Mary's Prayer of Submission
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:38
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
. . . . .
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his
seed for ever
Humility and submission to God in prayer enables a person to be used by God.
A. Mary Considered Herself of Low Estate
B. Mary Saw God as Great and Holy
IV. HUMILITY REWARDED
A. Mary Was Blessed among Women
B. Mary Was Present at the Birth of the Church
The Destructive Power of Fear
According to Ashley Stahl, writing for the website The Muse (https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-get-over-your-fear-of-your-boss, accessed August 8, 2016), studies indicated that one in four workers are afraid of their superiors. In most cases this fear has little to do with the superior. It makes no difference if the boss has a pleasing or a difficult personality or if past encounters have been dreadful or delightful. Often it has more to do with negative life experiences of the worker or personal traits unrelated to work. However, it has a major detrimental impact on both the employee and the workplace.
Fearful employees are less likely to enjoy and derive satisfaction from their work. The constant anxiety can cause or contribute to health problems. Fear of displeasing the boss causes many employees to avoid doing outstanding work, to limit their creativity, and to stick to routine and largely anonymous work.
Contemplating The Topic
Mary’s hymn of praise recorded in Luke 1:46–55 has become one of the best-known prayers of the church. This is due in part to the rise, sometime before the fourth century, of Mariolatry (veneration of the Virgin Mary) (Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary). Although it may have been Mariolatry that showed a bright spotlight on the few recorded words and deeds of Mary, this poetic prayer (often called the Magnificat, from the Latin translation of the first few words) deserves its special place in the Christian faith. The Magnificat stands as a superb model for prayers of praise coming from a heart of humility and submission to God’s will. “It is a prayer, but the highest kind of prayer, for it asks for nothing—it simply breathes adoration and thankfulness. We may imagine the angels praying thus” (Pulpit Commentary).
What did God do to provoke such wondrous praise from a young Jewish teenager? He had granted her the most paradoxically cursed blessing ever bestowed upon a girl: to be an unwed mother at a time when such would frequently result in death by stoning or a life of prostitution; to have her virtue and purity questioned; to see the look of incredulity in the eyes of anyone with whom she tried to share the truth; to realize that even if her fiancé would save her from the charge of adultery, they would become the brunt of knowing glances filled with scorn; to go on the run from a government seeking to kill her child; to learn that she could never fully claim, fully guide, or fully comprehend her own son; to witness His rejection, arrest, and agonizing execution; and to know she had been chosen and entrusted with all of this by her Lord.
“Nowhere can we better see the paradox of blessedness than in [Mary’s] life. To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. Well might her heart be filled with a wondering, tremulous joy at so great a privilege. Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart . . . To be chosen by God so often means at one and the same time a crown of joy and cross of sorrow” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke: Daily Bible Study Series).
But God did not leave her without a confidant who would believe, understand, and shelter her. Mary’s older cousin, Elisabeth, became the young girl’s prayer partner. As the Spirit of God fell upon them, first Elisabeth and then Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord in bringing to pass the coming of the Messiah. And in His final moments on the cross, Jesus entrusted his mother’s care to the disciple whom He loved: “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:27).
Searching The Scriptures
A. Mary Considered Herself of Low Estate
Mary would be among the first to vehemently condemn the idolatrous veneration directed toward her as the Queen of Heaven, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the Perpetual Virgin born free from sin due to the Immaculate Conception, and the Co-Redemptrix with Christ. She recognized that she was of “low estate” (of humble origin, from a word translated “vile” in Philippians 3:21). More than that, she called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). The word “handmaid” sounds almost respectful and complimentary to the modern ear, but it is translated from the word for a female slave. Female slaves were the lowest of society, even lower than their male counterparts.
If, as is likely, the genealogy of Jesus given in Luke 3:23–38 is His physical lineage through Mary while that recorded in Matthew 1:1–17 is His legal lineage through Joseph, both Mary and her future husband were direct descendants of King David. But while Joseph came through the royal line of Solomon, Mary’s ancestor was Solomon’s younger brother, Nathan. Her descent from David was one of the reasons Mary was chosen to bring the Messiah into the world—to fulfill prophecy. However, Mary was removed from her royal ancestor by nearly a thousand years of history. In the daily circumstances of her life, being related to David meant nothing. From the few glimpses we receive in the Gospels, it is evident that she did not come from a prominent family with any political or social power or ambitions.
Some of us may be sixth- or seventh-generation Apostolic. We may come from prominent families in the church or in society. We may receive accolades from those within and outside the church. While we justly value these things, they hold no eternal significance. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The heart of praise fully opens to God not through who we are, but through who He is. Mary prayed, “From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things” (Luke 1:48–49). Her blessedness came from what the Lord had done.
B. Mary Saw God as Great and Holy
Mary’s prayer of praise resembles closely Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2:1–10, but it also contains or alludes to no less than twelve other Old Testament passages (Guzik, Luke: Commentaries on the Bible). This praise poured forth from the abundance of her heart, demonstrating that her heart was filled with Scripture.
It is believed by some that during the intertestamental period, Queen Shlomis (c. 141–67 bc) and her brother Shimon ben Shetach, the head of the Sanhedrin, established the first compulsory education law in history that covered both boys and girls. Parents were required to send their children to the village Bet Sefer (House of the Book, usually at the local synagogue) from the age of six, with the boys usually continuing to a Bet ha-Midrash (House of Study) or Bet ha-Talmud (House of Talmud) at the age of sixteen.
Although formal education for girls ended at the age of thirteen or fourteen when they were getting ready for marriage, the requirement that women thoroughly know the Scriptures in order to properly fulfill the role of wife and mother meant that the average Jewish woman was often better educated than all but the wealthiest of Gentile women. (See Schoeman, “Early Hebrew Education”; and Drazin, A History of Jewish Education from 515 bce to 220 ce.)
Clearly, Mary had been systematically exposed to the Scriptures, but more than that, she had found a love for the Word that had driven her to make it a part of her being. “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name,” she proclaimed, “and his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:49–50). Steeped in His Word, her praise declared God’s mighty power, His distinctive holiness, and His everlasting mercy.
“Surely in all the records of the Lord’s works since the world’s creation, his might had been never shown as it was now about to be manifest in her. His holiness had been displayed to her in the way in which the mighty acts of ineffable love had been carried out. His mercy: this attribute of God came home with intense power to the heart of the Jewish girl, into which God’s protecting Spirit was shining with so clear a light” (Pulpit Commentary).
The Magnificat is a revolutionary manifesto. It speaks of four revolutions God brings about in the world of man through His incarnation. The first revolution was spiritual. Mary called God “my Saviour” (Luke 1:47), acknowledging that she was a sinner in need of salvation that comes only from God. She went on to pray, “And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation” (verse 50). We now participate in a revolution of the heart and soul with repercussions reaching from earth to Heaven across all the generations of man. Those who were once sinners are now made saints and those the world thought to be saints have been exposed as sinners. The church joyously proclaims this revolutionary message to all the world.
Second, the Magnificat prophesied a moral revolution: “He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (verse 51). The coming of the Christ signaled the death of pride. “If a man sets his life beside that of Christ it tears the last vestiges of pride from him” (Barclay, The Gospel of Luke). As our great model of true morality, Christ stands so far above us that we can only abandon our pitiful protestations that we live moral lives and fall upon His grace. By the strength of His indwelling Spirit, He generates a true morality inside us that manifests itself in the good that we do in the world.
Third, a social revolution was proclaimed: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (verse 52). Those who would follow Christ are called to abandon the world’s system of assigning individual worth and prestige. Jesus told His disciples, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:25–27).
Last, the Magnificat spoke of an economic revolution: “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:53). For a Christian, wealth is never to be a goal but only a tool. Riches are not wrong if used to glorify God and benefit the needy. (See I Timothy 6:17–19.) Non-Christians often seek personal worth through a spirit of acquisition, but the godly find joy in giving.
Mary’s submission, “be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38) so readily given in response to Gabriel’s message, was not just opening her own life to God’s will. Her prayer of praise made it clear she understood that submission to God’s will requires submission to His plan for all of mankind. Such submission requires that the servant of God become a peaceable revolutionary. The servant of God works to bring about a spiritual, moral, social, and economic world made in the image of Christ. It does not matter if we see it in our present society or during our present lives. We continue to pray for God’s will to be accomplished on earth as it is in Heaven. The world is better because of those revolutionary souls who truly submit to that plan.
Mary’s Magnificat can be divided into four parts. In the first, Mary praised God for making her a part of His eternal plan. In the second, she praised Him for His eternal attributes of mighty power, distinctive holiness, and everlasting mercy. The third praised God for His righteous and equitable will for mankind. Finally, she praised Him for remembering His promises to Abraham.
The first division (Luke 1:46–48) is highly personal, expressing Mary’s intense joy and adoration. Her joy was no doubt in response to Elisabeth’s assurance “for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord” (verse 45), but it was founded upon a much deeper reality: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (verse 47). The miraculous son growing in her womb would soon be revealed as our God and Savior (Titus 3:4; II Peter 1:1). Mary’s great joy was in the assurance of salvation for herself and this sinful world.
In the second division (verses 49–50), Mary’s attention is focused on God Himself. She praised Him for the “great things” He had done to her, recognizing that these blessings arise from His divine character.
The third division (verses 51–53) of the Magnificat is the expression of the revolutionary manifesto of God. Mary lived in a society that was debased spiritually, politically, socially, and economically. We would like to think that the brutality, ignorance, and injustice of ancient societies has been tempered and even eradicated by modern culture. The truth is that we are all barbarians under a thin veneer of civilization. Scientific progress too often makes us more efficient sinners. Education and philosophy frequently provide a cloak for hidden malignancy. The true reform of a society comes only through the Spirit of God working through people who place themselves as salt and light in a corrupt and dark world.
The last division (verses 54–55) is praise for the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel. As Christians today wait for “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), so Jewish believers had awaited their Messiah, the one who would come of the seed of Abraham and of David, the seed of the woman (Galatians 3:16; Romans 1:3; Genesis 3:15). Mary was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” As the angel assured Joseph in his dream, “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This blessing was not just to the Jews. As Simeon proclaimed while holding the baby Jesus, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32).
IV. HUMILITY REWARDED
A. Mary Was Blessed among Women
For most women, bearing a child is a marvelous and fulfilling event. We can only imagine how that might be intensified if that baby is the Son of God, brought into existence through a unique miracle that even today brings either great wonder or great doubt. The angel Gabriel’s words seem understated when he called her “highly favored” and “blessed” (Luke 1:28). Truly Mary was correct when she said, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (verse 48).
Mary was not told that she would be blessed above all other women. Rather that she was blessed “among women” (verse 28). Every believing woman receives, in a spiritual sense the blessing of Mary. When, during the ministry of Jesus, Mary brought her family desiring to speak with Him, Jesus took that as an occasion to teach that spiritual bonds are more important than familial: “And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:49–50).
At another time, a woman reacted to the teaching of Jesus by calling out, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked” to which Jesus responded, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:27–28). Submission to the will of God ties us more closely to Jesus than physical and emotional ties can ever connect us to our natural family. Mary was not blessed because she was the mother of Jesus but because she was obedient to the word of God.
God promised that if Israel was obedient to the Old Covenant, they would be “blessed above all people” (Deuteronomy 7:14). The obedient are blessed among the church, and the church is blessed above all others.
B. Mary Was Present at the Birth of the Church
Almost as a footnote, Luke listed “Mary the mother of Jesus” as one of the people who continued in one accord and supplication in the upper room (Acts 1:14). It seems fitting that her life as recorded in the Scriptures would be bracketed at one end by the virgin birth and at the other by the birth of the church. She was there to hear the “sound from heaven,” to see the “tongues like as of fire” and to “speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1–4). She was one of those who “gladly received” Peter’s word, were baptized, and “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:41–42).
Internalizing The Message
Mary is not mentioned by name anywhere in the Bible except the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. Yet all generations who hear her story call her blessed. The young teen who said, “Be it unto me according to thy word” could not have known what ecstasy and pain her submissive heart would bring into her life. All she knew was that she was God’s servant, and her Master had a part for her in His plan. That is all she needed to know.
None of us will be called today to literally give birth to the Son of God, although some of us may indeed be bringing up a prophet, teacher, pastor, or prayer warrior who will be instrumental in revolutionizing the world. Many of us become spiritual fathers or mothers to those who are young in the Lord. Paul referred to the saints in Galatia as “my little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). In these ways, and many more, we all have the opportunity to become “the brother, and sister, and mother” of Jesus.