He Confounds The WorldErwin W. Lutzer | December 7, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
Mary gave glory to God with an incredible poem. In it, she spoke of God debasing the proud and uplifting the humble. Her words provide a stern warning to today’s world and we need to ask ourselves: Is pride obstructing our view of Jesus Christ?
Because we’re so familiar with the Christmas story, we forget the fact that it was an explosive event. Just imagine God coming to earth in this great rescue effort that was successful, the fact that we find in Scripture, “And the Word became flesh.” Philosophically, religiously and in every way this came as an explosion upon the world, and we celebrate it today.
As a small slice of that particular story I want to remind you of Mara – Mary. The root of the word Mary comes from Mara, which means bitter. She is the woman in the New Testament who said yes to both shame and to glory. She said yes to shame, because after all she was single and pregnant. But she also said yes to glory because she said, “All generations will call me blessed.” And so it is.
You can take your Bibles and turn to Luke 1. And so it is that in Luke 1 you have the angel coming to her, and the angel tells her that she’s going to bear the Christ child. She’s going to bear the King. And then the angel says in confirmation, “Go check with your cousin, Elizabeth, because she is an old woman and she is pregnant as well.” And so Mary goes to Elizabeth and they have that encounter. And now what I’d like to do is to pick up the story in Luke 1 at verse 46. In your Bible very probably it says the Magnificat. The reason it says that is that in the Latin translation of the New Testament that is the opening word because in Latin that means, “I magnify,” so because that’s the opening word, the Latin is Magnificat. We’ll simply call it Mary’s Praise.
This poem of praise is remarkable. First of all, it’s remarkable because it contains at least twelve illusions or quotations from the Old Testament. I don’t have time today to show you all of those but they are there. I mean here is a young woman, steeped in Old Testament prophecies and steeped in the Old Testament text. Imagine the care and the thought that she gave to the Word of God as it was read in the synagogues in those days. And it’s also revolutionary because it, in effect, confounds the world. It turns everything upside down, and we shall see how revolutionary it really is as she begins.
What I’d like to do is to point out two particular truths that are found in the Magnificat. Let me read you first of all the opening verses.
“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.”
Just that far for a moment! Notice first of all that God exalts the humble. She says in verse 48, “He has looked upon my humble estate.” What estate (what situation) is she speaking about? Well there she is. She is growing up in Nazareth. She is an ordinary young woman. In fact, in our day we might actually just call her a girl because she might be 15 or 16 years old. But we’ll call her a young woman. And who is she? Nazareth was a despised town. It was not highly regarded. She was from the tribe of David, but then a lot of people were from the tribe of David. No one would have ever known this young woman living there in obscurity. But what she does is she exalts God. She magnifies His name because she says, “He has done wondrous things for me.”
First of all, of course, He chose her to be the bearer of the Messiah, the bearer of the God-man. But also He saved her from sin. You’ll notice she says, “I rejoice in God, my Savior.” That is in verses 46 and 47. Of course she was a sinner like everyone else, and she needed redemption. In Old Testament times before Jesus came, people were saved from their sin by looking forward to the Messiah. After Jesus comes we are now saved by looking back upon what Messiah has done, and the work He accomplished on our behalf.
But there she is. She is giving thanks to God, her Savior. And furthermore, she said, “All generations will call me blessed.” And isn’t that true? And today we call her blessed. The very fact that I am preaching this message is a further fulfillment of her prediction, known around the world today as Mary, the most popular name given to women in the world. Mary!
Now I need to tell you that throughout history, after the time of Jesus, a couple hundred years, various traditions developed about Mary. For example, it was believed that she could actually hear the prayers offered to her. There is no evidence in the Bible that she is able to hear anyone’s prayer, and furthermore it was believed that she could somehow be a mediator, a mediator to those who would call on her because she could get to Jesus. All of those, of course, are traditions, found nowhere in Scripture. Here what you find is Mary giving glory to God. She is blessed. There is nothing in the text to suggest that she is going to become the means or the benefactor of blessing for others. Furthermore, throughout the New Testament when anyone wanted to exalt Mary, Jesus intervened to make sure that she would not be exalted above how she rightfully should be exalted.
Let me give you a passage of Scripture. Don’t turn to it now, but you can write down the reference and look at it later. It’s Luke 11:27 and 28. Jesus is teaching and there is a woman in the crowd who shouts and says, “Blessed are you, and blessed is the womb that bore you, and blessed is your mother who nursed you.” Now what that woman said was true. She was blessed because she was the mother of the Christ child. But Jesus replied instantly, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus wanted to make sure that His mother wasn’t highly exalted. Yes, she was blessed, but we shall see in a moment, others were blessed as well. But the bottom line is Mary says, “I exalt God because He has given me this great blessing and I am of lowly estate.” God loves to bless the lowly. He loves to bless those who are marginalized, those who do not even feel worthy of a blessing. God always seeks out the most needy, and as you are listening here today, if you say, “Pastor Lutzer, my needs are great,” you are a candidate for the special blessing of God.
There’s a second point that is made here, and that is that God humbles the proud. I want you to see it there in the text where Mary continues as He speaks. I’m for example in verse 51. “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.” Wow!
There are three categories of people whom God does not accept and they are listed here. She says that He scatters the proud. I’m not sure exactly what Mary was thinking of but maybe she was thinking of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament where they said, “We’re going to build a tower to heaven, and we’re going to end up worshiping the stars,” and God scattered them. But furthermore maybe she’s speaking about the fact that God scatters the proud in their own hearts, and what they have built their lives upon falls apart and dissipates even in their lifetime, and if not in their lifetime, in the lifetime to come. We know that God, the Bible says, is at war with the proud but gives grace to the humble. So Mary says, “He scatters the proud.” He makes everything that they have lived for come to naught. All of the attention that they wanted, all of things that they valued so highly are brought to nothing because God honors the lowly.
Secondly, you’ll notice that she says, “And the mighty He casts down from their thrones.” This is in verse 52. By the way, this was used during some of the revolutions in South America as a justification for revolution. Well, whether or not there is justification for revolution is really not based on this text because the Bible is talking about what God does, and it’s not our responsibility to topple those who are upon thrones, though that might be part of a project at some point. My point is simply this – that Mary is saying that God is the one who rules, and He is the one that takes even kings, and He dethrones them.
In Germany there is a church with a sarcophagus. A sarcophagus is actually an aboveground tomb, usually hewn of rock. Above the sarcophagus is the image of the king ruling, so he’s up there reminding us that he was a ruler – he was a king. But now here is the sarcophagus (here’s the coffin), and on it are various reptiles to represent the fact that the body decays. And the idea that is being conveyed is simply this: No matter how high you are in this life, eventually death will come, and in death, whether it is king or pauper, whether it is rich or poor, we all end up alike finally when we die.
Jesus Christ is the one ultimately who topples kings. In fact, even in this context, as Mary is speaking, it is true that none other than Herod is going to be toppled, the very man who was so threatened by the birth of Jesus as given in the book of Matthew. So He topples them, and the rich He has sent away empty, that is, those who depend upon their riches. Now if you are rich you know that you can go anywhere you want. You can get any tickets for whatever it is that you want. You can go to any event. You’ll be honored, especially if you are a contributor to that particular organization. You’ll be looked at as special because in your riches there will also be a huge temptation, and that is to depend upon riches because remember money makes all of the same promises that God does. Money says, “I’ll be with you in sickness and in health. I’ll be with you when healthcare works. When healthcare doesn’t work I’ll be with you. You’ll be able to buy anything that you want. You’ll be able to go wherever you want to go.” And as a result of that, it is very difficult (not impossible, but very difficult) for true worshipers to be developed in a society that is affluent.
If you want to find those who oftentimes worship God with a sense of purity, what you do is you go to underdeveloped countries and there you see people already longing for heaven, and among them there are those who have come to know Christ and they are God lovers.
When the text says that He sends the rich away empty it doesn’t mean that He takes away their money. It is just that their riches reveal their own emptiness, and the fact that at the end of the day their money does not satisfy them. Spiritually they leave empty-handed. They are like a frog in a well without water. And there they are in this dried well trying to find out what life is all about, trying to find its significance. Their confidence is in their wealth, and so they leave empty-handed.
What a wonderful illustration of the fact that God takes those who are proud and conceited, those who are so concerned about what others think about them, and who look at the values of this world, and they are inverted. Those values are topsy-turvy in the presence of Jesus, and the presence of eternity, and Mary sees that and she gives God praise.
Now she also, at the end of her poem, gives thanks to God for the fact that in His goodness, He has visited the nation because of His promise to Abraham. And in the last message we talked about the Abrahamic Covenant, how God indicated that it would be fulfilled, and now here we see the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promise. No other child has ever been born with this many predictions made about Him long before He was born as you see the story line of the Bible develop in the Old Testament.
Now what I’d like to do is to step back and to ask ourselves, “Why should our lives be changed forever because we’ve gathered together today and we have read this poem, and we have meditated upon it? How does this change us?”
I want to give you several statements that will help us, I believe, and the first statement is simply this: Mary’s spiritual blessings (and listen to this very carefully) are our spiritual blessings. You know, as I mentioned, in the New Testament at times there were those who wanted to make much of Mary, and Jesus wouldn’t have it. For example, here’s a story in the third chapter of the book of Mark. I’m picking it up at verse 31. There are those who think that Jesus is insane. They are accusing Him of being demon possessed. That’s the context.
And apparently His family wanted to rescue Him, so this is what happened. Chapter 3, verse 31: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’” Did Jesus say, “Okay, now make a way for them to get to me because after all, they are my mother and my brothers?” But notice Jesus Christ’s response. It isn’t that at all. “And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Jesus wanted to make sure that no one thought that the earthly relationship that He had with His mother somehow gave her superiority, or put her into a different category, but those who did the will of God were His brothers, they were His sisters, and they were His mother. Jesus knew that the blessings that He would bestow upon those who came to know Him would be the same blessings that were given to His mother.
Now, of course, I don’t mean to say that we bear the Christ child, or that all generations call us blessed, but spiritually we inherit the same blessings as members of God’s blessed family. Now how do we know that to be true? Are there other passages that teach it?
Remember that when the angel Gabriel came to Mary he said, “Hail, favored one,” or “Hail Mary, full of grace. We’ve graced you.” “Here I am,” said the angel. Did you know that that expression, “Hail, favored one,” or “Full of grace,” occurs only one other time in the New Testament? Don’t you think that every Christian in the world should know where that is? Wouldn’t that be important to know where that same expression occurs in the New Testament because it’s only there twice? It’s in the angel story, and it’s in one other place in the New Testament, and that is in Ephesians 1:6 where the Apostle Paul is talking about all the blessings given to those who believe on Christ, how that they are predestined to be like Him, and they are to the praise of the glory of His grace, and now I’m quoting, “who were graced (blessed) in the beloved one in Christ.” You receive the same spiritual blessings as the angel gave to Mary. Isn’t that worth knowing as a Christian that you have been so highly favored of the Lord? (applause) I think so.
That’s why throughout the New Testament it speaks about those who trust Christ, and it talks about their blessedness, and the fact that Jesus will someday say to His people, “Come ye blessed, and inherit the kingdom.” I think of the 14th chapter of Revelation, verse 13. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth, for their works do follow them.” And the Scripture goes on to encourage and says, “They are blessed.” You get to Revelation 20 and it says, “Blessed are those who rule with Jesus Christ.”
I want you to think about this with me. Okay? Can we just think about this together? I think it probably is true that when Jesus was on earth He looked like His mother – not like Joseph, of course, because Jesus was virgin born. Theologians may differ about it but I think that people who looked at Him said, “Look, when He turns His head, He reminds me of His mother, Mary,” or maybe when looking at His eyes they said, “Wow, that really reminds me of Mary.” And what an honor it was that He would look like His mother.
But catch this. The Bible says, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, and such we are.” And then it says that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” In other words, Jesus was like Mary physically, but the day is coming when those who have received Christ as Savior (and He comes for them at the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ) will have bodies like unto His glorious body. Imagine that! I don’t mean to say that we will have the very same physical features, but we’ll have the same body, the same eternal indestructible body, the Bible says, like unto that of Christ.
Now I look around today and I see the bodies you brought with you, and by the way, that is a requirement to attend Moody Church. (laughter) You do have to bring your body. Okay? And you know, many of you are looking very good today. You always do in your finery, whatever that word specifically may mean. But the day is going to come when you as a sister and a brother in Christ are going to have the body like unto His body with all of its glory, with all of its ability. We’ll never be Jesus. Don’t misunderstand, but we’ll have a body like unto His because He has graced us in the beloved one, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
There’s a second lesson to be learned from Mary, and that is this: Will you remember that it is Jesus Christ who gives us all of these blessings? It is because He is the Christ child. You see other religions have gurus and prophets. There are those who say, “Here is an eight-fold path. You do this.” All of them though assume that we can in and of ourselves draw ourselves to God, and in drawing ourselves to God, somehow we can achieve the kind of perfection that we need to enter into heaven. It’s not found in the Bible.
What we need is a Savior who is able to scoop us up from our sins, declare us as righteous as God Himself is, and present us to the Father. And the Father will accept us because He will look around if we come clothed in His righteousness, receiving the work that Jesus did on the cross, dying in our place. And when we get to heaven the Father will say to us, “Come in, blessed.” And then He will say to the Son, “I have carefully inspected all those You have brought with You, and as I have looked at them I find no fault in them.” As we sing a Scriptural concept we remind ourselves that before the throne we will come clothed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne. Wow! Only Jesus – no other teacher, no other guru – because the Bible represents the intervention of God!
Earlier I wanted to quote the words of Martin Luther (but they come to mind now) where he said that Mary was the workshop in whom the incarnation was fashioned. And that’s what she was, and as a result of that we can be saved from our sins and belong to Christ forever and ever.
There’s a final lesson and it is critical, and that is that according to Mary’s poem, the one thing that keeps people from believing on Jesus is pride, or receiving the favor of God. Don’t think to yourself that this means that everyone who listens to the Scripture is participating in the favor of God. The Bible teaches that is not true. It happens as a result of faith. “As many as received Him, He gives the authority to become the children of God, even to those who believe on His name.” And what is it that hinders people from believing on His name? The greatest hindrance is pride - confident in my own ability to please God. Like a man said to me on an airplane one time as I was explaining the Gospel to him, “Oh don’t worry about me. I’m going to do okay standing before God on the basis of my own record.” That’s about like saying, “I’m going to stand ten feet from the sun, but don’t worry about me. I’m going to be okay.” No, you won’t be okay. Only Jesus was okay, and trusting Him is the way.
Or there are those who believe that Jesus is necessary for salvation. There are going to be hundreds of people attending Moody Church and other churches here in Chicago today who are going to be convinced that Jesus is necessary for salvation, but the one thing they may not be convinced about is that Jesus Himself is enough. And Jesus is enough – the Savior, the Lord God of the world. (applause)
Years ago I told you the story of Dwight L. Moody who was at a meeting, and a man stood up and said, “You know, it took me 42 years to learn three things and I’m going to tell you what they are.” And Moody was all ears. I mean if it took this guy 42 years to learn this, why not learn it just listening to him? It would save you a lot of time. I can save you today an awful lot of time.
The man said, “First of all, I came to the conclusion that I cannot save myself.” That’s the first conclusion and the first thing he learned. And some people don’t learn it in 72 years. “Secondly,” he said, “I learned that God doesn’t expect me to do that because He knows I can’t.” He said, “The third thing I learned is that God has done it all for those who receive Christ as Savior. It comes as a free gift.” (applause)
When you come to saving faith in Christ, your whole life will begin to radiate around the words of Mary, the blessed words: “My soul magnifies the Lord and I rejoice in God my Savior,” which is the message of Christmas. Do you know Christ as Savior? If not, even while I pray, and I’m going to pray in a moment (You may be listening by radio. You may be listening on the Internet), you bow your head and you say, “I know I’m a sinner, and I receive the gift of eternal life that Jesus died to give to all those who believe on Him.
Father, we want to thank You so much today for Your grace that has been given to us in Jesus our Lord. We thank You that because of Jesus we too are graced in the beloved one. And now I pray that Your Holy Spirit might work mightily in the lives of those who have heard this message. I pray that they may come to saving faith in Christ.
And if you are listening to this today, and now I am speaking to you, why don’t you pray right now and say, “Jesus, I receive You as my Savior. I know my need. The Spirit has shown me. I cannot save myself. I receive Your grace, Your forgiveness. Thank You for the work that You did on my behalf.”
Help us now, Lord God, we ask, to worship You acceptably through Jesus as we remember His death. In His name we pray, Amen.