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Mothers change the world

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

If children were in charge, the world would make much more sense. My son recently sent me these actual test answers given by children:

  • What happens during puberty to a boy? He leaves childhood and enters adultery.
  • Where was Hadrian’s Wall built? Around Hadrian’s garden.
  • Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed? At the bottom.
  • Give a reason why people would want to live near power lines. You get your electricity faster.
  • What is the highest frequency noise that a human can register? Mariah Carey.
  • What is a vibration? There are good vibrations and bad vibrations. Good vibrations were discovered in the 1960’s.

Today is Mother’s Day. No one on earth deserves a day more than mothers.

There was a little girl who, when shown the wedding pictures of her parents, asked her father, “Daddy, is that the day you got Mom to come and work for us?”

Then there was the teacher who had just given her second-grade class a lesson on magnets. She asked a little boy, “Now, my name starts with an ‘M’ and I pick up things. What am I?” The boy replied instantly, “A mother?”

Mothers need all the encouragement they can find. That’s what Anna Jarvis thought when she decided upon her mother’s death in 1905 to make a day in her memory. She copyrighted “Mother’s Day” with the U.S. Patent Office, then wrote governors, state legislators, congressmen, even the president. Finally, in 1914 President Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national observance.

Upon her death in 1948, a wreath of 43 carnations was placed on Anna Jarvis’s grave, because in that year 43 countries celebrated Mother’s Day. Why carnations? Because they were her mother’s favorite flower.

Anna Jarvis had the right idea for our culture, but also for our souls. For mothers have the single greatest influence on their children’s eternal souls. That is the simple point I want to make today.

Mary and Jesus

The story of Jesus begins not with the Son of God but with his mother. Mary was a peasant teenage girl living in the remove village of Nazareth. Her hometown was so small that it is not mentioned a single time in the Old Testament. She had been promised to Joseph by her parents when she was a small girl. Now that she has reached puberty, around 13 years of age, the two had become engaged and would soon be married. She would be an eighth grader in our society.

Now the angel Gabriel appears to her: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). Luke tells us that “Mary was greatly troubled at his word and wondered what kind of greeting this might be” (v. 29). I know that you’re familiar with the story, but try to imagine it for the first time. Has an angel ever appeared to you? How might you respond?

Gabriel says to her:

Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (vs. 30-33).

Her son would be the Promised One, the Messiah for whom the Jewish people had been waiting and praying for more than seven centuries. They taught their daughters to pray every night before going to bed that they might be chosen to become the mother of the Messiah. Now Gabriel has come to tell Mary that God has selected her.

But she doesn’t understand: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

This was a surprising fact in her day and town. Nazareth was constructed on a hillside, with a very popular trading route just below. This road was crowded with Roman soldiers, Greek merchants, and world travelers. Many of the village girls dressed and acted so as to attract the men traveling along this route, seeing them as their way out of Nazareth to the larger world. But not Mary—she kept herself pure.

Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God” (vs. 35-37).

Note Mary’s response: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

In making this commitment, Mary risked her future and even her life. How would her fiancé understand this miracle? She would become pregnant, and he would know that the child was not his. He would have to assume that she had committed adultery. He could divorce her, or bring her before the village to be stoned to death. At best she would be an outcast, a single mother with no future; at worst she would die.

But Mary trusted God with her life, her child, her future. “Servant” translates the Greek word for “slave.” She gave herself completely to God as his possession. He could do with her what he wished, send her where he wanted her to go, ask of her anything he wanted. She would be his, now and for the rest of her life.

And what she was, her Son became.

He would be about his “Father’s business” at the age of 12. He would submit to John’s baptism and his Father’s call to ministry. He would touch lepers, befriend prostitutes, call tax collectors and “sinners.”

Then he would choose in the Garden of Gethsemane to die on our cross for our sins. He would be impaled with spikes through his wrists and heels, stabbed with a Roman spear, and die on a Roman cross. All this he chose to do for his Father when he said, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

What his mother was, her Son became.

A pattern across time

Is this the pattern of history?

Moses was raised in the pagan culture, traditions, and religion of Egypt. And yet because of his spiritual mother, he never forgot his God or his people, and one day led them to their Promised Land.

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was fervent in prayer, trusting God for a son. She gave that son back to the Lord. And he became Israel’s last judge, first prophet, and great spiritual leader.

Paul said to young Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

Is it not true that what their mothers were, their children became?

Does the pattern continue across history?

•The mother of Nero was a murderer, as was he.

  • Of the 69 kings in France’s history there have been only three who were truly loved and respected by their subjects—the only ones reared by loving mothers.
  • Sir Walter Scott’s mother was a woman of education and a great lover of the arts. So was he.
  • The mother of George Washington was known for her integrity of character, as was her son.
  • Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother
  • John Newton’s mother prayed for her wayward, sinful son, until he came to the Amazing Grace of which his hymn testifies.

W. R. Wallace said, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” Was he right spiritually?

Aurelius Augustinus would have made the cover of People magazine weekly, if it had been around in 354 AD. He had two mistresses, the first when he was only sixteen. He fathered an illegitimate child, and ran from one scandal to another.

But his saintly mother Monica wouldn’t give up on her wayward son. Where he moved, she moved. While he sinned, she prayed. Finally, at 33 years of age, he came to faith in Jesus. He was ordained a priest, then a bishop; he wrote sixteen volumes of the greatest theology since Paul, and is considered the most brilliant Christian since the New Testament. To whom do we owe St. Augustine?

Susannah Wesley was the 25th child of her father and the mother of 19. She taught each of her children to recite the alphabet by his or her fifth birthday; when they turned six, she spent six hours each day teaching them Christian theology. Two of her sons, John and Charles, would in time found the denomination known as Methodist. John Wesley later said, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians of England.” To whom do we owe him?

Conclusion

Does your mother today deserve your gratitude for her spiritual influence upon your life? Not all do across Scripture and history, of course. Does yours? Have you thanked God for her? Have you thanked her?

Have you been given the privilege of being a mother? On this Mother’s Day, would you renew your commitment to the spiritual life and eternal soul of the one entrusted to you? Would you pray for him or her right now? Would you ask God’s help and wisdom in shaping the eternal clay put into your hands? Would you make that eternal soul your highest priority as a mother?

Mother Teresa was the most famous “mother” of the 20th century and one of my faith heroes as well. She began her ministry in Calcutta in 1948, working among the poorest of the poor in the city’s slums. She had only five rupees and no help. She began an open-air school for children, meeting under a locust tree. In time she began receiving volunteers and financial aid. Two years later she received permission from the Pope to begin her own order, “The Missionaries of Charity.”

Today her order helps the poorest of the poor all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and engage in relief work after natural catastrophes wherever they occur. The order has established 120 houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they care for shut-ins, alcoholics, the homeless, and AIDS sufferers. More than a million “Co-Workers” have joined the Missionaries of Charity in serving Jesus “in all his distressing disguises.”

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She died on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87.

To the end of her life she maintained her simplicity and sacrifice, refusing to allow her fame and celebrity to change her commitment to Christ and his calling. On her deathbed, she was seen by a nurse holding a picture of Jesus in her tiny, shriveled hands and saying to it, “Jesus, I never refuse you anything.”

Let us pray.