Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 14 of Opening Up the Gospels. Last time we looked at Luke 1 and Gabriel's visit to Mary in Nazareth. We talked a little bit about how God chose a despised town and a no-name girl to birth the one who would be king of Israel and God in the flesh, and how the Lord doesn't see as man sees, but looks at the heart. I also spent a little time developing Gabriel's announcement, specifically that Jesus, a son of David, would be the one God spoke about all the way back in 2 Samuel 7 and would rule from David's throne in Jerusalem. This week, we're going to continue in Luke 1. Let's pick up at verse 39:
“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.”” (Luke 1:39–45 ESV)
At some point after Gabriel tells Mary that she'll bear a son, Luke says that she quickly journeys to the hill country of Judea. Why did she do that? Well of course Gabriel tells her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age, and that would be a sign to her that she would also bear a son, just as he told her. Like we looked at in Episode 11 and 12, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in the hill country, in a city of Judea. So Mary hurriedly heads there to see if Elizabeth was really with child. Again, we have to remember the setting and the time in history - there was no texting or email or any easy way for Mary to tell Elizabeth that she was coming. What must it have been like for Mary on the journey? Luke doesn't tell us if there was anyone else with her or not. Did she go alone? Did she tell anyone where she was going, and if she did, did they wonder why Mary so urgently desired to go see her old relative? Did Mary and Elizabeth have a special relationship? There's so much we don't know, but there's so much to meditate on here so that this actually becomes real to us instead of just an ancient Greek manuscript to be studied in academic institutions.
Well, as soon as Mary arrives, she enters the house and greets Elizabeth. What anticipation was building in her heart as she walked into that house? Was Elizabeth really going to be pregnant? And what would that mean for everything Gabriel said to her? Now as soon as Mary greeted Elizabeth, her son (who would of course be called John), leaped inside of her womb. Now to the mothers who may be watching, I have no idea what that feels like, but I know you do. So just imagine Elizabeth here - she was miraculously pregnant, Zechariah was still mute, and now her young relative Mary arrives and the baby inside of her leaps. And in that moment she was filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to say in a loud voice:
“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.”” (Luke 1:42–45 ESV)
This is such a tender and beautiful moment. Two of the most important people on the planet are standing in a little home in southern Israel, both carrying two children in their wombs that would forever shape the course of humanity. Just feel the contrast and juxtaposition going on here. On one side you have Caesar, Rome, Herod, the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem - all from man's perspective, the most powerful men alive. But on the other side, you have God's eyes on two expectant mothers in a little house without any fanfare and attention from men. Again, just like I talked about in the last episode, God doesn't see as man sees.
There's just so many things here that are revelatory. Elizabeth says to Mary, "the mother of my Lord", hinting at the divinity of Jesus even from the very beginning. There's no reason why she would have used that word otherwise. And she also says to Mary that she is blessed because she actually believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. Mary had visited Elizabeth with joyful expectancy in Gabriel's words, unlike Zechariah, who had doubted.
Mary then bursts out into a beautiful "song" that many throughout church history have called "The Magnificat", which is just Latin for "magnify". What was she feeling at this moment? Relief? Joy? Amazement? This really happened. Let's read Mary's song starting in Luke 1 verse 46:
“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.”” (Luke 1:46–55 ESV)
Now I'm not going to break all of this down, but one of the most important things to note about this "song" of Mary's is that it consists almost entirely of Old Testament quotations and allusions and it shows how deeply into the story of the Old Testament that Mary understood the birth of Jesus to be. Mary's song has similarities to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, highlighting themes like God's salvation, mercy, and justice. She even calls God her "Savior", relating it to the angel's message to the shepherds in Luke 2:11: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." There are also dramatic eschatological connotations in the song, especially as she speaks about the bringing down of the proud and the exalting of the lowly - that's the "great reversal", if you will, of this age versus the age to come - that the first will be last, and the last will be first. But the biggest thing I want to highlight is right at the end of the song when Mary said that God had remembered his covenantal faithfulness to Israel, to Abraham, and to His offspring. God had made a promise all the way back in Genesis 12 that through Abraham's descendant, the rest of the earth would be blessed. The word "blessing" here is not being used generically for comfortable circumstances or a fat bank account. In Abraham's context, the word "blessing" would have had so much to do with the original blessedness of his ancestor Adam, and the promise that a descendant of Eve would come to restore that which sin had destroyed. God had "cursed" mankind because of the sin of one man, but through Abraham's offspring, the nations of the earth would again be "blessed". This would not only have been nearness and fellowship with God, but righteousness, eternal life, and the glory of creation that Adam experienced before the fall. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:16 would later identify Abraham's offspring as Christ Himself. This is why the New Testament constantly says that Mary's child, Jesus, is not only the pure spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind, but also the one who will raise the dead, restore creation, and judge the world in righteousness. He bore our sins at His first coming and will resurrect, restore, and reckon with the world at His second coming.
Now verse 56 says:
" And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. "
It’s not totally clear from the narrative, but it seems like Mary stayed around for the birth of John the Baptist. If you look back at verse 36, we know that Mary came in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. And so it seems like she left after 3 months because John was born. What happened in that house for three months between them? Again, the two most important humans on the planet are just there in a little house in the hill country of Judea for three months! As Mary began to experience pregnancy for the first time - with God in the flesh growing inside of her, and as Elizabeth's full term was growing nearer, what was the conversation on their lips and night after night?
Now after three months had passed, Mary returned to her home in Nazareth. By this point she would have been showing her pregnancy. Nazareth was no metropolis, and Mary didn't have an escort service to bring her safely into the secrecy of her bedroom. We can't even begin to imagine how scandalous this would have appeared to her family and to the whole small town, not to mention her betrothed to-be-husband Joseph... Mary goes away for three months and she comes back pregnant? Oh my, this is not good. And this is where we'll pick up in next week's episode.
So here's a couple of points for meditation this week:
1) Ponder how Mary must have felt after Gabriel's appearance and think about how she had planned to go see Elizabeth. Who did she tell? Did she know she would be gone for 3 months? What did the people of Nazareth think when she left and had been gone for so long?
2) Imagine you're Mary and think about days and nights with Zechariah and Elizabeth. What gratitude filled your heart as the days progressed?
I hope this has been encouraging for you. If it has been, leave a comment on this video on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels and share it with your friends on social media. Well, bless you, and I'll see you next time.