Friends: Next Post will be Monday, February 10th. I am on a short Winter break. Blessings, dh
Meditation and Devotional from David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher, Evansville, IN. (David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his morning devotional: study, observe, apply, pray. (Friends: David’s recent morning study has been to focus on passages in the Bible that proclaimed that God would establish His King and Kingdom in the earth. That God would send a Messiah. Jesus is that promised Messiah.)
Celebration or Worship?
Luke 2; Matthew 2:1; Hebrews 1:6
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” … “20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, … 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: …
30 … my eyes have seen your salvation, … 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” … 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, … She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Matt. 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Heb. 1:6 “… when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
When we think of Christmas, we primarily think of celebration – decorations, gifts, feasting. All good! And it is great to celebrate Jesus and His birth at Christmas. But these passages have a different emphasis – Angels, shepherds, Simeon, Anna, Magi all worshiped Him. They bowed, they praised, they gave God glory, they gave Him gifts (not each other). Why? Because the long promised and long awaited Messiah/Savior finally came. It was great joy for all the people! The announcement of His coming was good news for everyone! Everyone needs forgiveness and salvation! It is the most important gift anyone could receive because it determines our whole eternity, and it is better than any gift of health, wealth, comfort, etc. Whoever would give such a costly gift deserves WORSHIP. And no one else could give it. So it is easy to conclude that grateful worship, whether words, songs, service or love, is 100% appropriate from 100% of those who hear about it.
And it is not just a good idea to worship Jesus, but God commanded the angels to worship Him – and they don’t receive the benefits of salvation like we do. Jehovah’s Witnesses make a major command not to celebrate Christmas or worship Jesus, because that is reserved for God alone. But this Hebrews passage shows clearly that God commanded the angels to worship Jesus, and we know from Jn 1, and Col 1 that Jesus is the true Creator God.
BTW – We do “worship” what impresses us most. We stand and cheer wildly for sports teams, entertainers and celebrities. We devote time and money to hobbies and causes we desire. It is natural! So if we don’t worship Jesus, it is because we haven’t reflected on Who He is and what He actually did. At least not recently. When we first get married we express praise and devotion to our beloved, but as time goes on we tend to take them for granted. But if we continue to think about their character and life, we will continue to express thanks, praise and devotion to them, even though they are not perfect.
Worthy LORD, I gladly worship You as my Creator and Savior! There is no other person or God who could create or save us. You deserve all my loyalty, gratitude, love, and service, and I want to be faithful to give it to You always. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight – may they be appropriate to Your greatness and bring You pleasure – O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Ps 19:14) Amen.
We Dare Not Ignore the Devil
Article by Jon Bloom, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
A.W. Tozer once memorably said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Though I agree with C.S. Lewis’s response to this line of thinking — that “how God thinks of us is . . . infinitely more important” than how we think of him — Tozer’s point is still crucial: “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 1). How we think about God determines how we live.
Now, what comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons? Certainly, it is not the most important thing about you. And what God thinks about Satan and demons is infinitely more important than what we think of them. But what we think about the demonic realm is certainly not unimportant.
“We must be more willing to be considered fools than to cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.”
What do we think of what God has to say about the existence and activity of devils in Scripture? How seriously do we take what he says — not just in creed but in deed? How much does a conscious awareness of spiritual warfare functionally factor into our daily life? How does it affect how we pray? How does it inform the ways we see our areas of chronic temptation, fears, family dynamics, church conflicts, physical and mental illnesses, inhibited gospel fruitfulness, geopolitical events? What kinds of strategic spiritual action do we take in response to these things?
These are important questions. Because how we think about satanic forces also determines in significant ways how we live.
Are We Ignorant of His Designs?
The New Testament authors wrote with a profound awareness of the cosmic war they were involved in. They determined to “not be outwitted by Satan; for [they were] not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
“The devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) factored prominently in Jesus’s life, teaching, and miracles. From his temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1–11) to the events surrounding his crucifixion (John 13:27), Satan and his forces were an ever-present reality. Jesus taught that demons actively enslave people (Luke 13:16), actively seek to gain influence over religious leaders and institutions (John 8:44), and actively oppose and seek to undermine and corrupt gospel work (Luke 8:12). He also taught that Satan understands his massive influence in the world as his “kingdom” (Luke 11:17–18). When Jesus’s closest disciples described his miraculous ministry, they said, “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).
When Jesus commissioned his early apostolic leaders, he sent them into a world of unbelievers “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). They understood that they — and all Christians — are involved in a war in which “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
“What comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons?”
And they repeatedly warned Christians to “be sober-minded [and] watchful” because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). They did not want us to be ignorant of Satan’s designs.
The question we need to ask ourselves, especially we Christians in the West, is this: Are we ignorant of Satan’s designs?
Here’s a test case. How did you emotionally respond to my earlier mention of “physical and mental illnesses” as possibly being caused or exacerbated by demonic beings? Did it provoke some level of cultural embarrassment because the idea sounds so unscientific, even superstitious? Or did it provoke some defensive anger because, especially when it comes to mental illness, you want to emphatically state that no one should assume the affliction is demonic?
Now, before any qualification, let’s take a moment to assess our emotional reactions. If we feel some embarrassment, why? If we feel some defensive anger, why? What’s fueling our responses? How much are they fueled by an accurate biblical understanding of demonic involvement, and how much are they fueled by our personal experiences and/or our culture’s naturalistic assumptions about everything?
It’s important that we query our responses and not accept them too easily. They might expose an unbiblical imbalance or blind spot. Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them. The first century had its blind spots, and we have ours. We are naïve to think they don’t significantly affect us. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to instruct Christians of all eras to be sober-minded and watchful, and not be ignorant of satanic schemes.
No, certainly not all physical and mental illness is caused or exacerbated by demonic beings. The Bible doesn’t teach this, nor have the vast majority of Christians throughout history believed this. This is why at Desiring God, along with many resources on spiritual warfare, we also have many resources on mental illness, disease, and disability.
Cost of Supernaturalism
But Western evangelicals in general are not in danger of an overapplication of demonization. We are far more in danger of under-application — of a functional, unbiblical naturalism. This is partly due to cultural blind-spot assumptions. But increasingly, it is also a result of the growing cultural cost of supernaturalism.
“Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them.”
We live in post-Enlightenment cultures that consider the biblical, supernatural worldview to be a foolish religious hangover from the Dark Ages. The very idea of a demon-haunted world is ridiculed. But not only is it considered foolish; it is quickly being considered abusive to insinuate that a person might be afflicted by a demon. From a naturalistic perspective, such an assertion only heaps shame on someone already suffering — all because people like us aren’t willing to let go of an archaic worldview whose time is long past.
This packs an emotional punch, often landing on our spiritual solar plexus. Suddenly, the issue is binary: either demons exist and the denial of them (explicitly or functionally) is cruel, or demons don’t exist and the diagnosis of them is cruel. None of us wants to be cruel; we want to help, not harm, the afflicted. But one side of the binary is cruel. One might accurately call it demonic.
For Western Christians, this means if we want to seriously engage in the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and see many people “turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18), we must be willing to endure the cultural shaming (perhaps eventually worse) that will come from taking demons seriously. We must be more willing to be considered fools than cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.
How we think about satanic forces, and how seriously we take God’s instruction to us about them, determines how we live. The more aligned we are with the Bible’s view of reality, the more faithfully we will follow Jesus, the more spiritually helpful we will be to people, and the more damage we will wreak on the domain of darkness. But we also will bear the reproach Jesus endured (Hebrews 13:13).
The Bible is a robustly supernatural book. The spiritual war between God and his angels and the devil and his angels, and human beings on both sides of the conflict, fills its pages from cover to cover. And here’s the way it instructs us to live:
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13)
Let’s take this seriously. Let’s not leave people captives to demonic schemes. And let’s stand firm in the assault.
Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by Sight, Things Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.
You Need Not Worry About Next Year
(article by Sam Allberry, Guest Contributor)
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Whenever I read those familiar words, I find myself asking myself, Do I know this? Do I live from it? The new year gives each of us an opportunity to test the anchor of our souls, especially inside the waves of fear and anxiety about the future.
“Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us.”
It’s important to see that Paul says, “All things work together for good.” Not, “all things are good.” Becoming a Christian does not mean that we are now immune from awful things happening to us. That may be the teaching of some leaders in the world today, but you will not hear it from God himself in Scripture. We suffer the same illnesses, financial challenges, bereavements, work stresses, relational heartaches, accidents, and challenges as anyone else in this damaged world we live in. We suffer like anyone else. In some places in the world, we even suffer more because of our faith in Jesus. As we faithfully follow Christ, something awful may happen in the next twelve months.
Paul is not saying nothing bad will come our way in the Christian life; he is saying that God can take whatever comes and make it serve our good. He is not responsible for evil, but even evil and suffering cannot escape his perfect purposes for us.
All Things in 2019
This verse has been given to us because it is going to be exactly what we need to hear. Paul has already outlined the basic shape of the Christian life — sufferings now, glory to come (Romans 8:17) — a shape derived from the ministry of Christ himself. In a world full of painful waiting, this verse is an indispensable resource for us to take into this new year. We’re going to need to know that God is able to take everything that happens to us and use it for our ultimate good.
“All things” means everything that happens to us, including the very worst things that might happen. Even those things are not outside the scope of God’s loving purpose for our lives. In the Old Testament, Joseph could look back on the unspeakable evil his brothers did to him and say, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Worry tells us they meant it for evil — that it happened while God was distracted. Faith reassures us that God means it for good.
This “working all for good” is most clearly seen in the death of Jesus (Acts 4:27–28). It was the very worst thing ever to happen on earth. Yet through it God was able to bring about incalculable and eternal good.
The Good All Things Will Serve
“This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.”
So what does this mean in practice? However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been. It may have been a very painful year for you (it was one of the hardest I’ve had). That may be so. But this is God’s word to us about this past year. It will be no less true of the year to come. This next year will be one moment after another of God working things out for your ultimate good.
Perhaps aware that it will be hard for some of us to believe, Paul shows how this truth is backed up by the verse that follows it: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
This is the good to which all things in your life are working — that you become like Jesus. We struggle with seeing the goodness of God because we struggle to understand what ultimate goodness looks like. Our view of what is good falls so far short of God’s. Verses like this remind us that God knows far, far more about what is ultimately best for us than we do. God is not working all things so that this life will be one of financial riches, good health, or popularity. God is working all things so that we will become more and more like his Son.
Nothing to Worry About
As Christians, we are those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose. It is not that we first loved God and, in response, he called us to be blessed by him; it is precisely the other way around. The call of God is how we have come to know him and are able to love him. Not perfectly, but truly. We have a new heart and affection for God. We do love him. However deep your sinful impulses go, a Spirit-given love for God is found deeper still. And this promise is for you: God is working all things for your good — for your conformity to his Son.
“However the last year has been for you, God could not have been more good to you than he has been.”
That is what God wants most for me. That is what I ought to want most for myself. Nothing in my life could be greater than this. There is not a single thing in all of creation, history, and reality that God will allow to get in the way of it.
Which must mean, there is not a single thing I need to worry about. If all things are being worked by God for my good, then God has ordered all things in my reality in the way I most need them to be. Worry on my part will only indicate that there are greater depths in my heart to which I need to apply this truth. I know what it means to struggle with anxiety. But if we are in Christ, we need not worry about next year. There is not one moment we need to fear. Every second of it, God will be working to make us more like Christ. What could be better than that?
(Sam Allberry is an apologist and writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a consulting editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is based in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? He is also a founding editor of Living Out, a resource to help the church faithfully navigate issues of human sexuality.)
Three Christmas Presents
(devotional by John Piper)
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. . . . My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 3:7–8; 2:1–2)
Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning — to destroy the works of the devil — and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?
Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.
Gift #1. A Clear Purpose for Living
It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin — don’t do what dishonors God. “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment” — “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to love. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.
Gift #2. Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven
The second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up.
Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use. Well, here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil — our sinning — he also came to be an advocate for us because of experiences of failure in our fight.
So, I plead with you, let the fact that failure will not have the last word give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting sin?” — if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble.
But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let Christ’s covering of your failure give hope to fight. “I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.”
Gift #3. Christ Will Help Us
Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because sin is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil, and it will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us.
So here’s your third Christmas present: Christ will help overcome sin in you. First John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you in your fight with sin in the new year. Trust him.
His Heart Is Broad as Heaven
Why God Delights to Forgive
(article by: Scott Hubbard, Editor, desiringGod.org)
All Christians believe that God forgives sins. But how many of us feel, deep down in our bones, that God delights to forgive?
When we consider God’s forgiveness, few of us imagine a bridegroom adorning his bride with jewels and rejoicing over her newfound beauty (Isaiah 62:5), a shepherd singing as he carries his lost sheep home (Luke 15:3–7), or a father running to us, robing us, and dancing till daybreak (Luke 15:20–24).
Images like these stretch the imaginations of sinners like us. They sit on the surface of our souls, while deep down, where roots sink into soil, we wonder if God is really that happy forgiving us. Our suspicions easily replace the Bridegroom’s pleasure with pursed lips, the Shepherd’s song with a lecture, and the Father’s robe with the elder brother’s hand-me-downs.
If we are going to feel and not just confess that God delights to forgive those who come to him through Jesus, we will need to grasp why he forgives.
1. Forgiveness reveals God’s heart.
For many of us, the god of our unredeemed imagination has a small and shriveled heart. If we asked this god to show us his glory, he might pass by and say, “The Lord, the Lord, a God stingy and tightfisted, quick to anger, and abounding in steadfast vengeance.” If this god forgives at all, he does so as a sovereign Scrooge, ever dangling our debts over our heads.
But this is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose heart is broad as the heavens, deep as the seas, kind as the morning sun. If we travel into the inner chambers of God’s heart, we will find the home of everything pleasant: mercy, grace, and enough forgiveness to cover the world twice over. He is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon him” (Psalm 86:5).
To be sure, God also feels righteous wrath toward those who refuse to repent. But love and wrath, forgiveness and vengeance, do not own equal acreage in God’s heart. When God proclaims his name, he leads with mercy and grace, not anger (Exodus 34:6). When he sends calamity on his stiff-necked people, he calls his judgment “strange” and “alien” (Isaiah 28:21). Even when he lands a fatal blow, he reminds us that “he does not afflict from his heart” (Lamentations 3:33). In the end, the wrath of God will stand as the black backdrop accenting the diamonds of his forgiving love (Romans 9:22–23).
The God we meet in Scripture does not hoard his forgiveness like a miser with his money. The storehouses of his heart are always open and stocked with all the grace a sinner will ever need. With God, there is forgiveness (Psalm 130:4) — and not out of reluctance or necessity, but out of the overflow of his broad heart.
2. Forgiveness fulfills God’s mission.
From the moment Adam and Eve left Eden, God has not been content to leave his people in exile, corrupt and condemned. He promised, again and again, that a day would come when the Son of God would leave his Father’s side, travel to rebel lands, and trade the praise of angels for the scorn of men.
And why? For forgiveness. Jesus “will save his people from their sins,” the angel tells Joseph (Matthew 1:21), and then Zechariah tells us how: “in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). When Jesus began his public ministry, he set his face toward sinners (Mark 2:17), forgiving even the worst (Luke 7:47–48). He taught us to pray for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), and, in his moment of greatest agony, he himself prayed for us: “Father, forgivethem” (Luke 23:34).
As the hour of his death approached, Jesus told his disciples the meaning of his broken body and spilled blood: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He took on a back to bear our griefs, shoulders to carry our sorrows, hands to be pierced for our transgressions, and a body to be bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:4–5). Then he hung there on the cross, pouring out the kindness of his forgiving heart from the wounds that we created.
Through forgiveness, Jesus fulfills God’s ancient mission. He plunders the domain of darkness while Satan watches, bound (Matthew 12:29), and fills his Father’s house with many sons and daughters (John 14:2; Hebrews 2:10).
You do not need to persuade this Savior to forgive you. Forgiveness is why he came.
3. Forgiveness glorifies God’s Son.
On this side of Calvary, all forgiveness comes through the crucified Christ, who fulfilled every letter of God’s law, paid every cent of our debt, and swallowed up every drop of God’s wrath. Every forgiven sinner stands safe behind the scars of Jesus Christ. And therefore, forgiveness glorifies the name of Christ — it is “for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).
God’s forgiveness does not mainly emphasize our worth but Jesus’s. When God forgives, he writes the merits of Jesus on a banner across the sky. He leads us behind the Lamb of God in triumphal procession. He taps into the deepest passion of his heart, and fulfills the prayer of the psalmist: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).
Because forgiveness glorifies Christ’s name, he does not forgive half-heartedly. He forgives gladly, zealously — with all of his heart and soul. John Piper writes, “Whenever I am most thirsty and desperate for help, I can encourage my soul not only with the truth that there is a merciful impulse in the heart of God, but also with the truth that the source and power of that impulse is the zeal of God to act for the glory of his own name” (The Pleasures of God, 233–34).
What makes God glad to forgive you? Not your merits, not your vows, and not your future potential, but rather the worth of the Lamb who was slain.
Fields of Forgiveness
Of course, God does not delight to forgive everybody. Millions in our day echo the last words of Heinrich Heine — “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job” — while feeling no sorrow for sin, no hunger for holiness, no love for Christ. God does not delight to forgive people who take forgiveness for granted.
But when we ask for forgiveness beneath the bright banner of Jesus, from a heart that hates sin, and with a longing to be holy as God is holy, we place ourselves on the path of God’s delight. We become a stage for God to showcase the glories of his heart. We join God in his passion to bring many sons to glory. We display to saints and sinners, angels and demons, that Jesus Christ is a strong Savior.
When you come before God today in the moments after committing some sin, you do not need to stumble through the forests of guilt and self-reproach. Confess your sin, turn to Jesus, and run in the fields of his forgiveness.
A Christmas Carol For The Weak
(article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org)
It may be the strangest Christmas song ever crafted. Modern Christians rarely sing it, even though we often see its lyrics and hear them read aloud.
Its author was no secondhand source or distant observer but (more than) an eyewitness of what really transpired when God himself came into our world, was wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger. In fact, it was the songwriter herself who birthed him, wrapped him, and laid him there. The author is Jesus’s own mother.
Mary’s Magnificent Song
For far too long, I deeply misunderstood Mary’s carol in Luke 1:46–55, as if it were just a personal journal from a young peasant girl. After all, I thought, Mary must have understood so little at this point in the story, right?
I am finally recognizing, however, that Luke did not intend Mary’s poetic words to be a mere aside. They are the high point of his first chapter. As the rest of his Gospel makes plain, Luke stewarded what tight space he had with great care, not as an unbiased reporter but an inspired spokesman for the risen Christ. And while Mary’s “Magnificat,” as the church has come to call it (based on its first word in Latin), may sound strange to us today compared to other more popular carols, her lyrics represent some of the most important Christmas lines ever penned. They also give us one of the most profound glimpses into the heart of God in all the Scriptures.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
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 away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46–55)
Why She Wrote the Song
The song has three distinct parts. Verses 46–47 declare what Mary is doing in the hymn: praising God. Then verses 48–49 explain why: because of what God has done for her. Finally, the bulk of her song, verses 49–55, marvels at the surprising glory of her God, significant not only to her at that first Christmas but to all his people, all the time.
That final section (verses 49–55), which is unusually God-centered (he is the subject of every verb), is the heart and essence of Mary’s hymn and is a remarkable celebration of God and his ways, so counter to our natural human expectations. Mary celebrates the kind of God he is — different than us, shattering our paradigms — as he shows his strength not by recruiting the strong but by rescuing the weak.
When Mary gives the reason for her praise (Luke 1:48–49), it is curiously general. This is emphatically not a personal journal entry, but a song designed for the people of God, in all places, for generations to come. And it is not just deeply insightful about what God was doing at that first Christmas, but it is a penetrating summary of the whole Bible.
God’s Surprising Glory
Here, as a skilled theologian — or simply as one well-steeped in the Scriptures (like Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2) — Mary holds up the heart of God’s holiness (“holy is his name,” Luke 1:49) — that he is, in himself, of an order altogether different and greater than his creatures — by showing how he consistently acts differently than our human instincts. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways, but higher — as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8–9). In God’s peculiar patterns, the older serves the younger (Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:12). This God rallies to the weak, not the strong.
He chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong. He chooses what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not — like a forgotten town called Nazareth and an unwed maiden carrying a child conceived without a human father — to bring to nothing things that are (1 Corinthians 1:27–28). He humbles the strong and magnifies his strength by exalting the weak. Christmas turns the world upside down.
Has this not been our experience of this God and his world? Over and over again, just when we think we have figured him out with our infinitesimally small human minds, he shatters our assumptions and plans. He turns the world on its head. Mary’s own son will literally embody this peculiar glory of God. And for those of us with eyes to see, like Mary, it is marvelous, the very wisdom of God, worth celebrating in song and in a life of praise.
God Magnified in Our Rejoicing
But even before her celebration of God’s rescue of the weak, Mary begins with an insight not to overlook. Her opening lines not only celebrate that God magnifies his strength in the weaknesses of his people but also how. How is God magnified in us? Not through human pride and confidence, nor through human wealth and strength, but through the humble heart of rejoicing in him.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46–47)
This is a life-changing lyric if you catch it — not just at Christmas but for all of the Christian life. God is magnified in his weak people when we, like Mary, rejoice in him.
You might say, “But that’s not what the song says. It says ‘and’ — not ‘when’ or ‘by’ or ‘through.’” The question, then, is how does the magnifying relate to the rejoicing?
The answer is that our spirit rejoicing in God magnifies God. Surely, his magnification increases his people’s rejoicing, but here the issue for Mary is what her soul and spirit does related to God’s magnification. And God is shown to be magnificent in Mary as she rejoices in him — because we magnify, or glorify, or honor what or whom we enjoy. We see in Mary what John Piper has demonstrated time and again for decades: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. This is not a peripheral truth for Mary, or at Christmas, or any time of year, but it is endlessly relevant and will be so eternally for God’s people as we grow and expand and deepen and ripen in our enjoyment of this God.
What Christmas Sings About God
We would do well this Christmas, and any time of year, to listen carefully to Mary’s strange song — strange to humans attuned to the music of the world, but deeply thrilling to those who have been given an ear for the God who is, not the God of our imaginations.
Neither Mary’s song, nor Christmas itself, is a peripheral revelation of the true God. Christmas is a window into his very heart, who he is year round and forever. He does indeed look, with mercy, on those who own their humble estate, to exalt them. While he looks, with terrifying justice, on the prideful, to humble them. And for those of us who are weak and heavy laden, it is marvelous in our eyes, and music to our ears.