************ Sermon on Luke 1:39-45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 21, 2003
Mothers tell me that every pregnancy is different. Some babies are very quiet in the womb and hardly move around at all. Other babies kick their mother black and blue and can't remain still even if their life depended upon it. Some babies seem happy and peaceful in the womb and others seem angry and resentful.
Today, we see a baby – John the Baptist – who not only moved in the womb but leaped for joy. The word that is used describes sheep or goats skipping or leaping in a field. It is the same word used to describe Jacob and Esau jostling with each other inside of Rebekah's womb (Gen 25:22). So, whatever movement it was that the unborn baby did, it was big and obvious and Elizabeth felt it right away.
As you know, Mary & Elizabeth were pregnant at the same time. Elizabeth was old and past the age of child-bearing and Mary was but a young lady; yet, don't forget what they all had in common: they were cousins, they were both on their first pregnancy, they both became pregnant through an almighty act of God, God sent the angel Gabriel to announce both conceptions and births, and they both were given a child who played a key role in God's plan of salvation.
You can bet the two ladies compared notes and thoughts on their miraculous pregnancies. But, then, neither one had anyone else to talk to. Scripture tells us that Elizabeth "became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion" (Lk 1:24). As for Mary, she had no one to talk to because she was pregnant outside of marriage. I am sure they wept together, laughed together, prayed together, and encouraged one another during the three months they were together (Lk 1:56).
I A Joyful Leap
A The angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her about the virgin birth and the conception by the Holy Spirit. Then he gave her a sign, a proof, that this would actually come to be:
(Luke 1:36) Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.When Mary heard this she "got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea" (Lk 1:39). The journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea may have taken three to five days, depending on the precise location of Elizabeth's home.
More than one commentator has wondered why Mary "hurried" to Judea. Some have argued that Mary wanted to prevent neighbors at Nazareth from knowing about her pregnancy. But that doesn't sound like the Mary who said to the angel, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said" (Lk 1:38). The only clue given by Scripture is that Mary made haste out of obedience to the plan revealed to her by the angel, a plan which included the pregnancy of Elizabeth (Lk 1:36-37).
B The visit began with Mary's greeting of Elizabeth, a greeting which ended the seclusion of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Mary could not have known of Elizabeth's status apart from God's revelation through the angel Gabriel. And Elizabeth was now, in turn, given a revelation of Mary's status, so that she could return Mary's greeting.
Notice how Elizabeth was given a revelation: through the action of the child in her womb. The angel told Zechariah that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (Lk 1:15); this meant he would be a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17). We see that John the Baptist began his prophecy in the womb by jumping with gladness (Lk 1:41,44) – a gladness that hailed the beginning of the messianic age. Filled with the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist was leaping and kicking with joy because he knew the Messiah was present. Through the action of the child within her womb, then, Elizabeth came to realize not only that Mary was pregnant but that Mary's child was the Messiah.
C In this Christmas season our hearts too should leap with joy at the thought of the baby in Bethlehem's manger. This morning we should feel John the Baptist's joy and celebration that what the prophets had talked about was finally coming to fulfillment. After all, Mary's baby is the Messiah, the Savior, God's only begotten Son.
There is a leap for joy because in this Christmas season we are reminded that all things are possible with God. The Savior's conception and birth is a sign that God can and does put aside the laws of nature, the natural order of things, in order to do His mighty will.
II No Jealousy
A Zechariah was told that John the Baptist was to be "great in the sight of the Lord" (Lk 1:15) and that he would go "before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17). Similarly, Mary was told that her son
(Luke 1:32-33) " ... will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, (33) and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."Two women, pregnant at the same time, with babies destined to do great things. But there was no rivalry, no sense of competition, no contest about who had the best and greatest baby.
B Notice how Elizabeth greeted Mary. She exclaimed in a loud voice,
(Luke 1:42) "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!"According to Elizabeth, Mary's child is blessed. He is blessed because He is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, a descendent of David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever (Lk 1:32-33).
According to Elizabeth, not only is the child within Mary's womb blessed, but God has given a huge, big blessing to Mary too. Mary is "blessed" among women. She has been specially blessed by God.
In what way was Mary blessed? Elizabeth recognized, through the Spirit, that Mary has been blessed to be the God-bearer, to give birth to the Messiah, to be the vessel used by God so that the second person of the triune Godhead could take on human flesh. Elizabeth recognized, through the Spirit, that Mary has been blessed by God to nurse and care for and teach the Messiah!
You need to realize how remarkable Elizabeth's words were. In that culture and at that time and place, it normally would have been appropriate for Mary to pay homage to the elder Elizabeth. But Elizabeth, through the Spirit, recognized that she was in the presence of the mother of the Messiah. So she praised Mary and pronounced her blessed.
We see that Elizabeth, and John the Baptist – through the Spirit – understood the greatness of God; they knew that God had done something great in Mary. They knew that Mary's glory and blessing came not from anything she did or didn't do, but that her glory and blessing came from God Himself.
C We also need to take note of what else Elizabeth exclaimed in a loud voice:
(Luke 1:43) But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?Elizabeth praised Mary as "the mother of my Lord." This reminds us of something that happened in King David's life. David went to Araunah the Jebusite to purchase from him the threshing floor that would eventually become the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. Araunah asked, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" (2 Sam 24:21). Like Araunah, Elizabeth – through the Spirit – recognized she was in the presence of someone higher and greater. In fact, she recognized that Mary's baby was the Messiah.
What God did for Elizabeth and Zechariah was an amazing, wondrous thing. Not only had He opened Elizabeth's womb but he allowed them to have a child in their old age. However, Elizabeth recognized that what God did for Mary was far greater than what He did for her.
D Not only was there no competition between the two mothers but there was no competition between their children either. The Bible makes clear that John the Baptist "was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light" Who is Christ Jesus (Jn 1:8). In response to questions by priests and Levites, John the Baptist said he was not the Christ nor was he Elijah (John 1:20-21). John the Baptist said that Jesus surpassed him (John 1:30); he said Jesus was more powerful; he said he was not worthy to untie the thongs of Jesus' sandals (Luke 3:16); he said Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire while he baptized with water (Luke 3:16). John the Baptist also said that he was to decrease while Jesus increased (John 3:30). In fact, the whole purpose of John's ministry was to testify to Jesus (John 1:7, 30-31).
Already in the womb, John the Baptist's response to the presence of Jesus was to "leap for joy" (Lk 1:44). What John the Baptist was experiencing in the womb already was the joy of the Messianic kingdom. The Christmas story is filled with talk of this joy. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that John's birth was reason for joy (Luke 1:14), because he was preparing the way for the Messiah. In her song Mary rejoiced in God her Savior (Lk 1:47). The angels of Christmas Day told the shepherds they had "good news of great joy" about a Savior (Lk 2:10).
John the Baptist experienced joy instead of jealousy or competition when he first came into the presence of Jesus.
E In this Christmas season it is good for us all to consider the question of whether we are like Elizabeth and her son, John the Baptist. Do we have the same attitude that they have? Do we believe that in our life "He must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30)? Are we so busy rejoicing in the presence of the Messiah that we put aside all thought of ourselves and our own glory?
III A Step of Faith
A As a final point I want you to look at how Elizabeth praises Mary's faith, her belief.
(Luke 1:45) "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
What is it that Mary believed? The word which Mary accepted and believed out of faith was Gabriel's declaration about the conception by the Spirit and the virgin birth. Imagine – without any physical participation by a man Mary was going to conceive and give birth. Mary believed God would accomplish this. Mary believed the Creator Spirit was going to do this amazing work in her life. What amazing faith! No wonder Elizabeth pronounced Mary to be blessed.
B Now, in contrast to Mary is Zechariah. Mary believed the word of the Lord. She had faith in God and His promises. Zechariah, on the other hand, did not believe what Gabriel said to him. Zechariah, too, was promised a miracle child – even though Elizabeth was barren, even though they were past the age of child bearing. But Zechariah did not believe. Remember how Gabriel had to admonish Zechariah? He said, "you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time" (Lk 1:20). As a sign of the Lord's displeasure at this lack of faith, Zechariah lost the ability to talk and to hear (Lk 1:20,62). So he was not able to bless the people waiting in the Temple courtyard. And, when it was time for John the Baptist to be named and circumcised, the assembled relatives and neighbors had to make signs to Zechariah to find out what he would like to name the child; he answered with a writing tablet (Lk 1:57-63). For nine months Zechariah was given ample opportunity to regret his lack of faith; for nine months he was unable to talk or to hear; for nine months he watched with amazement as his aged wife swelled with her pregnancy.
C We aren't told if Elizabeth had the faith her husband did not. We aren't told if she responded in faith, like Mary, to the revelation of Gabriel. Yet, she saw the difference between her husband, on the one hand, and her cousin, on the other hand. She saw her husband shut off in his own little world – unable to talk or to hear. She saw and heard her cousin talk about God and His wondrous and almighty ways. So Elizabeth blurted out,
(Luke 1:45) "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!"
"Blessed," said Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognized that faith is the key to being blessed and happy. Elizabeth recognized faith as the key requirement for being a disciple and follower of the Messiah.
In His teaching, Jesus made two statements about His mother. The first one happened when Jesus was told His mother and brothers were standing outside, wanting to see Him. Jesus replied with a word praising His earthly family:
(Luke 8:21) "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."
Another time Jesus was teaching and a woman in the crowd listening to Him cried out,
(Luke 11:27-28) "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." (28) Jesus replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."We already saw that Jesus included His own mother in this blessed group.
According to Jesus, true discipleship is marked by obedience to the Word of God.
Elizabeth recognized that Mary had this kind of obedience and faith. So she pronounced Mary to be blessed, to be happy, to be fortunate.
Like Elizabeth, do you recognize that the key to following Jesus is faith and obedience? Do you recognize you cannot be a disciple of the Lord unless you trust and obey?
Again, the star of the story, the main actor at work in the scene in front of us, was the Lord God Almighty. It was His Spirit's prompting that sent Mary to Judea. It was His Spirit that caused John the Baptist and Elizabeth to recognize the Messiah's presence. It was His Spirit that gave Mary faith and obedience.
I pray that in this Christmas season this same Spirit is at work in you and me. So that we respond in joy. So that we live for the glory of Christ. So that our life is marked with faith and obedience.
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