Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary, the Magnificat, and Man's Chief End

Poor Mary has been frequently mishandled by men. If ever a saint has suffered from erroneous extremes it has been her. On the one hand, she has been elevated to near Deity by some, ascribing to her a sinless conception and life which neither Scripture nor Mary herself support. And on the other hand, and maybe because of this, the uniqueness of her piety has been too persistently passed over, her faith too frequently forgotten, and her example too often eclipsed.

It is to correct the second error, rather than the first, that my words are aimed. In reading again the early chapters of Luke I have been reminded of, and become even more grateful for, the record of her faith. Three things especially have struck my sluggish soul and have been to me a welcome wound to convict my own conscience unto repentance and refreshment in my walk with the Lord.

1. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Solid Faith
If ever a faith was put to the test it was Mary's. As a young teenager she was visited by an angel who announced she would miraculously conceive and bear the Son of God. Never was there a more "unexpected" pregnancy in the history of the world. We are fearful to approach or address those with high authority or honor. How many would panic if appointed to address the President? But to Mary it was conveyed she would mother the King of Kings! And the context of this announcement makes it clear that she understood and appreciated all that this implied.

A. She was troubled. Luke 1:29 says "she was troubled at this saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was". The full weight of this responsibility arrested her reason. She knew, to the fullest degree her mind could measure, what this message would mean. The Promised Seed, the Son of the Highest, the Lion of Judah, the Rose of Sharon, the Prince of Peace would shortly be woven into her very womb. Her soul began to shake as this disturbing disclosure dawned upon her. But not only was she she troubled...

B. She was puzzled. Luke 1:34 says "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" Nature alone could make no accounting for what was about to take place. No ordinary expedient could provide an adequate explanation for this event. The Lord often confronts true faith with apparent impossibilities: a flood in a dusty dessert, an escape through the angry sea, water from a solid rock, a birth from a virgin womb. The words whispered by an angel must be remembered by my soul today "For with God nothing will be impossible" (vs. 37).

C. She believed. And here her solid faith is seen. Luke 1:38 "Behold the maidservant of the Lord." The strength of her faith is displayed in submission. "Let it be to me according to your word." No arguing with the agenda of the Almighty, no resistance to His sovereign right, no counter offers to her Creator. She believed. She knew God, she knew Him as her God, and she trusted Him with her life. Oh my soul...gather thyself instruction from the grace of her solid faith in God.

2. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Spiritual Frame.

The words of the magnificat (from the Latin "magnify" which is the first word of this song) recorded in Luke 1:46-56, display the spiritual focus of this exemplary woman of God. She had just labored through a long journey to visit Elizabeth her aged aunt. She was likely tired and possibly tense about addressing someone so much her senior and in the context of two miraculous conceptions. But her song discloses her heart. It was the greatness and goodness of God that welled up within her soul and poured out in praises from her lips. In this song she embodies the instruction to "set your mind on things above" (Colossians 3:2). Her song concentrates on the character of God...who He is and what He has done:

  • His pity "He has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant" (vs. 48)
  • His holiness "And holy is His name" (vs. 49)
  • His strength "He who is Mighty" (vs. 49)
  • His mercy "His mercy is on those who fear Him (vs. 50)
  • His goodness "He has filled the hungry with good things" (vs. 53)
  • His help "He has helped His servant..." (vs. 54)
  • His covenant faithfulness "As he spoke to our fathers..." (vs. 55)

Oh my soul...oh for such God-ward thoughts!! What a spiritual frame! How desperately this is needed in this material world and vanity fair of life! It is the condemnation of the world that "God is in none of his thoughts" (Psalm 10:4). But what about me? Too often I must confess an earthly frame, mere material concern, and a worldly mind.

3. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Sanctified Focus

What is my focus? What is the chief end of man? That was the question that certain 17th century theologians asked in the Westminster Assembly to which they answered "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (the Shorter Catechism, question and answer 1).

But where did they come up with this answer? I suspect, at least in part, they saw this answer in the opening words of the Magnificat itself. Mary begins by saying "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (vs. 46-47). Magnifies means glorifies. Mary glorified God, and did so in the context of joy: "rejoiced in God my Savior". Here is a sanctified focus indeed! To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is sadly not the focus of our world. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once remarked "the world in which we live is like a store in which all price tags have all been confused". This is true. We value little what is worth much, and value much what is worth little. Oh that we, oh that I, would be granted a more purified perspective on our purpose.

Oh my soul, may this little meditation be improved by God's grace to the strengthening of your faith in Christ and love for the Lord in the year to come.