Friday, March 23, 2018

The Lord is Merciful

"On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John” (Luke 1:59–60).

Everyone was so excited that the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth had finally had a child that they fully expected to honor this son by calling him after his father. Gabriel, however, had told Zechariah that his name was to be John, and Elizabeth knew it as well. Zechariah still could not speak, and so Elizabeth spoke for him.

Relatives and friends objected that the name John was not in their lineage, and they went to Zechariah to find out what he thought they ought to call the baby. We read that “he asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John’ ” (Luke 1:63). Just as an act of doubt had caused Zechariah to be struck dumb nine months earlier, so now this act of obedience to the word of the angel resulted in his being able to speak once more.

Names are important in the Bible. To name someone is to have dominion over him. Adam and Eve named the animals in the Garden of Eden, for instance; they were not named by them. Just so, when Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, he did not name the Angel but the Angel gave him a new name: Israel.

Ordinarily, it is parents who name children. In a few instances, however, we see God Himself intervening to name the child. When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, or Jacob’s to Israel, or Saul’s to Paul, He was not only exercising dominion over these men as His servants, He was also showing His Fatherhood to them in a special way. The fact that God named John shows this same kind of special Father-son relationship.

The name John means “The Lord Is Merciful” from the Hebrew name Johanan. As Zechariah himself said in his song of praise, the Lord was now coming to redeem His people, “to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant” (Luke 1:72). God had been gracious to Zechariah and Elizabeth; now He was going to be gracious to all mankind.

Given the opportunity, what would be your choice for a new spiritually significant name? What characteristic would this name accentuate?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

God Changes Things

He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts” (Luke 1:51).

Why is it so often that the wicked are exalted while the righteous are abased? Is that how it should be in God’s world? Obviously not. Here we see in the song of Mary a glimpse of how it will be in the Messiah’s kingdom. The Savior will scatter the proud when He stretches out His mighty arm to save the lowly. This is what He has done in the past, says Mary, and now that He is coming into the world He will certainly accomplish it.

In the past “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52), and He will do it again. He is the God who overturns history, and who restores a topsy-turvy world. Not only has God put down the wicked and lifted up the godly, it is also true that “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53).

“He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54–55). Mary celebrates a God who remembers His covenant. It is important to recall that Luke has an eye for history and that the birth of Jesus did not happen in a vacuum. Jesus was born after generations of promises and covenants from God. Age after age God had renewed His promises, and now, at last, those promises were coming into their fullness in space and time.

How often we as Christians live only from experience to experience! But we are called to obey and serve when we don’t feel like it. What carries us on such occasions? Our covenant memory. If we never experience another blessing from God and never sense His presence again, we should still have every reason to praise God every day for what He has already done for us. Yet how often we forget. Thank God that He does not forget His covenant promises to us.

Our faithfulness to others should be founded on and modeled after God’s covenant faithfulness to us. This means being faithful in the routine activities of life. Today fulfill your responsibilities with a sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness to you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Songs of Victory

"And Mary said: “My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

We come now to the song that Mary sang when the Holy Spirit came upon her in Elizabeth’s presence. This song is one of the most important hymns in the history of the Christian faith. From the earliest days of the church, people have come together to sing this song of Mary, which is called the “Magnificat.”

One of the great things Luke does in his gospel, which we don’t find in any of the other gospels, is that he gives us several songs. These songs are written in poetry and inspired by God the Holy Spirit Himself. Why do these songs appear here?

If you know biblical history, you know that there are certain times when the Holy Spirit moves people to sing. Think for instance of the Song of Miriam (Exodus 15), sung when the children of Israel had been delivered from Pharaoh. Consider also the Song of Deborah, sung after the victory of God over the Canaanite oppressors of her day (Judges 5). There is the Song of Hannah, sung by her when God opened her barren womb and gave her Samuel as her son (1 Samuel 2). Then there are the psalms of David, which come in a context of deliverance from Saul and from the Philistines. We can see that God gives new songs when He does a great work of delivering His people from oppression and gives them victory.

And now comes the greatest deliverance and victory of all of human history, so again we find several songs sung at the time of Jesus’ birth. It is interesting that in the last book of the New Testament, celebrating the ascended Christ’s triumph over all His foes, we find many more songs. Mary’s song does not come just from her lips, but from her innermost being. Her soul praises the Lord, and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. And what comes through in her song is that from the depths of her being she wanted God to be praised and exalted.

Based on the models of Mary and others, begin today to write out your own song of victory. Thank God for His goodness and unfailing faithfulness in your life.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Spirit's Testimony

"When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:41).

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, one of the things he told her was, “Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age” (Luke 1:36). This encouraged Mary to visit Elizabeth, to get some woman-to-woman support for the times ahead for them both. Thus, “at that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (vv. 39–40).

John the Baptist, who was six months old in the womb at this point (Luke 1:26), leaped for joy when Mary entered the room. Simultaneously Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. What did the Holy Spirit do to Elizabeth? He caused her to open her mouth and praise God. He caused her to understand the truth of the situation, and to bless Mary. Elizabeth cried out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (v. 42).

Now, remember, in that society it would normally have been appropriate for Mary to pay homage to Elizabeth. But Elizabeth recognizes by the working of the Holy Spirit that she is standing in the presence of the mother of God, the theotokos.

Notice what else the Spirit inspires Elizabeth to say: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). These are words of encouragement to Mary. Just as the angel had blessed her, so a human being now blesses her under the Spirit’s guidance. Just as the angel had encouraged her, so now a human being encourages her under the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Thus we see three things that the Spirit did in the life of Elizabeth. He caused her to recognize the truth when it was presented to her, to praise God in response to that truth, and to give encouragement to a fellow believer.

Numerous biblical characters are noted for their gift of encouragement. Barnabas, whose name means “son of consolation,” is a good example of one who lived up to the meaning of his name. Take opportunities today to encourage others at home, school, or work.

Monday, March 19, 2018

I Am the Servant of the Lord

I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” then the angel left her" (Luke 1:38).

The angel Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth and told her that she was going to have a son and that this child would “be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). He would sit on David’s throne and rule over God’s people forever. In short, He would be the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Mary wondered how this could be, since she had never known a man intimately, but the angel assured her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). After this explanation came from the angel, there was no argument from Mary. She acquiesced in what he told her.

There is a bit of theological controversy about the second half of Mary’s reply. Her statement is sometimes called “Mary’s fiat.” Fiat is the Latin imperative or command form of the verb to be. Some say that here Mary is giving a commandment to the angel, “Be it so unto me.” There are those who say that Mary’s fiat was absolutely necessary in order for Christ to be born. Christ, they say, could not have been born without Mary’s okay, and so Mary contributed to the work of our salvation.

Nothing could be further from the tone of the words of Mary here. Mary is not giving orders to the angel. She is bowing before the orders of God, given her by the angel. It is not power but obedience that is manifested here.

There was glory, to be sure, in being the mother of the Messiah, but there was pain as well. What would it be like to have this tremendous responsibility on your shoulders, to raise a Child who was God Himself in the flesh?

In Mary, we see a true servant of the Lord. The beginning of Jesus’ life is marked by a mother who submits to God’s will, even when it is disclosed by angels bearing an incomprehensible message.

Our obedience is in ordinary circumstances without angelic visitation or divine responsibilities. However, submissive obedience is still the key. In your mundane daily tasks today, complete them with godly obedience.