Song titles are interesting things. Most of us take them for granted. But songs haven’t always had official titles. Most often, they were simple referred to by the first word or words of the first line. Even when they had titles, folks would still often just think of those first lines.
For example, one of the best known songs in the whole world is actually entitled “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” At least that was the title the author first gave to the song. I’m sure you know it. However, we don’t know it by the original title. Instead, we’ve come to know it by the first line: Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. Most of us probably didn’t even know Amazing Grace wasn’t the title of that song, did we?
Anyway, in this second look at the songs of Christmas foun in Luke’s Gospel, I want to look at Mary’s “Magnificat.” It’s called that, because as the song begin in Luke 1:46, Mary sings of magnifying the Lord. The title, “magnificat” comes from the Latin word for magnify or glorify.
I know we Protestants want to be wary of too much emphasis on Mary, but I like this song because it gives us some real clues as to the kind of person she is. And though we don’t want to “venerate” her, we do know she is someone who has been blessed by God and has a life that glorifies Him, so we can learn from her example. Hopefully, our desire is to also be people who are blessed by God and who live lives that glorify Him. So by looking at this song, and catching a glimpse of Mary’s heart and life, maybe we can learn how to be that kind of person.
Here is her song from Luke 1:46-55 (ESV):
46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
My soul magnifies, or glorifies, or lifts up the Lord. The Greek word means to make something increase, to extol or to declare to be great. Mary says that her very soul declares the greatness of God. The very essence of her being is focused on magnifying, glorifying, exalting and extolling the name of God.
I don’t know about you, but I want the same thing to be said of me. I want my life, my very soul, to exalt and glorify God. I want to be the kind of person God can use, the kind of person who magnifies God with my life. If you want to live a life that glorifies God, then consider these four characteristics in particular that we find in this song of Mary.
I. Number one, we should have an AWARENESS OF OUR SCRIPTURE. If you want to exalt God with your life, then you need to know your Bible. In reading Mary’s song, one of the things that should jump out right away is how richly these words reflect a knowledge of Scripture. Throughout this song she alludes to verses in Psalm 103, Psalm 22, Psalm 44, Psalm 89, Psalm 98, Psalm 147, and Psalm 25. Many also see echoes of Job 12, and 2 Samuel 22, and Genesis 12, and Genesis 17, and Micah 7. Others suggest that Mary prays as she does based on what she has learned from other hymns of praise sung at times of God’s gracious and glorious intervention in the lives of his people.
Specifically we can mention the words of Moses in Exodus 15, and Miriam in Exodus 15, and Deborah in Judges 5, and Asaph in I Chronicles 16, and especially Hannah’s prayer. In fact, if you go to 1 Samuel 2 and read the words of Hannah as she praises God for the gift of her son Samuel; and if you set that song right next to this one, you’ll see that there are virtually parallel to one another.
There’s no accident in all this. It’s not as if Mary got lucky. And yes, we know that these are words inspired by the Holy Spirit. But He worked through Mary, and through her experiences with God and with His Word. And it’s obvious that she was a young woman who was very familiar with that Word.
Dr. LigonDuncan once said, “The Bible, you see, should be our book of books. Whatever book we love; whatever books we love, whatever books we study, the Bible should be our book of books.” The Bible should be our book of books. If we want to live lives that truly glorify the Lord, then we need to know our Scripture.
II. The second characteristic of that kind of life is an AWARENESS OF OUR SOVEREIGN. Not only does Mary know her Bible, but she obviously knows the God behind the Bible. In fact, this is the primary source that we go to in order to learn of Him, isn’t it? The truth is you can’t know God apart from knowing about Him; that is to say, we can’t truly know the God of the Bible apart from how He has revealed Himself in the Bible.
That may be the biggest problem we have in the church today. People come across something in the Bible they don’t agree with, and they say something like, “Well, my God would never do that;” or “my God isn’t like that.” And if that’s the case, if your God doesn’t line up with Scripture, then your God is just that: ‘your god.’ He’s not the God of Scripture.
God has clearly revealed Himself in His Word, and it’s through that Word that we come to truly know Him. We need to come to the Bible with a commitment to let God be God; to let Him reveal Himself as He pleases. He reveals Himself as Father, in spite of what the feminists say. He reveals Himself as a God of wrath as well as a God of love, in spite of what the liberals want to say. He reveals Himself as Sovereign over all things in the universe, in spite of what our own hearts may want to say.
And as we read His Word, as we see His revelation of Himself, as we learn these facts about God, we should then allow that information to lead us to understanding. It’s at that point that our knowledge about God becomes personal knowledge of Him. If we want to truly glorify God with our lives, we must truly know Him.
III. The third characteristic we see here is an AWARENESS OF OUR SINFULNESS. The more we come to know Him, the more we come to know ourselves as well. Once we spend time in the Word, spend time with God in prayer and praise, truly coming to know His majesty and holiness, the one thing that will stand out immediately is our sinfulness.
Now, this might step on the toes of those who claim the immaculate conception of Mary, which suggests that Mary herself was born without sin. But it’s obvious in this song, that Mary was aware of her sin. The most obvious evidence of that is in the opening sentence. “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoiced in God my Savior.” My Savior. She recognizes her need for a savior. All throughout this story we have absolutely no indication that Mary thought of herself as without sin or worthy of adoration in any way. Just the opposite, we see her humility before her God.
It’s one of the consistent images we have in Scripture of anyone and everyone who has an encounter with God and truly comes face to face with His majesty and holiness that the immediate response is to be aware of our own lowly state, our own sin, our own lack of holiness before God. Think of Isaiah’s famous words when given the vision of God on His throne high and lifted up. He says, “woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Our sin is so obvious in the presence of God’s holiness.
1 John 1:8 says that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” And then two verses later he puts it even more bluntly. Verse 10 there says: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” Unless we have a biblical understanding of our sinful state, then we don’t know God, and His Word has no place in our lives. However, the opposite of that is to come to acknowledge our sin, to believe what His Word tells us, and to then look to the only one who can do anything about it. The reason it’s important for us to be aware of our sinfulness is because it’s only then that we understand and acknowledge our need for a Savior. Which is the fourth and final characteristic in this song…
IV. We see an AWARENESS OF OUR SAVIOR. Mary not only acknowledges by her words her need of a Savior, but recognizes who that Savior is. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of me. The Mighty One has done great things for me.
Once we know our sinfulness and our need of a Savior, we need to see that Christ is the one and only answer to that problem. He is the way the truth and the life. He is the good shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep. He is the answer, the solution, the way out, the key, the remedy, the source, the ultimate cure.
Because we know the rest of the story, right? It wasn’t just that God sent His Son in this miraculous way. It was the reason for which He was sent. He came to live a perfect life, fulfilling the law in His flesh and then giving that life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Because of our sin, God must bring judgment, but in mercy He chose to judge Christ in our place, to punish Him for our sin, to pour His wrath on His own Son so that we might become sons and daughters of God.
This is why Mary is rejoicing. This is why Zechariah was rejoicing. This is the source for all the joy in the other songs we read in Luke’s Gospel: God sent us a Savior in the person of Jesus Christ.
We need to see that forgiveness of sin is our greatest need, and then see that only Christ is the one who can meet that need. We need to cry out with Martin Luther who said, “No other God have I but Thee; born in a manger, died on a tree.” No other God, no other source of salvation, no other mediator between God and man but the man Jesus Christ. Only then can we begin a life that will ultimately bring honor and glory to Him, and only then will our souls magnify the Lord.