“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Many of our readers will recognize these words from Luke’s gospel (1:45). He attributes them to Elizabeth, an old Jewish woman from the Judean countryside. She had been barren but now is pregnant with John the Baptizer. Elizabeth is greeting her younger cousin, Mary, a virgin perhaps as young as 14, who had come to tell Elizabeth that she, Mary, was with child.
We all know the story. The angel Gabriel had come to the Galilean town of Nazareth to make one of the most significant announcements in history. Mary, a young woman from the backwater of Israel, was as common as her community and her surroundings. She was the world’s “Every Woman.” Yet the God of the universe had chosen Mary’s womb (the Hebrew for womb means the “place of compassion”) to conceive and carry His incarnate Son for nine months of gestation.
It has always been stunning to me that the One who created the human womb would choose to live in a womb for nine months. In this simple miracle, God honors the life and dignity of every woman.
When Mary greeted Elizabeth in her home, Luke says Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and her baby leaped in her womb. Elizabeth then speaks a prophetic blessing over the young mother and the virgin womb that has been brought alive by the Spirit of God: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” Of all the common women, God the Father chose Mary of Nazareth to bear God Incarnate.
Of course when Mary saw the angel and heard his words, she was startled. But in response to his unusual announcement, Mary simply replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
Because she heard and submitted herself to the glorious will of God, Mary received another blessing from Elizabeth: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”
Last week these words jumped out at me with new life. I was in Townsville, Australia, teaching in a YWAM Leadership Training School. I was privileged to share my week with over 60 young leaders from 16 countries. One of the themes we wrestled with was the inherent dignity of women. Much of our world is infested with the lie that “men are superior to women.” This lie has diminished and enslaved women and men, and families as well. They and their nations have been impoverished.
Part of my task was to expose this lie and break its power. This climaxed one morning. We experienced a remarkable moment as the Spirit of God powerfully descended to affirm, in the hearts of both women and men, the truth that women have dignity because they are made in the image of God.
Men and women were in tears. Men stood and asked the females in their lives to forgive them for the way they had related to women, for their demanding words and actions. Women extended forgiveness. As they witnessed genuine repentance and extended heartfelt forgiveness, they were released from years of oppression and bondage. It was one of those remarkable times in life when God led us to holy ground.
He created them male and female
This moment happened as we studied the Cultural Commission of Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
I have highlighted these verses to draw attention to some things easily missed in a quick reading of the text. Note that:
- It says let “us” make man in “our” image. It does not say let “me” make many in “my” image. Before the creation of the world, there was community, communication and communion. To be made in the image of God is to be made in and for relationship. A single individual cannot fulfill all that it means to be made in the image of God.
- It says that “they” may rule. It does not say that “he” may rule. This is God’s world and not man’s world. The task of the Cultural Commission is for “them” – male and female. It is a joint task with corresponding responsibilities.
- The image of God is male and female. Just as one single male cannot reflect all that it means to be made in the image of God, so it is true that two males cannot reflect all that it means to be made in the image of God. It takes female and male to reveal God’s comprehensive nature. It takes feminine/female to reveal the maternal heart of God and masculine/male to reveal the paternal heart of God.
- The Cultural Commission has two component parts. First, forming families. This is the sociological component. Second, stewarding creation. This is the developmental component. It takes male and female to fully reveal the image of God, and it takes female and male to fulfill the Cultural Mandate. This male–female image-of-God pair is tasked to procreate. Two men or two women cannot procreate. It requires male and female to procreate and to co-rule. It takes the different giftings of male and female, the complementarian nature of feminine and masculine to steward the creation, to discover its secrets and bring forth all its potential.
God made male and female to form families and govern creation
Again, this is not man’s world, this is God’s world. And He made us, in His image, male and female to form families and through those families to govern creation.
As we reviewed these themes over several days, the students were introduced to an alternative universe, a universe formed by the Trinitarian God for a life together. The Trinity is marked by unity without uniformity and diversity without superiority. Women and men are created equal. Men and cultures have no grounds for claiming male superiority. Men and women are created equal and gloriously different. There is no place to deny transcendent masculine and feminine, as modern Western culture does. The Trinitiarian principle boldly challenges the postmodern culture that argues that male–female is a sociological construction that has no meaning.
Reality has meaning. God’s revelation, both in His design of male and female and the announcement of His intention for male and female in Genesis 1, allows us to live and breathe free. We can celebrate the unique equality of female and male!
What happened in Townsville was a breakthrough for most of these young leaders. They understood more about God. For the first time many understood the glorious distinctive of male and female and the wonder and dignity of female.
It struck me that Elizabeth’s words to Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” is true for all of us. We are blessed when we believe what God has said about who we are and what he intends to accomplish through our lives.
- Darrow Miller
You can read more about this powerful truth in Darrow’s book, Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women in Building Healthy Cultures.