The Magnificat

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December 24, 2017

Luke 1:39-56

Allen Burns

Sermon Series: Be Adorned with Humility

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:39-56

Sermon Title: The Magnificat

Sermon Text: Luke 1:39-56

Memory Verse: He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble (Luke 1:52)

MAIN IDEA: Magnify the Lord and rejoice in His exalting of the humble and scattering of the proud


NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.



A Virgin is With Child

The beginning of Luke’s gospel tells us that he sets out to compile an account of what took place in Israel at the beginning of the first century. Luke gathers testimony from who are eyewitnesses of the birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven of Jesus. His goal is that his readers will know the exact truth.

We are spending this time before Christmas to read and consider this account telling us how Jesus, God the Son, is born as a man. Luke’s account is amazing. We read of ordinary people, such as Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary, who encounter incredible circumstances. The angel Gabriel visits people. Women become miraculously pregnant. Angels appear and sing to shepherds watching their sheep at night. A census makes it so the parents of the Son of God must travel to Bethlehem. They find no lodging which results in God the Son being born in a stable. A star guides magi from the East to visit the place of Jesus’ birth and pay homage to the future King. Herod is jealous of the new born king and orders the slaughter of newly born male children while Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escape to Egypt. The story of Jesus’ birth is fascinating from beginning to end.

The story begins with Gabriel, the angel, announcing to Zacharias that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist; a prophesied forerunner of Jesus. Gabriel tells Zacharias Elizabeth will give birth to a son. But, Zacharias doesn’t believe the angel. It is impossible for his wife to give birth. Elizabeth is barren, well past the age to bear children. Because Zacharias doesn’t believe, God makes him unable to speak until his son is born. And, as we know, what the angel proclaims is true.

Luke tells us that six months into the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel knocks on Mary’s door in Nazareth. Gabriel tells her that God favors her. Mary finds this news perplexing. He tells her that she will conceive. The Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her and she, a virgin, will have a child who is a holy offspring of the Holy Spirit. She is to name her Son Jesus. He will great and called the Son of God. Jesus will forever sit on the throne of David, and His kingdom will have no end.

Then, to help Mary know what is happening is true, the angel tells her that Elizabeth her relative is also pregnant. Elizabeth is advanced in years past child-bearing age. If Mary visits Elizabeth, she will find her to be pregnant. The connection is that if it is possible for Elizabeth to be pregnant than it is possible for Mary to be pregnant. Because, Gabriel tells Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke’s narrative tells us what Mary does after learning that she, a virgin, is pregnant. Mary does what every woman does, she seeks a pregnancy test. But, Mary’s pregnancy test is not found at the local pharmacy. Mary needs to visit Elizabeth to see if the words of Gabriel are true. If Elizabeth is pregnant, as the angel says, then Mary is pregnant.

Mary leaves Nazareth in a hurry to visit Elizabeth who lives in the hill country of Judah. We do not know what city Zacharias and Elizabeth inhabit, but we do know that the hill country of Judah is well over 100 miles from Nazareth. There are no planes, trains, or automobiles for Mary. She is poor, so she is not likely to hire transport by cart. In that time, walking 20 miles per day is average, so her journey likely took around five or six days.

Mary reaches Elizabeth’s home, greets her, and immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth tells Mary that the baby in her womb leaped for joy at the sound of her voice. This is rather remarkable. Elizabeth also tells Mary that she is blessed for believing what is spoken to her by the Lord.

The Magnificat

Let’s stop for a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of Mary. She is visited by the angel Gabriel, and he tells her that a miracle will take place in her body. She, a virgin, will have a baby. This baby will be great and will sit on David’s throne. She travels over 100 miles to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth cries out with a loud voice to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 

Mary is having quite a week. What would we do in her situation? What would we think or say? Her life takes an extraordinary turn of events. Her life is changed forever.

Mary’s response to this news is to burst out with praise to God. Her praise takes the form of poetry. In our western culture, it is not customary to break out with poetry. But, to the eastern mindset, poetry is a native language.

This summer, we spent time in the Psalms. After the psalms, we began going through Isaiah. These two series have exposed us to the importance of poetry in the life of the Jews.

Mary speaks forth a poem glorifying God. Her poem is called, The Magnificat, by theologians. That name may even be used as a heading in your bible before her praise. The name of the poem comes from the first word of the poem, magnificat, as it is read in Latin. The word magnificat is translated “magnify” in English. The poem has been called by the name "The Magnificat" for centuries.

Let’s read her praise of God again.

46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary expresses her feelings by expressing her theology. The result is an expression of praise which is rich in doctrine.

Qualities of the Lord’s Servant

There is much to learn from Mary and her exaltation of God. Four observations.

1-Mary has a right position before God

How do you see Mary? Hopefully, you see Mary as Mary sees herself.

Even though an angel of God tells her that she is favored, and her elder relative calls her blessed, and every generation will see her as blessed, Mary sees herself as God’s bondslave. She doesn’t see herself as queen of heaven nor does she see herself as someone who should have statues made to worship her. In her eyes, she is no more than a slave.

When Mary responds to Gabriel she says, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Again her, to Elizabeth, she calls herself the Lord’s bondslave. She sees her life as it should be seen. She is created to be in obedient submission to the Lord’s will.

God favors those who see themselves as His servants. God is not our servant who is supposed to answer our prayers; we are His. We are always on the job. God is our Master, and we are His slaves 24/7. It is a life occupation. We are not on earth to serve ourselves; we are here to serve God with joy.

Mary knows all the people of Israel are God’s servant. In verse 54, Mary says that God gives help to Israel His servant. The nation of Israel is established to accomplish God’s will.

Mary’s knows her attitude as God’s bondslave is to be that of fear and humility. She proclaims God gives mercy to those who fear Him. She knows the Scripture does not say, “God helps those who help themselves.” The Scripture says God helps those who fear Him; they have a reverent awe of God. God helps those who stand in God’s presence with humility and fear.

2-Mary relates rightly to God

Mary knows where she stands before God. Because she knows where she stands, she knows how she is to relate to the God of the universe.

Mary loves God. We can tell how much Mary loves God by what she says about Him. She mentions God at least twice in every sentence. For her, God is her Lord, Savior, and Mighty One. To Mary, God is holy. He does great things. He shows mercy and feeds the hungry. In Mary’s eyes, God is very good.

Mary’s soul magnifies God. This means she makes much of God in her life. When we think about magnifying the Lord, we need to think of magnifying with a telescope and not a microscope. Mary is not seeing God through a microscope and making poor little dot God bigger with a lens, so she and others can see Him. She is doing just the opposite. She knows God is very, very big.

Without a telescope, we do not know how the size of stars and planets. A telescope magnifies big things, so they are not the small dot we think them to be. Often, people think of themselves as big and God as small. Mary magnifies God. She makes God big and herself small.

Mary rejoices in God. Mary is not an unhappy slave complaining about her Master. Mary doesn’t think her Lord asks expects too much of her. Her Master is the high-point of her life. Her spirit rejoices in Her Lord.

Most importantly, Mary sees God as her Savior. Mary is a sinner like all people. She knows the only way for her to be saved is for God to be her Savior. Nothing in the Bible will lead us to believe that Mary sees herself as equal with God. She doesn’t believe she has a free pass into heaven because she is a good person. She gets no free pass for being the mother of Jesus. She needs a Savior. Mary depends on God’s mercy. God is her Savior and has mercy on her because she fears Him.

3-Mary knows God’s word

As we read Mary’s Magnificat, we cannot help but be struck with the depth of understanding she has of God’s Word. Mary is likely to be 20 years old or younger. She lives as a peasant in Nazareth, which is far from the religious center of Israel. Mary knows God’s word very well.

Some people wrongly think that only the rich and educated of the first century have exposure to God’s word. Mary dispels that myth. Mary is counted among the poor people of Israel. She lives far from Jerusalem and the temple. Yet, as a young girl, she speaks forth praise theologians find impressive and shows herself to be very familiar with the Holy Scriptures. As theologians compare her words to those of the Old Testament, they find many possible references which serve as inspiration and foundation for her exclamation of praise.

The most likely source for much of her prose is the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. But, Mary’s inspiration is not limited to one passage. Commentators list many Old Testament references which have similar phrases to Mary’s Magnificat and may possibly serve as an inspiration: Job 5:11; Psalm 34, 35, 88, 89, 98, 103, 107, 146; Hab. 3:18, Isaiah 41:8-9; Micah 7:20; and Ezekiel 21:26. She is not just listing off her memory verses. The references fit the context of the occassion.

It is unlikely Mary has copies of scripture in her home. However, Mary most definitely spends the time to study and understand God’s word. We may learn much from her example.

Mary knows her position before God. She relates rightly to God. She knows God’s word, and:

4-Mary knows how God works

Mary has a very deep understanding of God’s work. She knows what is behind her pregnancy. The emphasis of her psalm is on the theme of reversal. She sees God’s primary work as raising up the humble and bringing down those who are proud. God reverses situations.

48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. (the humble are helped and lifted by God’s help)

50 And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. (those who fear God and are humble before God are lifted-up by receiving God’s mercy).

51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.

53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed.

From beginning to end, the theme of Mary’s praise is God’s reversal of the estate of the humble and proud. God’s work is the reason Mary rejoices in God.

There is a striking omission in Mary’s praise of God. She makes no mention of her baby. She doesn’t praise God because her baby is a King who will sit on David’s throne. She does not praise God because her baby is going to bring her fame. She praises God because she knows that whatever God is doing with her baby, one thing is certain, God will use her child to lift the humble and bring down the proud.

Here is Mary’s answer to life’s questions: Is God going to help people? Yes, God will help the humble. Does God favor one king over another? Yes, God favors the humble king. Is everyone going to heaven? No, those with pride will not. What will your Son Jesus do with His life? Jesus will exalt the humble and lay low the proud.

Mary sees the world in absolutes. There is good and evil. Humility is good, and pride is evil. For God to rid the world of evil is for God to rid the world of pride.

Mary’s goal in life, it seems from what we learn in Luke chapter one, is to be humble before God. She does not seek to make much of herself. She does not seek to impress people or find success. She looks to God to have her needs met, and she knows God meets the needs of the humble.

Luke picks up on this, and we find Mary’s theology frequently occurring in his gospel. (Luke 4:18; 6:20-22; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 16:20-22).

Mary knows how God works.


Do we think like Mary? Do we see humility as our primary objective in life? Do we see our day as successful whenever we are humble? God sees Mary as worthy to be the mother of our Lord because Mary is filled with humility.

Consider the humility of the birth of Jesus. His birth is a visual-aid showing the world true humility. God, leaving His throne where His robe fills the temple. Seraphim wait upon Him night and day. God, high and lifted-up, leaves His throne to be born in a manger to Joseph and Mary; two unknowns with little money. God allows Himself to wear diapers.

Beloved, this Christmas, let’s humble ourselves and realize we can learn from Mary. When we see a nativity, let’s think of becoming humble. In business, at home, and among our friends, let’s seek to be a humble slave. Let’s realize that our outer grooming is not the beauty God desires. God loves to gaze upon the person with the inward humility.

We need to make it our life goal to be successful. Being rich and powerful in the world is not successful. If we want real success, we need to learn how to be God’s humble slave. We need to declare war on our pride.