In this advent season, as we celebrate Jesus’ life here on Earth, let us remember the gift that He is to the world from our Father, and consider that because of Him the blind could see, the deaf could hear, and the dead can live again!
Every Christmas season (or November 1st for me), we turn on our radios to hear the same songs reminding us of many things. Sometimes they remind us of childhood memories of opening our favorite gift, spending time with family, and bundling up to fight off the cold weather. However, as Christians, we recognize the message of a lot of Christmas songs reminds us of something much more significant than any present under the tree. My favorite Christmas songs remind me of why I celebrate Christmas, and that God loved the world so much that he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, for us. In the past 2000 years humanity has written many songs about this miraculous event. It seems that we have written a song from nearly every perspective at this point, even a hypothetical drummer boy that was at the manger. However, one song that has drummed up many controversies is “Mary Did You Know,” written by Mark Lowry. In the past couple of decades, many people have argued that, yes, of course, she knew, an angel came and told her. I even saw a video online recently that said, “This has been answered. Yes, Mary knew. Enough.”
The lyrics of the song say this:
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered will soon deliver you
And they go on to ask Mary a few more questions. To list them out, Lowry asks if Mary would know that:
1. Jesus would walk on water.
2. Jesus would save “our sons and daughters.”
3. Jesus will make you new.
4. Jesus would deliver her.
5. Jesus would give sight to the blind.
6. Jesus would calm a storm with his hand.
7. Jesus has walked where angels trod.
8. Jesus is fully God.
9. Jesus is the Lord of all Creation
10. Jesus will one day rule the nations
Together, Lowry asks Mary ten different questions. So, let’s take a look: Did Mary know?
In Luke chapter 1, we see an Angel of the Lord come to Mary and reveal what is about to happen. This angel, Gabriel, had to break some tough news to Mary. That she, a virgin, would bear a child. After greeting her, Gabriel says this:
"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
Luke 1:30-35 ESV
From this passage alone, could Mary answer any of Lowry’s questions? We know that all of the specific miracles, questions 1, 5, and 6, were not addressed by Gabriel. Question 2, asks if Mary knew that Jesus would save “our sons and daughters.” During this time and throughout the previous history, the Israelites mainly had seen God deal solely with their nation. This question asks if Mary knew that her Son would save all of humanity. From what Gabriel told her, there is no way she could have had that knowledge.
Question 3 asks if Mary knew that Jesus would make her new. This refers to Jesus sending the sanctifying Holy Spirit after His ascension, something Mary inevitably experienced. However, at the time of Jesus’ birth, from what the angel told her, there was no way that Mary would know about the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Mary is then asked if she knew Jesus would “deliver her.” Deliverance to someone with Jewish heritage often brings forth thoughts of the Exodus. Much of what Jesus did could be compared to Exodus, especially when using Paul’s language of unrepentant sinners being “slaves to sin.” When the angel tells Mary that Jesus will receive David’s throne and reign over Israel with “no end.” Mary would have most likely associated that with some kind of deliverance. There is no conceivable way that she could have expected all of the events to unfold the way they did/will, but Mary most likely would have been able to presume some sort of deliverance with the information Gabriel gave her.
Question 7 asks if Mary knew that Jesus “walked where angels trod.” Given that an angel was revealing this prophecy to her, and Gabriel only spoke of Jesus in the future tense, I would doubt that Mary considered the fact that Jesus, in his deity, dwelt in heaven before his earthly ministry. Mary was most likely a teenager at this time, and this advanced theological understanding is not something I would guess someone of her age had pondered during or after her miraculous pregnancy.
Additionally, Mary had to have known that Jesus was unique. However, I am not sure that she immediately knew that Jesus was fully God and a person of the (not yet fully revealed) trinity. Gabriel told her that he would be called “Son of the Most High” and that his reign would “have no end.” While these things seem like proof to us that Jesus is God, it’s not certain that Mary made that connection. Gabriel does add, in verse 35, that Jesus will “be called holy.” This is foreshadowing that there is something different about him, and perhaps Mary understood that this meant Jesus was God. However, she surely discovered He was God more fully while raising him and witnessing aspects of his ministry.
Lastly, Mary is asked if she knows that Jesus will rule over all nations. From what Gabriel says explicitly in Luke 1, she knew that Jesus would rule over Israel, which at the time was under Roman captivity, and that it would be an eternal kingdom.
Now you may be reading this and thinking, "Wasn’t Jesus prophesied? Weren’t many of these things discussed by Isaiah, Daniel, etc.?" You’re right, a lot of what Lowry is asking Mary was prophesied, but we must remember that Mary was not an Old Testament Scholar. In fact, many of the Old Testament Scholars of the day still did not recognize who Jesus was, and the Gospel of Matthew does a great job of showing how Jesus fulfilled even the smallest of prophecies.
Jesus’ life blessed the Gentiles, something Lowry asked and something that was directly prophesied. However, many of the Jews during Jesus’ time would have been surprised by Jesus’ interactions with Gentiles, like with the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8. Yes, it was prophesied, but it was still unexpected. An excellent example of this is Isaiah 7:14. This is the verse that prophesies that the Lord will give a sign that is a virgin birth. If Mary was a perfect Old Testament Scholar, she wouldn’t have been taken aback by what the angel told her. She would have known that she was fulfilling that prophecy. However, when she first heard the news, Mary was confused and asked how she would get pregnant since she was a virgin. God even sent her a sign of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Even though Jesus’ superiority was prophesied throughout the Old Testament, we can’t expect Mary to have perfect knowledge and understanding of that prophecy.
Surely Mary didn’t know all of those things that Lowry asks in his famous Christmas song. And surely, she joyfully grew in amazement as she progressively realized the greatness of the son that was once in her womb. A perfect Old Testament scholar would know Isaiah 35:5-6 and remember that the savior of the world would perform miracles like healing the blind, but even the Pharisees who knew the prophecy weren’t able to recognize Jesus. So, Mary didn’t know all of what Jesus would do, and that speaks to her great faith as she delivered, raised, and nurtured the eventual King of the World.
Just in case you’re saying to yourself, “Ok, but why are you defending this song?” While 60-70% of my motivation was to give those of you interested fuel for a debate in this season to turn the tables on someone thinking they are original with this trite criticism of a sweet song, I also want to point out that there are few modern Christmas songs that have as much clear, accessible Christology in every line. In this advent season, as we celebrate Jesus’ life here on Earth, let us remember the gift that He is to the world from our Father, and consider that because of Him the blind could see, the deaf could hear, and the dead can live again!