Study in Luke’s Gospel. Presentation 03. Praising God: The Magnificat Chap 1v39-56. Presentation 03. Introduction.
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Mary had never been so out of breath before. The trip from her hometown of Nazareth in the Land of Israel up into the hill country of Judea had been very tiring. It always was! But she did not seem to notice her aching limbs and breathlessness.
Throughout the journey she had opportunity to reflect on the staggering nature of the angel’s message. God was about to enter the world. He would do so in human form. And she would be the mother of this unique child. God had not abandoned his people as some of the cynics thought. He had broken through the wall of silence. He had spoken great good news.
And her cousin Elizabeth, the cousin whose childlessness had caused the hearts of many in the family to ache was also included in God’s plan.
Elizabeth who had learned to handle the reproach of a community down through the years would understand the reproach that Mary would experience at the hands of the town gossips as the child grew within her womb. But her uppermost emotion did not reflect concern for what others would say but joy in what God was about to do!.
Mary entered Elizabeth’s house and called out a greeting and even before they set eyes on one another something remarkable happened. Cf. v41 ‘the baby leaped in her womb’. You may be thinking that all expectant mothers at this stage in their pregnancy are conscious of movement in the womb, of that tiny new life letting them know that its around. But Elizabeth was clearly able to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary that she was now experiencing. Elizabeth’s child who was to be filled with God’s Spirit from birth, even before birth has begun to fulfil his function as signpost pointing others, in this case his mother, to recognise the significance of the person of Christ. This acknowledgement is no less significant than when John thirty years later stood on the bank of the River Jordan, pointed to Jesus and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’
But another quite extraordinary thing happens. Elizabeth speaks but not to break her own good news – wouldn’t that have been the most natural thing in the world? ‘Mary God has been so good to us, we are going to have a baby and what is more God has a special job for him to do’.
But that is not what she says! Her opening remarks, influenced by God’s Spirit, transcend her own personal excitement, she knows that, though her child would be a great prophet, Mary’s child would overshadow him - he was the Lord of Glory. What an encouragement to Mary these words would prove to be. ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear’.
Elizabeth’s words of recognition of the child she bore would sustain Mary in the months ahead when village tongues wagged and when Joseph was poised to break off their betrothal. These God inspired words of encouragement were surely designed to keep her in her darkest hours.
There is a very obvious application here. When we are obedient to the task that God calls us to perform, a task that will draw out the misunderstanding and criticism sometimes of those nearest and dearest to us, then do not be surprised to discover that God has put some messenger in place to encourage us, someone who recognises that we are not living in a world of make believe, someone who shares the secret of God’s vision for our lives. Their encouragement will be used of God to sustain us in the darkest hours.
v45… is significant. Elizabeth would have known that the temporary dumbness of her husband was the product of
his unbelief, his failure to trust the living word of God. Over against his reaction she mentions Mary, who believed that what the Lord said to her would be accomplished. The blessings of God are blessings of grace, they are never
earned or deserved but nevertheless enter our lives
through the doorway of faith. Faith is not something that soars, heavenwards like a gas filled balloon, instead, it is like
a rope thrown from a ship to dock workers so that that the bounty it carries might be brought ashore. The rope of faith is God’s gift and as we pull upon it his blessings become ours.
In response Mary employs in beautiful balance her emotion and understanding to produce the sustained response of praise recorded in these verses and known as the magnificat.
In the first place Mary’s song is a song of triumph. In order to understand this dimension we need to remind ourselves that Mary belonged to the royal line of David. She had a rightful claim to all the advantages of David’s descendants and yet was obliged to live in a backwater-housing scheme in Nazareth. Royal blood ran in her veins and yet Herod who had no rightful claim on the throne had bought the crown from the Romans. Great David’s greater son would be born in what the authorities would describe as a deprived area.
He would be born into poverty in a land full of political unrest and under a ruthless occupying force.
These adverse circumstances could have cast a shadow over Mary’s joy but she was gripped by a greater circumstance that allowed her to triumph over all her personal hardships. ‘He has been mindful of the humble estate of his servant’. The Son of God was about to enter into the world. This great circumstance overshadowed all others. You see real honour is not linked to the status society places upon a person, it has to do with the status and relationship that God confers upon us.
John Mott a well-known missionary statesman was asked by President Coolidge to serve as ambassador to Japan. Mott replied, “Mr President, since God called me to an ambassador of his; my ears have been deaf to all other calls”.
But in this song we are also confronted with a woman who has triumphed over her fears. What would Joseph say when he discovered she was going to have a child? What would the neighbours say? How easily we become crippled by fear. Fear can often distract us from worship. But this hymn is clear evidence that she had triumphed over her fear. What God was going to do in her and through her was much more important than what people thought about her.
Do we really believe that God assessment of our lives is more important than what men think about us and what people say about us? Or do we allow their power to intimidate and ridicule to dampen our praise and limit the spontaneity of our service?
Reading through the magnificat one becomes aware that root of Mary’s enthusiastic worship is found in her appreciation of God as her Saviour.
Both Mary and later Joseph were given instruction independently that the child was to be called Jesus which means ‘God saves’. A Saviour is someone who brings help from outside, who rescues those who cannot rescue themselves. Now there are different kinds of saviours. The white knights of the business world are the economic saviours who bail out companies that are going to the wall. Decisions made by politicians can free people from oppression; there are political saviours around. Many saviours!
What kind was Jesus?
Joseph was told call the child Jesus for ‘he will save their people from their sins’ In this field Jesus stands unique. There are many economic, political and social saviours in the history of mankind but only one equipped to save men and women from their sin, from its tyranny, power and penalty. There is only one Prince of Peace who can remove the enmity in the human heart towards God. There is only one who can silence the dark voices of accusing conscience. Are we then surprised that Mary reserves her opening praise for God who is her Saviour? God dealt not only with Mary’s family shame he dealt with her burdensome sins! We have never truly praised God until we have seen that he has sent his Son to deal with our sins!
Mary goes on in v51-53 to acknowledge the work of God in human history. He has put down proud rulers and raised the lowly. He has fed the poor and hungry while sending the rich and arrogant away. That is those who are rich in their own eyes and who do not consider they have any need of God.
Now why is Mary at pains to point out that God is not simply a God enthroned above but an interventionist God? She is saying my personal experience of God is consistent with God’s revelation of himself in Biblical history. He has broken into my life, my personal circumstances!
It is tremendously important to grasp this truth because from before the time of Mary there were those around who attempted to separate God from his creation and paint a description of God as one who was non-interventionist.
For example the early Gnostics taught that God was
too pure and too transcendent to involve himself in
this fallen world. Much later in the 18thC the Deists taught that God created the world and then left it to
its own devices, the analogy of a clock was used. God was described as a clockmaker who makes a clock;
he winds it up, he gets it going and then leaves it
alone. He is not interested in what happens after that.
The ‘God is dead’ movement claims modern man is no longer able to believe in the God of the Bible therefore the church should learn to live without him. Over against these views Mary says, my experience of God matches the Biblical record. He is a God who intervenes in human history because he has intervened in my human history.
You might think, ‘I’ve never had a visit from Gabriel’ but that is to miss the point. The gospel is God’s great intervention when in response to our invitation he makes his home in our heart. Every Christian has more cause than Mary had to rejoice. For this interventionist God has made his home in their heart. He is not a boarder for a few brief months but a permanent guest.
This should flood our hearts with praise.
Mary’s praise is further fuelled as she reflects upon God’s faithfulness in v54-55. Many is Israel must have been wondering over this 400 years of silence if God’s promises to them were going to be kept. The fortunes of Israel in general and the house of David in particular had sunk to an all time low. Where was the great descendant of David whom God had promised would establish an everlasting kingdom? What of the promise made to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him? Mary is in a position to answer these questions, he has ‘remembered to be merciful’. The faithfulness of God to his word produced praise in Mary’s heart it should produce praise in ours. The testimony of the child of God after long days of waiting should be, ‘God has remembered…!’
Mary tells us what God remembered in v50 and 54 - mercy. Mercy describes the active response of God to a situation of human distress and need. It is this aspect of God’s character that moves him to act on behalf of the helpless. Above all else it was God’s mercy that moved him to respond to the effects of human sin. The incarnation was the beginning of God’s unique relief convoy sent down to meet the needs of the spiritually disoriented, the spiritually blind and hungry. Mary had grasped that God was sending his Son into the world not just to alleviate human physical and spiritual distress in general but also hers in particular. Are we aware of being debtors to mercy? If not our praise is hollow!
Notice the way in which God’s salvation, faithfulness and mercy energised Mary’s worship. She tells us her soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God. In other words her whole being was engaged in worship.
Now it is clear that God was the great theme of her life. This is very clear from the fact that the whole of her song is steeped in O.T. quotations and imagery. Her language makes it abundantly clear that she spent much time meditating upon God’s word. Mary’s language is steeped in awe. She is overwhelmed by the honour that God has conferred upon her.
Every Christian should share that awe. The Lord of glory has chosen to make his permanent residence in the hearts of his people. On holiday we often discover plaques placed on buildings that have been made famous by the people who have stayed in them. Burn’s Cottage is but one example. Now every Christian should be conscious of the great honour conferred upon them by the fact that Jesus lives within them? Is that not mind blowing. We should not require a plaque to tell the world. The way we live and worship should speak for itself. We should all have our own individual magnificats that contain the words, 'I am highly favoured of the Lord… the Mighty One has done great things for me’.
Have you noticed that he songs on people’s lips often betray their lives? Mary’s song certainly does that, does yours? God had won the devotion of Mary’s heart and life, has he won yours?
Think on this the world outside, a world of pain and confusion, a world of desperate need and hardship waits to hear from you. What song you will sing.