Mary's Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 24, 2000
Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew

And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, even as he said to our fathers."

Luke 1:46-55

In Luke 1:46-55 we find the portion of Scripture called "Mary's Magnificat." This great worship hymn of Mary is called the Magnificat because it begins in the Latin Bible in verse 47 with the words "Magnificat animum mea Dominum," which means "My soul magnifies the Lord."

When you open the gospel of Luke, you notice it is filled with music, especially the first two chapters. There we find five hymns: the hymn of Elizabeth (Luke 1:42-45); the hymn of Mary (Luke 1:46-55); the hymn of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79); the hymn of the angels, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests," (Luke 2:14); and the hymn of Simeon in Luke 2:29-32, which he prayed when he saw the infant Jesus Christ and realized that God's promise that he wouldn't die until he saw God's salvation had just been fulfilled.

Context

The Christmas season is a time of great singing and joy because of the divine announcement of good news of great joy to all the people of the world. As sinners, we need a divine Savior, and the message of Christmas is that God has given us such a competent Savior in his Son who became man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This divine announcement first came to a poor Jewish teenager, a peasant girl who lived in the despised town of Nazareth in northern Israel. The divine Savior made his grand entrance into history by being born, not in the famous cities of Rome or Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem; not to a famous queen mother, but to a poor Jewish teenager betrothed to the town carpenter; not in a palace, but in a stable and placed in a manger.

The angel Gabriel told Mary that by the power of the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and give birth to a son who would be heir to the throne of David, the Holy One, the Son of God, the Son of the Most High, the King of Israel. Mary and Joseph were to call him Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins.

Mary was puzzled at this stupendous announcement the angel made to her. "How will this be," she asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" In other words, "How can a virgin conceive without the aid of a man?" Mary knew that the recent miracle of her elderly relative Elizabeth conceiving was not unique, because such a miracle had happened previously, when God enabled Sarah to conceive Isaac. But for a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son was unique, so Mary asked the angel, "How will this be?"

"The Holy Spirit will do it," Gabriel told Mary. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you," he said in Luke 1:35, "and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Then he added in verse 37, "For nothing is impossible with God." Nothing is impossible with God! We must keep this in mind always. How did the universe come to be? The answer is God. How are we going to be raised from the dead? The answer, again, is God. How could old Zechariah and old barren Elizabeth in their old age have a son through natural human reproductive processes? The answer is God. How could a virgin conceive and give birth to the Savior, Jesus Christ, who is eternal God? The answer is God. God is sovereign, and he alone does what he pleases. Nothing is impossible for him.

Mary's confusion disappeared at this great answer that she received from the angel. She told Gabriel, "I am the Lord's servant." Then she said, "May it be to me as you have said." Mary believed God.

Mary's Song

After the angel left, Mary got up quickly and traveled to Judea to visit with Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant. When Elizabeth saw Mary, an amazing thing happened: through the Spirit of the living God, she recognized Mary, this unmarried teenage girl, as "the mother of my Lord," and began to prophesy.

When that happened, Mary also began to sing in the Spirit, exalting and worshiping God. It is this song that is recorded as the Magnificat, and at this point I want to note something: Although Mary was just a poor peasant girl, she had been brought up in a godly home, where Mary was thoroughly versed in the Holy Scriptures. Like Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, and others, Mary was looking forward to God's redemption of Israel. So when she heard Elizabeth's greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and Scripture came pouring out of her heart.

Listen, then, to Mary's knowledge of the Lord as she magnifies the Lord. Psalm 103:1 tells us, "Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name," and elsewhere we are told that out of the abundance of the heart, our mouths will speak. Mary was filled with God and his grace; thus, she sang about God and his attributes. In this study we want to examine the seven attributes of God Mary speaks about in her song.

God Is Mighty

The first attribute Mary speaks of is the might and power of God. He is the mighty God, ho dunatos, and in Luke 1:49 she sings, "For the Mighty One has done great things for me." Mary's God was God Almighty, the Creator of the ends of the earth. There is no one mightier than her God. He alone is able, and with him alone nothing is impossible.

God himself spoke of this aspect of his character to Abraham in Genesis 18:14, asking, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" In Psalm 115:3 the psalmist says, "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." In Matthew 19:26 the Lord Jesus Christ himself said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." The apostle Paul recognized this and wrote in this manner in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. . . ."

In the first part of verse 51 Mary says of this mighty God, "He has performed mighty deeds with his arm." From Genesis 1 on the Bible speaks of the great and marvelous acts performed by the mighty arm of God. No Pharaoh can resist him. No Sennacherib can resist him. No Nebuchadnezzar can resist him. No Belshazzar can resist him. No Caesar can withstand him. Their knees knock when God looks down from his throne. All nations together are considered as nothing by this El-Shaddai, this God, the strong and mighty one. He alone is almighty, and Mary knew it.

Let me ask you: Are you weak? The answer, of course, is yes. But that is not the end. He is strong, and it is in him that we trust. What about the devil and his demons-are they strong? Yes. Martin Luther recognized that in his great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," and all of us must recognize it. But our God is stronger than all the forces of this world. Remember what Luther said? "One little Word shall fell him." That Word is the name of Jesus.

Knowing who God is, Mary realized that she had nothing to fear. We too have nothing to fear as well. The gates of hell shall not prevail against us, because our God is mighty. Thus, we can say with Paul, "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37).

God Is Holy

The second attribute Mary speaks about is God's holiness. In verse 49 Mary declared, "Holy is his name." Throughout the Scriptures God tells us, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. He is the One separate from us-the One without sin.

Isaiah writes this of God: "For this is what the high and lofty One says-he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place'" (Isaiah 57:15). In Isaiah 6 Isaiah records his reaction when confronted with this holy God:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and the thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:1-5)

God is not like us. He is just, and therefore he must deal with all evil, and the wages of sin is death eternal. The Bible tells us the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Because God is holy, there is judgment and hell.

God Is a Judge

The third attribute of God that Mary speaks about in her hymn is that God is a judge. In the latter part of Luke 1:51 she says, "He [God] has scattered those who are proud in their innermost thoughts." Additionally, in verse 52 we find, "He has brought down the mighty rulers from their thrones," and in verse 53, "He has sent the rich empty away."

God scatters those who are arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts. What is the problem with human beings? They are arrogant in their imagination. What does God do with such people? He scatters these intellectuals who use their minds to oppose God and try to get rid of him. Fallen man always exalts himself above God in his twisted imagination. In Psalm 14 we read,"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The fools of the world hate and revile God, saying, like Pharaoh of old, "Who is the Lord, that we should obey him?" Such people claim to be wise, but in reality they are fools, deliberately suppressing the knowledge of God.

The apostle Paul speaks of this attitude of fools toward God in 1 Corinthians 1:20, asking, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" But in 1 Corinthians 1:19 Paul tells us God's attitude toward such people: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

I know there are people who would say, "I got a 1600 on my SAT; therefore, I do not believe in God" or "I have received a Nobel Prize, so I do not have to believe in God." Listen to what Jesus Christ said in Matthew 1:25: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children." Your brain, on its own, has no power to research God and find him. No, God must enable you to seek him. Additionally, have you ever considered where your brain comes from? Any ability you have, whether it is to think clearly, or to reason, is God's common grace to you. It is God's gift to you. How, then, can you take that mind and use it to revile, despise, and nullify the Author of all? But the Bible tells us that only those who are humble will receive the truths God reveals to us. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, "However, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'-but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit."

Jesus Christ is the Judge who scatters the arrogant and pulls down the mighty ones from their thrones. He reverses all sinful social order, sending the rich empty away and condemning those who are self-righteous. This righteous Judge came to seek, not the righteous, but sinners. Remember the rich young ruler? He came to Jesus Christ because he wanted to inherit eternal life, and the Lord Jesus Christ counseled him to sell his possessions and follow Christ. This young man refused to submit to the counsel of God, and we are told he went away sad. Let me tell you, Jesus Christ is good news to the humble but he is bad news to the arrogant, the mighty, and the rich. To them he is the righteous Judge.

God Is Merciful

The fourth attribute Mary speaks of is that God is merciful. The word "mercy" appears five times in Luke 1-in verses 50, 54, 58, 72 and 78. Mary reveled in the knowledge of this great attribute of God.

What is grace? It is God's love shown to guilty sinners. But what is mercy? Mercy is God's love shown to the guilty sinners who are miserable in their sinful condition. In Exodus 3;7 we read what the Lord-the eternal God, the great I AM THAT I AM-spoke from the burning bush to Moses: "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering." God was merciful to the Israelites in Egypt and he delivered them.

God is merciful to his people today also. So we read in Luke 1:50, "His mercy extends to those who fear him." Let me assure you of one thing: A man shall never experience God's mercy if he remains arrogant in the imagination of his heart, but the one who fears God will always receive mercy.

In Luke 1:54 we read, "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful," and in Luke 1:58 we read that the Lord had shown Elizabeth great mercy. In Luke 1:72 Zechariah also speaks of God's mercy, saying that God raised up a Savior "to show mercy to our fathers," and in verse 78 speaking of the "tender mercy of our God." Our God is a merciful God.

God Is Faithful to His Covenant

If God promises through a covenant, he will fulfill it, because he is the God of the covenant. The sixth attribute of God Mary speaks of in this passage is the faithfulness of God to his covenant.

By the time the virgin Mary was born, two thousand years had passed since God made his promise to Abraham. The kingdom of Judah had ceased to exist six hundred years earlier, and there had been no prophets for four hundred years. All this time passed, yet God's promise remained unfulfilled. The words of the psalmist in Psalm 77:9 describe this time, as he asks, "Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"

Then, all of a sudden, in the fullness of time, God saw the sin and misery of his people and remembered to be merciful them. Our God cannot lie; what he promises he will do. In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul writes, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ." All of God's promises to us are fulfilled in the indescribable gift of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary realized that what was happening in her womb was the fulfillment of the age-old promise to Abraham, that God was finally sending the divine Messiah, Jesus the Savior, the eternal God incarnate. So she sang, "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."God Is a Covenant God

The fifth attribute of God that Mary speaks of is that God is a covenant God. We must realize that God does not have to enter into a covenant with sinful man. There is nothing in his being necessitating that he stoop down and promise salvation to anybody. But the truth is, God did just that. He entered into a covenant with Abraham, promising to show mercy to him and his descendants by granting them salvation.

Zechariah brings this out in his song very clearly in Luke 1:72-75. Speaking of the salvation God was bringing through Jesus Christ, he said God's purpose was "to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days."

Mary refers to God's covenant nature in different words. In Luke 1:54 she says, "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful," that is, remembering his covenant "to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."

In Genesis 12:3 God told Abraham, "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." This was the covenant God made with Abraham. (PGM) We must realize that he was speaking, not of Isaac or David, but of Jesus Christ, the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. In a flash, God gave Abraham in some fashion a revelation of this great salvation that was going to happen in the fullness of time in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, "Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing the fulfillment of the covenant God had made to him, and it was fulfilled in the Son God promised to Mary.

God Is the Savior

The final attribute of God that Mary describes here is that God was her Savior. "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices. . . ." In what is Mary rejoicing? ". . . in God my Savior."

The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means Mary herself was a sinner and needed a Savior. Never believe the lie that Mary was not a sinner. She was, and when she discerned what was happening in her womb, she realized that she was going to be the mother of her own Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ, the One who saves sinners-the One who would save his mother, the One who who would save Elizabeth, the One who saves all who put their trust in him, whether Jew or Gentile-was in her womb. That is why Mary was filled with what Peter calls "inexpressible joy."

Two thousand years after God made his promise to Abraham, the Savior had come. Mary knew that it was he alone who could take away sins and destroy the works of the devil. But how would he do these things? By his death on the cross.

At this point you may the question: How can God die? That is a mystery, but that is the whole purpose of the incarnation. God took on human nature in the person of Jesus the son of Mary, and it is in that nature that God can die. We read about this in Hebrews 10:5: "When Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.'"

The great Scottish professor, John Murray of Westminster Seminary, described the incarnation of Christ in this way:

The infinite became the finite, the eternal entered time and became subject to its conditions, the immutable became mutable, the invisible became visible, the Creator became created, the sustainer of all became dependent, the Almighty became infirm. God became man that he may die, and by his death destroy the works of the devil and take away our sin. (Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume Two, Select Lectures in Systematic Theology , [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977], 132-133)

Thus, in the fullness of time, the eternal Son took upon himself human flesh in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Soon he would be born as God/man and later he would be introduced by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

This was God's plan of salvation for us. Because God is holy, he must punish sinners. But God is also love, so he does not desire to punish us. But how can God not punish sinners and still be holy? He punished his own Son who freely gave himself to be punished for our sins on the cross.

Therefore Mary said, "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble." It means God's Son would reverse all sinful social order, lifting up the humble and putting them on the thrones of mighty ones. Jesus spoke of this later on in his ministry, when he preached, "Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the earth." In her song, Mary said, "He has filled the hungry with good things," and, again, Jesus said later, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."

God reached out with his strong arm in Jesus Christ and saved the people of God from their sins. He did not do that for angels who sinned, but only for the descendants of Abraham. In him we are forgiven of all our sins and justified forever. In him we find mercy. In him we are made children of God. In him the hungry are filled with his perfect righteousness. In him we are adopted into God's own family. In him we enjoy fellowship with God.

That is why Mary was singing this song, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." She was saying that Jesus Christ was her Savior. David said the same thing: "The Lord says to my Lord," he wrote in Psalm 110:1. Thomas said it in John 20:28: "My Lord and my God!" That is what we must say when we believe in Christ; without that, we cannot be saved.

So Mary sang, "I worship God, I praise God, I rejoice exceedingly in God, because my Savior is in my womb."

Can You Sing Mary's Song?

What about you? Can you worship and sing this song with Mary? Is Jesus your God? Is Jesus your Lord? Is Jesus your Savior? Or are you arrogant? Do you think you are something because you have a Ph.D., or because you have political clout, or because you are rich? Let me remind you of one truth recorded in this song: God will pull the mighty down, scatter the arrogant, and send the rich away empty.

If you are not filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory at the news of the incarnation of Christ, it is because you are coming to him as one who is rich, arrogant, and mighty. He will never help a person who comes to him in that way. God sent his Son to seek and save the unrighteous, miserable, wretched sinners who are conscious of their wretchedness. If you come to him that way, he will fill you with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Are you fascinated with God's indescribable gift of his Son, Jesus Christ? Are you fascinated by this Mighty One? Can you sing about his attributes and rejoice in them? Do you fear him? Are you hungry for righteousness? Are you poor in spirit? Have you said to him, as Mary did, "I am your humble servant. I submit to you; be it done to me according to your word"?

I urge you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. If you do that, you will join the saints of all ages, including Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Simeon, in singing, "Glory to God in the highest! My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit leaps for joy in God my Savior. He has shown mercy to me, lifting me up from the ash heap of this world and putting me upon a throne in his kingdom. He has sent his Son all the way down to my hell to take me all the way up into his heaven."

If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, you cannot sing this song. My prayer is that you humble yourself today and come to him, knowing that he is the merciful Savior, the covenant God who is faithful. Yes, he is holy and he is the great Judge, but he is also the Savior, and he will be merciful to those who come to him in repentance and faith. May God help you to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ that you may be saved and then sing with intelligence and with heart concerning God's Son, the indescribable gift sent to us from heaven for our joy, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2000, P. G. Mathew

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