By Michael Milton
Friday, December 12, 2008
The next movement in the Symphony of Christmas after Mary's opening happens as Mary traveled from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea. One commentator has written that: "[Mary] probably traveled fifty to seventy miles from Nazareth to Zechariah's home in Judea, a major trip for Mary."1
Rushing to tell her relative Elizabeth, Mary found another surprise: old Elizabeth was expecting a child of her own! God was up to something big! When Elizabeth met little Mary and heard what God had done, the unborn child in her womb leapt for joy. This is the first instance of the ministry of John the Baptist! In responding to the news of the coming of Messiah, the unborn John the Baptist testified to his own mother and the Holy Spirit came upon her!
Elizabeth then broke out in joyful exclamation! How muted Zechariah must have wished he, too, could sing with his wife over the news!
This is a blessed Song, a happy song, which speaks of the absolute fulfillment in the magical appearance of Jesus Christ to people aware of their need for a Savior.
In Elizabeth's Song, we are given a Spirit-filled reply to Mary that focuses on the blessed consequences of God's grace in sending Jesus for every believer.
The First Consequence of Christ's Coming: A Blessing on Womankind
When she learned that her relative Mary was carrying the Messiah of God, Elizabeth, in a loud voice, cried out:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Now, this verse has been used by some to substantiate a view that Mary herself was without sin. Nothing even remotely suggests this in the text. What is being taught here is the truth that in Mary, womankind, previously under condemnation for Eve's role in being the first to fall and bringing her husband into her sin with her, will be liberated. There are a couple of passages that need examination at this point.
One passage to consider is Genesis 3:15, in which God spoke to Satan, who had led the woman astray. God told that fallen angel that there would be great enmity between women and him. And there would be a day when the seed of the woman (and note that there is no man mentioned in connection with this event) shall bruise the head of Satan.
Here we see God's Word providing an early warning to Satan and a happy word of hope for woman: from woman will come the Messiah.
Now, the Lord also spoke to the woman in the next verse (vs. 16) and told her that "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
In verse 15 we have a word of hope for the woman, but in verse 16, we are given the reason for the hope: that woman, in her fallen estate, will endure sorrow and pain and oppression.
This is not an essay on the whole matter, but it is enough to reiterate that women prior to the coming of Jesus Christ led an ignoble existence at best and absolute degradation at worst. The tales of the mistreatment of women are myriad and their description is horrible. Women were dehumanized and treated like property.
This has been the case of women without the Messiah. It remains that way in many parts of the world today. But in Mary bearing the Son of God, we have a fulfillment to the prophecy and the beginning of the reversal of the fallen condition. I say the beginning of the reversal because, until the Second Coming of Christ, we will continue in this present evil age to see the sinful consequences of the fall in some measure. But, thank God, in the coming of Christ, through a woman, we see a signaled departure from the old order. Elizabeth sings this first verse:
Blessed are you among women!
The other verse that bears mentioning is 1 Timothy 2:15 where Paul spoke of woman's role. "She shall be saved in childbearing." The context of Paul's statement was the role of women in the worship of the Church. Paul disallowed the role of pastoral leadership, and grounded his ruling in the creation ordinance (vs. 13) and in the fall of woman (vs. 14). In using the word teknogoni÷aß—which means the bearing of a child—the Holy Spirit, in Paul's words, agreed with Himself when He caused Elizabeth to make this declaration.
So, far from exalting Mary to a co-redemptrix position with Jesus, which is a "classic example of the bad development of doctrine, of the way in which unscriptural if not pagan devotional practices can become dogma"2—this first stanza of the Song of Elizabeth accented her God ordained role as the fulfillment of divine prophecy concerning women.
Now, I want to say something as your pastor. If you are a woman and have struggled with oppression in your life—and I have come to believe though experience that whenever I speak to any group with women there are some who have endured some sort of pain simply because they were born a woman—I want to point you to a loving heavenly Father. He does not condone the mistreatment of women and His heart is toward His own creation. He chose a young girl named Mary to bear Immanuel, in part to begin the healing of the souls of His cherished creation. The greatest single thing you can do for the healing of your own soul is to simply come to Jesus Christ right now; to open up your heart to Jesus who came to set you free, to bring you the liberty and freedom that the world offers but on which it can never fully deliver.
Elizabeth's Song beings with the first consequence of Christ's coming: a blessing to women because of the fruit of Mary's womb, the Lord Jesus.
The Second Consequence of Christ's Coming: A Blessing on Humble Servants
You can observe her humble spirit as she moved from blessing Mary to being humbled by Mary's presence.
Now, let us say that this humility before Mary is notable for us Protestants. Under the first point, I said that there have been wrong views of Mary propagated—and I certainly meant the Marian cults within the Roman Church—but Elizabeth's words call some others to repent of haughtiness towards the Virgin Mary. She was not, is not, and can never be received as a Co-Redemptix with Christ, or as the Queen of Heaven, but neither was she just another woman. She was chosen of the Lord to bear the Son of God and as Elizabeth regarded her with honor, so must we.
I think it would miss the point of Scripture if we thought that Elizabeth simply gave honor to Mary alone. The situation was that humble Elizabeth was blessed that such news of the Messiah should come to her. She was the type of person envisioned by Isaiah when he wrote:
Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 29:19).
Now, this is a powerful blessing for you and me and for all who see themselves as unworthy, as poor in spirit, as needy people. The humble are blessed by the coming of the Lord.
The Psalmist wrote in 18:27:
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
The Lord Jesus taught the disciples this truth in Luke 18:10-14:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank You that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Now there is something else here that is worthy of our interest. Not only was Elizabeth humbled by the coming of Mary and all that means, but note that she understood that she was chosen to receive this news.
But why is this granted to me?
Clearly, Elizabeth understood that the Almighty had discriminated in bringing the news to her and not to another. Her humility was all the more underscored by her understanding of this truth. God sent Mary to her. God sent John the Baptist to her. God sent His Son to the lost sheep of Israel. God sent the elect sheep of Israel to Asia Minor, to Europe and ultimately to every corner of the globe. God has sent His message of salvation to you as well.
Now the doctrine of election teaches our Lord of His own good pleasure has chosen a number from the foundation of the earth to be His elect people. So, what is the response to this? Pride? God forbid! The response of election should be the same as Elizabeth's response: why me? O God what a sinner I am! Why did you sent the Gospel to me?
When you understand the depravity of your own sin and the depth and riches of the mercy of God on your soul, you should fall down before Him and worship Him.
The Third Consequence of Christ's Coming: A Blessing that Defines a Family
In verse 44 we read that as Elizabeth sang when Mary announced the Good News, the unborn John the Baptist leaped in her womb. The Good News of the Messiah shaped the household of Elizabeth and Zechariah and their little boy. One heard and rejoiced and the Holy Spirit came upon the other.
Here is a glorious consequence of Christ's coming: every member of the family was impacted by the announcement of the Lord's salvation. When Jesus came He impacted families with the Gospel. It is true, as the Lord said, that when one member of the family believes, there are times when others will not and the reception of Jesus Christ divides homes. I thank God that in His providence, when one believes, we also see whole families come to Christ. When one receives the Good News, he or she rejoices and the rest begin to rejoice. I thank God that when the Philippian jailer brought Paul home to preach to his household, they believed and were baptized. We can bring the Gospel to our families and claim that Scripture for them.
Now not only is this family defined by the Gospel in terms of salvation but note the character of their family life: "The babe leaped for joy!"
When Jesus comes into a home, Jesus brings joy. When families yield to the Savior, and follow Him, and embrace Him as Lord of their homes, Christ sends rivers of joy through their families.
Since coming to Christ by committing my life to His Gospel, I have had the opportunity to visit in people's homes. I have gone door to door in some cases, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The news of the Gospel was unwanted in some homes and greatly desired in others. The homes where Christ was Head had a quality of peace and joy, and the homes where Christ was unwanted may have been houses of fun, but there seems to have been little peace and inner joy there. Nothing is more beautiful that a home where the Gospel is embraced, where mothers and fathers love the Lord, where children love Christ, and where one encourages the other in the Lord.
What a great consequence of hearing the Good News of Jesus: that He should bring joy into our families.
As we move on to verse 45 in Elizabeth's Song, we come to the final verse. Here we learn that there is a condition to all of these happy consequences.
The Only Condition to the Consequences: The Blessings Begin with Faith
Blessed is she who believed.
Elizabeth added her final "Blessed" to the Song. Clearly, Elizabeth was blessing Mary, but for what? For faith. What if Mary had not believed? She would not have been used. But, God Himself had worked faith in that young girl, and faith brought all of the joyful consequences that we have mentioned.
The Bible teaches us that we are saved by faith. We grow by faith. The eyes of faith look to the Lord for His mercy. The hands of faith reach out and claim the promises of Scripture.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, "A little faith will bring your soul to heaven. A great faith will bring heaven to your soul."
That is a good charge today: there are some who need to exercise faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You need to turn to Him and cry out to Him and say, "O Lord, I want to be like Elizabeth, humbled before You that I should hear the Gospel now, but I plead that by the finished work of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him alone, You will save me!"
Others of you desperately need to reach out the hand of faith and look to Christ to completely take hold of your life, to have a greater faith that will follow Jesus no matter what, that will cause you to step out for Him, stand up for Him, reach out to others in His Name, begin to practice radical obedience to Him, trust Him with your finances, with your relationships, with your career, and begin to enjoy the Elizabethan excitement and joy of being a child of God!
The Jesus Who Is
The Song of Elizabeth shows us what happens when Christ comes into our lives—when the Good News of the Gospel crosses our paths.
I recall reading that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones remarked that he enjoyed his holidays because they afforded him time to read without interruption. I feel sure that he didn't have little children when he wrote that. During one Christmas holiday I picked up Frederick Buechner's book The Longing for Home. Buechner's deeply moving book on his own life and his own longing for home ended with some thoughts about what he called: The Jesus Who Was and the Jesus Who Is. He wrote that the Jesus Who Was is a largely historical figure who came, who lived, who died, and yes, we might add with confessional accuracy, the One who rose again from the dead. But, the Jesus Who Is brings vision not only to blind eyes in the Gospels, but to our own narrow and blurred vision. He is not only the Jesus who opens the ears of the deaf, but the One who speaks to our deafened world. As Buechner put it, "a voice unlike all other voices." Buechner wrote: "The Jesus Who Is is the one whom we search for even when we do not know that we are searching and hide from even when we do not know that we are hiding."3
It is good to consider and ponder Elizabeth's testimony: her Song of Blessings that come to those who welcome the Good News of Jesus Christ. The more important thing that remains is for each of us is to make certain that we welcome not "the Jesus Who Was," but "the Jesus Who Is." He is the Son of God, the Dayspring from on high, and the Promised One for humble servants. He came, He lived, He died, He rose again, He ascended, and He—right now—by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit stands in our midst. He bids needy people, even you and me, to open the doors of our secret places that He may come in.
Let us pray.
Lord God, we welcome the Christ of the Scriptures into our lives again this day. You are so much more desirable than the god of our own making. Forgive us when we have followed our own imaginations rather than You as You have revealed Yourself in Your Word. Give us the joy of Elizabeth over Your presence in our midst. For we pray, with repentance and faith, in the Name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
1. NIV Commentary, Luke 1:39.
2. New Dictionary of Theology, p. 416.
3. Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home (Harper Collins, 1996), p. 180.