Music can be a great tool in helping people connect to God. I still remember one statement that was expressed in our Bible College music class years ago that expressed this following sentiment: ‘Music has the ability to transcend our minds and speak right to our spirit.’ Is it any wonder that music fills the pages of Scripture? It shouldn’t surprise us that we are instructed to sing as believers. Often the word framed in music helps establish those truths in our hearts. That could easily be the idea behind the inspired words of the apostle Paul to the believers in Colossae. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).”
Pope Leo X once stated that the thing he feared the most regarding the reformation under Martin Luther was the songs that were being sung by the people. For in them, Luther was communicating biblical theology that was radically impacting the people at that time. Words set to music helps us remember their message. One of the great things about the Christmas season is the carols, the songs, that are sung about the birth of Christ. What we need to know is that the first Christmas season was filled with song. The message of those songs need to so fill our hearts that we, in turn, have something to sing about.
Luke is the only one who has recorded for us the outburst of poetry and music in connection with the Incarnation. Matthew does not tell us anything about songs… But Luke, the Greek, the artist, himself a poet as well as a scientific man, when he was investigating, and getting these stories, obtained copies of these songs.
…From him we have gained the Beatitude of Elizabeth, the Magnificat of Mary, the Benedictus of Zacharias, and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon; the Evangel sung by the angel of the Lord over the plains, and the Gloria of the angelic host. …Luke, the artist, has gathered under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the stories which reveal the fact that when Jesus came into the world, poetry expressed itself, and music was reborn.[i]
Mary’s response to being chosen to be the mother of our Lord is expressed in a beautiful song of worship, called the Magnificat, which is Latin for praise. Luke records the words for us in his gospel. The lyrics to her song of praise are filled with Old Testament Scriptures revealing the heart of God toward us His people. What is it that Mary sang about? What is it that we should be singing about? But many might say, in light of all that is happening in our lives with Covid restrictions and other challenges we might be tempted to push back and say, ‘What have we to sing about?’ To every child of God, let me remind us that we have some powerful reasons to sing. In Mary’s song we discover three reasons that we have something to sing about.
TO EXPRESS A HEART OF REJOICING FOR OUR SALVATION
There is no greater joy than to know God as our Savior. It is a joy that creates a song in our hearts. One of the great tragedies or strategies of Satan is to remove the song from our hearts. The end result is to live in despair and defeat. Notice Mary’s response to the promises of God that she was selected to be the mother of the Messiah. She broke into song. “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’ (Luke 1:46).”
- Mary responds from her innermost being.
Her soul sings out. She is deeply aware of her own need for a Savior and recognizes that the child born to her will be her Savior as well as the Savior of her people. All of us need a Savior from sin. What love and kindness for God to come to earth and save us. The other night, Patty (my wife) and I were reading a devotional and praying when we came across this word of great encouragement and insight. The writer stated: “That God isn’t in the business of meeting our expectations rather He is in the business of blowing them out of the water. He is in the business of meeting needs we don’t even know we have.”[ii] The example he cited was that the Jewish people’s concept of the Messiah in the first century was to be delivered from Roman oppression. This would be an earthly, limited deliverance; but God had something far more significant in mind. He came to deliver all of humanity from our sins and reunite us to God for all eternity. Wow! This is something we did not warrant, but God in his goodness and because of his loving nature extended this amazing gift of redemption to us.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.[iii]
We must ever remind ourselves that all of our giving to God is, as C. S. Lewis remarks, of value only in that God loves our intention, but the gifts themselves are in themselves without real value. “All our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father loves indeed, but values only for the intention.”[iv]
There is nothing that we can give that will enrich God. God has everything He needs. The thing that He delights in is our response to Him. Do we love Him? Will we serve Him? Will we worship Him with all our heart? Is our heart filled to overflowing toward Him? That is what blesses our Father’s heart.
2. Mary worshiped because of the child that was to be born within her.
Think of it: Christ in her, the hope of glory. Isn’t that why we rejoice? Is our condition any less? Christ in us: the hope of glory. That’s the mystery which the apostle Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).” Though Mary’s experience is different than ours in that she bore a literal child, we also have birthed within our hearts when we surrender our wills to God and receive Christ. Christ birthed within us by his Spirit. The Spirit of Christ living within us. Oh, to grasp the truth of that reality that we are the people of God’s presence. He is not only with us, but within us. Christianity is more than just propositional truth, it’s also subjective. It’s not just about knowing God but living with Him. It is knowing God personally, because he lives with us. The incredible passage in the book of Ephesians dealing with marriage is really a passage dealing with the church. It’s talking about marriage as an illustration of the relationship we have with God. Marriage was designed to be the most intimate relationship in which two people become a union. The same is true for us as believers, we are united with God. Jesus, in his high priestly prayer in John 17 states it this way:
“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them (John 17:26).”
3. Another element regarding this expression of praise is that Mary was able to sing before it happened.
She was singing in the promise of this reality. She was rejoicing by faith. She had accepted the word of the angel as fact and was singing praise before its total fulfilment and reality. How many realize that it’s one thing to sing when the promises of God are realized, and quite another to sing when we are living in the hope and promise of their fulfilment?
There’s a song to be sung when God’s promises and another song to be sung when God answers. Mary was singing for the promise to come. We can sing in that the promise has come. He has come to us personally.[v]
4. We also discover that this song is personal.
Listen to how Mary expressed her song: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior (Luke 1:46b-47).’ We can only sing the song of Mary if Christ has become personal and real within us. This is not just objective truth. It’s not just ideas or doctrines that we embrace. It must be a subjective or an internal reality within us. God’s very presence living within us, like He did within the womb of Mary. Not only are we in Christ, but Christ must be in us. As I’ve already stated, Christ in you, the hope of glory. I’m convinced that when we have a personal encounter with God, the result is a song in our heart.
So we might ask why we would burst into song, if Christ be within us? Charles Spurgeon points out: ‘Singing is the natural language of joy.’[vi] Of all the people on the planet, believers have the most to be thankful for. We have the greatest reason for singing.
A RECOGNITION OF OUR EXALTATION
When God comes to us, He lifts us. He picks us up. God elevates those He comes to. God does not come to us because we are special, rather in coming to us, God makes us special. God chooses us, and therefore in choosing us, makes us special.
Mary calls ‘attention to the great reversal that has occurred in her life. God has removed her from obscurity and a lowly status to the pinnacle of being exalted by all future generations. The reason for such blessing on Mary is not due to her own worthiness but rather because of the greatness of her Son.[vii]
In Luke’s gospel we are reminded of this exaltation. “…for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name (Luke 1:48-49).” What did Mary do to deserve this special task or calling? Nothing! It was by God’s choosing. What do we do to deserve God’s goodness and blessings in our lives? Absolutely nothing. It’s all of grace. It is a gift, unearned and undeserved. Mary realized that God had chosen her in spite of her humble station in life and was about to use her in a way that would be remembered for all time. Think of what God has done for us as believers in Christ. Look where He reached out to receive us from?
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.[viii]
Like Mary we have a new song, a song of praise for the good things God has done on our behalf. Look where God has elevated us. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6).” In Christ we have everything that the Father has given to His son. That’s where all our blessings come from. I love the parable told of a wealthy father and his only son:
They loved to collect rare works of art: everything from Picasso to Raphael. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father grieved deeply for his only son. About a month later, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, ‘Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life to save. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart. He died instantly. He often talked about you and your love for art.’
The young man held out the package and said, ‘I know this isn’t much. I’m not a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.’ The father opened the package and gazed at a portrait of his son. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured his son in the painting. The father hung the portrait over his mantle. When visitors came to his home, he always drew attention to the portrait of his son before he showed them any other great work. When the father died, his paintings were to be auctioned. Many influential people gathered, excited about the opportunity to purchase them. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel and asked for someone to start the bidding. The crowd scoffed and demanded the Van Goghs and the Rembrandts. But the auctioneer persisted. ‘Who will start the bidding? $200? $100?’The crowd again insisted on seeing the famous paintings. Still the auctioneer solicited, ‘The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?’
Finally, a voice said, ‘I’ll give $10 for the painting.’ The long-time gardener of the father was poor and couldn’t afford anything more. While the auctioneer continued to pursue a higher bid, the crowd became angry. The auctioneer pounded the gavel and sold the painting for $10 to the gardener. An eager buyer from the second row bellowed,
‘Finally, on with the auction.’
But the auctioneer explained, ‘I’m sorry, the auction is over. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything.[ix]
That’s true of us, when we receive the Son of God, when we receive Jesus, we get everything. We are exalted. Without the Son of God, we end up with nothing.
OUR REGARD FOR GOD’S PROVISIONS FOR US
It’s not because of us that we are so exalted, but rather it’s because of God’s nature: His love, mercy and goodness that we are noticed by God. The greatest gift that God can give us, is the gift of himself. Here we find a number of expressions of God’s nature. Here in Mary’s song we discover certain things about God’s nature. She sings of God’s mercy, holiness, power and faithfulness. What is also exciting is that God helps those who cannot help themselves. He rescues and provides for the helpless, the humble and the hungry. It all points to our own neediness before God, and above all His own willingness to meet that need because of who He is. Author, Warren Wiersbe relates:
The common people of that day were almost helpless when it came to justice and civil rights. They were often hungry, downtrodden, and discouraged (Luke 4:16-19), and there was no way for them to ‘fight the system.’ A secret society of patriotic Jewish extremist called ‘the zealots’ used violent means to oppose Rome, but their activities made matters only worse.[x]
What were some of the attributes of God that Mary sang about? Mary sang about God’s holiness (Luke 1:49), mercy (Luke 1:50), power (Luke 1:51-52), provisions (Luke 1:53), and faithfulness (Luke 1:54-55). God’s holiness speaks to the fact that God is distinctly other than us. He is unlike us in so many ways. He is beyond us, what theologians speak of as ‘transcend.’ God is beyond us, but in Christ, he has come to us. When we think of God’s mercy what is means is that we are not receiving what we deserve. In our haughtiness, arrogance and neglect of our Creator, we have allowed sin to dominate our lives with all its addictive and destructive patterns; but God steps in and saves us from ourselves. It is amazing to consider that God in all of His power reaches down and lifts us up. He provides this amazing gift of salvation which brings dignity and honor into our lives; removing the penalty of sin, with its guilt and shame. We should be deeply encouraged in what God says, what He can and does accomplish.
In his book Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper recounts a story his father often told in his days as a fiery Baptist evangelist. It is the story of a man who came to saving faith in Jesus Christ near the end of his earthly existence.
The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone’s amazement he came and took my father’s hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face, ‘I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!’
By the grace of God, even a life that is almost totally wasted can still be redeemed. As the Scottish theologian Thomas Boston once said, our present existence is only ‘a short preface to a long eternity.’ If that is true, then the man’s life was not wasted after all; he was only just beginning an eternal life of endless praise. But why wait even a moment longer before starting to serve Jesus? You have only one life to live. Don’t waste it by living for yourself when you can use it instead for the glory of God.[xi]
What Piper is stating is that it’s never too late to begin a life of surrender to God. It’s never too late to begin to sing that song of Mary that celebrates God as Savior, the One who exalts and provides according to His nature. On the other hand, don’t waste a moment of living for the smallest object of self, when we can be living for the greatest objective of life: namely serving God. Only then will we have the song of all seasons within our soul.
[i] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Luke, (Old Tappan, N. J. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1931), 27.
[ii] Unknown, Advent, The Journey of Christmas, A Church of the Highlands Devotional, December 16, 2020.
[iii] Titus 3:4-7, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iv] C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis, Ed. Wayne Martindale & Jerry Root, (Wheaton, Il: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990), 245.
[v] Charles Spurgeon, ‘Mary’s Magnificat,’ Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 51, (Pasadena, Tx: Pilgrims Publications, 1978), 302.
[vii] C. Marvin Pate, Luke: A Moody Gospel Commentary, (Chicago, Il: Moody Press, 1995), 66.
[viii] Psalm 40:2-3.
[ix] Source Unknown.
[x] Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate, (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1988), 18.
[xi] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2003).