Elizabeth and Mary (1:39-45)
Mary is going to visit Elizabeth. Mary was told that her relative Elizabeth, who was too old to have a child and was physical unable to bear a child, was six months pregnant. This was proof that miracles were happening. This was proof that God was fulfilling his promises. Now was the time in history that God was going to act. God was going to intervene into human history. Now was the moment, the fullness of time, that God was going to accomplish his word. While this may seem to be an insignificant event, Luke records for us the symbolic meeting of the two main characters through their mothers.
Mary enters the house and upon Elizabeth hearing the words from Mary, "Hello," the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Ladies, I have heard many of you talk about how strange it is to feel the baby in your womb. You will feel a foot in your gut or an elbow in your ribs. Can you imagine the baby jumping for joy in your womb? How amazing would it be that when you heard Mary say "hi," the baby just jumped? How fantastic! By the way, we have no indication that Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant, or that Mary was going to bear the Messiah. We see John already starting his role of pointing to the Messiah.
Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. This means that she is about to prophesy: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Mary is blessed because she was chosen by God’s grace to carry the Messiah King, to be the instrument God would use to fulfill his promises. Elizabeth speaks with great humility. "Who am I that I am honored to have the mother of my Lord come to me?" Elizabeth is not full of jealousy. What is it with people who are always jealous of others? Elizabeth does not complain that she ought to give birth to the Messiah. Elizabeth exercises humility. "Isn’t it great that the mother of my Lord has come and who am I that I am worthy for such a visit?"
Application: A cure for jealousy is to rejoice with others. Be happy for other people. Life is not a competition that requires comparison. Rejoice together with the good news of others.
The prophecy continues that John leaped for joy while in the womb. Don’t tell God that a baby in the womb is not a person. Don’t tell God that it is just tissue. It is a baby. It is alive with emotions, not just a mass. Just saying….
Elizabeth’s prophecy ends stating that Mary is blessed because she believed that what the angel told her would be fulfilled. We studied this point in the last lesson, how Mary exhibited for us real faith. She is blessed for trusting God that these things would happen and did not doubt or try to get out of her calling.
The Song of Mary (1:46-56)
After Elizabeth prophesies, Mary offers up praise and thanksgiving to God. What we see is that these two women understand what is going on. They are full of faith, believing that God is acting now and using them as his instruments. In verse 46 Mary begins that her whole being praises God. She praises God with all that she is.
I really want you to observe the humility of Mary in these words of praise. There is no hint of arrogance about being selected to carry the Messiah. She does not think that because she is righteous that this is what God ought to do for her. Notice her words in verse 48. She says essentially, "Who am I? I am a nobody." She calls herself simply a servant. She does not think about how righteous she is. She realizes that she is a nobody. She is not significant and praises God that God is able to use her. Mary is not to be worshiped. Mary is not to be glorified. Mary is not the queen of the universe. Mary is merely a righteous servant that God used.
Application:We need to see ourselves the same way as Mary does. Who are we that God has done such great things for us? We have not obtained this great salvation because are someone important. Only by God’s loving grace are we able to enjoy the blessings of God. We must not look down our noses at the world. It is not an "us (Christians) versus them (unbelievers)" situation. We are "the them." We are wicked and evil. We are nobody before the great God. We will never save a soul and never show Jesus to the world if see life as an "us versus them" problem. We are no one except God’s servants.
Further, we must quit thinking that we are gods. We think we can take care of our lives, run our families, solve our own problems, and do just fine. We think we do not need God and therefore refuse to depend on him. We need to practice humility. We do not get to dictate to God how our lives are going to go. We are servants, not the boss. We need to be able to say the words of Mary: God has looked upon my humble state.
Application: But we need to realize that God can use the "nobodies." Just because we are nothing does not mean that God cannot use us for his purposes. God blesses the "nobodies" and this is something that Mary utters in her praise. The holy God helps the lowly.
Loyal love is an accurate theme for Mary’s song of praise. Most of Mary’s praise is for God who has remembered his covenantal promises to Abraham. God is going to bless the world just as he promised Abraham. I would like for us to key into verse 50: "And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation." God loves his creation so much. More than four hundred years had passed since one of God’s prophets walked the earth. More than four hundred years passed since a message from God had come to the people. That last message was a rebuke from God for their wicked ways. Yet God still shows mercy. God still shows compassion. God still keeps his covenant though it had been violated. God shows us what faithful love looks like. God will show mercy from generation to generation for those who fear him. God’s divine loyalty requires him to act on behalf of the beloved. In doing so, God scatters the proud, brings down the mighty, and exalts the humble. This language has overtones that come from Psalm 2 of God establishing his king in Zion, who will shatter the enemies and rule in righteousness. God is working for the humble and the downtrodden and destroying the proud and mighty. All of these elements are found in Jesus. In Jesus we find mercy. In Jesus we find God’s faithful love. In Jesus the humble are exalted. Jesus will judge and destroy the arrogant and wicked. God is acting for his people.
Birth of John (1:57-66)
Tell the story. The neighbors and relatives are all together rejoicing at the birth of Elizabeth’s baby. So it is time to name the child and everyone wants to name the baby Zechariah after his father. Elizabeth says no, his name will be called John. But the relatives and neighbors persist. "None of your relatives is called by this name." Children in that culture were often named after their fathers or grandfathers. The problem of people trying to tell you what to name your baby still happens today. If you tell people what you are going to name your baby, everyone tries to change your mind. We learned to keep the name under wraps to avoid the scrutiny. In this story, the baby is born and everyone is still arguing with Elizabeth about the name of the child. So they make signs to Zechariah wanting to know what is the name of the baby. By the way, this detail reveals to us that Zechariah was not only unable to speak, but also unable to hear. Otherwise, why would it be necessary to make gestures to Zechariah to ask him something. Just ask him. But he cannot speak or hear for the last nine months (quite a long time). Please imagine not hearing or speaking for that long! So Zechariah motions for a tablet to write and writes these words: "His name is John." I think Zechariah is emphatic about this. There is no doubt in his mind about the name. The angel said the name will be John (the grace of God) so his name will be John.
Once Zechariah made that point, he becomes able to speak. What would be the first thing you would say after being silent for nine months? Zechariah’s first words were to praise God. Zechariah being able to suddenly speak causes people to wonder what this child was going to be. Three unusual events have happened: (1) The old have given birth, (2) The child has been given a strange name, and (3) The father is suddenly able to speak after nine months of silence. Clearly there is something special about this boy. Who will this John be and what is he going to do. Luke wants his readers to ask who is this John and Jesus and what are they going to do? The prophecy of Zechariah answers those questions.
Zechariah’s Prophecy (1:67-80)
Notice Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit, like Elizabeth was, and begins to prophesy.
Jesus is going to redeem. Jesus is going to be the one to set the people free from slavery to sin. Further, Jesus is going to redeem in strength. Notice the phrase in verse 69, "…and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David." The horn is a symbol for strength and power. We forget that today because we are not an agrarian society. But I was watching the Texas/Oklahoma football game last week. The mascot for the University of Texas is the Longhorns. The horns of that animal are enormous. It is a picture of mammoth strength, might, and power. That is the picture for Jesus. He will bring salvation in strength, might, and power. God is showing mercy and deliverance as God keeps his covenant that was made to Abraham. Notice that Mary and Zechariah’s words are very similar in this regard. The gospel of Luke is going to show us Jesus in strength and power overcoming the spiritual forces of darkness and evil. Luke is setting us up with a teaser for what is ahead in the story. God is being loyal and faithful, showing love to the people and keeping his word to deliver them.
In verse 76 Zechariah’s prophecy turns its words to John, the boy who has just been born. What is he going to do? John is going to be the (not a) prophet of the Most High. John is going to before the Lord to prepare the people. The Lord is coming and it is time to get ready. John will go and preach, teaching the people about salvation and the forgiveness of sins that’s coming. This salvation comes because of the tender mercy of our God (1:78) again, a parallel to Mary’s words of praise in verse 50.
When we started this series in Luke we mentioned that it was a dark time in Israel’s history. There is an Edomite on the throne named Herod the Great. God seems to have abandoned his people. God has not spoken to them in over 400 years. God has not sent any prophets or messengers. The nation is in subjugation to the Roman Empire. It is a very dark time. So feel the hope of Luke’s message in verses 78-79:
"The sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." The time has come. The sun is rising. The darkness is going to fade away. The Lord is coming. Things are going to change. God is speaking to his people again. God is sending Jesus to save the people from their sins. It is a time of hope after dark despair. Jesus is the bright, morning star.
Go back to verse 74-75 and notice the reason these things are taking place. These things are the fulfillment of God’s words to Moses. God is keeping his promises to bring deliverance. Through Jesus we are delivered from sin. Through Jesus we are delivered from Satan. Through Jesus we are delivered from eternal separation from God (death). Jesus has done all of this for us that, "we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." God is sending Jesus to the world in his loyal love. Jesus has set us free so that we can worship him and serve him. Jesus gives us light. Jesus gives us guidance. The gospel of Luke is setting up to show us the light of Jesus and teach us the path of guidance to follow.
- The need for humility. God blesses the humble, but opposes the proud.
- Let the sun shine in your life. Jesus is the light of the world. God has broken into human history to save his people.
- Serve Jesus in holiness and righteousness without fear.