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The Character of God in His Micro- and Macro-Salvations 2: Mary

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Mary's famous prayer, her Magnificat, is structurally and thematically very similar to Hannah's also remarkable prayer in 1 Samuel 2.

Notes & Transcripts
Read for Scripture reading.
Prayer: pray through .
Turn to if you would.
Down payments on a home can feel like very small dents in a very large debt. Like taking two steps up a Mount Everest whose summit seems impossibly far away. But I received inheritance money once which helped me make a down payment, and let me tell you: the relatively small size of my down payment made me no less thankful for that inheritance money. A small amount of help for a large debt still felt big to me in that moment.
The Bible calls the Holy Spirit the “guarantee” of our inheritance, the earnest money, the deposit, the down payment. It is God’s general way during this difficult age, an age full of sin around us and in us, to give us this and other guarantees that full and final salvation is coming. Every micro-salvation he gives us—freedom from lust even one time, rescue from fear, peace in distress, wholehearted forgiveness of someone else—is another deposit in our accounts giving us a foretaste of what it will be like to burn the mortgage note, to see a macro-salvation come to ourselves and God’s entire creation.
Last week we explored a prayer from an obscure woman in a polygamous marriage at the low point of Israel’s history, a woman whose prayer showed that she rejoiced in God’s micro-salvation for her in part because she saw in it the character of a God who would bring macro-salvation to the planet. She knew her God to be the kind who delights in gracious role reversals: the poor sitting with princes, the bows of the mighty being broken while the feeble bind on strength. This was Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the prophet who would one day anoint king David. Hannah saw from her dark corner of the Bible story that light would one day come, that the Lord would shatter his enemies by giving strength to his king, by lifting up the horn of his anointed as he had lifted her up humble Hannah. Look at .
1 Samuel 2:10 ESV
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Have you ever heard antiphonal singing? It’s when one group of singers answers another group. One group of kids sings, “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah” and the next replies antiphonally, “Praise ye the Lord!” This is a technique some of the greatest choral composers of Western and church history have used. And it’s in the book of Samuel. There is an antiphonal response to Hannah’s prayer at the end of Samuel. It is David’s
Have you ever heard antiphonal singing? It’s when one group of singers answers another group. One group of kids sings, “Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah” and the next replies antiphonally, “Praise ye the Lord!” This is a technique some of the greatest choral composers of Western and church history have used. One of my favorite pieces ever calls for two separate choirs to stand at opposite ends of a cathedral and sing antiphonally to one another. And this choral technique is present in the book of Samuel. The brilliant writer who wrote the book has placed an antiphonal response to Hannah’s prayer at the opposite end of the book of Samuel. It is David’s prayer in .
Let’s turn to there, to 2 Samuel 22:51.
David prays with some of the same words Hannah used. But he adds two additional details. He identifies who the anointed king is, and he identifies the time horizon of God’s promise to that king: it’s “forever.”
2 Samuel 22:51 ESV
51 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.”

David represents the partial fulfilment of Hannah’s prediction of an anointed leader destined to introduce a new world order

1 Sam 22:51
But only a partial fulfillment. The whole world didn’t get judged under David. Some adversaries of the Lord have been broken in pieces, but there are plenty of them still strutting around. The king Hannah prayed for—the one who would judge the ends of the earth and shatter his enemies—was David’s offspring, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.
1 Sam 22:50
David represents the partial fulfilment of Hannah’s prediction of an anointed leader destined to introduce a new world order
Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible The Birth of a Child and a New World Order

The reversal of the personal misery of this barren woman is found in the birth of a child, and in this stunning reversal lies the key to the reversal of Israel’s present situation—not only Israel’s, but the world’s. The poem begins with a renewed Hannah, but by its end there is a vision of a renewed cosmos. This is to be celebrated with delirious joy that results from the birth of a child and it is the birth of children, leading up to a particular person—a king, no less—that will help Israel and the world to reach their destiny.

The king Hannah prayed for—the one who would judge the ends of the earth and shatter his enemies—was David’s offspring, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.
Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 15, New Studies in Biblical Theology (England; Downers Grove, IL: Apollos; Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 144.The king Hannah prayed for—the one who would judge the ends of the earth and shatter his enemies—was David’s offspring, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.
So let us turn to the book of the origins of this Jesus. Let us turn to the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Luke.

1. YAHWEH’S MICRO-SALVATION FOR MARY

Luke 1:46
Luke 1:46–47 ESV
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
Luke 1:46–49 ESV
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; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
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Luke 1:
In Hannah’s day, salvation came to Israel through a great role reversal: the barren woman had a miracle child. Now salvation has come to the world through something even more miraculous: a virgin conception. But Mary first experiences this as any woman in this room would: as a very personal miracle. She knows she is very much in a humble estate. Most probably she was a teenager, perhaps 14, if only because as best we know, rural Jewish women of her day were married young.
Luke 1:48–49 ESV
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible The Birth of a Child and a New World Order

The reversal of the personal misery of this barren woman is found in the birth of a child, and in this stunning reversal lies the key to the reversal of Israel’s present situation—not only Israel’s, but the world’s. The poem begins with a renewed Hannah, but by its end there is a vision of a renewed cosmos. This is to be celebrated with delirious joy that results from the birth of a child and it is the birth of children, leading up to a particular person—a king, no less—that will help Israel and the world to reach their destiny.

But she’s an awfully theologically perceptive ancient rural Jewish teenager girl, and she sounds like someone who’s known Hannah’s prayer her entire life. If so she internalized one of the big points of that prayer: the Lord looks to the humble and lifts them up. She sees this happening to herself, and she exults, she rejoices, her soul magnifies the Lord. Not like a microscope, making something tiny look big. But like a telescope, making something massive and yet seemingly distant come right up to the reader to fill our whole sight. Incidentally, the song is called the Magnificat because in Latin, “My soul magnifies the Lord” is “Magnificat anima mea Dominum.” Speaking of choral composers, countless of them have found deep inspiration in this beautiful Magnificat and have set it to music, generally in Latin. One great way to worship the Lord today would be to pull up a performance of Bach’s Magnificat on YouTube (youtube.com/watch?v=_-mwFNVusSU) and try to follow along in Latin, which is all straight from Scripture (traditioninaction.org/religious/b017rpMagnificat.htm). The opening, in which the orchestra and choir burst out with a joyful “Magnificat, magnificat” is so powerful, and in the video of the German choir I watched last night—probably full of unbelievers—there was a soprano right in the middle who burst out in a big smile. Bach got it. He put Mary’s joy into music.
Mary rejoices in the God who is her “savior,” which is interesting, considering that Roman Catholic tradition, at least since 1854, has taught that she had no sin and therefore needed no savior. It is possible that she is mainly talking about the salvation of God for the nation—Israel is indeed the major focus of Mary’s prayer. Another part of this chapter speaks of both individual and national salvation together. Look down at verse 69. This is part of Zechariah’s prophecy after his son John the Baptist is born:
Luke 1:69 ESV
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
And look in that same prophecy at verse 77:
Luke 1:77 ESV
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
But this first section of the prayer seems focused on Mary herself.
I don’t think we need to choose whether Mary was thankful for salvation from her sins or salvation from her nation’s enemies. It’s both. Just like it is for us. We need salvation from internal and external enemies, from the flesh and from the world and the devil.
And when we need those micro-salvations, we could do little better than to look to Mary’s next insight. She knows as Hannah did that she could not lift her own horn. She couldn’t exalt herself. The Lord had to look, as verse 48 says, to her in her humility.
This first section of the prayer seems focused on Mary herself.
I don’t think we need to choose whether or not Mary was thankful for salvation from her sins.
And isn’t it always this way? There is something profoundly anti-God in pride. And there’s actually something paradoxically anti-self in it, too. Here’s what I mean: one of the best ways to get knocked down is to puff yourself up. Proud people typically fall. The bigger the puffing the greater the collapse. Over and over throughout the Bible God looks to the men and women of low estate. He picks humble Hannah as the opening illustration in the story of David. He just seems to delight in picking a prostitute, Rahab, as the one person out of all Jericho who survives a divine onslaught and gets to bring her family with her. He doesn’t have to do this; he picks proud and conniving Jacob, too. But before the Lord really and permanently blesses him, he humbles him. He wrestles him and injures him, showing him who’s in control.
We as a church believe that God’s grace comes to us through no merit of our own, and before any good acts of our own. We can’t do true good apart from that grace. There is none righteous, no not one. But the Bible also says quite clearly that God “gives grace to the humble”—as if you can influence God to give you something you can’t merit. It’s remarkable.
All generations have called Mary blessed, because her humility has lifted her up. She is probably the most famous woman in history. And she is not famed for her beauty like Cleopatra or her power like Catherine the Great. She is famously humble. Just as the Magnifcat inspired countless composers, the Annunciation—the announcement of Gabriel to Mary that she would bear the Messiah—has inspired countless artists. The great portraits of her throughout history almost all show her in a humble pose of submission to the will of God as the angel reveals it to her. I looked at dozens of these paintings recently online, and in only one did she have a bold, confident, even arrogant look. It felt so wrong. This Mary is rejoicing, but in one way in which her song is unlike Hannah’s, Mary is not deriding her enemies.
I don’t think it’s a sign of our cultural advancement that we don’t care as much about whether we have children.????
The message of our world to the young women of our congregation is to look deep inside yourself, discover who you truly are (whatever that even means), and dedicate yourself to being that person. Don’t let anything stop you, not your culture’s or your parents’ expectations, not your lack of cash, not your moral scruples. Break free and be the real you. Follow your heart (which, as best I can tell, means precisely the same thing as “Do whatever you want.”) Elizabeth Gilbert did this and wrote about it in her mega bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, and she became one of our world’s most famous women. She divorced her husband and went traipsing around the world looking for self-fulfillment. She was named amongst Time 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. Her book became a movie, and her character was played by Julia Roberts. That’s the worldly path to success, and if you try that, you’ll find plenty of people to tell you, “You go, girl” on Facebook.
She was named amongst Time 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.[12] The book was optioned for a film by Columbia Pictures, which was released as Eat Pray Love on August 13, 2010, with Julia Roberts starring as Gilbert.[13]
But Hannah in her prayer said, “not by might shall a man prevail.” And the same is true for young women, in case you thought “man” there meant only males. One message of the Magnificat is that all the truly great things in your life must, by definition, be done for you. And when they are, you should name your benefactor along with Mary, who says: “Holy is his name.”

2. YAHWEH’S LOVE FOR ROLE REVERSALS

Luke 1:50-
Luke 1:50–53 ESV
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
The same generations that will call her blessed will get the mercies of the Lord—if they fear him. An American Christianity which has forgotten what it means to fear the Lord needs a reminder. And Mary provides one: the same God who delights to show some people mercy, show strength on behalf of those people, exalt the humble, and fill the hungry—that same God is equally liable to scatter proud people like people in a mall during a shooting, bring down presidents from their Oval offices, and strip the rich of all they own.
We are so rich. We really are. And I say that as someone who must pretty much always stay conscious of how much money I’m spending. We rich people ought to fear this God. I say in all humility that I am riding high in my life right now. I have a great wife, fun kids who bring me real joy (and, admittedly, total exhaustion), a lovely home with fruit trees, a new used car with a Bose stereo in it, a job I look forward to every day, a bus ride on which I get to read every morning and evening, a church that either accepted me and my family immediately or did a really fantastic job pretending that they liked us =), and, yes, some money in the bank. I’ve got a smart phone, a 27” iMac, and my readers regularly thank me for my writing. I am rich. I fear God enough that I refuse to take any of this for granted. I have nothing, nothing that I did not receive. He who finds a wife finds a good things and obtains favor from the Lord. Children are a heritage from the Lord. My job came to me through providential means I could in no way have planned for. My ability to do that job is due completely to influences God placed in my life, very few of which I in any sense chose. They all just kind of happened in the providence of God. The truly great things in my life were all done for me.
You are rich. Some of you are not too far away from mighty, sitting on small, perhaps, but very real thrones of wealth, influence, and power. Some of you are genuinely wealthy, with real money in the bank and the prospect of even more coming. And I dare say every one of us came to church with a belly full of tasty food. None of this is inherently evil. If riches and full bellies were evil, God wouldn’t offer wealth and food and exaltation and power to us as good things to be desired. There is simply a massive difference—a great gulf fixed—between someone who has these things along with the fear of the Lord and someone who is proud for having achieved them.
Proverbs 15:16 ESV
16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
Because trouble does come to those who don’t fear the Lord. Yahweh, our God, loves role reversals. I would hate to see any of us on the wrong side of one of them.
Look at verse 51:
Luke 1:51 ESV
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
Here’s a reversal. The proud are scattered. And God knows if you are proud, even if no one else does. He can see into the thoughts of your heart.
So examine yourself right now. Do you fear God? If that question draws a blank, you should be afraid that you’re not afraid. If that question draws something out of your heart that is repulsed by pride, particularly your own pride, good. Your spirit can rejoice in God your savior, who can rescue you from pride as he rescued Mary from obscurity.
Now let me raise a little meta-comment here, a point about the inspiration of the Bible. God inspired these words of Mary, just as he inspired the psalms which are very like her song. And in the Magnificat and those psalms, we are continually told to praise God, or shown how to do it. As C.S. Lewis noticed while he was an unbeliever, this implies that God is saying, “Praise me, praise me,” like an old woman seeking compliments, he said.
No, God isn’t being selfish or petty when he demands our praise. He knows that our praising him is what’s best for us, too. He is jealous for our praise because he loves us. He is jealous for the glory that comes when all can see that he has lifted us up.
Listen to what a Christian woman who should know better wrote on her blog: “I know this sounds kind of hokey, but just driving to CrossFit for the first time two months ago was just about everything I could do. I’m not super athletic AT ALL and I had a lot of negativity in my head telling me that I couldn’t do it. It was not fun. One day I pulled out my Believe oil and put it on my big toes. It helped and I felt more positive. I use it frequently now to help me keep a positive outlook. When I’m pushing a sled or carrying a yoke or jumping on a box I just have to tell myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” And you know what I’m figuring out? I’m stronger than I think. I can do more than I think I can. A lot of stuff we deal with internally really is all in our head, our outlook, our mentality and attitude.”
Now, there is a deep relationship between our bodies and our spirits. That’s the way God made us. It’s even possible that certain oils, placed on your toes or your rashes or your face, will make you feel better and affect your outlook on the day. I don’t want to overspiritualize the Bible. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” doesn’t, in context, mean literally everything. It really is okay for a doctor or a hot shower to help you instead of Jesus. But Jesus is jealous for the honor that comes from sanctifying us, from lifting us up. Who gave you the doctor, who gave you the hot shower? Particularly when the problem you’re facing is internal and spiritual, I feel pretty uncomfortable with someone turning to oil on her toes rather than reliance on God. I think a prayer to the Lord would be better than snake oils untested whose claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration: “Lord, I need to exercise to be healthy, and I’m having a hard time putting one foot in front of the other. Please give me the fruit of the Spirit, especially self-control.” And then write a blog post giving God glory for your success rather than the Young Living oils company. God delights in reversals. Humble yourself and ask for his help.
I know this sounds kind of hokey, but just driving to CrossFit for the first time two months ago was just about everything I could do. I’m not super athletic AT ALL and I had a lot of negativity in my head telling me that I couldn’t do it. It was not fun. One day I pulled out my Believe oil and put it on my big toes. It helped and I felt more positive. I use it frequently now to help me keep a positive outlook. When I’m pushing a sled or carrying a yoke or jumping on a box I just have to tell myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” And you know what I’m figuring out? I’m stronger than I think. I can do more than I think I can. A lot of stuff we deal with internally really is all in our head, our outlook, our mentality and attitude.
One more application of these words: when Mary sang about these role reversals, she wasn’t just a humble individual. She was part of a humbled nation that was under the thumb of an oppressive foreign power, the Romans. She by virtue of her Jewish nationality had real, physical, personal enemies. Most of us are not in that situation. In fact, Americans because of our wealth are more likely to be oppressors than oppressed. I’m not saying we are all personally complicit in any evils performed by our nation, like slavery or breaking treaties with Indians. But we have extra reason to fear the Lord, because we are the mighty. We the people of these United States sit on our own throne; democracy makes us our own kings. We must not think that God’s threat through Mary to bring down mighty from their thrones can’t apply to us.

3. YAHWEH’S MACRO-SALVATION FOR ISRAEL

Luke 1:54-
Luke 1:54–55 ESV
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The Gospel of Luke 2.3.2. Mary’s Response to God’s Favor (1:46-55)

the camera, previously focused more narrowly on Mary, has suddenly been pulled back to reveal the company of all Israel of which she is a part.

This may initially strike us as odd, even off-key. Jesus is here to save us, right, us Gentiles? Why does Mary bring up Israel? Because the salvation of the world was always supposed to come through them. God told Abraham:
This may initially strike us as odd, even off-key. Jesus is here to save us, right, us Gentiles? Why does Mary bring up Israel? Because the salvation of the world was always supposed to come through them. God told Abraham:
Genesis 12:3 ESV
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 17:7 ESV
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
This is a good example of what one writer said about the Magnificat:
This is a good example of what one writer said about the Magnificat:
This is a good example of what one writer said about the Magnificat:
The Gospel of Luke 2.3.2. Mary’s Response to God’s Favor (1:46-55)

Mary’s Song is a virtual collage of biblical texts. This not only emphasizes its beauty, but also shows how the past can be reemployed to give meaning to the present.

This is why Pastor Tom repeatedly talks to us about the covenants of Scripture, covenantal language, and about the importance of covenants for our own ability to call God “my God.”
The Gospel of Luke 2.3.2. Mary’s Response to God’s Favor (1:46-55)

God’s project of transposition is rooted deeply in God’s covenantal relationship with his people. All of these operative words in vv 54–55—servant, remember, mercy, promise, ancestors, and Abraham—point backward to God’s history with Israel, to their election, to their covenantal relationship. In fact, these terms, and especially “mercy,” point even further back, to the nature of God himself. The God Mary praises is the covenant-making God, the God who acts out of his own self-giving nature to embrace men and women in relationship. God remembers … and acts.

We Gentiles only get to be blessed in Abraham, through his seed. As Paul teaches in , Israel is the olive tree into which we Gentiles have been grafted. God has ordained it that salvation comes to us non-Jews through a Jew, Jesus. We don’t get salvation at all unless it first comes to God’s chosen people. That’s another reason for humility for us.
But make no mistake: you can become part of that seed.
Romans 4:16–17 ESV
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
This is God’s macro-salvation for Israel, and the New Testament shows that it’s also for us.

Conclusion

One painting I saw of the Annunciation—the name traditionally given to Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Messiah—showed Mary as a girl from the 1950s. She was unmistakably a skinny, gawky teenage girl, not a grown woman. She was tall and wore a shapeless blue dress, with bobby socks and saddle shoes. She looked like a conservative homeschooler. She was reading her homework, and she was, to say the least, surprised to see an angel come. But not cravenly fearful. Because she knows God is not just a mighty warrior but a covenant-keeping God. That struck me more than all the other paintings I saw, because it was instantly relatable. This painter brought Mary out of the past and into my time, so I could understand what it was like to be her.
I think that’s appropriate, because she really has her mind on the future. In each of the three sections of her song she refers to it. Generations will call her blessed, his mercy goes from generation to generation, and God’s help and mercy to Israel applies forever. She sees with remarkable clarity and power all the way to 2017. And we can emulate her now.
The Gospel of Luke 2.3.2. Mary’s Response to God’s Favor (1:46-55)

Two motifs are held in balance throughout Mary’s Song. The first is the portrait of God as the divine warrior who accomplishes deliverance.29 God is the “Mighty One” who accomplishes “great things,” who shows “strength” and scatters the proud, bringing down the powerful from their thrones and sending the rich away empty. This is the God who engages battle on behalf of his people (cf. Ps 24:7–10; Isa 42:13; Zeph 3:17). At the same time, God is the merciful God of the covenant. He looks with favor and lifts up the lowly, extends mercy to “those who fear him,” fills the hungry, and helps Israel. He acts “in remembrance of his mercy,” remembering his promise to Israel of old. These two images of God are complementary, and coalesce in the theme of transposition: As divine warrior, God acts dynamically against the proud and powerful; as the merciful God of the covenant, God’s dynamic acts are for the sake of those who fear him, the object of his promise, Israel.

The Gospel of Luke 2.3.2. Mary’s Response to God’s Favor (1:46-55)

God’s project of transposition is rooted deeply in God’s covenantal relationship with his people. All of these operative words in vv 54–55—servant, remember, mercy, promise, ancestors, and Abraham—point backward to God’s history with Israel, to their election, to their covenantal relationship. In fact, these terms, and especially “mercy,” point even further back, to the nature of God himself. The God Mary praises is the covenant-making God, the God who acts out of his own self-giving nature to embrace men and women in relationship. God remembers … and acts.

She really has her mind on the future. In each section of her song, she refers to it. Generations will call her blessed, his mercy goes from generation to generation, and God’s help and mercy to Israel applies forever.
She really has her mind on the future. In each section of her song, she refers to it. Generations will call her blessed, his mercy goes from generation to generation, and God’s help and mercy to Israel applies forever.
And
One painting I saw of the Annunciation—the name traditionally given to Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear the Messiah—showed an unmistakably teenage girl, not a woman. She looked like a pretty standard conservatively dressed homeschooler of the twentieth century. She was reading her homework book, and she was, to say the least, surprised to see an angel come. But not fearful.
ESV And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
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