was born without having been tainted or marred by sin and would remain holy and righteous.

Yet His birth was quite ordinary. Jesus was born as a real baby into the world’s surroundings—surroundings that actually were quite primitive for a child’s birth, even according to the standards of His day.

He cried, became hungry, and “had to have his diaper changed.” Moreover, He grew as other children did. He experienced childhood and grew into manhood.

As the apostle John stated in His Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Being God’s Son, Jesus revealed divine glory in the process, thus bringing us truth about God (see v. 14)—and about life, death, sin, salvation, and us!

The apostle Paul underscored the reality that Jesus was both divine and human in these two phrases in Galatians 4:4: “God sent his Son” and “born of a woman.” This is the miracle of the incarnation, God in human flesh! Christmas emphasizes the miracle for us, and, pondering it, we are overwhelmed—especially when we realize why Jesus came. He came to die—to give His life to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity.

Jesus came to die to pay the penalty for people’s sins.

Here’s the deal. Everyone has sinned and disobeyed God’s law, and in the Court of Heaven, the penalty for even the “slightest” sin is death. Jesus was crucified; He was executed on a Roman cross as though He had committed a capital crime. Instead, everyone else was guilty! Dying as One who was totally innocent, Jesus made it possible for sinners to be forgiven of their sins and to come to know God and have fellowship with Him.

But did Jesus have to die? Yes, he absolutely had to die to solve the core problem facing humanity. Not only was no other remedy for the problem of human sin available, no other remedy even was possible! As Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-8,

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

In a previous post, we cited these insightful words from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Originally offered in one of Schaeffer’s Christmas sermons, they are especially powerful now. Jesus, God’s only Son,

lies in the manger for a reason. Because He loves the world, He has come not just to eliminate the peripheral results of man’s fall (though these will be totally removed at His second coming); He is here to cut the nerve of man’s real dilemma, to solve the problem from which all other problems flow. The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is. Man is a sinner who needs an overwhelming love. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. This is not to say that He has no interest in…other things now, but we must not get the matters reversed—the central thing is central1

The “condition of man” is not what modern man thinks it is.
—Francis Schaeffer—

So Jesus came to die. Significantly, His death could not count as payment for anyone else’s sin unless three things were true of Him. Already we have highlighted the first two, which address Jesus’ divinity and humanity separately.

  1. Jesus had to be God and totally sinless Himself, and
  2. He had to be a human being, for only a human can die for another person.

The third quality combines the essential requirements of humanity and divinity into one.

  1. As a human being, Jesus had to have lived a sinless life, despite temptations to do wrong. Had He sinned, His death would go to pay for His own sins and could not be applied to anyone else’s account.

Thankfully, Jesus was “born under the law” and obeyed it perfectly. He Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Moreover, the inspired writer of Hebrews testified, “For we [who have asked God to credit Jesus’ death to our accounts] do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). The writer continued, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

Those who have believed in Jesus and received Him into their lives—those who have had His death credited to their accounts and on that basis experienced God’s forgiveness—have been redeemed, or bought back, by God. Through His death, therefore, Jesus accomplished the purpose for which He came—“to redeem those under the law.”  

Remember that this statement comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. Of all people, they needed to hear this! They were being enticed to think that what Jesus already had done on the cross wasn’t enough to secure their forgiveness, that they also needed to keep various aspects of the law. Paul reminded them that for their salvation, Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection needed nothing from them other than turning away from the old way of life and being willing to be bought back. Christians live exemplary lives, not to obtain salvation, but because they have been saved.

Thus, the Christmas gift of Jesus means an offer of salvation to all. Relying on Him for redemption, we escape the punishment of hell that our sin otherwise would require us to endure!

This is the good news of Christmas, but there is more! It gets even better! Next week we’ll explore what receiving “adoption to sonship” means for us in practical terms. I can think of no more wonderful realities to explore as we transition into a new year.

I close this week with President Ronald Reagan’s Christmas address, delivered 35 years ago this year, on December 23, 1981:


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


1Francis Schaeffer, “What Difference Has Looking Made? (A Christmas Study)” No Little People, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 3: A Christian View of Spirituality, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982) 123-124.

top image: Announcement to the Shepherds by Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1600

image credits: Mary in labor and Jesus on the cross: www.lumoproject.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.





Who Is He, and Why Has He Come?

Can you imagine that the most wonderful message that has ever been given at any time in history, or in any part of the world, came to…shepherds sitting in their rough robes around little fires, on the rough ground of the very ordinary hills above Bethlehem? Don’t you suppose they were excited? They…would be full of amazement that the promises of the Old Testament were being fulfilled right then. You see, they were Jews, and they would have known what was written in Isaiah and Micah. They would have known many of the promises about the Messiah. Can’t you imagine them hitting each other on the backs, and saying, “Oh, wow, imagine that we have been chosen by God to be told these things! What a night it is, isn’t it? It is the night the promised Messiah has been born.”
—Francis and Edith Schaeffer1

Christmas is a birthday celebration, one that has occurred annually around the world for many centuries. That alone makes it unique among birthday celebrations. Just whose birthday is it? Answering this question surely will help us hone in on the main point of Christmas. Surely it would be tragic if we got caught up in the trappings of Christmas but missed the main point!

We find many places in Scripture where the Baby’s identity is given, but perhaps the most appropriate place in the Bible to look is in the Christmas story itself—Luke 2:1-20. On the night of Jesus’ birth, an angel of the Lord appeared to startled shepherds watching their flocks in fields near Bethlehem. The angel announced the birth and identified the Baby clearly and precisely. He declared, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (2:10-11). The titles the angel used to refer to the Baby contrast sharply with His lowly, primitive surroundings. Those titles also inform us to a large extent about why this Baby has come into the world.

Note that the angel cast his announcement in the present tense. Jesus was Savior, Christ, and Lord today—the day He was born. He did not become any of these things later. Indeed, He has been all three of these from eternity past. In one sense, of course, He would become our Savior when He died on the cross; and at the time of His birth, His crucifixion had not yet occurred. Yet when He was born and throughout eternity, no one else ever would qualify to die for another’s sins. In this sense He already was the Savior.

This is the One whose birthday we celebrate year after year! He was and is God’s Son, yet God gave Him to us that first Christmas (see Isa. 9:6). What a Christmas gift He was and is! Our response can only be to give ourselves to Him! How are you celebrating Jesus’ birthday this year?


1Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Everybody Can Know: Family Devotions from the Gospel of Luke, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1973, 1984), 31.


Copyright © 2015 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

photo credit: www.lumoproject.com

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.