Expository Sermon on Mary, Lois and Eunice
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/11/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
You can watch the entire worship service at the following YouTube link. (The sermon begins at the 51:00:00 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to Luke chapter 1.
Ever since the first of the year, I’ve been preaching a sermon series I’ve called “Bible Sidekicks.” The dictionary defines a sidekick as “a close companion or comrade.” Moses had Joshua as his sidekick, King Saul (for awhile) had David. Naomi had Ruth, Elijah had Elisha, and so on.
These Bible sidekicks were very important—and in some cases their faithful service gave them the experience they needed to become history-changing leaders themselves.
Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I’m going to invite you to join me in looking at the experience of three important Bible mothers—Jesus’ mother Mary, and Timothy’s mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. As we’ll see, these three women were close companions to God. They were God’s sidekicks—in a very effective way. And even though you and I will never become the mother and teacher of the Son of God, or the mother and grandmother of a young pastor who would be mentored by Paul, we need to learn what these women did for these young men, and how to do the same for anyone in our lives.
So what did they do? Let’s find out. Also, let’s study these three women at the same time—which means that you’ll need to put some kind of a marker in 2 Timothy 1, so we can flip back and forth.
But let’s start with Luke 1. The year is probably 4 or 5 BC. It’s been at least a couple of decades since the Roman armies have taken control of Judea, so the land Jesus will be born into is occupied territory.
The first part of Luke 1 tells how an elderly priest named Zacharias is standing in front of an altar in the Jerusalem temple, and suddenly the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells this childless senior citizen that he and his wife will soon have a son.
Six months later, Gabriel shows up in the home of a teenager named Mary.
Luke 1:26 – 30 [NKJV]: Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
Let’s leave Mary for a moment, startled and still concerned about the angel’s presence, and look at this sermon’s other two mothers—actually a mom and a grandma. Turn to 2 Timothy chapter 1. (And remember to keep a marker in Luke chapter 1, because we will be back soon.)
This is the second letter we know of which Paul wrote to a young man named Timothy. He’s a young Christian pastor, probably a mild-mannered guy who Paul is trying to encourage to be more assertive. But as we’ll see, Paul believes that Timothy has inherited a solid spiritual experience from two important women in his life.
2 Timothy 1:1 – 5: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what was the cause of Timothy’s tears. But later in this letter we hear Paul talking about his imprisonment and the possibility that he will be executed for his faith. So maybe Timothy was deeply grieved by the thought that his mentor may be put to death.
But now that we’ve met these three women, let’s lay down what I think is the first principle they can teach us. I’ll mention it, and then we’ll talk about it. What’s the first thing we can learn from them?
Develop a strong faith.
Did you notice how Paul talked about Lois’ and Eunice’s faith? And in verse 5, he doesn’t just call it “faith.” He calls it “genuine” faith in the New King James Version, and a “sincere” faith in other versions. In the Greek, that word “sincere” literally means “unhypocritical.” What’s a hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be one way when actually he or she is something different.
But the faith which grandma Lois passed down to Eunice, and which Eunice passed down to her son, was genuine, sincere, unhypocritical.
So, what about Mary’s faith? Did she have solid faith? Well, her relative Elizabeth recognizes that she does, and commends her for it. Let’s go back to Luke chapter 1. As soon as Mary gets word from Gabriel that she herself will become pregnant through the Holy Spirit, and that Elizabeth is already six months along, Mary packs up and goes to visit her.
Luke 1:39 – 45: Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
So, Mary had developed a strong faith, and Lois and Eunice had developed a strong, sincere faith.
Now, this strong faith didn’t prevent Mary from quizzing Gabriel about how a virgin birth would be possible. It’s interesting that when Zacharias questioned Gabriel about whether it was really possible for him and his wife to have a child at their age, Gabriel didn’t let that pass. He basically said, “Look. Since you didn’t believe me, you are not going to be able to speak for a while.” And sure enough, it wasn’t until their baby’s birth nine months later, and Zacharias asked for something to write with and printed the name “John” on some kind of tablet, that the old priest was finally able to speak. (It’s possible also that what happened to Zacharias could have been intended as a dramatic sign to everyone who knew him, a sign which signaled the supernatural nature of this event.)
But Mary’s question must have simply been information-seeking, not an expression of suspicious disbelief. In other words, it’s okay to humbly ask God really earnest questions. God does not mind questions.
A week ago today, a Christian blogger named Rachel Held Evans died, from complications due to a brain infection. She had reacted badly to some antibiotics. She was 37 years old, and left behind two children – ages one and three – and a husband.
Rachel Evans had been raised a conservative evangelical, but at a certain point she began to ask questions about her faith. In fact, the subtitle to her first book goes like this: “How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.”
From what people say about her writing, she seems to have been someone who asked questions not with hostility or animosity, but with good humor and humility. People who appreciate her say that she wasn’t trying to attack evangelical Christianity, but to provoke it to ask the same hard, clarifying questions she had to ask.
After she started asking questions and writing about them in books and her blog, she riled up a lot of conservative evangelicals. Shelley and I keep an eye on the online version of Christianity Today, a major evangelical magazine. When we heard that Rachel Evans had died, we wondered what CT would say about her.
There was a pause of a few days, as if the editors were trying to figure out how to respond. Finally, someone wrote an article saying how sorry they were about her death, but stressing that they did not agree with her ideas. Then someone else wrote an article championing her right to ask hard questions of her faith.
And yesterday I noticed that on the Adventist Today online newsletter, an Adventist woman who is within a year of Rachel Evans’ age tells how her own spiritual life was changed by Rachel’s writing, and now feels that she can ask questions about faith.
Well, Mary was way ahead of Rachel. So were many other famous Bible people. David was maybe the Bible’s chief question-asker. He has a lot of hard questions for God written right there in the stanzas of Israel’s hymnbook, the Psalms. David knew it was okay to ask God questions just as well as Isaiah did. Isaiah 1:18 quotes God as saying to His people, “Come now, and let us reason together.”
Okay, so if Mary’s and Lois’s and Eunice’s (and Timothy’s) first “Bible sidekick” principle was to develop a strong faith, how can we do that?
Well, in Romans 10:17, Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, and in this same letter of 2nd Timothy, chapter 3, verse 15, he reminds Timothy that because of his mother’s and grandmother’s faith, “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
You see? There is faith again. And that faith comes by a deepening knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and ideally by learning them from childhood on. Yet even if you’re a grown-up, and you have some catching up to do, don’t despair. I’ve seen people who were not raised on the Bible become great Bible students – sometimes even better than kids like me who’ve gone to church school. When you first come to the Bible as a grownup, you don’t have to unlearn mistaken ideas which well-meaning people have taught you.
And actually, this is what we could lay down as Sermon Point Two. What else can Mary, Lois and Eunice teach us about being a “sidekick” or comrade or close companion of God?
Not only did these three mothers develop a strong faith, but they also nurtured the faith of those in their care.
Let’s go back to Luke, this time chapter 2. I don’t know about you, but during Christmas time I sometimes find myself focusing so much on Gabriel’s visit to Mary that I forget a lot of the other faith-affirmations Mary received during that time.
Remember how Elizabeth encouraged her? Imagine these two mothers-to-be, the one a teenager and the other much older, talking about their miraculous pregnancies. Mary probably carried with her all her life the story of how little baby John kicked within his mother’s tummy when Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice.
And Jesus is born, and suddenly the Bethlehem stable is full of shepherds whose eyes have been dazzled with heavenly light.
Luke 2:15 – 19: So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen 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. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
I don’t imagine that mothers in Jesus’ time kept baby books. But Mary’s heart was so full of these evidences of God’s leading that she never forgot them. And she didn’t simply remember them – she pondered them in her heart.
But her most important task was to do what Lois and Eunice would later do for Timothy – teach Jesus the holy Scriptures. And she did this herself. The rabbis had a habit of spinning certain Bible verses their own direction. Mary simply unrolled those biblical scrolls and taught Jesus what they contained.
And her teaching was successful. After Joseph and Mary returned from having Jesus dedicated in the Temple at eight days old, watch what happens.
Luke 2:40: And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
And then He turns twelve, and mom and dad take Him to the Passover feast in Jerusalem:
Verses 41 – 50: His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” 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.
So here Jesus is, 12 years old. He has already realized who his true Father is, and that He needs to be involved in His Father’s business. And He already has a deep and mature grasp of what the Bible really says.
And Jesus, even at that young age, must’ve sensed that part of that business was nurturing faith in others. He stood in the temple with those rabbis, humbly asking questions, but also displaying a deep understanding of the Bible.
How do we nurture the faith of those in our care? When my brother and sisters and I were young, our parents actually did not attend church with us. Dad was painfully shy, and Mom loyally stayed home with him. But they dressed us kids up in our little suits and dresses, and sent us over to the Adventist Academy building, where the children’s divisions were held in some of the Academy’s room.
I remember that the junior class was in the boys’ dorm chapel. As a junior, I would go there every Sabbath, and we would sit down on the chapel pews, maybe six or seven kids.
And Lois and Merlin Anderson were our junior leaders. They were not young, and they were not energetic, but they deeply cared for us. They were very dignified people, and we were in awe of them, but they humbly taught us our Bible lessons each Sabbath. They knew how important the Bible was.
And it’s because I went to Sabbath school, and learned the memory verses, and later went to the Adventist elementary school, and learned more memory verses – It’s for that reason that I found out that God cared about me, cared enough to give me a Bible which told me about Him. If I had not had those Sabbath school classes, and later that church school education, where would I be? What would I believe?
We know that the Bible was useful to Jesus later in His ministry. When the devil tempted him in the wilderness, Jesus was ready with three brief, perfectly-aimed Bible bullets from the book of Deuteronomy.
And the Pharisees and rabbis – who had spent years learning how to spin the Bible verses to their own purposes – the Pharisees and the rabbis were no match for Jesus’ wide knowledge of the Bible. And Jesus always used his knowledge of the Bible not to score debating points but to draw people’s attention toward a loving God.
My father died early in 1994, which left my mom alone after 44 or 45 years of marriage. At some point after he was gone, Shelley asked mom to write some experiences she and dad had had together.
Mom gladly accepted the challenge, and this notebook I’m holding contains 111 pages of her writing. One very precious thing the Lord did for her as she was alone was to give her very realistic dreams about dad. They weren’t prophetic dreams or anything like that, and they had some of the inconsistencies that ordinary dreams have. But they brought dad near to her when she was especially grieving.
My mom was really grateful for these dreams, and I would like to read what she wrote about one of those dreams and how she expressed her gratitude to the Lord she loved so well. Thanks to Shelley’s request, I have this notebook—which means that my mother can still mentor me from beyond the grave.
“I believe,” Mom writes, “that the Lord is mindful of when we are missing our mate that has left us through death. I believe He senses that the sorrowing has built up in our bosom and that we are in need of a special comfort given by him. It seems that every so often I have a most precious tender dream about dad. Last night was one of those times. I dreamed that dad had come back and it seems we were living in a different house. This house had a large window and dad said he was trying to fix me up a table so that I could sit in front of this window and as I did my writing I could listen to all the birds. . . .
“After every one of those sweet dreams of dad, I seem to have a renewed courage to continue on in my lonely journey without him. It means so much to know that the Lord is really truly mindful of us in each of our trials and hard times. He truly is standing by to lend a helping hand when it is needed. . . . I am sure the Lord allows kind and tender experiences like that to help me along even though it comes through a dream. When we lose the most precious loved one it makes haven’t seen that much nearer. . . .
“Regardless of how it appears to us as humans, we have to come to the conclusion that the Lord do with all things well.”