The virgin Mary may at first sight seem like a strange candidate to put before you tonight as the model of Christian courage. Maybe a model of humility, of faith, of purity, but how is she courageous? You think of men like David stepping out to confront Goliath, there’s courage. You think of Elijah standing up alone against 450 prophets of Baal, that’s courageous. You think of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego telling King Nebuchadnezzar that they’d rather die, rather be burned alive, than worship any other God than the Lord. These are models of courage. But we should think also of Mary. Courage includes not only the great heroic acts of killing giants, of challenging false prophets, of facing death by fire. Christian courage means acting on God’s Word and trusting it in the face of fear and danger and pain and doubt, and it’s something required of us “normal” Christians every single day of our lives.
Mary’s exclamation to Gabriel, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your Word,” this is the essence of Christian courage. It is saying I will not be afraid of the consequences, I will not try to avoid what might hurt me, so long as I do as the Word of God commands I know it will turn out for good. Let it be done to me according to your Word and so long as it is according to your Word I can face it, no matter what.
Courage isn’t simply not being afraid. The hoodlum who robs a Target during a riot might think he’s brave because he’s not afraid of the danger, but his lack of fear is no virtue. Nothing is, unless it takes its stand on what is good, on what God says. So you will hear the word “brave” thrown around a lot, of some LGBTQ activist, of women seeking abortions across state lines now that Roe has been overturned, of Bruce Jenner claiming he’s Kaitlin, all called brave constantly because they are overcoming their fears in order to reach their goals. Recognize that this is not bravery, it’s not courage, no more than the hoodlum overcoming his fears to rob a Target is brave or courageous. If your goal is evil, your lack of fear is evil too. It is always cowardly to cave into sin.
Christian courage has as its great goal to stand before the Son of Man, and having done all, to stand. And so it takes its stand on God’s Word and hands all its fears over to the perfect love of God. Perfect love casts out fear. That’s not your love, at least not at first, it’s God’s love, that casts out fear. His love for you casts out your fears. You could fear losing job or house or home or life or reputation for standing on God’s Word, but when you know Christ you can answer all these fears with the fact of God’s perfect love for you, so clearly displayed in His suffering and death for you. What do you have to lose in this life that the Creator cannot restore a hundredfold? Riches? He gives you the riches of heaven forever. Honor? What could be greater than the honor of God naming you His child? Pleasure? There is no greater pleasure than to have God’s favor. Hear the words of Jesus who says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Fears will come. Whoever says he’s never afraid is either a fool or a liar. The question is not whether you will fear, but how you will meet the fear. You meet it with the perfect love of God, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Next God kindles love in us by His Holy Spirit. Look at the picture of the mother. She loves her baby, so she faces all manner of pain and discomfort and risk of death and veritable torture to bring that baby safely into this world. She does fear that pain. I know this from personal observation. But she overcomes the fear and is willing to face it for love of the child, love of seeing that child’s face. I’ve seen that too. And that’s courage. Love facing down fear.
This is also our love for our Lord Jesus. Love facing down fear. He is as we sing, our Priceless Treasure. And whatever real fears there are that face us, we do face them in love for Him. I do not want to die, it’s a terrifying thought, but I face it and I will face it when the time comes, overcoming my fear with Jesus’ love for me and my desire to see His face. I do not want to be slandered and have bad things spoken of me because I take a stand on God’s Word, but I will face down the fear of shame and dishonor from the world out of love for the glory and honor that the Lord Jesus has won for me by His sufferings and death and life for me. Let it be to me according to your Word. So long as Christ is with us, so long as His Word blesses us, there is no fear that we cannot answer. This is the courage Mary teaches us.
Mary’s courage is no different from that of the great heroes of the Old Testament. David’s great bravery is not in his killing a giant. That would be foolhardy and brash if he had gone up to the giant with no sword and trusted only in his own rock slinging skill. He trusted in the Lord. He was the anointed of God. God had promised to be with him. And he went out against Goliath not simply as a soldier but as the confessor of the true God whom Goliath mocked. So he knew faced the fear of facing that monster because God was on his side.
The same goes for Elijah. He faced 450 prophets of Baal not trusting in his own political power or beautiful oratory to persuade, but on the Word of God. What are 450 false prophets compared to 1 prophet of the true God? What is all the earth and all its power compared to Jesus who created heaven and earth and holds all power in it? Elijah faced them all because God was on His side. His boldness is the boldness of Mary – let it be to me according to your Word.
And Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego, they face the very horrifying threat of death in a fiery furnace, and they are willing to suffer it, willing to die both because they know their God can save them and because even if He doesn’t save them from that fire He has and He will save them from the fire of hell and deliver them to everlasting life because of the blood of Jesus shed on Calvary. This is what animates their courage. This is what makes them confess and do God’s will even in the face of torture. Let it be to me according to Your Word.
Every single courageous action of the saints in the Bible is done because they are standing on God’s Word. No so-called brave act is worth comparing to this.
And this applies to us especially. It is Christian courage to face the fear of losing friends or losing comfort or losing money or losing job, because you speak the Word of God or live like a Christian. It is Christian bravery to say, no, I’m not going to do this sin, I’m not going to give in to this temptation, because it isn’t according to God’s Word, and no matter how it hurts me, not matter what temporary pleasure I’m going to lose, let it be to me only according to God’s Word. You face all fear by constantly reminding yourself of your goal, to live as a Christian now and until you see your Savior’s glorious face.
The U.S. senators who because they are Christians just voted against the Disrespect for Marriage Act showed Christian courage when they faced the fear of being called haters and bigots and overcame it by love of God’s Word. This Christian courage will be required more and more from us in these last times. It used to be easy to say you believe marriage is between one man and one woman. Soon it may be – if it isn’t already – illegal to say it in many settings. It will take Christian courage simply to live as a Christian. But it always has. To be a Christian requires courage. Jesus promised us His Spirit because He knew precisely this. And the Spirit comes to us in His Word and He gives us a courage that we could not find otherwise, not in ourselves, not in any other man. He sets Christ Himself before us, who faced the fear of death, of hell, of separation from God, of the cross’s torture, of mockery, of slander, and the horror of our guilt, and Christ faced it, our God faced it, because His love drove Him to it, the perfect love for us that cast out all fear. His courage is our salvation. His looking forward to the goal of having us with Him forever won our salvation. So we look forward with courage to the goal of being with Him forever.
And this courage spurs us on to stand on His Word and face anything rather than fall away from it, to say with Mary, Behold, the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your Word. Amen.