ELIZABETH AND MARY REJOICING – Luke 1:39-56

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INTRODUCTION:

The scene opens.  Mary had just told the angel Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . . May it be done to me as you have said” (NIV translation).  She has agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, and the angel Gabriel has just left her to return to the presence of God in heaven.  She is now alone, with her mind filled with thoughts and her heart filled with emotions.  “What do I do now?”  “Has the angel’s announcement already happened?”  “Am I already pregnant?”  “How will I know?”  “Who can I share all these amazing occurrences with?”

That’s where we begin our study of Luke 1:39-56.  The answers to those questions, and what happens next, are all found in this passage of Scripture.

I.  THE JOY OF ELIZABETH (verses 39-45)

Once Mary is able to gain some control over her thoughts and emotions, she remembers the angel’s words about Elizabeth.  “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was barren is now in her sixth month.”  From the response that follows, Mary may have thought, “Elizabeth is having a supernatural pregnancy also!  We have that in common!  She’s the only person I can talk to about these things that the angel told me.  I can’t tell Joseph since I’m not sure it has happened yet or when it will happen.  Her home will be a place of safety for me, and I can be of service to her.”  Are you getting the picture of Mary’s dilemma?

Verse 39 says, “Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country to a city of Judah”.  Mary probably grabbed a few necessities for the trip, and may have left a note for her parents and for Joseph explaining that she had gone to Elizabeth to help her in the final trimester of her pregnancy.  Then she took off “in haste” to avoid any conversations and questions from family, friends, and neighbors.  The home of Zacharias and Elizabeth was 80 miles away, a journey of four to five days on foot.  In her haste to get there, Mary may have arrived in four days or even less.  She had plenty to think about along the way!  But all the travelling is going to be worth the effort on her part.  Her visit with Elizabeth and Zacharias is going to be beyond her highest expectations!  The Spirit of God is going to do some amazing things!

As Mary reaches the hill country of Judah and the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth is in sight, she has been rehearsing in her mind what she is going to say to Elizabeth and how she is going to say it.  There is probably some uneasiness about how this information is going to be received and the responses she might get.  However, when she enters their house and greets Elizabeth, the Spirit of God takes it from there and performs a miracle to her amazement.  Verse 41 says, “And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not sure that Mary observed those two things happening to Elizabeth, but she certainly heard the results.  The Holy Spirit immediately informed Elizabeth that Mary was pregnant with the Messiah, and then the Spirit took control of her voice as she described what happened and why it happened.  Verse 42 says, “And she (Elizabeth) cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.”  Her voice was ecstatic and loud.  Notice that Elizabeth says “blessed among women”, not blessed above women.  It is a place of unmerited privilege, not a place of veneration or worship.  Her words were a confirmation to Mary that she was already pregnant.  “But how could she have known that information?”, Mary wonders.  “I haven’t told anyone that information and the news couldn’t have travelled that fast.  God must have told her.”

The answer comes in Elizabeth’s next statement in verse 43:  “And how is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Elizabeth not only knows that Mary is pregnant, but also that she is pregnant with the Messiah.  This is a second confirmation of the angel Gabriel words to her.  In verse 44, Elizabeth describes to Mary what happened within her womb when she heard her voice.  “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”

You mothers know what it looks like and feels like when your baby has moved around in your womb, especially when you are close to term.  Fathers and older brothers and sisters have watched wide-eyed. and with bursts of laughter, when the baby’s arm, elbow, or foot, protrudes in your belly.  It’s an amazing sight to watch and enjoy!

What Elizabeth described to Mary went well beyond the usual occurrence.  You might say that her experience was a miracle in itself.  It makes you wonder what it must have felt like when it happened!   I wonder whether the unborn John the Baptist was not only jumping for joy, but also assuming a position of worship before the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  Just a thought.

Finally, Elizabeth says in verse 45:  “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”  The Holy Spirit had even given Elizabeth insight into Mary’s heart, and Mary’s faith in God’s promise.  Because Elizabeth is saying these things under the control of the Spirit, this commendation of Mary comes not only from Elizabeth but also from God Himself.

II.  THE JOY OF MARY (verses 46-56)

After hearing these words from Elizabeth, Mary’s heart is overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God.  She responds with one of the most beautiful and worshipful prayers or declarations of praise to God in the Scriptures.  It is often called the Magnificat.  The Latin Vulgate translation begins with the words “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” (“My soul magnifies the Lord”).  The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states:  “Some of the greatest works of Christian art have been produced around the Magnificat themes.  Artists, poets and musicians have celebrated its theme of joy at the salvation now graciously offered mankind through the gift of the Messiah.”

Mary’s words are similar to the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2:1-10, where Hannah praises and thanks God for giving her a son (Samuel).  You might want to read that passage of Scripture and compare the two prayers.

This declaration of praise to God reveals much to us about Mary’s character, her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, her concept of God, and her trust in Him.  Let’s take a closer look at her words as she declares the greatness of God’s character, and His wonderful deeds.  Before we study the individual verses of Mary’s declaration of praises, let’s look at all ten verses of the Magnificat so that you can see the whole prayer at once.

“My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble estate of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.  And holy is His name.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.

He has done mighty deeds with His arm.
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.
He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever”

That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?  With just a few modifications we could turn that into our own declaration of praise to God.  As we see, this young lady (Mary) must have spent a lot of time meditating on God’s Word.

Mary begins by expressing the source of her praise and joy.  In verse 46 she refers to God as Lord, and in verse 47 she calls Him my Savior.  She is echoing the words of Hannah in I Samuel 2, and the words of David in Psalm 35:9.  Like everyone else, Mary had to acknowledge Him as Lord, repent of her sins, and receive His salvation.

In verses 48 and 49, Mary rejoices in what God has done for her personally. Though she is the least of His servants, God has blessed her with the undeserved privilege of being the mother of the Messiah, who is now in her womb, and every generation will acknowledge this blessing of God upon her.  The focus of her attention is on God, and not on herself.  He is the one who has done these things.  As she says in verse 49:  “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”   I am impressed by Mary’s humility and her willing surrender to God’s will, as well as her concept of God’s power and holiness.

In the next section of her song, Mary includes those who are in the same socio-economic condition as herself (poor, humble and despised followers of Him).  Quoting from Psalms 103, 98, and 118, she praises God for His faithful mercies as He scatters the proud, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed.  Quoting from Job 5, Mary declares how God has exalted the humble and brought down rulers from their thrones.  Mary knows the Word of God, and her praise and confidence in Him is based upon God’s faithfulness to keep His Word.

Lastly, Mary gives praise to God for the things He has done for His people Israel.  In her prayer of praise she recalls to her mind Genesis 17:7 and 17:19, declaring God’s forever-promises to Abraham and his descendants: the land, the seed, and the blessing to all nations.  Many other passages in the book of Genesis are included in these promises.

After Mary finishes her hymn of praise, the Gospel writer Luke writes these words:  “And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home” (verse 56).  “Three months” – so for three months Mary and Elizabeth were praising God together for what God was doing in their lives.  Zacharias was praising God also.  We just don’t have any word from him.  He was speechless until after his son was born.

HAVE YOU FOUND REASONS TO REJOICE?

I think my favorite definition of worship is the one written by William Temple.  He was an Anglican minister, an advocate for social reform, and served as an archbishop for many years.  We have a William Temple House and a William Temple Thrift Store here in Portland, Oregon.   He says:  “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”  As I look at Mary’s prayer again, I find that she employed all of those characteristics of worship.  Mary declares God’s holiness and quotes from God’s Word several times.  She focuses on God’s character (His mercy, power, sovereignty, provision, and faithfulness).  As she expresses these words you can tell that her heart is filled with love for Him, and she counts it a privilege to serve Him.

Beloved, do you find it hard at times, as I do, to express praise and worship to God?  Do frustrations and distractions put you out-of-focus sometimes and rob you of joy and thankfulness to God?  What has often helped to restore my focus on God and an attitude of worship and praise has been to read one or more of the Psalms and reflect upon the character of God and His concern for us.  As a result of this study, I’m also adding the prayer of Mary and the prayer of Hannah to my list of Scripture passages to read in order to prepare my heart for worship.   Many recording artists have recorded renditions of the psalms and other passages on YouTube.  Esther Mui, for example sings beautifully many of the psalms as well as other worshipful passages of Scripture.  You can read the lyrics as she sings and the photos are awesome.  She is one of many artists who have placed their songs on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.

I hope that you have found reasons to rejoice and worship God.  If not, let’s start finding resources today.  I’ve given you a place to start.  I hope you will carry your quest for an attitude of worship and praise beyond my suggestions, and give some suggestions to me as well.

An illustration I just read caused me to realize that we will know when we are truly worshipping and praising God in our hearts because we will feel the nearness of His presence and experience the joy of His presence.    Here is the illustration:  After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today – – but I wish you had been there!”

May you experience the nearness of God’s presence and the joy of His presence today as you take time to praise and worship Him.

 

JESUS CHRIST, IDENTIFIED AND MAGNIFIED – John 1:15-17

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Have you ever had something really wonderful happen to you and you could hardly wait to share it with your family and friends?  As you write the letters, send the emails, or make the phone calls, in your excitement you begin with the big picture, the main event.  In just a few action-packed and emotion-filled words you release your excitement.  Then you begin to explain the details:  what led up to the event, the event itself, and what has been happening to you afterward.  You might also talk about the effects it might have on your future.  Does that sequence of events sound familiar to you?

The apostle John has reached that point in his gospel.  Verses 1-18 are his prologue, the introduction to his book.  He has been describing the “logos” in order to gain the attention and interest of his Greek-speaking audience.  In verse 14 he comes to the exciting main event:  “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us“!  In his excitement, John is saying, “Isn’t that amazing!”  “Isn’t that exciting!”  He spends the rest of his book telling them, and us, about it.

I.  THE TESTIMONY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (verse 15)

To verify his statement, John directs our attention again to the words of John the Baptist, for a brief moment, because John the Baptist was the first person to publicly identify the Logos.  Though John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, he says of Jesus in verse 15, “He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”   He shouted those words as loud as he could because he wanted to get everyone’s attention.  He wanted everyone within earshot to hear from his lips who Jesus truly was,  John the Baptist is referring to Jesus’ eternal existence, and therefore His deity.  He will have much more to say about Jesus in the next passage of Scripture that we will be studying – verses 19 and following of John chapter 1.

Some people consider Jesus Christ to be only a man, and indeed He is a man.  Some people point to Him as an example, and He is that also.  But if that’s all you can see in Jesus Christ, then your view of Him is incomplete and contrary to the Scriptures.  For the first and most important thing said about Jesus Christ is that He had no beginning, and that is the same as calling him God.

The Old Testament, which was completed 400 years before the birth of Christ, contains many occurrences of His appearing to people.  The terms “the angel of the Lord” or “the angel of God” are used often in the Old Testament to refer to an appearance of Christ.  He appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18 and is referred to as “the Lord”.  In John 8:56 Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  He appeared to Jacob in a dream in Genesis 31 and introduced Himself as “the God of Bethel”.  Jacob wrestles with a man in Genesis 32, and the man says, “You have striven with God”.  Jacob then says, “I saw God face-to-face”.  In Exodus 23:21 He appears to Moses and is identified by God as having the power to forgive sins because God says, “My name is in him”.

There are many other references to “the angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament.  It’s interesting to note that this “angel of the Lord” never appeared during the lifetime of Jesus Christ on this earth.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ is the “angel of the Lord” making an “extended appearance” for thirty-three years as a human being.

II.  CHRIST’S SUFFICIENCY (verse 16)

In verse 16, the apostle John continues where he left off in verse 14.  He said that the Word was “full of grace and truth”.  Now he adds, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”  We might ask the question:  “What is it that we have received from Jesus Christ?”  A better question might be:  “What is it that we have not received?”  From Him we have received a new life, peace, joy, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and all that the believer needs for this life and for eternity.

Have you ever filled a glass or bucket to the brim with water and then tried to walk while carrying it?  You couldn’t keep it from spilling the water all over the place, could you?  The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:19, says of Jesus;  “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus was “that you may be filled with all the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:19).  The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, declared, “I have heard our Lord compared to a man carrying a water pot.  As he bore it upon his shoulder, the water, yielding to the movement of his body, fell dropping and spilling about so that one could easily track the water-bearer.  So should all of God’s people be carrying such a fullness of grace that everyone knows where they have been by the tracks they leave behind.”

The apostle John describes this “fullness” as “grace upon grace“.  Out of Christ’s “fullness” we have received one grace after another.  It is an inexhaustible supply of fresh grace.  I lead worship services at several healthcare facilities and we have been studying the miracles in the Old Testament.  I think that the miracle we studied this week is very appropriate to this verse of Scripture.  In I KIngs 17, after Elijah told King Ahab that there was going to be a drought, God told Elijah to hide at the brook Cherith and He would provide Elijah with food daily.  Many of you are probably familiar with the “Meals On Wheels” program.  For a modest fee they will bring a hot meal to the door of a person who is unable to prepare a good meal for himself.  I think that God had an even better idea.  I call it “Meals on Wings”.  Twice a day ravens brought Elijah meat and bread — airmail, special delivery!  This continued for months, maybe for a year or more.  What a demonstration of the continuing, faithful grace of God!

When John describes how that fullness is bestowed upon us, he uses the Greek preposition, anti, which has been translated into English in many different ways.  The most popular translation appears to be “grace upon grace“.  However, there are several other translations such as:  “grace for grace”, “grace on grace”, “grace after grace”, “grace in place of grace”, “grace over against grace”, as well as many paraphrases of those words.

Which translation of “anti” is correct?  Do they all convey the exact same meaning?  What was the literal meaning of that word in common usage during that period of time?  My own conclusion, so far, is that the Greek preposition “anti” usually means “instead of” or “in place of”.  It does sound awkward to say “grace instead of grace” or grace in place of grace”.  There needs to an explanation so that we can put the phrase into understandable English.  I think I found that explanation.  It makes sense to me and I hope it will make sense to you as well.  Joanie Yoder gives the following explanation and illustration in an Our Daily Bread devotional:

Years ago, Amy Carmichael shared some helpful insights about the phrase, “grace for grace.”  Drawing from the writings of Bishop Moule (1841-1920), she wrote that the Greek word translated “for” literally means “instead of”.  He illustrated the meaning by describing a river.  “Stand on its banks,” he wrote, “and contemplate the flow of waters.  A minute passes, and another.  Is it the same stream still?  Yes.  But is it the same water?  No.”  The old water, he explained, had been displaced by new — “water in stead of water,”

The same is true of grace.  Your life today may carry yesterday’s problems, but remember, God’s grace is new each morning, exactly what you need to meet each new challenge.  It is an inexhaustible and ever-fresh supply.

Thank you, Joanie, Bishop Moule, and Our Daily Bread Ministries for those insights.  As the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness (RSV).  I personally like the translations “grace after grace” and “one grace after another”.

The following illustration describes grace in terms of “dollars and cents” if that gives you a clearer picture.  A generous man decided to give a thousand dollars to a poor minister.  (This illustration was written back in the day when a thousand dollars was a lot of money; when one hundred dollars a week was the average wage of a blue-collar worker.)  Thinking that it might be too much all at once, he sent fifty dollars with a note which said, “More to follow“.  A few days later he sent a similar amount with the same message.  At regular intervals he sent a third, then a fourth, and a fifth, and so on, all accompanied by the same promise, “More to follow“.  The surprised and happy minister soon became familiar with those cheering words and his gratitude to God overflowed each time he read them.  In the same way, every blessing God gives us in Christ comes with a reminder, “More to follow“.

CHRIST’S FULLNESS BY COMPARISON (verse 17)

In verse 17, John contrasts this grace with the Old Testament law when he says, “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The law was “given“.  It was engraved on tablets of stone by the finger of God.  Grace and truth “came“.  They were wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ.  People saw and experienced His grace.  Peter said, “Jesus went around doing good” (Acts10:38).  The Lord Jesus also spoke the truth, and with authority.  In the gospel writings you will notice that the Lord Jesus often used the words, “Truly, truly, I say to you”, or “I tell you the truth”.  In John 7:32 the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to seize Jesus.  They returned empty-handed.  When asked why they didn’t bring Him, the officers answered, “No one ever spoke the way this man speaks.” (John 7:46, NIV)  Grace and truth were Jesus’ essential perfections.  They set Him apart from the rest of the world.  Those two attributes, grace and truth, need to come together in our own lives also.  It is difficult to receive, and impossible to really enjoy, a gift that comes from someone we don’t trust.  Are there people who don’t trust you?  By the grace of God, what are you going to do about it?

CONCLUSION:

There is joy and excitement in the New Testament, especially after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the focus is upon “the grace of God” and “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.  It was continually in their minds of the apostles, as well as on their hearts, in their speech, and in their writings.  Get out a concordance, look up the word “grace” and see how many times it is mentioned in the book of Acts and in the epistles.  Look at the opening paragraph and closing paragraph of the epistles and see how many times it is there.  It appears to me that this is the way the first-century Christians said hello and goodbye to each other.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about those words and say them often enough.  I can never think about them or say them often enough.  When I turn off this computer I’m going to write the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” on a piece of paper and put it on my refrigerator, where I’ll see it several times a day.  I have a little wooden “pocket cross”, a gift from a friend.  I’ve stopped putting it in my pocket, but it is going back in it again.  Every time I put my hand in my pocket to get my keys or warm my hand, I want to be reminded of the grace of God.  If you have reminders that you use, I would appreciate hearing from you about it.  Let’s be of encouragement to one another.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

 

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  II Timothy 2:15 (NIV)