We are part of a culture today where definition of truth is also ever changing and a ‘new normal’ is established and accepted. When Apostle Paul told in his Aeropagos speech the Greek audience that they were worshipping ‘Agnostos Theos’ that is ‘The Unknown God’ while he was presenting to them the Son of God, no one believed. Everyday man desires something new for one gets bored easily with what is there in a very short time. But can mankind reinvent the truth of the Living God also?
Luke’s Gospel reveals the Divine connection of the Messiah by recording the events from before His birth, message of God to the human beings of His birth and later about His resurrection also. And in both cases angels proclaim the news, first to Priest Zacharias, then to Mary, the shepherds and finally to Mary Magdalene and other women at the empty tomb. Angel Gabriel says three things to Mary; that she is ‘highly favored’; second, that the ‘Lord is with her’ and finally that she is ‘blessed’ (Luke 1:28). But his focus is not on Mary but on the ‘Son’ who is to be named ‘Jesus’, identified as the Messiah, whose coming was predicted in the Old Testament and that is the reason of the angel’s visit.
Angel Gabriel then reveals the real identity of the ‘Son’ she will bear; ‘He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; He will occupy the throne of His father David (mentioning His lineage and fulfillment of God’s promise to David) and of His kingdom there will be no end’ (Luke 1:32-33). Mary could immediately understand the reference to the prophesy (Isaiah 7:14) about the virgin birth of the Messiah and her question to Gabriel is linked to that and receiving confirmation that ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’ thereby revealing the Son’s identity as ‘the Holy One who will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:34-37). The cloud of the ‘Shekinah glory’, the visible manifestation of the presence and glory of God will cover Mary ‘for with God nothing is impossible’.
Mary’s response totally challenges the norms of that time (Luke 1:38). She accepts the truth of the message and surrenders to the will of God for her, saying, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’. This acceptance made her vulnerable to divorce from her betrothed; liable to be stoned to death for adultery and if spared that, liable to live a life of poverty and dependence on alms. Mary’s response is of faith without doubt and debate about the will of the Creator God and surrendering to His will. This must be the response of every believer for we pray, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ and the start must be first from my own life.
Mary’s Magnificat – Mary’s song is called Mary’s Magnificat taken from the first word from the Latin translation, ‘Magnificat anima mea dominum’ meaning ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’, ‘and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant, for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever’ (Luke 1:46-55).
The important points of this song of praise – First, She displays a mind filled with God’s Word – The similarity with Hannah’s song of praise after the birth of Prophet Samuel and 12 other allusions to the Old Testament proves that Mary lived her life filled with the Word of God. She refers to Psalms22, 44, 89, 98, 147 and 25 and 1 Samuel 2, Book of Isaiah and Job in her song. And Since God’s word was in her heart, it flows out through her song, which is a message of hope for those who focus on God’s Word and depend totally on the mighty arm of God for deliverance. These are ‘the poor of Yahweh’ or the poor in spirit of Lord Jesus. We need to get saturated with God’s Word through daily reading to praise and worship God as per the Word.
Second, her humility is obviously visible – She is blessed with an awesome and honorable position but she refers to herself as God’s maidservant. Elizabeth confirms the truth of angel Gabriel’s message and Mary rejoiced in ‘God my Savior’ confirming her need for the Savior accepting her inherent nature of sinfulness. Whether it was the shepherds or Simeon and Anna in the Temple, whatever was told to her ‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). At no stage did she express anything special about herself despite being the Savior Lord’s mother, never succumbing to the temptation of pride but her humility is apparent and this is the ‘servant spirit that her Son preached about and lived.
Third, through her song, Mary gives us a model of an attitude of thankfulness while acknowledging the ‘great things of God’s mercy through regard for her humble estate’. Mary was aware of the probability of difficulties she may face but her song is full of thankfulness. An attitude of thankfulness is always faith preceding the circumstance and looking at the situation through the prism of faith.
Four, Mary’s song records the importance of living through the experience of remembering God’s past merciful deeds for His people to expect God’s grace for future as well. Meditating upon the merciful deeds of God for the faithful in the Old Testament, helps us grow strong in faith to cope with difficult present circumstances. She recounts ‘His mercy is upon generation after generation’ exalting the humble and ‘brought down rulers’ or the mighty.
Five, Mary’s song is about her personal trust in the covenant promises of God. In vr 54-55 she talks about God’s help to Israel ‘His servant in remembrance of His mercy as He spoke to our fathers, Abraham and His descendents forever’. In this she has linked the birth of her Son to fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. Listening to angel Gabriel say, ‘God is doing this through you’ she connects the purpose of God to the promise of God to Abraham.
We also must lay hold of God’s promises in His Word, grow in faith in these and then lean on these promises confidently for these can stand all the weight of our troubles. Growing thus we start attaching much love and sentiment to this song and every other hymn of praise to God. Mary is essentially praising God for Jesus, the Messiah, who is the Savior of the world sent by God to fulfill His promise to Abraham through the covenant and to believe in this Son of God is to have eternal fellowship with God. Mary believed the word of the angel Gabriel, accepting it as from God, on His authority thereby believing the past promises for this life leading to eternal life, the life to come in and through her Son, the Son of God.
Link between Mary’s Magnificat and Zacharias’ Benedictus – The silence from heaven for 400 years after prophet Malachi was broken by angel Gabriel, then by Mary and finally by Zechariah and his song is called ‘Benedictus’ from the first word of Latin translation. Like the Genesis narrative the process of regeneration of the mankind through the Messiah also gets powered by the Holy Spirit with the Word of God.
Angel Gabriel defined the way Virgin Mary would conceive the child, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’ (Luke 1:34-37). Again when Mary visited Elizabeth, John the Baptist in his mother’s womb leaped with joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit to rejoice and welcome ‘the mother of my Lord’ (Luke 1:39-41). In the presence of the yet unborn Jesus joy filled not only Elizabeth but also John the Baptist in her womb, how much more will it be in heaven for all believers? Zecharias the priest also filled with the Holy Spirit prophesied and it was all connected to the Son of God and His work. Mary’s song is a virtual collage of Scripture though both, she and Zechariah, recognize God’s covenant with Abraham.
Mary’s song is more personal where first is praise of God and then the reason. ‘My soul glorifies….. for He has done’ where as Benedictus focuses on what God is doing for His people and is more formal and corporate, maybe because of Zacharias being a priest and thus has different way of thinking. Mary leads from personal to the corporate, ending with what God has done for Israel while Zecharias moves from corporate to personal about what God would do through His Son John. Mary’s song celebrates what God has already done and is set in the past tense though Lord Jesus is not yet born and she sees the pattern of God’s deliverance through His gracious dealing with her whereas Benidictus focuses on the future, horn raised up for enacting salvation.
Magnificat is about God’s help in reforming and renewal of the people and the focus is on internal transformation. Zacharias’ focus is outward that salvation comes to give security from the oppressors to allow the nation to worship in peace. Both see God’s strength as a Warrior but Mary sees God as a Warrior in Israel on behalf of the poor and opposing the oppressor within while Zercharias sees God as a Warrior for Israel rescuing from the external enemies while retaining the focus on covenant renewal. It is about God’s grace and judgement on refusal while focusing on God’s own initiative and the invitation for mankind to respond. At the onset of this New Year let us celebrate both ideas and repose our faith in Lord Jesus and believe in the promises.
If we don’t have that personal faith in the Savior about whom Mary and Zacharias have spoken, then we do not have fellowship with God. It is only through trust in Him can we have eternal fellowship with Him now and forever and that is the challenge.
Developing an attitude of thankfulness – The Scripture command is, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). It is to rejoice always and giving thanks in all circumstances and not only when all is going well. We do this by ‘Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:2). In good or bad circumstances we are to look unto Lord Jesus, the author or finisher of our faith, for faith is a gift from Him through the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus said, ‘Have faith in God’ (Mark 11:22). It is believed that this is about developing faith of God meaning living as God desires for us having been created in His image and likeness and acting in His way, for God never doubts the result of His Word. Faith of God means we believe that the Word of God that we speak will bear fruit and faith in God is that He is faithful in fulfilling His promises. Psalm 56 is a classic example of faith where David seeks justice from God against his enemies and then reposes confidence that God is trustworthy. In Nov, 2020, my wife suffered from ‘aortic dissection’, a rare ailment of the aorta of the heart where the chances of getting healed are just about 10-15% only. We reposed faith in God and my wife is well on her way to full recovery though it is a long process.
Faith of God and faith in God – David had set up his camp at Ziklag where his and his followers wives and children were living (1 Samuel 30). The camp was attacked by Amalekites and all were taken captive by them while David’s followers also were planning to stone him, blaming him for the tragedy. David asked Priest Abiathar to seek the LORD for permission to follow the Amalekites. On receiving confirmation He went after the Amalekites and not only recovered everything of his but much more. Mary had the faith of God that He would fulfill his word spoken through the angel Gabriel while having faith in God that He would save her from all possible calamities.
Zacharias was a priest and well versed with the word and ways of God as reflected in the Scripture, yet he doubted angel Gabriel and lost his speech for a limited period to restrain him from saying something in contravention to God’s will. Without realizing, we tend to say words that are in direct contravention to God’s command and thus do not receive answer to our prayers. Mary sought a genuine clarification and then surrendered to the will of God. Our close fellowship with God is the only way that we develop faith to believe and accept God’s will for our lives.