The God Who Lifts the Lowly

The God Who Lifts the Lowly

The God Who Lifts the Lowly
Text: Luke 1:39-56

Main Idea: God is worthy of our trust and worship because he fulfills his every promise and loves to lift the lowly who humbly trust him for their every need.

Sermon Outline:

I. Elizabeth’s Revelation (Luke 1:39–45)
II. Mary’s Response (Luke 1:46–56)
III. Three Implications for Christians Today

Good morning Church. I’d like to begin by thanking Ryan for his faithful, thoughtful, and encouraging exposition of Luke 1:5–38. I knew I was assigning him a gigantic passage, but I believed the two-fold contrast in this section justified the length.

First, he helped us see the glaring contrast between Zechariah and Mary. In that, where a life-long priest struggled to believe that God would do something that he had already done in the life of Abraham and Sarah. A young, insignificant Jewish girl was more than ready to believe that God was able to do something he had never done before— cause a virgin to conceive apart from the normal biological means of conception.

Secondly, he helped us see the more subtle contrast between Elizabeth and Mary.

On the one hand, Elizabeth had endured decades of cultural and family shame because she could not have children. Yet, when she discovered that she was pregnant, how did she respond? She responded in celebration and heart-felt thankfulness to God, because God had removed her shame and given her honor despite the fact that she was beyond her childbearing years.

Luke 1:25 Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.

But on the other hand, we discovered that Mary’s personal experience was going to be the exact opposite (and Mary knew this). Women who had babies out of wedlock were not loved and supported. No. Those who were not executed, were forced to endure the equivalent of a living death. They were treated like the dregs of society AND the births of their children were never celebrated.

If anyone should have had deep-seated questions or concerns about Gabriel’s announcement it should have been Mary! But, she humbly submits herself to every-single loss and hardship that she might encounter on the path of obedience: “

Luke 1:38 Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.

Yet as we read these humble, faith-filled words carefully, what’s missing? They do not contain a single expression of joy, delight, or celebration. And in this we are able to see that even though Mary grasps the content of Gabriel’s message, she seems to be struggling with the personal implications of his message. Yes, she is surrendering to God’s plan. But at this moment, it’s faith with questions, it’s a “semi-comprehending surrender” to God’s plan for her life.

But as we see in our passage today, God didn’t leave Mary to process the ramifications of his message in solitary isolation. No. He encouraged her, through Gabriel, to visit her relative Elizabeth so that she might come to grips with the true magnitude of this supernatural disclosure. A stunning revelation that will cause Mary to explode in spontaneous praise and worship. So if you are taking notes today our outline is simply this:

  • Elizabeth’s Revelation (verses 39–45)
  • Mary’s Response (verses 46–56)
  • And then we will conclude with Three Implications for Christians Today

Elizabeth’s Revelation (Luke 1:39–45)

A Hasty Journey (1:39)

Let’s just pause on this verse for a moment. Notice, that Mary doesn’t schedule a visit with her fiancé Joseph, nor does she stand around waiting for another angelic appearance. She responds “in haste” to the surprising news that her childless relative Elizabeth is six-months pregnant. This helps us see at least three things about Mary.

One, given that she “made haste” to visit Elizabeth, it helps us see that she really believes Gabriel’s message. She doesn’t send a messenger to find out if it’s true, nor does she wait for the birth announcement, she immediately sets out on foot, on a 3–4 day journey that would cover close to 100 miles to visit Elizabeth in person.[1]

Two, this “hasty journey” helps us see that she did not have any contact with Joseph until roughly six-months later (1:56) when she was clearly and undeniably

Three, it’s most likely that Mary didn’t even know that she was pregnant when she arrived at Elizabeth’s home in the hill country of Judah. After all, Gabriel told her how it would happen NOT when it would happen. Which makes her arrival at Elizabeth’s home all the more amazing!

A Supernatural Confirmation (1:40–45)

Did you notice the chain of events? Elizabeth doesn’t say a single word about her miraculous pregnancy. Rather, she erupts into a passionate, joy-filled celebration of Mary and her child the moment that Mary walks in the door and says hello!

But, why? Why does Elizabeth do this? Well, according to Luke, she does it because the Holy Spirit is actively at work in her and her son, John.[2] To put it another way, Elizabeth may have had every intention of celebrating her miraculous pregnancy when Mary arrived. But, the moment Mary walked in everything changed. On the one hand, her unborn son John (by the power of the Holy Spirit) recognizes that Mary has conceived and is carrying the embryonic Jesus in her womb; and he responds the only way he can—physically rejoicing. And on the other hand, Elizabeth is instantly filled with the Holy Spirit so that she can declare the glorious truths that her unborn son is eagerly celebrating.

Yet, at this point it’s important, to highlight the fact that in all of this celebration and “blessing” Elizabeth is not worshiping Mary. No, she is celebrating at least three things: First and foremost, she is celebrating the Holy Spirit’s revelation that God’s work in Mary’s pregnancy is exceedingly superior to his work in her pregnancy. Whereas Elizabeth is giving birth to a long-promised prophet, Mary “blessed” above all other women, because she is giving birth to the Long awaited Messiah himself as the angel Gabriel foretold.[3] Secondly, when she refers to Jesus as “my Lord” she is most likely celebrating a glorious truth that no one expected and no one could have known except by the Holy Spirit— this child was God in human flesh. And finally she is celebrating something that only God could know and see: the humble, profound, authenticity of Mary’s faith.

Luke 1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Remember, it’s most likely that Mary has not been overflowing with a sense of joy and happiness and personal blessing. Yes, she believed God and she willingly submitted to his plan for her life. But, for everything we have seen in the text, there is a very good chance that she has been struggling with fear, grief, and worry over the personal and social cost of God’s plan. Up until this moment in the narrative, Mary has not uttered a single word of praise.

Yet, in this moment of supernatural revelation and celebration something glorious happens: Everything comes together. Instead of a “semi-comprehending submission,” Mary sees it. She finally gets it. And in a moment of joyful clarity and heart-felt release she practically explodes into a song of spontaneous praise and worship.

Mary’s Response (Luke 1:46–55)

The Big Picture

Now to be honest, we could spend two-to three weeks mining the glorious depths of these 10 verses. Because, theologians point us to the fact Mary ‘s song is an intricately constructed mosaic of OT quotes and allusions from: Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. (Most notably Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel chapter 2 after Samuel was born).[4] Mary’s grasp of God’s word is truly amazing.

But, for the sake of our time together this morning, I’d like to break down the structure of this song so that we can see and savor and celebrate the true source of Mary’s joy. See, if we read this hymn closely we can see that it breaks down into two distinct parts.

  1. A Celebration of God’s Undeserved Kindness to Mary (vs. 46–50)
  2. A Celebration of God’s Character and Commitment to Israel (vs. 51–53)

Yet, in all of this Mary does not focus explicit on herself. Rather, she celebrates the fact that her blessedness is the direct product of God’s undeserved mercy.

A Celebration of God’s Undeserved Kindness to Mary (1:46–50)

The first thing I want you to see in this song, is that the opening two lines are in parallel— that is to say: Mary is not saying, my soul is doing one thing and my spirit is doing another. Rather, she is saying, the entirety of my inner world is captivated by the glorious character and infinite worth of God and I want everyone to see it so they can be captivated by it too.

Now, I know we have talked about this word “magnify” before, because in and of itself, the word magnify simply means “to enlarge.” But the truth of the matter is that not all enlarging is equal (I am thankful to John Piper for this important insight).

When we enlarge things with a microscope we are magnifying something that is invisible to the human eye and that would go wholly unnoticed apart from high power magnification. But, when we enlarge distant moons, planets, or galaxies with a telescope, what are we doing? We are coming to grips with the truly colossal and praise worthy nature of something that we generally give little thought or attention too. In fact, the further astronomers have pressed into the deep void of space, the more we are confronted with how little and significant we truly are…

And by analogy that’s what it means for Mary to magnify the Lord and rejoice in God her Savior. This song is not a microscope, it’s a telescope to help us see God for who he truly is that we might overflow with the very same joy that Mary has even though our experience is not exactly the same as her experience.

And notice what is the initial grounds for her praise? It’s that God has chosen to use an insignificant nobody to bear the promised Messiah. Mary is openly declaring, I don’t deserve this! On the one hand, yes people from every generation will call her blessed (favored by God) because she had the privilege of bearing the Christ-Child, the Messiah and Savior of the world. But on the other hand, she want’s every generation to know, “I am no one special, I didn’t earn this privilege. I am not royalty, my family is not wealthy or prosperous, I am not connected to circles of power, and I do not have a single claim no fame or prestige. I am simply a recipient of God’s undeserved grace and mercy.

Now, if Mary had stopped here we could easily understand her excitement, but we might struggle to embrace it as our own. But, that’s why she doesn’t stop here. Rather, she turns the spotlight from her experience to the very character and nature and faithfulness of God himself.[5]

A Celebration of God’s Character and Commitment to Israel (1:50–55)

Notice, what does Mary want us to see about God in this second section? She wants us to see that her experience of unexpected grace and privilege is, a manifestation of how God has always worked in the world AND would continue to work through his long promised Messiah.

On the one hand, the past tense verbs in this section point us back to the monumental events in history like, God’s work in the exodus where he rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt by his mighty arm (humbling the greatest kingdom on the planet and exalting a group of slaves into full-fledged nationhood). But on the other hand, these verses are speaking prophetically about the future ministry of Jesus Christ as well. As Phillip Ryken puts it in his commentary on Luke, “Mary can get away with speaking in the past tense in these verses, because when God says that he’s going do something, it is as good as already done. God’s promises always come with the guarantee of his fulfillment.”[6]

And if you read through the book of Luke this advent season you will see this “exalting and humbling” theme lived out in the very life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Mary’s words are true!

In Luke 16, The self-reliant rich man goes to hell, while the God-fearing poor man is carried home to be with the people of God (Luke 16:19–31).

In Luke 18, The prayers of the self-righteous Pharisee are denied, but the sinful tax collector who acknowledges his desperate need for forgiveness and grace, goes home justified (Luke 18:9–14).

But the greatest reversal comes at the end of the Gospel: God the Son—who humbled himself to become a man and endure the painful, shameful death of the cross—is raised from the dead in triumph and is exalted to the very right hand of God.

Christian, this is the way God operates in the world: the humble are shown mercy, while the proud receive justice. The lowly are lifted and the lofty are brought low.

But, the key in this context is that the kind of humility that Mary is talking about, is not simply a life of poverty or self-abasement BUT a life of in which we constantly turn to God in humble dependent faith for everything we need. Because, this is what it means to “fear the Lord.” And according to verse 50 “his mercy is reserved for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

And how has God shown this character and this mercy most clearly in history? It’s not in the blessing of Mary specifically. No, it is in the fulfillment of his ancient promise to “bless” all the families of the earth through the insignificant and lowly line of Abraham (v. 54–55).

Genesis 22:17–18 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring (Isaac) as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring (singular offspring) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Friends, this is the prophecy that Mary has in mind in the final two verses. She is fully aware that she is not the blessing, but the blessed means through which God was choosing bless all the families of the earth through the long-promised offspring of Abraham. And in this she wants us to see that God is always faithful to his promise and that he is forever loyal to those who belong to him.[7]

Main Idea: God is worthy of our trust and worship because he fulfills his every promise and loves to lift the lowly who humbly trust him for their every need.

So how can we apply this passage to our life today? After all, it’s one thing to look back and say, “yup that’s what Mary and Elizabeth got so excited about.” But, it’s another thing to grasp how these verses should impact us today. I’d like to highlight three implications that flow from the text.

Three Implications for Christians Today

The True Nature of Faith

The first thing that we see is that faith is not an arbitrary act or a blind leap into the unknown. On the one hand, both Zechariah and Mary have received an undeniable message from God through the angel Gabriel. And on the other hand, both of them know fundamental truths about God from his Word. Yet, one believes and the other doesn’t.

The second thing this passage helps us see is that faith looks to the impeccable faithfulness of God not the innumerable difficulties that challenge his promise.[8] And we see this most clearly in Mary’s song. What I mean by this is that she doesn’t believe because she has empirical evidence in the present. No, her song helps us see that she believing God’s present faithfulness on the empirical evidence of his faithfulness past. She believes God will do what he has said he has promised to do because he has always fulfilled his promises.

Don’t miss this, while knowledge about God is absolutely necessary for a person to place their faith in God, knowledge, in and of itself, is not faith AND it can never function as a substitute for true faith. Rather, faith treasures and embraces this knowledge about God as the very grounds to place one’s trust in God.

The third thing we see about faith in this passage is that: true, God-glorifying faith can (and often does) coexist with real questions and concerns. We see this in Mary. She believes and she freely embraces Gabriel’s message because she knows that God will always fulfill his promises. But, her faith doesn’t overflow in joy right away does it. There is a gap between her whole hearted trust AND her joyful celebration of God’s promise.

And the truth of the matter is that Christians of every generation face the very same challenges. And here is the encouraging news from this passage, God commends Mary’s faith BUT does not condemn her for her internal struggles or her delayed joy. See, while we can rightly say faith is a deep seated confidence in the trust worthiness of a God who always fulfills his promises. Faith is not knowing all the answers, nor is it banishing every possible concern that we might face in life. Rather, the challenges and questions of life are the means by which God expands our faith and proves his faithfulness.

The True Fuel of Christian Worship

The second implication I want to raise this morning, is the manner in which this passage helps us see the true fuel of Christian worship. And I want to touch on this because so much of the Worship conversation in our generation is focused on a person’s emotional experience and personal preferences instead of God himself. We have come to believe the trope that the music has to move us if we are going to truly worship. And let me say, I love good music!

But, what do we see in this account? We see a consistent pattern for worship that flows from the opening pages of our Bible to the new heavens and the new earth. The pattern is simply this: revelation – response. In fact, it’s why I used these two terms in my outline.

When Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home she is walking in faith but she she seems to be wrestling with the real-life implications of Gabriel’s visit. She’s not bubbling over with joy from anything we can see in the text. But, that all changes when Elizabeth “reveal’s” truths about God’s work that Mary hasn’t fully considered or integrated into her thinking.

Yes, Mary knows this child is the long promised Messiah. But, what has she missed?! The stunning privilege it was to be the mother of the Messiah! And it seems to be this link between God’s faithfulness and her privilege that causes her to “respond” overflow in heart-felt praise.

This could be another sermon in itself. But think about it, every one of us knows what it’s like to come into corporate worship on Sunday in faith but with struggles. And when this happens, you don’t need someone to manipulate your emotions or distract your thoughts with some happy, up-beat music. NO. You need a fresh “revelation” / reminder of two things: the faithfulness of your never-failing God and your privileged status through faith in Jesus Christ. Because these are the only two things that will produce the kind of deep-seated joy that we see in Mary’s response.

The True Nature of the Gospel

The message of gospel is not that God shows his favor to the good, and he scatters the bad Nor is it the declaration that the good come into God’s kingdom and the bad don’t. Not in the least bit. No.

Rather, the gospel is the good news that God loves to lift up lowly hell-bound sinners who humbly acknowledge their desperate need for Jesus.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke. 1:1-9:50, vol. 1 of Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 133–34.

[2] Philip Graham Ryken, “The Incarnation in Luke: Songs for the Savior,” in The Incarnation in the Gospels, ed. Daniel M. Doriani, Philip Graham Ryken, and Richard D. Phillips, Reformed Expository Commentary (Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008), 69–70.

[3] “Although the two blessings stand essentially parallel, i.e., they are in parataxis, the first stands logically in subordination to the second… This fits an OT pattern in which the second blessing gives the cause of the first (cf. Gen 14:19–20; Deut 7:14; Ruth 2:20; cf. also Jdt 13:18);” (Robert H. Stein, Luke, The New American Commentary v. 24 [Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1992], 90).

[4] Philip Graham Ryken, Luke: Volumes 1&2, Reformed Expository Commentary, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani (Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009), 46.

[5] “What God did for her is like what he does for others in the same state (1:52);” (Bock, Luke. 1:1-9:50, 150–51).

[6] Ryken, Luke: Volumes 1&2, 50.

[7] Bock, Luke. 1:1-9:50, 158.

[8] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 2:238.