Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Magnificent Magnificat

Luke 1:39-56

As we travel through Luke’s gospel we’re answering an extremely important question: who is this man Jesus? Last time we learned that He is now taking shape in the womb of a peasant girl from a backwater town called Nazareth. He made without the agency of a human father, but in fact God Himself is His father.

So we see that Jesus:

  • Is God’s Son (Luke 1:32)
  • Is to be a deliverer of some kind (Luke 1:31 Jesus means: “God delivers”)
  • Will be a king that will sit on King David’s throne (Luke 1:32-33)
  • His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:33)

Mary, the peasant girl, receives this news from the Angel Gabriel with incredible openness and trust, despite the fact that a pregnancy out of wedlock in that culture will be extremely difficult for her.

The angel leaves Mary with a hint at what to do next. He tells her that her aunt or cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, even though she is too old to have kids. Elizabeth herself got pregnant by a miracle announced to her husband Zechariah. Their son, John, will prepare the way for an incredible work of God through Jesus.

So as we pick up the account, Mary sets off for Elizabeth’s house.

39 – 40

Zechariah and Elizabeth live “in the hill country of Judah”—a town perhaps outside of Jerusalem. It would have been a three-day journey of 80-100 miles. Mary as a young teenager would not have been safe on such a journey by herself. I wonder if perhaps her parents or another relative journeyed with her. Perhaps those relatives knew nothing at this point of what Mary faced. We don’t know if Mary has told her betrothed Joseph about the pregnancy yet either. Matthew’s gospel says: “it was discovered that Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit” but gives no hint as to the timeline. Never the less, it was likely a journey where Mary’s mind was occupied entirely by the words of Gabriel.

Mary “hurried” to see the miracle God had given Elizabeth. Two women, in much the same position with miracle pregnancies—I’m sure Mary is thinking this will be a good supportive place for her to be. Don’t you wonder if Mary told her parents what Gabriel said? We don’t get anything from Luke, but I’m thinking her parents readily agreed to send her to stay with their relative. They may or may not have believed that Mary was pregnant by God, but it is a very gracious thing they do, if nothing else, to give permission for her to go.

Mary gets to Elizabeth’s house, walks in the door and sees her relative—greeting her in the normal Jewish way: “shalom aleichem,” which means: “peace to you.” It was a very normal Jewish greeting that is used far and wide even to this day in the Middle East. But when the sound reached the ears of the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, something incredible happened—both involving being filled with the Holy Spirit.

41

So two things are happening here. John, now six months along in the womb, “leaps”. The Greek word comes from “to skip.” Every mom knows what it feels like for her baby to kick in the womb. This is like John playing soccer or something in there. Starting at 4 months a baby can hear sounds. We know that John was already filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15 “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb”). Since John couldn’t speak yet he did the next best thing—he moves.

Simultaneous to that, Elizabeth herself is filled with the Spirit as well and can speak.

42 – 45

I should explain something here: being “filled with the Holy Spirit” was a different experience prior to the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. During Old Testament times, the Spirit would “fill” or “come upon” individuals for specific words or tasks. Samson was filled with the Spirit when he took on the Philistines. Bezalel was filled with the Spirit in order to make the items for the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:3). Joshua, David, Gideon, and Othniel are other examples. Even Saul, Israel’s first king, was filled with the Spirit.

What would happen sometimes is that people would say things spontaneously—like Saul suddenly began praising the Lord (though personally he was far from God at the time – 1 Samuel 19:23).

Here, though, Elizabeth is very very near to God and just opens her mouth in this incredible praise. It’s unusual because in that culture the younger would place themself under the older. Furthermore, Elizabeth is the wife of a priest and a very important person. But here it is Elizabeth who shows this incredible respect for Mary.

This is inspired speech. Mary says things here on God’s behalf, much like a prophet of the Old Testament would speak when filled with the Spirit.

No conversation has taken place yet. Mary has not spoken of what the angel said to her. So Elizabeth’s words are very significant as she realizes the importance of the baby Mary is bearing without even knowing Mary is pregnant!

It’s also very interesting that Elizabeth’s words mirror what Gabriel said – that Mary would be blessed or favored by God—and that the baby in her would be her Lord! And notice too there is the encouragement that because Mary was so open to the Lord that in this too she shall be blessed.

There is so much blessing in simply receiving and believing that what God said He would do, He will do.

Next, Mary expresses 1) her gratitude for the Lord, 2) her recognition of her special place in His plan, and 3) how it is to the humble, not the haughty, that her baby will come to in power, leaving all others in His wake.

46 – 55

This section is called “The Magnificat” which is the Latin term from “proclaims the greatness of”.

I imagine her thinking deeply about what the angel said as she walked from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s house. We know Mary was a thinker based on Luke 2:19 “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” “Treasure” means: to preserve and “meditate” means: “to put things together.” This is the kind of woman Mary was: holding on to words and trying to make sense of them.

During the walk it makes me wonder if she didn’t construct this beautiful psalm prior to arriving at Elizabeth’s house. It could have been a spontaneous utterance but Luke does not say she was filled with the Spirit like he does for Elizabeth. It doesn’t matter either way but it just tickles me to think of this 12-14 year-old girl writing this incredible song of praise—which was written in Hebrew then translated by Luke into Greek. And it would mean more if Mary came up with this on her own. Often with the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone, they simply uttered what words God wanted spoken. But this could be Mary’s heart-felt words that she came up with herself.

46 – 50 Here Mary acknowledges that God owes her nothing but has shown His grace on the humble. Because of this grace, and Mary’s simple trust in God’s Word, she has indeed been counted as blessed by every generation since. “…those who fear Him” is the Old Testament equivalent of belief. The fear of the Lord is faith in the Lord.

The rest of the hymn echoes many sentiments written about in the Old Testament. It reads very much like a psalm. You can see much of this language in:

Psalm 119:21 “You rebuke the proud, the ones under a curse, who wander from Your commands.”

Psa. 22:26 “The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise Him. May your hearts live forever!”

What Mary points to is that her Baby will be the continuation of a plan God started way back with Abraham (actually before the earth was even formed). In Genesis 11:3 God called this pagan guy Abram and said “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” That blessing would come through Mary’s baby and she is recognizing that fact and proclaiming it.

But the caveat is that God opposes the rich, proud, and the mighty, but welcomes the humble and the hungry. People who are self-sufficient think they have no need for God and will reject what Jesus brings.

Later Jesus Himself will say: “Blessed are the meek”, and “come to Me all you who hunger and thirst”.

So Mary joins the long line of prophets who made it clear that God desires to show mercy (vs 50) but only to those who know they don’t deserve it.

56

So it seems Mary stayed until Elizabeth was ready to give birth. I think Mary probably stayed to see John born.

Conclusions

I love what Mary said because it reveals some things about this young woman that can encourage us in our life and attempts to understand the ways of God.

  1. She praised directly in response to God’s Word. (vs 46-47)

The angel said for her to rejoice – and now she does. The angel told her the name of her boy would be “God saves” and she incorporates that into her psalm. How carefully do we listen with the intent of applying God’s Word in our lives?

  1. She acknowledged her place as a humble servant and a recipient of God’s grace.

Do we approach God as both a humble slave, yet expectant and receiving of His mercy?

  1. She was familiar with God’s plan as the prophets laid it down.

She was Scripturally literate. What kind of a priority does Biblical literacy have in our lives?

  1. She knew God’s heart, His purpose in targeting those who knew their need, and ignoring those who were arrogantly self-sufficient.

How well do you know the character of God and how closely do you align with it in your own life?

Something else here: Israeli girls were not allowed to go to Sabbath School like the boys, who were taught the Scriptures from an early age. Somehow Eli and his wife made an exception for Mary, and at home taught her the Scriptures and how to understand them. Don’t you think God had this in mind to create that same kind of home life for little Jesus?

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