Calvary Road Baptist Church

“MARY’S MAGNIFICAT”

Luke 1.46-55 

We spend a great deal of time before each Christmas focusing our attention on the events that took place in and around Bethlehem on the day that our Lord Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary. This year I would like to pay more attention to the historical setting, with particular attention to what is described by some as the four hymns of the incarnation. This is the first of a series of four messages dealing with the four hymns of the incarnation.

But first, let me clarify. The word incarnation refers to the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, the Eternal Son of the living God, taking upon Himself not only human flesh but also human nature. Let me read to you a precise theological definition of the word incarnation so that we are clear about this: 

incarnation. Fundamentally, incarnation is a theological assertion that in Jesus the eternal Word of God appeared in human form (Jn 1). Many theologians picture the incarnation as the voluntary and humble act of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, in taking upon himself full humanity and living a truly human life. The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation asserts that in taking humanity upon himself, Christ did not experience a loss of his divine nature in any way but continued to be fully God.[1] 

Concerning some of the circumstances leading up to the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, coming to earth in human form using a miraculous conception and a normal and nature childbirth, turn to Luke chapter one. I sincerely apologize for the length of the passage we are about to read, but there is simply no way around it: 

5   There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

6   And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

7   And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

8   And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course,

9   According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10  And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

11  And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

12  And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13  But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14  And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15  For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

16  And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

17  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18  And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19  And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20  And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21  And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

22  And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

23  And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24  And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

25  Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.

26  And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27  To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28  And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29  And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30  And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31  And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34  Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35  And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36  And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37  For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38  And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

39  And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40  And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41  And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42  And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44  For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45  And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

46  And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51  He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52  He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55  As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

56  And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 

Though we have read fifty-four verses in Luke’s account, I seek only to deal with what is called Mary’s Magnificat, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” What an example she sets for every one that names the name of Christ. That is the theme of which is God’s promise to Abraham and Israel fulfilled in Mary’s virgin-born Son, verses 54-55.

In verses 39-40 we see Mary’s greeting to her cousin Elizabeth: 

39  And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40  And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 

In verses 41-45 are told of Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s greeting, which includes her testimony of her baby’s response, the baby she was carrying at that time: 

41  And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42  And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 

She said that loudly. 

43  And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44  For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45  And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 

Three things here as we move to Mary’s Magnificat: First, unless conversation transpired between these two women that Luke does not relate to us (there may have been conversation that he does not relate to us, that is very common in the Gospels), Elizabeth knew by revelation from God that Mary carried the Christ child. Second, if Luke’s sequence of events is chronological (and I take it that Luke’s Gospel is chronological in the main), the first person to know that Mary carried the Christ child was Elizabeth’s unborn child, John the Baptist, as he would later be named. Third, Elizabeth pronounces a blessing upon Mary for her faith, “And blessed is she that believed.” There is enough there for you to meditate upon as we approach Christmastime, for you to reflect on, for you to study.

We now come to Mary’s Magnificat, which praise consists of two parts: 

First, PRAISE FOR GOD’S WORK FOR MARY 

46  And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 

Does your soul magnify the Lord? It is a valid question. Does your soul magnify the Lord? You say, “Well, I don’t know what that is.” Well, then, probably not. If you do not know what a certain behavior is, you are probably not displaying it. It might be a good idea to find out what magnifying the Lord is. 

47  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 

Let’s look at this. We can’t spend a great deal of time, but in

Verses 46-47 we find Mary’s declaration of what her praise entails. She is telling us what she is doing. She is telling Elizabeth what she is doing: 

46  And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 

Verse 46 is a pronouncement of what Mary is doing. Her soul is presently (notice, present tense) magnifying the Lord, meaning that the expression from deep within her seeks to make great, seeks to praise, and seeks to extol the Lord. That’s what we should be all about. Verse 47, showing parallelism common to hymns, is a rehearsal of Mary’s past rejoicing in spirit in God, her Savior. Thus, praising God is not a new thing to this young woman, but is a practice of her spiritual life. This is something she has done, so it’s not new. Notice, also, her acknowledgment that God is her Savior, which reveals her understanding of her sinfulness (only sinners need a Savior) and shows her need of the salvation which only God can graciously provide.

Verses 48-49 are Mary’s statement of the basis of her praise: 

48  For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49  For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 

It is appropriate for someone who praises God to know why he or she is praising God. “Well, praise the Lord.” Why are you praising God? “I don’t know.” That would kinda make it invalid. If you don’t know why you are doing something, you’d best not be doing it. “Well, I guess I’ll just shut up then.” No, no, no. I am suggesting that you study God’s Word, read God’s Word, consider, ponder, meditate on God’s Word, so that you will come to understand so that it will be fixed in your mind, why you are praising God. From verse 48, she recognizes that God has regarded her low estate and that from now on all generations would call her blessed. That is a prediction that has been born out over 2,000 years, wouldn’t you say? Together with her admission of sinfulness in verse 47, this categorically refutes the Roman Catholic notion that Mary was immaculately conceived and that she was a spiritual superior to all other women. You might say that she must be spiritually superior to all other women. If she is spiritually superior to all other women, then she is a liar, because she said in verse 48 “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.” In other words, she is describing herself as a young woman of low standing, who nevertheless has experienced the blessings of God. Remember, God does not save saints but sinners. It’s not the righteous but the unrighteous that He has called. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, not those who are found. Verse 49 is her admission that God’s blessings were not a cooperative effort that included her but done to her by the One who is mighty and the One who is holy. If you are mighty, you don’t need help. And if you are holy, those who are not can’t help you. You think the passage in Isaiah would apply to her, that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags”?[2] So, the fact that she points out that God is mighty, and that God is holy means that she is not able and not morally, spiritually qualified to help herself. She is utterly, totally, completely dependent upon God for her salvation. So, she sees God as sovereign, she sees God as omnipotent, and she sees God as holy. Would you agree with me that she is spot on? Her understanding of the God of Israel is accurate. 

Then, PRAISE FOR GOD’S WORK FOR ALL 

50  And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51  He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52  He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55  As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 

Notice the two transitions that we have here; from Mary, the individual, to those that fear Him (from the individual to the multitudes), and from God’s sovereignty, power, and holiness, to God’s mercy in verse 50: 

“And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.” 

And we know that fear is the beginning of wisdom. People that don’t fear God are foolish.

Verses 51-53 continue her rehearsal of God’s past acts of mercy, lifting up the humble, the low, and the hungry (notice the contrast here), while scattering the proud, while putting down the mighty, and while sending away empty the rich: 

51  He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52  He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 

We need to be fearful for those people because we know what is going to happen to them. 

53  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 

Reminds me of Luke chapter 16, the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was hungry. God gave Lazarus good things. The rich man? He had everything he needed. God sent him away empty, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments.”

Verses 54 and 55 turn and conclude with God’s mercy toward Israel and His promise to Abraham: 

54  He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55  As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 

God was merciful toward Abraham in establishing His covenant with Abraham, back in Genesis chapter 12, and subsequently to the fathers, resulting in Israel being God’s servant. She also refers to “his seed,” which is correctly understood to be a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul explains in Galatians 3.16. The Lord Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham. 

So, what is the takeaway from Mary’s Magnificat? In a phrase, she gets it. She understands. Her cousin Elizabeth commended her for her faith back in verse 45, and she was accurate in her assessment, perhaps more than she realized.

That the young virgin believed is beyond dispute. But what is frequently not recognized by many today is how important to faith are the facts that are grasped, appreciated, and understood. This young woman, either by direct revelation from God, or by gradual illumination from the Holy Spirit to a truly godly young believer, has begun to grasp what has happened to her, what God is doing that involves her, and Who it is she is carrying to deliver in Bethlehem in about six months. She has some grip on who she is by God’s grace and how she fits into God’s great plan of the ages to show mercy and grace through this One come from heaven who now lives in her womb.

Let us praise God for His mercy in our lives, as well. We have something to learn from this young woman. You and I might not be as centrally located in God’s unfolding drama of redemption as that teenage girl was, but ours is the same God as hers, our Savior is the Savior she carried for nine months, and the works of God that she described and praised apply to you and me.

If you are humble, low, hungry, and God-fearing He will lift you up in Christ. But if you are proud and see yourself as too mighty to need Christ and too rich to bother with Him, then God will still work in your life. Only it is possible that He will scatter you, put you down, and send you away empty.

It all turns on the Babe she carried, and both her cousin Elizabeth and she understood that fact. The unborn John the Baptist may have grasped it first, but Mary’s Magnificat suggests she understood it best.

__________

[1] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 65.

[2] Isaiah 64.6

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