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.

 

NEW YEAR 2014

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Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?  One dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”.  Another dictionary says:  “a serious decision to do something.”  From those definitions I get the impression that resolutions are choices we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in 2014?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make in 2013?  Are you satisfied with those choices? The search engine Google put a short film on U-Tube entitled “What Did The World Search For This Year.”  It focused on personal and world events that made life worth living in 2013.  At the end of the film are written these words:  “Search On“. I hope that you have come to this site to gain an eternal perspective on life, and to seek God’s  wisdom to guide you on your continuing search for answers and meaning to life.   The Bible tells us that there are only two things in this world that are going to last forever:  God’s Word and people.  In Matthew 24:35 the Lord Jesus told the parable of the fig tree, and said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”  In I Peter 1:24-25 the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40 when he says:  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” The other entity that lasts forever is people.  They will live forever in one of two places:  heaven or hell.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life.  He will not come to judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  By contrast, the apostle John records in Revelation 20 what he saw in a vision:  “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The wonderful and exciting thing about heaven is that it lasts forever.  The terrible and terrifying thing about hell is that it lasts forever.  Each year brings you closer to death, and also to eternity.   May you choose to have a joyful eternity by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Savior and Lord.  Then every day and every year until eternity will be filled with joy, inner peace, and unfading hope.

Please let me know your honest reaction to this New Year’s Eve message.  I will gladly respond to any comments you make and any questions you might have.  My purpose was not to dampen your spirit, but to put the year in perspective.  These were a few of the thoughts that came to my mind this New Year’s Eve.  I’m interested in knowing your thoughts also.  Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!

CITIZENSHIP IN HEAVEN – Philippians 3:17-21

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INTRODUCTION:

It seems strange that in this letter filled with joy we find Paul weeping. But these tears are not for himself but because of others. Paul is heart-broken over the way some, who call themselves Christians, are living their lives, with their minds on earthly things.

I. FOLLOW MY EXAMPLE (Verse 17)

In verse 17 Paul uses himself as an example and tells the members of the church at Philippi to follow him and those who imitate him. Why should the Philippian church follow Paul’s example? Why should we? I wouldn’t dare point to myself as a “model Christian”. None of us should. Paul knew he was a sinner. In I Timothy 1:15-16 he twice refers to himself as the “worst of sinners”. Paul, however, could say these words as he was writing from his prison cell because over the years he had poured himself out in full devotion to the Lord, and he had on his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He had received several scourgings as a result of his testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. In Galatians 6:17 Paul says, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus Christ.”

Until we are as dedicated as the apostle Paul, and have suffered the hardships he has experienced, it would be better for us not to call attention to ourselves as examples. However, we must also realize that every Christian is a pattern to someone who is watching him or her. So, what people see in us will either help or hinder the cause of Christ. That’s why Paul said to Timothy in I Timothy 4:12, “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.” Remember, others are watching us.

II. THE ISSUE (verses 18 and 19)

We don’t know for sure, but in verses 18 and 19 Paul may be talking about the Judaizers and their followers. The Judaizers were “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they added the Law of Moses to the saving work of Christ on the cross. Their “god is their appetite (or their belly)” because they were so strict about what things you could eat and what you were forbidden to eat. Their “glory is in their shame” because they required and boasted in the circumcision of all males. They were glorying in something that they should have been ashamed to talk about. In Galatians 6:14 and 15 Paul says, “but may it never be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” In verse 19 Paul shares the real source of their problems: they “set their minds on earthly things.” And verses 19 and 20 indicate that these “enemies of the cross of Christ” were not Christians, nor were they part of the Philippian congregation.

III. THE SOLUTION (verses 20 and 21)

Paul reminds the Christians at Philippi that their “citizenship is in heaven”. The church is a colony of heaven here on earth. Citizenship is important and it has its privileges. From across the world people continue to come to the United States to become citizens. This is often a deeply moving experience. One woman said, “I cried when I got my citizenship. I looked at the flag and said “I’m an American now!” Another man said, “I gave up everything to come here, but it was worth it”. Why do so many people have such a strong desire to become Americans? Their answers are basicly the same answers as those given by the Pilgrims. This is a country of hope, and they want a chance to be free. One person was asked how he was going to celebrate the day he became a citizen. His answer was, “I’m going to go to work. That’s the best way I can show my gratitude for my new homeland.”

None of us wants to suffer the fate of Philip Nolan in the book entitled “A Man Without A Country”. Because he cursed the name of his country, Nolan was sentenced to live aboard ship and never again see his native land or even hear its name or news about its progress. For 56 years he was on an endless journey from ship to ship and sea to sea, and finally was buried at sea. He was truly a man without a country.

As citizens of heaven living on earth, we Christians should never be discouraged because we know that our Lord is one day going to return, and maybe we’ll already be in glory before then. Thank God, we will not have to live in our present bodies forever. A new body is waiting for us, which will be a body like the resurrection body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will be an eternal body free from decay, and best of all, free from temptation and sin. A famous American wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone. This is what it says:

“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer.
Like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out,
Lies here, food for the worms;
But the work shall not be lost,
For it will appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected by its Author!”

As we notice the signs of age in these physical bodies of ours, it should not alarm us. The grey hair, the wrinkles, the declining physical strength, the aches and pains, and such things as false teeth and bifocal glasses should remind us that we are not to dwell in this old house forever. God has promised us a much better one. Take a look in the mirror! The moving van is on the way! Are you ready to go to heaven?

When I was a child I found an animal that was longer and thicker than my middle finger. It was a pea-green color on top and a darker shade of green below. It had a flat head with a black mouth that was lined with sharp teeth. It had six hands with snow white pads on them, which it used to stuff food into its mouth constantly. It had ten stubby little feet with suction cups on them. At the top of its rear end was a curved reddish horn, ending in a sharp, but harmless, point. At the time I thought it looked beautiful, but to most people it looked repulsive. Did you guess what it was? It was a big, fat tomato caterpillar! I put it in a mayonnaise jar and poked some small holes in the lid. My family and I were taking a trip to the mid-west for three weeks to visit family, so I stocked him up with leaves and grass. When we got back from our trip, I hurried into our garage to see it. To my surprise the caterpillar was gone, but in that jar was the biggest moth I had ever seen. It was light brown and had what looked like eyes on its wings. I had planned on keeping the caterpillar, but when I saw that moth I knew that I had to let it go. It was meant to fly and it was cooped up in that little jar. I opened the lid and watched with excitement and delight as it stretched its wings, took off, and flew away.

If we’ve accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are now citizens of heaven, and we’re in for a wonderful and beautiful change. We are going to have a peace, freedom and joy that we’ve never experienced before. It’s beyond our imaginations!

Are you a child of God? Are you a citizen of heaven? John 1:12 says that if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are a citizen of heaven by adoption. Only children of God become citizens of heaven. How are we expressing our appreciation for the wonderful privilege of being children of God and citizens of heaven? Are we faithfully and joyfully serving the Lord Jesus Christ today? That is the best way to celebrate the fact that we have truly become citizens of heaven.