Did you know that the three wise men associated with the birth of Christ are portrayed in some of the southern United States as firemen?
It’s because when the Bible describes their journey it says, “they came from a far.”
It’s not the worst misrepresentation about the wise men. Most of what we think we know about them comes from tradition and not from the Bible.
We are pursuing a three week study that suggests three wise women had more to do with the first Christmas than the famous three wise men. They are Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna.
Elizabeth was the wife of Zacharias. Barren into her old age, God granted her a child. She would give birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Mary the mother of Jesus visited Elizabeth and was greatly encouraged by her relative in her own virgin pregnancy.
Mary, of course, is the woman at the heart of the story. It would be more accurate to say she was the young girl – probably no more than fifteen or sixteen years of age.
The third woman is Anna. A widow who had dedicated herself to fasting and praying in the Temple at Jerusalem,she gave witness to the baby Jesus when He was presented for circumcision eight days after His birth.
These three wise women can teach us many things.
Last week, Elizabeth taught us that it is wise to wait.
Next week, Anna will teach us that it is wise to witness.
Today, Mary will teach us that it is wise to worship.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was downright Pentecostal:
Elizabeth is described as “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
She supernaturally received information from God about Mary’s pregnancy.
She then uttered what amounts to a prophecy about Mary’s baby.
Elizabeth’s own baby, himself filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, gets to leaping around inside of his mom.
Mary broke out into a spontaneous spiritual song of worship filled with future prophecy.
The meeting of these two moms is a unique moment in Christian history. There had never been anything quite like it, nor would there ever be again. One was carrying the forerunner, John the Baptist, who would introduce the other, Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
It can also be seen as a meeting of two simple, ordinary believers – two sisters in the Lord – who wished to encourage one another in their worship of God.
On that level we can enter into the meeting ourselves and find application to our own lives.
What can we learn about worship from observing Mary’s worship? I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 The Spirit Of God Orchestrates Your Worship, and #2 The Word Of God Anchors Your Worship.
#1 The Spirit Of God
Orchestrates Your Worship
God the Holy Spirit plays the leading role in these verses. It serves as a reminder to us that we should follow His leading if we want to think we are worshipping God.
Luke 1:39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah,
The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, had conceived in her old age. The angel evidently meant it to encourage Mary to visit Elizabeth.
She did so “with haste.” We would say she was in a hurry to get there. It is a mark of any good servant that they be in a hurry to set out on their assignment. There must be a zeal, an eagerness, in serving the Lord.
I want to re-emphasize Mary’s young age. There are quite a few kids and teenagers in the Bible that distinguished themselves:
Daniel and his three friends were teenagers when taken captive into Babylon; yet they served the Lord faithfully.
Jeremiah was quite young when God called him to be His prophet (Jeremiah 1:13).
Samuel, Israel’s first prophet, was a very young boy when his ministry began.
We should expect more – spiritually speaking – from our kids. God can use them; He is speaking to them; they can take their stand with God against sin and selfishness, and against the surrounding culture. Too often we sell kids short in terms of their spirituality.
Luke 1:40 [Mary] entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
Luke 1:41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
“Leaped” is a word used to describe the jumping of certain animals. It was a pretty intense movement. John the Baptist was unborn, about three months from delivery… But he was praising God in his mother’s womb.
Leaping was all that John could do in the closed environment of his mother’s womb to express praise for God. You may find yourself in a closed or compact environment where there seems little you can do to express praise for God; trapped, as it were.
For example: Some employers discourage you from sharing your faith. Or maybe you are married to an unbeliever who is against your faith. Or maybe you are a young person, the only believer in your household.
Let God show you how you can leap within your confined space.
“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” She did not leap; she spoke Spirit-anointed words.
Luke 1:42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
Luke 1:43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Luke 1:44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
The first thing to realize is that Elizabeth had no idea Mary was even pregnant; but as soon as Mary arrived, the Holy Spirit must have told Elizabeth that her cousin was with child, and that the child was the promised Messiah.
The Bible calls this a Word of Knowledge. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit described later in the New Testament. It is knowledge of a person or situation that is not learned but is given to you directly by God.
Notice how the Word of Knowledge operates. It is given to Elizabeth and we call it her gift; but it is really for the benefit of Mary.
Young Mary, still trying to put into perspective the trial of her pregnancy and what it would mean for her socially, would have been greatly encouraged that God had supernaturally told Elizabeth of her situation.
I’m frequently asked, “How can I discover my spiritual gift?” Well, of course, it would be good to become familiar with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are definitely listed out for us in the Bible. You’ll find lists in First Corinthians chapter twelve, Romans chapter twelve, and Ephesians chapter four.
More importantly, be around others – especially other believers. Be open to being used by the Holy Spirit to minister to others. Follow through with what He puts on your heart. Don’t concentrate on exercising a gift so much as just showing love – the love of God – as you are prompted. Believe God the Holy Spirit can lead you and then follow His leading.
I don’t mean it to sound mystical, but it is, after all, relational. Spiritual gifts can’t be figured-out on paper. They happen as you interact with others.
Elizabeth was also very obviously pregnant, in her sixth month. She spoke of the baby in her womb. All of this further confirmed everything Gabriel had told Mary. All of this would have greatly encouraged the young virgin.
Then Elizabeth said,
Luke 1:45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
This is a prophecy for Mary – a prophetic promise that everything God had told her would come to fulfillment.
Elizabeth has now twice used the word “blessed.” As a result, many refer to Mary as “the blessed virgin.” That’s OK, depending upon what you mean by it.
Jesus, you’ll remember, called all believers “blessed” when in the Sermon on the Mount He spoke the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, “blessed are the meek,” etc., etc.
Mary is no more and no less “blessed” than any other believer in Jesus Christ.
A baby leapt in his mother’s womb. A woman was filled with the Spirit to utter a prophecy and she subsequently received a Word of Knowledge. In a moment we will see Mary sing a spontaneous song filled with future prophecy.
The Holy Spirit orchestrated all of it. The meeting between these two sisters in Christ went according to His plan and the result was worship.
Our second point will emphasize the absolute priority of God’s Word. It’s not worship – no matter how we might feel or what might occur – if it is in any way contrary to God’s Word.
Having said that, worship is, and is meant to be, an experience with God. There’s nothing wrong with feelings, with experiences, that are within the guidelines and boundaries set by the Word.
Quite frankly, we need more of the kinds of meetings that Elizabeth and Mary enjoyed – orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. Whether they be one-on-one or congregational, we need more times when the Holy Spirit is working among us to encourage us.
#2 The Word Of God
Anchors Your Worship
As the story turns to Mary, take a quick glance back at verse thirty-nine. Mary’s journey to the “hill country,” to “a city of Judah,” was about an eighty mile, four-day trip. I want to suggest to you that as she traveled, she spoke to herself.
Look at verse forty-six:
Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
When Mary said “my soul,” she used a phrase from the psalms. Often a psalmist would describe meditating upon God’s Word as if he was speaking to his own soul – speaking to himself. Let me give you just two of many possible instances:
Psalm 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
Psalm 146:1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
The psalmist spoke to his own soul, telling himself to hope in God and to praise Him. He discovered truths about God in the Word and then he spoke about them to himself.
Mary used the phrase, “my soul,” in this same way. While traveling, she spoke to herself. She spoke to herself meditating upon God’s Word.
Do you talk to yourself? The psalmists did!
I know God’s Word was prominent on her four-day journey because, in her song, she made at least fifteen references to Old Testament passages.
You understand that she did not possess a copy of the Old Testament. She didn’t have God’s Word for Virgins in her purse. These fifteen-plus references came to her because she had memorized Scripture.
Scholars point out that her lyrics seem especially reminiscent of Hannah’s song of praise found in First Samuel chapter two. Hannah was a barren woman who promised God she would dedicate a child to the Lord. God granted her request; she gave birth to Samuel and brought him to serve in the Temple where he grew to be Israel’s first prophet.
It seems as if Mary was drawn to Hannah’s song as an area of Scripture that could minister to her in what she was going through.
I believe God wants to direct our hearts to passages so that we are ministered to by His Word in our circumstances. It’s OK to seek out a passage; but be sensitive to The Lord bringing one to you as well through other means. That way you have a greater assurance you’re not simply finding the answer you want to find.
Either way, it is tremendously comforting to have a word from the Word to anchor you. Once you do, you can be set free from worry to worship.
Mary’s song of worship is grounded upon the Word of God. It is filled with phrases from the Word. It is reminiscent of a previous song in Scripture. It flowed forth from Mary after she had been meditating on the Word.
That’s what I mean when I say the Word anchors your worship. You can be Spirit-filled AND anchored by God’s Word at the same time. In fact, you must be if you are to think what you are experiencing really is worship.
Mary’s song is called ‘The Magnificat,’ which is the Latin word translated “magnify” in verse forty-six.
You’ll notice that some of the things she sang about had not yet occurred, but she sang about them in the past tense as if they had already occurred. Scholars call this the ‘prophetic past-tense,’ meaning it hasn’t happened but it most certainly will because God has prophesied it.
The first few verses are more personal; the rest are prophetic.
Luke 1:46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
Luke 1:47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
The “soul” usually refers to one’s mind and emotions. The “spirit” speaks of one’s essence – that which will live forever. The soul relates primarily to people; the spirit relates to God.
Thus, Mary says, “My soul – my mind and emotions – magnify the Lord because my spirit – the deepest part of me – has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
Worship is always possible because it depends upon what God has already done rather than what is happening. We must allow the spirit to control the soul and, thus in turn, the body.
“Magnify” means to enlarge. You need to enlarge your thinking about God in terms of what He has ultimately promised you; then look upon your life from that vantage point.
For example the apostle Paul thinks of us as seated in heavenly places with Jesus Christ. If we see all of life from that spiritual vantage point, nothing on earth can overcome our worship.
Luke 1:48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1:49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
Luke 1:50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
Mary’s service was unique in the history of the world. Still, she is not to be reverenced, adored, or worshipped. All of her words show she regarded herself an ordinary sinner saved by grace.
Any thoughts of Mary being the mother of God; or of herself being immaculately conceived such that she was without sin; or of being worshipped; are unscriptural idolatries. None would be more horrified at the veneration given to her by millions than Mary herself.
Mary needed to be saved; she offered herself as God’s servant; she served by God’s “mighty” power; her empowered service impacted future generations.
All of these same things can be true of your unique service to God:
You need to be saved.
You can offer yourself as God’s servant.
God can give you His “mighty” power – whatever is sufficient to accomplish your specific task.
Your service impacts future generations of Christians – whether in your personal family, or your Church family.
The remaining verses of Mary’s song are prophetic:
Luke 1:51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
Luke 1:52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
Luke 1:54 He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,
Luke 1:55 As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”
These things speak of the future as if it were already accomplished. Whatever God has promised is sure and certain to happen.
These are prophecies of God’s future dealings upon the earth. They look past the first coming of Jesus to His Second Coming.
Jesus will return to establish the kingdom that is promised all over the pages of the Old Testament. In that kingdom of Heaven on earth things will be switched-up:
There will be a moral reversal when the “proud” are overthrown. Instead of morality being determined by the “imagination of their [wicked] hearts,” Jesus will rule with purity.
There will be a social reversal when those unbelievers who are now considered “mighty” are removed in favor of the “lowly” believers.
There will be a material reversal when those who are “rich” with this world’s goods will be “empty,” while those who are now poor and “hungry” will be satisfied.
Verses fifty-four and fifty-five remind you that God will most definitely keep all His promises to the physical descendants of Abraham – to the Jews. Much of world history, and much in current history, revolves around the Jews and Jerusalem.
Mary finished singing and we read,
Luke 1:56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.
God had supplied Mary with His Word; in her case, it was especially the passage in First Samuel about Hannah’s special pregnancy. She meditated upon the story and then spoke to her soul about it; she encouraged herself from God’s Word. In her case, she wrote a song.
God has supplied you His Word. Read it; meditate upon it; let it fill your heart. As you do you will be speaking to yourself and God will make your heart a place of melody – regardless your outward circumstances.
This Christmas, it is wise to worship Jesus. May your spirit “rejoice in God [your] Savior.”