As the world turns—while sin, sorrow, and injustice abound—you will only find authentic joy by hoping in Jesus, the Savior who has accomplished salvation in his first coming, and is presently applying that salvation by bringing personal and kingdom-wide peace until his second coming.
Introduction – Bono, who is a professing Christian, of the rock band U2 wrote a song called “Peace on Earth.” It’s a lamentation, a sobbing prayer to Jesus to please return soon and establish peace. He aches for shalom, for the world to be filled with the joy of the Lord. Here are some of the lyrics:
Heaven on Earth, We need it now. I’m sick of all of this hanging around. Sick of sorrow, I’m sick of the pain. I’m sick of hearing again and again that there’s gonna be Peace on
Jesus can you take the time to throw a drowning man a line. Peace on Earth. Jesus in the song you wrote the words are sticking in my throat. Peace on Earth.
Hear it every Christmas time, but hope and history won’t rhyme, so what’s it worth? This peace on Earth.
We yearn for justice, righteousness, mercy, and peace on earth. We desperately want the promises of Christmas to finally bear lasting fruit, to be completely fulfilled. We sometimes despair in waiting for the Lord’s return to right all wrongs, to judge the earth in righteousness, to tie up all the loose ends of history, to eradicate sin and its accompanying destruction, to bring lasting salvation and wholeness, to bring the hope of heaven here and now. With all that is wrong with the world and with my life, how can I have real joy today?
Background – Many Jews perceived it to be the 11th hour of the prophetic calendar. God had been silent for too long, the vicious Roman Empire and their puppet kings ruled Israel, and God’s covenant promises seemed to be fading away. Did the Lord forget them? Should they forget the Lord and become Hellenized Romans? Would they never know shalom again? Would they be sad forever?
I. Rejoice in the Gospel: the Annunciation to Mary
Last month we finally took our kids to an amusement park so they could experience a roller coaster. They had heard stories about what roller coasters are like, and we showed them videos from the viewpoint of riders in the first car on the track. But they still didn’t get it, but now they do, and they’re hooked! This story is one of the most amazing accounts in the Bible, but we weren’t there. So I’m going to ask you to imagine you were. Pretend you are Mary’s handmaid who was by her side the whole time and witnessed it all. This will be quite a ride!
A. Mary is not the gospel (vv. 26-30)
1. Gabriel called Mary a “highly favored one,” sometimes translated “full of grace.” This means she was the recipient of God’s amazing grace, not that she was a source of grace for others. How was she favored? God planned to bring about the salvation of his people by means of a young, poor, humble, submissive virgin giving birth to the Savior of the world. Wow!
2. Many misunderstand Mary. Many Roman Catholics use some of the angel’s words to form an unbiblical prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.” Do you see how this view of Mary is wrong? It treats Mary as the source of God’s grace rather that the object of God’s grace.
The Bible never says Mary was immaculately conceived (born without a sin nature), was sinless, was a perpetual virgin, was a co-redeemer with her son Jesus, was assumed into heaven before death, that she hears our prayers, or is able to give grace to sinners. She was no different than other Jewish girls in the sense that there was nothing overtly special about her position in life. Mary does not help us by giving us supererogatory (extra; beyond what is required) grace from her great storehouse of merit in heaven. She helps us by showing us that God can give us the same kind of grace she received. Mary is not the gospel, but she is a wonderful testimony to the one who is the gospel.
B. Jesus is the gospel (vv. 31-33, 35-37)
1. “Jesus.” The symbolism of Jesus’ name would have been apparent to the Jews of his day. The name “Jesus” is in Hebrew Yeshua, which is the OT equivalent of the name “Joshua.” Jesus means “The LORD is salvation.” Just as Joshua led his people into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jesus is leading us into the Promised Land of heaven and eternal life.
2. Son of Most High. Jesus will be great, even greater than John the Baptist (Lk 1:15; 7:28). Jesus will be the son of the Most High, the Son of God—a divine child.
3. Son of David. God will give to his Son Jesus the throne of David his ancestor because Jesus will be the promised Son of David, the royal Messiah. The angel’s words echo the promises of God’s covenant with David (2 Sam 7:11-16). Although the word “Messiah” or “Christ” is not used here, it is clear from the description that Jesus will be the Messiah/Christ.
4. Never-ending kingdom. There will be no end to Jesus’ kingdom. This must mean that his kingdom is God’s kingdom, for only one kingdom can be never-ending (Isa 9:6-7; Dan 7:13-14). This is the fulfillment of God’s promise to David (1 Chr 17:10b-14). Jesus will not rule an earthy or political realm, but the kingdom of grace and truth established in the hearts and lives of all those who have the God of Jacob as their refuge (Lk 17:20-21; Acts 1:6-8).
C. Your questions are OK if they stem from humility, faith, and willing submission (vv. 34, 38)
1. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary’s question is contrasted with Zechariah’s question. He asked Gabriel for a sign to know whether the promise was true; Mary believed it would happen, but asked Gabriel how it was going to happen. She was probably confused and needed to know if she should take any action. Zechariah asked in doubt; Mary asked in faith.
The doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus is too fantastic to believe for many people (including some professed Christians). But a virgin conception is not an impossible task for the God who created the universe! Furthermore, we must recognize that first-century people were not ignorant of the way babies are conceived. Mary understood that if she were a virgin she could not get pregnant unless God had other plans to intervene. Luke, the author of this gospel, was a medical doctor. If there were reason to be skeptical about the virgin birth, he would not have believed it.
Also, the virgin birth of Jesus is a necessary and vital doctrine of the faith. If Jesus had not been born of a virgin, but conceived from a human father and mother, then he would be a mere man, a son of Adam with an inherited sinful nature. A merely human Jesus, corrupted by Adam’s sin, is incapable of saving himself much less anyone else! For man to be saved, the savior must be God (for only God can save) and must be man (for only Man can atone for human sin). The virgin birth of the unique God-man Jesus Christ is the only way humanity could be saved. The single person of Jesus, the one with two natures (God and Human) is the only name under heaven by which sinners may be saved.
2. Mary’s final response to the angel reveals her heart. She is a faithful disciple of the Lord, willingly submissive to God’s word. The commentator William Hendriksen says, “Faith means committing one’s way to the Lord, trusting him, knowing that he will do whatever is best.” Without a hint of doubt like Zechariah showed, Mary believed. Her faith demonstrated courage and quiet heroism, for she certainly knew the demeaning difficulties and sufferings that could arise for an unmarried but betrothed pregnant girl.
II. Rejoice with God’s People: the Visitation of Mary
A. Rejoice in God’s blessing on others (vv. 39-40, 42-44)
1. The text does not reveal Mary’s motive for visiting Elizabeth, but it seems Gabriel gave Mary a nudge to pay her relative a visit. Hence Mary visited her to rejoice in both their sons. Upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth rejoiced with her although Mary’s blessing was greater! She refused to be jealous. Instead, she rejoiced in God blessing Mary.
This is an area in which I’ve been known to really struggle. I remember when I was 8 that I had amassed at great cost to my piggy bank a collection of Pac-Man trading cards. Boy was I proud! And then one day my friend who was 10 suddenly took an interest in my hobby and overnight had more than me. Did I rejoice? No, I was angry, jealous, and dissatisfied. That wasn’t the last time jealousy got the better of me. But God has taught me by his grace to rejoice in the blessings of others. All good gifts come from him anyway. The key to escaping jealousy and entering joy is to rejoice in the goodness of God rather than your own fullness. Take your eyes off yourself and look at how good God is!
Elizabeth loved to see God’s blessing on others, and she loved her relative Mary. This love precluded envy (1 Cor 13:4). She chose to rejoice in God’s plan, trusting him that his ways are best (Ps 37:4-5). She saw herself and Mary as blessed because she rejoiced in God alone.
2. Mary is blessed among women because of the blessed child she bears. Most evangelical Protestants rightly avoid excess devotion to Mary. She must not be worshiped, or even given a second-tier type of worship. Roman Catholic theology makes a distinction between types of religious devotion: dulia and hyperdulia worship as less than latria worship, as external service is less than internal adoration. But hyper-devotion to Mary frequently becomes idolatrous worship. Catholics know this is a huge problem, and Protestant ex-Catholics know from experience the danger of crass idolatry.
But we must not fall into the opposite error, dismissing Mary as just another Christian. Mary was blessed among all women! It is right to rejoice that Mary found more favor with God than any woman who has ever lived. All generations ought to call Mary blessed because of the magnificent manner in which God honored this faithful servant.
B. Rejoice in the faithfulness of others (v. 45)
Mary believed the word of the Lord, much like her father Abraham did centuries before. Abraham believed God’s amazing promise of an offspring to come, and God credited this faith to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). Mary’s faith is like Abraham’s in this way—she readily believed what seemed impossible. Remember how Elizabeth had seen her husband Zechariah’s unbelieving response and how the angel Gabriel had cursed him with a dumb tongue until the child’s birth? In light of Zechariah’s unbelief, she praises Mary for her response of faith and trust. Imagine being there and laughing at this old married couple—you can almost hear Zechariah overhearing and grumbling in the corner at his wife’s gentle rebuke!
C. Rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 41-45)
It had been centuries since the Holy Spirit was poured out on anyone in Israel. Now he is at work again, and these two women are the first to catch a glimpse of his work in these last days. How exciting! The Spirit is on the move! So Elizabeth speaks (sings?) prophetically with Spirit-inspired words blessing Mary. And don’t forget baby John, the appointed herald of the Messiah filled with the Spirit from the womb (Lk 1:15), who leaped in utero upon hearing the mother of the Lord! Christ’s coming makes believers leap for joy. This was true of John and it is true of everyone who comes to faith in Jesus. How is this so? By the inward work of the Holy Spirit a person recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. When we recognize him, we rejoice in his “Amazing Grace” as one who was lost but now is found, was blind but now can see, was lame but now will leap for joy!
III. Rejoice in the Lord’s Blessing: the Magnificat of Mary
Mary’s song has been dubbed the Magnificat (because it begins with this word, meaning “glorify,” in Latin Vulgate translation). It is a psalm of thanksgiving that extols God for exalting the humble and humbling the proud. It is Bible-saturated, telescopic, theological reflection on the events in this narrative, liberally borrowing language from at least 11 OT books. The Magnificat serves as Luke’s introduction to God’s work of reversing the fortunes of the humble and oppressed (e.g., Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, the Pharisee and tax collector, Jesus the humble crucified servant and Jesus the exalted risen Lord). Mary sings of the coming of God’s kingdom that brings salvation to the outcasts, rejected, oppressed, marginalized, humble, powerless. Hallelujah!
A. His blessings for you (vv. 46-49)
Mary magnifies her Lord as the one who does great things for her! God exalted her, a virgin of lowly birth, from an insignificant small town. She is caught up in worship of her God, thanking him for her salvation (cf. Ps 34:1-3; Hab 3:18). Notice how the wording of WSC 1 parallels the first two lines of Mary’s Magnificat: “My soul magnifies…my spirit rejoices” || “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Mary also magnifies God’s holiness. Her vision is caught up in the heavenlies. Mary worships God in the splendor of his holiness. His name is holy, completely set apart from all else, and he is worthy of all her praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. To ascribe to God the holiness due his name is to worship him in spirit and in truth.
B. His blessings of justice and peace for the world (vv. 50-53)
Then Mary expands her horizon by magnifying the Lord for his lovingkindness revealed to every generation for those who fear him.
While true faith is a personal relationship, it is also a family relationship. God chooses normally to work through families. That is the nature of his covenant relationship with the church—to be a God to us and to our children as well. Faith is a family matter. This has implications for children and young people as they consider their own beliefs. Do not neglect the blessings you have received as God’s covenant child. God has placed you in a Christian home, not to rebel against the faith of your fathers, but to rise up in faith and to take your place among those whom God has previously called into his holy household. Remember that none of us belong to ourselves. Members of God’s covenant are called to repentance and faith. We have been bought with a price. Do not neglect God’s holy calling on your life, or neglect your family’s calling upon you to believe the gospel for yourself and live according to the Christ’s call of discipleship.
She was conscious of God’s unchanging ways—how he scatters the proud, dethrones them, removes their wealth, and drives them away empty into exile. Someone might object, “But I’m not a ruler, I’m not rich, so this warning doesn’t apply to me. I must be on the blessing end of things!” Notice that it is those with proud thoughts (imaginations or thoughts of their heart) who are scattered. Those who are inwardly proud will not escape the fate of those who act out their proud thoughts. Mary knew how God is faithful to lift up his lowly and humble servants. The grace of God upends the wisdom of this world and the world system (1 Cor 1:26-29). And don’t miss the overtones of economic and political oppression in the reversal of the humble and mighty, the poor and rich. The proud and rich owe their place to injustice, attaining their position at the expense of the humble and poor.
C. His blessings of covenant faithfulness for Israel (vv. 54-55)
Mary magnifies the Lord for his faithfulness to Israel and the patriarchs by naming God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 17:3-8; 18:18; 22:17). Jesus’ birth is God’s promise kept to Israel (cf. Isa 41:8-9; Ps 98:3; Mic 7:20), and it also brings salvation to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). Mary’s son is the culmination of salvation history for the whole world. Eschatological hope is becoming reality! The Lord is a covenant-keeping God. In a sense it is not Mary’s faith on display in the Magnificat, but God’s faithfulness to his children. Philip Ryken said it well.
Now Christ is busy turning things upside down in the world. He does not leave things as they are. He does not stand for the status quo; in that sense, he is not a conservative. He is radical, subversive, revolutionary. This is why it is so deadly for the church to follow the culture. Jesus opposes the pride that rules the world, and if we are on the side of injustice, he is opposed to us. The child who put the song into Mary’s heart was the world’s most dangerous baby!
Conclusion – Faith and Joy are the responsive themes of this passage. Mary responded to the gospel message with humble and submissive faith. Moreover, Mary’s joy in the Lord’s amazing deeds is contagious. She and Elizabeth rejoiced together, excited for each other how God was using them in his plan. Even today, when people see the loveliness of Jesus and believe in him, they rejoice in the Lord. The arrival of God’s marvelous salvation in Jesus Christ, the author of peace, is not merely a reason to rejoice, it is the foundation of all true joy. God chose to reveal this first to Mary and Elizabeth. How blessed they were! How blessed you are who participate by faith in their joy. As the world turns—while sin, sorrow, and injustice abound—you will only find authentic joy by hoping in Jesus, the Savior who has accomplished salvation in his first coming, and is presently applying that salvation by bringing personal and kingdom-wide peace until his second coming.