Luke 1:39-56

Luke 1:39-56

Gospel Fulfillment (Promise and Conception):

Believing and Treasuring the Unique Identity of Christ 

Produces God-Centered Praise


Two weeks ago we learned that what we do with and how we see Jesus matters, and we pointed out four things from Luke that he highlights about Jesus.  Jesus does all things with new authority.  Jesus seeks to save the outcast sinner.  Jesus was bound for His cross from birth; He was born on mission.  And Jesus is the son of Adam, by which Luke intended to make known Jesus’ salvation to the nations.   

When we narrow this down to the first chapter, Luke is teaching Theophilus about the glory of the biblical Jesus – why Old Testament believers like Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary worship God at the news of Jesus.  He wants Theophilus to see Christ rightly, because seeing Christ rightly through faith and obedience produces white hot worship of God that glorifies Christ.  To do this, Luke alludes to several Old Testament passages in referring to Jesus.  Now, this is important for Luke’s communication to Theophilus.  Why?  Because Luke has told us that Theophilus had been taught certain things about Jesus.  But what Bible did Theophilus have?  The Old Testament!  For this reason, Luke begins his Gospel to Theophilus by showing how Jesus is the Son of God, and at the same time, the God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel, Yahweh, the One who said “I AM that I AM,” and is the supreme object of worship.  Luke is going to confirm for Theophilus that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament in the role of the Son, and that He alone is the right object of our worship.  So, this is how we are going to frame our lesson:  

First,  In Luke 1:5-45 (the pretext to Mary’s Song), Luke writes that there are three ways in which Jesus is uniquely qualified to be the Redeemer of God’s people from their sin, namely,   Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and therefore the supreme object of worship; Jesus is the God-man born of a virgin and Jesus is the fulfillment of the Gospel of God.  All of this we will see Luke drawing out for Theophilus from allusions to the Old Testament.

Secondly, What do we do with this Jesus?  Answer: First, We must believe in Christ; and, then, we must treasure Christ rightly by believing the Word of Christ, heeding the Spirit of Christ, obeying the Counsel of Christ (Word and Spirit), and celebrating the Gospel of Christ.      

Thirdly, What is the content of our celebration?  Answer: The content of our celebration is the true worship of God that centers on and glorifies Christ alone.  What we are going to do here is unpack the content of Mary’s praise (and show that the deliverance of God that she sings about is inseparable from the Jesus that she has believed in and treasured).

Lastly, I want to offer a practical summation for our consideration of these things.


First There are three ways in Luke 1:5-45 that Jesus is uniquely qualified to be the Redeemer of God’s people from their sin:

1. Jesus is the God of Israel, the supreme object of worship;

2. Jesus is the God-Man born of a virgin;

3. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Gospel of God.

First, Jesus is the God of Israel and therefore the supreme object of worship, which brings us to the ministry of John.   John’s ministry is a proof to the supremacy of Christ.  When John’s father, Zechariah is attending to his priestly duties, the angel Gabriel shows up.  And this is what Gabriel says to Zechariah, 

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.  And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (1:13-17).


But I want to focus on verses 16 and 17, because Luke says something very important for our understanding of John and how his ministry relates to Jesus.   

John will go before the God of Israel in the spirit and power of Elijah.  John’s Elijah role means something about us and about Christ?  

About us:  It means that we, human beings, need to be turned from idols and “small g – gods” to the One True and Living God who is the supreme object of worship.  I want to say something here about our natural inclination to the sin of idolatry.  As sinners we are born idolaters.  We love idols.  This is why our Creator God, who knows us best, knit us together with intimacy in the womb, supplied us with a law saying, 

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods (little g) before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image . . . You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:2-5).


God created us for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).  

Now we need to ask ourselves “what is an idol?”  An idol is anything – anything, a person, a drink, a drug, television, food, sex, money, attitudes of pride or pity, anything – that we treasure as much as or more than God.  An idol competes for our affections and worship.  We pour ourselves into these “things” pleading with them, hoping that they will satisfy us, and when they don’t satisfy us, do we wise up?  No, we go back to them or find refuge in another idol.  Idolatry is insanity and can ultimately be centered in the worship of yourself as king – but God created you for His glory.  As a good rule of thumb, whatever one’s speech is consumed with, that is the thing upon which the heart is fixed.

Luke is calling John a prophet who will turn hearts from idolatry to the God of Israel in the spirit and power of Elijah.  In 1 Kings 16-19, a wicked man named Ahab becomes king of God’s Israel.  The Bible says of him, that he “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. . .Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (16:30, 33).  He married an evil woman named Jezebel whose chief enjoyment was the slaughter of God’s prophets.  Together they pulled the hearts of the people of Israel away from the love of God, and into the worship of idols, Baal, and Asherah.  

Elijah was a prophet of the Lord whom God told to confront Ahab and the people of Israel, “Go show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth” (18:1).  Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab and the prophets of Baal is important for us to hear for understanding idolatry and the ministry of John, because his goal is to turn the hearts of Israel away from idols and back to their God.  Elijah brings this message in a dramatic way.  He tells Ahab to “send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (18:19).  So, we’re about to have a big league showdown.  

When the people of Israel come this is Elijah’s message to them, and we need to hear it well, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (18:21).  The showdown is between one prophet of God, Elijah, and 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah, which just means that the true God is going to get all the glory for Himself.  The directions are to take two bulls, cut them in pieces, lay the pieces on some wood (but without putting it to fire), and they were to call upon the name of Baal, and Elijah  was going to call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answered by fire – this is the true God.  And they agreed!  

So the prophets of Baal did all of this and called upon the name of their god, but nothing happened.  So for hours they sort of convulsed around this altar and cut themselves and bled all over the place and made an awful mess, and it gets to the point where Elijah begins to mock them – is Baal sleeping? Maybe he’s using the bathroom?  Or maybe he’s to busy thinking or off on a journey?  And in the end, no one answers the prophets of Baal.  Now Elijah does the same preparations – the bull, the wood, no fire – but he wets down the wood three times until the trench around the altar was filled with water!  And this is what he says, 

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”  Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:36-39).


Now, Luke tells us that John’s ministry is like that – to turn the hearts of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  But who is the Lord, the God of Israel (the supreme object of worship), that John will turn their hearts to?  He is Jesus!  Look and listen carefully to what Luke writes, 

“And (John) will turn many of the children of Israel to (who?) the Lord their God (so this is the God of Israel, the same God that consumed the altar in Elijah’s demonstration, the same God whom the people seeing it cried out, “The Lord, he is God”), and (John) will go before him (who is himJesus! John is going before Jesus!) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord (who, again, is Jesus) a people prepared.”  


Jesus is the God of Israel.  Jesus is the supreme object of worship.  And John is going before us saying, “repent – repent of your idolatry – repent of addictions, your idols, repent from your love and worship of any and everything that is not God – and clear the way in your hearts for Jesus Christ – yes, and believe upon Him for your salvation and your supreme joy!”  Men, whatever your idols may be, they are not gods, they divert your worship dangerously away from the God who you were made to worship, and having your heart turned to Jesus in faith is the way of salvation and straightened worship.

Second, because Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and therefore the supreme object of worship, He fulfills Old Testament prophecy as the God-Man born of a virgin. Jesus was and continues to be forever both fully God and fully man.  Now, Mary is a virgin probably in her early teens.  She had never had sex, but Gabriel brings her a word from the Lord that she “will conceive in (her) womb and bear a son” and that she is to call his name Jesus.  Jesus, this son of a teenage girl who is going to conceive Him without having sex with anyone, the Bible says, “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  He will be a king from David’s physical descent with one eternal difference – of His kingdom there will be no end.  Gabriel continues to tell Mary that the Holy Spirit of God is going to produce the conception, and that the child, for that reason, will be called holy – the Son of God.  

So, we have a virgin human that has conceived and the child born will be both fully human, and fully God.  Now, if you and I were Theophilus at this point, and we were working within an Old Testament understanding of the Gospel, we might understand Luke to be drawing upon two passages of Isaiah to show that Jesus is the God-Man born of a virgin.  Let me give you two passages that would affirm what Luke writes:

In Isaiah 7:14 the prophet says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Now Immanuel means “God with us – God with us!”  So, a virgin is going to give birth to a child named “God with us.”  And if that is not enough, two chapters over in Isaiah 9:6, the prophet further qualifies the human child’s name – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Notice that Isaiah, writes that the child who is Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace is born by a virgin to whom?  To us!  Jesus, being fully God and fully man, is the only One who could do what God required of Him, and do it as a man like you and me.  Jesus is the God-Man born of a virgin, and to deny either of these truths is to deny the possibility of your salvation.

Third, because Jesus is the God of the Old Testament and therefore the supreme object of worship, Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Gospel of God.  

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Gospel of God.  In verse 42, Elizabeth cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  The first time that we hear the Gospel in Scripture is just after the Fall of Adam in Genesis 3:15, and it is the fruit of the woman’s womb that will crush Satan’s head.  “The Lord God said to the serpent, . . . I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This is the Gospel in seed form.  The offspring of the woman will bruise Satan’s head, while He Himself will have His heel bruised.  You get the imagery of the man standing atop the serpent and coming down with a crushing death blow upon its head.  This, friends, occurs in the cross of Christ.  The wounds of the cross were the equivalent of flesh wounds compared to what Christ did to Satan on the cross – He crushed him!  The work of Christ was accomplished, and the promise of God in Genesis 3:15 fulfilled – now by trusting in Christ alone, sinners may be delivered from the clutch and kingdom of Satan.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the Gospel of God.

Second: What do we do with this Jesus?  Answer:  First, We must believe in this Christ; and, then, we must treasure this Christ rightly by believing the Word of Christ, heeding the Spirit of Christ, obeying the Counsel of Christ (Word and Spirit), and celebrating the Gospel of Christ.

The Right worship of God consists in two things: Believing in Christ and Treasuring Christ.  These two things, believing in Christ rightly and treasuring Christ rightly are the cause of our most intimate worship.  Let’s look first at believing in Christ rightly, and then we’ll look at treasuring Christ rightly.  

Believing in Christ rightly is the condition for Treasuring Christ Supremely.  Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary were not born believers; no one is.  They were born idolaters and had to be given an new heart.  But, Christ had not yet been born, or lived, or died, or risen or ascended for that matter.  And yet, Luke writes of their belief.  How were they believers?  They were believers in the same way that Abraham, or Moses, or Rahab, or David were believers.  As we have the privilege of believing in God’s Gospel fulfilled, they had believed in God’s Gospel foretold.  As we look back to the person and work of Christ on our behalf, they looked forward to the person and work of Christ on their behalf (albeit in seed form).  

So, they were Old Testament believers who had embraced the promises of God about the Messiah, who were now coming into the fulfillment of those promises in Jesus Christ.  In other words, they read, and prayed through, and learned, and sang about the forerunner of the Messiah, the virgin’s child who would be Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and the Serpent Crusher who through the promise of God to Abraham would bring salvation to the nations.  And now, the forerunner had been conceived; and now, the virgin had conceived Immanuel; and now, the Savior of God was in a womb.  God’s salvation had come in Christ!  It is no wonder then why, in our text, Elizabeth and Mary, and later Zechariah, worship God with such ecstatic joy.  They were moving from belief in God’s promises foretold to God’s promise fulfilled – in Jesus Christ.  But they were believers, and you must be in order to treasure Christ.

Treasuring Christ rightly is the condition of white hot worship of God that glorifies Christ.  In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds have shared with all the Word of God, Luke writes, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  Our treasuring of Christ consists in our treasuring the Word of Christ.  Treasuring the Word has four parts: believing the Word of Christ, heeding the Spirit of Christ, obeying the Counsel of Christ, and celebrating the Gospel of Christ. 

Believing the Word of Christ.  Elizabeth and Mary, two women, responded rightly to the Word of Christ.  Unlike Zechariah, when Mary heard the Word of God she personally believed it.  More than that, we she couldn’t understand everything, she trusted the Word of the Lord with her life.  Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  That declaration of faith in the Word of God tarnished her reputation – by the Pharisees she was considered sexually immoral (John 8:41), and quite possibly could have resulted in severe punishment, even to stoning or burning to death.  Nevertheless, she believed the Word of God about Christ.

Heeding the Spirit of Christ.  Elizabeth’s blessing is the Spirit’s interpretation of the baby, John, leaping in Elizabeth’s womb.  It is interesting to note that the emphasis of the Spirit’s interpretation is Christ-centered.  Elizabeth says that – Mary was blessed because the fruit of her womb was Christ; Mary was blessed because she was the mother of Christ; Mary was blessed because she believed that God had fulfilled His promise of salvation in Christ.  The role of the Spirit of Christ is to glorify Christ.  John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  The Spirit glorified Christ by authoring the Word of Christ, and continues to glorify Christ when you are Christ-centered.  Do you wonder if you have been Spiritually awakened?  How is your Christology or what do you think about Jesus?  When we come to the Word of Christ, it is best for us to plead with its Author to make Christ known to us.  Mary did just this.  She was hungry and was fed; thirsty and was given drink that satisfies forever.  

Obeying the Counsel of Christ.  We know because Mary had a high view of Jesus, but also because she obeyed the counsel of Christ.  When we set the Word of Christ before our souls, and there pray for the Spirit of Christ to illumine our hearts to see Christ rightly, our response is obedience to the counsel of Christ.  Later in Luke 11:27-28, Jesus gives His own commentary on Mary’s blessedness.  When a woman in the crowd cries out to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”, Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Jesus saw his mother’s blessedness as obedience to the counsel of Christ.

Celebrating the Gospel of Christ.  Mary’s understanding of the Gospel, grounded in the Word and Spirit of Christ, and her obedience to it, caused her to sing a song of celebration to God.  The Gospel of Christ takes naturally born idol worshippers, and gives them a new heart and a new song.  The Gospel of Christ gives new conductors to the soul, the Word and Spirit, and they orchestrate singing to God that glorifies Christ.  Mary’s Song is such a celebration.

When we believing the Word of Christ, heeding the Spirit of Christ, obeying the Counsel of Christ, and celebrating of the Gospel of Christ causes the Word of Christ to dwell richly within us.  Colossians 3:16 tells us the overflow – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Seeing Jesus rightly – by His Word, with His Spirit, in His Gospel – deepens our worship of Christ alone.


Third:  What is the content of our celebration?  Answer: The content of our celebration is the true worship of God that centers on and glorifies the Good News of Salvation in Christ alone.   We are going to unpack the content of Mary’s praise – I have been intentional in the wording of these truths – the Gospel happens, God’s salvation happens in Jesus alone!  This is the context of Mary’s praise – the fulfillment of God’s redemption in Jesus alone.

In Jesus, God saves believing sinners!  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Elizabeth says that Mary is blessed because she believed the Word about Christ.  Jesus, later, says that Mary’s faith in the Word of Christ was evidenced by her obedience to it.  Mary believed the Word of God about His salvation and that that salvation was to be found in her son, God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  The reality that God saves sinners ought to cause our hearts to leap for joy.  

In Jesus, God’s salvation operates counter-culturally. “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  Notice the “me”.  This is Mary – a young teenage, childless, woman who is about to be looked upon scornfully for conceiving apart from marriage.  We need to hear this loudly – God will save you!  Do you really think that you are too insignificant, too sinful, too outcast, downcast, too far-gone to be saved – In Christ, God intends to save you – it’s you He wants to save.  And you must embrace Christ alone. 

In Jesus, God’s salvation serves to give glory to God alone.  “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.  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 empty away.”  God alone is mighty to save.  In the same way that Israel could not cross the Red Sea to escape captivity without the mighty hand of God parting the waters, just as they could not cross the Jordan into the promised land without the power of God, so no man can convert himself or enter God’s salvation but by the Word and Work of Christ alone. You need grace and mercy – God bestows it!  You need repentance – God grants it!  You need faith – God gives it!  You need to be saved – God does it in Christ alone!  We must be the weak, the ungodly, the unruly, the humiliated, the hungry, the needy, the sinner – God’s Gospel is for such as these.  It is not that Christ did not go to the rich, indeed, Theophilus, to whom Luke was writing is a Roman official.  The rich young ruler came to Him, and Christ did not withhold the Gospel from him, but when it came, the rich man could not give what Christ asked – his life!  Why?  Because his life consisted of things and he had no room for Jesus in his heart.  He loved his idol – possessions – more than Christ.  Oh, but to be hungry!  To be empty – this is to be humiliated.  We must come to God with empty hearts and He will fill us with Christ!  As we have nothing to offer, and as God has it in all in Christ, so in Christ, God receives all of the glory.

In Jesus, God’s salvation comes by faith and not by works of the law.  “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  The phrase that I want to hone in on is “to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  We must ask the question – who is His offspring and who are the children of Abraham?  The offspring is Christ and the children are those who have believed in Christ’s work on their behalf.  In Matthew 3, John the Baptist tells the Pharisees “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”  God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations was not simply to those who were his descendants by nature, but rather, to the offspring of Abraham who is Christ and to all who by faith embrace Christ.  In Christ, the promise to Abraham of blessing and inheritance with God comes to those who like Abraham have believed apart from works.  This is why Paul writes to the Galatians, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. . . . So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” 3:6, 7, 9.  Mary’s Song, then, leaves us at the promise of salvation in Christ.  For this reason, I want to encourage you to repent of your idolatry, your trusting in things that cannot satisfy your soul for eternity, and to look upon the salvation of God in Christ – He is the supreme object of worship, and He alone can satisfy your soul both now and forevermore.  Believe upon Him this morning; cast aside your hesitations, your thoughts of insignificance, and your sin; Christ died for the thief on the cross, for the ungodly, for you – embrace Him, like Mary, as your Savior and God will save you.

In Jesus, God helps the unbelief of the believer, so fret not!  This is looking forward to Zechariah’s Song.  If you are a believer in Christ this morning, and perhaps, your worship of Christ is not like that of Mary who believed the Word of God immediately, wait until next week with Zechariah.  When the Word of God came to Zechariah, a righteous and blameless priest of the Lord of all things, he did not believe and was wonderfully disciplined by a God who cares for your growth in godliness.  Though he did not believe immediately, Zechariah will sing a Song of praise to God and to His Son Jesus Christ.  God delivers His children from unbelief.  Look to Christ and you will find your Song of Worship that is Christ-centered and God-glorifying.


A Practical Summation and Prayer

The goal of the hearing of the magisterial Word is to heed it, to practice it, to do it.  And so we have this morning, this day at least three portraits that uniquely qualify Jesus to be the Redeemer of God’s people.  To leave our souls upon the knowledge only is to deny the glory of the biblical Christ.  And thus we are called to action by this Christ, for the uniqueness of His qualification means simply this: only Jesus could accomplish the work of salvation which quite obviously excludes any other man including you or myself.  Our Lord and our Savior is, in fact, a unique treasure, and we should not be content to brush off such realities as mere knowledge, but to plead with God to give us life from such reality, to grant us food and drink at this eternal table.  Therefore, to the practical, we must as Mary and Elizabeth, and indeed, eventually Zechariah did, not only believe upon this Christ, but having believed, continue believing the Word concerning Him.  We must ask the Lord, what do you want me to do with this glorious Christ?  Grant my soul life from this magnificent Redeemer.  Do not let me rest or be satisfied with a simple reading and a vain prayer.  Pour out grace upon grace and truly flood my soul with the reality that I know this Jesus, He is my Lord and Salvation.  And then to take heed to His Spirit.  We shall find ourselves pleading for a higher and higher view of Jesus.  By the Spirit, we will be pressed to speak well of this Jesus to the world, His Word agreeing.  But then we must also obey the counsel of the Word and Spirit agreeing.  That is, we must behold His glory such that we walk, talk, live in it.  We must take the life we gain from seeing Him rightly and tell it to the world with the utmost earnestness.  And then we shall celebrate the Gospel, for having believed, taken heed, and obeyed, whether by conversions or persecutions the Gospel will become precious to us if we have loved this Christ.  Then our Song shall rise; then God will be glorified in His Salvation wrought in Christ.  God let it be so as we bow before the majesty of your Word in contemplation of these things, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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