By Andrew E. Courtis
After Elizabeth greeted Mary and rejoiced in the blessedness of what God has done for her, Mary now responds by praising God. This passage contains Mary’s song of praise. It is often referred to as Mary’s Magnificat. The word “magnificat” comes from the first word in the Latin translation of this song. In English it begins by saying “my soul magnifies the Lord”.
After receiving the news from the angel, Mary was ready to praise God and here in this passage she did just that. Before we work our way through this magnificent song of praise, there are a three observations that I would like to make.
Firstly, Mary’s Magnificat was Scripturally Established.
Secondly, Mary’s Magnificat was Saviour Exalting.
Thirdly, Mary’s Magnificat was Submissively Expressed.
There are three parts to Mary’s Magnificat. These three sections address her praise to God for specific blessings. We will see Mary’s praise for God’s provision (1:46-49), praise for God’s power (1:50-53), and praise for God’s promises (1:54-56).
1. PRAISE FOR PROVISION (1:46-49)
Mary begins her song by praising God for His provision. She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:46-47). This demonstrates that Mary’s praise to God was not superficial. Her praise of God arises from deep within. This was not a showy public display of praise. It was not hypocritical corrupt worship. This was genuine worship arising from deep within her being. Notice the object of her praise - “the Lord” and “God my Saviour”. There are many things in this life that get our attention and fill us with joy and praise. But we need to remember, that the things of this world are inferior to prizing and exalting God. Mary understood who she was, and she rightly understood who God was. The very fact that she referred to God as her Saviour was her recognition that she is a sinner in need of forgiveness.
When she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”, Mary wan’t attempting to make God bigger than He already is, we can’t do that! This act of worship makes Him bigger in her own mind and experience. Sadly, we often make God too small in our thinking. Here Mary takes time to step back and ponder on God’s greatness. As she does this He is magnified in her thinking and she adores Him!
God had chosen her to be the one that would bear and give girth to the Messiah. She was amazed and humbled that God would make such provision for her. Mary says, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (1:48a). Mary was an ordinary girl from an insignificant village. From the world’s perspective she would not be the recipient of such a blessing. She carried no position of power, prominence or popularity in society. She understood that there was nothing in and of herself that could lead to salvation. Yet she was granted by God a provision like no one has ever received. She rightly understood that the provision God has given to her is one of high honour. She declares, “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” (1:49).
There is much for us to learn from Mary’s example of praising God for His provisions. Mary obviously received a blessed provision from God that was unique. We cannot relate with her on the same level. But all of God’s people have been blessed by God and we all ought to ponder on His provisions and praise Him for them.
2. PRAISE FOR POWER (1:50-53)
The second section of Mary’s praise has to do with God’s power. What God has done for Mary is consistent with how He has acted in history. She says, “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (1:50). Mary looks back and sees example after example of how God’s great power had been on display. This power of God brings down the proud and raises up the humble. She declares,
“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” (1:51-53).
The Old Testament has many examples of how God brings down proud and boastful rulers. By His power God brought down Pharaoh. By His power God brought down Nebuchadnezzar. By His power God brought down Belshazzar.
These individuals, among many other, paraded around in arrogance and pride. Though they may have been revered and admired by many in the population, God brought them down. This same powerful hand also raised up many humble servants.
The same has happened throughout history, and the same will continue to happen in the future. God will bring down the proud and raise up the humble. Why? “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). There is an important reality here that Mary knew and praised God for. To the glory of his name, God overturns what the may be valued and admired in the world. At the time Mary spoke these words there were many proud and boastful leaders in the world, not least to mention Herod the Great who was king in Judea. Mary was able to see what God was doing in her life was testimony that God is still doing what He has done in the past. He reveals His power in showing mercy to the humble. Mary’s praises God for His power.
3. PRAISE FOR PROMISES (1:54-56)
The final section of Mary’s Magnificat is praise for God’s promises. She said, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (1:54-56). The promise was made to Abraham over two thousand years before Mary. The promise was that from his seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed. We learn in Galatians 3:16 that this is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Mary rightly understood that this Child she is carrying is coming in fulfilment to ancient promises. God promised that there will be One who will crush the serpents head (Gen. 3:15).
God promised that there will be One who would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) of the line of Abraham. God promised that this One would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). God promised that this One would be a King from he line of David. God promised that this One would die as a sacrifice and substitute for sinners. This King is coming and Mary knew that God was fulfilling His promises. She praised God because she is witnessing the fulfilment of what He promised. The Child she is carrying is this promised One!
The promises of God are a blessing to our soul and are a means of helping us praise and enjoy God. JC Ryle said this about the promises of God, “They will bear all the weight we can lay on them. We shall find one day, like the Virgin Mary, that God keeps His word, and that what He has spoken, so He will always in due time perform”.
Luke then tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for “about three months and returned to her home” (1:56). This would have been a sweet time of fellowship between these two ladies who loved the Lord.
Mary’s Magnificat is a beautiful piece of Scripture. But what makes it most beautiful is the fact that this flows from a heart that has been gripped by God’s grace. This song is an act of worship in which Mary exalts and magnifies God. Our God and our Lord alone is worthy of such worship. Mary knew His provisions, His power, and His promises and she praised Him for them.
Now we are in a different situation to Mary. We haven’t been visited by an angel and been given the most surprising and even exciting news in history. The same joy she had is ours to if we take time to put our focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us join in the song of praise and declare with our inner most being, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.