Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 11, 2016
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. 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. 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.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
— Luke 1:46-56, ESV
People placed on a pedestal usually preach, or speak, or sing something. Mary the mother of Jesus does it all. Though she is a woman, she prophesies or preaches one of the most powerful sermons in all of Scripture. She does it with such poetry that her words have been set to music many times over. We do not know what Mary’s voice sounded like, but I am sure it was one of the most beautiful voices ever heard, especially when she offered these words.
The text is one of the few in the Bible to have a well-known title, “The Magnificat,” from the first word in the Latin translation, from whence we get our words magnify and magnificent. It is an apt title for a song rich in transcendence, imminence, and other important attributes ascribed to God. As you hear it today I hope you can hear Mary sing and pick out the key themes that make a melody in her heart.
Mary’s song is a theological song. It sings of who God is and what He is like.
“Magnify” literally means to greatly illumine, or shine the brightest spotlight. As she offers this song, Mary does not put this spotlight upon herself, but upon her God. She could have very well sung a song of woe, for God had greatly disrupted Mary’s life. But it was a song of wonder, a song of praise, a song of glory about God and His gift to Mary and to the world.
She solemnly identifies Him in the following terms: “the Lord,” “God my Savior,” “He who is mighty,” and refers to His name as “holy.”
To call God “the Lord” is to call Him the supreme ruler, the absolute sovereign, the maker and master of everything. It is to look to Him first, to consider Him first, in all the days and decisions of our lives. God does not run a democracy, and we should be glad of it. He rules and reigns in perfect power and love, and everything He does is for the glory of His name and the good of His people.
God’s people are those, like Mary, who can sing songs and call “God my savior.” No man can save himself by any means of good works or religion. No other religion or god can save the soul and offer forgiveness and eternal life, save Mary’s and our God. Somehow Mary knew that the God who was above her was now forming inside of her. And for what purpose? Salvation!
Mary knew only a “mighty” God could do such things. Might speaks of ability, and God has the ability to do anything He pleases, any way He pleases to do it. The immaculate conception, the virgin birth, and other parts of God’s plan seem impossible to man, but nothing is impossible for God.
Perhaps above all of His other attributes, God is holy, Mary sang. When you mix perfect love for sinners with perfect hatred for sin, the combination is called holiness. “Holy is His name.” God is more loving toward us that we could ever imagine. God is more disdainful of sin that we ever would care to know. God is so above us we could never see Him, if God had not come near to us and made Himself known to man. This is what His Holiness was doing when He chose Mary, and this is what Mary chose to sing about. She sings about God.
Mary’s song is a soteriological song. It sings of how to be saved.
“Mercy” is the second stanza of the song. And while the greatness and powers of God are unlimited, mercy is a scarce commodity. It belongs only those who “fear” God, and when such fear is real it is generally passed on “from generation to generation.”
One person who obviously made the Magnificat his favorite song was the Apostle Paul. Perhaps he had just heard it on the radio when he penned these words to his protege Titus,
[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (ref. Titus 3:5-7).
Paul’s placement of mercy is analytical and precise. Mary’s song is poetic and inviting. Don’t you want God’s mercy for salvation? Then you must fear Him, reverence Him, long to obey Him, and become, like Mary, God’s “servant.”
Mary had already made herself a bondservant of God when the angel Gabriel first approached her about giving birth to Jesus (ref. Luke 1:38). Salvation is for slaves, slaves to God, like Mary. The concept of being a servant or bondservant is so important to God that it is used 159 times in the New Testament (in 148 verses, 23 of 27 books). This term defines a person who willingly, completely, and permanently gives their life to serve another. If there is a single term to describe a true Christian, it would be this term, servant.
The concept of slavery is repulsive to the modern mind, and rightly so if we are talking about one human enslaved to another. But when we are referring to our relationship with God, it is a servitude of supreme blessedness. It is a position and condition where one is chosen by God (note her choice of words “great things for me” and emphasis on “mercy”), communicates with God, and cherishes their relationship with God above all things. When we are willing to be good servants we find God to be a great Master who does great things for us, beginning and ending with salvation.
Would you have God do great things for you? Humble yourself before Him as Lord. Trust completely in His holiness, salvation, and love. Never fear to do what He has commanded you to do. A reward awaits at the end of days.
Mary’s song is an eschatological song. It sings about what God will do with all of mankind in the end.
Prophets tend to speak of future things in the present tense. When Jesus came, He brought the kingdom of God with Him, in the present, but only the future will bring it into its fullness. Mary’s song captures this mystery in three-part harmony.
God’s “strength” had been shown to Mary in the presence of Gabriel and the promise of the virgin birth. God’s strength would be shown in the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ. And God’s strength will be shown on behalf of all of His people when Jesus Christ comes again.
When Christ comes again, the selfish and proud who ignored or rejected the gospel will be “scattered” never to gather again. Those who built themselves “thrones” and “exalted” themselves to take advantage of God’s “humble” servants will be destroyed. Those of us who “hunger” for the righteousness of God will be filled, while the “rich” in worldly things will see those things burned away forever. “Israel,” all the people of God of all time, will be bathed in mercy and exalted in the glorious presence of God for ever and ever.
Our short lives give us only a glimpse of God, even for devout believers. Mary got a good glimpse — the angel, the Son — but it was still only a glimmer of the great things to come. Like other prophets, she speaks in this sermon of things she vaguely sees. Did God do all of these things in her day? Has He done it all in our lifetime? No, but in the end He most definitely will. In Mary’s day, as in ours, good people starve to death (like missionary Lottie Moon) and corrupt people remain in power (illustrations too numerous to share). But God is not asleep, and He is not neglecting to fulfill His promises. There is a day to come when every servant of the Lord will be free, and everyone who distanced themselves from the lordship of Christ will be trapped.
Listen to Mary sing. Hear the words of salvation and the echo of condemnation. And know that the child to whom she gave birth is the dividing line between the two. Sing with her, for the song you sing on this earth will determine where you sing, or remain silent, for all of eternity.
Mary’s song is a Christological song. It sings about our Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of all, remember what made Mary sing — Jesus!
Jesus is the incarnation of God, the salvation of God, and is right now preparing an eternal place for the people of God. Mary’s song acknowledges the reality of God in Christ in her, and Christ in all the hearts of those who believe in Him.
The Apostle John, close friend and perhaps even a relative of Mary, also sang:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
There is no song apart from Jesus Christ. There is no Christmas apart from Jesus Christ. There is no gospel apart from Jesus Christ. If not for Jesus Christ, Mary doesn’t sing and we cannot be saved. So hear the voice of Mary, lifted up and lifting up the Lord Jesus Christ. Sing the song of Mary, all about God’s glory and majesty. Believe the word of God through Mary, and cling to this greatest of all gifts, the gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org