We are seeing Mary with fresh new eyes. She is a trustworthy role model and mentor for twenty-first-century disciples of Jesus. And to recall our series together, here is a review of the last three posts before we move to point four ~ James Whitman, JC Studies
First, Miriam was marked for favor and service to the LORD.
Second, Miriam was noted for her humility and her servant's heart.
Third, Miriam because was a student of the Hebrew Scriptures and hid them in her heart.
Fourth, let us commend Miriam because she knows how to praise God.
To reclaim Mary (Miriam) as an important role model for us as disciples of Jesus is—I suspect—an idea you have not heard before. About the only time we hear her mentioned is in the context of Christmas. Here she is on our Christmas cards, a lovely mild-mannered little maiden. Now I must say, most Jewish women I know are not mild-mannered little maidens.
My point is that Miriam should be thought of like Sarah and Rebecca, like Rachel and Leah. She is a very strong, very gifted, very knowledgeable woman; and she is very humble.
Set aside the fact that this precious Jewish wife and mother in church history subsequently became the God-bearer, the mother of God, and even the queen of heaven in some circles. Try to look at this Jewish maiden with a Hebraic perspective and appreciation. After all, she is the mother of our Messiah and Torah teaches us to honor our fathers and mothers.
Not only is Miriam a student of the Torah, but she is also a saint given to high praise. She ponders his words and deeds and translates her deep understanding into praise for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
"My soul magnifies the LORD,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."
This Jewish woman knows how to praise God! Oh that we, myself included, were given to more praise. What a statement, "My soul exalts (or magnifies) the LORD." Imagine if every day during this Christmas season you would get up and declare, "May my soul magnify you this day, Lord. May my spirit rejoice in you, my Savior."
In Greek, the word magnify or exalt in this text means to make great. Miriam is a woman who wants to make great the God of Israel; she is lifting him up higher than any other. I want to draw your attention to a few highlights of her praise in Luke 1.
(1) In verse 48 she says that God has regard for the humble. Isaiah proclaims that when Messiah comes, when the salvation of God is revealed in the Earth, the humble are going to be exalted and the proud are going to be humbled. Miriam's praise both alludes to and embodies this prophecy.
That God humbles the proud and lifts up the humble is a spiritual principle cited three times in the New Testament. In some respects, Miriam here is like the first fruits of that coming Messianic era. In her humility, God exalts her to a place of service and of blessing. Indeed, all generations will see this and call her blessed.
(2) In verse 50 she particularly highlights God's mercy. The Hebraic intent behind this use of language is that of God's loving-kindness, his gracious covenant faithfulness is upon all those who stand in awe of him, from generation to generation. Again, she is experiencing the promise of the coming Messianic age even as she speaks. And her son will go on to use language similar to hers in one of his most memorable teachings found in Matthew 5:1-12.
(3) In verse 51 she observes that his strong arm has performed mighty deeds like scattering those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts and bringing down rulers from their thrones while, as we have seen, exalting those who were humble. Miriam here is pointing to the Exodus! In effect, she is saying to us that the power at work to redeem the children of Israel out of Egypt is the same power that is bringing the Redeemer, Yeshua.
The same power to save is at work in her womb. She is going to give birth to a Redeemer named Yeshua (God saves), and he is going to save people from their sins. He is the Messiah and he going to rescue, deliver, and save like at the Exodus. Moses foretold of him, and indeed he will be the prophet like unto Moses. His mother is giving utterance to the fact that this same power is at work in her, and that the same mighty deeds that God did at the Exodus he is going to do again through this baby.
(4) Now typically, in our Greek way of thinking, we spiritualize sayings like, "he has brought down the mighty from their thrones," and "the rich he has sent away empty." I want to suggest to you that we need to rethink this. Wherever the kingdom of God is advancing, it has radical implications for politics, for society, and relationships. The kingdom of God is not some pie-in-the-sky. It is not some warm fuzzy, sloppy agape, comfortable, good feelings about God. The Kingdom means God is breaking into the Earth through his people to accomplish his purposes—and it has implications for all.
If you don't believe me, ask Jesus. Did the Kingdom of God have meaning for the politics of his day? So radical were the implications, they had to remove him from the scene. Did it have consequences for the false religion and hypocrisy of some religious leaders of his day? Absolutely. Does it have radical implications for our relationships with one another? Absolutely.
Where in the world today is the kingdom advancing most forcefully and powerfully? Not among the rich and the wealthy—not among Americans.
This is not just some little spiritual homily, what this Jewish maiden is talking about is part of the Messianic vision of the prophets, and that vision has already begun in Jesus and in us, his people. We need to take a reckoning of pride in our lives, of our dependence upon mammon instead of upon the master. We need to humble ourselves that he may lift us up to a place of blessing and service. Let it be so, Lord.
(5) I would draw your attention to verses 54-55, the final statement in this Magnificat. I love Miriam because she is also passionate for Israel. She says that God has given help to Israel, his servant, in remembrance of his lovingkindness (hesed), his covenant faithfulness.
"as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
When God remembers, he acts. When Scripture says, "and God remembered," it means he is about to move. Hebraically, to remember is not a passive state of recall. No! When the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remembers, He acts. Even as he is working in her, Miriam is mindful that he swore an oath to Abraham, that through his posterity all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Israel, of all the nations, will be my people to bear my name in this world—and I will be your God. As He says to Jacob,
"Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28:15)
Miriam has great aspirations for Israel, as a blessing to the nations. She sees God fulfilling those promises through Yeshua. Miriam understands that what is occurring in her womb is part of the fulfillment of God's covenant obligations to Israel and the expression of God's hesed to all peoples. As expressed by angels later at his birth,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased."
Like Miriam, let us be a people that know the promises and the power of God, and let us be a people that know how to praise him accordingly.
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