Pastor Scott Andrews | August 6, 2023
This past week, our youth, middle and high school students, went to summer camp at Snowbird. This outdoor wilderness camp is outside Andrews, NC. How many of you have ever been to Andrews, NC? When we first moved to Boone, I knew my father’s family was from western NC, so once while camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we thought we’d take a day and make the one-hour drive to Andrews. That’s an hour I’ll never get back. I thought about changing my name, but there is no evidence my family ever lived there – actually, that anyone ever lived there. Seriously, a couple weeks ago when we talked about the nothing town of Nazareth – Mary could have been from Andrews.
Anyway, back to Snowbird. How many of you in your life have ever been to youth camp? Of Course, many of us have. You don’t have to raise your hands, but how many of you had a spiritual experience at youth camp, where your life was changed? Maybe you came to faith in Christ, you rededicated your life, you got serious about your faith. I think many of us would raise our hands – I hope some would from last week. We also had a few from our church go to Impact 360, a Christian camp, who came back saying, their lives were changed. So, here’s a question for you to ponder, why is that? What is it about youth camp, or maybe even a men’s, women’s or marriage conference that is so special – dare I say, truly life-changing? What is it?
Could it be because we get away from the everyday distractions of life – not necessarily bad things, some even necessary things – but things that distract us from pursuing a relationship with Jesus, to hear more clearly from the Lord? For example, I suspect at youth camp, there was a lot less time on social media or cell phones. Less time on homework or chores – again, those aren’t bad things. Less time on TV and the internet – less time in sports or other fun activities. And more time with followers of Christ, more time listening to talks about the Christian life, more time in prayer, more time in the Word. All of that, putting our teens in a place to spend more time with Christ and less time on distractions – all that woo us away from Christ.
Here’s another question for you, how did your parents, or you as parents, respond to the youth when they returned? Oh that’s nice – now let’s get back to real life. Oh, maybe we don’t say those words, but we act out those words. Clean your room, do your chores, let’s watch our favorite TV show, school’s right around the corner, might want to crack some books, time to dust of the soccer ball or baseball glove. Listen to this new country song that’s gone viral, “Try that in a small town.” Do we expect our kids to maintain their newly-acquired spiritual fervor, while leaving Christ at camp? I remember hearing one pastor say that parents often pat such kids on the head when they return, as if to say, “you’ll get over it.” Maybe, rather we should.
Another train of thought. How many of you have ever been around people who every time they opened their mouths, sounded like Bible? You know what I mean – they frequently quote Scripture, they start a sentence and finish with words you knew were Bible? I had a friend like that in Colorado Springs – his name was Paul. He was an elder in our church and a student at Denver Seminary. When he first came to the church and I spent some time with him, I thought, what’s up with this guy? Is he just trying to impress me because I’m a pastor? You’ve known people like that – in Bible studies, always spouting off their knowledge to impress everyone – but that wasn’t Paul. As I got to know him, I found what he put in just naturally came out. It’s who he was – a man saturated by the Word of God.
Well, back to our youth – our children, our teens. As we frequently bemoan the state of the church, Christianity in our nation, the number of young people walking away from the faith – is it possible that we’ve taught them other things – transitory and temporary things of this life – are more important than Jesus? Is their only Bible intake what they get here on Sunday mornings, or maybe Wednesday night youth? What do our daily rhythms communicate to our kids about what is important? Have you sat down with eagerness, trying to listen as to why their lives were changed last week, and to encourage it?
Why start with this today? Because in our continuing study of the Gospel of Luke, we are being impressed – I hope challenged – by the lives of two unassuming women – Elizabeth and Mary. Now Elizabeth was last week – a woman well advanced in years, past childbearing age, but the wife of a priest, living just outside Jerusalem. We could expect, I suppose, to be encouraged by her mature faith. But, we were challenged by her humble faith. By the way she believed God had removed her reproach, by her humble response to young Mary when she came for a visit.
You see, there’s also Mary. History tells us she was very likely a young teen, 13 or 14 years of age. She had a rather significant spiritual experience that changed her life, and ours. You remember, the angel Gabriel appeared to her while she was in Nazareth, perhaps in her parents’ home. He said some startling things to her – especially given she was a young – not trying to be disrespectful – a young nothing girl living in a nothing town in the middle of nowhere.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Of course, she was perplexed, wondering what kind of salutation it that? I’m sorry, are you talking to me? Do you have the right address? “Do not be afraid, Mary (yes, I have the right address, and I’m talking to you); for you have found favor with God.” We know well by now that mean she was the graced one, the blessed one – the one upon whom God showered His favor. You have found favor not because you earned it or already had it, but because He gave it to you.
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Are you kidding me – now I know you’re at the wrong house.
That’s mind blowing, but as we’ve seen, Mary was stuck on the words, you will conceive in your womb. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” Think about it, young Mary was the first to meet Jesus.
I would call that a spiritual encounter – her life forever changed. Her response – the response of a 13 or 14-year-old teenage girl was, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” Wow. This is, of course, a nonrepeatable event. It’s not like your teens came home from youth camp and said, Dad, Mom, you’re never going to believe this. But is God still in the business of showering His grace on people – on young people – on your teenager? Is it possible they met God in a special way?
Well, after hearing that her older, barren relative Elizabeth was in her sixth month with child, Mary hightailed it to the hill country in Judea – right outside Jerusalem. This was the sign given to Mary to confirm that nothing was impossible with God. Upon arriving, not only did she find that, indeed, Elizabeth was pregnant, but the baby in her womb – the forerunner of the Messiah – leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. He was already doing the work of proclaiming the long-awaited Messiah. Then Elizabeth was herself filled with the Holy Spirit, and said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how has it happened, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” How did Liz know all that? She was filled with the Spirit. She, too, had significant spiritual experience.
And what was young Mary’s response? Our text today – it’s called the Magnificat – found in Luke 1:46-56. Read that with me.
No way. No really, no way – that’s what many scholars say today. There is no way a young Mary just spontaneously let loose this song of praise that has endured for centuries. No way – it’s too theological, too poetic. It must have been someone else when reflecting on the event put the words in Mary’s mouth – Luke simply recorded it. In fact, we’ve already found Luke to be a wordsmith – a brilliant author, he probably wrote these words and placed them in the narrative. There’s no way a young teenager would compose and express such high praise on the spot. Oh, and especially since most of what she says can be found in the OT. Come on – is it possible that a 13, 14-year-old could be that familiar with the Bible? Well, maybe if she wasn’t distracted by cell phones and social media. Plus, very likely, since the words are recorded in Scripture, what she sang, like John who leapt and Elizabeth who shouted, was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Listen to me kids – I’m talking to you. You are what you eat. What you put in comes out. I suspect if we asked you, on the fly, to tell us what’s popular on Instagram, you could do it; to recite the words of your favorite songs, you could do it. The challenge is not your memory – we all need to stop saying, I’m not very good at memorization. What you put in comes out. Remember last week? Remember some spiritual experience you had that changed your life? What was it? It was time with the Lord, His people, His Word. Was is some special worship song – the words of which you can now recite – that impacted you?
Is it possible Mary could compose so rich a hymn at the drop of a hat? Yes – because of the rich reservoir of truth that she had put in. Mary knew her Bible. She would not have been distracted by much of what we are. No cell phones, no social media, no TV, no internet, no texting, no Whatsapp, no Twitter. All she would have learned in a rather backwards town in a largely illiterate society would have been what she heard, learned, and sang from the synagogue – and perhaps in her home. Again, I think it’s an interesting, and perhaps convicting question – what comes out of our mouths, spontaneously? What do we put in as a regular diet? (earlier, a friend – we’ve all known those who do that with songs, right?) Listen, if you want a closer relationship with the Lord, it’s not rocket science, it’s not magic. You are what you eat – what you put in comes out. Do you want your life transformed by the gospel, by the Spirit, by the Word of God? Then spend time with Christ, in His Word, by His Spirit.
I believe there are mountain top experiences. Times when our relationship with the Lord is so sweet you can taste it. Times of repentance, closeness, realness. But listen, we don’t typically live on the mountain tops – we live in the valleys between the peaks. What will sustain us? Time, sweet time, regular time with the Lord. Think about it – did you become the soccer player, the dancer, the piano player by just kicking a ball, kicking your heels, striking the keys once or twice a month? No, it takes discipline and practice. The same is true in the Christian life. If you spent as much time with your best friend as you do with Jesus, would you still be best friends?
Well, let’s look at the Magnificat this morning for the next few minutes. By the way, the word Magnificat comes from the first word of her song in the Latin translation. In Greek, the word is megaluno, and means to glorify or magnify. And that’s what she does – she magnifies the Lord. Not herself, the Lord. That’s the first thing we can learn in this self-absorbed culture – where our faces and selfies are most important, is she, a young teen, magnified the Lord.
We should notice the number of times God is the subject of the sentence – God is the one acting – which causes Mary to exalt or magnify Him. Don’t miss it – the focus is not on Mary, but what God has done to and through her, and what He has done and will do to and through us. Let’s face it, sometimes, our praises of God are too self-centered. It is true that God has acted on our behalf, but that means to Him, and Him alone, belongs the praise. I’ve said this before, but the subject of way too many of our praise songs is me – look at the number of times the words I, me and my appear in many songs today. Perhaps we should sing more of Him, and less of us.
The outline of the text goes like this, very simply:
- God Lifts the Humble (46-50)
- God Humbles the Proud (51-55)
- The Humble Returns Home (56)
This is the first of four songs in this section to celebrate the coming of Christ – four nativity songs, Christmas carols, if you will. The first is Mary’s Magnificat celebrating God’s coming in a way you would not expect, doing things you would never guess. The second is Zacharias’ Benedictus, where he celebrates the coming of the Messiah, and the birth of his son, the forerunner to the Messiah. Third is the Gloria, sung by the angels in the fields to shepherds when Jesus was born – Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men. And fourth is Simeon’s song called the Nunc Dimittis, when he celebrates the coming of the Christ as promised, in fulfillment of OT prophecy, a light of revelation to the Gentiles. One author suggests these Christmas carols are the last of the Hebrew Psalms and the first of the Christian hymns. You see, God breaks in after 400 silent years, and what God has done in Christ deserves to be praised.
What I want you to notice is how the song celebrates what I call the great reversal – a significant theme in Luke. Because you see, this also flies in the face of culture. Mary notes how God turns the world literally upside down – He switches the price tags of life on everything. The things we think valuable He dismisses, and the things we think worthless have high value in His accounting scheme.
Also, as I suggested earlier, this song is filled with OT allusions or quotes – songs celebrating God’s goodness in the past – like Miriam’s and Deborah’s songs, like the Psalms and especially Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2. There is no doubt Mary reflected on Hannah’s song on her way from Nazareth to Elizabeth’s home. You remember Hannah. She too, like Elizabeth, was old, barren. She begged God for a child. God answered and gave her a son named Samuel – the last of the judges, and the first of the prophets. Well, after she has the son, Hannah lets loose a song of praise – it will sound familiar:
1 Then Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
My horn is exalted in the Lord,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
2 “There is no one holy like the Lord,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
3 “Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth…
4 “The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.
5 “Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry cease to hunger….
7 “The Lord makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts.
8 “He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor…
Again, you see how God-centered, God-exalting Hannah’s song was. One author suggests the words of Mary’s song can be found in Genesis, Deuteronomy, I and II Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Yes, those are all books in the Bible, and she knew them. Again, she was raised on them: she heard them at the synagogue, and likely sang them at home. So when the time came, when she carried the Christ, the Son of God, she was prepared to offer praise to God from a rich storehouse of faith and Scripture. Notice also how she praises God for His attributes – His power, His holiness, His mercy, His faithfulness to His promises. Notice, Mary doesn’t say anything about her Son – she praises the God who gave Him, and through whom He will carry out His divine purposes and fulfill His promises.
Now, she started with a proclamation that God Lifts (or exalts) the Humble in verses 46-50. She’s primarily talking about what God has done for her. Another way to outline this is to say these verses talk about how God has noticed and exalted lowly Mary; then in verses 50-53 He broadens His attention to the great reversal; then He remembers His promises to lowly Israel in verses 54-55. But I want you to notice the parallelism of comparison and contrast in this song.
My soul exalts (magnifies) the Lord (46b)
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (47)
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave (48a)
For the Mighty One has done great things for me (49a)
He has done mighty deeds with His arm (51a)
He has scattered those who were proud (51b) (that’s contrast – this is a theme in the OT – the arm of the Lord, God as the divine Warrior, stepping in to care for His people)
He has brought down rulers from their thrones (52a)
And has exalted those who were humble (52b)
He has filled the hungry with good things (53a)
And sent away the rich empty-handed (53b)
So you can see the comparisons and contrasts – mostly highlighting how God exalts the humble, and humbles the proud. Of course, we remember verses throughout Scripture that proclaim this truth, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” and therefore, “Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Jesus will say it Himself in Luke 14, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I call it the great reversal as God switches the prices tags of life – don’t seek to be the lord of all, seek to be the servant of all. Don’t be proud, or God will take you down. Be humble, and God will lift you up. Is that what you hear in our culture – in most cultures? No. Rather, exalt yourself, look out for number one, you are number one. No, He’s number one, and we are His servants, and we serve Him by serving others. By humbling ourselves and letting Him do the exalting.
And no one was more lowly in that day than a nothing peasant girl from a nothing town like Mary. And yet, God chose to exalt her. And so, what does she say? My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. Notice again, it is not upon herself that she if focused – but on God who has done these things – and who is her Savior. Even Mary needed a Savior, and she recognized who that was.
But these phrases are parallel – my soul magnifies the Lord – that is, makes much of Him, my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. How do I make much of God? By rejoicing in Him. You’ve heard it before, John Piper says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. The Westminster Confession says the chief end of man is to glorify God and or better by enjoying Him forever. Do you see? We can find great joy in this life, not by making much of us, but by making much of Him – rejoicing in God our Savior. That’s God-centered praise.
In verses 48-50, she celebrates that God has regard for the humble state of His bondslave – again, self-abased humility. When she speaks of her humble state – she’s talking about her lowliness – she’s not one most would pick to be the mother of the Messiah – it’s just part of the great reversal and God’s unique accounting scheme.
As a result, from this time on – that is, from the birth of the Messiah, all generations, to include our own, will count her blessed. Why? She was undeserving. God did not choose the most deserving from our upside down accounting – He picked one upon whom He would shower His grace – and therefore, people would call her most blessed.
Again, not unlike us. We like to think we were somehow deserving of God’s attention, but we aren’t. He chooses the most undeserving. To be clear, that is everyone, which is why the call of the gospel goes out to everyone. And those who believe are blessed. Undeserving, blessed recipients of God’s grace. That’s what verse 50 says – His mercy is upon generation after generation to those who fear Him. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve, mercy is not getting what we do deserve. And His mercy is for those who fear Him. Recognize that He alone is holy, and we therefore reverence, even fear Him.
Very quickly then – God turns the world upside down in verses 51-55. He humbles the proud. Do you see the juxtaposition? We hold those in high esteem who are proud, because they think they have something to be proud of: the strong, the rulers, the rich, the filled. But God is not impressed with what we so easily are. He’s not impressed with our Instagram accounts and how many followers we have. Look at what He does: With His mighty arm, He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones. He has sent away the rich empty. Conversely, He has exalted those who were humble; He has filled the hungry with things. God is in the business of exalting the humble and humbling the proud.
Now, we should note these verbs are all in the past tense. It makes us think of Pharoah and Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar and Joseph and Moses and Daniel. Lots of discussion as to why past tense, but the general agreement is, what God has done in the past, He will also do in the future. In fact, it is so certain, Mary says it in the past tense as already accomplished. She finishes with truth applied to her people Israel – God has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and His descendants.
Bringing us to our last point – verse 56 simply says, and Mary stayed with her, that is Elizabeth, about three months, and then returned to her house. She had gone to see Elizabeth in her sixth month, so most surmise Mary stayed until John was born, then she returned home. Couple of quick thoughts about that as we close. First, by this time, she would have been showing. Presumably, no one knew she was pregnant, till she got home. And so, she faced the potential ridicule and shame – even from Joseph her betrothed – knowing that her spiritual experience was real – that as unbelievable as it sounded, she had conceived by the Holy Spirit.
I’m way out of time. But so also, maybe you’ve had a spiritual experience. Will you get over it, pat on the head? Or will you face the potential shame by not being ashamed of your experience with Christ? Will you praise Christ to everyone who will listen for what He has done for us?
God sent His Son, the first time, through a lowly peasant girl, to take on flesh, and in that flesh, die for the sins of His people. Jesus came the first time as a divine warrior – to, with His mighty arm – deliver us from bondage to sin. But He did it in a way we would never expect – dying for us. What divine warrior would do that?
It’s interesting – in Mary’s Magnificat, she praises God for taking down rulers from their throne. That word taking down is only used in one other place in Luke’s writing – in Luke 23, where Joseph of Arimathea took down Jesus’ body from the cross. The great reversal. God takes down rulers from their thrones, and Jesus, the mightiest of rulers, God in the flesh, was taken down from His cross. He humbled Himself, and became obedient, even to death on a cross. You remember what the sign said on the cross? Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. That king was taken down, so that we might live. And the reminder to us today is that the gospel is for such people like us, who are broken, and know they are. Who have found that our hope is only found in Jesus Christ.