Luke 1:39-44

Sermon preached on December 13, 2015 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When lotteries first started to become popular in Canada in the 70's, I remember reading about one young man who won, I believe it was just over a million dollars. But the news story I read wasn't about him winning the lottery. The one I read was actually written not quite a year later. The young man had died, I'm not sure what the exact cause of death was, but it wasn't a car accident or anything like that. He basically partied and drank himself to death. Getting that money was one of the worse things to happen to him because he couldn't handle it.

Now that story is about someone who wasn't a Christian. But I want to ask you—how do you deal with grace? When instances of God's grace come to you—how do you deal with it? How do you react? It may seem surprising but there are lots of wrong ways to deal with an abundance of grace. For example, when God blesses you with some great blessing you can become proud. This is a danger for all of us. It was even a danger for the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul told about how 14 years before he was caught up to the third heaven. He didn't know if he was in the body or out of the body. He said he, (verse 4)

"was caught up to paradise.
He heard inexpressible things, things
that man is not permitted to tell."

What great grace was given to Paul. Besides Enoch and the prophet Elijah, and the apostle John, I can't think of anyone who was brought up to paradise before their death. Enoch and Elijah were not permitted to come back. But Paul, he came back with knowledge that no one else on earth had. Here's what he wrote in verse 7.

"To keep me from becoming conceited
because of these surpassingly
great revelations, there was given me
a thorn in my flesh,
a messenger of Satan,
to torment me."

The grace given to Paul, as paradoxical as it seems, could have caused him, because of his sinful nature, to become proud.

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was given great grace. He was chosen by lot to go into the temple and burn incense. When he was in the temple an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth was going to bear a son and that they were to name him John. The angel also said, (Luke 1:14–17)

"He will be a joy and delight to you,
and many will rejoice
because of his birth,
for he will be great
in the sight of the Lord.
He is never to take wine
or other fermented drink, and he
will be filled with the Holy Spirit
even from birth.
Many of the people of Israel will
he bring back to the Lord their God.
And he will go on before the Lord,
in the spirit and power of Elijah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers
to their children and the disobedient
to the wisdom of the righteous—
to make ready a people
prepared for the Lord."

What grace God was giving to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Do you remember how Zechariah reacted? He didn't believe it. He said to the angel, (Luke 1:18)

"How can I be sure of this?
I am an old man and
my wife is well along in years."

Zechariah doubted. Because he did not believe the angel told him he was going to be unable to speak until the day his prophecy was fulfilled.

Again, the Lord is pouring out remarkable grace, such grace that very few have experienced—and Zechariah didn't believe it. He didn't handle the outpouring of grace well. He sinned.

So we must not react to grace the wrong way. In our text, and the verses just before it, we see that both Mary and Elizabeth were given great grace. Both of them handled it admirably. Both of them show us how to deal with grace, grace given to us and grace given to others. So this morning we're going to be looking at a

lesson in how to handle or react to grace.

This lesson is from Mary. We read, (Luke 1:39–44)

"At that time Mary got ready
and hurried to a town
in the hill country of Judea,
where she entered Zechariah's home
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the baby leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth was filled
with the Holy Spirit.
In a loud voice she exclaimed:
'Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear!
But why am I so favored,
that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?
As soon as the sound of your greeting
reached my ears,
the baby in my womb leaped for joy.' "

Mary has received the greatest news that anyone had ever experienced. The angel Gabriel had told this teenage girl that she was going to miraculously give birth and that her son would be the Son of God, that He would be the Son of the Most High, that the Lord God would give him the throne of His father David, and that He would reign over the house of Jacob forever and that His kingdom would never end.

So how did Mary react to the grace given to her? What does she teach us here?

Verse 29 tells us that she,

"hurried to the hill country of Judea."

Almost immediately she undertook a dangerous and difficult journey of almost a hundred miles to see her relative Elizabeth. Besides telling Mary the wonderful news of what was going to happen to her, how she was going to miraculously be the mother of the Son of God, the angel had also told her about Elizabeth how the one who as said to be barren was now pregnant, in her sixth month. Mary understood that the angel said this to her for a reason. It wasn't an unnecessary aside. I believe the angel mentioned it—to help Mary's faith, to confirm to her what the angel had promised her. If Mary could go and see Elizabeth and see that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age, to see the great miracle that was taking place in Elizabeth's womb—it would be a great help to Mary's faith. It would confirm the truth of the angel's words because the promises given to Mary and Elizabeth were similar. They were both promised a son, both sons being the result of a miracle. Mary's son because she was a virgin. Elizabeth's son because not only was Elizabeth well past child bearing years, but even when she had been young she had been barren. But one of the differences was that Elizabeth was six months farther along in her pregnancy. So seeing her older relative being pregnant would do Mary good. It would help her to grasp tighter onto God's promises.

So what we see here is that God is giving Mary additional grace to help her with the abundant grace He had already given her. He's giving her additional grace in order to confirm her faith. She was told about Elizabeth—to help her.

Thus when God blesses you, when He gives you grace,

realize that you need more grace and use all means God provides to get more grace.

God gave Paul great grace, taking him to the third heaven, but he needed more grace to stop him from being conceited. Zechariah was given much grace, he saw and angel and was given a great promise about a son who would a joy and delight to him. But Zechariah needed more grace. He doubted the angel's words. He faltered.

Mary's faith was greater than that of Zechariah. She believed the angel. But what we should understand about our faith is that even strong faith can quickly wither. When Jesus was walking on the water Peter asked if he could come to Him. Jesus told him to come. Peter must have had great faith to step out of that boat onto the water. But he did and he walked toward Jesus. But then what happened? We read, (Matthew 14:30)

"But when he saw the wind,
he was afraid and,
beginning to sink, cried out,
'Lord, save me!' "

Troubles could have come to Mary to make her doubt the angel's words. Without further grace she could have been like the son Jesus told about whose father told him to go and work in the vineyard. (Matthew 21:30 The son answered,

"I will, sir…"

But he did not go.

John Calvin comments, (Songs of the Nativity, Sermon 1, p. 6 & 7)

"Mary came in order to nurture her faith… Mary realized her weakness and was anxious for anything which might strengthen her still more." "When our Lord offers us helps to move forward in the faith, we should use them profitably. For we are blind indeed if we do not recognize that there is an element of weakness which remains in us."

How foolish we are if we think we can stand on our own. We can't. Even when we think we're at our strongest, there is danger around us. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12,

"So, if you think you are standing firm,
be careful that you don't fall!"

Moses could not stand on his own. What grace he was given by God. He led the people of Israel out of Egypt, he performed great and mighty miracles on God's behalf. Yet when he led the people to the Desert of Zin he sinned greatly. The people complained to him because they had no water to drink. Moses went to the Lord and the Lord told him, (Numbers 20:8)

"Take the staff, and you and your
brother Aaron gather
the assembly together.
Speak to that rock before their eyes
and it will pour out its water.
You will bring water out of the rock
for the community so they
and their livestock can drink."

What grace God gave Moses. God gave him the power to speak to the rock and have water gush out for the people.

But Moses did not honor God before the Israelites. We read that he, (Numbers 20:10–11)

"He and Aaron gathered the assembly
together in front of the rock
and Moses said to them,
Listen, you rebels, must we
bring you water out of this rock?
Then Moses raised his arm and
struck the rock twice with his staff.
Water gushed out, and the
community and their livestock drank."

But then God told Moses that because he did not trust Him enough to honor Him as holy in the presence of the Israelites, he would not bring the community into the promised land.

The apostle John also had a difficult time handling the great grace that was given to him. In Revelation 19 we read that John heard what sounded like a great multitude rejoicing and saying to give God glory because the wedding of the Lamb has come. The angel then told John to write that those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb are blessed. What grace! How did John react? He wrote, (Revelation 19:10)

"At this I fell at his feet
to worship him.
But he said to me,
'Do not do it!
I am a fellow servant with you
and with your brothers
who hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Worship God!"

The same thing happened to John again in Revelation 22. We wonder what could have come over John. How could he do it again, and in the midst of such grace? But he did.

So the great lesson for us here is to realize that

we always need more grace—grace to help us appreciate the truth of the grace already given to us, grace to keep us humble, to keep us from being filled with pride, grace to strengthen our faith, grace to keep us from sin.

We are so weak, so corrupt in ourselves. We are prone to sin. We are prone to misuse grace.

When you've been given great grace, ask God for more grace, grace to help you handle grace properly.

Remember Solomon? God gave him such grace. When God told Solomon to ask whatever he wanted—Solomon didn't ask for riches, or honor, or for the death of his enemies, or for long life. Solomon chose so wisely. God gave him wisdom to rule His people. God was pleased with Solomon's choice.

Yet Solomon went very wrong in his life. His wives led him away from God. I think it would have behooved Solomon to have been even more bold when God asked him what he wanted. He should have asked for wisdom and godliness. If God replied that that was two things, I don't think that God would have been displeased if Solomon replied,

"But I need both. To bring the proper glory to you I need both."

Christian, what you need is grace, grace that is abundant and varied. Jesus died in your place to save you, to make you holy. Jesus died so that you can bring glory to your great God. In yourself you are nothing. You can do nothing on your own. Rely on Him, on His grace. Use the helps He gives you.

The second thing we see here is that when Mary made use of the help that God gave her to increase her faith, when she went to see Elizabeth, what happened?

She was given even more grace.

There are two things to note in this regard.

First, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leapt when Mary greeted Elizabeth.

I'm not sure if Mary was pregnant at that time. But it doesn't matter. The baby was honoring either the baby that Mary was carrying, or Mary herself or both of them. Whatever it was, this was a further confirmation of Mary's faith. The leap of the baby in Elizabeth's womb was additional proof of what the angel said.

Not only that, but secondly,

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and blessed Mary.

Elizabeth's words to Mary were probably most unexpected. Perhaps Mary was going to Elizabeth with trepidation. Would Elizabeth know about her condition, what the angel had said to her. What a blessing it must have been to Mary to hear Elizabeth's words, in a loud voice,

"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear!
But why am I so favored,
that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?
As soon as the sound of your greeting
reached my ears,
the baby in my womb leaped for joy.' "

What words of confirmation. Elizabeth that Mary would be the mother of her Lord. John Calvin comments, (p. 11)

"In order to confirm Mary's faith, Elizabeth received a new gift, not like any she had received before. She spoke in the name of God, and not on her own authority."

I think it was extremely likely that Mary saw Elizabeth being filled with the Spirit when she greeted her. When the Spirit descended on the church on the Day of Pentecost, there were visible manifestations of it. I suspect that Mary had some visible cue that Elizabeth was being filled with the Spirit—but either way, Mary knew it—and what a confirmation it was to her faith.

Christians, seek grace. Ask Him to give you grace, ask Him to give you grace to handle grace.

For those of you who are not Christians, the gospel probably seems so strange to you. The miracle of John the Baptist's birth, the miracle of Jesus' birth.

But the coming of Jesus, the God-man, was the only way for us to be saved. We're sinners. The wages of sin is death. In ourselves we are lost. We need someone who never sinned to save us, to die in our place, to wash our sins away. Only Jesus could do that.

The gospel is so remarkable. God coming to redeem sinners. He worked through Mary, through Elizabeth. Believe it. Turn from your sins. Go to Jesus in faith. Ask God to give it to you.