Please take the time to read Luke 1:39-56 on your own to acquaint yourself with the text. (The post below will follow the New King James Version.
In the past two posts we considered two previous passages from Luke. We first looked at vv. 1-25 which contained the introduction to the Gospel and God’s announcement to Zacharias that his aging barren wife would give birth to a son who would be the one used by God to prepare the nation of Israel for God’s Messiah.
Secondly, we considered 1:26-38 where God announced to Mary that He had selected her to be the vessel through whom would come His Messiah via a miraculous virgin birth.
This morning those two stories converge. Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, has been pregnant with John the Baptist for 6 months, and Mary had just conceived Jesus in her womb. These two women will meet and their conversation is significant in light of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. What they said is likewise significant to today’s reader, wherever he/she may be.
Elizabeth’s Testimony of God’s Gracious Favour (vv. 39-45).
Zacharias was still mute (Luke 1:20), but he could have easily communicated to his wife via writing. It is safe to assume that she knew about the role her son, John, would have in preparing the way for the Messiah. Therefore, Elizabeth was open and prepared for more unusual events.
Mary greets Elizabeth (vv. 39-40).
Luke said in verse 39, “Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah.” Mary had conceived Jesus and also had heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Therefore, she hastily travelled into the “hill country” and to a “city of Judah,” which was south of Jerusalem. Luke said in verse 40 that Mary “entered the house….and greeted Elizabeth.”
Their meeting is described, first in terms of John’s response (v. 41).
John’s response (v. 41a).
When “Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary… the babe leaped in her womb.” Admittedly, this is a very strange description. John, being filled with the Spirit (1:15), did a flip when he heard Mary’s voice. However, John was not responding to Mary’s presence, but rather to Jesus’ presence. According to John 1:31, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah was until he baptized Jesus some thirty years later. Therefore, Luke was not inferring that John consciously recognized Jesus’ presence. The Spirit moved John to respond when Mary entered in order to show that the lesser John was acknowledging the presence of the greater Jesus. John as the forerunner to the greater Messiah had begun his ministry.
John’s involuntary response caused a reasoned response from his mother Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s excitement shown in verses 41b-44.
Luke states in verse 41b that “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” This informs us that she was controlled by the Spirit at this moment. It prepares the reader for her pronouncement, which is an utterance prompted by the Spirit – she is giving forth revelation from God.
First, Elizabeth, explained Mary’s blessing in verse 42…
Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” It is possible that Luke condensed their conversation and only gave highlights. It is possible that Mary told her more. However, Luke wants us to take note that the Spirit, through Elizabeth, was confirming that a divine work had been accomplished in Mary’s life.
The expression, “Blessed are you among women” is familiar to us from the previous passage. This phrase does not emphasize Mary’s character. To be blessed means to receive special favour from God. Mary had been graciously chosen by God to be a special vessel for His use.
Elizabeth also said, “blessed is the fruit of your womb.” That phrase is a Hebraism from the Old Testament – describing children as a blessing from God.
Secondly, Elizabeth also counted herself honoured in verses 43-44.
In verse 43, she asked, “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The question reveals her great humility – as great as her child was, Mary’s child was greater, and she was humbled by the privilege to have a part in God’s great plan. She wondered why God had “granted” favour to her, through Mary’s visit.
But the honour wasn’t from the fact that Mary visited. Elizabeth was not saying Mary was great. Elizabeth was honoured by another’s presence – look closely. Elizabeth asked “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Here was a woman, maybe around 50 years of age, saying that Mary’s unborn Child was her “Lord.” The word “Lord” was a term of respect used to address important people. Elizabeth was not saying that she believed the child to be the divine Son of God (though we know this to be true). Elizabeth was identifying the unborn child as her superior. In the context of the book, Elizabeth was expressing confidence that the child which Mary was carrying was, in fact, the Messiah whom God had promised to Israel. Elizabeth used the word “Lord” as one of messianic respect – the term will take on greater significance as the Gospel progresses.
Elizabeth marveled that God allowed her into the presence of the Messiah – and that her relative had the honour of bearing this significant child.
Thirdly, in verse 44 Elizabeth explained how she knew she was standing in the presence of the Messiah.
Elizabeth said, “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (v. 44). As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s “voice” the “babe leaped in [her] womb.” The word “leaped” comes from a Greek word which implied exultation or rejoicing. Elizabeth knew John was not conscious of his act. She took his leaping as a sign from God. Luke demonstrated that John had unconsciously begun his work as the forerunner. John was not the forerunner for Mary, he was the forerunner of Jesus. John did not react to Mary’s presence, but to the presence of the Messiah.
Elizabeth’s excitement led to her pronouncement in verse 45.
Elizabeth’s pronouncement (v. 45).
Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
First, notice her blessing upon Mary: “Blessed is she who believed.” According to the Bible all people are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23). Therefore, Mary was a sinner. Sinners can’t be saved from hell by their own goodness and merit. Sinners need to confess their sins and exercise faith in order to have salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, we know that Mary acknowledged her own sinfulness and inability to save herself and her reliance upon God to save her. In Luke 1:47, she declared that God was her Saviour.
Therefore, Mary was one who had faith – she “believed.” Because she believed and was a believer she was “blessed” by God. Therefore, in that sense, Mary becomes one to be emulated – she is an example to follow because of her humble faith. All readers would be wise to have the same dependence upon God for salvation because people are incapable of saving themselves.
Secondly, notice Elizabeth’s last statement: “for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Elizabeth emphasized the fact that God would fulfill the things told to Mary. God was using Mary as a vessel to conceive and bear the Messiah, who would redeem Israel according to God’s promises.
APPLICATIONS: There are three themes which Luke communicated in this passage.
We must exercise faith in God’s promises.
Mary heard and trusted in God’s promises. Theophilus (the original recipient, see 1:3) needed to continue to believe God’s promises regarding Jesus as God’s Messiah. Sinners must believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises – the Saviour of mankind. Believers must continue to believe God’s promises regarding Jesus as Messiah.
Eternal blessing is grounded upon God’s ability to bring His promises to pass.
God fulfilled His promise of a Messiah by sending the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as God has kept His promise in sending Jesus, so He will keep His promise about establishing His eternal Kingdom through Jesus. Those who have saving faith in God are blessed – they will enter Christ’s kingdom and will be eternally blessed.
Sharing in the promises of God by faith results in joy.
Those who believe that God has sent Jesus as the Messiah in order to establish His kingdom on the earth will be filled with joy. When we respond in saving faith to God’s promises through Christ the result is joy – everlasting joy now and in His presence forever.
Since Elizabeth announced that Mary had been shown favour from God, though she did not deserve it (grace), Mary likewise admitted the same in verses 46-56. There are many people today who venerate/worship Mary. They would do well to read what Mary actually said…
Mary’s Testimony of God’s Gracious Favour (vv. 46-56).
In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary burst forth in praise to God because He alone was responsible for the events as they transpired.
Mary praised God her Saviour in verses 46-47.
Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Mary used the word “Lord,” and in this context is a reference to God the Father as her master – she was submissive to God. Mary “magnified” (praised, exalted) God. Furthermore, Mary identified God as her “Savior” – she clearly recognized herself as a helpless sinner needing to be saved (to be defined later in the passage).
In verses 48-49 Mary mentioned the reason why God blessed her.
God favoured Mary in verses 48-49.
In verse 48 Mary reflected upon God’s mercy.
Mary said, “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant.” Mary described herself in two ways. First, she was God’s “maidservant” – like in 1:38 she saw herself as God’s servant – she did not expect or assume God would make her an object of special attention. Secondly, she admitted her “lowly state” – she was one of low status within her society (and certainly in the eyes of a holy God).
Despite this, God “regarded” Mary. He showed loving care by selecting her to bear the messianic Child, Jesus. This was an act of God’s mercy and kindness, not because Mary was deserving of this honour.
Because God regarded Mary she said in verse 48, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” “Henceforth” means from this point forward. Because of the fact that God graciously allowed her to bear the Messianic child, people would from that point forward call her “blessed.” That doesn’t mean we are to give her the title “Blessed Mary” and venerate her. That means people from all generations will agree that God was gracious by selecting her to bear the Christ child because she did not deserve it.
Mary’s second reason for extolling God is seen in verse 49.
Mary reflected upon God’s power and holiness in verse 49.
Mary declared, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” The phrase, “He who is mighty” harkens back to Old Testament texts where God is portrayed as a warrior fighting on behalf of his people (which will be further demonstrated in the following context). This is a reminder of God’s great ability to do the impossible by creating the human child (not the divine person Jesus).
The phrase “holy is His name” might be misunderstood. We often think of holiness in terms of ethical goodness – and that is correct. However, the context leads us to the primary meaning of holy – that of being set apart or different. This phrase reminds us that through His power God demonstrated Himself as an exalted and set apart (unique) ruler.
Mary rehearsed God’s gracious favour in order to appeal to a wider audience…
God will favour others (v. 50).
Mary said, “His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Just like God was gracious to her, so God would have “mercy” on others. Those who “fear Him” regardless of what “generation” they live, will receive “mercy.”
The phrase “fear Him” is an Old Testament term which describes genuine saving faith and includes the idea of love, trust, and obedience (see Proverbs). Those who exercise saving faith in God will experience His divine mercy and favour.
The announcement of God’s mercy to others prepares us for verses 51-56, which form the most important part of this passage.
God will favour Israel (vv. 51-55).
These verses are written in past tense.
Even though they are written in the past tense, we should not assume that what is being said has taken place. These past tenses are prophetic past tenses. They describe what will take place in the future; the past tense is used to emphasize the certainty of fulfillment – they are as good as done.
Verse 54 guides our interpretation.
According to that verse, the focus is upon God’s gracious dealings with Israel. There may be greater applications, however, in our task of interpreting, we must first determine the object of God’s saving favour and that is clearly the literal nation of Israel.
These verses provide contrast.
Part of the verses describe the mercy that God will show to regenerated Israelites. God’s gracious saving promises (in the Old Testament) to the nation of Israel will be fulfilled to those Jews who have been born again. Without being born again, no one can enter into the Messiah’s earthly and eternal kingdom (John 3:3, 6).
The other part of the verses highlight His judgment of His enemies.
God’s actions are in response to the attitudes of people.
God lifts up His people who are humble, and dependant – this indicates saving faith (see Luke 13:30; 14:11; 15:7). God punishes those who are independent and proud – indicating unbelief (see Luke 13:30; 14:24; 15:7).
God’s future mercy and judgment is in light of the child given to Mary.
Jesus is the Messiah – He will establish His kingdom in the future. This will result in the deliverance of regenerated Israelites (regenerated Gentiles will benefit as well, but that is not the focus of this passage) and the judgment of God’s enemies.
God will save some and conquer others according to verse 51.
The verse begins with comforting assurance: “He has shown strength with His arm.” Many Old Testament passages use this symbol of God’s sovereign strength to bring about the salvation of His people and the judgment of His enemies. It could be an allusion to Isaiah 52:10, which says, “The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 52:10 is also a millennial passage – describing God’s strength in bringing about the millennial reign of Christ. God will mightily redeem His people Israel and establish His Kingdom.
The verse concludes with “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” God’s enemies band together – join forces against God. However, through Christ, God will scatter and remove the collective strength of those who are proud and feel no need for Him.
God will humble some and exalt others in verse v. 52.
First, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones.” Mary, no doubt, was thinking specifically of the Romans who currently occupied God’s nation of Israel. However, the application extends to any nation set against God. When Christ comes to establish His throne in His Kingdom, He will remove all rebellious world rulers from theirs (see Matthew 25:32; Revelation 20:7-10).
Secondly, Mary said that God has “exalted the lowly.” Mary is thinking of God’s covenant people, the nation of Israel, which was constantly oppressed by the rulers. However, this does not mean all Israelites without exception. It refers to those who are regenerated when they receive Jesus Christ as Saviour. When Jesus Christ establishes His Kingdom, Christ will exalt the lowly, the oppressed elect Israelites, and they will rule with Him.
God will satisfy some and deprive others in verse 53.
This verse reveals that in Christ’s future earthly Kingdom there will be a reversal of fortunes.
First, “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Mary has in mind the restoration of prosperity to the nation of Israel. When Christ establishes His kingdom, the curse of sin will be lifted and earth will be restored to conditions in the Garden of Eden. God’s redeemed people of Israel, who were hungry due to oppression will experience the abundance of the land.
Secondly, “the rich He has sent away empty.” Mary has in view the independent rich – those who have rejected God. When Christ establishes His Kingdom, those who failed to exercise faith in Him will be “sent away empty” – which is another way of saying they won’t enter His Kingdom.
God is a faithful helper as seen in verses 54-55.
In these verses Mary gave the reason why God will act in loving compassion for the elect of Israel through her child, Jesus.
First, Mary said, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy.” When God finally establishes the Kingdom through the Lord Jesus Christ, the elect of the nation will be “helped.” This help will be a demonstration of “His mercy” – which is a common word used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s covenant loyalty or loyal love to Israel.
Secondly, Mary said in verse 55, “As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.” God first expressed His loyal love to Abraham. God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2 and 7:
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed…To your descendants I will give this land.”
Hebrews 11:13 clearly says that Abraham died in faith not having received God’s promise. The promise for Abraham and the elect of Israel to be blessed and to receive the land as their inheritance is still in force.
In order to fulfill His promise, God will show favour to the nation of Israel through the child, Jesus, whom Mary was carrying.
Mary returned home in verse 56.
Luke states that “Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.” Just prior to the birth of John, Mary made her way home.
Mary’s praise demonstrates her faith in God.
God graciously allowed Mary to conceive (and eventually give birth to) His Messiah, Jesus Christ. Mary knew that through the Messiah, God would fulfill the promise He made to Abraham and his descendants.
The promises relate to Israel.
A simplistic children’s chorus proclaims: “Every promise in the Book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line.” Unfortunately, this is not true. There are some promises in the Bible give to specific people. In some passages God promises destruction of His enemies so we should be glad that not all promises in His Book belong to us.
The promises mentioned in this passage specifically relate to the nation of Israel. Not all Israelites will be saved. However, many will be saved by receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. To these, God’s promises to Abraham will be fulfilled. This fulfillment will take place within God’s kingdom which He establishes through His Messiah, Jesus Christ.
God is shown to be the faithful lover of Israel who works in mercy to save them.
Luke wants his readers to learn from Mary’s faith.
God’s promises to Israel will come to pass. God will restore the fortunes of Israel – regenerated Jews who express saving faith in God. God will also allow others (Gentiles) to enjoy the Kingdom blessings as they too exercise saving faith in God.