Luke: Communion in God’s Providence

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on December 28, 2008

Luke 1:39-45

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

December 28, 2008

Luke 1:39-45

“Communion in God’s Providence”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Luke, chapter one, as we continue our way through this Gospel. The text of the
beautiful song that was just sung is not only appropriate for the end of the
year, it’s appropriate for the passage we’re about to read, because just as the
text that was just sung speaks of our resting and trusting confidently in God’s
providence, these two godly women — one young, one much, much older — are
communing together in God’s providence and rejoicing in what the Lord is doing
in their lives.

Let me remind you of a few things before we read this
passage together. The first is that this is the first of five songs recorded for
us in Luke 1 and 2. The first song sung at the advent of the Messiah in this
world was not sung by angels, and it wasn’t even sung by Mary. It was sung by
Elizabeth. Now you may not pick this up as you’re reading through your text,
because in many of your Bibles they will not break Elizabeth’s song out as a
poem. But if you look about half-way through verse 42 and down to verse 45, what
you have is highly poetic language which is clearly a song. It’s the first of
five songs. God gave to Elizabeth the privilege of singing the first Christmas
carol, if I can put it that way. It would be Elizabeth who would sing the first
song of praise to the Messiah, even when He was a tiny, tiny little child in the
womb of His mother Mary.

The second thing I want you to see about this passage
is that it has the fingerprints of the Trinity all over it. Just be on the
lookout for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their respective roles
in this passage: the Father speaking through the angel a word to Mary, which
leads her to go and see her cousin Elizabeth (far, far away, in the first
place); the Holy Spirit opening Elizabeth’s eyes to — whom? To Jesus, the Son.
So be on the lookout for this in the passage as we read it.

One last thing as we look at the passage. Be on the
lookout for this: two major aspects of God’s plan of redemption are highlighted
in this passage. The first of course is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. His
divinity, His lordship and His messiahship are all borne witness to in the words
of Elizabeth and in the response of John, even in the womb, and so the person
of the Redeemer is clearly the focus of this whole passage.
In the end it’s
not Mary, it’s not Elizabeth, and it’s not John who are the focus of this
passage. It’s Jesus who is the focus of this passage and song.

The second major aspect of God’s redemptive plan that
is revealed in a marvelous way in this passage is that here we have come to
the intersecting point of the old covenant and the new covenant.
Have you
ever thought about that? In Elizabeth’s house the old covenant meets the new
covenant. In the old covenant the Messiah is prophesied. Every old
covenant prophet essentially has this message:
God will send His Son into
this world to bear the penalty for the forgiving of your sin. Every old covenant
prophet ultimately had that message, and John was going to be the very last
prophet who would ever speak that message.

And here in Elizabeth’s house, the last prophet of
the old covenant with that message will meet the one about whom that message had
been given, the Messiah.
And so the old covenant and the new covenant meet
in Elizabeth’s house.

Now when that happens you would expect electricity,
and you will get it aplenty as you will see and hear as we read God’s word.
Well, let’s look to Him and ask for His help and blessing as we read His word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your word, and it is just
as needful to us as food. For man shall not live by bread alone, but by every
word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So help us to receive this Your word
as heavenly food from above. Grant, O God, that we would taste it and inwardly
digest it, and receive it deep into our hearts and souls, believing You,
trusting Your word; and not simply being hearers, but becoming doers of the
truth. For this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God:

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town
in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when
Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth
was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘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? For behold, when the sound
of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And
blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken
to her from the Lord.’”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

The church fathers and theologians ever since have
called this passage and the event that it describes the visitation. You
remember the last time we were together in Luke we were looking at the passage
where the angel came to Mary to tell her the enormous blessing that God had
given to her, and describing to her the role that she would play in God’s plan
of redemption. That passage is often called the annunciation, the
announcement of God through the angel to Mary as His plan of redemption through
Jesus Christ. Well, this passage is the visitation, the visitation of
Mary to Elizabeth, but perhaps even more deeply the visitation of the Savior to
Elizabeth and to her son, John the Baptist, and it’s a remarkable story.

Here’s Mary. You remember we said that in Mary’s day
and age the average age of betrothal was probably about 12 Ѕ. Now we don’t know
how old Mary was, but she was probably a very, very, very young
teenager–thirteen, fourteen years old perhaps. And she’s visiting her cousin
Elizabeth, who is old enough to be her great-grandmother. And they’re both
pregnant at the same time. [Now that’s just a little weird!] And she’s traveled
almost a hundred miles, all the way from Nazareth in Galilee, all the way down
into the hill country of Judah, and they are going to commune together a little
bit. They’re going to experience some fellowship: not just the fellowship of
cousins, not just the fellowship of kin, not just the fellowship of two women
who are expecting children; but communion, fellowship in God’s providence for
their lives
because they have been called to fulfill the promise of God in
Genesis 3:15 that a Messiah is going to be sent into the world — the seed of the
woman, who is going to crush the serpent’s head. They are going to be
respectively the mother of the forerunner of the Messiah and the mother of the
Messiah, and they needed to have words and they needed to have fellowship, and
they needed to commune in that glorious (and no doubt overwhelming) reality.

Can you imagine how it would have been when Luke came
to Mary and said, ‘You know, Mary, Mark hasn’t written down much about this
time, and Matthew hasn’t written much down about this time. And one of the
things that I really want to do is I want to write down some of the things that
happened in these days that have not yet been recorded for the edification of
God’s people.’ And can you imagine Mary saying, ‘Well, Luke…’ [now as a much
older woman, closing in on fifty perhaps] ‘…Luke, let me tell you what happened.
After the angel came to me, I went to see my cousin Elizabeth, and this is what
happened.’ And we’re party, by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, to that
amazing event, the visitation.

Well, there are so many things to learn from it that
I don’t have time to do justice to it today, but I want to draw your
attention to six or seven things just very briefly.

First of all, I want you to look at the fellowship
that Mary and Elizabeth shared. Then, I want you to see the fruit of the Spirit
in Elizabeth’s life. Then I want you to consider the humility of Elizabeth and
the example that she is to us. And then I want you to think about the person of
Jesus Christ, because it is Jesus who is the focus of Elizabeth’s song of praise
to God. Then I want you to think about the promise and fulfillment which is
displayed before our very eyes in the birth of John and the birth of Jesus, and
their coming together in close proximity in Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting. Then I
want you to think about the faith of Mary, because Elizabeth draws attention to
it. And, finally, I want you to think a little bit about God himself, and
especially about how the Triune God is so clearly manifest in this passage.

Well, very briefly let’s walk through these things
together.

I. The fellowship that Mary
and Elizabeth shared.

First of all, I want to think about the
fellowship. If you look at verses 39-40, you’re told that “Mary arose and went
with haste into the hill country to a town in Judah, and entered the house of
Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” Now later in this passage you’re going to be
told that Mary spent about three months with Elizabeth. Mary was barely
expecting. Elizabeth was six months pregnant. And Mary stayed there until right
before John the Baptist was born, so she had almost three months with this much
older cousin. And who knows all of the conversations that were had by those two
godly women, but two very important parts of their conversations are recorded in
Luke. We’ll study the first part this week and the next part next week, God
willing.

But I want you to see something about their fellowship.

Their fellowship was not just the fellowship of
kin
. This isn’t just female cousins coming together. It’s not just female
cousins who were expecting coming together. These are two women who have deep
communion in God’s providence, and they have deep communion in the gospel.
These are two believing women. One of the things that Luke emphasizes is that
these women believed the word of God.
These women believed the promise of
God. These women had a communion in the gospel, and that communion that they had
in God’s purposes and that communion in the gospel, it spanned every other
difference that existed between them. I mean, think about it! What would it be
like to be pregnant at the same time that your great-grandmother was pregnant?
Well, Elizabeth was a cousin, she wasn’t a great-grandmother, but she was old
enough to be Mary’s great-grandmother. And yet grace spans and unites these
generations.

And I want to pause and say right now, young people,
don’t discount that fact. Grace spans and unites the generations. There’s no
generation gap between Mary and Elizabeth
. She’s barely a teenager.
Elizabeth is what? Fifty? Sixty? Seventy? Sarah was 75 when she had Isaac. How
old was Elizabeth? I don’t know, but she was [how can I put this delicately?] on
up there for a lady having her first child! And yet these two immediately
clicked. There is gospel fellowship. And, my friends, that’s how the gospel
always works. I understand that Mary and Elizabeth are a very, very special
case, but do you understand that that’s how the gospel always works? It unites
the generations. I’m so glad that we have a vibrant ministry to students in our
congregation and we have a wonderful fellowship of young people. But, young
people, don’t fail to take advantage of the enormous blessing of spending time
and fellowship with older saints who aren’t like you, and who come from a
different era. They will bless you, and you will bless them.

After the early service, Tricia Walters reminded me
that she joined this congregation alone as a teenager…the only member of her
family joining this congregation. And she said that to this day she can remember
Mr. Bob Kennington coming over and stretching out… [and she said that to her he
looked like Methuselah!] She said he probably wasn’t that old back when she
joined, but he stretched out his old withered hand and shook hands with her, and
he said to her, “Tricia, there is no generation gap in the gospel.” And without
her knowing, he made a special point of looking out for her for the rest of the
time she was a young woman in the church to make sure that she was being cared
for and included and ministered to in our midst.

And I want to say, young people, take advantage!
There is wisdom to be learned and blessing to be gotten from your relationship
with older saints in this congregation. Surely that’s one of the by-products and
the side benefits of studying this passage, to see this young, young believer
fellowshipping with this much more seasoned saint.

II. The fruit of the Spirit of
Elizabeth.

There’s a second thing I want you to see,
though. You see it beginning in verse 41. You see something of the fruit of the
Spirit in Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped
in her womb, and for the rest of the time Elizabeth is alive with joy and praise
and adoration of God and faith in His truth, and love for Mary and for Jesus and
for God. You see the panoply of the fruit of the Spirit displayed in her.

Think of it, ladies. If you were having your
firstborn son at 50 or 60 or 70…I really can’t put myself in your place; I
really can’t put myself in Elizabeth’s place, but maybe you sisters in Christ
can think some of the things that would have been running through your mind. But
surely if you were expecting your firstborn son at that age, you’d want to talk
about him a little bit. I mean, if we whip out pictures and say, “Let me show
you my grandchildren,” what would she have wanted to do when Mary shows up at
her doorstep? But it’s all about God. It’s all about her joy over the
fulfillment of God’s promises. It’s all about Jesus. There is this display of
the fruit of the Spirit.

She knows…did you catch that? She knows that
this is her Messiah’s mother who has come to visit her. She is humble. All the
focus is on Him. She’s grateful for what God is doing. She’s filled with joy.
She has a very clear love for Mary. She displays faith in God’s promises. The
fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and she displays about half of them
just right here! Indeed she was filled with the Holy Spirit; and being filled
with the Holy Spirit, she displayed the fruit of the Spirit. The focus is not on
her, the focus is on God. It’s on Mary. It’s on Jesus. It’s on everywhere else.
You would expect this woman to be focusing on the fact that she’s about to have
her firstborn son, and no doubt she did talk about those things with Mary. But
that’s not the emphasis when Mary walks through the door. Don’t you see the
fruit of the Spirit in this woman Elizabeth, and don’t you want to see that kind
of fruit displayed in your own life?

III. The humility of Elizabeth.

Well, that leads me to a third thing, and following
on the fruit of the Spirit, I want to zero in on one of them: humility.
Look at verse 42: “Blessed are you,” she says [Elizabeth to Mary].
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Do you see the humility of Elizabeth? An angel has
come to her husband to tell her that she will be the bearer of the forerunner of
the Messiah. An angel has come to her husband and told her that in her son… the
prophecies of Malachi and Elijah, and Isaiah and Jeremiah…the prophecies of
these great Old Testament prophets will be fulfilled in the person of her son.
And Mary walks in the door, and Elizabeth has nothing to say about herself. Just
this: “Blessed are you among women.” And it struck me, my friends, as I
was reading this passage, that Elizabeth’s son was just like her. Here’s
Elizabeth, and she could have said, ‘Mary, let me tell you how I’m going to be
used of the Lord!’ But for Elizabeth, it’s all about Jesus. ‘Blessed are you
among women, Mary, because you’re going to bear the Messiah. You’re going to be
the mother of my Lord.’ It’s all about Jesus. And that’s just how John
was. You remember John? “He must increase; I must decrease.” It struck me as I
was reading this passage that John’s humility did not materialize ex nihilo.
He learned it from someone. He was just like his mother. The humility, the
self-denial, the focus on Christ that is displayed in the ministry of John, it’s
evident in the heart of Elizabeth! Mary walks in the door, and it’s all about
Jesus.

My friends, we could learn something from that. For
so many of us “it’s all about me…all about mine…let me tell you about me…let me
tell you what I’ve done.” Not with Elizabeth. All the focus is on Jesus. All the
encouragement is to Mary, who’s going to be the one who’s going to bear the
Messiah. None of Elizabeth; all of Jesus. What an example of humility she is to
us.

IV. The person of Jesus.

And then in verse 43, you see her with a bulls-eye
point us to Jesus Christ: “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?” Think of it, my friends! The child in Mary’s womb is days or
weeks old, at most. Tee-nintsy! Indetectable! She’s not even gotten to her
eleven- or twelve-week sonogram! And already Elizabeth acknowledges that that
tiny, tiny life en utero is “my Lord.” That’s my God, that’s my Master,
that’s my Messiah, that’s my Savior! The mother of my Lord has come to me! And
notice again the humility: “Who am I that the mother of my Lord would come and
visit me?”

It struck me again that just as something that John
the Baptist is about to do is going to foreshadow everything that he did in his
life and ministry, so this also foreshadows Jesus, because Jesus doesn’t wait
for us to come to Him. He comes to us. And here He is in the womb, coming to
Elizabeth, coming to His cousin John. And Elizabeth knows it! ‘My Lord has
visited me in His mother! Who am I to have such a guest in my humble house?’ She
focuses all our attention, all her attention, all her praise, all her hopes, all
her dreams on the Lord Jesus who is her Master, her God, and her Messiah, her
Savior, her Prophet, Priest, and King; her soul, her life, her hope, her all.

V. God’s promises fulfilled.

Then I want you to see the promise and the
fulfillment of the connection of the old covenant and the new covenant in this
passage. Look at verse 44:

“For behold, when the sound of your greeting [Mary’s] came to my ears, the baby
in my womb leaped.”

What’s this leap for joy? Is this mother’s reading into the
movements of a six-month-old child in the womb? No. The Holy Spirit has opened
Elizabeth’s eyes to know why John leaped. What has just happened? The Messiah
has just come into the room. What is John’s one job in life? His one job is to
point to the Messiah, “to prepare the way of the Lord; to call Israel to make
straight their paths for the coming of the Lord.” And here in the womb at the
very outset John leaps for joy at the presence of the one for whom he would
spend his life, and in death would point to.

Maximus of Turin, one of the early church fathers,
says: “Not yet born, John already prophesies.” He’s already pointing to the
Savior! In his mother’s womb he’s already pointing to the Savior! The church
fathers used to say that John is the only child who ever turned his mother’s
womb into a pulpit. That’s exactly what John does. With joy he responds to the
presence of the Messiah. And isn’t that how we’re supposed to respond at the
presence of the Messiah, our Savior, our Lord Jesus, the Christ? Isn’t that how
we’re supposed to respond? And in the womb, John shows us the way.

VI. The faith of Mary.

And then Elizabeth focuses on the faith of Mary. Look at verse 45:

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was
spoken to her from the Lord.”

Now think for a second. Whose house is this? Yes, it’s
Elizabeth’s house. But it’s Zechariah’s house. And Zechariah had had an angel
come to him and tell him that his wife was going to have a baby boy. And
Zechariah responded by saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! She’s old!’ And you
remember what the angel said? ‘Okay, Zechariah. She’s still going to have a
baby. But you’re not going to be able to tell anybody about it. Proud papa,
you’re not going to be able to speak until that baby comes into this world.’

Now let me speculate with you for a moment. Could it
be that Zechariah was within earshot when Elizabeth said this to Mary? ‘Blessed
is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken
to her by the Lord…(not like Dum-Dum over here)!’ Now the last part’s an
adlib, I know! And I don’t know whether Zechariah heard it, but I’m sure he
heard it later!

Do you see? Luke is drawing our attention to this.
Luke is saying, ‘Where Zechariah couldn’t quite get his head and heart around
what God had said, Mary had said, ‘Behold, be it done to me as you have
appointed, O Lord.’’ She had embraced and accepted and believed and trusted
God’s word, God’s promise, God’s gospel. And here is Elizabeth saying, ‘Mary,
you sweet young child [13-14 years old]…and you more believed God’s word than an
old priest. Blessed are you, dear girl, because you believed.’

Now, my friends, take it: Elizabeth’s joy, John’s
joy, Mary’s belief: faith and joy. How are you supposed to respond to Jesus?
Faith and joy!
They’ve just shown you. How do you respond to Jesus? You
believe on Him for your salvation as He is offered in the gospel with joy,
because Jesus himself said, “I came that your joy might be full.” And how does
Mary and how does Elizabeth and how does John respond? Faith and joy to Jesus.
You want to know how to respond to Jesus? There’s the example.

VII. The Trinity.

Now one last thing. The fingerprints of the Trinity
are all over this passage. It’s the Father who sends an angel into the world to
tell about the birth of Jesus and John. That message from the Father through the
angel to Mary sends her into Judah to be with her cousin Elizabeth, who is
indwelt and filled by the Holy Spirit, and thus able to understand what God’s
purposes are in the Messiah, and thus to believe on the Messiah, to believe
God’s word and focus on — who? Jesus the Son.

The First Person sends a message about the Second
Person of the Trinity, and the Third Person of the Trinity enables belief on
that message about the Second Person of the Trinity, and gives praise to the
First Person of the Trinity about the Second Person of the Trinity. The Trinity
is all over this passage.

The Bible’s always about your God. There’s no passage
in the Bible that isn’t about your God. Over and over and over, no matter what
it’s talking about, it’s talking about your God. And this passage does, too.

Well, my friends, there is so much more here for us
to learn, but may we have faith in the Messiah like Elizabeth did in response to
His coming to visit.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord, there is nothing sweeter in a believer’s
ear than the sound of Jesus’ name. John leaped for joy when he heard the
greeting of his Lord’s mother, in his mother’s womb, and knew His presence.
Grant that we would believe and leap for joy in our hearts as we sing the
praises of the sweet name of Jesus. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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