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Of all the extraordinary women in Scripture, one stands out as the most blessed, most highly favored by God, and most universally admired by women. Indeed, no woman is more truly remarkable than Mary, the one chosen by God to be the instrument through which He would at last bring the Messiah into the world.

The Angel's Announcement

We first meet Mary in Luke's gospel when the angel Gabriel appeared to her to disclose God's wonderful plan. At the time, Mary was probably still a teenager. It was customary for girls in that culture to be betrothed while they were still as young as thirteen. Scripture is very clear in teaching that Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was miraculously conceived in her womb. Luke 1:27 twice calls her a virgin, using a Greek term that allows for no subtle nuance of meaning. The clear claim of Scripture, and Mary's own testimony, is that she had never been physically intimate with any man (v. 34). Although she knew the world was bound to think otherwise, Mary weighed the cost against the immense privilege of becoming the mother of the Christ, and surrendered herself unconditionally, saying simply, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).

Mary's Response of Worship

Mary, filled with joy and bubbling over with praise, hurried to the hill country to visit her beloved relative, Elisabeth. The angel had informed Mary about Elisabeth's pregnancy, so it was a perfect situation for the two women to spend time rejoicing together in the Lord's goodness. Elisabeth's immediate response to the sound of Mary's voice gave Mary independent confirmation of all that the angel had said (Luke 1:41-45). Mary replied with her outpouring of praise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Without question, it is the most wonderful psalm of worship in the New Testament, and is filled with messianic hope and scriptural language. It is clear that Mary's young heart and mind were already thoroughly saturated with God's Word.

The Sword that Pierced Her Soul

When Jesus was yet a newborn infant, His earthly parents took Him to the temple to dedicate Him to the Lord. On that day, the little family encountered two elderly saints, Simeon and Anna. Simeon was an old man whom Scripture describes as "just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). The Spirit of God had revealed to Simeon that he would have the privilege of seeing the Messiah before he died. As soon as Simeon saw Jesus, he took the infant up in his arms. Then, turning to Mary, he told her, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel … yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also" (Luke 2:34,35). Years later, as Mary stood watching a soldier thrust a sword into Jesus' side, she might well have recalled Simeon's prophecy, and suddenly its true meaning came home to her with full force.

Mary was like no other mother. Godly mothers are typically absorbed in training their children for heaven. Mary's Son was the Lord of heaven. Over time, she came to perceive the full significance of that truth, until it filled her heart. She became a disciple and a worshiper. The lowly perspective reflected in Mary's Magnificat is the same simple spirit of humility that colored all her life and character. It is truly regrettable that religious superstition has, in effect, turned Mary into an idol. She is certainly a worthy woman to emulate, but Mary herself would undoubtedly be appalled to think that anyone would pray to her, or venerate images of her. Her life and her testimony point us consistently to her Son. He was the object of her worship. He was the one she recognized as Lord. Mary's own example, seen in the pure light of Scripture, teaches us to do the same.

—Condensed from Twelve Extraordinary Women. Copyright (c) John MacArthur.