Sunday School 12 08 2013

Mary’s Song of Praise”

Lesson Text: Luke 1:46-56

Background Scripture: Luke 1:46-56

Devotional Reading: Psalm 111

Luke 1:46-56 (KJV)

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.

 

Objectives

To stress the value of glorifying the Lord and rejoicing in Him.

To examine Mary’s humility in the midst of rejoicing.

The next time you find yourself filled with turmoil, why not take a few moments to worship God? As you praise Him, He will calm your spirit and renew your strength. I can think of no better way to handle the stresses of life!

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Christmas Musical

Many people say that their favorite movies and plays are musicals. While it may not be realistic for actors to break into song and dance in the middle of a conversation, audiences are taken up with the feelings that a song evokes.

Yet sometimes those hidden emotions actually do break out in song in real life. God's people have always expressed their love for Him, their fears about the present, their confidence in God's promises, etc., in song. From the ancient "Song of Moses" (Exodus 15) to contemporary worship compositions, the music of praise has always been part of the faith-filled life.

As befits the story of the Messiah's coming, Luke's Gospel includes four songs (2 prophetic, or what are traditionally identified as songs) that celebrate what God did in sending His Son (1:46-55; 1:68-79; 2:14; and 2:29-32). We might say that Luke wrote the first Christmas musical! In so doing, he captured for all time the deepest feelings evoked by the momentous event of Christ's arrival. Today's lesson focuses on the first of the four songs.


 

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time: 7 or 6 B.C.

Place: hill country of Judaea

Today's text is part of the account of Mary's visit to Elisabeth, who became the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45; see last week's lesson). Both women became mothers of children conceived by God's miraculous intervention, and both children became instrumental in fulfilling God's promises. But Mary's child was inherently superior, and so Elisabeth hailed her as "the mother of my Lord" (v. 43). The focus of attention was not on the mothers, but on their children—especially Mary's child—and what God was to accomplish through them.

Mary responded to Elisabeth's greeting with the song that is today's text. Like the Psalms and other poetry of the Old Testament, it derived its poetic qualities not from meter or rhyme, but from the expression of ideas in parallels. Two, three, or more statements follow one another to express similar concepts, creating a lyrical effect that conveys both thought and feeling.

The themes of Mary's song are familiar to readers of the Old Testament. Mary adapted traditional expressions of hope in God's promises as she reacted to God's announcement that He was about to fulfill those promises. Mary's song most closely resembles Hannah's prayer of praise after the birth of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).

For the Old Testament poets and prophets, the days when God would fulfill His promises lay in the uncertain future. Those poets and prophets could not say when or how God would fulfill His pledge to bless His people, restore them to himself, and make all nations His. They could only affirm God's faithfulness: if He has made a promise, then He will fulfill it—period. In times of distress, hope is to be found in God's rock-solid faithfulness.

In contrast with the Old Testament poets and prophets, Mary stood at the very threshold of fulfillment. She was pregnant with the child through whom God would act to do what He had promised. But the fulfillment of God's promise came at a cost: she was burdened with a pregnancy that appeared to all to be the result of sexual immorality. And beyond the birth of her child, she too could not say how God would go about fulfilling His pledge. Even so, she could, like the saints before her, celebrate God's faithfulness.


 

God’s Great Deed (Luke 1:46-50)

Statement of Praise (Luke 1:46, 47)

1. In what way did Mary respond to God’s grace in her life? (Luke 1:46, 47)

Last week we noted that after the angel departed, Mary hurried to visit Elisabeth at her home in the hill country of Judea (Luke 1:39). Also, upon entering the house, Mary greeted Elisabeth (v. 40). Verse 41 says that at the sound of the greeting, the baby leaped in Elisabeth’s womb. Elisabeth exclaimed that both Mary and the offspring in her womb were blessed (v. 42). By this Elisabeth meant that Mary was uniquely privileged to be the mother of Jesus.

Not only did Mary accept God’s will for her, but also she rejoiced in it (v. 46). Her canticle (hymn) is traditionally known as the Magnificat, which in Latin means “my soul magnifies.” It is reminiscent of the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel (see 1 Sam. 2:1-10). For instance, Mary, like Hannah, extolled God’s greatness. Also, both women are called God’s handmaidens, or maidservants, which emphasizes their availability to do the Lord’s will. Yet Mary’s situation was much different. While Hannah rejoiced after her stigma of barrenness was gone, Mary sang for joy in the face of possible (though undeserved) alienation and shame. Her hymn reveals a heart and mind immersed in Scripture. For example, Luke 1:46 seems influenced by Psalm 34:3. Also, Luke 1:47 matches the sentiment in Habakkuk 3:18. In short, Mary chose not to focus on what others might think about her, but on what God thought about her and what she knew about Him.

What Do You Think?

What occasion caused you to praise God more than any other? What did that experience say about what you consider most important?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Birth of a child | Deliverance from spiritual danger | Deliverance from physical danger

Special worship service

2. What were the reasons for Mary’s praise? (Luke 1:48-50)

To begin with, Mary saw herself as the Lord’s humble handmaid. Despite Mary’s status in Jewish society as a servant girl, generations to come would call her “blessed” (v. 48), for God had manifested His grace on her. Blessed describes the joy experienced by those whom God favors, a joy shared with and by others. There is an appropriate appreciation for Mary because what God did through her is totally unique. So it is God's help to her, the blessing that God gives her in her weakness that sets Mary apart. That blessing is not just for her but for all people of all time, for she will give birth to the promised Christ. For that reason she can rightly affirm that generation after future generation will call her blessed—one who has received God's favor.

Mary knows she has not been chosen by God because she is somehow outstanding in the way the world evaluates people. Like God's human instruments of the past, she has been chosen in her apparent insignificance. Mary herself deflected any reverence. After all, she was “humble” and rejoiced not in her own status but in “God my Savior” (v. 47).

Mary also said, not only was God mighty, but He has done “great things” working in her behalf (Luke 1:49a).

What Do You Think?

What "great things" has God done for you recently? What does your definition of "great things" say about your priorities in life?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Personally | Professionally | Spiritually | Other

To say that God's name is “holy” (Luke 1:49b) is to say that God is set apart, unlike any other. He alone is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe and absolutely set apart from sin (see Lev. 20:3; 22:2; 1 Chron. 16:10, 35; Ps. 30:4; Ezek. 36:20). Yet, despite God’s exalted status, He willingly would do great things for Mary (especially through her Son). In particular, the Messiah would make the mercy of the Lord available to all who repent and believe. Mary alluded to this truth when she declared that God showers His mercy from one generation to the next on those who fear Him (Luke 1:50). This refers to those who show God a reverential respect for His sovereignty.


 

God Demonstrates His Justice and Faithfulness (Luke 1:51-56)

3. Who was God merciful to? How was Mary’s song fulfilled through Jesus? (Luke 1:51-53)

In the second stanza of her song, Mary included all of God's people who have received His mercy and experienced His help. Mary named three specific groups to whom God had been merciful: the helpless (Luke 1:51), the humble (Luke 1:52), and the hungry (Luke 1:53).

The common people of that day were almost helpless when it came to justice and civil rights. They were often hungry, downtrodden, and discouraged (Luke 4:16-19), and there was no way for them to "fight the system." A secret society of patriotic Jewish extremists called "the zealots" used violent means to oppose Rome, but their activities made matters only worse.

Mary saw the Lord turning everything upside down: the weak dethrone the mighty, the humble scatter the proud, the nobodies are exalted, the hungry are filled, and the rich end up poor! The grace of God works contrary to the thoughts and ways of this world system (1 Cor. 1:26-28).

The great drama of salvation, planned by God before creation itself, is now coming to its fulfillment. God is demonstrating His power, showing them their true status, showing that He alone has true greatness. Ironically, He does so by sending His Son as a lowly child who becomes a lowly man who dies a lowly death. God's power is not like that of the world!

What Do You Think?

When was a time that a self-sufficient attitude interfered with your relationship with God? How did you overcome this problem?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In handling finances | In dealing with a family problem | In dealing with a health issue |

Other

4. What did God do for His people? (Luke 1:54-56)

The Lord’s mercy extended even to the nation and people of Israel. They were the recipients of His help and the objects of His unfailing love (Luke 1:54). Mary’s, song emphasizes that Israel had a special role in serving the Lord and making Him known to the world (see 1 Chron. 16:13; Ps. 136:22; Isa. 44:1). This truth is reinforced in Luke 1:55, where Mary reiterated God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants, (see Gen. 12:1-3; 15:5; 17:3-8; 18:17-19; 22:16-18; Mic. 7:20), The Lord would remain forever true to His pledge to bless His chosen people. Now, through the covenant with Abraham, God’s promises and mercy would extend to all peoples in all generations, especially through faith in the Messiah.

The word “seed” (Luke 1:55) reminds us that God has promised to bless all nations through Abraham's progeny, or descendants (Genesis 22:16-18). It remains for the rest of Luke's Gospel to show us that Jesus is indeed the seed of Abraham who brings that promised blessing.

Thus the focus on God's promises looks both backward and forward. With the backward look, we are reminded that God's promises are ancient and take many generations to come to fruition. With the forward look, we are reminded that His promises and their fulfillment are matters of eternity. With Christ's coming, God's people receive a blessing that will endure forever, through all the changes that life brings and beyond this life to the life to come.

(Luke 1:56)

Mary stayed with Elizabeth perhaps until John was born, and then she returned to Nazareth. Mary is with the one person who is best able to understand her situation, as Elisabeth too is miraculously pregnant with a child of promise. God has called each to do something extraordinary, placing them in positions of difficulty but also of great joy. Both women understand more of what God is doing than do their contemporaries. But both will learn more about God's faithfulness as they see the fulfillment of His promises unfold.

What Do You Think?

What are some benefits and dangers of retreating from the world for a while?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Benefits (see Jesus’ example, Luke 5:15, 16) | Dangers?


 

CONCLUSION

Our Faithful God

Many Christians would list Christmas carols among their favorite songs of worship. It's not hard to imagine Mary's song as being the first Christmas carol. In the history of the church, Mary's song has become a staple of Christian expression in worship. Often known by its first word in the Latin translation, "Magnificat," it has been set to many beautiful melodies. Clearly, Christians through the centuries have recognized that Mary's expression of praise for God's faithfulness is something that all His people should express continually.

In this light, Mary's song reflects many of the themes of other favorite carols: a sense of expectancy, the fact that our longing is about to be fulfilled, that something to be celebrated is taking place. Above all, Mary's song affirms what the Christmas story compels us to affirm today: that God is faithful to those promises, and that He fulfills them by sending Christ.

God's faithfulness prompts us to see our situation differently. If we are comfortable, God's faithfulness prompts us to see ourselves as weak and needy. If we are downtrodden, God's faithfulness prompts us to have hope. God will do no less than fulfill His word for each of His faithful—us.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, we join Mary in singing Your praise for the gift of Your Son. We trust Your faithfulness in our lives. We submit ourselves to Your care in the name of Your Son, Jesus amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

Sing of God's faithfulness!

 


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