In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country. Luke 1:39
Those days were remarkable days. An angel of God visited Mary, making an extraordinary announcement: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
“How will this be?” Mary had asked.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:31; 34-35).
Mary responded to this announcement with extraordinary faith: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
In the story that follows, the announcement from heaven was confirmed on earth as God moved various people to affirm the word that had been spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel: Matthew tells us about Joseph, who was moved by God through a dream to protect Mary by taking her as his wife. Then there were the wise men, who were moved by God to come from distant lands and affirm that Christ is the King.
Luke tells us about three people who were moved by God to affirm to Mary the unique glory of the child she bore: Elizabeth affirmed that Jesus is the Lord. The shepherds affirmed that Jesus is the Savior. Simeon affirmed that Jesus is the Christ. All three bore witness to Jesus as they confirmed to Mary that what she had heard was truly from God. This is the story that we will follow as we prepare for Christmas.
Elizabeth and Mary
We begin today, with the witness of an older woman whose name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a godly woman, “walking blamelessly in all the statutes and commandments of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). She was married to Zechariah who was a priest. The couple did not have children and Luke tells us that they were advanced in years (Luke 1:7).
An angel of the Lord (Gabriel) had appeared to Zechariah while he was serving in the temple and announced that Elizabeth would bear him a son. Zechariah did not believe the promise and the power of speech was taken from him. Nobody is helped by the words of a priest who does not believe the Word of God, and so Zechariah was silenced until the promise of God was fulfilled.
Think about this from Elizabeth’s perspective. Her husband comes home from work and he is unable to speak. He makes signs, he writes words on a tablet, but he remains silent. Then, to her great joy, she discovers that she is pregnant. Weeks and then months pass, and one day there is a knock at the door. It’s Mary, a relative from another branch of her family.
The visit would have been a complete surprise to Elizabeth. We live in a world of planning. Who is coming for Christmas? When do they arrive? And when are they going home?
The ancient world was very different. It was full of surprises – no cells phones, texts, or emails to make our endless arrangements. People just showed up. That’s exactly what happened here: “Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39-40).
So here are two women, and both of them have an extraordinary story to share. Elizabeth’s story was remarkable: After all these years she was expecting a child. Zechariah and Elizabeth were like a new Abraham and Sarah. What would Mary think about Elizabeth’s remarkable news?
But Mary has news of her own to share and her story would shine more brightly by far. Elizabeth had conceived in the usual way. God had blessed her union with Zechariah and caused them to have a child in their old age. But Mary was a virgin. Jesus Christ was not conceived in the usual way. His life was not drawn from any human father. God was taking human form in the life conceived in the womb of Mary, “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 1:25).
God the Son took human nature from a young woman, who became a mother through the creative power of the Holy Spirit working directly within her. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and nothing like it has ever happened since.
So, Mary arrives at the front door of her relative Elizabeth. I want to make three observations on this beautiful scene from the Christmas story.
Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)
Notice that Elizabeth confesses Jesus as her Lord. Thomas confessed Jesus as “My Lord and my God” after the resurrection (John 20:28). But Elizabeth calls Jesus her Lord before he is even born!
This raises an important question: How much do you need to know about Jesus before you submit to him as Lord? Elizabeth had not heard any of his teaching. She knew nothing about his miracles. She was not in a position to study the impact of his life:
- Elizabeth knew nothing about Jesus’ baptism or his transfiguration in which he was affirmed from heaven as the Son of God.
- She knew nothing of Jesus’ death on the cross in which he became the sacrifice offered for sinners to bring us peace with God.
- She knew nothing about Jesus’ mighty resurrection from the dead, and nothing of his appearances to his disciples, who spoke and ate with him over a period of 40 days.
- She knew nothing of Jesus’ glorious ascension in which his disciples saw him taken up into the clouds, with his hands raised to bless them.
- She did not have the New Testament, and she could not have attended a church.
All Elizabeth had was one simple life-changing truth: God became a man in Jesus, the child who was born of Mary. Elizabeth was quick to realize: If this child is God, He is Lord of all. And if he is Lord of all, he must be the Lord of me. Elizabeth confessed Mary’s unborn child as the Lord of her life! “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
J. I. Packer says it well, “The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.” The incarnation is the miracle that makes sense of everything else in the Bible:
- If Jesus is God in the flesh, who would be surprised that he would perform miracles? It would be surprising if he didn’t.
- If Jesus is God, it’s not surprising that He rose from the dead. What was so surprising is that he entered into death in the first place.
- If Jesus is the eternal Word of God, who would be surprised at him saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).
- If Jesus is the One by whom the world was made, entering into his own creation, who would be surprised if he laid claim to the worship, affection, and loyalty of every person?
The single truth that Mary’s child is the Son of God was given to Elizabeth, and on that basis, she confessed Jesus as her Lord. With all the revelation of Scripture that has been given to you, how much more should you confess Jesus as your Lord?
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
This whole scene is full of joy.
The baby’s joy
When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. (Luke 1:41)
Every mother knows that in the sixth month of a pregnancy, you are going to get some movement. But this is more than a kick or even a turn. Elizabeth says, “When the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).
The Holy Spirit is mediating joy to an unborn child! That says something about the life of an unborn child, doesn’t it? There is joy here, not only for Mary and Elizabeth, but for those who are yet to be born, and that includes us!
Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)
How much joy is there in that?
Moved by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth pronounces blessing over Mary: Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed is she who believed (Luke 1:42). The word ‘blessed’ is all over these verses, and it is repeated in a way that indicates rhythm, so scholars think that these words of Elizabeth were actually a song.
This is the first of five songs celebrating the birth of Jesus:
- The song of Elizabeth
- The song of Mary
- The song of Zechariah
(when he finally believed, he found his voice)
- The song of the angels
- The song of Simeon
So Elizabeth could lay claim to having sung the first Christmas carol!
Confessing Christ as your Lord will increase your joy. Some of you would say that you believe in Jesus, but somewhere deep in your heart, you feel that the way to real happiness is to continue to be the Lord and master of your own life. So, you hold yourself back, but actually, you are not very happy at all.
I am asking you to look long and hard at these two women: See their smiling faces! Hear them laughing! Listen as they break out into spontaneous song – first Elizabeth and then Mary. Taste their joy!
Everything you hold back from him will make you less happy, and everything you trust to him will bring you more joy.
Confessing leads to rejoicing, and you will find greater joy with Christ as your Lord than you can ever find by being your own Lord and your master. He who saves his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for Christ’s sake and for the gospel will find it.
Blessed is she who believed that there would be [will be] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:45)
When I was studying theology (a long time ago) in London, we had an old professor who used to say, “Whenever there is a variant reading, go with both, and enjoy a double blessing!” So that’s what I am going to do here.
Mary believed that the promise would be fulfilled. Elizabeth came alongside and said, “Mary, the promise will be fulfilled. God has fulfilled his promise to me. He always fulfills his promise. He will fulfill his promise to you. What he has said will be accomplished.”
This is a wonderful example of two women helping each other to believe in the amazing promise of God. Mary speaks the good news to Elizabeth. Elizabeth comes alongside as an encourager of Mary’s faith: “What God has promised will be fulfilled.”
These must have been lonely days for Mary. She had received a visitation from heaven. But who would believe the word that she had received? Who could possibly understand? The angel pointed her to where she could find fellowship: “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son” (Luke 1:36).
Later on in the story, revelation would be given to Joseph, and then to others, but in these earliest days, Elizabeth was the only person who could come alongside Mary and strengthen her in faith by bearing witness to Jesus.
Mary felt that she had to be with someone who would also believe the promise of God. So, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste to the home of Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah” (Luke 1:39). God brings people who confess Jesus as Lord together so that that we can encourage each other in believing.
Fellowship with others who believe the Word of God is a gift of God and a means of grace. It is one of the channels by which God brings us help and strength through his people. It is one of the ways in which God increases our joy. Bishop Ryle says that fellowship with other believers is “The nearest approach that we can make on earth to the joy of heaven.”
Confessing, Rejoicing Believing
Now here are three questions that I want to pose for you as we try to apply all of this to our own lives today…
Do you confess Jesus as your Lord?
Can you stand with Elizabeth as she calls Jesus “my Lord”? Is that something you could say?
If Jesus is your Lord, your life is no longer your own. You are, in Mary’s words, “the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38). All that you are, and all that you have, and all that you ever hope to be are his, because you belong to him. He is your Lord.
The path on which Jesus leads you may not be the path you would have chosen, or that you would have expected, but it is the path on which you will find great joy, because it is the path on which he will walk with you and it is the path on which he will fulfill his purposes for you.
There is a freedom, a release, and a joy that comes when you submit yourself wholly, and without reservation, to the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s more. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
You will be saved! That means, by his sovereign power, you will be delivered from the power of the devil. He will forgive your sins. You will never face condemnation. Instead, you will be brought into a whole new relationship with God in which He is your Father and you come to experience life as his child.
All this is true of the person who says, “Jesus is Lord!” And since Jesus is Lord of all, he must be Lord of me! Do you confess Jesus as your Lord?
Are you rejoicing in Christ’s coming?
Think about Elizabeth and Mary: These two women were facing enormous difficulties, as some of you may be facing today. Both of them are pregnant and poor. One of them is not married. The other has a husband who cannot speak. But these women have joy!
Their joy is in the coming of Jesus. Their joy is in the promise of God. Their joy is that, however difficult my life is or may become, God is for me and God is with me, and all his purposes will be fulfilled.
This is the joy of those who say to Jesus, “You are my Lord.” And this joy can be yours!
Will you encourage others in believing?
It’s very striking to me that Zechariah doesn’t feature in this story at all. His name appears once in verse 40: Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” In order to encourage others in believing you have to put God’s Word into practice for yourself.
Zechariah professed faith. He served in the temple. But when the Word of God came to the temple it was not received with faith! Zechariah did not hear the Word of God and combine it with faith, and so he had nothing to say that could strengthen the faith of his wife Elizabeth, or minister to Mary, his relative.
A great work of God is being done, and this man might have been at the center of it, but his unbelief put him on the sidelines. If something like this could happen to Zechariah, then it is precisely the kind of thing that could happen to us.
There is something terribly sad about people who would say that they are Christian, who identify with the church, but they are not able to strengthen the faith of others because they are not exercising faith in the Word of God themselves. That was Zechariah and we don’t want to be like him!
Why would you want to be like that guy when you could have the joy of these women? Thank God that he was delivered, and may we be delivered too.
© Colin S. Smith
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