Two Women and Their God

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

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Advent Part III:  Two Women and Their God
Luke 1:39-56

Verse: Luke 1:41–42 ESVAnd when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

God loves to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things in them and through them.  Some of the most famous people in the Bible had very humble stories, but God used them.

  • Abraham was just an ordinary man from a pagan family, but God made a promise to him that eventually led to his greatest descendant: Jesus Christ.
  • Moses unjustly murdered an Egyptian man and fled for his life, before God revealed himself to this man and called him to lead the people of Israel out of cruel bondage.
  • Esther was a young Jewish woman chosen to be the queen over the pagan nation of Persia. And God used her to stop the genocide of the people of Israel.
  • Paul in the NT was a violent man who persecuted Christians. It’s hard to imagine being lower than that in God’s eyes.  But God chose him to be his mouthpiece with the Gospel of Christ all over the Mediterranean world.
  • Many of you in this room— you believe in Jesus, and your story has humble beginnings.   Drug addicts.  Hopeless.  Suicidal.  Facing God’s wrath.  Immoral.  Selfish.  Greedy.  Idolatrous.  Purposelessness.   And God brought you out of that pit and saved your soul.  Then he lifted you up and seated you in glory with him in heaven.

The Lord loves to lift up the humble.  He loves to save the guilty and the dead.

When he does, they recognize they cannot take credit for what happened.  They glorify God.

Today, we are going to read one of those kind of stories.  Two women.  One very old.  One very young.

Nothing particularly impressive about them.  Normal lives among the people of Israel.  One is a priest’s wife, but nothing note-worthy.  The younger one we really no very little about, except that she was from a town that had a poor reputation.

But God chose these two women—women who are faith-filled and humble—to carry sons.  Two sons born of miraculous means.   Two sons who would grow up… one to be one of the greatest prophets in history.  The other son to grow up to be the long-awaited Messiah.  The Savior of the world.

These humble, simple, faith-filled women are blessed from heaven to participate in the most significant period in all of human history.  And we get a small glimpse into their lives and rejoice with them.  Because we are now recipients of the blessing that went to them. 

Luke 1

Turn to the Gospel of Luke.  Chapter 1.  We are going through this chapter as we look back at the future coming of Jesus Christ.

As you are turning there, I will introduce myself.  My name is Brad Barrett, one of the pastors here.  My wife Annette and I have four grown daughters.  Three of them are married.  And we have five grandchildren.  I loved being a dad to my girls.  And being a grandfather at least matches that, if not surpasses it.  It might be the most fun job in the world.

Now to our topic this morning.  There are Two Advents:  his First Coming from heaven to earth.  And his Second Coming.

The First Coming has already happened.  Jesus Christ descended from heaven, took on humanity, became God Incarnate…. where divine and human became one.  Then he lived a sinless life.  Died a cruel death.  Rose victoriously from the dead into an immortal body.  Ascended into heaven literally and bodily.

The Second Coming is in the future.  When Jesus Christ returns to earth.  Following his ascension into heaven, he will then descend to the earth.  And he will rescue all who love him.  He will pour out God’s wrath on all who reject him.

This month, we are focusing on the First Coming.

Luke 1

This is a story of two women and their God.  Luke, more than the other three Gospels, reveals the important role of women in Jesus the Messiah’s ministry.

In this story today, we have Elizabeth, the elderly wife of a priest.  And we have Mary, probably a very young woman—perhaps a teenager— a Nobody from Nowheresville.   Both these women have an extraordinary role in the most extraordinary period of time in human history so far.

This 35-year history—from John the Baptist’s conception to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, is without question the greatest period of human history.  The highest mountain in the mountain range of history.

I count it a privilege to be able to read this story.

Luke 1:39–56 (ESV)

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,

40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

We need some background.  Two weeks ago, we read in the first part of this chapter of a Jewish couple Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They were both old.  Geezers.  Or better, as Zechariah wisely said, “My wife is advanced in years.”    They were childless, and well past the child bearing years.

But an angel named Gabriel appeared to Zechariah while he was worshiping the Lord as a priest in the temple.   The angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son.  This son, to be named John, was going to be great in the sight of God.  A great prophet.  And this prophet’s role was extraordinarily important:  to announce the long-awaited coming of the Messiah, sent from heaven to bring salvation to the world.

Then last week we read about Mary who had a similar heavenly experience.  Six months after Zechariah’s story, Mary was also visited by an angel.  A glorious pronouncement of something special to happen to her.  But she will not give birth to a mere prophet.  She will give birth to the Messiah.  The Anointed One from heaven.  His name was to be Jesus, or in Hebrew, “Yeshua,” like “Joshua,” which means, “The Lord saves.”  He was to be Yeshua for he would save his people from their sins.

So very quickly after the angel leaves, Mary heads 60 miles southward to her relative Elizabeth near Jerusalem.  Mary surely realized that something heavenly….something powerful…. something miraculous… and something historic…. was happening.  And both she and Elizabeth were caught up in it.

41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,

42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

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

This is absolutely fascinating.  Mary walks into the house and greets Elizabeth.  And as soon she speaks, Elizabeth’s baby in the womb—John the prophet—leaps for joy.

It’s hard to imagine that Elizabeth knew anything about Mary and the angel’s words from God about giving birth to the Savior of the world, for Mary had only recently heard from the angel.  Then she left quickly to see Elizabeth 60 miles away.   So it seems Elizabeth spoke prophetically in the power of the Holy Spirit.  She knew that Mary was carrying the Lord.

And the angel had told Zechariah 6 months before this that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from the womb.  So John, apparently and miraculously through the insight of the Holy Spirit, recognized the Lord had just walked in the room.  28 or so years from now, John will be preaching to Israel, telling them the Messiah is coming.  It seems here while in the womb, his ministry has already begun.

An utterly fascinating story.

Vs. 46-56 – The Magnificat

Now we are presented with another fascinating part of the story.  It’s sort of a song.  It’s Mary’s words to Elizabeth and anyone else who was in the house that day.  Mary may have sung it, like a Psalm.

Let’s read it all the way through first. 

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Now let’s go back, one piece at a time.

First, for centuries many have called Mary’s song, “The Magnificat.”  That title comes from the Latin Bible, the word “magnify” in vs. 46.

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

Magnifies.”  This means to glory in.  Celebrate.  Praise.  Proclaim the greatness of God.

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

Like in the Psalms, saying, “My soul” and “my spirit” are a way to say, “I” or “me.

She rejoices in the God who saves, the God who has sent his own Son to save.

Jesus’ name in Hebrew is “Yeshua,” or Joshua, and it means “The Lord is salvation.”

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

Mary describes herself in a humble condition.  Not rich.  Not well-known.  Not powerful.  Humble.  Lowly.  This is not a “low self-esteem” issue.  She simply has a humble perspective of herself before God and people.  And she marvels that God has looked upon her with favor and kindness.  The Lord has given her an extraordinary blessing that future generations—like ours— will marvel at.

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

God has shown his power and might for her, and he has done something very great for her.  He has chosen her to be the most significant mother in human history.  (Actually any follower of Christ can say, “The Lord has done great things for me.”)

The blessing he poured out on her are astonishing.  The Messiah—the Savior of the world— Immanuel, God with Us, has descended upon the earth.  And the Incarnate Son of God now dwells in her body.

All mothers have a special relationship with their children unlike anyone else.  Mary’s child was utterly extraordinary.

Then she says, “Holy is his name.”  The Lord is holy, holy, holy.  And in vs. “50:  He is merciful to his people.”

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;

She worships the Lord for his strength.  She exalts the Lord because he is opposed to those who are proud.  Arrogant.  Those who think too highly of themselves.   God will humble even rulers.

550 years before this was a great ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian empire.  He was a deceived, proud, big-headed man.  So the Lord humble him and drove him out among the wild animals, having lost his senses.   After 7 years, Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses, and his conclusion was beautiful:

Daniel 4:37 ESVNow I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This is a warning to all of us.  God is a humble God, and in his holiness he will humble the proud.  Mary praises God for this.

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Throughout Scriptures, God is noted for supporting the weak and sick and poor.  And since the rich are often oppressors, God is often found opposing them.  He can and will send them away empty.  This is why we are called to care for the poor and oppose those who oppress.  Mary—perhaps just a teenager—know the attributes and the heart of God.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

This is the only glimpse of some OT history and God’s covenant to his people.  Next week we will hear Zechariah’s words, and they are filled with prophetic influence.  But here is the only place Mary hints at ancient prophecies and the covenant God made to Abraham. 

God spoke to Abraham, making a covenant—a contract with him.

Genesis 12:3 ESV… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Mary likely doesn’t understand everything that is happening.  In fact, it seems no one had a good grasp on all these events until after Christ rose from the dead.  But Mary understood that she was in momentous times.  A glorious time when God was going to fulfill his ancient covenant to Israel and even to the whole world.  And she rejoiced in the Lord.  She magnified him by writing or singing this Psalm.

Mary

A word on Mary:  If you read a little of church history over the past 1700 to 1800 years (even all the way back to the 3rd centuries)  you will find that much attention has been given to Mary.  Songs have been written about her.  Names, like “Mother of God,” have been ascribed to her.  Prayers have been uttered to her.  Prayers for protection and strength.

Honestly, I find it rather curious.

Some of it is appropriate.

Some of it is idolatrous.

God indeed clearly blessed this young woman.  Surely this is the greatest privilege any woman in history has ever had:  carrying the Incarnate Son of God.  God has descended upon the earth.  Immanuel—“God with Us”—has come.

The Savior of the world has appeared in miraculous fashion.  And this simple woman from Nazareth—a NoName from Nowheresville—gets to be the most intimate person in the world with Immanuel, Jesus, by carrying him in her womb for nine months.   An unspeakable joy and honor.  An astonishing privilege.  A glory and a blessing.

On the other hand, she is a mere mortal.  She is not deity.  She is not to be worshiped or prayed to.

She is humble, faith-filled, and a servant of the Lord.

Nowhere in Scripture do we find any of God’s people ever praying to anyone except God the Father and his Son.

While Jesus certainly loved and cared for his mother and his brothers, look at this fascinating exchange:

Matthew 12:46–50 ESVWhile he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.  But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus’ intent was not to demean his own family.  Rather, his intent was to elevate anyone who loves God the Father and does his will.  THEY are his family.

So we need to find a holy way to view Mary.  This humble, NoName woman from NoWheresville has been gloriously blessed by God to carry the Son of God.  She is a participant in the greatest period in history.  And we should be glad for her.

I hope someday to meet her in heaven and talk to her.  I would like to rejoice with her, and hear more of her testimony from these marvelous days.

At the same time, we don’t want to deify Mary or make her into something she is not.  She is a humble, simple, faith-filled woman just like many of you women in this room.  She is NOT more than that.

Why This Story?

Let’s get back to this story in Luke.

The story of Jesus Christ is not only the centerpiece of Luke’s Gospel here, that story is the centerpiece of the entire Bible.  From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, the Bible is funneling down to this Jesus, sent from heaven, taking on humanity.  This story is the highest mountain in the mountain range of human history.  The most impactful, memorable, crucial 30-year period in history.

Today we read only a tiny portion of the whole story.  This portion occurred over just a few days of travel to Elizabeth’s house and some brief interaction between two godly women.

Why are we given this story?

It’s just a simple story of two ordinary women.  But the story matters because God is involved.

AN ASIDE:  Isn’t that true with all of us?  We are all very ordinary.  We might even say our lives are boring and insignificant.  But when God is in the story with us, everything becomes extraordinarily significant.

So why this story?  Let me offer three reasons.

FIRST, this story can CALM our DOUBTS.

Occasionally I will wonder if this whole NT story of Jesus Christ is true.  Sometimes even when I’m spending time in prayer in the morning, I will suddenly ask myself and ask the Lord, “Is all this really true?  Is there really a heaven?  Is there really life after death?  Is God really out there?

I have moments where I wonder.  I hesitate.  I even doubt.  I suspect most of us do, at times.

This story of these two ordinary women and the events surrounding them can CALM our DOUBTS.

There is something extraordinary about all these events.  There is something “other-worldly” about the circumstances.

God is giving us proof that Christ is heaven-sent.

  • An angel named Gabriel appeared to a priest named Zechariah.
  • Zechariah didn’t believe God’s word given to him, so God struck him mute for 9 months.
  • An old woman, Elizabeth, miraculously gets pregnant.
  • Her son will be a great prophet. A prophecies about this prophet are being fulfilled from the Book of Malachi.
  • An angel appeared to a young Jewish woman.
  • She is miraculously impregnated by the Spirit of God. An unprecedented miracle.
  • She and her relative Elizabeth meet, and the Holy Spirit is present and speaking.
  • John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb when the Lord Jesus Christ, also in the womb, comes into the room.
  • Mary writes a song of praise that is carried in the Scriptures into eternity.

This story is extraordinary.  As part of the Grander Story of Christ, our DOUBTS can be calmed and our FAITH be strengthened.  If you are skeptical or even feel weak in faith, doubt no more.  If you have a skeptical or doubting friend, share this story with them.  Read Luke 1 with them.  The King of kings has come to earth.  God has invaded humanity.

Why else are we given this story in the Gospel of Luke? 

A SECOND possible reason:  To ENCOURAGE our HEARTS.

As Christ followers, life has a way of wearing us down.  Of discouraging us.

  • The day to day grind of life wears us down.
  • Boring, seemingly insignificant days dull our minds.
  • Heavy trials of finances or health or shattered relationships turn our hearts cold.

But this story of these two women can give us strength.  If God can bless a humble NoBody from NoWheresville like Mary, he can do that with me.  And if God blesses us, our hearts will be strengthened.

And, in fact, if you have believed in this Messiah who for 9 months resided in Mary’s womb, then you too have received blessing from heaven.  Extraordinary blessing.

Ephesians 1:3 ESVBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…”

In Christ we have every imaginable good thing in heaven.  Paul goes on to tell us some of those many blessings:

  • Chosen by God.
  • Adopted as children
  • Forgiven
  • Redeemed
  • Sealed with the Holy Spirit

So when we read about Mary and the blessings sent from heaven, we remember that in Christ we, too, have been blessed extraordinarily.

When life beats us down and we are discouraged, we can be strengthened and encouraged.  We can have our hope renewed.

Mary is the Blessed Mary.  But in Christ you, too, are blessed.  Blessed Brad.  Blessed Michael.  Blessed Jessica.

If you know Jesus, fill your own name in there.  “Blessed  ___________________.”

Be encouraged and strengthened.  If God can bless this insignificant young woman from Nazareth, he can and will bless you.

Why else are we given this story in the Gospel of Luke? 

A THIRD reason:  To CHALLENGE US to KNOW the Lord like Mary.

Mary was walking with God.  We saw this last week when the angel told her of this miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit.  Her response of faith was beautiful:  “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary testifies to us of the divine in the earthly.  She is saying by her life and her words, “I believe this is a work of God.”  This astonishing miracle is not Hashtag #FakeNews.  She is not lying.   She is not deceived.  No, she is a woman of faith who knows and believes the One True God.

In her song we see a deep knowledge of God.  A reverence for him.  A love for him.

She sang of the Lord’s attributes and his deeds:

  • He is holy
  • Mighty and strong
  • He is Savior.
  • He is the Protector of the weak and oppressed.
  • He will humble the Proud and those who oppress.

Let us press on to know the Lord like she does.