Joy to the World

| Luke 1:46-55

Lesson Focus:  Mary celebrated God’s activity in her life and the lives of God’s people throughout time. In the same way God worked in the lives of His saints in the past, He works in the lives of believers today.

We Find Joy in Acknowledging Who God Is: Luke 1:46-50.

[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.

[46-47]  Mary offers praise to the Lord in a hymn called the Magnificat, a name reflecting the Latin translation of the word magnifies. The hymn has numerous phrases that recall wording in Old Testament hymns. The strongest literary parallel to the hymn is Hannah’s word of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. The praise of God by women occurs often in the Old Testament. Mary’s hymn contains personal and eschatological praise. She begins her praise with parallelism common to biblical hymns. The parallelism extends into verse 47, linking it to verse 46. The phrase my soul, which is another way to refer to the personal praise that comes from deep inside a person, is in synonymous parallelism to my spirit. The verb magnifies means “to make great, to praise, to extol” and so parallels the idea of rejoicing in 1:47. Mary lifts up the Lord God as she praises His work on her behalf. The reference to the Lord addresses God as the sovereign Master and Ruler of the world. The address shows that Mary’s approach to God reflects her awareness of her humble position. Mary repeats her praise in verse 47, as her spirit rejoices in the Lord. Mary offers praise to God her Savior. The picture of God the deliverer is common in the Old Testament. God’s special work produces rejoicing in Mary as she thinks about all He has done for her. Taken together verses 46-47 mean that Mary praises the Lord now, even as she has begun to find future joy in her Savior God as she looks forward to Him fulfilling all of His covenant promises. This places emphasis on the fact that Jesus’ story is just beginning. Mary could rejoice (in the past) that God is her Savior but, because God is continuing His work of redemption, she now magnifies her Lord. Thus Mary stands praising her God because of both what He has done in her life and for what He will do in her life through the gift of this Son. And this is the way our praise should always be towards our God. We praise Him for all that He has done for us and for all that He is doing and will do in our lives. What does Mary mean by calling God her Savior? What does the context plus Old Testament background imply as to the probable answer? Is it sufficient to say that she was thinking solely of the fact that God had rescued her from the oblivion which otherwise would probably have been her lot? That something on this order must have been included in her reason for exuberant thanksgiving can be granted. Note the context which shows that she was conscious of her humble state and of the fact that the Lord had delivered her from it so that from now on all generations would call her blessed. But was she thinking of nothing else? The salvation passages of the Old Testament by no means exclude deliverance from sin and enjoyment of fellowship with God. So it is possible that Mary also had in mind that God was her Savior in the spiritual sense. From the call to praise, Mary turns in 1:48 to review what God has done for her.

[48-49]  Mary sets forth the basis of her praise. God has been gracious to look upon His lowly servant. The verb, looked on, refers to God’s loving care in selecting Mary to bear the child. The aorist or past tense refers back to the event of messianic conception. Mary describes herself as God’s servant which acknowledges her subordinate position before God. She did not expect or assume that she should be the object of such special attention from God, so she is grateful for the attention. Mary recognizes that God has given her a special place by having her bear the Messiah. The expression from now on is an important phrase for Luke. It indicates that a significant change has taken place in God’s plan, so that from now on things will be different [Luke 5:10; 12:52; 22:18,69; Acts 18:6]. Once Mary is touched by the gracious act of God, things are different. They are never the same. In verse 49 Mary gives a second reason for her praise: the Mighty One acts on her behalf to do great things. Mary’s focus in this verse is on God’s attributes of power, exalted holiness, and mercy. Thus Mary explains why she praises God, a connection that looks back to 1:47. The reference to God as the Mighty One recalls 1:35 and alludes to His power in creating the child and giving Mary this role. What God promised and what seemed impossible was possible for God, as He delivered on His commitment. For such power exercised on her behalf, Mary gives praise and others will bless her. The title Mighty One often alludes in the Old Testament and in Judaism to the warrior God who fights on behalf of His people and delivers them. In Luke, God creatively exercises His power to deliver His people. The exercise of God’s power demonstrates His authority as an exalted, holy ruler. God’s holiness here refers not simply to His moral perfection but even more to His acts of righteousness and justice by which He fulfills His covenantal promises to the humble and lowly and brings judgment upon the unrighteous and haughty.

[50]  Mary turns from describing the ground of her praise in terms of God’s holiness to a consideration of His mercy. One attribute leads into the other. God’s unique character is not separable from His mercy, for holiness expresses itself in mercy. Mercy or lovingkindness refers to the loyal, gracious, faithful love that God has in covenant for His people. Such gracious faithfulness characterizes God’s dealings with those who acknowledge Him. God’s timeless and changeless faithfulness is behind the reference to generation to generation, a phrase that appears in various ways in the Old Testament. Thus, what Mary experienced parallels what believers throughout time experience. Mary is counting on such faithfulness for future generations [1:54-55]. God’s favor is specifically directed to those who fear God. “Fearing God” and parallel statements are common Old Testament descriptions of anyone who acknowledges God’s position and authority. Mary is a God-fearer who acknowledges the holy and exalted position of her God. The hymn shows the spirit of a God-fearer in recognizing the sovereignty of God. Luke 1:50 forms a transition in that Mary turns from a consideration of God’s specific action for her [1:47-49] to a consideration of God’s actions for His people [1:51-53]. Such transitions from the individual to the community are common in the Psalms. In fact, one can see in these subsequent verses an expansion of the divine acts that apply to Mary, as the return to the theme of God’s power in 1:51 makes clear. The acts of mercy described in 1:51-53 show that Mary is but one of many such blessed God-fearers. Luke wants his readers to appreciate this point, so they too might fear God and see Him work. Such an identification with the promise of God’s faithfulness should be assuring to the reader.

We Find Joy in How God Works:  Luke 1:51-53.

[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.

[51]  Mary turns from a consideration of God’s mercy to His acts of power toward different groups of people. God’s dealings with the proud and the mighty demonstrate His power toward those on the independent end of the social scale: He punishes the mighty, but lifts up the humble. God’s exercise of power is described with anthropomorphism, comparing God’s acts with the actions of people. Thus, the reference to the arm of God and the working of power points to the visible demonstration of God’s authority. The figure of God’s arm is common in the Old Testament where reference to the power of His arm appears in key tests describing God’s work, especially in the exodus period. The reference to God’s powerful working by His arm is presented in the past tense, along with the five verbs that follow in verses 51-53. These events are seen as so certain that, even though they are future events, they can be portrayed as past realities. Such an approach unifies the context and ties together nicely with the idea of the realization of the covenant promise to Abraham [Gen. 12:1-3]. In this sense, the hymn parallels the expression of Zechariah in Luke 1:72-74. The total salvation of those who fear God is so certain that it can be viewed as having taken place. In a real way, God is setting up a new world order. Those who are on His side can look for a reversal of current fortune. Thus, Mary looks forward to God’s vindication of the God-fearers and regards it as a matter of faith that it will come to pass. What this vindication will involve is the scattering of the proud, those who see no need for God nor for treating fellow humans with compassion. The idea of God’s dispersing the arrogant or having sovereignty over social status is a popular Old Testament theme. The arrogance of the proud is described in the following phrase: thoughts of their hearts. The heart is seen as the center of feeling and as the base of reasoning power. This pride is deep-seated and reflects their innermost being. God will judge such pride. Luke 18:9-14 is to be seen as a commentary on the contrast between the proud and the humble, which serves as testimony concerning whom God accepts and whom He does not. God will scatter those who feel no need for Him, but are proud of their spiritual or material attainments and capabilities.

[52-53]  The reversal of social position will occur in the final exercise of God’s power. Who is described? The mighty stands in contrast to the humble. The mighty refer to rulers who are removed from their thrones. The humble are those oppressed by these rulers. Mary has in mind God’s covenant people, which is evident from 1:54-55 and the mention of God-fearers in 1:50. All the injustice of the ruling classes against God’s people will be reversed as the humble are lifted up by God. The rulers’ oppression and lack of compassion will be dealt with by God, who desires that people treat their neighbor with compassion. The rulers deny God and oppress His people. A major theme of the Old Testament is the oppressed people of God described as poor and humble. Mary uses the language of the faithful: God has brought down the mighty and exalted the humble. She trusts God’s just vindication in the approaching messianic reign to right the wrongs of this world. Mary is anticipating, in the child she bears, total vindication. The way God will accomplish this vindication has some other intermediate requirements of which she is not aware, namely Messiah’s suffering. The social consequences of God’s work are now set forth in verse 53. Throughout his gospel, Luke is clear that independence from God tends to characterize the wealthy, making them an object of condemnation. Luke 16:19-31, with its contrast between poor Lazarus and the unbelieving rich man serves as a commentary on this passage’s ultimate teaching of the reversal at the time of judgment. The rich man’s self-focus reflects his lack of faith and his spiritual insensitivity toward the God to whom he is responsible. Such self-focus produces a lack of concern for one’s neighbor, which God condemns. Luke’s point is that one should keep material things in perspective and use them generously to serve one’s neighbor. He is not saying that this self-focus is universally true of all rich people but that it is a real danger of possessing material wealth. Thus verse 53 looks to the ultimate eschatological reversal that God will bring in the end-time. The reversal begins with the ministry of Jesus and the work of His Church, but its complete realization awaits His return in glory.

We Find Joy in the Reliability of God:  Luke 1:54-55.

[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."  [ESV]

Up to this point Mary has been praising God in song for His deeds. Now, in this closing stanza, she points out, still in song, what these deeds mean in relation to Israel and the promises made to the forefathers. Just as in the past God has so often helped Israel when it was in distress, so also He does now in connection with the coming of the Messiah. The word translated helped means “to take hold of, to hold up, to support.” Mary’s reference looks for the fulfillment of the nation’s hope in Jesus. It can be said that God’s treatment of people as described here will be applicable to the church as well, since they will also experience God’s protection, vindication, and participation in covenant. Israel is referred to as the servant which refers to the chosen position of the nation as God’s representative people. The phrase in remembrance of his mercy is another instance of a human way of speaking about God, since actually God never needs to be reminded of anything. The content of God’s remembrance of mercy is grounded in His covenant promise as given to the fathers. The ground of God’s response is His covenant mercy and loyal love. The covenant promises of Mary’s hymn are those of the Abrahamic covenant [Gen. 12:3; 17:7-8; 18:18; 22:18; 26:3; Micah 7:20]. Mary ends her hymn by recalling that God’s action for His people resides in covenant promise, as He never forgets His merciful, loyal love. The Magnificat clearly shows that Mary views what was happening even now as a realization of the ancient promise to Abraham.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What can we learn about praising God in verses 46-50? Reflect upon how God has shown His mighty power and mercy in your life. This should lead you to magnify and rejoice in Him as it did Mary.

2.         What is the significance of the use of the past tense in the five verbs of verses 51-53? Do you view God’s promises in this way? What does it mean to be humble before God? Why is humility necessary in order to receive God’s blessings?

3.         What does it mean for God to remember His mercy?

References:

Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker.

Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, William Hendriksen, Baker.