Luke 1:39-44

Sermon preached on December 20, 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.

George Whitefield and John Wesley were both great Christian leaders in the 18
th century. At first these two great preachers were good friends but later there were sharp disagreements between them—mainly because Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley an Arminian. One of the stories I read was that when Whitefield was having great success preaching in America, Wesley wrote an anti-predestination pamphlet and sent it to America—which hindered Whitefield's ministry there. But later in life they became close again. At that time one of Whitfield's friends asked Whitfield,

"You won't see John Wesley in heaven, will you?"

Whitfield replied, (Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers, W. Wiersbe, Moody Press, 1984, p. 255)

"I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him."

That's a good example of humility, of applying what the apostle Paul told us in Romans 12:10, (HCSB)

"Outdo one another
in showing honor."

Yet humility is too rare in Christian circles today. One theologian who is probably in his 70's recently wrote, (John Frame, Systematic Theology)

"My perception is that gentleness and humility are among the virtues least practiced by Christians today."

It was the same in John Calvin's day. In one of his sermons he said, (Songs of the Nativity, p. 7)

"How many hypocrites we see who sing God's praises to all and sundry, and who even prate about the good things he has given them, but who only want to show off and earn the admiration of others. 'God did such and such for me', they will say. 'How greatly he has blessed me.' There is, of course, nothing innocent about them. They seek merely to make a name for themselves in the sight of men. Let us guard against this kind of vanity…"

As we approach the day in which we celebrate the birth of our Lord—we should seek to become more humble because the birth of our Savior teaches this lesson like nothing else. Last week we looked at Mary's visit to Elizabeth and our theme was how we should react to grace. The lesson we're going to consider today is that

you should react to grace with great humility.

Those who are given grace should delight in humility. Mary and Elizabeth were both honored by God.

Mary was blessed among women. Indeed, a honor was bestowed on her that no other creature ever received. She was the mother of our Lord. Herman Bavinck writes, (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 281, 282)

"In the undeserved favor granted her, she far exceeds all other people and all angels." "She was chosen and prepared by God to be the mother of his Son. She was the favored one among women. Christ himself desired her to be his mother, who conceived him by the Holy Spirit, who carried him beneath her heart, who nursed him at her breast, who instructed him in the Scriptures, in whom, in a word, the preparation of the incarnation was completed."

Yet consider her humility. She replied to the angel, (Luke 1:38)

"I am the Lord's servant.
May it be to me as you have said."

Mary, given the greatest honor that could ever be given to a woman, still considered herself a servant.

It was somewhat the same with Elizabeth. She was given such an honor—to bear the one who was going to prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus said about John the Baptist, (Matthew 11:11)

"I tell you the truth:
Among those born of women
there has not risen
anyone greater than John the Baptist;
yet he who is least
in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

The second part of what Jesus said there does not take away from the honor and privilege that John the Baptist was given. John Calvin writes,

"Christ extols and places him above the rank of the prophets, and gives the people to understand that he had received a special and more excellent commission… he was more excellent than the Prophets in this respect, that he did not, like them, make known redemption at a distance and obscurely under shadows, but proclaimed that the time of redemption was now manifest and at hand."

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. When he saw Jesus he said, (John 1:29)

"Look, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!"

John the Baptist also had the great privilege of baptizing Jesus. In His baptism Jesus became identified with His people and John the Baptist had a role in that great identification.

That barren Elizabeth was chosen to be John's mother in her old age—was a privilege such that few women were given. I don't know if it stands second to the honor given Mary, I'm sure it has rivals for second place—any mother in the lineage of Jesus was greatly honored. But there is no doubt that, Elizabeth, in that she was the mother of the forerunner of the Christ, in that Mary the mother of her Lord, came to her to have her faith strengthened and confirmed—was greatly blessed.

Yet, when Mary came to visit her and greeted her, said,

"But why am I so favored,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Both Mary and Elizabeth were greatly honored by God. But both of them reacted with great and remarkable humility. There was no pride in them. There was nothing like,

"I'm someone special.""I deserved this!""I must be better than other people."

No, the reaction of them both can be summed up in Elizabeth's words,

"why am I so favored…"

Or, as the HCSB renders Elizabeth's words as,

"How could this happen to me?"

The ESV has it,

"Why is this granted to me?"

Elizabeth's statement is basically an expression of wonderment.

This is important to note and shows us the proper attitude toward God's grace and goodness to us. Elizabeth knew she wasn't worthy for Mary to visit her. It was such an unexpected and distinguished visit. Indeed, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. (verse 56) Either just before Mary arrived, or during that time with Elizabeth, Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb. The first place our Lord spent on earth, in Mary's womb, was in Elizabeth's home. What an honor! Elizabeth knew she wasn't worthy.

There's a similar expression used in the Old Testament that is very instructive to us. In 2 Samuel 24 we read about a plague being sent on Israel because King David counted his fighting men. 70,000 men died from Dan to Beersheba. When the angel of the Lord stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord had mercy on Jerusalem and told the angel,

"Enough! Withdraw your hand."

At that moment the angel was at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. God then told David to go and build at altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David went to do what the Lord said. In verse 2-21 we read,

"When Araunah looked
and saw the king and his men
coming toward him,
he went out and bowed down before
the king with his face to the ground.
Araunah said,
'Why has my lord the king
come to his servant?' "

Araunah was a foreigner. He was a Jebusite. In the Bible the Jebusites are listed as a group of wicked people that the children of Israel were to destroy when they entered the promised land. (Deut. 20:17) The Jebusites were also a very proud and arrogant people. When King David came up to take their city, they said to David, (2 Sam. 5:6)

"You will not get in here;
even the blind and the lame can ward you off."

But David took their city.

We don't know why Araunah wasn't killed or enslaved by the Israelites when David captured the city. It was an act of great mercy for Araunah to be allowed to continue to live in Jerusalem, to continue to own property there. Not only that, when the plague came it stopped at his property. One might think that when the plague stopped that it would stop at the property of an Israelite. But no. It stopped at Araunah's property. But there's even more of God's mercy to Araunah. Araunah saw the angel of the Lord. We read, (1 Chronicles 21:20

"While Araunah was threshing wheat,
he turned and saw the angel;
his four sons who were with him hid themselves."

It was then that David and his men came to build an altar to the Lord. He went out to meet David, bowed down before him with his face to the ground. He asked,

"Why has my lord the king
come to his servant?"

He was a foreigner. That the king would visit him was incredible. When he found out David's purpose to build an altar, he offered everything David needed. But David paid him and built the altar. Then, when Solomon became king and built God's temple—he built it on the very spot where threshing floor of Araunah was. (2 Chronicles 3:1) What an honor for Araunah, the Jebusite. He, even before Elizabeth said it, asked,

"Why has my lord the king
come to his servant?"

His question expressed wonderment. He knew he didn't deserve a visit from the king.

The point of this is that we are to always see ourselves as unworthy servants.

As Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 17:10,

"So you also,
when you have done everything
you were told to do,
should say,
'We are unworthy servants;
we have only done our duty.' "

Mary and Elizabeth knew that about themselves. They knew they were unworthy. We are to have that same attitude. John Calvin said that we should realize what we would be apart from God's grace. (Songs of the Nativity, p. 15)

"Even the greatest of men is like a miserable earthworm, unless God, out of sheer generosity, chooses to thrust him forward."

He said we ought to confess,

"Alas, if God should so choose, I would be the most ignorant dimwit alive."

In Job 25 Bildad the Shuhite didn't give the complete picture, but there is some truth in what he said, (Job 25:4–6)

"How then can a man
be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
If even the moon is not bright
and the stars are not pure in his eyes,
how much less man,
who is but a maggot—
a son of man, who is only a worm!"

In ourselves, in our sin, we are very low. Psalm 22 gives us a picture of what Jesus felt like when He took our sin upon Himself. It says, (Psalm 22:6)

"But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people."

How humble we all should be.

This becomes even more evident when we consider what Jesus did to save us.

Mary and Elizabeth were well aware of the wonders that God was working to accomplish. The angel told Mary that she was going to give birth to the, (verse 32)

"the Son of the Most High"

Elizabeth knew that Mary was the, (verse 43)

"mother of my Lord…"

John Nolland, Luke 1–9:20 (WBC 35A; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 67.

"Elizabeth here expresses her overwhelmed realization that she is being visited by the one who is pregnant with the messianic child."

Some argue that Elizabeth was merely using the word, 'lord' as a term of respect for distinguished people—but that doesn't fit with the context. Since Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she spoke these words, it seems clear that she could have easily been given a 'comprehensive understanding of Jesus' — who He was—the Lord of Glory. Earlier in the chapter Luke had used the term 'Lord' many times in reference to God. The term Lord is often used in the New Testament as a title for God. Elizabeth knew that Mary was carrying her 'Lord'.

It's noteworthy that in the one of the following verses, (verse 45) Elizabeth uses the word 'Lord' again. She said to Mary,

"Blessed is she who has believed
that what the Lord has said to her
will be accomplished!"

Mary and Elizabeth were given insight into what God was doing and they were amazed. They knew their Lord was coming to earth as a true human being. Mary and Elizabeth both knew that,

Jesus, the king of Glory, was humbling Himself and coming to earth as a true man.

They were amazed at this and realized that the only proper attitude was one of great humility. Jesus emptied Himself, hid his glory, to a great extent and came to earth. What does this mean for us, fallen human beings, who are completely undeserving? It means we must be devoid of pride. We must be humble. We must follow in His footsteps. The apostle Paul shows us this in Philippians 2:4–8,

"Each of you should look
not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same
as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!"

He was and is the King of Glory. All things were made by Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:17) Yet He came to earth and took our nature upon Himself. He was a true man. At the same time, He was true God. Colossians 2:9 makes this clear. It says,

"For in Christ
all the fullness of the Deity
lives in bodily form,"

Yet Jesus came as a servant. Mark 10:45 says,

"For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give
his life as a ransom for many."

Christian, get rid of your pride. God has honored you above so many others. That's no reason for you to become arrogant. It's all of grace. Norval Geldenhuys writes, (Luke, p. 83)

"He who elevates himself is constantly engaged in wrecking his own life. But he who is sincerely humble finds riches of life and happiness."

James 4:6 says,

"Scripture says:
'God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.' "

And in Ephesians 4:1–2 Paul wrote,

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then,
I urge you to live a life worthy
of the calling you have received.
Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love."

Christians, get rid of your jealously. God has honored others above you. Don't think that your better than them. You're not. Mary was honored above Elizabeth. But Elizabeth was not jealous. She extolled God's grace to Mary. You are to do the same to those in which God's grace shines.

If you're not a Christian, this passage shows you that you need Jesus. How can sinners be saved? The wages of sin is death. We can't get into heaven by being good. We're lost. The only way for sinners to be saved was for God, in the person of Jesus, to come to earth, take our nature upon Himself, and die in our place, for our sins. You need to trust in Him. You need to look to Him for salvation.