Advent: A Mighty God
This morning’s text is focused on Mary, and normally, this makes Evangelicals nervous, but I’ll be honest, I’m really excited.
Now, I don’t know what your background is with Mary. Perhaps you grew up in a home that practically worshipped Mary or have been around those who “venerate” her. But we must not let the distortions of others blind us to the fact that Mary can serve as an example of a faithful servant of the Lord.
We must not worship her, and we will see, this is not what Mary wants. Her whole song is focused on God, not her. She points us to worship God. But at the same time, we can respect Mary in a similar way that we respect the apostles or the heroes in Hebrews 11. They played a key role in the story of redemption, but we would be wrong to worship them.
Today, we get to look and see that Mary believed the promise of the Lord. What we're going to see is that the Mighty One, God, exercises his mercy on the humble who fear him, and we are to trust him and his plan just like Mary did.
First, we're going to see who our God is and Mary’s faith through Elizabeth's eyes, and then we're going to see it in Mary's own song.
Let’s first look at verse 39, where we will see God deliver on his promise to confirm that Mary is pregnant with the Savior of the world.
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah.”—Luke 1:39
Already from the start of this passage, you see Mary's faith in the Lord. It says, Mary “went in haste.” She didn't pause to question the Lord. She went in haste, and she traveled the three to five day journey to go see her relative Elizabeth.
But what was she going to see? The sign was that she would go see the baby bump in her barren relative Elizabeth. As we see, though, the Lord is even more kind to give a greater confirmation.
Mary walks in, greets Elizabeth, and all of a sudden this testimony from John the Baptist comes: a leap of joy inside Elizabeth. Here's Elizabeth’s own words now full of the Holy Spirit:
“She exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy’” (Luke 1:42–44).
Pause and imagine you were reading this for the first time. How stunning is this? No one has told Elizabeth that Mary is even pregnant, let alone that she is carrying the Messiah. But the Holy Spirit comes upon her, and she knows exactly what is going on.
Just in this simple visit of Mary to Elizabeth we see some very important truths about this baby, Jesus. Already, we have a very biblically-rich image of the older (John the Baptist) serving the younger (Jesus). We are seeing that John the Baptist is fulfilling his role of going and announcing Jesus. John the Baptist already is showing that Jesus must increase, and he must decrease. We also see that with this baby comes the very Spirit of God. When he walks in the room, the Holy Spirit falls on Elizabeth and fulfills the prophecy that John the Baptist would have the Holy Spirit from birth.
Finally, in this visit, we see Elizabeth acknowledge the genuine faith of Mary. Here's what she says:
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)
Mary must have been radiating trust in the Lord when she walks in. Elizabeth immediately recognized Mary’s genuine faith by saying, “You believe what the Lord said.”
Believing the Promise
In this Advent season, we get a reminder right here from Scripture of what it looks like to believe in what the Lord has promised. Elizabeth sees this and knows Mary is all in. What she sees in Mary is someone who heard from the Lord and said, “If that's what he says, he's going to do it.”
We called this series “The King Is Coming” because we want to call our hearts to wait faithfully by believing the promise of the Lord, to emulate Mary's faith in trusting in what the Lord has said.
Advent exists, in part, to remind us to put our hope in what the Lord has promised — he's coming again! Our faith rests on this hope. Here's how Romans puts it:
“We wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24–25)
Do you long for him to come back? If not, why? Are you excited about the Lord’s return? Do people look at your life and notice that you are leaning on his return? What might that look like?
Living in Light of the Promise
For some of us, when you take a good long look at the fact that the Lord is coming, we just can’t help but say, “I need to go to the nations.” This is a big part of the motivation behind the Great Commission in Matthew:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)
God promised to be with us to the end, and believing this promise that the Lord will come at the end of the age means we can risk everything now. I pray that would be some of you.
But I know that for most of us, living in light of the coming King will not mean a radical change in our lives, like going to the mission field. But it will mean our ordinary life is lived in an ordinary, holy way.
Let’s just go a little bit deeper here. I’m trying to drill down to see what would it look like for us to have a faith like Mary’s, that when we enter the room, an Elizabeth would look at us and say, “Your believing the promise of the Lord!’
Are you living your life in such a way that it is costly even on your week–to–week schedule? One way to test this is to ask how often are you moved to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” These are some of the last few words of the Bible, and we have an enemy who is working overtime to try to get our lives so distracted and comfortable here that we are never left groaning, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
For many of us, we could use the sober reminder each day that the Lord is coming. Let me challenge you this week to end every prayer of yours with this three-word prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.” See what it does to you heart. See what it does to your daily schedule.
I’m guessing most of us can slip into chasing paychecks or promotions at our jobs. A simple prayer of “Come, Lord Jesus,” may be what would wake us up from this vain pursuit. It’s not that paychecks are bad. We are called to earn them. It’s that they are dangerous. They are useful but dangerous in the same way fire is. We use fire to cook, to keep warm, to move cars. But we also have firefighters whose sole job is to respond to fires that have gotten out of control. Money, left unchecked, has the potential to distract you from delighting in the coming King.
Or maybe you put too much stock in the recent political races, and now the loss of a former president only seems to underscore that all hope is lost. A prayer that says, “Come, Lord Jesus,” may be what would remind us that our hope is in a person, and that person is not a former president or senator, governor, etc.
Mary Praises the Lord
Now let’s focus in on Mary’s song. This reaction from Elizabeth about Mary’s faith moves Mary to sing this song of praise. We are going to see Mary’s faith as an example again, and we are going to see how God works for the humble who fear him. Mary first praises God for how he has blessed her, then she praises God for how he acted towards all people. Then, she praises God for how he acts towards his people, Israel. Let's first look at Mary praising God because of how he's acted towards her, verses 46–49:
“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46–49).
Now, notice Mary's gut reaction. She immediately moves to praise the Lord: “My soul magnifies.” There's this deep welling up inside of her that praises the holiness, the power, the mighty work of the Lord. It wells up in her, and the emotion that she feels in her soul is joy.
The reason she praises the Lord is because of how he has treated her. He has seen her humble estate and blessed her in such a way that all generations would call her blessed. Yet again, her thoughts don’t terminate on her but rather move her to God. She wants us to praise him for this mighty action. She says in verse 49: “holy is his name.”
Carrying the Savior
Mary is not ashamed to call this blessing what it is. She's carrying the Savior of the world in her womb.
A few days ago, Katie Miller was teaching the youth about the virgin birth. One of the girls said, “Oh, I'd be so excited if that was me. That would be so cool.” That's what Mary's saying. I mean, she's not using the word cool, but she's says “blessed.” She says she is honored that this would happen. But she doesn’t want us to praise her.
She wants us to see that it's not about what she did: “I didn't do anything special. I'm not special. In fact, that's what makes this special.” She wants us to see the God who would do this, who would take the lowly, the insignificant, the poor of this world and make them great.
Mary’s not renowned. She's not nobility. She’s not rich. But the Lord takes her and makes her blessed in a way that all generations acknowledge. This is not only obvious in this song, but this kind of character of God is seen in the very details of the story. The most important being to ever live is about to come be born to a poor family in a manger. We must not think that this great God give preference to the great men of this world. Or that his powerful God gives preference to the powerful in the world.
This is where Mary goes next. She now moves to show that this kind of action of God raising up the lowly is God’s very own character.
Let's look at verses 50–53 where we are going to meet Mary's God. May God just amaze us by who he is.
“And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:50–53)
This is our God. Our God has mercy for any who fear him. He does not run a yacht club, where you qualify if you have enough status. He does the opposite. He works this great reversal. He takes the proud, and it makes them humble. He takes the mighty seated on thrones and takes them down. He takes the hungry ones and fills them up.
This is so rooted in God’s character that this song Mary is singing has familiar notes from songs in the Old Testament. This type of declaration of God has been ringing throughout the Old Testament. In fact, we can even point to a specific song that sings these same truths. It’s Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. Hannah is blessed by the Lord with a special son after being barren, and she sings such similar truths like Mary that it is worth highlighting so that we don’t miss the fact that God exalting the humble and debasing the proud is not a new occurrence. Here are the parallels.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”—Luke 1:46–47
“Holy is his name”—Luke 1:49
“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”—Luke 1:52
“He has filled the hungry with good things.”—Luke 1:53
“My heart exults in the LORD. . . I rejoice in your salvation.”—1 Samuel 2:1
“There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”—1 Samuel 2:2
“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.”—1 Samuel 2:4
“Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.”—1 Samuel 2:5
This is who our God is. He exalts the lowly.
Think of what this song would have sounded like to Theopolis, the man Luke is writing to. He’s a ranking Roman official who probably has power, pride, and riches all of which are condemned in this song. It acts as a warning to him, and we also need to heed this warning.
Millions of people perish because they are caught in pride, power, or riches. And almost by nature of being born and raised in this country, you are in danger of falling into this trap. Hear this truth this morning:
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:51–52).
Mary’s song reminds us that we cannot take our fight against pride lightly.
In fact, we can learn from her what biblical humility looks like. She gives us some great help on how to fight pride and live humbly:
Remember that God has looked upon your lowly estate and exalted you. This may seem like an awkward way to fight pride. Often, pride exists to make us look significant. So, it may seem that this would create it, rather than kill it. But, I think the exact opposite happens. When you realize that God takes you in all of your weakness and accepts you, all of a sudden your drive to prove yourself melts away. God chose Mary, with all her brokenness, poverty, insignificance, and made her a huge piece of his story of redemption. Mary then promises that this is exactly God’s character. We see that he does that over and over. And this is the case for you as well. He takes you amid your brokenness. You don’t have to prove anything to him. Imagine an adopted child who is eating his first meal with his new family. The family calls him down for dinner, and he says he can’t come. He says, “I’ve never had a meal this nice. I could never do enough work around here to deserve this kind of meal. I’m not worthy. You don’t know some of the stuff I’ve done. I haven’t even done chores today to earn a seat.” Now imagine that new father looking back at him and saying, “In this house, you don’t earn your seat, you are invited. And you, my son, you are my son now, you are always invited to eat with us.” All of a sudden, the son’s drive to try and prove that he deserved that spot melts away because the father has exalted him even as he was lowly.
Turn personal praise into praise for the Lord. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s praise is to praise the Lord. If you struggle here, try literally turning praise into a praise to the Lord. Feel free to borrow Mary’s words. When someone says, “Nice job on that project,” think in your mind, “Oh, my soul magnifies the Lord.”
Fear the Lord. At the end of the day, the greatest pride–killer is a sober look at who God is in comparison to us. Hear how Mary does this: “fear the Lord” and “holy is his name.” Mary exemplified the truth that her God is big, and she is small. That is something we can remind ourselves of daily, and it will kill pride the same way that a little league star with a big head will be put in his place if he was to step up to the mound of a Major League game.
God Keeps His Promises
Finally let’s circle back for just a minute to Advent. Mary rejoices in the fact that God has kept his promise to his people in versus 54–55:
“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:54–55)
Mary acknowledges that God had a promise to keep. And he keeps it. She praises him for it. I just want to pause and enter this with you to see why this is worth the last stanza of her song.
Thousands and thousands of years have passed as God’s people longed for this Promised One. In fact, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God promised, “I will send the promised offspring who will crush the serpent.” This death that you just bit into and welcomed into the world will be reversed. Then, just a little while later he makes this promise to Abraham. He says, I'm going to give you this promised offspring and your offspring will outnumber all the nations.
They're waiting and they're waiting and they're waiting, king after king. The question is always, “Is this the one promised? Is this the one or not?” Then after more king's failures, some better than others but mostly worse than before, we get this 400 years of silence.
Let’s just zoom into this one part of the waiting, but remember this is only one season of thousands of years of waiting. They are waiting 400 years. Dads telling their kids of this promise. Those kids become granddad's who tell their grandkids and their grandkids after that: “He’s coming.” They're waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
Just picture ten years ago. What were you doing Just ten years ago? Where were you? I had just married Jacque, and we were about to visit Nicaragua for the summer. We had to finish her senior year of college. We hadn’t been to Minneapolis. No Landin. We didn't even know Boise was on the map. That was ten years ago. It feels like a long time ago. But if this was the case, they still had 390 more years of waiting.
Mary is right to rejoice over this promise. God has fulfilled his promise to Israel. What a sweet day! The promised one had arrived!