Enlarging God (1): Extinguishing the Fire
Read Luke 1:46-49. Intro – A little boy was sitting on a park bench reading his Bible. Occasionally he would shout, "Awesome!” A local college professor happened by and asked what the excitement was. The boy said he was reading the Bible about Israel fleeing Egypt – the parting of the Red Sea. The professor told the boy the Bible was just a collection of fairy tales and fables -- that the Red Sea was only 1 foot deep at that point. With that, he started to walk away. But he had not gotten very far when he heard the little boy say, "Wow! My God is awesome!" The professor turned back and said, "I thought I told you the water was only 1 foot deep." The little boy said, "Well, if it was only 1 foot deep, God is even greater than I thought. It says here that God caused the Red Sea to come back together and it destroyed the whole Egyptian army."
That boy knew how to enlarge God which is the subject of the amazing song composed by Mary in Lu 1:46-55. Church history has titled it "The Magnificat” taken from Mary's first phrase, "“My soul magnifies the Lord”. Magnificat is Latin translation of "magnifies." The Greek word is μεγαλυνω -- which literally means to make great, or to enlarge. Remember the first time you ever looked through a microscope at a drop of pond water and found a whole world of life swimming around inside of it. Similarly, Mary is saying under a microscope of the Word and faith and experience, God is greatly enlarged in her eyes.
Of course, Mary could not make God bigger, any more than the microscope made the drop of water bigger. But the Word reveals what really is! Mary knew her Bible. And in the Word of God, she found the magnifier that made God big in her eyes. And, dear friends, there is no greater need in our own lives than to see God as He truly is – enlarged. Live – and in living color.
One of the more influential books of the 20th century was J. B. Philips’ Your God is Too Small, first published in 1961. The book was written to counteract false perceptions of God – cosmic cop, parental hangover, grand old man, Perennial Grievance, God-in-a-box – all far too limiting. D. A. Carson, in A Call to Spiritual Reformation -- questions, what is the greatest need of the church? Then he goes through a list: 1) sexual purity, 2) social involvement, 3) financial integrity, 4) evangelism and church planting, 5) disciplined biblical thinking, and he says yes to all those. But -- “But there is in a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.”
Mary's "Magnificat" enlarges God in 2 ways -- personally and prophetically. We will look at the first this week and the second next, seeking to know God for who He truly is. Our question today: how do we enlarge God personally?
I. Recognize Our Neediness
Mary recognized her own neediness. Lu 1:46:“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary knew that she was a nobody from nowhere and it enlarged God in the depths of her being. In her neediness, Mary was like all of us. We are all equally lacking before God. You don’t have to be a little 14-year-old girl from the dregs of society in Nazareth of Galilee to be lost. The richest, most powerful, most sainted person who ever lived is unclean before a holy God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We were made for God, and we are lost without Him.
But most of us are pretty big in our own eyes. You know, the sun and moon look about the same size in our sky, moon is only 235,000 miles from earth while the sun is 93,000,000 miles away. The sun could actually hold 64,000,000 moons. It’s slightly larger! Yet, every now and then we get a solar eclipse where the moon gets between the earth and the sun. Thus, the sun is either partially or totally hidden from view. That’s exactly why we don’t see God for who He really is. I put God in divine eclipse by my self-sufficiency. It is a dangerous condition because it keeps us from God.
Isaiah was born to a privileged position at court. Educated, upright, and respected. But then he saw God in Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” V. 5, And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” The eclipse was over for Isaiah. God got in front of him and this righteous man saw himself as a foul-mouthed ingrate, lost without the cleansing touch of God that comes in v. 7. So, have you seen your lostness without Christ? Or are you still in eclipse? Have you seen yourself in the words of the old song as a “sinner, condemned unclean”? You can’t magnify God until you diminish self. Augustine understood this implicitly and wrote: “For those who would learn God’s ways, humility is the first thing, humility is the second, and humility is the third.”
Most of my friends from the business world suffered from divine eclipse. They were successful, comfortable, and saw no need for a Savior. Had no time for God – not until disaster struck. But adversity is God prodding us, “You need me. You can’t make it on your own.” It is aimed at minimizing self and enlarging God. Jacob was sitting there in Canaan, surrounded by his sons – all but Joseph whom he imagined had been killed 20 years earlier by a wild animal. He would never have been reunited with his son had the adversity not come. The famine was severe. It was heart-rending. They had never seen anything like it. Eventually the boys were forced to Egypt where supplies had been saved up. But a second trip would require Jacob to send the beloved son, Benjamin. Jacob held out – til the cupboard was bare.
Joseph is a type of Christ. The message is that no one turns to Christ until their cupboard is bare! God becomes big only when we become small. Is God magnified in your life, or is it still you? When the crowds were leaving John the Baptist to flock to Jesus, his disciples were worried. When they asked John about it he replied simply, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I must see God to accurately see me. I must humbly admit my inadequacy. Can’t save myself; can’t get rid of my own sin; can’t live a Christian life without Him. I enlarge God when I see my need of Him.
II. Receive His Blessing
The second half of Lu 1:48: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed”. Mary enlarged God by receiving His blessing. What blessing is that? Her appointment as the mother of the Messiah? That’s the blessing, right? Yes, but if you look closely you will see that something else comes first. Back up to Lu 1:47: “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Mary was blessed in her assignment, yes, but first and foremost, she was blessed with salvation. She knew it; she knew that somehow the baby she carried was tied up with that, so before rejoicing in God as Master, she rejoiced in God as Savior. That is always the priority.
The greatest joy in life is knowing Jesus. The only thing we absolutely must have is Jesus. Family, job, money, ministry – all important. None hold a candle to knowing Him. Remember the 72 disciples Jesus sent out coming back all excited at the miracles they had done? But Jesus issued a telling reminder in Luke 10:20: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” See, any blessing that God brings into our lives pales by comparison to the blessing of salvation. I enlarge Him – we magnify Him when I maintain my amazement that He has called me – that He saved me, that I have Him!
Psa 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Creation of this mighty uniLu 1:is described as a craft project by God – handiwork. But He describes salvation differently in Isa 52:10) The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” God had to roll up His sleeves to save us. It cost the life of His own Son; at the cross He bared His holy arm and defeated sin, Satan and death. It was the moment of His greatest glory. And we enlarge Him when we treasure above all else the eternal life that He bought for us. We’re blessed with salvation.
But once saved, Mary embraced the added blessing of ministry. Twice (Lu 1:38, 48) she calls herself God’s slave. And she served joyfully saying in Lu 1:38, “let it be to me according to your word.” You say, Well of course. She was accepting the assignment to be the mother of the Messiah, for God’s sake. Of course, she is willing. But remember that with the blessing came a world of misunderstanding among family and friends, many of whom would never accept the whole idea of a virgin birth. With the blessing came the certainty prophesied by Simeon in Lu 2:35 that a, “sword will pierce through your own soul also.” Mary would watch her own Son die the most humiliating of deaths before she would be able to glory in the resurrection.
Dear friends, no blessing comes without a price. That’s just the way God made it. Accepting the blessing means accepting the price. But accepting the price says, “You, God, are more important than I.” That magnifies Him – it makes Him big in our lives and in our world. On Nov 8, 1994, Pastor Scott Willis and wife Janet, had 6 of their 9 kids in a minivan near Milwaukee. A piece of metal launched itself off the truck in front of them. It punctured the gas tank on the van, instantly turning it into an inferno. Five of the children never got out of their seatbelts. One died a few hours later at the hospital. Scott was severely burned on his face and Janet on her hands trying to help the children. Janet said that as they stood by the ball of fire that consumed their van, Scott told her the best words he could have said, “It was very quick. And they are with the Lord now.” As they were helped into separate ambulances, he called back to her – “Psalm 34. Psalm 34.” Surrounded by emergency workers, Janet continually prayed Psalm 34: “1) I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. . . . 3) Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
Are we willing to pay the price to serve? Are we willing to be mocked at times for mentioning our faith in Christ? Are we willing to be left out of the fun occasionally to be prepared for teaching children, doing administrative tasks, putting ourselves out in whatever way God asks? Would we give up a football game to serve a meal or attend a work day? Are we His slaves, or do we treat Him as ours? Blessing comes with a price, but it’s worth it. Matt 25 describes the last judgment when God separates believers from non-believers: Matt 25:34) Then the King will say to those on his right (believers), ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We diminish self and we enlarge Him by receiving His blessing, but -- the benefits are stupendous.
III. Rejoice in His Bounty
Mary says in Lu 1:49, “for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” Notice that Mary does not rejoice in the miraculous virgin birth itself, but in the Mighty God who was doing it. She praises Him, not the miracle. God was doing a mighty thing through her. But God does great thing all the time through average, everyday people just like us? In fact, here’s a secret – God doesn’t do anything that isn’t great. When we are in God’s service, we are surrounded by greatness. Bounty everywhere! We just don’t always see it. But it’s there! And when we diminish His work, we diminish Him.
Jesus says in Mt 25:35ff, “ For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Greatness attaches to absolutely every service for God. Every service, however small. Every act of kindness, however insignificant. It is as though we did them for Christ directly. That alone makes them great. And He is enlarged in our eyes when we see greatness in our small contributions to His kingdom. Like the boy who gave His 5 loaves and 2 fish and watched them feed 15-20,000 people. God multiples every effort and we can say with Mary, “for he who is mighty has done great things for me.” He’s allowing me to be part of His service.
I graduated high school in CA, but most of my schooling was done in Hutchinson, KS. I had many high school friends there and get class reunion announcements. When I got the ten-year reunion announcement, it listed 4-5 people who had already passed away – mostly in car accidents. Tim Crow was on the list. Tim and I had been friends in elementary school. When we were in 5th grade I had invited Tim to come to a revival service at our church. When an invitation was given, I asked Tim if he would like to give his life to the Lord. Amazingly to me, he did. As I looked at his picture on that deceased list, I hoped that his decision had been real. If it was, then a simple invitation to go to church with a buddy made an eternal difference.
Dear friends, what God asks us to do may not look like much – but every act of our life is just as much bringing Christ to the world around us as was Mary carrying the baby Jesus. When we rejoice in God working greatness through our small effort, it motivates us to do our best, and God grows bigger right before our very eyes. Are you rejoicing in His bounty in using you? Only eternity will reveal the lives affected by God’s using us.
IV. Revere His Holiness
Lu 1:49 again: “for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” “Holy is His name.” Why that phrase? Because Mary realizes that bearing God’s Son does not erase the fact that God is awesome in His holiness and she remains a sinner in need of a Savior. She reveres His holiness and that magnifies Him in her eyes – both because His holiness is unapproachable, and also because He has made a way of approach.
Heb 10:28-29 says, “. . . let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” To see God’s greatness we must understand that He is a consuming fire. The fact that any sinner is alive at all is by His grace. Would you allow your kids to play with fire? Surely not! It could easily destroy them. But we have learned to play with God. We have created in our minds a tame God who is subject to our whims – who acts only as we think He should act. We have made God in our image and trivialized Him. We have created a small God who is not real. He exists only in our imaginations. The real God is a flaming fire.
But here’s good news! God’s love extinguished that fire at the cross -- for all who will believe in Him and accept the gift of eternal life. God’s love seen in isolation is no more than a misguided extension of human emotion. God’s love seen against the backdrop of His holiness, accountability and judgment, as the only means of salvation, has the power to draw us, to compel us, to save us. God was big in Mary’s eyes because she understood His holiness and received His life.
Conc – Dear friends, do you know the awesome God of the boy at the beginning. Do you worship and live with Him daily as He changes you from one glory to the next? Get perspective. Don’t trivialize your Maker. Enlarge Him. Recognize your neediness; receive His blessing; rejoice in His bounty and revere His holiness.
Stuart Briscoe tells of a conference speaker who preached a powerful message on the holiness of God after which everyone sat in quiet contemplation. Stuart says it was an awesome silence. Then the MC got up totally missing the significance of the moment. She announced, "All right, Folks, the next thing we're going to do is get into our seminars. And the one seminar I want to particularly tell you about is all about understanding what are the right colors that you should wear for your complexion." That was too much for one old pastor got up and said, "Excuse me young lady. In light of what we have just heard, I don't think any of us are interested in what color we should be wearing other than black because the only attitude we should have as we are confronted with the holiness and the awesomeness and the majesty of God is the sense of mourning, a sense of humility, because we are dealing with eternal issues here." It is too easy to be trivial. It is too easy to be casual. Don’t trivialize God. Enlarge Him. Let’s pray.