Category: Christmas


This portion of Scripture is often called the “Magnificat” after the first word in the Latin translation.  It is an adoration song that is given by Mary to Elisabeth upon their meeting.  The Christ child has yet to be born, yet creation is jumping with anticipation at news of his soon-arrival, including the unborn John the Baptist (Luke 1:44).

There are no less than 15 allusions to the OT in these few verses.  While I am convinced of Mary’s inspiration at the utterance of these words, I’m also confident in her familiarity with the passages in question.  Many of the allusions come from the Psalms, so they were perhaps sung by Mary in the synagogue and at the Temple.  You will also see a parallel between Mary’s Magnificat and Hannah Song in 1 Samuel 2.  The circumstances are completely different, but the praise unto the Lord and His mercies are very similar.  A heart of thankfulness to God permeates through both of these songs to the Lord for His greatness and kindness.

I call them allusions because they are not direct quotations of the OT text, merely parallel thoughts and snippets that Mary sings in her joy.  It is as if Mary is so steeped in Scripture that as she breaks into the praises of God, these words come naturally to her lips[1]  I want to take a few moments this morning and look at the Magnificat or the Canticle of Mary as it is also known and glean from it the humility and thankfulness she pours forth to God.  It is my hope that by hearing Mary’s praise, the Holy Spirit will attune our hearts to praise the Lord, not only in this holiday season, but in all seasons.

God’s Present Blessings Upon Mary (vv. 46-49)

The Depths of Her Praise (vv. 46-47) – “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” – Martin Luther believed there was a categorical distinction between soul and spirit as it is used in these verse.  I do not see any indication that Mary was making such a point.  I do believe we see the outpouring of thankfulness and praise from a heart that is at peace with God.  Mary’s heart is lifting up the Lord to the utmost heights and her spirit is rejoicing in this relationship between Creator and creation.  This is not a superficial praise, but an admiration that springs from the very depths of Mary’s being.

Psa. 34:2-3 – My soul shall make her boast in the LORD at all times:  his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

The Direction of Her Praise (vv. 46-48) – “. . . the Lord” and “. . . in God my Savior.” – There is a misconception among some that Mary is heaping praises upon herself and her blessedness.  They use verse 48 as their ammunition where Mary says, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”  In doing this, they ignore to whom Mary addresses her praise from the very beginning of this song.  Note with me what she says again.  “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”  There are to be no misconceptions here.  Mary’s praise and adoration is not for herself, but to an Almighty God.  She finds nothing to boast of in her own condition.  She even recognizes and states here station before God.  She notes her own “low estate” and calls herself the handmaiden or servant of the Lord.

Martin Luther describes Mary “Hence she does not glory in her worthiness nor yet in her unworthiness, but solely in the divine regard, which is so exceedingly good and gracious that He deigned to look upon such a lowly maiden, and to look upon her in so glorious and honorable a fashion. They, therefore, do her an injustice who hold that she gloried, not indeed in her virginity, but in her humility. She gloried neither in the one nor in the other, but only in the gracious regard of God. Hence the stress lies not on the word “low estate” but on the word “regarded.” For not her humility but God’s regard is to be praised. When a prince takes a poor beggar by the hand, it is not the beggar’s lowliness but the prince’s grace and goodness that is to be commended.”[2]

Psa.  138:6 – Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly:  but the proud he knoweth afar off.

The Declaration of Her Praise (v. 47) – Sometimes as Fundamentalists, we are afraid to say too much about Mary.  The Roman Catholics have venerated her to realm of perpetual purity, sinlessness, and assumption.  You will find none of these elements in the NT.  Mary did have more children according to the NT, she did sin, and she did die as a natural death.  We have little time to discuss all those issues, so we will just tackle the one discussed in this song.

In an exegesis of the passage, Curtis A. Jahn states, “Mary found her highest joy in God her Savior. The genitive pronoun “my” is objective. Mary is applying the gospel to herself; she sees herself as the recipient of God’s saving work. What does Mary see God saving her from and saving her for? From the context of her song, the angel’s message to her, Elizabeth’s greeting, and the broader context of the Old Testament Scriptures’ plan of salvation, it is clear that Mary looked to the Lord as her Savior from sin, from the curse of the law, from death and damnation, and from all the evil brought upon his world because of sin.[3]

Psa. 35:9 – And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD:  it shall rejoice in his salvation.

Hab. 3:18 – Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Luke 11:27-28 – And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the papa which thou has sucked.  But he said, Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

God’s Promise of Future Blessings Upon Humanity (v. 50)

Promise of Salvation — “And his mercy is on them that fear him . . .” – God’s mercy is upon those that are continually following Him.  The idea of fear here is not a horror-filled reality that should fill the heart of the unbeliever, but it is a child-like reverence and awe that is to be possessed by every child of God.  It is respectful and solemn concerning the person of God and the work of God.  Mary is singing because she knows of the mercy and grace of the Lord.

Psa. 98:1-3 – O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvelous things:  his right hand, and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory.  The LORD hath made known his salvation:  his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.  He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel:  all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Promise of Continuation – “. . .  from generation to generation.” – God’s mercy is not a radiant sun that shines bright one day and dims the next.  His mercy and grace continue on and on.  Mary understood that the mercy and grace she had received of God would continue to bless those that came after her.

Psa. 103:17-18 – But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.

She knew from the announcement of the angel Gabriel that the child she now carried would save his people from their sins (Mat. 1:21).  We now have a better understanding of this promise to Mary and how far-reaching the Word of God was to become.  Not only did Jesus offer salvation to the nation of Israel, but to the entire world.

God’s Past Testimony of Blessings for Abraham (vv. 51-56)

God Showed His Strength (v. 51) – As I have researched this month for the Christmas season, I have been surprised at the number of times the term “arm” has appeared in the various texts I studied.  The coming of the Christ in prophecy, description, and promise is filled with references to the “arm” of the Lord.  This is a show of strength to the watchful nation of Israel.  They do not quite understand how this strength will be unleashed in the form of Jesus, but they are looking for it.

Isa. 40:10 – Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him:  behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.

Isa. 52:10 – The LORD hath 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.

God Supplied the Need (vv. 52-54) – Often when we think of God supplying needs, we always think in the positive.  This is certainly a reality, but have we ever considered that sometimes God supplies our true need by what he removes.  These verses show both the positive and the negative means by which God supplies for needs.

  • Scatters the Proud
  • Put Down the Mighty
  • Exalted the Low
  • Filled the Hungry
  • Emptied the Rich

God Secured His Promises (vv. 55) – Do I believe that Mary understood the far-reaching implications of Jesus and His mission?  No.  She understood only as far as God gave her understanding.  As the church, we also have a limited understanding of God’s complete mission in redemption of creation and the salvation of man.  We understand as much as God has revealed to us through His Word.  Mary was not giving a theology lesson with her song, not intentionally.  She was singing the praises of her God and his faithfulness to her and His people.  Mary’s song is pregnant with theological truth and timeless truth concerning God, but Mary did not approach Elisabeth with the intent of giving a discourse.  Everything Mary said and knew about God was based upon one simple principle—God kept His promises.

Gal. 3:16 – Now to Abraham and his seed were the promise made.  He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.


[1] John Piper, Meditation on the Magnificat, sermon preached 12-7-1980, found at http://www.soundofgrace.com/piper80/120780.htm, accessed 12-17-2011.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Magnificat,” Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 21 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 314 (Op. Cited from Curtis A. John).

[3] Curtis A. Jahn, “Exegesis and Sermon Study of Luke 1:46-55,” (City Unknown:  Publisher Unknown, 1997), 4.

On August 21, 1911, an Italian immigrant took his revenge upon the nation of France.  Vincenzo Peruggia moved from his native Italy to Paris in hopes of joining its art world.  Peruggia eventually did make it into Paris’ most renowned art museum, the Louvre; however, it was as a handyman and not an artist.  From some reports, Peruggia  was verbally abused by some Parisians, calling him ‘sale macaroni‘ or ‘dirty macaroni,’ an overt and racially charged insult.

As one considers the various avenues of conflict resolution, there are some old standards that come to mind.  First, you can speak with those with whom you have an issue.  This is the peaceful solution to any problem and is the first step with most peaceable and civic-minded citizens.  Noting that Peruggia exacted his revenge in 1911, one might first jump to the conclusion that the Italian immigrant resorted to violence.  If you chose either of those options, sadly, you are wrong.  So how did Peruggia seek revenge upon the people and country that scorned him and made him long to return to his beloved Italy?  He stole the Mona Lisa!

No, your monitor is not displaying that wrong.  Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa.  Believing that Napoleon had stolen it from Italy (he didn’t by the way, da Vinci sold it to Francis I when he moved to Paris to become the court artist), suffering from homesickness, and just a general dislike for the French, Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with da Vinci’s masterpiece hidden under his smock.  The theft is not the most interesting aspect of the story.

Before being stolen, the Mona Lisa was a famous masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.  It was well-known in most art circles.  Beginning around 1860, it was beginning to gain interest from art critics and art lovers, yet Mona had not reached the iconic status she enjoys today.  Author and historian James Zug states, “The ‘Mona Lisa’ wasn’t even the most famous painting in its gallery, let alone in the Louvre.”[1]  Peruggia’s theft transformed da Vinci’s work from a well-crafted portrait into a world-famous masterpiece overnight.  People rushed to the Louvre and the museum’s attendance steadily rose.

The painting would not return to the Louvre for nearly 2 years.  Peruggia would eventually try to sale the painting and be arrested for the theft.  Mona would take a tour of Italy before being returned to the Salon Carre and reclaim her place on the wall.  In the course of those 2 years, more patrons visited the Louvre to see a blank space upon the wall than had come to the museum in the previous decade.

I read the story of the Mona Lisa and Peruggia in disbelief.  The crime did not surprise me, though I was a bit taken aback with the motive.  My disbelief came from the people’s reaction to the theft.  They marched into a museum filled with masterpieces, yet it was a blank part of a wall that drew their attention.  There was not a drop of paint upon this bare spot.  No brush strokes to analyze, no colors to discern, and certainly no scene to envision.  The people had been drawn by the grandeur of the event.  They did not quite understand it, but they knew it was important.

As I tried to put this into a more modern context, I thought of the church.  Here during the Christmas season many churches see an influx of visitors.  Acquaintances and friends who barely have the time or spiritual inclination to make an appearance show up during the Christmas season.  The allure of the event is too much to be ignored.  But I have to ask, are we missing the big picture?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes.  One of the least offensive narratives of the Gospel story is the birth of Jesus.  His poor earthly father and mother travel in hardship to Bethlehem.  The trip is made especially more difficult because Mary is pregnant and nearing her delivery time.  The story’s tension grows as they reach Bethlehem and find there is no place for them to stay.  Either in greed or mercy, an innkeeper gives them his stable to rest in for the evening.  We assume Joseph and Mary are surrounded by animals, hay, and dirt when the child is born.  They wrap the child in strips of cloth and place him in an animal trough.  Angels sing, shepherds praise, and a star shines in the heavens.  The call comes for peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.  It is an upbeat story.  A beautiful story.  It is also only part of the story.  We are missing the big picture.

Why did Jesus come?  Why did he take on “the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men?” (Phi. 2:7)  While Matthew and Luke go on to answer these important questions, the prophet Isaiah had already painted a beautiful picture that answered these questions.  I shared this portrait with my congregation on Sunday, December 11, 2011.

I.             The Portrait is Made Public (Isa. 53:1-3)

His Coming Announced (v. 1)– Isaiah’s proclamation appears to imply that the coming of this servant has been alluded to before to the nation of Israel.  As NT believers, we know this to be an accurate statement as we look back upon the OT and see the various declarations of God concerning the coming of His Messiah.  Beginning in Genesis 3, the Lord has been promising a Savior for sinful man.  The prophet is making the public proclamation and describing the Christ.  Even in the proclamation, there is an element of foreshadowing concerning what is to come.  The word “arm” that is used in this passage is the Hebrew word zeroah, also used to describe the shank of the lamb that was eaten during the Passover.  Already, this Messiah is being portrayed as the Passover Lamb—a substitutionary death.

His Charm Annulled (vv. 2-3) – I can only imagine how shocked the people were when they first heard Isaiah description of the coming Messiah.  Surely, anyone that God will send will be glorious to behold!  His beauty will radiate, His riches will enthrall, and His life will be the envy of all whom see Him.  Sadly, this is not the picture that Isaiah is painting at all.  Notice the words he uses, “no comeliness; no beauty; despised; rejected; sorrow; and grief.”

Matthew Henry says, “No where in all the Old Testament is it so plainly and fully prophesied, that Christ ought to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, as in this chapter. But to this day few discern, or will acknowledge, that Divine power which goes with the word. The authentic and most important report of salvation for sinners, through the Son of God, is disregarded. The low condition he submitted to, and his appearance in the world, were not agreeable to the ideas the Jews had formed of the Messiah. It was expected that he should come in pomp; instead of that, he grew up as a plant, silently, and insensibly. He had nothing of the glory which one might have thought to meet with him. His whole life was not only humble as to outward condition, but also sorrowful. Being made sin for us, he underwent the sentence sin had exposed us to. Carnal hearts see nothing in the Lord Jesus to desire an interest in him. Alas! by how many is he still despised in his people, and rejected as to his doctrine and authority!”

II.            The Portrait is Marred (Isa. 53:4-9)

In the classic book The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde tells the fanciful story of young Dorian Gray.  He is attractive, rich, and is quickly becoming the talk of London.  Having been corrupted by a hedonistic noble, Dorian begins to believe that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life.  After seeing a portrait of himself, Dorian wishes for the portrait to grow old, but for himself to remain forever young and beautiful.  His wish is granted.  The picture begins to change and reflect the sinfulness of Dorian’s life and ways.  The book is a lesson that everything beautiful is not good and vice versa.

Isaiah has not painted what many would consider a very flattering portrait thus far.  He has described the Messiah as one who is without beauty, rejected, and despised.  However, we must continue reading to find the true beauty of this picture.  Before we get there, we must first see how the portrait is marred.

The Servant is Sin-Bearing (vv. 4-6) – These verses recognize that the Messiah was to die for the sins of others and not His own iniquities.  All the punishment that is received is undeserved if the Messiah’s actions are taken into account.  It is our actions that are being considered though, and unlike this servant of God, we are not without sin.  Isaiah states that people will look upon His suffering and assume that God is punishing Him for his own transgressions.  As we think to the scene at the cross, the Jews shook their heads, mocked, and cursed Him just as Isaiah describes here.  They thought God had brought judgment upon Jesus for his own actions, when in reality, God was pouring our sin upon Him.

The Servant is Silent (v. 7) – Though He was innocent, He spoke not a word.  Jesus is recognized as the Lamb of God in the NT (John 1:29; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:6), and here more detail is added to the picture.  The Messiah will be the sacrificial lamb of God.  He will resemble that sacrificial lamb that was introduced in Exodus (Exo. 12:3, 6); who through sacrifice and substitution was able to save lives.

The Servant is Slain (vv. 8-9) – So there is no mistake as to what is implied in the text, Isaiah tells us, “he is cut off from the land of the living.”  The death of this servant is a certainty for there is no other way to pay the harsh penalty of sin.

 III.          The Portrait is Magnified (Isa. 53:10-12)

The Seed of the Servant – What is the seed spoken of here?  It is the effect of Messiah’s labor and work.  Offspring will be produced through this righteous work.  And He will see that fruit of his labors.  This is a foreshadowing to me of the resurrection.  Isaiah has already told us that he was cut off from the land of the living.  And now, He will witness His offspring/seed.

The Satisfaction of the Servant – Not only will He see the fruit of His labors, but He will be satisfied.  If    the death that took place in verse 8 were permanent, then these final verses would be illogical.  Something miraculous is going to have to take place if the Messiah is going to see His offspring and be satisfied with the redemption of humanity.

The Spoil of the Servant – There is a reference to great victory in this final verse of chapter 12.  Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage, “To the victor go the spoils.”  This is in reference to the winning army taking the treasures of the defeated.  The servant is said to “divide the spoil with the strong.”  Will the Messiah be victorious?  The answer is a resounding yes!