Luke: Mary: On the Christian Life

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 4, 2009

Luke 1:46-56

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

January 4, 2009


Luke 1:46-56


“Mary: On the Christian Life”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Great is Thy faithfulness,
Lord. This is our song as we come into Your house this morning to meet with You,
to hear Your word; for You to speak Your truth deep into our heart, for our
hearts to overflow in gratitude and praise to You. We say, “Great is Your
faithfulness.” Great is Your faithfulness in the gospel, for while we were yet
sinners, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly, so that all who rest and
trust on Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel are forgiven,
pardoned, accepted, adopted, sanctified — and one day glorified, welcomed into
Your eternal rest. We praise You for Your faithfulness in the gospel.

We praise You for Your
faithfulness in providence. You have brought us through another year: through
thick and thin; through heartache and through joy; through sunshine and
darkness. You have been with us every step of the way. You have not left us or
forsaken us. You have drawn near to us in our time of need. And we are here at
the beginning of another year to spend life and ministry together, and to set up
a stone as witness that You are faithful, O God.

For all these reasons and a
million more, we give You praise. We ask that You would help us to worship in
spirit and truth today, and that the words of our mouths and the meditations of
our hearts would be made acceptable in Your sight by Your Holy Spirit, O Lord,
our Rock and our Redeemer. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

~~~~~~~~

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Luke 1:46-56, as we continue to work our way through the Gospel of Luke
together. This is the second of five songs in the first two chapters of Luke.
I’ve already gotten some good questions from a number of you about how we
identify these as psalms. I’m going to explain that a little bit later as we
work through this wonderful portion of Scripture.

What I do want you to see is that Mary’s song, as you
find it recorded in verses 46-55, is a totally God-centered song of praise. She
sings about God, about who He is, about what He’s like, about what He’s done.
It’s all focused on God. And in response to who God is and what He has done, it
is a song filled with gratitude. She’s thankful for what God has done. It is
a song filled with trust. She believes God’s promises and sees them unfolding
before her very eyes. And it is a song filled with praise. In it she adores God.

Now that, I think, actually tells us a lot about the
Christian life, about the God-centeredness of the Christian life and how much
who God is and what He does speaks into our lives as to how we’re to respond and
how we’re to live. In fact, as we look at this song today, I especially want to
look at how its God-centered content informs how we are to live the Christian
life.

It seems to me that Mary, in her song of praise here,
gives us an address, a lecture, on how to live the Christian life. I fully
understand the uniqueness of her circumstances. I understand that it’s not every
day that a woman is called to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. I
understand her unique role in redemptive history and in God’s purposes for
salvation, but it seems to me that there are things that Mary teaches us by
example that are vital and are of importance for the living of the Christian
life no matter when and where you happen to live on this planet. So I want to
draw your attention to them. In fact, let me tell you ahead of time so that you
can be on the lookout.

First of all, I want you to notice the role of the
Bible in Mary’s praise. This is a Scripture-filled song. Second, I want you to
note Mary’s humility. Mary’s humility is evident in this song. Third, I want you
to note Mary’s gratitude. You really can’t move from syllable to syllable in
this song without seeing her gratefulness, and I want to think with you this
morning actually about how surprising that is. Many of us may think, “Well,
there’s nothing surprising about that. Of course she’s grateful. She’s just been
told she’s going to be the Messiah’s mother. Of course you’re grateful!” But
think a little bit about the situation that Mary finds herself in. Fourth, I
want you to see how Mary does not see this as something just about her. For her,
it’s about all of God’s people in all ages, so she sees herself as part of a
larger story. That’s the next thing I want us to see. Fifth, I want us to see
how this song points us to God’s promises. So — to God’s people, and now to
God’s promises. And then, finally, I want you to see how this song points us to
the gospel itself. So — Scripture; humility; gratitude; God’s people; God’s
promises; God’s gospel.

Now let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help
and blessing before we read and hear His word.

Father, thank You for Your word. It is meant for
our instruction, our edification, our equipping for the living of the Christian
life, so we ask that by Your Spirit we wouldn’t just be listeners to the word,
but we would be believers of the word, and then that we would live out the word
that we have listened to and believed, by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. We ask
this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word:

“And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my
Savior,

For He has looked on the humble
estate of His servant.

For Behold, from now on all

Generations will call me blessed;

For He who is mighty has done
great things for me,

And holy is His name.

And His mercy is for those who
fear Him

From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His
arm;

He has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts;

He has brought down the mighty
from their thrones

And exalted those of humble
estate;

He has filled the hungry with
good things,

And the rich He has sent away
empty.

He has helped His servant Israel,

In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and to his offspring
forever.’

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned
to her home.”

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

Quick! You’ve just been told by an angel that
you’re going to be the mother of the Messiah. What do you say? What do you sing?
How do you respond?

Well, I understand that Mary hasn’t “just been told”
that she’s going to be the mother of the Messiah when she says and sings these
words. It’s been a while. It’s been a few days, a few weeks, since that amazing
visitation of the angel Gabriel to the unlikely town of Nazareth in Galilee. Now
Mary has already undertaken a long arduous journey, and she’s with her cousin
Elizabeth. And she’s greeted Elizabeth, and Elizabeth has greeted her with a
song — a remarkable song of faith which foretells so much about the role that
Mary will have, and more importantly, draws our attention to the Savior, Jesus
Christ. But in that circumstance what would you say? Having been spoken to like
Elizabeth had just spoken to Mary, what would come out of your mouth?

Well, Mary had had some time to think about what she
would say, but still it’s remarkable what comes out of her mouth. It’s filled
with Scripture. Remember she’s — what? — thirteen, fourteen years old. She’s
just been told she’s going to be the mother of the Messiah, the one whom Israel
has been longing for since Genesis 3:15. And out of her heart, out of her mouth,
comes Scripture and a real humility, considering the role that she has been
entrusted with by the Lord. There’s an evident humility in Mary’s reaction. And
there’s gratitude, despite the danger that she’s in.

But there’s not a “me-centeredness” about this. Yes,
there’s a personal-ness about it; she recognizes the unique blessing that God
has given to her. It’s very personal. She even mentions ‘the blessing that God
has given to me’ a couple of times in the song, but it’s set in the context of a
bigger story of God’s dealings over the course of the generations of His people
and for His people, and it’s a song that points to the covenant of grace, to
God’s promises of old to Abraham. And throughout, it emphasizes God’s work of
the gospel…God’s plan of the gospel, God’s carrying out of the gospel, God’s
grace in the gospel.

Let’s look at these things together, because I
believe that in each of those six areas we see areas of growth that we need.

We need to grow in our understanding of and faith in and living out of the
Scripture. We need to grow in humility. We need to grow in gratitude. We need to
be centered on what God is doing among all His people. We need to be living out
in trust our belief in God’s promises in the Bible, and we need to be living
lives based on the gospel. So let’s look at these five or six things together in
the song right now.

I. The importance of Scripture
in Mary’s life.

The first thing that strikes you — at least,
it’s the first thing that strikes me — when you hear these words of Mary’s song
is how filled with Scripture they are. Look! From verse 47 down to verse 55 you
will get allusions to Psalm 103, Psalm 22, Psalm 147, Psalm 98, I Samuel 1
(you’ll hear Hannah’s song in this), but you’ll also hear passages like Job 12.
This young woman knows her Bible! And when time comes to give expression to this
amazing announcement of the angel and to this unique song of her cousin
Elizabeth, she does it with Scripture. It just rolls off of her tongue! And I
love what J.C. Ryle says about her:

“She gives expression with her lips to what has been treasured in her heart; and
what has been treasured in her heart is God’s word, the Holy Scripture.”

This young woman knows the Old Testament. But she not
only knows the Old Testament, she’s memorized a lot of it, and so when the time
comes to give expression to what the Lord is doing in her life, she does it with
the language of Scripture. Isn’t that a guide to prayer? All of us ought to pray
the Bible. We ought to pray Scripture. We ought to know enough Scripture to pray
Scripture back to the Lord. That’s exactly what Mary does. She knows her Bible.
How does she know her Bible? Well, because since she was a little girl she’s
been going to “church” — Sabbath day after Sabbath day, gathering with God’s
people in the synagogue and doing what? Hearing the Scripture read. Hearing the
Scripture expounded. She’s heard it read or recited at home. Maybe she’s even
read it herself. But she knows her Bible, and isn’t that a vital principle for
the living of the Christian life, to know your Bible? And not just know it so
that your head is crammed full of a few facts, but so that your heart is taken
captive by that word, so that when the joys of life or the crises of life hit
and you’re in autopilot, what comes out is what you’ve treasured up in your
heart and what has shaped your life — the Scripture. It’s informing how you
live, how you pray, how you cry, how you weep, how you request, how you react.
This young woman knew her Bible, and when time came for her to say the
appropriate thing in response to this extraordinary word from Elizabeth, she
knew what to say. It came right out of God’s word. You can’t go wrong with God’s
word, can you?

You know that story that when R.C. Sproul first came
to RTS/Jackson that he would have a student pray before his systematic theology
class every day, and then after the student sat down, R.C. would critique the
student’s prayer. He would show him all the various heresies that the student
had prayed in the course of his prayer. And so this went on for a couple of
weeks, and finally a student was asked to pray and so he stood up in fear and
trepidation, and he said, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy
name…” and so on! And sat down, safe in the confidence that R.C. Sproul was not
going to critique the Lord’s Prayer!

Well, my friends, you can be sure that you’ll never
go wrong when you’re praying the Bible back to God, when it’s the word of God
that you’ve stored up in your heart, and it gives vent, gives expression to
what’s in your heart. You’ll never go wrong praying the words back to God. This
is what Mary shows us here in response to this remarkable announcement: the
Scriptures just flow from her heart. Know your Bible. Make that a New Year’s
resolution: I’m going to know my Bible better this year, and more than that, I’m
going to treasure the Bible up in my heart and be taken captive by God’s word,
so that I won’t be taken captive by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

II. Mary’s humility.

There’s a second thing we learn here, though, and we
see it in Mary’s humility. You see it in verse 48, and then you see it again in
verses 51-52. She speaks of the Lord looking on “the humble estate” of His
servant, and then she speaks of how He’s brought low the proud, but that He’s
exalted the humble. We see something of Mary’s humility here, and we not only
learn that the Christian life is healthiest that is most informed by Scripture,
but that the Christian life is healthiest that is humblest. And we see her
humility.

She’s given a unique responsibility in all of
redemptive history. Can you imagine your heavenly Father coming to you and
saying, ‘I want you to rear My boy. I want you to rear My Son. I’m entrusting My
own Son, dear woman…I am entrusting My own Son into your arms to rear Him in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord’? And the reaction of Mary is to be humbled
by this, because she knows the greatness of her God and the greatness of that
gift, that blessing, that responsibility, and she knows that she’s a sinner. And
she’s utterly humbled by it.

And I want to suggest that that’s something that we
need to grow in the Christian life. We need to grow in humility. Humility is
absolutely essential for the living of the Christian life. If you haven’t
cultivated gospel humility, you haven’t cultivated the queen of all gospel
graces; for the sure mark that the Holy Spirit has done a work in your heart is
in the production in you of gospel humility.

Without humility, we can’t forgive one another,
because we’re proud and we don’t want to admit that we’ve done something wrong.
We want the problem to be somebody else’s problem — “It’s his fault…it’s her
fault…it’s their fault.” A lack of humility prevents us from seeing our own sin
and accepting it and dealing with it, and seeking forgiveness. And it prevents
us from giving forgiveness, for what enables the believer to forgive others who
have wounded him or her is not that those people are worthy of forgiveness; it’s
that you are the recipient of an undeserved forgiveness yourself. God has
forgiven you when you didn’t deserve it, and so it makes the heart large and
generous in forgiving others who don’t deserve forgiveness. And only the humble
heart is able to forgive in that way, because only the humble heart has
experienced its need and the surprising, gracious forgiveness of God to that
need in the gospel. Well, Mary manifests humility, and we need to grow in
humility.

III. Mary’s gratitude.

But she’s also grateful. She’s thankful. Did you
notice that? Look at verses 46 -49. The whole section oozes gratitude:

“My soul magnifies the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God…from now on all
generations will call me blessed…He who is mighty has done great things for me.”

She is grateful.

Now you say, “Well, of course she’s grateful! She’s
the mother of Jesus! She’s the only one. She’s the only woman in all the world
that God has called to be the mother of Jesus. Of course she’s grateful!”

Have you thought about the danger that Mary is in?
She’s a young teenage girl in a culture where people who commit adultery get
stoned to death. And she is betrothed…she’s engaged, but she’s not yet married.
And she’s expecting. It should not escape you that she’s not in her home town
right now. She has packed up and moved away for three months. Now I think even
in our culture we understand that. Women don’t pack up and leave their parents
and their family and their dearest friends during their first trimester unless
something’s up. And that’s exactly what she’s done. She has left her parents and
her family and her friends, and she’s gone way far away from Galilee to her
cousin Elizabeth. And she’s there for three months. And it may well indicate,
among other things, that there would have been problems in Nazareth had she
stayed. She faced at least ostracism, if not personal danger.

But more than the cultural or social danger that she
faced, think about the danger from the assaults of Satan, when we know what
Satan has attempted to do all throughout the Old Testament to God’s seed to try
to keep the seed, the Messiah, from coming into this world. She is now Ground
Zero in the bull’s eye of Satan’s sights. And what’s more, as Elizabeth has
already predicted, because she is to be the mother of a boy who was born to die,
in the midst of her immense joy, she is going to bear the sharpest of sorrows —
all her life. Dear sisters in Christ, if God were to announce to you today that
He was entrusting into your care for a brief time a young man who was destined
to go and die for his country in Iraq or Afghanistan or in some other field of
battle, that as a very young man he would die…and not only that, but you would
see him die with your own eyes…and you were told this from before he was born.
Wouldn’t there — in the midst of your deep love for that son and your deep joy
at his birth and your delight in the role that he would play for his people —
would there not be a tremendous burden of sorrow to bear as well? And yet Mary
is grateful. She’s thankful.

Now every single one of us has things that we can
gripe about…complaints that we have about life, or maybe even with God. I doubt
many of us have the burden to bear that Mary had to bear, because most of us
aren’t told ahead of time what’s going to happen to us or to our children. And
she had to bear that knowledge ahead of time, all her life. And yet she’s
grateful. Does that not tell us something about our gratitude? You may be in a
vulnerable place right now. You may even be in a dangerous place right now. And
you may be tempted to respond to that vulnerability or to that danger with
complaint and with bitterness. But Mary responds with gratitude. She’s thankful.

The Christian life is healthiest that is
characterized by gratitude, and Mary just shows us how it’s done, right here.

IV. Mary understands something
of God’s larger plan.

Fourth, Mary, even in this song in which she
acknowledges this unique thing that God is doing in her life and this unique
thing that He’s going to do in the life of her son, is all about God’s people
and the larger plan of God in the history of His people. Do you notice this?
Look especially at verses 50-55, and zero in especially on verse 50, and then 54
and 55:

His mercy is for those who fear Him from
generation to generation
.”

This isn’t just about Mary. This is about God’s
faithfulness from generation to generation.

Verse 54:

“He’s helped His servant Israel…He’s
spoken to our fathers, to Abraham.”

This goes all the way back to the beginning of God’s
dealings with His people. Mary realizes that this is not all about her. Of
course it’s about Jesus. But it’s about God’s total plan with His people that
stretches into history past and is much larger than just His dealings with her.
In other words, Mary views herself in light of the larger reality of God’s
people and God’s plan.

And, my friends, the Christian life is healthiest
that is anchored in our understanding that there is something bigger than just
us: God’s plan. And it’s more than about just us individually; it’s about all
of God’s people. We’re a part of that story, to be sure — individually, to be
sure — by faith in Jesus Christ. But when we come to faith in Jesus Christ,
we’re brought into a family and we’re part of a story about that family.

And Mary reminds us that we need to view ourselves as
a part of God’s people and a part of what God has been doing in the past, and a
part of God’s work in the history of redemption, and a part of a destiny that
all of us will share together. And Mary is far from self-centered here. She’s
centered on the church and on God’s plan.

It’s a good thing to remember in the Christian life.
And I think one of the things that is missing in the kind of Christianity that
is so often fostered by television preachers is that it is all focused on our
attaining our own personal success and having our own personal desires
fulfilled, and there’s no sense that there is something bigger in life than “me”
— God’s plan, God’s mission — and that I’m a part of a family, God’s people; and
that it may well be my calling to suffer for the sake of God’s mission and for
God’s family because there’s something bigger than me. Mary understood that, and
she gave vent to it in the prayer.

V. Mary points to God’s
promises.

Fifth, look at verses 54-55 again. Notice how Mary
takes you right back to the covenant of grace with Abraham and to God’s
fulfilling of the promises that He had made to Abraham:

“He helped His servant Israel…” [Why?] “…in remembrance of His mercy.” [What
mercy?] “As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his offspring forever.”

She takes you right back to God’s promise to Abraham which
was secured and assured in the covenant of grace in Genesis 12 and 15 and 17,
and she says this promise is being fulfilled before our very eyes in the sending
of the Messiah into the world, and she announces this believing God’s promise.
And in doing so, she reminds us that the Christian life is healthiest that is
most trusting of God’s promises. Mary understands the promise of God and she
believes it, and isn’t that what faith is about? It’s about taking God at His
word and believing His promise, and Mary does that.

Now, I understand that Mary has a unique role. I
mean, not all of us were born at the time that the Messiah was come into the
world, but do you understand that every time we see a Gentile converted to Jesus
Christ, or every time we see someone who is literally ethnically descended from
Abraham himself come to faith in Christ, that we are seeing God’s promise to
Abraham fulfilled before our very eyes? So, though, yes, we’re different from
Mary, we’re not all that different from Mary. We see God’s promises fulfilled
all the time. Do you believe it? Do you believe His promises? He’s fulfilling
them all the time, right before your very eyes. Do you take Him at His word?
That’s what saving faith does. It believes the promises of God. That’s how the
Christian life is to be lived, believing the promises of God.

In a few minutes we’re going to sing over and over,
“The Lord fulfills His word.” That beautifully captures precisely what Mary is
saying here. She’s saying, ‘Look! The Lord has done it again! He fulfilled His
word.’ That’s how the Christian life is lived: believing that the Lord does what
He says He will do.

VI. It’s all about the gospel.

One last thing. Did you notice about this song that
it’s all about the gospel? This song has nothing in it about what we do. This
psalm has nothing in it about what we do to save ourselves. This song is all
about what God has done for the salvation of His people.

We have a word for that. One word: gospel. Two
words: good news. It’s all about what God
has done for the salvation, for the redemption of His people.
So Mary
is singing about the gospel here. She’s excited about the gospel; she is seeing
the gospel unfold before her very eyes, and her response is to praise God for it
and to believe in it. And in doing that she reminds us that the Christian life
is based on the gospel, the good news of what God has done in His grace to save
us from our sin. And she reminds us that if we’re going to live the Christian
life, we need to know the gospel and believe the gospel, and then live out the
gospel.

She gives us a good example by responding as she does
in praise to God for the gospel, but in doing so she also reminds us that the
whole Christian life is based on the gospel. It is God’s initiating mercy to us
in Jesus Christ by which He forgives us and pardons and accepts us that is the
foundation for everything in life. Until we understand that we do not deserve
forgiveness, but that for all who admit that they do not deserve forgiveness and
who look to God for forgiveness, by mercy there is more forgiveness offered than
we could possibly get our heads around. And that’s the whole foundation of the
whole Christian life. And Mary reminds us of it in this great psalm.

May the Lord bless His word to our hearts. Let’s
pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for these inspired
words of Your Holy Spirit, given so that we would have a greater view of
yourself and of Your grace and of Your purposes, but also given to instruct us
in how to live the Christian life. Lord, if we have not embraced Your promises
and believed Your gospel, cut us to the quick this morning and show us our sin
and our need, and then point us to Your provision, to Your Savior, Your Son, and
enable us to believe Your promises that though our sins be as scarlet, yet You
will make them to be white as snow if we will but believe. And then grant that
those of us who have trusted in Jesus would live lives based on the gospel. In
Jesus’ name. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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