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.

 

NINE MONTHS BEFORE CHRISTMAS – Luke 1:26-38

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Why have I entitled this message, “Nine Months Before Christmas”?  If you’re a mother, you would have no difficulty understanding what I mean.  Every year at this time, we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem.  But there is another amazing miracle that is often overlooked during this season.  If you believe that life begins at conception, as I do and as the Bible teaches, then the Lord Jesus Christ became a human person at the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.  I personally think that this is an even more amazing miracle than His birth.  Since I already have at least two messages on this site that focus on the birth of Christ, and since this sermon’s title is often overlooked during the Christmas season, let’s study the sequence of events and the miracle that occurred at His conception.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 26-27)

The story begins in Luke chapter 1.  Verses 26 and 27 say:  “Now in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke states that it is the “sixth month”.  He means the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  He’s marking time from the last appearance of the Angel Gabriel, and the miracle of pregnancy that was promised to the aged priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth.  They were going to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah.

In verse 27 we are introduced to Mary, a virgin girl, probably in her early to mid-teen years, and she was engaged to a man named Joseph.  They were both from Nazareth so they were probably very poor.  This town, and the Jews in it, were despised by the Jews in Judea because Nazareth was a small, poor, out-of-the-way town in the region of Galilee where there were more gentiles than Jews.

Mary was “espoused” (betrothed, engaged) to Joseph.  Among the Jews at that period of time, the marriage vows were said at the betrothal, and it required a divorce to end the relationship.  It was the custom for there to be an interval of usually a year before she could take up residence in her husband’s house and the physical union could be consummated.  It must have been near the end of that espousal period.  I have more details about the marriage custom in my sermon on John 2:1-11.

II.  THE GREETING (verses 28-29)

Everything seems to be going according to plan for Mary and Joseph, and then something unexpected happens.  God sent the angel Gabriel on another mission, this time to Mary.  Gabriel’s name means “the strength of God”, and he is often seen delivering messages of kindness and blessing.  His appearance to Mary is recorded only in Luke’s gospel.

There seems to be a fascination with angels, especially at Christmas time.  Recent surveys have shown that anywhere between 55-70% of Americans believe in the existence of angels and their activity in our world today.  There have been several major motion pictures about angels, as well as movies having angels in them.  The classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is shown every Christmas season, and the angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows George (James Stewart) what life would have been like if he had never been born.  If you’ve never seen this movie, please put it on your “must see” list this year.  You will really enjoy it!

The Bible says that angels are “innumerable” (Psalm 68:17).  There are too many of them to count.  Yet only two angels are named in the Bible:  Gabriel and Michael.  It’s interesting to note also that both Zacharias and Mary recognized that it was an angel who was visiting them.  I’ve often wondered whether the faces of angels shone because of being in the presence of God and seeing Him face-to-face.  We will know some day!  Let’s see what the angel Gabriel has to say to Mary.  Luke 1:28 says, “And coming in, he said to her, ‘Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you’.”  Many of the homes in that day had a small or large courtyard just outside the living area.  Apparently Gabriel entered that courtyard, and then greeted Mary as soon as she saw him.  Gabriel greets Mary joyfully and respectfully, telling her that God has chosen her for a special privilege.  He’s not putting Mary on a pedestal above other women   He is letting her know that God has given her a unique role in His plan of salvation.  It is an unmerited favor from God.  She didn’t earn the right, nor did she deserve it, but as we shall see, she did not gloat over it but humbly accepted it.  Stephen is also called “full of grace” in Acts 6:8.

In verse 29 we see Mary’s initial response to his greeting:  “But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be.”  I can imagine that many thoughts and questions were going through her mind, such as “What an unusual greeting”.  “Why would he be saying those words to me?”  “I’m supposed to return his greeting; what words should I say?”

III.  THE ANNOUNCEMENT (verse 30-33)

The angel Gabriel seems to understand her fears and concerns because he tells her: “Do not be afraid”, calling her by name.  Then he declares to her the announcement that was given to him by God.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”

After that description, I don’t think there was any doubt in Mary’s mind that this child he speaks of is going to be the Messiah.  The phrase the “Son of Most High” is a Messianic title, and His lineage and everlasting reign eliminate all other possible contenders. (Psalm 89:36,37; Isaiah 9:6-7).

As a Jewess, should Mary have known that the Messiah was going to come by virgin-birth?  Yes.  Was it her fault that she didn’t know this?  No.  This information given by the Angel Gabriel should not have come as a surprise to the nation of Israel.  There are at least two passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that point to the virgin birth of the Messiah.  The first is Genesis 3:15.  After the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they sinned, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”  This verse is speaking of the Messiah.  God says “her seed”.  A woman doesn’t have a seed.  She has eggs.  The man has the seed.  If this mother of the Messiah is going to have a seed apart from man, then she will remain a virgin, right?  If the seed doesn’t come from man, then it has to come from God.  Isaiah 7:14 confirms this.  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name “Immanuel.”  The Scribes and teachers of the Law ignored, overlooked, and failed to teach about the suffering Messiah because they were looking for the conquering Messiah.

IV.  THE QUESTION AND THE ANSWER (verses 34-37)

Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement is not the same as the response of her relative Zacharias. When he was told by the angel that his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a son even though she was past child-bearing years. he questioned whether this could happen and asked for a sign to verify it.  As a result, the angel Gabriel told Zacharias that he would not be able to speak until the child was born.  Mary, however, believed that God could do what the angel said.  She didn’t ask for a sign as proof that what he is saying is true.  She is just curious as to the  “process” by which it would be done since she was a virgin.  So she asks the question:  “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel Gabriel goes on to answer her question and provide more information in verse 35.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.”  Notice that all three members of the Trinity are mentioned in his answer (the Most High, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God).  This was to be a combined effort, and each Person of the Trinity had a specific role.

So, just how did this all come about?  Obviously this was going to be no ordinary conception!  Firstly, Gabriel says, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”.  (Gabriel is answering her question with words that she would understand – words from the Old Testament Scriptures).  When she heard those words from Gabriel, she was reminded of Old Testament stories she heard from her parents and learned in the synagogue about how the Spirit of God “came upon” Joshua (Num. 27:18), David (I Sam. 1612-18), Saul (I Sam. 10:10), Bezalel (Ex. 31::2-5), and others.  In each case the Spirit came upon them to empower them and enable them to accomplish the work that God had called them to do.  This would have directed her thoughts toward the power, the provision, and the faithfulness of God.  As she did this, her worries would begin to fade away.

Secondly, he says, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The word translated “overshadow” means “to cover”.  Any Jew during that time would associate that word with the tabernacle in the wilderness during the forty years of wandering in the desert.  Exodus 40:34, 35 and 38 describe God’s “overshadowing” of His tabernacle after it had been erected.  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. . . . For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.”

The cloud over the tabernacle was a symbol of God’s glory and His continual presence with His people.  To an Israelite it was comforting to think that God was hovering over them like an eagle over its nest, with wings outspread, keeping an eye on them and protecting them.  The cloud also depicted the holiness of God, and therefore His worthiness to be worshipped.  The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that her womb would be the tabernacle of the Son of God for nine months.  He was directing her thoughts toward the holiness of God and the continual presence of God over her (and in her).

V.  THE SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT (verses 36-37)

The angel Gabriel’s second announcement is one of joy and encouragement to Mary.  She learns that her relative Elizabeth is pregnant and in her sixth month of pregnancy.  Elizabeth was old enough to be Mary’s grandmother or even great-grandmother!  What a pleasant surprise that must have been to hear that news about Elizabeth, and to hear the words that followed!  In verse 37, the angel Gabriel ends his announcement with these words:  “For nothing will be impossible with God.”   It’s a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah’s words of praise to God in Jeremiah 29:17, “Ah, Lord God!  Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm!  Nothing is too difficult for Thee.”

VI.  THE ACCEPTANCE (verse 38)

Verse 38 tells us Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement:  “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”  The Message puts it this way:  “Yes, I see it all now; I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as you say.”  Then the angel left.  As a humble servant of God, Mary accepted her calling from God immediately, in spite of the suffering, misunderstandings, and adjustments that might lie ahead for her.  She joins the ranks of other virtuous women such as Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and others who chose to obey God, and desired to be used by God in spite of the consequences to themselves.

VI.  THE LESSONS

Thomas a Kempis, a Catholic priest in the 1400’s who wrote the book, The Imitation of Christ, had these words to say about obedience:  “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.”  Are there things you know God wants you to do or complete, and you haven’t done them?  Are there people you know God wants you to visit or contact; are there relationships God wants you to mend and you’ve been putting it off.  You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Better late than never, but better never late.”  Let’s turn that around for the things we need to catch up on with God, and then turn it back.  “Better never late, but better late than never.”

Finally, is our devotion to God motived by love?  Do we spend time daily in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer before we begin our other activities on our schedule for the day.  Remember that the Lord Jesus spent nine months pretty-much incapacitated in Mary’s womb out of love for us, so that He might identify with us as our High Priest in heaven today.  Is it asking too much this Christmas season for us to spend some time in fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer as we begin our day?  If we do so, He’ll be in our thoughts, and a source of joy throughout our day.  We might enjoy the time with Him so much that we’ll want to do so “in season and out of season”!  After all, we are always on His thoughts and in His mind, “in season and out of season”!

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  I call this particular construction project:  “Putting up the decorations for the Christmas season”.  I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for what the Lord Jesus realized and experienced when He chose to become a human being like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 2:17).  As I think of what Jesus experienced from the moment of conception, my heart is filled with awe and wonder.  I hope this has been your experience also.  May this Christmas season be filled with a fresh and ever-deepening love for our Savior as a result of examining more closely what’s recorded in His Word.

P.S.  I’ve decided to end this message at verse 38.  There are too many joy-filled words spoken by Elizabeth and Mary to “skim over”.  Rather than being an “extra room”, they deserve a site of their own!  See you in the next construction site!  Hopefully I’ll have it completed before Christmas also.